Will Emily lose everything she loves?
"At first I thought I did have an attitude problem…but now I realize that it isn't me that has a problem. It's my stepmother, Karen." - Emily Mayer, p. 7
WTF! The last few words of Sweet Valley High #25, Nowhere to Run, which have something to do with Regina Morrow being held prisoner by a fake aunt, have left me so confused that I’m not sure what even happened in this book.
Let’s see…somebody was being mistreated by her family…somebody was confided in…there was a blossoming romance that almost didn’t bloom…ahh yes, it’s spring in Sweet Valley. Or so I imagine. Now let’s fill in some blanks.
The main character here (after the twins, of course) is Emily Mayer, whom you may or may not remember as the drummer for the Droids, “the Sweet Valley High rock group,” as it’s described on page 5. She’s got a whole slew of pretty serious family problems, not the least of which is the absence of her real mother from her life. Everyone thinks Emily’s mom died years ago, but the secret truth is far, far worse. Emily’s mom is the worst possible type of villain in the world of Sweet Valley: a tramp! She abandoned her daughter years ago, which is too bad, because there’s no way she’s crazier than Emily’s dad and stepmom. Apparently, life changes are totally unbearable for this pair. After getting married and having a new baby, they’ve suddenly decided that Emily has turned rotten. They won’t be swayed by little old facts, either, like the fact that Emily is actually a very nice and conscientious girl, with hobbies, talents, friends, and lots of time to babysit.
I don’t need to say much for you to get the gist of Emily’s dilemma. Basically, nothing she does is good enough for her stepmother, Karen. If she babysits four nights a weeks, she should have done it five nights. If she gets a phone call, why does the phone have to ring so loud? But by far the biggest issue is her drums, which she can hardly touch without getting bitched at. And, alas, Emily’s once-reasonable father refuses to entertain the idea that Karen might be overreacting, instead choosing to believe that Emily’s being uncooperative.
Elizabeth finds out about this issue when Emily shows up at the Oracle looking to become a writer. She knows something must be wrong, because Emily is “a musician, not a writer,” as the book makes crystal clear. And she’s right, of course. Emily is actually trying to do whatever her stepmother wants, because otherwise she might get sent to boarding school. Seriously, these people are crazy! One major thing driving Emily to stay in Sweet Valley instead of escaping to the independent bliss of boarding school is Dan, the Droids’ guitarist, whom she has a major crush on. Karen really doesn’t like this guy, and when she catches the two of them alone in the Mayers’ basement, it doesn’t matter to her in the slightest that there was nothing indecent going on. Karen essentially calls Emily a slut “just like her mother.” And when Emily explains what happened to her her father, he accuses her of lying. Yikes.
As usual, Elizabeth Wakefield becomes the confidant and de facto problem-solver in this book. For all her practice at this role, you think she’d be better at it. When Emily attempts to run away to the Wakefields’ house, Elizabeth complains to her family that she just doesn’t know what to do. It seems pretty obvious to me that someone just needs to send these people to family therapy, but things have a way of playing out a little differently in Sweet Valley.
Speaking of resolutions, the climax of this book has got to be one of my favorites, right up there with the kidnapping/knife fight debacle from Showdown. Emily gives Karen some unsolicited advice about not giving her baby a toy with loosely-attached buttons for eyes, which Karen promptly ignores. Then, lo and behold, the baby (whose name is Karrie) pulls off a button eye, puts it in her mouth, and proceeds to choke on it. Karen freaks out, but Emily knows just what to do. In order to get a crazed Karen to calm down enough to hand the baby over, Emily smacks her stepmother right in the face. Bam! Just after Emily saves her baby sister’s life, Mr. Mayer storms in. Seeing that all hell has broken loose, he immediately accuses Emily of some unnamed act of evil. and tells her to “Get out!” Shocked beyond comprehension, Emily quickly obliges.
This scene acts as both the final straw for Emily, who afterwards decides to try and find her mom in Chicago, and the wake-up call for Karen, who is suddenly able to see Emily for what she is: a member of the family. Emily returns to the Wakefield house, where Liz frustratingly debates whether or not to “tattle” on Emily by calling the Mayers to tell them where their daughter is. Eventually she does, and we finally get to breathe a sigh of relief as the Mayers come to their senses.
If this book seems a little tense for your tastes, rest assured that there is some major accidental comedy to lighten the mood. Near the end of the book, Bruce Patman is seen with an astonishing piece of technology: a cordless phone. Not a cell phone, a cordless phone. “My father’s latest toy” he calls it, “designed for people too lazy to budge. You can keep the phone next to you wherever you go.” Were I next to Bruce at that moment, I might have pointed out that he meant “wherever you go in your own home.” I also would have added “LOL,” but only to confuse him with my future-speak. Even more fun for me was another scene dating this book, in which Jessica has this hilarious interchange with her grandmother:
GRANDMA: All these college kids come in with their knapsacks and those little tape players they listen to – you know, with those little headphones.
This sounds exactly like a conversation I’d have with my grandmother about an iPod! The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess. If only that didn’t also apply to teenagers, stepmothers, and dysfunctional family life.