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

#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 She’s been replaced by a very sensible-sounding lady who apparently dropped the creepy boyfriend and the cigs.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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Comments on: "#93 Stepsisters" (9)

  1. Gretchen said:

    Welcome back! I remember reading this book and liking it when I was young-but I think it was because I liked Cheryl. She was very upfront, honest, and sensible.

    Kind of weird how they made her a big character in the TV how. I always figured they did that to bring some diversity to it.

  2. jamee king said:

    I feel really badly – you had asked me to fill out a quick Q&A and I accidentally deleted it and have been thinking about you for a few years…no joke…. I was Olivia in the Superstar series and you were so kind and time just got ahead of me….(and I loved reading the comments about my hair and outfit…I still look the same actually) I so love reading your posts – if you want me to still contribute something, I totally would…I am so so sorry

    Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2014 22:46:43 +0000 To: jameeking@hotmail.com

    • Hey there, it’s good to hear from you! I am so glad you like the blog! I think I still have the original email somewhere so I can always send it to you again!

  3. aubynpeach said:

    So happy you are back

  4. Clementine Bojangles said:

    You’re back! You’re back! I’m so glad!

    I remember loving this one as a kid. I should be reading it in a week or so if I keep up with my schedule (I have posts scheduled out for about a month, because I’m reading the books much more quickly than before), so it will be interesting to see what I pick up from it.

  5. I have just time-sucked my way through your entire blog. Days of my life: gone! It is fabulous! The more reviews I read, the more I thought, “I must find this woman and befriend her, because she thinks exactly the way I do about these books.” I had just finished rereading the first 50 SVH books, and was wondering how many more of them there were when I stumbled across your blog. It’s hilarious, and I can’t wait to share your writing with my friends. Can’t wait for your next post!

    (Wow. I sound like a total fan-girl. Admirer, not stalker). 🙂

    • I’m glad you like it! I love to write and this is the one place where I can do that without any major editing, revision or headache. So it makes my day to get comments like yours. 🙂 Thank you!

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