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

#71 Starring Jessica!

Look at that tiny microphone

Wow, well finally, we get a book that focuses on the twins and how fantastically wonderful and All-American they are, just in case anybody forgot, what with all the racist-driven near-death beatdowns, druggie car crashes, and chicks on the football team that have been captivating most of our attention lately.

Honestly, this one was kind of boring. It did have some good old-fashioned Lila and Jessica scheming. I’m really not very enthused. It might be because I have a nasty cold and hate both Wakefield twins. Yes, I think it’s both of those reasons.

A TV talk show host named Eric Parker suddenly decides he wants to launch a search for the perfect All-American teenager, and feature that person on his show in an interview about their daily life. Honestly, that sounds totally boring. So is Eric Parker going to launch a nationwide search? Oh, no, he’s coming to Sweet Valley High to pick one of the students there. Makes so much sense. Jessica is already in love with Eric Parker and is sure she will be picked to be on his show. Of course she will be! It wouldn’t make sense for there to be any type of contest that a Wakefield enters, but doesn’t win. Lila Fowler somehow thinks she can defy fate and win the spot for herself. Both girls fill out the application and each accuses the other of making shit up to impress Eric. In truth, both of them fudged their applications. Jessica listed a ton of interests and activities but didn’t feel well-rounded enough, so Liz convinced her to write a guest column for the Oracle just so Jess can add “writer” to her list. Lila’s application says that she is a tutor, photographer, and amateur chef. Jessica is outraged that Lila forgot to include how wealthy her family is. She’s sure Eric wouldn’t pick Lila if he knew she’s about as far from a “regular teenager” as you can get. As for Liz, she takes a lofty view of the whole thing and acts like wanting to be on TV is stupid. Would we expect anything less from an uppity bitch like her? Amy Sutton doesn’t even compete for the spot because her mom Dyan is a sportscaster and she thinks Eric Parker’s show isn’t impressive. Okay, good for you.

Eric can’t make up his mind between six finalists, so he decides to interview them all and then pick one. You should already know who two of the finalists are. The other four are Olivia Davidson, Winston Egbert, Jim Roberts (the photographer from Perfect Shot), and Patty Gilbert. WOW, it’s the same old crowd, and with the exception of Patty, they’re all from the same grade. Jessica doesn’t see any of the other kids as competition because the personalities are too singular: Oliva’s the artist hippie, Winston is the clown, Jim is a photography buff, Lila is the rich girl, and Patty is a dancer. Well Jess, I hate to break it to you, but you’re the shallow cheerleader. Stereotypes for everyone!

Jessica and Lila become mortal enemies as they battle for the Eric Parker show appearance. Mortal kombaaaaaat! The kids draw numbers to see who gets interviewed first. Lila gets the first slot and Jess gets the sixth. Lila worries that Jessica might leave more of an impression on Eric since she’s the last interviewee, so when she gets to the conference room and sees a note on the door saying the interviews have been moved to the auditorium, she lurks around and snatches it off the door just before Jessica is supposed to get there. Jessica sits in the conference room by herself panicking for about five minutes before she pokes her head out and runs into Olivia who tells her about the notice. Jessica is only a little late to the interview with Eric, but is seething with rage for what Lila tried to do to her. To get back at her, Jessica name-drops Joshua Fowler Memorial Hospital when talking about her past volunteer work as a candy striper, piquing Eric to ask if Lila is any relation to Joshua Fowler, which of course prompts Jess to go on and on about how wealthy Lila is and how she’s always traveling around the world. Her ruse may have worked. Eric picks Jessica as his perfect well-rounded American student – and Lila as his alternate. The two best-looking girls, who’d have thought he’d pick them?

Meanwhile, Jessica’s article, “The Worst Dates of My Life” comes out and everyone thinks it’s hilarious … well, almost everyone. Liz convinced Jessica to use pseudonyms for the boys, but they can all figure out they’re in the article anyway. The only SVH boys mentioned in the article (that we’re told about) are, just for kicks, Winston Egbert (for Lost at Sea … hello, that wasn’t really a date?) and Bruce Patman, whom Jess has renamed “Reginald Rich.” Jessica writes that he kisses like a “dead jellyfish” which prompts Peter DeHaven, John Pfeifer, Neil Freemount (typoed “Freemont”) et. al. to make raucous fun of Bruce all day long. Clearly Bruce is not going to let this one just slide. So when Lila approaches him with the perfect idea for how to get back at Jessica AND ensure that Lila takes the spot on Eric Parker’s show, Bruce is all about it.

Lila calls Jessica up, pretending to be sorry about her haughty attitude lately and offering to take her shopping out in Cold Springs (where Caroline Pearce once said her fake boyfriend Adam was from) for an outfit to wear on Eric Parker’s show, only they’re going THE DAY OF the show. Jessica stupidly believes her, and off they go. When they get to the boutique, Jessica notices the two salesladies staring at her and exchanging knowing glances. Then Jess tries on an outfit while Lila offers to hold her purse. Dumb, dumb, dumb. When she comes back out of the stall, she sees Lila getting in the triumph with her purse. Jessica runs outside after her in her outfit and the salesladies haul her back inside and accuse her of doing the whole thing in order to shoplift the outfit. Jessica is detained for quite some time at the store with the ladies and two police officers. Then one of the ladies mentions that a Detective Tapnam from the Cold Springs force had called to warn them that someone matching Jessica’s description was shoplifting around that area. The police officers tell her there isn’t any such person on the force. (Get it? Tapnam is Patman spelled backwards. How creative.) Everyone starts to believe Jessica’s story that she’s been set up, and she’s allowed to change and go home … except she has no way of getting there, and none of the officers will give her a ride. Is it just me, or is that fucked up? One says he can after his shift ends, but that’s at 7, and Jess is supposed to be AT SVH at 7. Jess calls Liz to cry about what happened and where she is, and Liz of course gets the bright idea to take Jessica’s spot, but doesn’t tell Jess anything other than she should get to the high school ASAP.

Meanwhile, Lila goes straight back to the Patman estate where she and Bruce are so elated at the success of their scheme that he picks her up and swings her around. Then all the sexual tension they have been building up since day 1 finally boils over and Lila thoughtlessly tilts her head up at Bruce for a kiss and he goes for it. They share a “passionate kiss” before Lila breaks away in shock at what just happened. “She didn’t even like him. Nobody did!” Then Lila decides the best way to handle the situation is to act as though “kissing her accomplice were simply a necessary part of the scheme.” She tells him she has to go in a “blasé” manner and Bruce responds just as coolly and then she strolls back to her car. Ha ha! Wow!

Backstage at Sweet Valley High, where the show is being filmed (of course), Liz dresses as Jessica in the outfit shown on the cover, styles her hair and rushes over, where she sees Lila all dressed up and ready to go on stage in Jessica’s place. Liz traps Lila in the dressing room using the old “shove the chair under the doorknob” trick and goes on the show in Jessica’s place. Only then do we learn that Eric Parker is in fact a Sweet Valley High alumnus. Jessica arrives super late at the high school and in a terrible mood, because it never occurred to her that her doormat identical twin sister might possibly pose as her. When she sees Liz as herself and Lila sulking backstage (there’s no explanation as to how she got out of the dressing room so quickly – it reads like an oversight on the writer’s part), she jumps for joy. Liz finishes up and she and Jess swap outfits so that Jess can bask in all the post-show glory. Lila, for her part, screams at Bruce for ruining everything, not coming up with a good enough story to keep Jess from getting back in time … can’t Lila see that it’s not really Jessica? Why is that not obvious? No one in this town ever seems to consider that identical twins might sometimes pull a prank and do a twin switch, like they do ALL THE TIME! Then Lila yells at Bruce that Jess is right … he does kiss like a dead jellyfish, adding to Jessica’s delight. You know, in the previous published book, we were told that Bruce doesn’t really kiss that way, Jessica just made it up to antagonize him. So I guess Lila is as well. It sounds like something that would piss a ladies’ man off. It’s the SVH equivalent of telling someone his penis looks like a Vienna sausage.

Jessica gets home to find that Ned and Alice have taped the show, so they all watch it. Jess views it over and over again, pretty much convincing herself that it is in fact herself on there and not Liz. Amy and Cara force Lila and Jessica to reconcile, just in time to criticize a quiet new girl at school. Yes, another new girl. All’s well that ends well … I suppose!

Of course, now we know that the cover shows Elizabeth, not Jessica – the microphone gives it away. This is not a very flattering portrait. It looks a lot like one of the creepy heads on the cover of #45, Family Secrets.

The sub-plot is boring and trite. When the Oracle‘s editor-in-chief Penny Ayala sees the article, she praises it to high heaven and says it doesn’t even need editing. That’s what a naturally good writer Jessica is! HAHAHA, in your FACE, Liz! Now, Liz’s true colors come bubbling to the surface as she starts questioning her dedication to writing. You know, this brings to mind that whole episode with the recorder and how Liz privately thought she was better at many things than Jessica, so why not just get the fuck over it? Liz seems to have the attitude that she can’t be all that good a writer if Jessica’s even better than she is. Worrying she’s not as “well-rounded” as she should be, Liz takes up Enid’s offer to join a new junior rangers program at Secca Lake. It’s run by a 20-something dude named Don Wolff (wow … how fitting for a park ranger. tell me that wasn’t intentional). He’s married, but Enid keeps drooling over how hot he is. Of course, Don picks Liz as the “informal chief of operations” and she takes him up on it. This means that she gets called first whenever Don needs extra help out at the lake. (Why didn’t Liz volunteer Enid? Enid’s the one who keeps moaning about how sexy he is.) Between that, homework, the Oracle, and helping Jessica rehearse for her spot on the Eric Parker Show, Liz gets worn out. When she has to choose between helping Jessica out by posing as her, or helping Don come remove hornets’ nests or something like that, Liz realizes she wants her life back and that it’s okay that Jessica might be a better writer. Yes, it is, Liz. Go play your recorder and get over it. You can’t be the best at EVERYTHING, and your sister doesn’t even LIKE to write, so where’s the threat? Liz quits the rangers program.

WTF? Okay, well for starters, we never find out if Jess got her purse back from Lila or not! Jessica never even asks Lila for it!

The book says that Lila had never even been attracted to Bruce and implies she had never kissed him before, which according to the early books is not accurate. She even stole him from Jessica (sort of) once. I hate when they randomly decide to “rewrite” things like that. But then again, they’ve been in school so long that Lila probably forgot all about it!

I don’t get why Lila won’t get her dad to put her on a show if she wants to be on TV so bad. If this book were set in the 2010s, he would just have to do a favor for one of his wealthy producer friends to put her on some trashy reality dating show. It’s clearly just the Jessica factor that makes her so desperate to win.

Danny Stauffer, whom Jess dated in the very early books (6 and 7), approaches Jessica to say that he’d thought about going out with her again, but after he saw her article he didn’t want to. Not because she wrote about him, but because he’s scared she might in the future. Hah, take that, Jess. (She had also been considering going out with him again.)

In Love Letters, Cold Springs was said to be two hours away from Sweet Valley. Here it’s just one hour.

Amy has heard Tom McKay and Jean West might be breaking up soon, so she’s going after Tom. I guess she dropped Scott Trost like a hot potato once he was suspended from the football team.

Jessica is mad to see that Lila described herself as an amateur chef since she was even worse than Jessica in the cooking class they took in books 20 and 21. Man, were my copies written in Greek? Because each one distinctly said she was doing very well and was Jean-Pierre’s prize student. She only messed up that one time with the stupid fucking mussels, but apparently that’s enough to brand her Chef Fuck-Up for life.

“Shut up and strip!” ~Liz, telling Jess to hurry and switch clothes with her backstage

When Jessica hears Jim was chosen as one of the six finalists, she goes, “I don’t even know who Jim Roberts is.“. Yes, I think that quote about sums up everything.

I am pretty sure that in book 15, Promises, Jessica also describes Paul Sherwood (who was one of Bruce’s tennis team buddies and friends in the early books) as kissing like a jellyfish.

Coming up next … The new girl in school has already turned down Kirk Anderson, so we know she’s pretty cool. But Lila thinks she looks like a “loser.” “Is there anything interesting about the mysterious Andrea Slade? Find out in Sweet Valley High #72, Rock Star’s Girl.” Um, so yes, there is … thanks Obvious Title of the Day.

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Comments on: "#71 Starring Jessica!" (1)

  1. I actually enjoyed reading this one. It was a refreshing change from the influx of new boring characters brought on with their attempt at angst. And more Bruce Patman is always nice. I liked how Liz doubted herself for a bit and how she turned it into something positive.

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