This is the last book in a small arc of some of my favorites when I was a kid. This particular one, like book 29, focuses more on the complicated nature of high school friendships than it does boys. I like the romance and all, but this is refreshing. Or at least, for a while. It starts getting boring near the end.
If we’re attempting to make some sense out of the SVH timeline and continuity, and you know I’m going to, then another summer is over and we’re back to school …. and everyone is a junior again. It’s also pledge season for Pi Beta Alpha. Jean West couldn’t pledge last time because she was doing some “big music project”, but since she’s PBA sister Sandra Bacon’s best friend, it’s a given she’ll get in. What no one knows is that old Sandy is incredibly envious of all of Jean’s accomplishments. It seems like Jean is perfect at everything, and Sandy is sick of hearing about how great she is. Funny how we, the readers, have heard almost nothing about Jean before this book other than that she’s a cheerleader.
Sandra thinks she weighs too much and is “average” yet she’s in PBA so she can’t be all bad. Or maybe she can – Enid’s a member right? Hahaha. Because we can’t have Sandy just being a bitch for the hell of it – that’s Jessica’s sole right – we are told that Sandy’s also afraid that once Jean joins PBA, she’ll lose interest in Sandra since PBA is “the only thing Sandra has that Jean doesn’t” at present. Right.
Well, Sandra nominates Jean like everyone expects her to, but then proceeds to morph into a scheming biotch to keep her out of the sorority. One of the pledge tasks is that each girl has to get a certain guy to take her to this dumb party Cara is having. Sandra picks Tom McKay as the guy Jean has to ask because she knows Tom thinks Jean is a snob. Jean is horrified, but Sandy explains it away by saying she doesn’t want to look like she is playing favorites with Jean. With Lila’s help, Jean gets Tom to go with her, and it turns out he’s had a secret crush on her for ages. They start hanging out more, and honestly, it’s hard to see how they are going to work out at first. Jean acts kind of snotty when Tom takes her on a picnic because she thinks it’s a weird thing to do, and her thoughts remind me of Suzanne Hanlon’s at times. Oh by the way, Suzanne Hanlon is also a PBA member, but she’s not in this book at all. Just sayin’.
The more Tom and Jean see each other, the more they like each other, and Sandra can’t have that. Sandra, you are seriously a desperately evil bitch. Sandra drops by The Tennis Shop, where Tom works. Yes, that’s what it’s called. She “accidentally” lets it slip that Jean just asked him to have a date for the dance to fulfill a pledge, insinuating that she doesn’t really like Tom and is just using him. Tom feels humiliated, flies into a rage, and stands Jean up the night of the party by claiming he had to go to the hospital for food poisoning and have his stomach pumped. (Would they really pump your stomach for having food poisoning?) When Jean shows up without Tom and explains what happened, the girls are all sympathetic and ready to forgive this slight until Sandra starts insisting that they check out Jean’s story. Cara and Lila are a little surprised by this. Man, where is Jessica? She’s seriously nowhere around most of these PBA happenings, and she’s supposed to be the president! Jean calls the hospital and finds that yep, Tom never really checked in and he was lying. She is PISSED, but Cara and Lila are going to go ahead and let Jean get in the sorority anyway even though she failed her pledge task. Sandra calls bullshit on that and tells them they can’t let Jean in, and everyone is appalled. So then Jean tells everyone that for a new plege task, she will get back at Tom with an elaborate plan. She’s going to go to the big Friday the Thirteenth dance with him, where she and Dana Larson will be asked to choose the guy of their choice for the first dance since it’s also their birthday. Jean will ask someone other than Tom! Oh noooooes! Lila and Cara are fucking delighted with this plan. Jean then bitches Sandra out for not having her back. Sandra feels like an asshole. Good.
The rest of the book revolves around Jean and Tom falling in love, Jean deciding she can’t go through with the plan to mortify him, Tom telling Jean the real reason why he stood her up, Jean crying about Sandra but being a doormat and not asking her what the hell her problem is, and Sandra standing around feeling pretty stupid and praying Jean won’t find out that she tried to sabotage her. You know, I have to agree with Sandy on that list bit. She is stupid. If she were smart, she would’ve taken a tack from Jessica circa book 4, and just blackballed Jean anonymously at the end. I mean, no one knew it was Jess that wouldn’t let Robin in, right? So why not do it that way to Jean rather than make a big obvious ass of herself? Jeez.
Sandra runs into Liz in the student lounge (student LOUNGE? do all schools have this and I was just deprived?) but, get this, DOESN’T confide in her! YES! I was totally expecting a stupid Liz-saves-the-day scene (because I couldn’t remember what happened the first time I read this) and was so overjoyed I didn’t have to read through that. I was even more shocked when perpetually nosy Liz hears about Jean’s evil plan for Tom, thinks it’s awful, and declines to get involved because she doesn’t know Jean that well. NO.FUCKING.WAY.
Now, by the time we get to the big Friday the Thirteenth dance, it’s all a little boring. Yet we do get a huge description of how elegantly the school is decorated and you can tell this book was published during the booming 80s economy since they have huge dances like this every.single.week. They even have a bunch of “unlucky” items set around the room as decorations. Anyone besides me think some Christian parents’ group would be throwing a fucking fit if they tried to pull that today? So Jean asks Tom to dance with her instead of snubbing him, the PBAs are furious, Jessica actually appears for a second, Sandra begs the PBA harpies to kick her out rather than blackball Jean, and Jean overhears her and they cry and make up. They have a good laugh about it while the PBAs decide what to do with them. Because this is Sweet Valley, it works out perfectly and PBA accepts Jean and keeps Sandy.
What have we learned? 1) High school friendships are very complicated. 2) Jealousy will turn you into a monster. 3) If someone’s being a dick, it’s best to just not say anything and hope it will work out. 4) If you’ve been a dick, it’s best to just not own up to it and hope it will work out. If you do have to own up to it, just make a self-sacrificial statement and your friend will forgive you.
This cover is pretty appropriate. Sandra is wearing a totally bitchy expression and reminds me of Grease with her nickname “Sandy” combined with that big pink satin letter jacket. I don’t recall ever reading that the PBAs wore these jackets. Whatever. Jean’s face plays the part of the unsuspecting best friend perfectly, and we can tell she is “sophisticated” because she’s wearing a pearl necklace like Lila and Suzanne H. Nice hairband, Jean. Totally 80s. Love it. Also dig that we get a dark blue background for a change, combined with a Pepto-Bismol pink cover. HOT.
The sub-plot: Steven is home on some unspecified one week break from school. This book was published in September 1986, so let’s say fall break. But why does he even need a break? He’s HOME ALL THE TIME! His dorm roommate Bob has invited Steven to drop out of school and work with him on his dad’s ocean liner. They will be gone for eight to nine months at a time and see the “Far East” and Europe, which Steven considers “the whole world.” Everyone is horrified by the plan. He couldn’t care less and thinks it’s time he got a job and got out and saw the world. Ahahahahaha. Me too, you spoiled brat. Elizabeth decides the best way to handle it is to pretend they don’t give a crap, and actively support his decision to leave. Since it was Liz’s idea, the Wakefield parents are all about it. As everyone shows they don’t give a shit if he goes, Steven starts pouting and thinks everyone hates him. Well, I do hate you Steven and I wish you would go, so I don’t have to read about you moping around the house in every book. The Wakefields throw him a surprise “Bon Voyage” party and he gets mad and tells them he’s not going and everyone cries with relief. Come on, are they for real? He can’t stay away from home for three DAYS; did they really think he was going to leave for EIGHT MONTHS?
Oh, and Steven seriously does not give a crap about Cara. I have no idea how she puts up with it. First he totally ignores her when Ferney comes around, now he doesn’t even think twice about leaving her behind for nine months at a time. Yet he gets pissed that she doesn’t want to maintain a long-distance relationship at age SIXTEEN. Ugh. However, there is a funny scene where Cara says she’ll always remember Steven and he yells “Like hell you will” and storms off.
Stuff and Things: Sandra considers herself just “average” which is funny since in book 10 we were subjected to oozing prose about how the cheerleaders are “the cream of the crop.” See, Jessica effed up the team by letting Sandy on!
Jessica is supposed to be PBA president, yet it’s Lila who’s leading the pledging and all that. In fact, Jessica isn’t mentioned in a lot of the PBA scenes. Maybe Lila is just pledge-master. And of course there are no seniors in PBA or cheerleading.
Steven is 18 again in this book. Guuuh. Pick an age and stick with it, would ya?
There are hardly any Wakefield twin scenes in the book. Jessica is pretty much absent and Liz is only in one or two scenes. In one of them, she’s rushing off to hurry and proofread her Eyes and Ears column, which is apparently a huge deal. Dude, that column is what, five lines long?
Okay, I normally don’t track something like how many siblings people have, but I find it interesting that it changes all the time. So in this book we learn that Sandra has three brothers and Jean has two. One of Jean’s brothers is named Richard. I’m guessing the other must be the senior named Peter West that Lila hit on at Jessica’s crazy party in book 22. Oh, and for the record, one of the very first books mentioned Todd saying he has a sister. Okay, let the official sibling tracking begin.
Even though she went off in book 29 about how much she hates sandwiches, Jean makes herself a sandwich waiting for Tom to show up for the PBA party date.
Sandra and Jean practice water ballet in gym class!
Jean is terrified of heights, but agrees to go on the Ferris wheel with Tom. She is cured of her phobia simply by keeping her eyes shut until they reach the very top, then opening them to see the killer view. Nice amateur Fear Factor there, Tom.
1986-tastic: Liz tries to convince Steven to give her his word processor before he leaves.
Amy Sutton takes Aaron Dallas to the pledge party and they sound like they’re going to hook up afterwards. I guess he’s not with Patsy anymore. Maybe Amy was supposed to break them up. That sounds like something that little bitch would do!
More one-shot characters: Jerry Novak (Dana Larson’s latest boyfriend), Leslie Decker, Janice Young, and Becky White (PBA pledges).
Possible future book spoiler alert: Maybe 40 books later, Tom comes out as gay. I can’t help thinking that Francine already had that planned when this book was written. There are jokes about how Jessica had turned Tom off to females forever when she dated him. Tom also talks about how he doesn’t feel comfortable getting too close to girls, etc. None of which is strange on its own until you consider that many books later, Tom comes out as gay. Hmmmm!
The back of the book has the fun Sweet Valley Twins ad, about books “created especially for you.” There’s also an ad for the SVH Super Editions that calls the SVH stories “real-life adventure.” Uh, what planet are you from, copy-editor?
So that’s the first book of the 30s. By now it’s 1986, and the twins have been 16 years old for about three years. I have to say that I’m not looking forward to reading most of the other 30s. A lot of them focus on secondary characters, and/or have stupid plots that I couldn’t give a shit about. But there are a couple of good ones in there, and we still have two of the original Super Editions to look forward to … although I already know that one of those blows hardcore.
Next: There’s a hot new boy in town, and Enid is all about it. Surprising since he’s her age!