So yes, I am back and I will actually be doing those reviews I said I would two years ago! I felt bad about doing all those false-start return posts in the past, so I decided not to say anything in advance and just go for it this time. Thanks for checking up on me over the past couple years, everyone! Life seriously just got in the way.
Now that I’ve (finally) reviewed the Magna Edition that ushered in a new age for SVH, let’s take a moment to review what has changed in the SVH format:
- The series has increased the soap opera drama dramatically – no more plot A and cutesy plot B. While we still have a main story line carrying the title, there are numerous little plots weaving in and out throughout the rest of the book, like a TV show.
- The series has also now divided itself into “mini-series” that carry out for several books, as opposed to introducing a fresh new plot (more or less) with each new book. So now if you find a particular story line dull as dirt, too bad! It’s going to hang around even longer.
- The covers have swapped Sears portraits for paintings of dramatic scenes from the book, featuring several characters.
- The covers also now have varying colors on the spines and back covers, a la Sweet Valley Twins. (#95 here is orangey yellow.)
- The Sweet Valley High logo on each cover now features Elizabeth and Jessica hovering over everyone like a pair of smirky goddesses secure in the knowledge that they will always reign.
- The font in these books has changed to a more grown-up looking one. They are serious about this makeover. 😉
- The length of the books has also increased quite a bit, by nearly 100 pages. A typical series book is now close to 215 pages.
- Lastly, I happened to notice that the book spines are now imprinted with dramatic logos that read “Sweet Valley Horror” or “Sweet Valley Deception” and so on. I assume these are the mini-series titles; it doesn’t say what it is anywhere else. Looks like books 95-100 are officially the Sweet Valley Terror mini-series then. That sounds so goofy. This first book was so dull that I can’t wait for the “terror” to begin!
So let’s jump right into book 95 and the main plot. The Morning After isn’t an accurate title for this book, as we don’t get the pleasure of seeing what goes on the morning after. Instead, the book jumps ahead in time to several days after the Jungle Prom. (They should’ve called THAT book That Fatal Night!) We learn that Sam was indeed killed in the accident, and Elizabeth was found wandering around outside the mangled Jeep in a daze. The only physical injury Liz maintained was a badly bruised forehead. Pyschologically, she’s a mess and suffers from nightmares. As for Jessica, she had to be sedated at the scene after she and Todd came upon the wreck. Sam’s funeral was held two days after the accident, but Jessica was too distraught to go. The cops didn’t arrest Liz , so Liz showed up to the funeral with her parents, who, by the way, almost have this whole “The kids will get over it” attitude about everything. They seem like they aren’t really all that concerned. The twins have a rental car to replace the Jeep for the time being, but they don’t seem to be sharing it, and the twins also aren’t communicating with one another except with icy glares. Jessica, bitch that she is, continues to blame Liz for killing Sam and keeps completely mum about the fact that she spiked Liz’s drink, so Liz is also blaming herself. Jessica is at times tempted to reach out to Liz, but she makes a deliberate effort to stay angry. I guess the alternative would be for her to own up to her own terrible actions. We already know there aren’t any real consequences for Jessica ever, so I’m unclear as to why she doesn’t just speak the fuck up. What’s the worst that can happen? Someone might shove her in a pool? Her Jungle Prom Queen crown might be revoked?
When the night of Sam’s big dirt bike race – you know, the one Jessica couldn’t have cared less about – finally arrives, a big memorial to Sam is planned ahead of it. Jessica is invited by some of Sam’s friends and she starts to drive out to Bridgewater to attend, but she can’t bring herself to go. Instead, she drives to the cemetery and cries and screams on top of Sam’s grave in the pouring rain (while also yelling that Liz took Sam from her – yes, because of what YOU did!).
Steven comes home from college on the weekends to try to cheer up the depressed family, but nothing works. They would probably be less depressed if he stayed his ass at school for a change. Steven tries to perk everyone up by doing some babbling about a new dating show called Hunks that he might audition for, presumably in order to find himself a new Tricia clone, but nobody cares. My interest is actually piqued because that sounds better than this current story line, which is truly rather yawn-inducing.
At school, Todd always goes out of his way to avoid Liz and makes no attempt to comfort her or act like her boyfriend. Enid clues Liz in to the fact that there are rumors Liz was drinking at the prom, but Liz doesn’t see how that can be possible. I STILL don’t get how Liz doesn’t understand that she was in fact drunk that night. Knowing her, you’d think she’d go to the library and research the effects of alcohol intoxication, or she could just think all the way back to Dear Sister and try to remember for herself! Or just ask Enid since Enid used to party back in the day. Or ask virtually anyone else. Enid also tells Liz that Todd might be avoiding her because many people saw Liz and Sam embracing at the prom, and think something was going on between them. Liz insists there wasn’t, but she’s less worried about that then she is that she could be arrested soon for her role in the accident. Seriously, out of nowhere she suddenly stands up and makes a big proclamation that she knows “the other shoe” is about to drop. I mean, if it were anyone else that shoe would’e dropped a long time ago, but these are Wakefields, so Enid is sure Liz is just being paranoid. Liz’s recently acquired ESP is going into overdrive!
Sure enough, a whopping three weeks after the accident, two members of Sweet Valley’s crackpot police force show up at the Wakefield homestead to talk to Elizabeth. The whole family sits down in the living room as the cops interview Liz. Ned does his lawyer thing, saying Liz shouldn’t speak without a lawyer present, but Liz overrides him and says she wants to talk about it. Of course, everything she has to say is useless because she can’t remember shit, and the police think she’s lying. It turns out the police DID test Liz’s blood alcohol level the night of the accident, and they knew that both she and Sam were drunk as skunks. Liz insists she knows nothing about any alcohol. The police ask Liz if she was driving, and she doesn’t know that either. (Jessica saw Liz driving off the night of the prom, you remember, but she can’t bring herself to speak up and say ANYTHING – until one of the cops mistakenly says Sam was Liz’s boyfriend! That’s the most disturbing part of the whole interview for Jessica!) The cops already know that Liz must have been driving based on the location of Sam’s body outside the vehicle, so I guess they just wanted to see what they could get out of her, which is nothing. If you, like I, are sitting here wondering why they didn’t arrest Liz’s ass at the scene then if they already knew all this, well, the police go ahead and state that they put it off as long as possible because Ned Wakefield is a prominent member of the community and they know Liz is a good kid! I’m half “come the fuck on” and half “well, at least they had the balls to just admit to it”. So three weeks after the fact, the cops finally arrest Liz for involuntary manslaughter and take her away. Oh don’t worry, the golden Wakefield doesn’t have to be taken to the station in the police car. They just flat-out tell Ned he can just drive Liz himself – he doesn’t ask, they just offer. “It’s not police procedure, but I think we can trust you.” HO.LY.SHIT. As Liz is taken out the door, she mouths “I’m sorry” at her sister, who is standing there wrestling with herself for not saying anything about having spiked Liz’s drink. Jessica doesn’t want to say anything because she knows her family wouldn’t protect her the way they are currently protecting Liz. OH PLEASE JESSICA. I would say this is all just so disgusting, but at this point, I am not surprised by any of this. Stay tuned to find out how Liz and Jessica will both surely get off scot-free!
Meanwhile … When Lila finally comes back to school, kids are treating her a little weird because they think she might have made up the Nathan attack story. Then Mr. Cooper sets up a meeting with Li, her father, and Nathan Pritchard to review what happened the night of the prom. Nothing is said about any charges filed against Nathan, so I guess he’s been released, because he’s back at school and everything. Lila has to wait a week for the big meeting because her dad is in Amsterdam on business. While she waits, she wears baggy clothes, lets her hair and makeup go, and bites off all her nail polish and that’s how everyone knows she isn’t doing so well. Lila and Nathan have to recap what happened in front of each other, Lila’s dad, and Principal Cooper at this school meeting, and it just seems really inapprop. It’s also clear that Mr. Fowler has no idea that John P. tried to rape his daughter, and no one bothers to mention it to him or clue him in. The fuck? Lila talks about how she and Nathan danced and everyone wants to know who initiated the dancing, and Mr. Fowler gets all mad and is ready to bust a cap in Nathan’s ass. Chrome Dome has to calm everybody down. Then when Nathan starts telling his side of the story, it takes all of two seconds for Lila to realize that things didn’t happen the way she thought they did and that he was trying to comfort her, not attack her, when he reached out to touch her with his unprofessional stroking hand. She apologizes to Nathan, who is all “It’s okay, you’ve been traumatized and I shouldn’t have shut you in a classroom alone with me.” I guess his reputation and career are saved; it doesn’t really say. Lila doesn’t understand how she thought he was going to attack her when he wasn’t, and no one seems interested in helping her figure that out. She then essentially drops out of school and falls into a deeper depression than ever before. Ol’ George Fowler just kind of hangs around not knowing what to do, giving his daughter these awkward pats, and “Okay honey”ing her not wanting to go to school. Amy calls trying to cheer Lila up, but Lila isn’t responsive. For some reason, Amy is the cheerleader of everyone’s spirits in these books. The hell? Finally George decides it’s time to bring Lila’s long-lost mother back into her life. He calls Grace Fowler in Paris, and then informs Lila her mother is coming back to try to do the parenting that George is incapable of, and Lila throws herself gratefully sobbing into her father’s arms.
Bruce Patman seems to have some brain damage from that kick to the head he took last book, as he’s now wandering around in a daze outside Big Mesa High stalking the girl who saved him from the Big Mesa goon’s baseball bat. He learns the girl’s name is Pamela Robertson, and every time he asks where to find her, people giggle and make snide remarks about how she really gets around. Bruce is sure they are just jealous. But no one knows how to find Pamela until he meets a kid named Edwin, who after freaking out over Bruce’s 1BRUCE1 Porsche, tells Bruce that Pamela is a star tennis player. Bruce is convinced that’s just one more reason why they were meant to be together. So Bruce stalks her at a tennis match and Pamela is happy to see him, and delighted to go out on a date with him. He takes her out a couple times and is convinced she is the angel of his dreams and he is in love. At lunch at Sweet Valley, he tells the gang about his new girl, and everyone already knows who she is. Amy Sutton laughs at him and implies Pamela is the jezebel of Big Mesa. OK, so she’s your counterpart, Amy? Maria hurriedly changes the subject by talking about the chocolate peanut butter pudding. Bruce is sure everyone is just jealous of Pamela’s fabulous looks until he drops by her house unannounced to bring Pammy some roses. As he waits on her porch, he sees a gold Trans Am (it’s always a Trans Am!) screech up. Pamela gets out and storms toward the house, but some dude named Bobby chases after her. They have a brief spat and then Bobby roughly grabs her and kisses her. After Bobby leaves, Pamela spies Bruce watching them. She tearfully tries to explain that she was breaking up with Bobby and he wasn’t taking it well, but Bruce isn’t having it. Okay Bruce, we get it. No female Bruce Patmans allowed in any relationship of yours. Bruce is devastated that everyone was “right” about Pamela, and I do not give one sliver of a shit.
Olivia Davidson is working on her latest masterpiece of a watercolor. No one in Sweet Valley is ever just marginally good at anything, so she’s being hailed as a genius in her art classes. We learn Olivia’s boyfriend James (from Olivia’s Super Star book) accepted some job in Paris recently, and that the couple agreed to break up rather than try to carry on a long-distance relationship. Now Olivia is going on lunch dates with Nicholas Morrow where they both moan about how difficult it is being single, and Nicholas asks Olivia if she has a twin sister he can date. Huh? Since when are these two such close buds?Anyway, there’s a cute boy in Olivia’s art class who kinda creepily stares at her a lot. Then one of Olivia’s amazing watercolor paintings sells. She is told she has to go to an art foundation in Bridgewater to give a speech about it at a big event as part of the sale. When she shows up to the foundation, late for the event and nervous about her speech, she finds the foundation building looks like a private (but elaborate) home, and hers is the only car parked there. She cautiously steps inside, and the cute staring creeper from art school comes down the stairs with a fairy tale-like “You’ve come!” Of course she has dipshit, she had to. He says this is his house. He introduces himself as rich 18-year-old Harry Minton and merrily informs Olivia that he tricked her so she would come over and he could talk to her. He didn’t want to waste her time talking to her at school, so he decided to waste her time with this big elaborate lie and story about an event she has to prepare to speak at, instead. Nope, there’s no art event or art foundation. Gee, that’s not creepy or infuriating at all. Instead of telling Harry to go F himself for wasting her time and making her prepare a stupid speech for nothing, and then getting the hell out of there, Olivia agrees to go on a date with him, and promptly falls in love. She then tells the story to Nicholas who is just like, “Oh, that’s great.” Yes, we know Nicholas the Obsessive would approve after his obsessive behavior with Liz in the early books. As for Olivia, I’m pretty sure she’s been brainwashed.
Lastly, we have … drumroll … the introduction of MARGO! Liz has one of her premonitions again, right at the opening of this book, with a nightmare about a girl who looks just like her and Jessica, but who has black hair, coming after her with a knife. Cut to Long Island, New York, where a sixteen-year-old foster kid named Margo lives in a shitty basement bedroom, in a cramped, dirty house with her alcoholic and absentee foster parents and her foster sister, five-year-old Nina. Margo hears voices in her head and thinks about how much she hates everybody, including Nina, who adores her even though Margo is a straight up asshole to her. Margo has been secretly saving money in order to run away to Cleveland and start a new life. Unfortunately, Nina sees Margo’s money stash and Cleveland bus schedule, so Margo decides she has to die. While the foster folks are out gambling or drinking or whatever, she pours kerosene all over the kitchen, then suggests Nina use a butter knife to get her stuck toast out of the toaster. Margo then stands across the street disguised as a boy, listening as her neighbors watch as the ensuing fire rages and Nina’s body gets carried out of the house. Everyone thinks Margo’s body might be hidden in the rubble of the home. With that, Margo assumes a new identity as “Michelle” and heads to Cleveland, where she rents a room at the YWCA and scams her way into a job as a babysitter for the rich Rossi family. She’s faked reference letters and come up with a sob story about her mother recently dying, and I guess this family is too stupid to actually check her references or even an ID or something. They even offer her money in advance. She starts her first day on the job freaking out little Georgie Rossi by staring wordlessly at him for 10 minutes, then pockets Mrs. Rossi’s ruby ring and fantasizes about seducing 16-year-old Josh Rossi. Ultimately she decides she has to stay focused on her new goal .. going to California. A Wakefield twin lookalike heading to California? I’m sure this won’t be dramatic at all. It’s got to be more lively than this book was, that’s for sure. Seriously, Margo is the best thing about this mini-series so far. (And she’s obviously the “Terror” in Sweet Valley Terror.)
Other stuff: There are at least a couple of references to a freight train rumbling through Sweet Valley. Liz can hear it as she lays in bed. This is new, right? What convenient ambiance.
I like the way Lila dressing bad is conveyed as her wearing a sweater that was on sale six months ago at Bibi’s. That’s our Li, always more in style than everyone else even at her worst.
There’s no mention of what became of the Jungle Prom article and photo shoot for Sweet Sixteen magazine, or when Jessica is going on her big Brazil trip. I assume that will be revived later on in the mini-series. If it’s not I won’t be surprised, but I will be pissy about it.
Although the Jungle Prom is seen as a huge tragedy, everyone at Sweet Valley seems to be going on with their daily lives except for the Wakefields and Todd. Everyone else has this attitude almost like the sadness is annoying and inconvenient for them.
It rains in the book, but don’t worry, it’s not in Sweet Valley! The rain is in Bridgewater. I’m sure the sunshine breaks as soon as you reach the SV border.
Margo’s foster parents have neighbors named the Lewinskys. (This book came out years ahead of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.)
Bruce meets two girls at Big Mesa who giggle about Pamela’s reputation. Bruce thinks about how they are probably just jealous because they are so ugly. Of course.
The slut-shaming is heavier than usual in this book. Bruce is predictably the worst. He figures Lila’s story about Nathan is likely false because she’s “always been a tease.” When he sees Pamela being chased down and then forcibly smooched by the Big Mesa lunkhead Bobby, he reacts like Pamela is the whore of the century. You mean, she’s too much like you? There can’t be that many innocent virgins left with the way you plow through them all, Bruce, sorry. Don’t worry, we know Pamela is redeemable because she protests to Bruce that she finally feels loved for the first time with him. In Sweet Valley world, any presumably bad sexual choices are always attributable to not feeling loved – if you’re a female that is (and not Jessica Wakefield, who doesn’t need an excuse for shit). Then, just so we know how evil Margo is, we see that she likes to look at dudes and think about getting some play from them. Good girls just do not think like that! When Mrs. Rossi is interviewing Margo as “Michelle,” Margo lusts for Mrs. Rossi’s teenaged son and thinks to herself, “What I know about teenage boys would curl your hair, lady.” So that’s one way we know Margo is one bad apple. She wants the D, but she has no reason offered up for it that we know can be redeemed later. The series is 10 years old at this point in the game, and some things never change!
This cover! Let’s take a look. Below our smug, bangs-sportin’ twins, we have Bruce staring in dismay as Pamela is yanked into the arms of the big brute Bobby, in his menacing leather jacket. Bruce could just as easily be wearing that leather jacket with his Club X bullshit, but instead he’s dressed like, well, like Prom Night. We can just barely make out 1BRUCE1 behind him. To the right, we see Lila in a sweater dress and interesting scarf fleeing a dismayed-looking Nathan. Nathan kind of looks like Professor Lasky from Saved by the Bell: The College Years. And in the distance, the Sweet Valley sunshine breaks free of the clouds! I guess that’s supposed to represent the dawning of the “morning after.”
In the back of the book: There is an ad and order form for Sweet Valley University, “where the motto is: ‘Welcome to college – welcome to freedom!'” Yes, because they weren’t totally free before what with Ned and Alice doing nothing but clicking their tongues and talking about Spanish-style interior design. Mmmmkay. There is also an ad and order form for the rest of the current mini-series. “Your friends at Sweet Valley High have had their worlds turned upside down! Meet one person with a power so evil, so dangerous, that it could destroy the entire world of Sweet Valley!” (Is that Liz with the ESP, Jessica with the spiked drinks, or Margo with the kerosene and her wanton lust for teenage boys?) “A Night to Remember, the book that starts it all, is followed by a six book series filled with romance, drama and suspense.” Well, this first book certainly wasn’t that. I actually found it quite dull. I HOPE this shit picks up soon, and I expect it will. (It better.)
Coming up next: There’s no promo or tagline for the next book like there was in the “old” series, but we know we are going to find out what happens to Liz in THE ARREST! We already know she can go back home as soon as they finish booking her. I wish Ned would make this shit really interesting “on the way to the police station” with his daughter, and just make a break for the border instead! Break bad, Wakefields! In addition to the continuation of the other story lines reviewed above, we’re also probably going to hear something about this new Hunks TV show, which we know both Nicholas Morrow and Steven are interested in (starring in, not searching for hunks … although in Steven’s case …). (PS I’m assuming Hunks is the Sweet Valley version of that old TV show Studs. I used to sneak-watch that sometimes after my parents had gone to bed.)