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

I was so excited to read this. This was the very first SVH book that I ever purchased. I think I bought it back in  1987 from the Waldenbooks in the mall. In fact, now that I think about it, this is probably the first one I ever read,  not Kidnapped! I think this book colored my ideals about how summertime should be for every teenage girl. (Oh,  lord.) And the cover definitely fascinated me as a kid. We have Liz and Jess standing on the beach looking just  delighted to be there. Jessica is the cool one laughing at something and taking off her sunglasses for a better look. I  wanted that pinky-peach bikini. (Note the past tense.) And, naturally, Liz is the one wearing the stupid-ass  matching barrettes (come on, even to the BEACH Liz?!) and crossing her arms self-consciously over her  conservative tank suit. I didn’t like Liz’s suit, but I still wound up with one that looked a lot like it when I was 12.  (My mom wouldn’t let me get a bikini until I was 14.)

So summer’s here, AGAIN, and the twins and all their friends have just finished up at least their second junior year.  Actually, I think it might be the third. I’m losing track. George Fowler forces daughter Lila to get a job in Malibu  as a mother’s helper in order to build some discipline or character or some bullshit like that. It’s a little late for that  George. Of course, the job she  winds up with is ridiculously cushy and she spends maybe two full minutes the whole summer actually doing  anything with the kid. In fact, she describes her duties as reading a bedtime story to the kid each evening. What the fuck kind of shit is that? Hiring someone just to read a story … ahhhh, nevermind. I’m taking this too seriously again.

When Jessica hears about this job, she is all about it and immediately wants to do the same thing. Ned and Alice say she can’t do it unless Liz does, too … why? Who cares? Is Liz supposed to chaperon Jessica? Well, Jess can’t convince Liz to go because Liz has been trying to hook up a summer internship for the Sweet Valley News … until LILA makes Liz feel bad about not giving Jessica what she wants. It only takes two seconds for Lila to make Liz reconsider, because Liz is stupid. Liz, I’m seriously going to smack you. So yeah, Liz gives up her prized internship that she worked so hard for, and prepares for Malibu with the oh-so-strict condition that Jessica do all the work, line up the interviews, and pick the families that they’ll work for. You see where this is going. Jessica is basically going to give herself the best family. She goes and interviews with the lady who runs the agency, who doesn’t appear to check any references. In fact, she pretty much hires the Wakefields solely because they are twins and she thinks the clients will dig knowing that twins are working for the agency. Because twins are such magical, special creatures, like unicorns and mermaids.

Despite Liz’s admonishment that Jessica do all the work, she has to do interviews with both families that the girls have been assigned. Why? Well, because Jessica and Robin Wilson are going to a weekend cheerleading camp together. So Liz reluctantly goes to both interviews and yes, that means she poses as Jessica for one of them.

Jessica has picked out a family called the Sargents for herself. Josh and Lucy Sargent have a three-month-old baby named Sam, so you know there is an ulterior motive for this. Jessica only wants to work for them because Josh Sargent’s cousin is a 17-year-old singer/movie star named Tony Sargent, and Jess thinks he might drop by the house and fall in love with her. He’s apparently already released two gold records and done a movie, but he’s never been mentioned in this series before, and Liz hasn’t even heard of him. He’s the 1986 equivalent of Justin Bieber. He sings pop songs like “You’re on My Mind” and “Tonight Is For You, Girl” and I remember reading about him when I was a New Kids on the Block fan, and being totally charmed. Of course, at 28, I find his lyrics a lot sillier.

Jessica sets Liz up with Malcolm and Audrey Bennett, who have a bratty six-year-old daughter named Taryn. She figures Liz is getting the raw end of the deal but will get over it. What a good sister, that Jessica.

Elizabeth goes to interview with the Sargents as Jessica, and finds the house is actually super tiny, six miles away from the beach, crammed full of boxes, and worst of all, Jessica will be staying in a cramped room on a cot, just inches away from the baby’s crib. Then Liz drives to see the Bennetts, and sees that they live in a HUGE oceanview mansion with a whole separate wing for Taryn, and that there’s a housekeeper named Maria who also looks after Taryn. Liz is so stupid she actually thinks Jessica willingly took the Sargent assignment and gave Liz the better house to make up for Liz having to skip out on her internship. Liz, you never learn, do you?

When Jessica arrives at the Sargents and sees the house, she is devastated. Josh also tells her that they haven’t seen Tony in three years and he never comes around. Serves her right! But she perks up a bit when she meets the Bennetts’ hot next door neighbor, Cliff Sherman, who just graduated from high school. Jessica spends a good deal of the rest of the book trying to get Liz to switch assignments with her, but Liz isn’t having it. That’s right Liz, grow that backbone! Jessica tries to change Liz’s mind by pretending she’s allergic to the Sargents’ cat, Spot. Liz isn’t buying it because Jess had allergy tests a few years ago when she tried to claim that she was allergic to dishwashing soap, and everything came out fine.

The back of the cover tell us that Jessica “desperately tries to get bronzed Cliff Sherman to notice her” but all she has to do is smile at him! There’s a mild conflict where Jessica has to convince Liz to babysit for Sam so she can go to a big party Cliff is throwing in honor of his visiting friend. One page later, Liz has agreed to watch Sam. Jessica goes to the party, and she and Cliff are an item for the rest of the book. Yawn. (Do people really throw parties in honor of visiting friends that often? It seems like a nice gesture, but still …) Cliff is okay; he jogs and he doesn’t seem to have much of a personality.

Lila brags about how she wants to meet a hot older man like the hero in a romance novel she’s reading. Then she falls for Cliff’s friend Ben Horgan, whom she meets at the mall. She just assumes Ben is older than she is. They take a romantic walk, and Ben acts weird about his age, but finally admits he’s only fifteen (big deal!) and won’t be sixteen till September … oh, how horrible. Jessica finds out about Ben’s age from Cliff, and she gives Lila a hard time about it and pisses her off. Um, remember Dennis Creighton, Jessica? Ben offers to teach Lila how to windsurf. She already took lessons last summer but she pretends she doesn’t know how to do it so that Ben can feel like a great teacher. Why do chicks always pull this in these books? That’s a bad message to send if you ask me. Lila and Ben fall in love. I kind of don’t like Ben; he sounds like a douche.

Little Taryn Bennett hates Elizabeth and Cliff and her parents and everyone else. Her parents neglect her and she’s miserable. But Jessica tells her fun “secrets” about a “wicked little girl named Taryn.” Taryn likes Jessica’s style. Haha, take that, Liz.

On the night of Cliff’s big party, Liz is babysitting when the Sargents’ friend Jamie Galbraith, a college junior at Yale, stops by. He’s all intellectual and 21, and he talks about literature and gets Liz all hot and bothered. They share a slow dance and she freaks the fuck out when he’s about to kiss her. I have to say that is a little skeezy for an adult to be after some jailbait babysitter that he just met. But Liz’s main problem is that her parents wouldn’t approve. Liz, you’re on vacation. WHO CARES? She’s also afraid to tell Jessica because then Jessica would have to hide it from their parents and that would be such a burden on her. LIZ. HOW MANY OLDER GUYS HAS YOUR SISTER DATED, EXACTLY? DIDN’T YOU HAVE TO COVER FOR HER WHEN SHE GOT STRANDED OVERNIGHT WITH ONE? GEEEEEEEE …

Lar lar lar, Liz keeps seeing Jamie secretly but feels guilty about it. Give me a fucking break. They fall madly in love and Liz is shocked because she hasn’t felt this way about anyone since Todd. Of course, we quickly learn that Jamie is really famous Tony Sargent in hiding from a stalker who wants to kill him. You see, Tony was lonely on the road, so he “had a drink” with a groupie named Lisa. I gather that is code for “had a one-night stand”. It turned out Lisa had a crazed boyfriend in jail named Frankie LaSalle. Now Frankie is out and he’s going to kill Tony for “messing around” with Lisa. To protect Tony, Tony’s manager, Jody, hired “professional makeup men” to give him a new look … and all they did was dye his hair, give him colored contacts, and have him wear wire-rimmed glasses. Uh, couldn’t he have done all that on his own?

Liz and Jamie/Tony go on romantic dates to the Beach Cafe, and Liz makes a big deal out of how she is going to tell her parents. What a goody-goody. You’re on your own on a beach trip; do what you want! Well, to be fair, it sounds like Liz and Tony were planning on making their summer romance a year-round deal.

Frankie tricks Tony’s secretary in telling him where he is by saying he is a policeman (over the phone). Right. Now he’s on his way to Malibu to kill Tony for banging his girlfriend.

A huge storm blows up one night. Taryn has come down with a horrible fever, but no one thinks to take her to the hospital. She gets out of bed and overhears her parents arguing, and she packs a tiny suitcase and runs away. In the middle of the storm, Jessica drives to the Bennetts’ house on instinct to see if Liz is okay, but Liz isn’t there because she’s at the Beach Cafe again with Jamie. Jess and Maria decide to get Taryn and leave the house because the storm is too dangerous. Jessica is afraid the house will wash over the cliffs or something. Come on, is this a hurricane?!

Maria discovers Taryn is gone and she and Jess run out to look for her. The police find Taryn trapped on a broken footbridge over a rushing river, but Taryn won’t come to them. Jessica gets Taryn to come to her by yelling out a secret just seconds before the footbridge breaks completely apart. Taryn is extremely ill and is rushed to the hospital. She keeps asking for Jessica and it’s really sweet. Awwww. And, because all family matters and life-and-death issues can be wrapped up very neatly in Sweet Valley World, Jessica has Audrey tell Taryn a secret herself, about how everything’s going to be okay with them from now on. Malcolm and Audrey apologize for being shit parents and make up with Taryn and with one another. So Taryn pulls through. This is at least the second book where someone has to have the “will” to live and Jessica solves it. (See also: Book 10.) I love this place.

Back to Liz and Jamie. Crazy Frankie goes to the Sargents’ house and poses as Jody the manager. Lucy tells him where Jamie has gone. Then the REAL Jody comes by later to check on Jamie, and they all nearly have a heart attack. Frankie finds Jamie and Liz right as Jamie is about to tell Liz that he’s really Tony Sargent. Frankie attacks Tony with a huge knife, slicing open his shoulder. Liz clunks Frankie over the head with a pewter vase and saves the day. By now she’s figured out who Jamie really is. She basically gives him the cold shoulder and refuses to talk to him because she doesn’t see the point in trying to carry on the relationship. After all, Tony will be on tour all the time soon, banging groupies like Lisa. She’s also suspicious that Tony couldn’t possibly have really loved her, even though he calls her at least three times following this incident. She also thinks that Tony is nothing like literary, studious “Jamie” she fell in love with. Uh, well that’s a hell of a character to fake. What did he do, study Cliffs Notes so he could talk about literature with Liz? Come on. Liz is devastated because Jamie/Tony is the only boy she has really loved since Todd. Jessica thinks Liz is being stupid to not even talk to Tony, and I have to agree with her.

Tony throws a benefit concert and leaves free tickets for everyone at the Malibu Inn, where he’s now staying. Jessica and Cliff keep trying to set Liz up with Cliff’s hot (and literature-inclined) friend Brent, but Liz isn’t having it. (Brent? It’s another name repeat. Enid went after some dude named Brent a few books back.) So then they finally convince Liz to go to the concert with them. The Number One (an L.A. band from book 29) is the opening band. Then Tony comes on stage and he says he’s written a new song for Liz. Even though Liz is pretty much in the front row, he still says “Liz, if you’re out there” so I guess he is blind. Liz is shocked that Tony hasn’t forgotten her yet and she cries hysterically because his love is the best she has ever known. No, really. The song is called “Summer Girl” and it goes like this:

“Summer girl, I think I always knew

My whole life, that it was you.”

That’s deep.

Stuff and Things: Why are Tony Sargent’s relatives seem to be poor? Can’t he help them out a little? And how can they afford to hire a mother’s helper? I don’t get it.

The plot itself is surprisingly thin for a Super Edition, and of course it is crappier than my 6- or 7-year-old self thought it was. I finished the book really, really fast. All of the events in the book take place before the 4th of July.

Liz tells Jamie/Tony that she doesn’t know much about music. But in book 28, she spent a lot of time chatting with Enid about music and she even went to The Music Shop (or whatever the generic name was) to check out some records.

Speaking of generic names … The Beach Cafe, The Music Shop, The Tennis Shop, The Malibu Inn … why are there so many unoriginal names in these books?

As usual, Enid is almost entirely left out of a Super Edition. Good.

Lila tells Ben that she just finished her junior year. Hahaha. Yes, for the second (third, actually) time she has.

Mr. Fowler hooked Lila up with her hot job because the people are clients of his. Isn’t that conflict of interest?

Next up … a new school year has supposedly begun. So now we’re back to school and I guess, following the publication timeline, we are supposed to assume that Sandra Bacon spent the whole summer glowering about her best friend Jean wanting to join HER sorority, Pi Beta Alpha. Man, Sandra’s had a lot of time to stew about that shit. This is going to get nasty!


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