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

Archive for March, 2014

#94 Are We in Love?



It feels so good to be back! And to be done with this boring-ass book, which is the last of the original series. I understand the series is about to flip its shit on me and I kinda can’t wait! If I thought it was soap-opery before …

Check out this cover. Steven is smiling for the first time in his grown-man life … no more helmet head and stern expression. Cheryl looks thrilled to be alive. I guess they decided to go get their portrait done at the mall since Annie and Cheryl were just there last book.

In our latest story, we have Steven and Cheryl hanging out all the time as he teaches her to drive and she confides in him. He’s easy to talk to and they make great buds, but the Sweet Valley Gossip Mill keeps churning out rumors that they are something more. Neither Cheryl nor Steven seems particularly interested in the other that way although they occasionally think about it. But then they take a fateful post-driving lesson trip to a restaurant we never heard of before, the Crooked Canyon Cafe. It’s good we never heard of it because now it will be forever tainted. As Cheryl and Steven walk in, everyone stares at them like an interracial couple is the weirdest thing they have ever seen. The two sit down to order and some chain-smoking skinheads in the corner see them and move to the adjacent table. They start staring and cracking racist jokes until Cheryl is so upset that they leave right when they’re about to order. Although Cheryl was starving before, the incident has apparently killed her appetite because Steven drives her straight to the beach where they walk, talk and then start making out as they deal with the emotions of the night. When they get home, they feel like they must be a couple now. Cheryl tells Annie, and Steven tells the twins, and there is much celebration at hand.

At school, everyone has differing opinions about this momentous and shocking news. All the SV kids can talk about is whether or not an interracial relationship is acceptable in today’s world and how people will view the new couple. Oh, fuck these people. (Most people seem generally accepting, but Suzanne Hanlon and Lila Fowler stick up their noses and seem sure people will ostracize the two.) Scott Frost goes on about how “they’re trailblazers, pioneers” and everyone is all “Yeah!” Scooby Doo style. Jessica especially makes a huge deal out of how amazing this is, and goes out of her way to show Cheryl how much she loves and adores her and welcomes her into their family and it’s really fake and weird. It’s so over the top that Cheryl privately wonders later if Jessica isn’t just trying to make up for her own uncomfortable reaction to Steven dating a black girl. I can’t say I blame Cheryl for feeling that way, but then again we all know Jessica is over the top by nature, period, no matter the occasion.

From then on, things get REALLY annoying. While everyone at school can’t shut up about the new couple, Cheryl and Steven spend a lot of time thinking about how they aren’t really attracted to each other, and how they don’t *want* to be more than friends, but they just won’t talk to each other about it … or anyone else, either. Their first weekend together as a couple, Steven is so freaked out at the idea of spending any time alone with Cheryl that he instead takes her to meet a ton of his friends at the Beach Disco. Cheryl dances with Steven’s (black) friend Martin Bell and finds they get along really well and she wants a piece of that, and that leaves her hemming and hawing even more. Seriously, nearly the entire rest of the book is like this. We finally get to see Cheryl’s thoughts, and they’re all about whether or not she should keep dating Steven even though she really just wants to be friends with him. Steven and Cheryl wonder (to themselves) if they’re not attracted to the other person because of the other person’s race. Then they start thinking they HAVE to make their relationship work even if they aren’t really attracted to each other, just to show that an interracial couple CAN make it. (Um, what about your dad and stepmom-to-be, Cheryl? Do they not exist?) Then they can’t stand the thought of hurting the other person after all they’ve been through together. So they just sit there mumbling and exchanging chaste pecks on the cheek and it’s so boring that this book successfully put me to sleep two nights in a row. Thank you Steven and Cheryl!

It doesn’t help that when they do get up the guts to have a chat about everything, they are constantly being interrupted by someone running up to them, cooing over them and talking about what a powerful statement their “love” is. Dude, they just started dating! Back the fuck off! Annie is the worst; she’s like somebody’s mom always butting in. Well, she looked like somebody’s mom on the cover of the last book so I guess that makes sense. Annie is always popping up where she’s not wanted and cutting people off. She reminds me of the Wakefields’ old neighbor Mr. Beckwith who was a real pain in the ass while fucking murders were going down in one of those detective books. Holy shit, Annie and Cheryl and their parents are living in the old Beckwith house! That’s right; it was the Beckwiths who “moved away”! They probably just got whacked because of all the nosing around Mr. Beckwith was doing! HOLY SHIT. ANNIE HAS BEEN POSSESSSED BY THE SPIRIT OF MR. BECKWITH!

Andrea Slade throws a big fucking party that’s supposed to be the shit or something, and I really don’t care, but Lila sneers about how if Cheryl and Steven aren’t invited, then her prediction that nobody will accept an interracial couple at Sweet Valley High has come true. It looks like they aren’t invited until Elizabeth is suddenly all “Oh duh, I forgot to tell you Andrea called over here trying to make sure you guys could come because she only had your old number at Annie’s apartment!” The couple go and have a great time and everybody is thrilled with them, even Lila, which means more pages of hemming and hawing and bullshit like that. I’m guessing the only person who doesn’t like Cheryl now is Suzanne Hanlon but nobody cares about that bitch anyway, except when it is convenient to the plot.

Meanwhile, Steven has been helping Cheryl write her toast for Walter and Mona’s wedding. (She and Annie are the bridesmaids.) Every time she writes it, it comes out as a big statement about race and bravery and is all wrong, but Steven is no help at all. Everything Cheryl writes, he’s all, “Oh yeah, that’s good.” Steven is studying to be a lawyer and he can’t provide any constructive criticism, sad. Finally, the night before the big backyard wedding arrives. Cheryl is working on her toast in the kitchen and feeling sorry for herself when Mona comes up to chat with her. Cheryl talks about how great it is that Mona and Walter are getting married to prove something to everyone, and Mona is really offended and tells Cheryl that NO, they are marrying because they love each other as people and the appearance has nothing to do with what they feel for each other. Suddenly Cheryl gets it and feels brave and writes the best toast ever or some shit. But she still doesn’t call Steven to have the frank chat both of them have clearly been dying to have. She’ll save that for an overly dramatic scene AT THE WEDDING.

And then the wedding day is here. Everyone wears ugly clothes. Seriously. Elizabeth wears a pale yellow little-girl sounding dress with cap sleeves and a matching yellow bow. She borrowed it from Enid so even if I didn’t just give you that outfit description, you would still know it was ugly. The bridesmaids have to wear calf-length dresses with an ugly “dusky” tri-color floral pattern that sounds like something out of 1993 all right. When I tried to sketch out these dresses in my head I almost started crying.

When Cheryl stands up to give her toast, Steven is sitting there panicking because he now realizes going on and on about the races of the newlyweds is probably not very romantic. But Cheryl’s toast is all about love. She ends it by saying that she is feels “incredibly lucky this example of deep, true love right before me every day.” Steven understands immediately that Cheryl is talking to HIM and that they were meant to be friends and they have a good hug-it-out or whatever about it right afterwards. WOW HOW ROMANTIC, you used your parents’ wedding toast to break up with your boyfriend.

Cheryl laughs with Steven about how it’s a shame they aren’t really dating because now her parents are on their honeymoon and she and Annie have the house all to themselves. You know ol’ Annie Whitman will be taking full advantage of that. Cheryl and Steven come to the conclusion that their scene on the beach was a good thing and it helped them out at the time, but they’re better off as friends and that has nothing to do with what race they are. I’m glad it took you guys a full 148 pages to come to this conclusion.

Later, Cheryl comes to visit Steven and tell him she got her license. She runs into Martin who, as soon as he learns she isn’t really dating Steven, asks if he can give her a call and she agrees.

The subplot: Jessica is so eager to show her support for interracial love that she demands Annie let her bake the wedding cake for Mona and Walter. Annie agrees because she apparently has the power to make these decisions for her mom. Her mom never protests about a 16 year old being responsible for a three-tiered cake for 60 guests (although I think it ultimately winds up being four-tiered)! Because this is Jessica, all sorts of yuks ensue about how she can’t cook. Actually, just a few yuks because not much time is spent on this subplot overall.

And because she is Jessica, Elizabeth has to help her make the cake. They go to a bake shop in the mall (literally called The Bake Shop or something really obvious like that, I’m too lazy to go check) and Jessica buys a ton of cake pans plus every wedding cake cookbook she can find, because her allowance is apparently as limitless as Lila Fowler’s. The twins then run into Bruce Patman who makes racist remarks including that the cake should be “half chocolate” HURRRRRRR. Then the girls have a day where they make small “test cakes” for Cheryl, Sam, Todd, and Steve to taste-test. Each twin makes two cakes and of course Liz’s are a hit while Jessica’s get all kinds of snarky comments. It seems the first cake is really flat because Jessica beat the eggs for too long or used too many or something, and then the second cake has a really bitter frosting because Jessica grated ALL of the orange peel and not just some of it. Yuk! Yuk! Jessica is a terrible cook! Y’all better watch it or she’s going to join a cult or go run off with Nicky Shepard again. Sam and Cheryl are a little bit nice, at least. Ultimately the twins wind up making a different cake anyway. I just don’t get it. Mona Whitman’s fiance is a celebrity photographer; you can’t tell me he couldn’t afford to just hire someone to make that shit.

Random facts and crap: Jessica proclaims Steven and Cheryl Sweet Valley High’s “first interracial couple.” What? So Sandy dating Manuel, Rosa dating Eddie Strong or whomever, Annie dating Tony Esteban, and Jade Wu dating David Prentiss – none of that counts as interracial? I’m confused.

Bruce Patman is dating a girl “this week” named Chelsea. Last week he was dating somebody named Bettina. Then Andrea Slade and Nicholas Morrow break up, and Bruce starts trying to get with her next.

What the hell ever happened to Nicholas Morrow, anyway? I feel like some of our classic SV characters like Ken, Olivia, Bill, and Nicholas are getting buried in the slew of new characters we’ve seen over the past 20 or so books.

New area near Sweet Valley: Marpa Heights

Jessica makes all kinds of comments about the alone time she’s been spending with Sam lately and starts to tell Liz about a new freckle she found on his body. These books are starting to get randy again!

Lila is very cynical about love lately and that’s why she looks down on Cheryl and Steven so much. She thinks anyone in a couple sucks and is doomed to fail for any number of reasons. We’re told this is because she is still suffering from her near-rape at the hands of crazy what’s-his-face and that Jessica is getting bored hearing Lila talk about her counseling all the time. Fuck off Jessica, not everyone can bounce back from an assault the way you could back in the day.

Here are Steven’s college buds in this book. We have his roommate Bob Rose, who was also his roommate in Jealous Lies. Bob was the one who tried to convince Steven to drop out of college for nine months to become a crew member on a cruise ship. I guess Bob also decided not to go. Of course, when one year of your life actually equals 10 years and counting, what’s nine months on a ship? Then there’s their friend Frazer McConnell, who dated Jessica between books 76 and 77 after her whole beauty pageant stint. Sounds like Frazer is now dating this girl named Hillary because “Frazer and Hillary” is always said together just like that. Steve’s friend Eve is also in this book. She has been around for a while; he took her to a dance instead of Cara after they broke up briefly in book 36. Lastly we have Eve’s roommate, Beth Greenberg.

The night before the wedding, Liz and Jessica talk about their future weddings while they ice the cake. If you’ve read Sweet Valley Confidential, this scene is rich. Liz says she would like to marry Todd and her bridesmaids will be Olivia, Penny and of course Enid. Jessica would be the maid of honor, of course. Liz thinks Todd would have Aaron, Winston, Ken and Steven as his ushers. Liz would wear her mom’s wedding dress and the bridesmaids would be in “cornflower blue.” Jessica then says she would wear a white mini dress to her own wedding and that she probably wouldn’t get married for another 10 years.

Where is Prince Albert the dog?

In the back of the book … I think it’s worth noting that there is nothing at the end of this story leading up to the next book like usual. No setup or anything, which makes me think they had something else planned (probably something with Bruce and Andrea) and just dropped it in favor of the new SVH direction. So our “promo” for the next book goes like this: “After the next Sweet Valley High prom, life will never be the same … Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield have been planning a jungle-theme prom for weeks, but what should be a night of romance and fun turns into a tragic nightmare. Experience love, death, loyalty, and betrayal in one horrifying tale, starting with Sweet Valley High’s newest Magna Edition, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. Following this chilling seven-book mini-series:” (and then they list out books 95 through 99) “and the final terrifying conclusion in Sweet Valley High #100…”. I just want to know what kids thought when they read this and saw the title “#99, BEWARE THE BABY-SITTER” staring back at them. Well, we’re not too far away, folks. I’ve never read ANY of these funky ass “new” books although I know the gist of some of them, and I suspect I am in for a treat. I hope so, anyway. Bring me some crazy plotlines!

#93 Stepsisters

The girls on the cover of the Sweet Life books look younger than these two "teenagers"!

The girls on the cover of the Sweet Life books look younger than these two “teenagers”!

Ahhhh! I’m almost to the last book of the “original” (i.e., pre-A Night to Remember) half of the SVH series. This is another book that attempts to be A Very Special Episode of SVH, this time about racism and race relations, but it falls flat … not surprisingly.

Let me expand on that thought. When I first started this blog, it was a fun diversion. I loved reading the books but I also loved ripping them to pieces in my review. They just seemed so over-the-top ridiculous. The latest books I’ve been reviewing are more watered down – Jessica is less cruel, Elizabeth is even MORE sensible, and all the insane things from the past – all the soap-opera worthy plots – are largely forgotten. And you know what? I MISS THAT STUFF. For all I go on about Sweet Valley, I do it because I love it!

So this book just … doesn’t do it for me, man. I get that it’s trying to be all After School Special and The More You Know and teach kids to get along with people who are different than them. But it’s just … blah. Like all the rest of these damn books lately. Everyone’s all nice to each other and shit!

The plot: Remember Annie Whitman’s chain-smoking floozy mom from Wrong Kind of Girl? She’s been replaced by a very sensible-sounding lady who apparently dropped the creepy boyfriend and the cigs. But she’s not so sensible that she hasn’t decided to just up and MARRY a famous fashion photographer named Walter Thomas, whom she met just a couple of months ago in NYC while on a modeling gig. (Yes, she’s still a model.) Mrs. Whitman comes home from a lengthy stint away and drops this bomb on her daughter. And the bombs just keep coming. They’re not only getting married, they’re getting married in ONE MONTH. AND Walter has a daughter named Cheryl who is Annie’s age. AND Walter and Cheryl are going to go ahead and move out here now and share their apartment so they can get used to each other before they get married. AND they’re going to move into a house together – right next to the Wakefields – the next weekend! For me personally, living next door to the Wakefields would be the most traumatizing part. Seriously, is this the way these things usually happen? “Here’s your new family honey, hope you don’t hate each other because you’re meeting for the first time when they move in with us in a few days!” And then Mrs. Whitman decides to tell Annie one last thing … Walter and Cheryl are black. She asks Annie if that matters to her. Annie has to think about it, then says no. She also talks about how she’s looking forward to having her new family, bla bla. Great! Just like that, everything’s all hunky-dory.

Not only does Annie have to get used to the fact that she’s getting two new family members and doesn’t even get a chance to get to know them before they move in with her – she also has Tony Esteban bugging her. If you recall, they broke up a few books ago because Tony was cheating on her. Now he wants her back and he won’t stop calling her and whining about it. Go fuck yourself, Tony.

Annie calls her best friend Robin Wilson to give her all the latest news in her life. Robin is super excited about Annie’s new family and Annie is excited too. She tells Robin that her new stepdad and stepsister are black and Robin makes a dumb joke about how no one will believe Annie and Cheryl are sisters. Hurrrrr. Robin encourages Annie to give Tony another chance – why? – and tells Annie that it looks like she and George Wilson are going to get back together. I hope so Robin, or else what you two put Enid through was all for naught. Just kidding, who cares about Enid.

After their talk, Annie realizes she can’t stop talking about the fact that Walter and Cheryl are black, so she goes out to the living room and asks her mom if she is a racist. I love the way that, with all the huge changes in Annie’s life, the biggest thing on her mind is the fact that her new fam isn’t white. In fact, she starts downright freaking out over it. She sets herself up for utter failure by ignoring her mom’s suggestion – that people not ignore or gloss over race and racism, but instead talk about and not make assumptions.

Liz and Jessica find out Annie and her mom are moving in next door and are a little TOO excited, especially Jessica, who acts like she’s always been Annie’s close friend. This is what I’m talking about – no mention of the fact Annie almost died because Jessica drove her to a suicide attempt. Annie tells the twins her new stepsister’s name and Jessica immediately knows who she is because of course Jess knows everything about any famous fashion photographer. Jessica also knows who Cheryl is because Walter did a photo spread on her “modern” bedroom. Liz goes back over to the Wakefield Manor while Annie gives Jessica a tour around the house and Jessica discusses which room she thinks Cheryl would want. Annie is all quiet and weird, and she flips out when Jessica says she can’t wait to tell everyone who Annie’s new family members are, yelling at Jess not to say anything because she’d rather tell them herself. Her behavior prompts the twins to wonder what’s up with her later. They question if she has a problem with Cheryl and Walter being black, but conclude that’s probably not it because Annie dated Tony, who’s Hispanic, so she can’t possibly be racist or have any problems with race.

Annie meets “several of her friends from the Pi Beta Alpha sorority” at the Dairi Burger after school on Monday. What? I thought she wasn’t allowed in there. Oh, who cares, pretty much every chick in school is in this sorority at this point. All her friends want to talk about the wedding. Stupid snobby Suzanne Hanlon is just aghast that Annie’s mom and Walter want to get married in the backyard of their new Calico Drive home. What is Suzanne even doing eating at Dairi Burger? Do they serve caviar now? I hate her. Annie’s friends naturally want to know more about Annie’s new family, and Annie keeps freaking out and changing the subject whenever anyone gets too close to asking about what Cheryl looks like or who she is. Jessica says she thinks purple would be a great wedding color for Cheryl and Annie and Lila wants to know how Jessica knows what she looks like, prompting Annie to quickly change the subject – and ignore the look Jessica shoots her. Annie doesn’t know how to tell people Cheryl is black without looking like a racist. OK, really, Annie? Are you sure that’s not it, and not that you think people might start acting racist about it and you won’t know how to handle THAT? Then Tony shows up wanting to talk with Annie AGAIN which is just the diversion she needed. She gets up and walks to a quiet table with him where they have a boring conversation about getting back together that ends the same as it always does, with Annie saying no. YAWN. Take a hint, Tony. Annie goes back to the table and Liz shows up. Annie makes up an excuse about wanting to ride home with her because she needs help with her homework. In the car, she lets it all out about Walt and Cheryl being black and not knowing what to do. For the first time she actually thinks about CHERYL’S feelings, and says she wonders how CHERYL feels about having to move across the country and get used to a brand new community, school, home, climate, and less diverse atmosphere. Liz says some bullshit that isn’t really helpful (including a real gem I’ll go off on later), and Annie says she might throw a party for Cheryl so she can meet some other kids. Annie decides she will invite a bunch of minority students at SVH that she barely knows herself just so Cheryl will feel less conspicuous … oh Annie, no. Even Liz thinks that one is probably not a good idea because Cheryl probably won’t necessarily like other kids just because they are black. Liz is all wishy washy about it just like I’m writing it, dude.

Annie and her mom drive out to LAX to pick up Cheryl and Walter. The girls are somewhat awkward around each other at first, as one might expect, and Annie gets nervous when Cheryl starts telling her all about her life in Manhattan and it’s clear things are very different from Sweet Valley. Annie starts worrying Cheryl will hate everybody because unlike all Annie’s friends, Cheryl doesn’t drive, doesn’t know anything about football, and doesn’t seem crazy about rock music or sports. (She’s a classical pianist.) Back at the apartment, where they are staying before moving into the house that weekend, Annie warms up some Thai food which Cheryl says she loves, but Annie is devastated when Cheryl says she is a vegetarian and can’t eat the beef curry. They find a bean burrito for her to eat instead. Annie cannot relax and panics over everything that Cheryl doesn’t seem one hundred percent pleased with about Sweet Valley, but she’s impressed that Cheryl knows the band Rhomboid, which is the latest famous band everyone in SV loves. Turns out old Walt did the cover of their latest album. When the girls are getting ready for bed that night, Cheryl tells Annie a little bit about her mom, who died of leukemia when Cheryl was nine, and says she is glad her dad is happy but doesn’t understand why he was so eager to move them back out there so quickly. Cheryl seems like she wants to chat some more, and Annie sees this is her cue to ask Cheryl more about how she feels being one of the few black kids in town compared to a place like NYC … but she doesn’t and instead just says “Good night, Cheryl.”

The twins come over to the new Thomas house the next day as Annie’s new family is preparing to move in. They quickly notice how weird Annie is around Cheryl. She can’t relax. And, when the new sisters pick out rooms, Annie refuses to be upfront about which one she wants and then later confides in Jessica she wanted the one Cheryl picked … even though Cheryl really wanted Annie’s opinion on which room she did want, Annie just would not speak up, so Cheryl wound up just taking one … which was the one Annie did want. For fuck’s sake.

Jess asks Annie about this party she’s throwing for Cheryl and who’s coming. Jess is surprised to learn that Annie has invited people like “Rich Chen and his brother, Paul” and “Greg Washington” because Annie doesn’t know them. Jess asks Annie point blank if she only invited Greg because he’s black. Annie gets embarrassed and starts mumbling excuses that make it clear the answer’s yes.

Cheryl seems to get along well with Liz and Jess, who tell her all about the stuff to do in Sweet Valley. Jessica is big on Pi Beta Alpha and getting Cheryl in there. Cheryl agrees to let Jessica give them her name although she’s not really sure she will like it; she might as well try it. She does ask Jessica if there are any other black kids in there. Jessica says not yet but there isn’t any reason why there wouldn’t be. I’m guessing bitchy Suzanne is not going to like this. *eye roll*

It’s time for the party. I’m sure this is just going to be a blast. Robin shows up to help make the food and is surprised that Annie is so enthusiastic about Cheryl joining PBA, because that doesn’t really seem to go with Cheryl’s interests. Privately she asks Annie if PBA knows Cheryl is black. Annie acts like she can’t imagine why some of those bitches would have a problem with it. Right, they were so nice to Rose/Rosa Jameson and all that.

Everyone who shows up to the party is obviously surprised that Cheryl is black but quickly gets over it, and the only one who seems to have a big issue with it is Annie. Annie acts stupid all night and spends a lot of time talking over Cheryl and bragging about how Cheryl’s dad knows Rhomboid and they played at one of Cheryl’s parties. Cheryl finally gets annoyed and confronts Annie about it. She also wants to know “what gives” with all the “black, Asian, and Hispanic” people at the party who she has found out clearly don’t know Annie well, whereas she’s learned all the white people are her best friends. Annie runs off to the kitchen crying. She talks over what happened with Liz and Robin, but she doesn’t ever apologize to Cheryl – not even the next morning, when the two girls see each other again and have an awkward conversation. Instead, Annie decides to just ignore it and to continue to push Cheryl to become a real Californian and do everything Annie and her friends do. She gives Cheryl a surfing lesson and signs her up for a surfing magazine, and keeps dragging Cheryl to the mall even though Cheryl is trying to tell her that’s not really her bag. All this pushing includes joining PBA – oh and that reminds me, Annie knows all about the issue Rosa had with PBA, because as Rosa tells Liz and friends at the party, Rosa told Annie all about it after it happened. They had an in-depth discussion about it and how it made Rosa feel! Yet Annie still thinks PBA will have no issues accepting Cheryl and that Cheryl will just love it. Annie is terrible. She deserved to get bitched out by Cheryl.

At school after the party, Cheryl seems to get along pretty well with everyone, but she tells Liz all about how, for the first time, she feels weird about being black – because Annie seems so weirded out by it. She says Annie just doesn’t know how to handle it and avoids talking to her about it. Cheryl says it will take her a little getting used to her new environment, and Annie’s behavior is not helping. The other day, Cheryl was out walking and she saw a lady watering her lawn who stood up and stared at her. Cheryl waved at her, but the lady just stared back at her and didn’t speak.

Steven is in town again, of course, and he hangs out with the twins and their boyfriends, and Cheryl, at the football game. Steven takes the time to explain football to Cheryl, which she is grateful for because no one else has bothered to see if she knew what was happening and just expected she would enjoy herself. He also takes her out later and teaches her how to drive, and she does pretty well. (As Cheryl has had to explain about 5,000 times, New Yorkers don’t really need to have a license.)

Annie is doing her homework at home and having her usual anxiety attack when Cheryl comes home and Annie starts pushing her into PBA again. Cheryl is upfront about not being sure it’s right for her after all, because she’s found she prefers the company of a few people (like Liz) than a huge group of people. Annie keeps pushing her until finally Cheryl is just like “OK fine, if it makes you happy.”

PBA has its latest meeting at Fowler Crest, and Elizabeth and Enid both come to it … what the hell, they hate PBA and only show up if Liz is going to police something the other members are doing. Ohhhhh … ok, now I get it. Nominations for new members begin. Stacie Cabot gets nominated – that’s a girl who’s been mentioned once or twice, including IN THE LAST BOOK ABOUT PBA (Rosa’s Lie). Stacie was nominated and went through pledging with Rosa and the crew! And she joined! Now she’s being mentioned like it’s a brand new thing. Suzanne immediately protests and claims Stacie is too stupid to join, even though she’s in the honor society. Suzanne also reacts to Annie nominating Cheryl, and of course implies it is because she is “different background than us” but insists she’s not being racist. After the meeting, Suzanne talks to Annie and she insinuates that she will blackball Cheryl from PBA later, if Annie doesn’t do things for Suzanne now. Her first order of blackmail is to have Annie take care of all the food for the upcoming pledge party (even though Suzanne herself is wealthy as shit and could just hire some caterer to bring it). Annie is a fucking dumbass doormat so she agrees.

Cheryl is invited to Rosa’s house to hear some music and hang out with her and Liz, and they have a good talk about Rosa’s past experience with PBA. Cheryl asks Liz how the PBA meeting went where she was nominated. For the second or third time in this book, Liz is less than forthright and doesn’t tell Cheryl there were objections and how bitchy those PBA girls are. I don’t understand why self-righteous Liz is being all mealymouthed on this one. I guess her being herself would sincerely interfere with the plot, and that’s all the reason the writer needs. On the way home from Rosa’s, Cheryl and Liz run into Tony who lets it all out about how much he misses Annie. This plot is getting old fast. When Cheryl gets home, she again tells Annie she’s not really interested in PBA, and also tells Annie all about seeing Tony. Annie never told Cheryl about Tony before, but Cheryl had a similar situation with a boyfriend she broke up with 3 months ago and offers some advice. The conversation ends with Cheryl agreeing to come to the PBA party, but only if Annie invites Tony to come. (It’s an “open” party.) Why the hell is everyone so hellbent on getting Annie back together with the doofus who cheated on her? My guess is just so Annie will shut the fuck up and quit moping around about whether she should date him again.

The pool party at Suzanne’s goes about as well as you would expect. Tony and Annie get back together, so that “conflict” is finally over. Suzanne takes credit for providing all the delicious food for the party, which Annie worked her ass off to make. Then Suzanne calls Stacie and Cheryl up to the front of the yard to make some remarks about being pledges. Cheryl uses her remarks to announce that it was Annie who made the food, and that Cheryl has decided she isn’t going to be able to join PBA at this time because she’s found some other activities (involving music) that she would rather work on and she won’t have the time to devote to it, but thanks everyone anyway. Jessica leads a huge round of applause for Annie for making the food. After the remarks, Annie finds Cheryl and yells at her. Apparently it’s CHERYL’S fault that Annie had to make all the food. Annie says as much, that she let herself be blackmailed just so Cheryl could join PBA and be a typical Californian. Fuck off Annie! Cheryl sets her straight, telling her guess what, she’s black, she doesn’t want to be a typical white Californian or whatever Annie thinks she should be, and taking major issue with the fact Annie thinks she should be “grateful” for pushing her into joining PBA. Cheryl says: “Black people are supposed to be grateful to white people for trying to turn them into white people, too.” Some readers have had problems with Cheryl saying these things; I personally have zero. Annie was pushing it to this point and this is what she gets. Now, for the first time, she gets to hear how Cheryl feels – and if it’s not the way she expected, she should blame herself for that. Every time Cheryl tried to talk to her more about how she felt, Annie acted like a weirdo and just rolled right over her demanding she do all these things that ANNIE thought she should do. As much as Annie wishes this wasn’t the case, it could have been avoided if Annie did as her mom suggested in the beginning and tried to talk to Cheryl.

The next day, Steven sees Cheryl struggling with a lawnmower and comes over to help and she tells him all about the fight with Annie. Cheryl says she never really told Annie she wasn’t into all the things Annie pushed on her, but that is not accurate. From the beginning, Cheryl told Annie all about what her interests were. She went along on some activities just to see if she would like them, but it was pretty obvious she wasn’t into PBA – she said so! – and Annie just wouldn’t let up with her plan to make Cheryl a “Californian.” Oh well, at least they both know what the other is thinking now. Steven gently pushes Cheryl to talk to Annie and to think about how Annie must have felt being accused of being a racist in front of everyone. I just don’t have any sympathy for Annie. Maybe Cheryl was harsh, but Annie is stupid and who cares.

Annie is having her own come-to-Jesus meeting with herself about how she should have thought more about what it’s like for CHERYL (there’s a novel thought!) rather than being so self-absorbed, when the typical deus ex machina arrives. I’m glad to see Sweet Valley books at least haven’t given up on these things. In this case it’s Mona (Annie’s mom, who’s mostly just called Mrs. Whitman these days, despite being divorced for years or maybe never married at all) collapsing and having to go the hospital. Cheryl comforts Annie as Steven takes them to see her and find out what’s wrong. Turns out it’s just appendicitis! The future stepsisters make up, admit that they each hate their assigned bedroom and agree to switch, and agree to be more forthright with one another in the future and stop making assumptions about how the other feels. Woo hoo, everything’s sunny in Sweet Valley again. How nice. Oh, but the doctor who comes out to tell them about Mona’s condition is surprised that they are “Mrs. Whitman’s children” and obviously doesn’t really believe it. LOLLLLLLLLLZ

All people can talk about in this book is poor Annie. Wah! Annie doesn’t know how to act around her new black family members! Poor Annie! What about poor Cheryl, fucking switching coasts to live with someone who freaks the fuck out over the fact that she’s black? Fuck you Annie Whitman. We’re supposed to feel sorry for Annie and see how Cheryl was wrong too and how she should have been more upfront about what she does and does not like to do, etc. Dude, Annie is the host here, she’s the only who’s always lived in Sweet Valley and only has HALF the change that Cheryl does. And, once again, SVH misses a chance to give us the opportunity to hear the whole story from the black character’s point of view. It’s all Annie doing the thinking, all the interaction between the two future sisters goes on through Annie’s eyes. Why couldn’t they just hire a black writer to tell the story of the black girl? Show teenagers like I was, white girls growing up in mostly white towns, a good viewpoint from a black teenager. Depending on the quality of our education, that might’ve been one of the few chances we had to really think and talk about race and step outside of our bubble for a while. Oh well, I guess this book is better than nothing. I’m sure it was a good discussion point back in the day … haha. Well, what do I know? I’m 32 years old reading this book for 12 year olds for the very first time and I’m expecting it to actually be educational somehow and for everyone reading it to have the foresight of someone my age. If you read it as a kid, what did you think of it then versus what you think of it now?

The subplot: I guess that was supposed to be the plot about Annie and Tony. If so, it was weak.

WTF? Why are the back of young adult books always glossing over whatever the real story is? This one casually mentions that Annie’s new stepdad is African American and then just causally mentions Cheryl and Annie aren’t getting along and “Annie’s hurt and thinks Cheryl’s a snob.” Do they think people won’t want to read it if it doesn’t sound as bland as the tasteless sandwich I had for lunch earlier? (How do you make “bland” out of egg and cheese on French toast?)

Speaking of glossing over things, there’s a mention of how Andy Jenkins got “hassled” and “even beaten up” by Charlie Cashman. Elizabeth also describes what happened to him to Annie in the following way: “I know Andy did have that trouble with Charlie Cashman, but aside from that I don’t think he or any of the other black kids have had much reason to feel uncomfortable at Sweet Valley High.” OH NO, NOT AT ALL! That minor “trouble” with Charlie which put Andy in the hospital and made him miss days of school made all the other black kids feel really secure about their safety at little ol’ SVH! It was no big deal!

Robin suggests that Tony cheated on Annie because popular culture tells men they should play the field. She then claims that’s why Todd and Liz have had troubles, and reminds Annie that Todd and Liz have broken up “at least once.” UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR for the latter point. For point one, ARE U FUCKING KIDDING ME. If I did an inventory of Liz and Todd breakups, I think 8 out of 10 would be Liz’s fault.

Steven comes home from college for the weekend. Just thought I’d mention because this is such a momentous, unusual occasion. We learn he’s slowly losing touch with Cara now that she lives in London.

This cover: These Lifetouch Portrait Photo covers are gettin’ real old. Annie looks at least 30.

Next up: One “normal” SVH book left, thank goodness. In this one, we get more Cheryl and more Steven. Can’t …. hardly … wait. My plan is to review that one and get it over with, then review a few more fun SVH things that are way overdue, then get started on the “new” part of the series that began with A Night to Remember! (All books I never read, might I add 🙂

(Yes, I really AM back!)

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