It’s the Christmas season (yes, AGAIN) and Olivia’s taking special painting classes at prestigious Forester Art School. We hear all about how obsessed with painting Olivia is, how that’s all she’s ever wanted to do, and how … wait, what? I distinctly remember Teacher Crush insisting that Olivia barely knew anything about painting. She learned it all from that teacher she had the mad crush on. What the fuck ever, let’s just move on.
Olivia admires a painting at the school and gets into a discussion about it with a dude who then reveals himself to be the artist. Is that the oldest trick in the book or what? “What do you think of this painting/book/bla bla? … Thanks for your honest opinion, ’cause I DID IT.” You know, that would piss me off if someone played a dirty trick like that on me the first time they met me. I hope if anyone ever does that to me I tear their art apart. “Oh oops, you mean this is YOUR art? Oh, so SORRY I just ripped it a new one.” The artist’s name is James Yates and he lives in near poverty in a slummy apartment, which must mean it’s in Betsy Martin’s neck o’ the woods. James makes what little money he has off of selling his paintings and refuses to get a real job of any sort.
James and Olivia start going out for coffee and hanging out at his place. Olivia notices that James goes without eating sometimes, and his clothes all have holes. It’s not long before Olivia has it bad for him. James inspires Olivia so much that she winds up doing one of her best abstract paintings of all time, “Mother and Child”. It’s based on the emotions evoked by a mother cradling her baby, as opposed to a scene of a mother and child. No one else gets it even when she explains to them how abstract painting works. Only James seems to understand how she feels about abstract art. But when Olivia hints that she’d like to be more than friends, he lets her know that he’s too obsessed with his painting to have time for a girlfriend. Liv is disappointed, but she accepts it … for now.
Meanwhile, we get to see more of Olivia’s family and her interactions with them. It seems she’s an only child, which is typical. Her parents have “important” jobs which again, is typical of anyone who isn’t a Martin or Whitman parent. We are told that Olivia’s parents have always been very supportive of her out-there dress and artistic interests, even if they don’t understand her, but the rest of the book doesn’t really support that. When Olivia goes to school using a vinyl record as a ponytail holder (how does that work? I’m going to have to try that), they seem rather shaken. Then Mrs. Davidson REALLY gets nervous when Olivia’s Aunt June and cousin Emily come to visit from Connecticut so that Emily, who’s a recent high school grad, can check out some colleges in California. Emily literally walks around with a color-coded set of fucking folders about her damn schools, and talks about nothing else but that. Well, isn’t that special, Emily. She’s probably one of the most boring characters since Enid Rollins. Emily’s arrival makes Mrs. Davidson terribly concerned about her own daughter’s future, while Aunt June encourages her to do something about Olivia’s lack of direction. So Mrs. Davidson starts ragging on Liv to dress more conservatively, get a respectable job at Simpson’s department store (where Mrs. Davidson also works) and start thinking about college now. Now? The girl’s 16. Let her enjoy high school for a little bit longer, GOD MOM.
Mrs. Davidson and Aunt June think Emily should hang out with Olivia 24-7, even though they seriously have nothing in common. Olivia shows Emily her latest works of art and Emily doesn’t even attempt to act like it’s cool but is all “Buh? Wuh? … Oh cool, I like these random still-lifes you have stuffed in a closet better.” I’m not much of an artist, but I can see how that would be pretty damn annoying. She doesn’t even try to figure out what abstract art is about and you know, take a polite interest in Olivia’s art and learn more about it; instead she rudely just lets it show that she thinks it’s weird. I wish Miss Manners would show up and bop this chick over the head with an etiquette manual. Next Olivia takes Emily with her to meet James at the coffee shop. James and Olivia don’t talk about Emily or ask her questions about herself but launch into conversations about art while they pretty much ignore Emily and seem annoyed every time they have to stop and explain to her what in fuck they’re talking about.
Okay, so now I wish Miss Manners would walk in the coffee shop and drop an etiquette manual onto the lap of James’ hole-y jeans. I’m starting to really dislike him at this point. He’s so devoted to his art that he thinks of nothing else, except when he mentions how he hopes he sells a painting so he can make his rent. He has to split a sandwich with Olivia one time because he can’t afford to pay for the whole thing. I hope he doesn’t expect us to feel sorry for him because it’s his own damn choice to live like that. Then he has the gall to raise his eyebrows when Olivia decides to go get a job at Simpson’s to help make some Christmas money. This is supposed to be a bad thing that she wants to have some extra dough for the holidays. Shut up James, you want people to let you make your own choices about how you live so let Olivia make her own.
Of course, Olivia’s real fear is that being an artist automatically means being poor. Little by little, Olivia’s fear of the future and starving to death causes her to act out in rather irrational ways. She cuts off all her beautiful curly hair, starts buying more fashionable, preppy clothing, and exchanges painting the abstracts that she loves for the still-lifes that everyone else approves of. This makes me sad. Next, Olivia begins dating Robert Simpson, the son of the Simpsons mogul or whatever, which pisses Jessica Wakefield off because SHE had her eye on Robert and has been attempting to rub herself all over him in the men’s wallet department. Robert is nice enough, but he’s also all about a more professional Olivia who acts like everyone else. He helps Olivia shop for new clothes and snags her a deal to sell some of her new mainstream paintings through Simpson’s. Back at the Davidson household, Olivia’s mom seems to realize that she’s overstepped her bounds; now instead of sniping at Olivia to change, she wants to sit her down and ask her WHY she’s changing so much. God, can’t everyone just leave each other alone in these books?
While all this is going on, Emily starts secretly dressing in Olivia’s clothing and stealing away to see James. He’s a little weirded out by her unannounced visits and doesn’t really welcome her, but is at least cool enough not to ask her what her problem is. James learns through Emily that Olivia is kinda dating someone else now and is sad. Well, fuck off James, you’re the one who said you didn’t want to date anyone right now. Meanwhile, Robert takes Olivia to a posh Christmas party and it’s incredibly boring. It’s filled with kids from Robert’s private school which of course means they’re all horribly snooty and talk like 30-year-old D.C. socialites. You know, I knew a fair amount of private school kids growing up and they weren’t like this, Francine. Anyway, Olivia meets Robert’s friends – Chas, Laura, Chris, and two kids named Brandon – and then ends up stuck on a couch with three chicks named Diana, Beryl, and Margot who think a happening high school party involves discussion about how and when to apply to college and which careers are best to pursue if you aren’t going to marry a rich husband. Fuckin’ Beryl even goes on and on about the hassles of hiring a nanny these days like she has kids and has to worry about it now. Are you looking to audition for Teen Mom Beryl? Kill me. Olivia is so miserable listening to them prattle on that she just walks out on the conversation while Margot is trying to offer her some career advice. They think she’s uber rude but she’s too depressed about her situation to care. She’s become determined to be somebody she’s not because the fear of being poor like James is destroying her.
Liz comes to see Olivia and gets very sad when she realizes how much Olivia has changed and catches her painting her still-lifes. I’ll go off about THAT dumb bitch in a little bit. But let’s go on to James. He has been trying to get together with Olivia again since she’s been ignoring him for a while now. She heads over to his place with her Christmas present for him, a nice silver paperweight she picked out that’s in the shape of a J. But James is really disgusted with The New Olivia – he laughs at her and calls her new clothes “a joke” – and then he gets PISSED when he opens her present! He says: “I don’t want it. […] This is the emptiest, most meaningless present anyone ever gave me.”
HO. LY. SHIT.
Miss Manners, PLEASE walk in and tell this fucker off and tell him he can shove that paperweight right up his rigid little – wellllll, that wouldn’t be Miss Manners if she said that. But seriously? Olivia probably wasn’t using her brain when she picked that out, but she did think James would like it. And this is what he says? Fucking dickhole! I’m glad this fucker thinks he’s important enough to dictate what other people’s presents to him should be! Go give Olivia the address to your damn Amazon wishlist why don’t ya! I get it I get it, he is upset with The New Olivia because she’s not The Real Olivia, but still … she gave you a PRESENT dude. Is this how you act at Christmas when Mommy and Daddy give you the wrong type of oil paint James? Man, I would tell him to try and use the hooked end of the J to see if he can get that old moldy paintbrush pulled out of his tight ass! Jackass! Olivia is really upset and she takes the paperweight back and storms out of his apartment.
So here’s how this mess all ends. Emily goes to see James one last time and hints at him that she wants to date him after she moves to Cali for college. She’s awfully ballsy considering James has shown zero interest in her. James gently lets her down without saying it out loud and Emily realizes that he’s in love with Olivia. Wow, no shit Em? Meanwhile, Olivia’s mother shows her the big bad secret the back of the cover promised us: that she used to be an artist, too, but gave it up because everyone told her to and has regretted it ever since. Liv gets to see some of her mom’s old paintings which she has stashed away in the attic. Okay. You know, the cover said it was a “startling secret” but there were so many hints dropped about this bullshit that it was hardly startling. Next, Olivia goes to Robert’s house to exchange Christmas presents. Robert says “nice” about her still-life that she gives him, and then his present for her is … a Filofax. You heard me! This 17 or 18 year old senior in high school just gave his 16 year old girlfriend a PERSONAL DATEBOOK. The gift depresses the hell out of Olivia as she realizes that Robert thinks of her as the type of person who would in fact want a Filofax for Christmas (and you know, I kind of wouldn’t mind a Filofax myself, haha) and she flees his house and breaks Robert’s heart into a million Lacoste-logo’ed pieces. She heads home where she and Emily run into each other dressed as well, each other. They laugh at their silliness, agree that they will each stick to their strict cookie-cutter character molds so that this stays a Sweet Valley book, and then Olivia runs off to James’s house in her “real” clothes to give him a present he can approve of … the “Mother and Child” abstract painting that she did before, the one that nobody else liked. As she climbs the stairs to his apartment, she hears a child shriek with joy and realizes that poor people can be happy at Christmas, too. James loves the painting and apologizes to Olivia for being a shithead the other night. Then he takes her to see her present: two murals of Olivia he painted in an alley. One has her laughing and acting like herself and the other shows her all proper in her boring Simpson’s clothes. He asks her to choose which one she wants to be because she apparently can’t have both. She’s not allowed to experiment with who she is as a teenager, because that’s just unacceptable in the world of James Yates. She chooses the artist Olivia and James hugs her and they make out in the alley and admit they love each other or something. Olivia seems to figure out that sometimes, you can just give yourself a break and let some things work out on their own. But God forbid she decide to go to college or get a “real” job some day … methinks James won’t like that.
Oh yeah … that whole Wakefield sub-plot. Jessica convinces Elizabeth that they need Christmas jobs and Liz acts like that’s the dumbest thing she’s ever heard of. Of course, because it wasn’t your idea right Liz? I hate her. They have a joint interview at Simpson’s (because they’re twins, I’m sure! tee hee!) and Jess gets assigned to Infants & Children’s stockroom while Liz works at the paper wrapping station. Jess spends her time drooling over Robert Simpson, acting like it’s SOOOO amazing that his dad owns a department store, and vowing to hook up with him once “the real Olivia” reappears, but we never learn if she does in fact get the prized Simpson schlong.
I wonder if James will continue to be Olivia’s boyfriend in the main series. Guess we’ll find out. I kind of hope not. He seemed cool at first, but he started to get holier-than-thou and rather douchey near the end. I’m not impressed with him.
The really weird thing about this book? We already saw Olivia trying to change herself a little before when she was dating Roger and he went to live with the Patmans. So it’s kind of like a more intense rehash of the same old story! Who’d have thought, right …
WTF? Jessica just hooked up with Sam in the last book, but no mention of him here. I guess publication dates don’t always land in chronological story order (um, to say the least).
When Liz and Jess arrive at Simpson’s for their job interview, Jess shoots the receptionist her most dazzling smile, and this is how Liz reacts. “Elizabeth was tempted to remind her sister that the receptionist was not the person who would be hiring them. All that charm going to waste, she thought.” You know what, FU, Liz. Should she be rude to the receptionist? Guess who’s going to share her opinion with the boss about who couldn’t be bothered to treat her with the same respect she treated the big man? God, if this isn’t a prime example of Liz just looking for ways to be a patronizing little twat!
There’s no mention of Olivia’s last boyfriend Rod Sullivan or what happened with the two of them.
Weird Time Warp! Jessica mentions the twins’ internships at the Sweet Valley News, which took place over the Super Thriller series in the summer. Now it’s Christmastime again and they’re still juniors.
James orders Olivia a slice of pie on one of their “friends only dates” or whatever, and she doesn’t touch it. Then James suggests they leave if she’s finished! Um, hello? She hasn’t eaten any of it! And he even paid for it! Olivia, get a to-go box lady.
Emily is at least the third new kid from Connecticut. What? Francine must have family there.
Aunt June mentions how she and Emily specified the vegetarian meal ahead of their flight to Sweet Valley, so that they would be served first on the plane. I can’t tell you the pangs this gave me for the days when you could travel domestically and get a full meal. I think I haven’t had that on a domestic flight since I was a little girl. I even flew from the East Coast to the West non-stop recently and I had to pay 7 dollars for a little snack box so I could have something resembling a meal in flight! Are you kidding me!
In the very earliest books Olivia was passionate about different social causes; it would’ve been cool to see her crusading for something other than James’s wein here.
When Olivia comes to school with her new hair cut, everyone annoys her by acting all sad that she chopped her hair. Even though she did it for the wrong reason, I have to say, that’s not cool. Listen to fucking Elizabeth: “Olivia, what did you do? […] But I loved your hair long. It was so beautiful and exotic.” Oh, so it’s ugly now? Nice one, Liz.
There are a lot of DC-area/Virginia references in this book. The kids at Robert’s party mention schools like Georgetown U. and UVA, and Olivia thinks that the giant Simpson house looks like something from Virginia or Maryland.
FROM THE MOUTH OF LILA FOWLER: Jessica: “I have a job interview.” Lila: “A what?” Jessica: “You know, a job? As in working? That’s what those of us who didn’t inherit a whole bankful of money actually do.” Lila: (shuddering) “Gross.”
The COVER shows Olivia in all her artsy glory. She looks cute! But my scalp aches looking at the way she has her hair flipped over like that. I know that was the style, but it always hurt me to try and copy.
READER OF THE MONTH: Jill is 13 and looks at least two years older. And her bangs are so high they look like a wave Bill Chase could surf on. I remember my own sister styling her bangs like that and using so much hairspray that you couldn’t walk by her room without choking on it! It was a hit at the time, but now I’m forbidden to show anyone the school photos of her from that era! Anyway, Jill says she hopes that “the twins are always there for me.” That kinda makes it sound like you hope they show up at your 14th birthday party Jill. Anyway, you got your wish this year! Did you read SVC, Jill? (No seriously, did you? I’m always curious how many of these Readers of the Month went on to purchase SVC.)
FUN FACT! The novel Windchill Summer by Norris Mailer takes place in the fictional town of SWEET VALLEY … Arkansas!
Coming up next … Some new girl named Rosa moves to Sweet Valley, changes name, hides heritage. What’s up with all the new kids in Sweet Valley over the last several books?