Friends, we’re drawing very close to that special time in 1993 when the SV series underwent a crazy overhaul in order to keep young readers’ allowance money flowing Francine’s way. Just a few more of these “regular”-type stories and we will be there!
This latest story is about attempted date rape, and I must say it feels odd to see SV’s ghostwriters taking this topic seriously after the near-constant rapey themes of the very first books. Let’s recap for a sec:
*Jessica falsely insinuated to Liz that Todd had tried to force himself on her in book #1
*Ronnie got “rough” with Enid during a parking session because he suspected she wasn’t “pure” in book #2
*Scott the older boy threatened to force himself on Jessica before leaving her alone in the woods in book #5
*After Liz came back to her senses and her “old self”, and tried to back out of sex with Bruce, he painfully twisted her wrists while demanding she have sex with him, and she had to hurt him to get away, in book #7
*Suzanne Devlin accused Mr. Collins of trying to rape her in book #11 as revenge for not sleeping with her
*Also in book #11, Jessica just barely escaped being raped by Suzanne’s much older boyfriend, Pete
Yeah. So, those scenarios are pretty serious, but they were treated fairly lightly. There were no major consequences for any of the perpetrators. Suzanne perhaps faced the worst consequence for her false accusation by being ostracized and, later, plotted against by her former friends in Sweet Valley, but even her story had a happy ending. Pete’s parents, who walked in on Jessica struggling to get out from underneath him on the floor, seemed to simply give him a scolding and send him home. There was never any real or serious discussion about rape and we never saw anyone having a hard time dealing with an assault. Liz, who was physically hurt by Bruce, got over it the second she found Todd and flung herself into his arms.
It goes without saying that none of these incidents are ever mentioned again, especially not in this book, where the very real and horrible issue of sexual assault and its consequences and implications are dealt with on a much more mature level. But will Francine and co. give it the decent discussion time it deserves? Let’s find out.
Lila’s about to have another one of her famous costume balls! (You might recall the hilarious one she had in book #7, which featured “sexy matador” outfits, and Bruce and Liz swigging whiskey behind a tree in her backyard!) But this time, Lila is put off because everyone is having a hard time deciding what costumes they will wear. On top of that, all of her friends are members of couples, and they seem to think Lila can’t be taken seriously just because she’s not ready to settle down. (Um, remember when it was Jessica who felt this way? Now Jessica is the one in the couple!) In truth, Lila has been hanging out with John Pfeifer a good deal lately. As all of her friends never hesitate to point out, John isn’t really Lila’s type. He’s shy and serious and not the type to just date around. But he seems to be crazy about Lila. Lila likes that someone is actually taking her seriously and wants to get to know the real her, and she can’t wait for him to ask her out. She runs into him outside of a party supply store in downtown Sweet Valley and he takes her to get coffee where he brags about the internship he won with the L.A. Sun newspaper. Lila gets turned on by his ego and confidence, but then John simmers down and shyly tells her how his self-esteem has taken a dive since he and Jennifer Mitchell broke up. Lila tells him to forget about Jennifer because there are plenty of other fish in the sea … like her, for instance.
Another day at school, Elizabeth is heading towards the Oracle office when she overhears John telling someone that “You know what girls are like. They never know what they want. They tell you one thing, then they get mad at you when that’s what you do.” Because Liz is nosy and dumb, she stands outside the office eavesdropping and thinking that it couldn’t possibly be John saying these things, because as we’ve seen, all Sweet Valley characters are one-dimensional and never show any multi-dimensional character traits. Once John’s nameless friend leaves, Liz decides she must have been mistaken because John is back to his normal quiet, shy self again. Liz goes in the office and pries at John and practically forces it out of him that he has a crush on Lila but is too shy to ask her out. After a typical self-affirming chat with Liz, John tracks Lila down and asks her on a date and she pretends to be all “eh” but is secretly really excited. At lunch, her usual crowd of friends – Amy, Jessica, and Caroline, of all people – talk about going to the movies together with their boyfriends on Saturday night. But when they ask Lila if she wants to come along, she casually informs them that she can’t go because she and John have a date. Everyone freaks out with glee, and Jessica promises she’ll call Lila on Sunday morning to get all the details.
The night of the date arrives. Lila wears the sexy black dress (which we’re told is made of Lycra – that’s kinda cool, I’d love to wear that if I could pull it off) and pearls shown on the cover, along with a “crushed velvet jacket.” She is full of confidence at how gorgeous she looks, and John is blown away. They have a nice dinner at the Box Tree Cafe and go dancing somewhere under the stars, where John agrees to be Lila’s date for her costume ball. Lila suggests they “go for a drive” which is Sweet Valley-speak for “go make out at Miller’s Point.” No one else is there and they start making out and having a good time. Then Lila realizes she’s in danger of going farther than she wants, so she tells John she thinks they should stop. John says “Just one more kiss” but then keeps kissing her. Lila tells him again that they should stop and he says he doesn’t want to and won’t let go of her. Lila forcefully says she means it, that she wants to stop and go home now, and he pulls the old “Don’t you like me?” bit. Lila reassures him she does and he promises her she will get home, and then starts kissing her again. Lila doesn’t say anything until he bangs her head against the door of the car. She starts to panic and orders him off of her and starts yelling at him to stop. He ignores her and tells her she doesn’t really want to stop. She insists she does and then she hears him unbuckle his belt. She shoves him off of her and his head hits the dashboard. He doesn’t seem very daunted and instead smiles creepily at her and calls her a tease. She tells him to stay away from her and instead he comes toward her again. She slaps him so hard her hand stings, and he grabs her by the hair, yanks her back toward him and tells her he knows she has a wild streak in her and that he hates it when a girl says one thing and then changes her mind. John tries to say that now that Lila has started this, she can’t stop now. He yanks her even closer to him and badass Lila grabs his car keys out of the ignition and stabs him in the back of the neck with them. John lets go of her in surprise and she leaps out of the car. He reaches out for her and she starts hitting him with her bag. He tells her to get back in and he’ll drive her home, and she screams at him to never come near her again, and flings his keys over the cliff and takes off.
The next morning, Lila wakes up to the miserable memories of the night before. She has a scratch on her face from John’s watch and a nasty bruise on her wrist from where he grabbed her. Jessica starts calling to hear the details of her date, but Lila won’t answer the phone, or answer the door when Eva (the Fowler housekeeper) starts knocking. She sleeps for a long time, then gets up and throws her clothes in the garbage. She takes a long hot shower and puts on the TV and radio to create some noise so she won’t have to think. When Jessica calls again, Lila picks up the phone out of habit, and just says “It was okay” when Jessica asks her how the date went. Jess laughs and says something about how John must have not been good enough for Lila. Lila considers telling Jessica the truth, but is afraid Jess won’t believe her because John is just too nice of a guy. Then she thinks of calling Project Youth, but she’s afraid they’ll tell her she shouldn’t have been flirting with him so much beforehand if she didn’t want this to happen to her. I just want to give Lila a hug.
Lila forces herself to go to school on Monday morning, where one of the first things that happens is that she runs into Aaron and John Pfeifer. Dammit! Aaron says hi and John laughs right in Lila’s face and they walk away. Then she sees Jessica and crew and they want to know all about her date. She puts them off and Amy and Caroline think she’s just being a spoiled princess, but Jessica knows something else is wrong. When Lila gets home, Eva thinks she’s sick and offers to make her chicken noodle soup, but Lila turns her down. Jessica calls Li again to ask her what’s wrong, but Lila claims everything’s fine, then hangs up abruptly and starts crying.
At lunch on Tuesday, Liz and her dumb boring friends talk about what’s up with John and Lila. Liz remarks that John just ignores her when she asks him how the date with Lila went. Winston says that when he asked John about it, John bit his head off and said that “Lila wasn’t his type.” Todd says that John told him he only went out with Lila as a joke. What the fuck does that even mean? Like a prank? John is telling people that Lila is even more shallow than everyone thinks and Enid responds that Lila couldn’t possibly be any more shallow. Ooooh good one Enid, you annoying little twat.
Jess gets Lila to give her a ride home from school and notes that she’s always dressed in baggy sweats and almost no makeup these days, and looks sick. In fact, she compares her to an organic egg: “…now she would have been lucky to come in as a runner-up in a Miss Organic-Egg contest.” What … the … FUCK does that even MEAN? WHAT? Anyway, Lila once again shrugs off Jessica’s attempts at finding out what’s wrong, and says that she might cancel her costume party that Saturday because she’s just “too busy.” Jessica is horrified and goes home to talk to Liz about it, who’s about as helpful as an old episode of Ricki Lake or some shit. Wooo, way to go Liz.
Lila decides to tell John he can’t come to her party on Saturday under any circumstances. She gets Jess to wait in the car for her while she goes to the Oracle office, where John is surprised to see her. Lila tells him that he’s not allowed at her party, or at her home, ever. He just shrugs and says “You’re the boss.” Lila walks back out to the car where she starts crying so hard that Jessica has to drive her back to Fowler Crest. Still, Lila doesn’t want to talk to Jessica about what’s going on.
The night of the party arrives. Lila dresses as Peter fucking Pan. She had to choose between that and being a mermaid, and she is not in the mood to dress in a skimpy outfit. The party is going well and Lila’s spirits are lifted as she’s surrounded by her friends and feels a little bit safer, and happier. But then John fucking Pfeifer walks in, with a sophomore girl named Julie who’s wearing a fuzzy blue bunny suit. Lila orders him to leave and he laughs at her. He’s wearing a pirate outfit and when she threatens to have him thrown out, he goes, “What reason will you give anyone? Because you’re Peter Pan and you think I’m Captain Hook?” Holy shit, so not only is he a violent creep, he’s a violent creep who makes horrible one-liners. He keeps on milling about the party while Lila seethes with rage. But when she overhears John tell the bunny they should go someplace to be alone, she loses it. She runs over and tells the girl not to let John take her home. Then, as a crowd gathers, she yells at John to tell everyone how he tried to rape her last Saturday night. John smugly proclaims “it wasn’t rape … it was anything but.” Everyone starts whispering and gossiping and Sam Woodruff kicks John out of the house. Lila runs back upstairs and locks herself in her room. Jessica tries to get her to open it for 15 minutes, but Lila never comes out.
When Lila won’t come to the phone again the next day, Jessica drives over to Fowler Crest and barges past Eva and into Lila’s room, where Lila finally breaks down and tells Jess the whole story. Meanwhile, Liz has a chat with Alice about it who tells her that the hardest part may be yet to come for Lila, as everyone will wonder how “such a nice boy” like John could do something like this. Even Liz doesn’t really seem to believe it, even though everyone could see how upset Lila was the night before.
Monday morning comes, and Lila is feeling confident and ready to go to school. Now that the story’s out, she’s sure John will be the one feeling low-down. Instead, he’s holding his head up high and smirking at her while other students openly stare at Lila and discuss whether or not she’s lying. Jessica overhears two girls in the locker room saying that Lila’s such a flirt that she has to expect this kind of thing. Jessica bitches them out.
People continue to discuss the situation all day long. Liz, Enid, and Terri Adams have a conversation with Todd and Ken about the situation. Todd says most of the boys are saying that because it was Lila’s idea to go parking and because she dresses herself well and looks pretty, she had to know that John would try to rape her. And, that you can’t just decide John is an (attempted) rapist just because Lila says that’s what he is. oooookay … so why is everyone treating Lila like the leper and not John? They talk about how “respectable” John is, but then why aren’t they surprised by the way he’s now prancing around talking about how far he got with her or whatever? Liz, why aren’t you callng him out on that shit? The fuck? I know this double standard shit is common, but that doesn’t make it right, and now I’m all mad. *breathes* It’s just … a … book … okay, back to the story.
So yeah, the general consensus at the school is that because Lila likes to flirt, or whatever, that means John can’t be blamed for not having any responsibility or control over himself and his actions … it’s all on the girl. Jessica sets it straight when she says: “Just because you kiss a boy doesn’t mean he has the right to attack you. I mean, they’re human, too. They’re supposed to act like it.” Even so, Lila starts to consider transferring to a private school. (Oh by the way, if you’re wondering where Lila’s dad is in all this, he’s away on business again.)
Jessica talks to Jennifer Mitchell about her ex to see if she can provide any insight, but Jennifer doesn’t have much to say. She seems to believe Lila, and she points out that someone would have to be seriously “demented” to make something like this up and put themselves through the shit that Lila’s going through. But as for her experience with John, she just broke up with him because he was incredibly bossy and it was his way or the highway. Beyond that, she doesn’t have anything to say.
Lila is going through the cafeteria line and imagining (although imagining probably isn’t the word for it) that everyone is looking at her and talking about her. After she gets her salad and goes to join Amy and Robin, John Pfeifer suddenly appears out of nowhere and stands right in her way, smirking and waiting for her to run into him. Lila can’t think of what to do when suddenly Liz and Enid appear on either side of her, chatting loudly about how great Lila’s party was except for “the gatecrasher”, and whisk her right past him so she doesn’t have to face him. Alright, those two are pretty cool for doing that, even though it shows off what dorks they are because they think a good party = Todd eating too many sandwiches.
Then comes the night when Susan Wyler comes to Lila’s house. Susan Wyler is about the third or fourth chick named Susan in this damn series, but this is the first time we’ve heard of this character. She’s a popular sophomore and it turns out she has a story similar to Lila’s. John took her out after he broke up with Jennifer, but before he asked Lila out. John tried to rape Susan on the beach and she only got away because another couple showed up. Susan was so terrified of John that she got a ride back home from the other couple. Lila and Susan decide to confront John and get him “into counseling.” Does counseling really help with that sort of thing? Is it really going to take that smirk off his face and make him go “Gee, I was wrong”? I think they should send his ass to juvenile hall and let him get a firsthand education in sexual assault from his fellow inmates, personally.
The big confrontation takes place at the Dairi Burger, in front of pretty much everybody. John is sitting with a bunch of boys from the volleyball team. Lila comes over to chat and he acts arrogant and tries to shame her in front of his friends, who all find it amusing. But then Lila mentions Susan Wyler and John starts getting nervous. One of the volleyball players, Dean, happens to be Susan’s best friend’s big brother and he wants to know what’s going on. Susan walks up and says that John attacked her the same way he did Lila. John claims they are lying, and Dean and the other volleyball players get upset because “Susan Wyler doesn’t lie” and tell him he needs to get help, and walk out of the restaurant. One of them calls John “little man.” This scene is kind of annoying because Dean makes it clear he only believes Lila because he already knows Susan well enough to know she doesn’t lie. While false accusations of rape do happen, they are markedly rare when compared to actual occurrences, so this scene kind of underscores for me the whole theme of how difficult it is to get someone to believe that you were raped. You wouldn’t have to go to such lengths to convince someone that you were mugged in an alley, I presume.
The wrap: Lila starts counseling sessions at Project Youth. John’s friends have “threatened” him into undergoing counseling there as well. Ugh! Lila hopes she doesn’t run into him. I hope not either. F that jerkoff. Oh, and Julie (the girl in the rabbit costume at Lila’s party) thanks Lila for what she did. Lila smugly tells Jessica that all the girls in school feel they owe Lila a debt of gratitude for speaking up. Jessica is happy to have the old conceited Lila back again.
And that’s a wrap. That’s this book. I have to say it treated the subject matter far more respectfully and responsibly than I was expecting. Of course, I remember the early SV books, when there were multiple attempted rapes in the first several stories but no one would ever say the word “rape”. Now we have a book that explores the (condensed) aftermath of what really happens … the way the girl feels, the way everyone seems to assume she is a liar or a “slut”, the feelings of denial, guilt, shame, hurt, confusion, anger. The author does a good job of trying to cover all of these in so few pages. At the same time, Lila’s true personality is always there. She is who she is and her usual flirty, highbrow ways don’t mean she should be treated with less respect as a human being or that she isn’t allowed to have sole dominion over her own body. You don’t have to like her as a person in order to think she deserves respect as a human being. Society has a hard time figuring that out a lot of the time.
And then there’s John … John Pfeifer, who I’ve always thought never had a concrete personality one way or the other. We’re told he’s “serious and shy” but we really only saw him that way in White Lies, the first book to star him. The rest of the time he was a sports writer and member of the school frat who acted like, well, like one of the popular dudes. Kinda loud, sports fan, willing to partake in pranks and roughhousing courtesy of Phi Epsilon. Now we’re supposed to believe he’s always been a totally nice and sweet guy on the outside. Yet when John starts acting smug and laughing at Lila in the open, no one stops and wonders what’s up with his sudden change in behavior. I wish I could get irrationally mad at these fictional characters for being a bunch of assholes, but in truth, this book mirrors real life a little too much.
Sadly, there is little to no discussion about how rape is often not about sex specifically, but about demonstrating power over a woman. John didn’t attempt to rape Lila because he’s so horny he just couldn’t help himself, he did it because it made him feel powerful and stronger than her.
The sub-plot was weird and felt out of place. Jessica and Sam are at a crossroads where they want to make out all the time and Jessica is afraid they will wind up having sex. Of course, the word “sex” isn’t actually said at any point, so we’re left to put two and two together (which, granted, is not hard). They talk about how it takes two to tango and they each have responsibility for whatever happens and that they love each other bla bla. Jessica is still concerned. She marches into Liz’s room and goes, “How do you two do it? That’s all I want to know.” Haaaa. Of course, what she means is, how do Liz and Todd kiss and not jump each other’s bones? Liz says they know their limits and stick to them. Jessica is sure she and Sam are going to mess up one day, so she launches a campaign where she refuses to be alone with Sam unless she’s a good distance away from him. Liz thinks this is going “overboard” which is funny coming from someone who once trekked through the woods to interrupt her sister’s makeout session because she was afraid they might go too far! Mrs. Wakefield also gets involved, nosily asking Jessica why she and Sam seem to be so “formal” with one another lately. This drags on and on until finally Sam says that if they’re going to act more like friends than boyfriend and girlfriend, that they should be just that – friends. They break up, then Jessica comes back to him when she realizes what a good guy he is in comparison to John Pfeifer. Well, I would hope everyone looks like a damn saint next to John Pfeifer! Sam promises never to do anything to hurt Jessica and woooo, so now we know Jessica is no longer as keen on her infamous backseat sessions as she once was!
I feel kind of icky about the fact that this subplot is obviously supposed to coincide with the main plot. I guess the point is about limits – Sam respects them, John doesn’t. Why does this eek me out that these two stories appear together? I think it might be because there’s so much talk about how guys and girls “think differently.” And while that’s often true, it isn’t always the case, and it jars me because that’s often the way rapes and sexual assaults are excused or explained away – “Boys will be boys!” They can’t help their sex drives! Never mind that, again, rape isn’t about sex or being horny, it’s more about someone having a need to show power over someone else by way of a violent attack.
This cover doesn’t really depict the actual scene, given that they weren’t standing up when John turned violent, but other than that no complaints. John looks scary as all hell, while Lila looks scared and angry. I love Lila’s outfit. Very sexy, classy, and pretty.
WTF? This book is rather creepy when you consider that several books back (and I can’t recall the exact book), John went on a date with Lila and subsequently became “obsessed” with her and followed her around to the point that it was seriously annoying her. No mention of that here, of course, and too far back for it to have been just a setup for this story.
This book twists facts to make John look like he’s always been a bit of an asshole. In White Lies he was docile enough to let Liz order him around while he tried to figure out what to do about Jennifer. And when he couldn’t bring himself to follow Liz’s instructions, he just walked around in a hospital parking lot mumbling to himself. Here, Liz claims she didn’t approve of John’s “strong-arm tactics” when he attempted to break Jennifer and Rick Andover up. That’s just bullshit. If anyone was strong-armed in that book, it was LIZ.
Lila tells John she hears “the flavored coffee’s very good” at the new cafe in Sweet Valley … hahahahhaa. I guess this is before Starbucks had taken over the entire nation.
Caroline is still dating that Jerry kid from book 17 or whatever it was (the Love Letters one).
Speaking of Caroline, I still find it weird that she’s replaced Cara in the series as the new best gal pal of Jessica, Lila, and Amy. Last I checked, nobody really liked Caroline.
We haven’t read about any diet fads or girls dieting in a while. In this book, Terri and Enid discuss “how many calories were in the rice salad.” What the fuck is rice salad?! … OK, I just googled it and realized I’ve eaten stuff like that very often, but is it really called rice salad? Maybe I am weird, or just too East Coast-y?
Steven may be getting involved with a ski instructor at school named Jana, getting over Cara at last.
Jessica, reacting with surprise to the fact that Liz and Todd like to make out: “She always thought Todd and Elizabeth were about as exciting together as Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield.” BURN. She also says that Todd is “as exciting as a plate of cold potatoes.” Ha ha ha! My thoughts exactly, Jess! Too bad you didn’t feel that way about him in book #1 where you went out of your way to make sure he liked you better than your sister!
Rosa says she doesn’t know who she’s going to the costume party with – so is she not dating Eddie Strong anymore?
In this book we learn that Fowler Crest has 20 rooms and an intercom system set up throughout. Eva uses the intercom to tell Lila to get out of bed and go to school. Man, how annoying. My mom would’ve taken full advantage of that as I was always as eager to get out of bed as Lila is (that is, not at all).
As usual, whenever someone throws a costume party, people come up with the absolute worst costume ideas on the face of the earth. So here are some of the horrid ideas we are treated to in this book: a horse (Todd’s idea), Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Winston’s idea for him and Maria), tube of paint (Olivia), cloud (Olivia), Rhode Island Red chicken (What?) (Hugh’s idea for him and Enid), set of salt and pepper shakers (Todd again), pair of dice (Todd again), cowboy and dancehall girl (Todd again – Liz gets mad because she is “not the dancehall girl type” – LMFAO!!! She then sulkily suggests that maybe Todd would rather go as a sultan and his harem girl).
Ultimately, Jess and Sam go as Han Solo and Princess Leia, and Liz and Todd go as the sun and the moon. Enid and Hugh go as a telephone – Hugh as the body and Enid as the receiver – DUMB. (I’m just waiting for someone to comment and go “Hey! That was my costume this year!”)
Coming up next: Liz has been receiving letters from her old pen pal from middle school, a prince from the tiny (fictional) country of Santa Dora, and Todd’s kinda jealous. I’m like an owl about this … whooooooooooo cares?
(…I do, at least enough to recap it)
(PS – Yes – I’m back!)