Will Suzanne succeed in changing Ken?
“I just want to make sure you don’t think of me like that,” he said. “That I’m a dumb jock.” He stared hard into her eyes, trying to see what she was thinking.
– Ken prolongs his ill-conceived relationship with that snobby Suzanne Hanlon, p. 49
Ken Matthews is definitely Big Man on Campus. But sometimes being the star quarterback for an idyllic town’s celebrated high school football team can be really tough! Like when everybody’s counting on you to win the big game against Palisades. And you’re failing English, and you won’t be able to play if you don’t bring up your grade. And you’re trying to keep your excessively cultured girlfriend from knowing you’re having trouble in her favorite subject. And she’s kind of a bitch to start with. For Ken, life’s little list of complications is growing longer every second.
This time around, the “Big Game” in question is in honor of Sweet Valley’s centennial anniversary, which anyone and everyone seems to be involved in somehow. Even Jessica’s planning the big picnic! Ken is essentially the star of the show, but a failing English grade from the ethics-ridden Mr. Collins threatens to keep him out of the football game that’s central to the celebration. Of course, there’s no way SVH can beat the rival Palisades team without their star player! The only way for Ken to earn a passing grade in English is to complete a halfway decent short story for Mr. Collins’ class.
Suzanne was from a very wealthy family and always made a point of demonstrating how cultured and refined she was. (p. 11)
No one likes Suzanne except for her crew of strange, fancy friends. Oh, and Ken, who is totally in love with her. We’re never sure what exactly Ken loves so much about Suzanne, but he sure is concerned with keeping her. That means constantly changing his plans at a moment’s notice to attend some sort of pretentious faux-sophisticated gathering (my personal favorite is the poetry reading Suzanne staged for the Centennial, sample poem included at left). It also means keeping his embarrassing school problems a secret from her, which leads him to devote almost no time to his super-important paper.
Elizabeth Wakefield is happy, nay, eager to help with Ken’s short story problem. She lends him one of her own stories, never before seen by anyone but Liz. He can use it as an inspiration, or so the theory goes. But Ken isn’t feeling too inspired by Liz’s lovely story. You know what happens next.
Misconceptions abound in Sweet Valley, but it was pretty boneheaded to assume that just because he’s a nice guy, Ken wouldn’t cheat and turn in Liz’s paper. Liz “couldn’t believe Ken would do a thing like this. It was unthinkable!” (p. 99). If only these kids knew they were living in a teen-pulp novel! In the real world, I guess Liz would have just given Ken one of her stories, or Mr. Collins would have let him play without passing, or maybe, just maybe, Liz would have given her friend Ken some actual face time instead of blindly hoping that her paper alone would stir up in him some heretofore untapped creative writing skills. Christ.
Everything works out in the end, of course, but not before Jessica nearly ruins her big Centennial Picnic. Unfortunately, despite her excellent cooking skills, Jessica’s food poisoning episode with her family (see “B Story,” Book 20) has become a recurring theme in the past several books. Upon finding out that Jessica, who neglected to confirm her order with the caterer, would be preparing the food for the picnic herself, this happened: “I hope the centennial committee has an insurance policy, Elizabeth thought. If Jessica does the cooking, they just might need it.” (p. 133) I’m not normally in in Jessica’s corner about, well, any matter, but this is one running joke I’m getting really sick of. Most importantly, though, Ken finds his writing voice and fesses up to his cheating. He gets to play in (and win, of course) the Big Game, and even finds the courage and mental clarity to send Suzanne packing.
“You see, Suzanne, history lectures bore me, art films bore me, your friends bore me, and, if you want to know the truth, I guess you bore me, too.” (p. 141)
Oh, how I love a happy ending.