Enough babbling. Let’s look at this cover, because if you were like me as a kid, your first thought upon glancing at it in your local Waldenbooks nearly 20 years ago was probably, Well who the hell are these people? On the left we have Ginny Belasca, a mopey sad sack with no self-esteem who’s always whining about how plain and boring she is. That must be why Ginny chose attractive, popular, ginger-haired senior Denise Hadley, who appears on the right, as her best friend. We’ve never met Ginny that I can think of – there’s a Ginny who exists for all of one book in Sweet Valley Twins, but they aren’t the same girl – but Denise first appeared in Bitter Rivals in the sub-plot with Jessica briefly stealing her boyfriend away from her. The weird, oddly smug 30-year-old in between the two girls is Mike Perrine. Oh, and this scene never happens.
Our story beings with Denise convincing Ginny to do something with her life other than mumble about how worthless she is. That something is joining the Project Youth call center team as a phone counselor. Ginny undergoes one hour of training and then gets to jump right on the phone lines with Amy’s boyfriend Barry listening in. Ginny’s first call is from a girl named Valerie, who barely gets a word out about how she’s upset she has to miss her friend’s party to go to her grandma’s birthday gala instead before Ginny has assumed she knows everything about why Valerie is upset and what she needs to do. Valerie is all, “You’re the best!” and hangs up. Next, a dude named Mike dials in. He just moved to the area and goes to Big Mesa. He’s having a hard time getting along with his mother and his new stepdad and is about to do something “drastic.” Ginny calms him down and suggests he start by telling his mom how he feels. Mike calls again later to tell her it worked. Then he starts calling each day that Ginny is in the center to talk to her specifically. Pretty soon, he’s asking to meet her in person. Even though that’s totally against the center rules, Ginny gives in almost immediately. But she’s too terrified to let Mike see how plain she is, so she whines at Denise until Denise agrees to go and pretend to be Ginny. And then presumably Denise and Mike won’t want to see each other again and that’ll be the end of that. I’m sure you can see where this is headed, especially if you’ve seen that 90s movie The Truth About Cats and Dogs.
Denise goes to meet Mike and is bowled over by how hot and nice he is. Um, he really isn’t that good-looking on the cover, but we’ll roll with it. Denise is acting more like herself than Ginny, and she also keeps freaking out worried that someone will see her and blow her cover as “Ginny.” So this odd behavior makes Mike super confused as to why “Ginny” is so weird around him and thinks she must not like him. In reality, Denise has already forgotten all about her own boyfriend, popular basketball player Jay McGuire, because they’ve been dating for so long that he’s gotten boring to her. Now all Denise can think about is Mike. Denise and Mike get ice cream and then when Mike asks Denise to go to a movie with him later that week, she happily agrees. Then she goes home and tells Ginny how fantastic he is and how she can’t wait to see him again, all while keeping up the fake Ginny persona, of course. Ginny is really upset that Mike is falling for her friend, which is stupid. You should’ve shut the hell up about how ugly you are and gone to meet him yourself, then.
When Mike talks to real Ginny on the phone again, he’s excited about their movie date but doesn’t get why Ginny sounds different. Later on, Ginny is all sighs and sadness that Denise is going out with Mike, although she tries to act like she doesn’t care that Denise is trying to make him her new boy toy. Even so, Denise asks Ginny to come along with her, just so Ginny won’t have to sit at home by herself doing macrame or something. What the fuck? I’m sure Mike will love having your drag your friend along on your date, Denise. I had a stupid boy do that to me once and the date did not last long.
In the meantime, Denise breaks up with Jay because she’s convinced Mike is the love of her life, and Ginny wonders how she can pull off being “Denise” around Mike while Denise continues the “Ginny” charade. The night of the movie date arrives. Mike does not figure out that although “Denise” is funny and smart and sounds just like Ginny does, that she is in fact the real Ginny, while “Ginny” is weird and doesn’t seem to get Mike at all. Mike and “Denise” get along super well and he obviously has a major hard-on for her, so things are kind of awkward when “Ginny” cuddles up to him at the end of the night and tells him she broke up with Jay for him. Mike doesn’t have much to say about that, so now “Ginny” thinks Mike is her new boyfriend. Meanwhile, the real Ginny goes home miserable because she STILL thinks Mike likes Denise better than her.
Mike calls Project Youth at a time when Ginny isn’t supposed to be working. Ginny is, in fact, there because she has taken over someone else’s shift. When Ginny picks up the call and hears Mike, she gives him another name, and he doesn’t recognize her voice. Okay, Mike here is not very bright. He tells the whole story (leaving out how he met Ginny on the Project Youth line because she broke the rules – how sweet! he’s trying to protect her!) and says that while he is now dating “Ginny” (Denise) he doesn’t really like her that much and he met someone new who’s perfect from him and is “beautiful in her own way” or something. Read: ugly. Dude. Ginny is a moron and doesn’t realize Mike is talking about her. She decides to give him the advice she knows is right, and tells him he should be honest with his girlfriend and break it off with her. Then he can be free to be honest with the other girl. Then she hangs up feeling guilty because she knows Denise’s heart will be broken and Ginny is to blame. No, no, you’re not. Mike is to blame for acting like a ballsack in freezing water around your friend and not telling her he doesn’t really want to date her.
So Mike meets the fake Ginny for lunch and breaks it off with her. By this time Denise doesn’t give a shit anymore and is ready to go find Jay and hop back on his dick. Denise and Mike leave the Box Tree Cafe and run into Todd and Liz on their way out, and Liz exposes everything by mistake. Leave it to Liz to do some shit like that, even unintentionally. But honestly, it serves these chicks right. This whole facade is ricockulous. Denise is then forced to explain to Mike that she isn’t the real Ginny and bla bla bla. Mike doesn’t give a crap and calls Ginny to tell her he loves her or something and they start dating. Denise finds Jay and they reunite. Woooooo.
The sub-plot all starts when Amy gets a call at Project Youth from a girl at another school who’s being sexually harassed by her teacher. She’s not supposed to tell anybody about the content of her calls, but she’s so upset she tells Jessica, and Jessica of course tells Liz. Can you guess what that makes Liz want to do? Yes, Liz decides to write an article about it. Although she could go for a much broader scope – girls get sexually harassed by other students, too, you know Liz, and it happens often – Liz sticks to teachers pressuring female students for sex, for some reason. Mr. Collins is really uncomfortable with Liz writing this article and putting it in the Oracle because it brings back bad memories of Suzanne Devlin claiming he tried to rape her (see book 11). But he says he just wants to review and approve it before it goes to print. Liz gets all fired up and starts researching and then Mr. Cooper calls her into his office and says she can’t print it. Why not? Mr. Cooper is scared a parent will see it and freak out thinking a student has been harassed at SVH. Either that or someone might pull another Suzanne Devlin. Ugh. Liz and Penny Ayala are really mad and Jess tells Liz to just put it in the galleys anyway and defy Mr. Cooper for the sake of all the girls who might need to read the article. Mr. Collins even gives them his blessing and says he’ll take the consequence. And then of course Mr. Cooper looks at the galleys before they go to print and calls everyone in his office and forbids them from running it, and is pissed at Mr. Collins, although I don’t know what he’s going to do to him. Put him on paid leave? I don’t know. The Oracle staff goes nuts! All of them are running around all crazed; Liz and Penny and Olivia and John Pfeifer are all yelling about censorship and how unfair this is. As a professional writer I think I’m supposed to have more of an opinion about this, but all I could think was, where the fuck is Abbie Richardson? Jessica suggests Liz just print out rogue copies of the article and distribute them herself apart from the Oracle. Mr. Cooper can’t do anything to them then because it won’t be part of the Oracle. You know, Jessica is way smarter than anyone gives her credit for. I didn’t see Liz coming up with these ideas. Liz uses Mr. Wakefield’s law office to print out the article by itself and then passes it out to everyone at school. Mr. Collins calls her back in his office and is basically just like, “Oh, sorry I tried to censor you. You were right and I’m wrong.” (not his exact words, but you get the gist) I think I should make some thoughtful comments about censorship here, but I ate too much candy earlier and now I don’t feel like it.
WTF? When Liz gets all fired up about her sexual harassment article, Jessica warns her Todd is starting to feel a little neglected. Okay, when is he not feeling neglected? Haven’t they broken up two or three times in the past four books over something like that? (I stopped keeping track) I should really make a Todd and Liz break-up page or a couples page or something. It would clearly show they are the most dysfunctional couple ever. Ugh, imagine being stuck in a car with the two of them on a long road trip, listening to them bicker the whole time. Anyway, Jessica’s warning never seems to pan out in anything substantial. I’m hoping this doesn’t mean it’s going to turn into part of the plot of the next book … try something new already, editors.
Comparing this book to Amy’s True Love, in which we first got an in-depth look at the Project Youth hotline, leaves me confused. First of all, in this book, Liz visits the Project Youth center to try and get some professional tips on how to handle sexual harassment from the center’s director. The director won’t let Liz listen in on any phone calls for her article and the counselors are not even allowed to share innocuous details of the calls they receive. Okay, sounds good? But didn’t Liz get to write an article about some of the calls in Amy’s True Love? I can’t remember if she actually listened in or not but I feel like people at least told her about some of the calls they had taken. I’m too lazy to go look it up. I’m really lazy this week in case you couldn’t tell. Leave me alone, I’ve eaten like five billion gallons of chocolate in the past two days. Has anyone here seen Claymation Christmas? I feel like Herb the dinosaur at the end where his Santa suit busts open because he ate too many “Christmas snacks.”
Secondly, I do DISTINCTLY remember that PY counselors are not allowed to give their real names to callers in Amy’s True Love. In this book they go ahead and give their real names all the time.
And finally, in this book we learn that the Morrows helped fund the teen hotline because they thought if Regina had someone to talk to, she wouldn’t have turned to a bad crowd and died. I wonder if the Morrows know Amy works at this hotline. I don’t think she would be there long if they did.
Elizabeth makes a stupid remark about how the Project Youth hotline requires just as much security as the Pentagon, then thinks about that isn’t exaggeration. Dude, if PY required as much security as the Pentagon, Amy would not be working there.
There’s some dumb remark about “those clear plastic hats old ladies wear.” Um … what clear plastic hats do old ladies wear? Someone help me out here please?
Direct quote: “Elizabeth had once thought that Denise liked to hang around with Ginny because the contrast between them made Denise even more strikingly attractive. But now that she knew them both a little better, she realized that there was a real friendship between them.” What the fuck? Why the hell would you assume something like that? You’d really look at them and just think “Oh they can’t be real friends, one of them isn’t very pretty”? Glad to know it’s all about looks with you, Liz. You smug bitch.
Denise is suddenly sitting at the same lunch table as Jessica and they aren’t hating on each other even though Denise has plenty to hate on Jessica for.
There is a hysterical moment where the ghostwriter confuses Shelley Novak with Claire Middleton. In this book Shelley is on the boys’ basketball team and the GW explains that Shelley made a huge wave at SVH when she tried out for it and got on. We see Shelley suiting up by herself in the women’s locker room and preparing to go play ball with the boys. No no no, Shelley is definitely on the ladies’ basketball team. It was Claire who tried out for the FOOTBALL team and got on! Really, how did an editor not catch that? (I can be smug like Liz too)
Potential spoiler alert for future book (if you care): In a book coming up soon, we learn that John Pfeifer is a rapist. Here he helpfully explains that Liz’s article is necessary because a lot of guys don’t realize when they are harassing a woman. I’ll just bet you don’t John.
My favorite part in this whole book: Liz is proofreading an article and Jessica points out a typo she missed. WHAT NOW BITCH
Coming up next … Jessica comes up with another silly money-making scheme. Good. I personally think those stories are fun. In the meantime, I’m really really curious … who do you think is cuter, Ginny or Denise? Leave me a comment and tell me!