A 30-something's lovingly sarcastic journey through all of Sweet Valley High, and then some (with lots of swears)

#3 Playing with Fire

OOOH! I’m very excited about this one; it’s one of the few early SVH books that I didn’t read as a kid. Something about the pink of this cover takes me right back to my 80s series reading … Secret of the Unicorn Queen, Sweet Valley Kids, Twins, and High, Camp Sunnyside Friends, Girl Talk, BSC, all of it! Speaking of the cover …

The cover: Not much to say about this one except that it’s definitely appropriate for the subject matter. Bruce looks extremely possessive and also like a tool, which he is. I’m also pretty positive the cover model for Bruce was Patrick Muldoon! Don’t they look a lot alike? I wish there was a way we could find out who posed for all these paintings!

The plot: So, what’s going on here? Well, Jessica is still mad that she’s stuck with Winston Egbert, as she’s Fall Queen and he’s Fall King. Yes, a fate worse than death, Jess. But things change when SVH has a dance-off contest and Bruce finally notices Jess and cuts in on her and Winston. Winston is duly humiliated. I feel really bad for him and kind of want to give him a hug! But seriously, Winston, why are you after this girl? She’s mean!

Jess and Bruce become a couple and Liz is immediately worried her sister is going to get her cherry popped and starts following them around. I’m sorry, was that too vulgar? Well, that seems to be the whole basis of this book! The blurb on the back even talks about how Liz is worried about “how far” her sister will go for Bruce. Remember, virginity is the most important virtue of respectable young ladies of Sweet Valley (just the ladies, though), and if Jessica loses it, she’s RUINED!

Anyway, they all go to a post-dance party at Ken Matthews’s lakeside house. Ken is back with Lila again so I guess he’s already forgiven her for last book’s escapades. Jessica stops Bruce from taking off her bikini top in the middle of the lake … oh my, this is scandalous! It says: “…Jessica had no idea what he was doing until she felt the cool water swirl under her bikini top and hit her breasts.” THE GHOSTWRITER SAID “BREASTS.” Now, Jessica is scared that if she appears too slow, Bruce will ditch her, but she doesn’t like the way this is going, so she coyly ties her top back on and suggests they go into the woods instead … because yeah, he definitely won’t try anything there. Liz freaks out and deliberately interrupts them … this scene is just hysterical. She hears them rolling around in the leaves and is mortified but knows she must stop them… and of course, she doesn’t succeed. She really sounds like a parent in this scene, pretty much ordering Jessica to get up NOW … nice try, Liz. Jessica spends the rest of the book acting completely un-Jessica like. She deliberately flubs a tennis game because Bruce gets mad when she beats him, lets Bruce literally order her around (under his spoken threat that he will dump her if she defies him), and buys a bunch of boring new outfits because Bruce likes them. She skips class to make out with him on the lawn, where apparently nobody notices but Liz … at my school, we had a “resource officer” who roamed around yelling at ALL the slobbering couples. I know because he got me a few times. Jessica also ditches her schoolwork for Bruce and winds up concocting an elaborate scheme to blackmail Emily Mayer into letting her cheat off Emily’s chem test .. but Emily confesses to the chem teacher! She doesn’t rat out Jessica, though. At first this pissed me off, till I remembered that “snitches get stitches”…. I guess it was important to protect the young readers.

J and B spend all their dates down at the beach parking and I can only imagine what’s going on down there … geee, I guess he finally got that bikini top untied. At the end of the book, everyone goes to Bruce’s country club 18th birthday celebration, which to me is hysterical, because don’t they all hate him? Well, hey, he IS rich, kids. Free food and party! Jessica is upset because she thought they were going to have a nice date for the two of them, because that’s what Bruce told her, because again, he’s a dick. Bruce leaves Jessica sitting a a table by herself for hours while he dances with other chicks. I mean, he literally tells her to just stay there and so she does! This is honestly one of the saddest scenes I have read in an SVH book … sadder than when certain characters died. Jessica is most definitely a shell of who she was in this scene; even Liz wouldn’t have succumbed to this much emotional abuse. Everybody goes out for pizza, and Bruce acts like he’s going to go home, so Jessica agrees to ride home with Elizabeth and Todd. Then Liz gets Todd to take a long time going home, then turn around and come back to the pizza place (I believe it was the famed Guido’s) only to find Bruce is still there … with a pretty redhead named Aline Montgomery. Jessica shows her true colors, dumps pizza and soda on Bruce. He jumps up and falls backwards into the water fountain … a pizza place with a water fountain? That’s pretty sweet. Jessica also lets the air out of his tires! I knew someone who let the air out of my ex-boyfriend’s tires in high school! But it wasn’t me! (unfortunately)

Sub-plot: Robin Wilson is an obese girl who follows Jessica around trying to get her attention, which Jessica of course uses to her full advantage by having her run errands for her. So a girl with no self-esteem gets used by another girl with no self-esteem who’s being used by somebody else.
-The Droids (Dana Larson, Emily Mayer, Guy Chesney, Max Dellon, and Dan Scott) get a shady manager who promises to make them big stars, but they wind up just playing crap clubs with names like The Seaside Express. (The hell?) Turns out the manager just wants some of Dana … who if I’m not mistaken is only 16 … this sub-plot was kind of boring.

WTF? The whole theme of this book is to be yourself and avoid giving up everything for a guy … which to me contrasts somewhat with the underlying series theme that you aren’t really anyone till you have a hot man interested in you. I know some people who read this one back in the day would say that Jessica was just getting what she deserved, but I find it really sad that this crazy loudmouthed biotch can be reduced to such a timid mouse just because her stupid boyfriend thinks she should. That’s emotional abuse, and it was bad enough in this book that I halfway expected Bruce to start beating Jessica up. I actually wish the book would have showed more depth with this topic, but what am I saying? This is a Sweet Valley book.

-Jessica meanly tells Robin that Winston Egbert is interested in her and makes things awkward between them.

-Did any of your schools have dance-off contests? ‘Cause I thought it was just Bayside High before this.

-Apparently, when you join PBA, you get a teddy bear. Jessica’s is named Bartholomew.

-Jessica was on the swim team in “junior high” – can anyone tell me if in the Sweet Valley Junior High series, there was in fact a swim team that Jessica was on? I’m just curious. 🙂

-Apparently Bruce previously dated Lila, Cara Walker (who tells Liz he tried to control her too), and some other popular chick named Heather Morgan, and dumped them all. Lila considers herself a Bruce expert so Jessica consults her for advice on catching this patsy fool. Oh, Lila. Why didn’t you say “Stay the hell away”?

-And, expert on Bruce? Does this mean Lila had sex with the Patman? NOOO WAY.

-Bruce drives a black Porsche with 1BRUCE1 license plates. This is probably a well-known fact among most of you reading this, but I just had to mention it!

-I’m actually surprised that Jessica dumped Bruce and flipped out the second she saw him at Guido’s with that chick … because up until that moment it was pretty obvious that he was starting to ditch her to get some elsewhere.

-Isn’t it odd that the Wakefield parents didn’t do more to keep Jessica away from this creep? If my parents had seen me literally mooning around at home waiting for the phone to ring and acting the way Jess does in this book, they would’ve pulled the plug on that mess right quick.

Ads in the back of the book: Includes mail-away form for the first Caitlin trilogy, another Francine Pascal series. I never read any of those, or saw them anywhere, for that matter but they appear to star a Lila Fowler-like character. Another form for a Sweet Dreams spin-off series called On Our Own, which I never heard of before. AND a form I remember quite well, for the free Love Letters newsletter! It includes “The latest gossip about the SWEET VALLEY HIGH gang”, “The real life stories about SWEET DREAMS cover girls” and “Who’s in love … and who’s not.” How could you turn that down! I know I never sent away for this one and now I’m kicking myself! It was FREE! I would pay a pretty penny to get some of these newsletters now. Because I thrive on all things retro pop culture. Also because I do not have all of my marbles.

Coming up next: Jessica hates people who aren’t a size six.


Comments on: "#3 Playing with Fire" (9)

  1. steelmag9 said:

    I have the entire Caitlin series. I think at the end of book 20 or 21 Francine talks about the series. She said that Caitlin was like Jessica among other things. I liked it a lot.

    Sweet Dreams was okay. I have some of the “classic” books like 10 Boy Summer and The Popularity Plan. I desperately want PS I Love You though. On Our Own was a spin-off of one of the “classic” SD books and put the girls in college or living on their own. I don’t really remember.

    I once put a chocolate bar in an ex’s gas tank. Fucked his shit up. That’s what he gets.

  2. steelmag9 said:

    The Caitlin series was only 9 books. I meant Francine talked about Caitlin at the end of SVH 20 or 21.

  3. I think for me one of the themes of the series actually did point out how pathetic it was to place all your hopes on having the dream dude. But I think in a way it was basically a reflection of values in the 80s Anglo-American/suburban life. If you were pretty and perfect you were pretty perfect and you should have a pretty perfect boyfriend, go to college and get a degree that you will never use so you can become a pretty perfect wife. I know a lot of my older cousins who grew up in the burbs felt that way and did just that (guess how many of them wound up being happy…none except for one)

    My mother also pointed out to me that Alice Wakefield had a career, the three kids, and for the most part (until the marital problems started) was doing it all. And she wished they would have shown the girls going to their mother with some of their problems because she would be the perfect person to come to for stuff about dumb ass boys and building self-esteem.

  4. Michelle said:

    I always though Bruce Patman looked like he was modeled after a young Mark Harmon.

  5. First off – this is totally hysterical and an unexpected amazing find. Thanks for providing some excellent reading material that is just as much fun (if not more) than reading the series itself!

    Second, I’ve read most of the Sweet Valley Junior High series and no, Jessica was not on the swim team. She runs track. Oh, Francine.

  6. writer-dramaqueen said:

    Hey great blog. I loved the SVH books. I don’t suppose you know where I can download them from

    • steelmag9 said:

      You can download the first 12 SVH books to your e-reader. They’re on Amazon.com

  7. Hey
    Can someone read the chapters and record?
    Please if you got the audios or Sweet Valley Kids/Twins send them to msoofloo@yahoo.com
    Thanks a zillion
    Mehdi Sufi

  8. I think I vaguely remember the Caitlin series. Caitlin is a spoilt rich girl (kind of like a cross between Jessica and Lila) something terrible happens, which is her fault, to another girl, causing the other girl to become anorexic(?) or something like that. There is this guy she likes, who starts off being like Todd (self righteous and “gallant”) but then he becomes a potential rapist, because he finds out what Caitlin did to this other girl and then tries to rape Caitlin to “punish” her. I kid you not. I was so disgusted and horrified that a book series aimed at teens would make this behaviour seem okay (the guy is remorseful but for some reason, we’re still supposed to think he’s a good guy. No, a good guy would never stoop to this level). Actually, disgusted and horrified are not strong enough words to describe my reactions. Needless to say, I didn’t bother reading the books. For shame, Francine Pascal, for shame.

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