A 30-something's lovingly sarcastic journey through all of Sweet Valley High, and then some

#36 Last Chance

I really can’t wait to get out of the 30s. These books seem stupider than usual. The twins are more annoying than ever. And whoever edited this one did a god-awful job. There are mistakes galore including bad use of commas and quotes left off of dialogue.

Here’s the deal: Julie Porter, who’s been mentioned briefly before (and more extensively in the Sweet Valley Twins series), has an older sister named Johanna, who should be a senior. But Johanna dropped out of school last fall because she felt too stupid. She waitressed at the Whistle Stop Cafe, where she felt better about herself and enjoyed the company of her co-workers. But six months ago, Mrs. Porter was killed by a drunk driver who hit her car head on. (Why didn’t we hear about this before? That seems like a pretty monumental event, especially since Elizabeth is kind-of-friends with Julie.) Johanna was devastated and felt left out of the family even more since her sister and father are both musical geniuses. But then she found her mom’s journal in the attic, detailing how she had always hoped Johanna would change her mind and go back to school, but she couldn’t make her. So now Johanna is coming back to honor her mother’s last wish.

Johanna has to make up her second semester of junior year, making her feel awkward since she should be taking senior classes like her friends. I don’t get this time lapse – if she dropped out last fall, wouldn’t that mean she had already finished her junior year? Unless we’re supposed to think it’s STILL fall right now and she dropped out last year? UGH, there I go trying to put some logic into this series again.

Everyone at school acts like Johanna is an idiot for taking chemistry at 17 and is a huge bitch to her for dropping out. It’s a big deal that she is 17 and in the 11th grade. I want to punch them all in the face! Peter DeHaven, a smart senior and Johanna’s secret crush since she was a kid, is kind to her, but only when his bitchy girlfriend Amy isn’t around. That’s right, Amy is dating a nerd. If you have read the Twins series, then you might recall that Peter was portrayed as a huge nerd along the lines of Randy Mason in those books. There is no way Amy would date him. Johanna has no other friends at school; not even Julie hangs around her for some reason, and Johanna doesn’t chill with Sally any, which is odd since she and Sally were both held back and were taught to be ashamed of it, and therefore have a lot in common.

Peter is an ass. He talks down to Johanna all the time, acting like she’s too stupid to care about math and science. He secretly likes her a lot, but he is too wrapped up in himself, a computer science he’s working on, his acceptance to MIT, and the fact that he is dating a popular cheerleader who in the real world wouldn’t look twice at him. He realizes Johanna digs him, so when Amy goes on a mountain vacation with her parents, he takes Johanna out to his nice friend Larry’s house, and then to Las Palmas Canyon and comes on to her, and I swear the book is implying that they have sex. Seriously, it does that same “fade away” and he “whispered her name over and over again into her ear” bits that many books I’ve read do when they want to say a couple did it, without coming out and giving you the graphic details. The last sentence of the chapter even reads, “All that mattered was Peter and what was happening then.” Then the next day, Liz notices that Johanna looks “different”. Right!

Johanna sees Peter again the next night and he tells her that he’s going to break up with Amy the first chance he has. He doesn’t, and he ignores Johanna at school while all the bitches he hangs out with laugh at her. I hate these kids.

Peter later explains himself by saying he just can’t stand to hurt Amy, this girl he admits to himself he doesn’t give a crap about but is dating just for the status of it. Johanna ignores her misgivings about the situation and falls for it, even when he tells her he’s going to wait to dump Amy until after the big PTA Dance that weekend. Johanna confides in Liz, who’s tutoring her in English, about the situation, and Liz promises not to tell anyone, but promptly tells Jessica because LIZ IS AN IDIOT. Jessica swears not to tell, but you should be able to see this coming: Amy pisses Jess off by scolding her about interfering with Steven and Cara (see sub-plot), and Jessica gets back at her by telling her everyone knows Peter is cheating on her with Johanna. When Amy confronts Peter, it’s his big chance to get rid of her; he just proves what a dick he is further by frantically making excuses to cover it up and insulting Johanna for good measure. Amy sticks around and they go to her stupid party that weekend together, which takes place over a page-and-a-half and sounds totally boring. Then they go to the PTA Dance which everyone complains about because it’s in the gym … aren’t most of the two billion dances they have in the gym?

Get this: Johanna isn’t stupid at all, like everyone says – she’s really a genius at math and science and she’s just bored with the material and has no confidence. She’s the only one to get an A on Mr. Russo’s chemistry exam, she figures out a tricky part of Peter’s computer science program for him (by suggesting he make a decision tree to figure it out – duh), and she solves all of Steven’s tough college problems for him. But when Peter tells her he can’t see her anymore because Amy suspects something, she tells Liz off, figuring it had to be her who let the secret out. Then she overhears a couple of bitches who used to be friends with her talking shit about her in the locker room, and that’s the last straw. She quits school again! Nooo, Johanna! By this point I liked Johanna a great deal and even identified with her in certain situations. She’s just an honest kid trying to figure herself out, and she comes across as more real than many similar characters in these books.

Here’s why Johanna is really awesome: After Liz tells Peter to grow some balls, he comes to see her at the Whistle Stop and makes a half-assed attempt to get her to come back to school and to start messing with him again. She tells him to get bent. Later, she does come back to school – on her own accord – and arranges to take advanced math and science classes. Peter dumps Amy and tries to get with Johanna again, and SHE TURNS HIM DOWN. You read that right! There is no happily ever after! Johanna realizes she needs time to get herself together. She also sees that Peter wouldn’t be a good boyfriend because he’s too self-absorbed and won’t care about her as much as he should. I wanted to stand up and cheer! A girl who wants to work on herself first before dating some dude who’s been an ass to her! I LOVE JOHANNA PORTER! YOU GO ON WITH YOUR BAD SELF GIRL!

Johanna reconnects with her dad and Julie, and Liz figures out it was Jessica who let the secret out about Jo and Peter. But here’s the part that makes me want to find Liz and slap her. Liz never admits to Johanna that she told anyone the secret. In fact, Johanna figures Liz didn’t really do it and she apologizes to her for yelling at her – and Liz “generously [forgives] her”! In fact, Liz even seems to think in her own mind that she DIDN’T tell anyone and it’s all Jessica’s fault – even though LIZ told Jess to begin with! Liz, you’re an ass and a total moron for continuing to trust your ridiculous, sociopathic twin. And, I don’t even have to tell you that Jessica gets away scot-free for telling Amy. Liz barely even scolds her.

Johanna is described as a beauty, and she does look pretty on the cover. Amy looks almost exactly the same as she did on the cover of book 29, with the same expression too! Peter looks like a teacher hitting on her. Creepy. In fact, both he and Amy are dressed like teachers! And as usual, none of the girls on this cover have any discernible breasts.

The sub-plot: Jessica is a bitch. That’s all. Oh, okay: she decides she hates people going steady, so she makes it her mission to break up Cara and Steven “for their own good.” When Steven comes home like he always does (yet it’s played up like it’s rare, of course), she tells each of them that the other has been cheating. They fight and then they each take someone else to the PTA Dance. Cara goes with Ken Matthews, and Steve goes with a friend of his from college named Eve Young. Wait a minute – what is Steven doing at a high school dance? Do I even have to ask? Cara and Steven clear the whole thing up, realize Jessica is a lying bitch, and then confront her and just kind of agree that Jessica was doing something good for them to test their relationship. I hate these people.

Other stuff: The book opens with Jessica talking about going on a diet so she can fit into a size four dress that she’s just got to have. She cheerfully refuses to eat her lunch in front of everyone and talks about dropping three or four pounds a week and no one thinks this is fucked up. The worst part is that her plan works and we get to hear all about she was able to buy the dress. Way to encourage eating disorders, Francine.

One-shot characters: Yvonne White and Lisa Howard, two seniors who used to be friends with Johanna but now talk badly about her behind her back. That’s the fourth Lisa in the series so far. I know why am I counting? There are more: bitch girls named Lucy Hawkins and Carol Ulrich. Second Lucy, second Carol. Scott Long, Enid’s date for the dance. Alicia Benson, a sophomore who sounds like a little asshole. Like everybody else in this book.

Johanna’s A grade on her chemistry test is a 92. I thought a 92 was a B-plus on the high school scale. In my school, the scale was 100-94 was an A.

Liz thinks to herself that there’s nothing worse than feeling like you failed your parents and just can’t imagine that anyone’s parents could feel that way about their child. Step out of your bubble already, Liz.

I’m not a computer scientist, but I do work for a large IT project as a consultant. And I have to say that if Peter couldn’t figure out on his own that a decision tree would be a good way to map out his computer science project, he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. Drawing one of those would be standard form such as the program he built, which is described as being based solely on “Yes” or “No” answers.

Steven wants to take Cara to a new French restaurant, oh-so-creatively called Maison Blanche, which means “White House.” Hurrrr

Jessica and Lila bring guys from nearby Bridgewater High School to the PTA Dance because they want to get invited to the Bridgewater debutante ball later. Jessica’s date is named Rob Atkins, and I guess all sorts of hijinks are going to ensue with this bitchery in the next book, in which we learn more about the aforementioned minor character Susan Stewart, who hangs with the wealthy Bridgewater kids. Oh joy.


Comments on: "#36 Last Chance" (4)

  1. I love your recaps! I really liked Johanna too, it was so awesome that she didn’t end up back with Peter. I think it was one of the only times I was ever surprised by an SVH book! Too bad they didn’t include her in more books, I can’t think of any other books she even appeared in

  2. “She waitressed at the Whistle Stop Cafe…”

    Wait…as in, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe? Hmm…that was published in ’87…

  3. ellebrand0ns said:

    Sadly enough this is all… true

  4. I couldn’t figure out while reading this book whether I wanted to stab Peter in the eye with a number 2 pencil or merely shove it up his smug ass. HATED his character!

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