“Elizabeth’s nightmare is about to begin...”
When I try to decide what, if anything, there is to say about whatever absurd volume I’ve just finished reading, it’s always nice when I can come up with some singular thing about it that’s jumped out at me.
Frequently it’s impossible. There are just so many tiny little details and quotes I’ve earmarked for their hilarity, so many tidbits that I’m desperate to tell you about, that the prospect of finding some unifying flag they can all fly under seems utterly hopeless. Pleasantly enough, Kidnapped! is an exception to this dilemma.
Even as I write this, it occurs to me that it will be somewhat difficult to describe exactly what it is that stood out about Book 13. But I’ll give it a try: imagine a bell curve. High in the center, tapering off to nothing on either side. Have you got it? Okay, this graph represents my level of involvement with, and also sympathy for, Elizabeth and her ordeal, where x = time and y = me giving a shit. When it was time for me to start reading this book, I put it off for as long as possible. Knowing how frustrating even the most tamely-titled SVH book can be, I was dreading subjecting myself to the ridiculous events I knew were in store in a book called "Kidnapped!".
I knew what had happened: at the end of Book 12, a strange orderly at the hospital, Carl, had snatched Liz on her way to the car and thrown her in the trunk of his van – a windowless child-molester van no doubt. It was quite a cliffhanger, but as it came out of almost nowhere, I didn't really want to subject you to it in my last installment. Sorry? But while a cliffhanger usually leaves us begging for more, this one just left me thinking, "Jesus, I don't want to deal with that." So I didn't. I put it off for a week and a half before cautiously beginning the novel. Much to my delight, there was no mention of Elizabeth's kidnapping in Chapter 1. Or Chapter 2.
As the book opens, we find Jessica preparing for a party at the estate of some Sweet Valley newcomers, desperately awaiting her sister's return from a day filling in at the hospital and tutoring Droids frontman Max Dellon so he won't fail English (thus destroying the band). Quite a day for Liz, really, so Jess isn't concerned when her sister doesn't come home early – that is, she isn't too concerned about Liz. She's plenty concerned for herself, as she's desperate to be the first to get her claws into Sweet Valley's newest rich, sexy bachelor, Nicholas Morrow. Nicholas is 18, and it's his 16-year-old sister Regina who's throwing the meet-and-greet at the largest home in town, previously unoccupied. But I digress.
Jessica can't wait a moment longer for her sister to return, so she leaves for the party with Cara. What she doesn't know is that she could have spent all night waiting. Liz isn't going anywhere soon.
Thus the ascent begins – up the curve, I mean. Now that I'm a little caught up in the story, my defenses are down, and I begin to worry about Liz myself. Where could she be? I'll tell you where. In a trunk. Chloroformed and tied up. This is bad! Really bad! The next thing she knows, she's tied to a chair in a strange and disheveled house, and she realizes for the first time that it's this creepy Carl guy who's kidnapped her. But she doesn't know why. Is he going to kill her? When Carl finally reveals himself (only his identity, thank God), Elizabeth finds out that he’s kidnapped her so that he can be near her. That's it. Creeeepy! He loves her, and this was the only way he could think of to be with her. (Elizabeth's inner monologue: Did you ever toy with the idea of SPEAKING to me? Just a thought.) He says that she's like "a beautiful bird...So beautiful and yet so willful". Shudder. The situation worsens when Liz asks to go to the bathroom and uses the momentary freedom as a chance to bolt. When Carl catches her, he is more afraid than ever that she doesn't really WANT to be there (surprise!) so she ends up tied to that chair one more time.
Back in Sweet Valley, the whole town has lost it. especially the police: they think Liz ran away. As if! Worst of all, a lot of people think that Max Dellon, the rebellious boy that Elizabeth was supposed to be tutoring the night she was kidnapped, has something to do with her disappearance. This is mostly because he was found snooping through Liz's car that night (he was looking for clues to her whereabouts after she didn't show up to tutor him). I can understand their misguided suspicions, though. I mean, who can trust a guy who's failing English? And a musician, no less. He might as well write “guilty”on his forehead!
As I'm hoping you can imagine, now that I'm effectively immersed in the story, my concern for Elizabeth is pretty high. I mean, this dude that kidnapped her is seriously insane. He buys her creepy presents like random gift shop novels and he feeds her dry frozen pancakes. He’s stupid, but not stupid enough to stop going to work - he doesn't want to arouse suspicion. Unfortunately, Liz never told anyone about her weird encounters with Carl in the hospital, where he seemed to stare at her constantly but from a distance, and never spoke to her. And now, he's planning on cashing in some vacation time so he can take Elizabeth away to a shack in the mountains...and never return!! It will be so perfect Elizabeth! I'll love you forever and you will never get away!!! Yikes. A scary prospect indeed.
Alas, this, my friends, is where we hit the top of our little bell curve. Because while Carl is at his "last day" of work, Elizabeth sits, arms and legs bound, on her couch-bed, and tries, TRIES to regain a bit of sanity by remembering the good times...beach strolls with Todd, sleepovers with Enid, pillow fights with Jessica...it seems like only yesterday that she saw them all! Well, dear readers, it freaking WAS yesterday! She's been kidnapped for 2 DAYS! A horrible experience, to be sure, but give me a break! If you're struggling to remember your twin sister after 2 days away from her, a little Stockholm Syndrome is the least of your troubles. Jesus!
The downward slope is quick and sharp. I have no doubt about where y finally returns to zero, and I return to the level of disdain for the whole affair that I began with. It's in the final chapter, when Elizabeth and Jessica throw a party to celebrate her return. (Yes, yes, she's alive. Big whoop. Carl saw Jessica at the hospital and, thinking she was Liz, inadvertently confessed it all.) At this party, Enid's boyfriend arrives and greets Liz "for the first time since the kidnapping." For the first time, that means, in two measly days. And he says to her, no kidding "It's good to have you back." As if she's freaking Liz Smart, returning to the real world after years of painful searching and heartache!
Usually, once a book gets ahold of you, you care about the story right through the final page. But when this one was over, I was also SO OVER the whole thing that I barely noticed the bombshell on the final page. Remember Nicholas Morrow, the rich sensitive hunk that Jessica had her eyes on before ever meeting him? Well, when he arrives at the party, he takes one look at Elizabeth and can see no one else. And Liz knows it. I smell trouble...hopefully Book 14's plot curve will be a little more x=y, if you know what I mean. And if you don't, don't fret. I'll fill you in next time.