The Oracle has decided to run personal ads, to which there is a great stigma attached at this point in time (September 1987). It feels funny reading this in today’s era of eHarmony and Match.com. Lynne Henry appears out of secondary character banishment to run the ads.
Enid starts dating Hugh Grayson, a non-descript kid from Big Mesa High. Liz and Jeffrey double date with them to the beach and run into Penny there, who feels like a fifth wheel. Liz catches Penny gazing sadly at couples running around, and so she and Enid make it their business to cajole Penny into writing a personal ad. Penny writes a really goofy one that’s meant to be humorous because she wants a boy who can take a joke and is actually interesting.
The ads run, and the whole school loves it. Penny’s ad attracts letters from a dude named “Jamie” who seems to get the joke. Enid and Liz help her write letters back to him under the moniker “Quasimodo”. Liz feels validated for “helping” yet another poor sucker who clearly needs a boyfriend, a wardrobe, and a makeover. Funny, I never thought there was anything wrong with Penny before. I’m glad we have Liz to point this shit out to us.
The girls are confused because there’s no one at SVH named Jamie, but figure he’s just using a moniker to remain anonymous. Unfortunately, they are very right about that. “Jamie” is the invention of the new asshole in school, Kirk Anderson. Kirk is a senior on the tennis team and he is good friends with Michael Harris (Maria Santelli’s former douchebag fiance), Neil Freemount (Jessica’s former paramour), and totally new kids named Chad Ticknor (LMAO) and Ron Reese. Neil is the one who’s been writing the letters at Kirk’s insistence. Kirk and the other dudes think it’s hilarious, but Neil secretly finds it questionable and is only doing it “to belong.” So when Kirk goads him into setting up a meeting with Jamie’s correspondent so they can all see who she is, Neil writes a letter arranging to meet her at the bookstore in the Valley Mall. The boys all watch from the mezzanine as Penny shows up and waits for forty-five minutes before she realizes she’s been stood up. Everyone thinks it’s hilarious that “Quasimodo” is Penny and make jokes about how no one would ever date her. Neil is ashamed, especially because he has an American literature elective class with Penny and secretly admires her.
Penny is totally humiliated at being stood up. But Neil decides to do the right thing and sends her another letter apologizing and saying he had an emergency that day and wants to meet her again, this time at the Dairi Burger. Penny shows up, but Kirk and Michael catch Neil just as he’s going to reveal himself to her. They tease him and he boldly says that he is meeting her intentionally and Kirk backs down. Neil meets Penny and exposes the truth to her, and she forgives him, and they kiss and start dating. And that’s the end of their story, so it’s kind of boring.
Liz and Enid overhear Kirk making fun of Penny at lunch one day and realize that he and his friends were “Jamie”. They decide to get back at Kirk by setting him up on a date with a magazine model named Erica Hall. Liz claims that Erica is her cousin and that she’s coming to visit from New York. When Kirk sees pictures of her in a magazine, he pretty much demands that Liz get Eric to go with him to the upcoming Swing Fling 40’s theme dance. He then walks around loudly bragging about how Erica is falling all over herself to date him. Of course the real Erica Hall has no idea that Sweet Valley even exists and never shows up to the dance. Liz sadly tells him that Erica has an ego problem and is very flaky and Kirk is left at the dance by himself and totally humiliated. It seems everyone hates Kirk’s guts anyway and is glad to see him get his comeuppance. Even Jessica turned him down, and that’s saying something. If you’re hot, that’s really all it takes with her.
The sub-plot: Jessica wants to place an ad in the Oracle, and Lila is disgusted with this idea, but finally agrees to have a “competition” to see who can run the best ad and get the best college boy for the upcoming dance. If you’re wondering how they’re going to get a college boy with an ad in a high school newspaper, it just so happens that Steven subscribes to the paper (you can subscribe?) at college and will be sure to share it with his friends. I would make fun of him for subscribing, but he does it so he can read Liz’s articles. That’s not so far-fetched. I guess. Jessica first goes on a date with a hot-sounding Italian, but it turns out to be a *gasp!* fat kid named Paolo. He takes her to Tibberino’s and Jessica gets them to leave pretty quickly by crying and saying she’s been fighting migraines her whole life. Paolo is full of admiration and takes her home while exclaiming over how courageous she is while Jessica is relieved to get away from him before any of her friends could see them together. Quote: “She couldn’t help it if she just couldn’t stand to be around fat people.” WOW. I mean, yes it is shitty when people don’t adequately represent themselves in personal ads, but that’s pretty low there Jessica. Not that I’m really all that surprised. Okay, so after Paolo, Jessica starts dating another college dude named John Karger. He seems fascinated with her, but he always has to leave to work on his sociology project, and he never kisses her goodnight. But Jessica is so convinced he’s going to win her the bet with Lila that she ditches her original date for the dance, some poor sap named Jim Daley. Lila, meanwhile, has her own mysterious date. The girls agree to meet at the beach that weekend with their respective dates so all their cheerleader friends can decide which guy is cuter and who’s won the bet. (All = everyone but Annie; she’s absent from this book.) Can you see where this is going? Yeah you can. Once again, Lila and Jessica have been dating the same dude. John Karger is at the beach with his girlfriend Faye, and also with tons of angry chicks milling around demanding answers. John just answered the personal ads for that sociology project he’s doing! He was so interested in Jessica because he was using her for his research! John is also not very bright, because he is just shocked that so many girls really liked him that much. How fucking dumb. To add insult to injury, Lila and Jessica are at the beach wearing the exact same leopard print bikini from Lisette’s! But don’t worry, they meet new nameless college dudes to take to the Swing Fling that night. God, Swing Fling, sounds like a swinger’s convention. It really does!
The cover makes Penny look like the school librarian or a teacher. Horrible clothing choices. Is that what was really in back then? I was six years old at the time, and I remember people dressing like that, but they were … librarians or teachers. She does have a very pretty face though. It might be the prettiest yet!
Let’s see if we can read the titles of the books behind Penny. There’s one with a guitar on the cover titled Monkee Mania. Then there’s one just called Poems. And James Mathewuse (the Sweet Valley cover artist) didn’t make out the rest.
Other stuff: Steven is once again said to be at the “state university” rather than Sweet Valley College. I’m guessing this is a permanent switch and not some mess-up. Maybe someone finally realized it doesn’t make much sense for him to go to school in the same small town that his family does, and still take two hours to get home each weekend. I don’t know.
Lila is often described in these books as wearing a maillot. I was very confused as a kid trying to figure out what a maillot was. It turns out it’s just a fancy word for one-piece (tank suit). So now you know (if you didn’t already).
The Droids are said to have played at a club called the Hot Potato. That’s a new one.
Neil drives a white Trans Am. Haha
Jeffrey to Liz at the dance, after she humiliates Kirk: “What a nasty one you are.” (I bet he wishes she was.) Sounds like a line from a Star Wars porn parody.
What’s on the horizon: Amy Sutton confides to Jessica that she is planning on stealing Bruce from Regina. Jessica laughs at this idea until she goes to the Swing Fling and sees Regina there without Bruce, and Regina says he’s off working on his project with Amy. I hate Amy Sutton. And I’m surprisingly sad about what’s coming up next, and if you’ve read this part of the series already, then maybe you are too …