“Somehow, Jessica will get rid of Betsy!”
Oh me oh my! Yet again, tragedy has struck Sweet Valley, and this time it’s going to stick. Tricia Martin is finally dead, which is really the only way anyone can be dead. Miraculously, Jessica’s icy-cold heart thaws a bit at this event and even she is able to see that the death of her brother’s beloved girlfriend (of cancer, at 17) is kinda sad. But this lapse in bitchiness proves temporary when an apparently greater horror occurs: Tricia’s sister Betsy moves in with the Wakefields.
Now, Betsy might not sound like a slutty name and, based on Book 15’s cover, she might not look like a slutty girl. Slap a leather mini skirt and some heavy eyeliner on her, though, and Miss Martin operates at a slut-factor that puts even the formerly “Easy Annie” to shame. SURE, after Tricia’s death Betsy promises to get straight, but come on, why should Jessica trust that lousy skank? Huh? Or so she argues when Steven and Liz both plead with her to give Betsy a second chance like a decent human being.
Surely I don’t have to tell you, clever readers, that such pleading is futile. By the end of the book, Jessica convinces Betsy that she’s just a pitiful charity case, driving her out of the Wakefield house and into someplace called “The Shady Lady” for her first drink and 3-way makeout in weeks. (Surely not the first girl Jess has driven to the bottle.)
Luckily for Betsy, she’s not really a mere charity case to Liz, Steven, and Steven’s cute college friend, Jason. In the course of her stay, the Wakefields found that Betsy was a first-class artist (she drew some killer sketches of her dead sister and the Wakefields eating breakfast — two separate drawings, not Tricia's ghost at the Spanish-tiled kitchen table). Unable to gain the trust of an emotionally damaged and gun-shy Betsy, the three secretly win her a scholarship to an L.A. art school. In the book’s final moments, Betsy finds out that she does have real friends... and that Jason knows karate. Sexy!
One interesting thing about this story is that it’s the first time any main character’s “inappropriate" behavior is described with any specificity – or, for that matter, as fact rather than rumor. True, the book does leave a lot of Betsy’s whoring, boozing, and drug use to the imagination. But let me introduce several incidences of saucy behavior that were never so boldly named in previous volumes.
Even from several feet away, Elizabeth could smell the alcohol on Betsy’s breath. Her heavy makeup was smeared under one eye, and her skimpy shirt was missing several buttons...”Did I say she couldn’t walk a straight line?” Jessica asked. “She can’t even walk. She’s probably been in every bar in Southern California tonight.” - p. 8-9
“Elizabeth, a date with Betsy Martin means one thing, and one thing only...And I thought Betsy Martin stories were a dime a dozen.” - Betsy herself, p.85
“But art school’s not going to do her any good if she’s too trashed to see straight.” - Steven, p. 137
“Why don’t you guys give up and go home. We’re busy playing games that are out of your league.”
“You call drinking a game?” Steven gestured toward her refilled glass.
“Drinking...and maybe other things too,” Betsy said...”Charlie here just got his hands on some dynamite pot.” - p. 140-141
“How positively awful–having to share your home with such low-class trash. Why, our stable boy has more class than Betsy Martin!”
Okay, so that last one was just for me.
Given how unflatteringly she’s described, it’s amazing how much compassion the author and characters have for Betsy. Which brings us, of course, to the motivation for Betsy’s behavior problems: Alcoholic Dad! You know him well, as he has appeared in countless TV shows, movies, and books; there has never been a time in your life when you were unacquainted with Alcoholic Dad. Oh, he wasn’t always this way...once he had his loving wife, his beautiful young children, a great job! But now, what has he got? Nothing but Jim Beam and a dirty glass to keep him company on those dark, lonely nights and those cruel, endless days...but I digress. The point is, no teenage daughter can survive the wrath of Alcoholic Dad without permanent damage. Well, there’s Tricia. But she was a fluke, and...hey! Wait a sec...she’s dead! She didn’t survive at all. AND her dad probably DROVE her to leukemia! Oh, the sorrow!
In closing, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sweet Valley may be bracing some racier behavior, but those crystalline stereotypes are living as large as ever.