Marissa interviews her guest Adaora about what it was like reading about the Wakefields et al from across the continents. Together, they consider: Is Enugu the Sweet Valley of Nigeria?
Marissa interviews her guest Adaora about what it was like reading about the Wakefields et al from across the continents. Together, they consider: Is Enugu the Sweet Valley of Nigeria?
Merry Christmas Eve Eve Eve! I've got a new podcast episode for you! What did you get me? What's that? You subscribed to the Sweet Valley Diaries Podcast? How did you know!?
I'm particularly proud of this week's episode, in which filmmaker and friend Adaora Nwandu and I go deep into dangerous recesses of the Nostalgia Zone. We talk about the highs (ladies helping ladies) and lows (near-miss vehicular manslaughter, attempted date rape) of Book #2, SECRETS.
You can listen on:
or right here!
Do me a solid and subscribe, rate, review the show! Or just recommend it to a friend; I know we're in the early phases here, but I want to make sure the show reaches the ears of anyone who might get a lift from it.
All the best,
YET ANOTHER SUPER SPOILER ALERT!!
Okay, okay. You've had a few months. Has everyone finished reading at this point? Like it or not, it's time to put your books away and get pencils out. I'm giving you a pop quiz?
1.Who sleeps with more guys in this book, Elizabeth or Jessica?
2. Which Men of Sweet Valley fall in love…with each other?
3. Which character(s) grew into reportedly despicable adults?
The answers to the above questions encompass (1) my favorite about-face in this brave new SVC world (and one I find somewhat believable); (2) the part of the book that makes me most giddy, despite the fact that it seems totally unbelievable; (3) the one thing about this book that really, truly stinks (putting aside my dismay about Jess and Todd ending up together). Let's explore.
Will Enid's life ever be the same?
It occurred to Enid that although she and her mother were bending over backward to be nice, her grandmother wasn’t even trying to meet them halfway. She was picky, demanding, crotchety…
Do you remember the first entry ever written here in the Diaries? It began, "As an introduction, Double Love sets one thing straight: Jessica Wakefield is a bitch." Well, as a book, Hard Choices sets another thing straight: Enid's grandma is a bitch.
I realize that's a pretty harsh description to assign to an old lady, but this book is clearly trying to prove little else. I mean, why else make this elderly woman, Mrs. Langevin, alias Nana, the catalyst for all of the problems in the book? She's breaking up Enid and her out-of town boyfriend Hugh (who I'd totally forgotten about), she won't let Enid or her mother (who has a sexy name: Adele) go anywhere without giving them a hard time about it, and she's keeping Enid from being involved in this week's B-Story. She sucks.
But let me back up a little bit. At the end of #42, we knew how thrilled Enid was that her grandmother would be moving in with her and her mother. Nana had been living alone in Chicago since her husband died, and Enid was sure that her grandmother would be much happier in Sweet Valley with the Rollins gals, and why not? Alone in a ghosty old house here in Chicago (it's sleeting here now), or with caring family in sunny California? Seems like a no brainer. (I may or may be bitter because of that whole winter thing.)
The beginning of Hard Choices finds us on the cusp of Nana's arrival. As soon as Nana gets out of the car after being picked up at the airport, Enid can tell something's wrong; grandma seems so...old! Enid's memories of Nana were of someone a little less frail. And way less plaintiff. This woman constantly mentions that she "doesn't want to be a bother" and yet manages to bother everyone at every turn. She doesn't feel comfortable driving in strange town, but she doesn't try to work her grocery shopping or senior center activities around that of Enid and her mom. Enid makes tea for her once, and now Nana expect it every day. She even convinces Enid that her mom's boyfriend is a dick, and to then convince Adele that Enid's boyfriend is no good.
Of course, all of this is frustrating to the reader as well as the characters. It's clear early on that grandma needs a stern talking to, but the younger women just can't help but treat her with constant (and increasingly resentful) deference. Poor Adele actually gets proposed to by her boyfriend, Richard, but can't bring herself to say use because things with her mother are so "complicated!"
Enid has a similar type of problem. Her boyfriend Hugh goes to nearby Big Mesa, and the two have been having trouble finding time to spend together. Enid is really excited when he invites her on this group camping trip, as it will be an extended period of togetherness on neutral ground. Mrs. Rollins, however, has been soured on Hugh by suspicious talk from Nana, and decides at the last minute that Enid can't go on the trip! She can't even get the message to Hugh before he arrives to pick her up, and he is, of course, pissed. Enid is, too, but she can’t really do anything about it.
As if things weren’t bad enough, Enid has been totally unavailable to work on this movie project that Elizabeth cooked (B Story) up because she’s constantly keeping her grandmother company. This is making Liz et al (but mostly Liz) rather worried about Enid, but Enid’s keeping any ill feelings toward Nana to herself, for the most part. That is, until Nana pulls some serious shenanigans. Despite not really being a part of the movie project, Enid is still looking forward to making things up to Hugh by attending the film’s premiere (at the Wakefields’ house) with him. Meanwhile, Adele is trying to make things right with her own boyfriend by attending a special awards dinner with him. Do you smell a problem yet? Well, Adele has actually foreseen the problem of leaving grandma alone for the evening (it’s not that she can’t fend for herself, it’s just that she doesn’t want to) and called a friend to stop by and hang out with grams. But Nana protests! “Don’t bother sending a stranger over here” she says. Adele says fine, and cancels, and after doing so, Nana drops the bombshell: “You’ll have to stay home now, Adele. I can’t be here alone. I might get sick.” (p. 130)
Why, at this point, doesn’t Adele say “that’s bullshit, Mom. You’re a grown woman, and you knew we had plans. Your choice was to have my friend come over and stay with you OR to be alone. You made that choice a minute ago and now you’re out of options” ? WHY?! I suppose it’s because such a reaction would have ended the book a chapter or two too early. Instead, Adele says “I’m sorry Enid, this is the last time” and rushed off to her date. Hugh arrives shortly after and is furious that Enid has broken yet another date. He storms off, and now Enid is furious with her obviously scheming grandmother and yells at her for being such a jerk. She even tells her she hates her! Then she, too storms out and sneaks into the Wakefields’ living room for the end of the movie. But she can only fume for a while before worrying that her unkind words have done some irreparable harm to Nana. She darts back home before Liz can stop her.
When Enid gets home, she finds her grandmother in fine spirits. She’s baking, in fact. The two make up, and then Hugh stops by to apologize for getting so angry. Enid’s mom is shocked to come home and find them happily munching away around the dining room table, but she rolls with it. And Nana announces that she’s sorry she was acting so strangely, that she was feeling sorry for her poor old widow self, and that she is now ready to face life again...back in Chicago. She’s leaving, just as things started to get not-awful.
All in all, this book was kind of a place-holder. Like, “We need to write about something this month, but we can’t have another kidnapping just yet.” And that’s okay, because I needed something tame to prepare myself for the insanity of Sweet Valley Confidential, which I promise to write about very soon. Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that Mrs. Langevin, a.k.a. Nana, did NOT make an appearance in that volume, so get your fill of conniving old lady now while you still can, people. It’s all sex and confusing relationships next time.
Can Elizabeth outsmart Jessica in the hottest fued ever?
…this uncharacteristic plotting would have to be stopped immediately. Once Elizabeth realized she couldn't outfox Jessica, everything would be back to normal.
You all know that I’m very fond of Sweet Valley High novels, right? It would be pretty lame for me to devote an entire blog to something that was a thorn in my side. But I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever gotten through an entire book without experiencing a certain amount of disgust and frustration (one possible exception is my all-time favorite book, No. 10, also known as the Diarystarter, which evoked no emotions in me other than shock and awe). Why couldn’t each books just have its conflict sorted out in a normal, believable way, rather than offend us half-way through with some mind-numbingly absurd action or reaction on the part of its star…or so the argument goes, book after book, until this one, Book 31.
Book 31, my friends, is pure high school.
The story that unfolds between the covers of Taking Sides is one of deception, scheming, and, of course, boys. If you’ve never been a high-school age girl, you might not know how important boys are to that particular demographic; if you have been a high-school age girl, you’re sure to relate to Elizabeth and Enid’s plight here. When hunky Jeffrey French moves to town, Enid is immediately attracted to him. She’d been single, remember, since that jerkface George dumped her temporarily-paralyzed ass for Robin Wilson (my words, not hers). But of course, Lila Fowler instantly claims Jeffrey as her own personal conquest upon seeing him. Now Jessica and Lila are scheming to make sure Jeff falls for Lila, while Enid and Elizabeth work against the clock, hoping that he isn’t shallow enough to fall for bitchy Lila’s money and superficial charms. He’s 17, so it’s a long shot.
At this point, I’m so jaded that I was actually waiting for this little novel to fail me. When would somebody pull a totally bonehead move that creates a plot-halting misunderstanding to dominate 40 pages of the book? Would it be in Chapter 5? Would it hold off until Chapter 10? Well, Taking Sides does have a bonehead move but, miracle of miracles, it actually makes the book better and is even understandable. While trying to talk Jeffrey into getting to know her best friend Enid, Elizabeth realizes that he seems to be more interested in her…and that she doesn’t hate it. Liz, of course, is unswerving in her friendly duties, so she redoubles her efforts to get Enid and Jeff together, largely out of a secret guilt she feels for, you know, liking him. It’s Enid, however, who comes up with the genius idea of getting Jeffrey to put a date with his hot newbie self up for auction in the big charity fundraiser (this book does not, in fact, have a school dance; instead there are several events surrounding a canned-food drive). Then, Enid places the winning bid and scores a date with him.
Note: if you’re thinking, “how could Enid outbid the very wealthy Lila in an auction?” good on ya for paying attention. The auction is based on donations of canned goods, not actual money. As an added protection, Enid manages to keep Jess and Lila away from the auction by tricking them into thinking that they’ll be expected to help put cans in boxes for several hours if they show up. Very clever.
Guess what? Jeffrey and Enid find that they have no chemistry whatsoever. Enid feels like their one, perfectly pleasant date, was enough to convince her that they weren’t meant to be a couple. But Liz isn’t convinced. In what we later learn was a guilt-fueled rampage, Liz won’t take no for an answer and ends up making Enid and Jeffrey upset with her for being so dense and pushy. That lasts all of about three pages, and when Liz finally gets up the nerve to apologize, Jeffrey gives her the following hilarious speech:
He: Silly girl. Don’t you realize I’m already taken?
She: Taken? You mean –
He: I mean, I like Enid, but I couldn’t be interested in her, because I’m in love with someone else.
He’s talking about you, Elizabeth. Amazing.
So where are Jessica and Lila in all of this? While Jessica asserts several times in this story that she’s bound and determined to get Lila and Jeff together, she has her own boy crisis to deal with (see “B-Story,” left). Lila tries pretty hard with Jeff, buying him soccer tickets and dancing up a storm at her various pool parties. That said, you can tell it’s doomed (if it weren’t already obvious) when she whines to him, “Jeffie, this is my favorite song!” as he leaves to chat with Liz. Ugh. They’re not even a couple yet, and she’s already nagging. As far as Jessica is concerned, “Jeffrey and Liz” is at least as acceptable as “Jeffrey and Lila” as a pairing; it’s Enid she can’t imagine any self-respecting boy dating.
Experts on latter day Sweet Valley, does Jessica ever get over this whole “hating Enid” thing? In this book, she manages to accuse Enid of being both boring and scheming (not to her face, of course, but it one of those patented Sweet Valley ever-changing-narrator-perspective moments I love so dearly.
But enough complaining. This is an occasion for celebration! A totally engaging, totally silly, totally high school SVH novel. Way to go, “Kate William,” whoever you may be.
Will Elizabeth be forced to choose between Amy and Enid?
"I think it's high time you and Amy met each other," Elizabeth said firmly. "You're going to love each other. Trust me, Enid..."
For such a smart girl, Elizabeth Wakefield can sure be stupid sometimes. Like, totally socially inept stupid. Like no backbone stupid. I know, Elizabeth is famous for being friends with everyone, but in this story, she’s such good friends with Amy Sutton that she doesn’t realize the Amy Sutton is a bitch. Amy Sutton is Jessica.
Okay, okay, besides Jessica, who exactly is this Amy Sutton? Well, she and Elizabeth were best friends in grade school (before Enid was in the picture) and kept in touch for a while after Amy’s mother, who is somehow 1986’s only female sportscaster, took the whole family to the East Coast. Now that Amy’s mother is being transfered back to Sweet Valley, the two girls assume that they’ll be best friends again. Liz is only slightly concerned that Amy and Enid won’t get along; Amy isn’t concerned at all, because she’s not interested in sharing her best-friendship with anyone. As I mentioned before, she’s a bitch.
Once again, we’re talking about a book that I really didn’t want to read. It’s a given that Elizabeth and Enid are always going to be best friends, so why even bother wasting 138 pages on the rivalry between Enid and some girl we’ve never heard of over Elizabeth’s friendship?
And yet again, I was wrong to pre-judge this story. Sure, it’s pointless, but in the same way that most things that are total crises in high school are actually not worth sweating over. It was a page-turner, most of which I read in one sitting. What fascinated me, page after page, was how every character was screwing herself through misapprehensions about the other. Enid assumes that she needs to hide her dislike of Amy from Elizabeth, lest she hurt Elizabeth’s feelings. Elizabeth assumes that Enid and Amy are the same kind of friend to her – namely, a good one – and that they’re both genuinely interested in becoming friends with one another. And Amy, like Jessica, assumes that Elizabeth will drop Enid now that she’s in town, as Enid is famously boring.
What happens instead is that Elizabeth learns an important lesson about friendship and about herself. Isn’t that sweet? Amy is instantly popular, aided by her beauty and fashion sense, and becomes fast friends with Lila Fowler, Cara Walker, and all the other glitterati of Sweet Valley High. She even tries out for cheerleading, and makes the cut without attempting suicide. All of this isn’t enough to convince Liz that she and Amy have grown into two very different people. But after several weeks of missed lunch dates, cancelled ski trips, and delayed plans, Liz feels like her good-natured loyalty is being taken advantage of…and realizes that she’s been doing the same thing to Enid since Amy came to town.
Given some of the other things that have happened in Sweet Valley (several kidnappings, a knife attack, a plane crash), I half expected Amy to end up being some kind of twisted psychopath, but in the end she’s just a shallow, conniving sixteen-year-old. Things come to a head at Lila’s house where – what else – the “party of the year” is being thrown. Again. (Elizabeth, p.78: “Good heavens, Amy, Lila has a party practically every month.”) This party is being thrown in honor of Lila’s cousin Christopher, who’s in town for a while and is reportedly the most handsome man in the history of ever. Everyone (read: all the most popular girls) have pretty much decided that Christopher is reserved for Amy, and Amy is in love already (“Honestly, Liz! You don’t have to actually talk to someone to know it’s true love, do you?” p. 93 ). But when Christopher arrives at the party, he spots Enid right away, and does not seem to find her boring at all. They’d met before, and clicked again instantly, much to Amy’s (and Lila’s, and Jessica’s) chagrin. Amy does her best to monopolize Christopher, and he politely humors her without being interested. And when she makes her motives known to Enid, we find out what Amy’s really made of:
“Enid Rollins,” she said, her eyes flashing fire. “Didn’t I tell you before just to get lost? Don’t you know you make me sick?” She looked so angry Enid felt almost afraid. “I told you this last week: You can’t steal people from me! I won’t let you steal Liz, and I’m not going to let you steal Chris, either! He’s mine,” she said savagely, leaning closer. “He’s mine, Enid. Now just stay away from him!” -p. 117
So Amy and Enid know who Amy really is, but Elizabeth still does not. And when Amy makes up a story about her ride falling through (forcing Christopher to cancel his plans to drive Enid home), Enid assumes that she’s lost her new love interest AND her best friend – Elizabeth must have helped concoct this plan, since she was originally the one who was going to take Amy home. Such is sixteen-year-old logic. I can only imagine how Elizabeth must have sounded in explaining this ultra-complicated dilemma to her mother.
Guess what? Elizabeth actually does explain this whole ultra-complicated dilemma to her mother, and Alice Wakefield is no dummy. She observes that Amy seems like “a very manipulative young lady” (sound familiar?). And suddenly Liz gets it. What we’ve seen all along is true: Amy is Jessica (read about Jessica’s own conniving in “The B Story,” right). Except Amy isn’t Elizabeth’s twin, and thus does not deserve the same slavish loyalty that Liz usually reserves for her sister. And so, it’s Amy Out, Enid In. Also, Enid gets the guy.
Just like I thought. Only a little more fun.
Will Elizabeth lose her best friend?
"I must look like a real idiot," she whispered to Elizabeth. "Who ever heard of a cripple coming to a dance?" - Enid, p. 101
One thing I can say confidently about the Sweet Valley High Novels: they are meticulously copy-edited. No matter how ridiculous the story gets, spelling and grammar remain pristine.
I don't know about later editions, but my original 1985 copy of Book 20, Crash Landing, had an alarming number of typos. I wouldn't bring it up, except that it's never happened before, so it was a little jarring. On page 36, Enid's boyfriend George is referred to as "Goerge"; on page 67, Robin says to Elizabeth, "Can I ask you womething?"; on page 72, Mrs. Wakefield tells her daughters, "We're going out on Firday night"; and on page 141, Enid tells Elizabeth, "I think George really is in love with Robin Wilson now. I've been trying to hang on to him, and that isn't fair."
If you can't find the spelling error in that last example, you can stop looking – it's not there. But in this crazy book, Enid's attitude about her boyfriend's infidelity is definitely the most glaring error.
Those of you who took the trouble to read "The B Story" in my previous entry will recall that George and Robin Wilson have fallen in love, whatever that's supposed to mean, because of their mutual passion for flying. George's mindset is reiterated as Crash Landing begins: "Her passion for planes and flying was as great as his; she was the first girl who ever understood his dream of becoming a pilot." So, there it is everyone, a perfectly sound explanation for leaving your girlfriend for one of her classmates. George was ready to break the news to Enid, too, right after taking her on his first solo flight. Perhaps the book's title is a clue to what happens next: the plane crashes into a lake after the engine gives out. George and Enid die immediately upon impact.
Gotcha! Nobody dies, guys, don't worry. That's a different book. But while rescuing an unconscious George from certain death, Enid injures her spine and loses feeling in her legs. Doctors are hopeful that she'll recover, but for the time being, she's paralyzed from the waist down. Given these unfortunate circumstances, George decides that now is not the time to leave Enid for another girl, especially since he feels responsible for the crash and the injury. He goes to Robin's house to break the news.
When Jessica and Lila (on speaking terms again after bonding over being similarly abused by Book 19's Jack) see George leaving Robin's place, they jump to conclusions. They assume that George is seeing Robin behind Enid's paralyzed back. While this is not exactly true (they've decided to STOP seeing each other) their suspicions were encouraged by Robin's initial reaction to George's plane crash: she fainted. Of course they tell Cara Walker what they saw, and next thing you know, Robin's a pariah again. Even Elizabeth doesn't want to be seen with Robin! It's just like when she was fat, lo, those many months ago (see Power Play).
If things are bad for Robin, they're even worse for George, who is forced to spend every spare minute with the girl who he wants to dump, the girl who saved his life, the girl whose heroics left her in a wheelchair. He's having a hard time hiding his heartache from Enid. Poor George! But who are we kidding! If things are bad for George, they're even worse for Enid, who is concerned that George seems distant and uninterested, not to mention the fact that, pardon my French, she's FUCKING PARALYZED.
Or is she?!
After reparative surgery, doctors expect Enid to recover. But she simply doesn't improve, even after several weeks of therapy. Eventually, doctors suspect that the condition has become psychosomatic, which they insist is perfectly normal. She's still in her wheelchair when Sweet Valley High's 197th dance of the year takes place. She tells George that he can go dance with somebody if he wants, and this guy has the balls to go dance with Robin. Enid, who hasn't heard any George/Robin rumors, is none too happy about the way the two look together. She throws a fit, and sinks deeper into the pit of weakness and despair that she's stuck in.
All of this is really bothersome to Elizabeth, who is highly concerned about Enid's change in behavior, apparent depression, and persistent inability to walk. Jessica, however, casually reminds her of a simple fact that has been stated and restated throughout Crash Landing. As long as Enid's in a wheelchair, George refuses to leave her. It occurs to Elizabeth that this fact could be the root of Enid's failure to recover, and so, my friends, she develops a plan.
With the help of Teddy Collins (yes, that's the son of famous English teacher Roger Collins), Liz plots to use the power of adrenaline to get Enid onto her feet. She begs Enid to come over (Enid's turned into something of a homebody), then plants little Teddy, an excellent swimmer, near the Wakefields' pool. With the pretense of fetching sodas from the kitchen, Elizabeth leaves the scene and Teddy goes to work. He "accidentally" drops a toy into the deep end, and dives in after it. Having been told by Elizabeth the Teddy can't swim, Enid freaks out and, sure enough, bolts out of her chair onto shaky legs to save him.
Believe it or not, readers, THIS is where the story gets farfetched. Amazed that something in her mind was actually keeping her from healing, Enid decides that she's been unfair to George. He doesn't love her anymore, so she shouldn't try to make him stay. Yeah. Let me share with you her words to Elizabeth on page 147, after the breakup occurs.
"Well, he told me that Robin had refused to see him until I was all better. He admitted that he wanted to go to her sooner, but she wouldn't let him. So I guess I can't even be mad at her!" [ed: Ummm...what?]
"Do you feel angry?" Elizabeth asked gently.
Enid shook her head. "That's the funny thing, Liz. I don't. I guess these things just sort of happen sometimes. And the truth of the matter is that I was trying to hang onto George because I was scared. I knew he wasn't happy with me any longer, but I couldn't bear to admit that I might be losing him. I made things really hard for him – and I told him how sorry I was."
Jesus H. Christ. I'm not saying that she's wrong, but what the hell! Isn't she supposed to be mad at him? And at her! I mean, he was cheating on her! They were seen kissing! In Sweet Valley, that's pretty much third base, and if my boyfriend didn't have the decency to break it off with me before rounding third with a new girl, in love with her or not, I think I might be a little angry. And I'd definitely be pissed at the girl if she was a friend of mine. Am I wrong? No. I am not. That was a rhetorical question. I am most definitely not wrong. The emotions I am describing are, in fact quite reasonable.
Can we ever trust Sweet Valley High novels again? How could the powers that be let such a horrible error in judgment slip through to the presses? Perhaps the next installment will be slightly more grounded. As Enid says on page 148, "Just because you crash once doesn't mean you'll never soar again!"
A word to the wise: don't count on it.
“What Jessica wants, Jessica gets–even if someone gets hurt!”
I really hate Grease. It’s not because of the hokey characters or forever-repeated musical numbers; I just can’t bear that ending! Sandy turns herself into a bad girl because she thinks it will make Danny like her. Ta-da! It works, happily ever after. Argue if you will – you have to read a lot into the plot to come up with a different interpretation.
When Sandy’s a goody two-shoes, the popular elite of Rydell High want her as one of theirs, but they shun slutty Rizzo and her gang of hoodlums. In this world, popularity and a clean rep go hand-in-hand. Sweet Valley High exists within this same parallel universe. The Secrets plot is driven by Jessica’s pulsating disdain for the “nerdy” Enid Rollins (who just happens to be Elizabeth’s best friend). Jessica finds a top-secret letter that reveals that Enid had a shady past that included (gasp!) DRUG USE. Even worse than the drug use is that Enid, who has a cute, popular boyfriend, has kept in touch with a boy from her bad-girl past! A once-delinquent penpal! HOW COULD SHE?? Jessica proceeds to use this information to try and ruin Enid’s life.
The real surprise is that this flimsy plan works. When everyone in the school finds out about Enid’s shady past (and when her boyfriend finds out she’s been conversing with another boy by post) Enid’s rep is ruined. But Jessica also manages to screw up Enid’s relationship with Elizabeth, who Enid thought was the sole keeper of these secrets. Enid logically (?) assumes that Elizabeth is responsible for their release to the public. As if Elizabeth could be so cruel.
How, PLEASE tell me HOW are we supposed to sit back and take this kind of behavior from Jessica? To me, this series is so far shaping up to be a classic tale of good versus evil–Jessica is Elizabeth’s evil twin. But I am 96% sure that we are supposed to view them merely as two different types of people. Different...like Luke was different from Darth Vader. I have to say, if Jessica doesn’t learn a lesson or two soon, I’m not going to be able to stand for much more of this.
Editor's note: Are you looking for the 2017 podcast episode on SECRETS? Click here to blast ahead 11 years!