Will Sally Larson have to change to stay in Sweet Valley?
No matter what, she couldn't do anything to jeopardize this new life. If she had to leave Sweet Valley now, she thought she would just die.
So I've been sitting on this book for ages now, and I can't really say why. Confusion over the introduction of a real tragic figure (Dana Larson's cousin, who's spent her whole life as a foster child)? Stunned disbelief at this whole Diablo Cody thing (still waiting to hear from you, Ms. Cody!)? I don't know. But here it is at last: Book 33, Starting Over.
Dana is also feeling a bit apprehensive. She's not sure how to act around Sally, and she really doesn't want to tell her peers about Sally's sad past. After she and Sally meet, they hit it off, but this doesn't stop Dana's concern. She wants to spruce up Sally's plain-Jane wardrobe. She even advises Sally to lie about her age so that no one wonders why she's repeating 11th grade (she's behind because she's been bumped around from school to school so often).
Dana and Sally become fast friends, but Sally is really greasing the wheels by never saying no to Dana, be it over clothing advice, a new hairstyle, or what to do with her free time. Anybody feel a trainwreck coming on? Dana's brother Jeremy, on the other hand is impossibly rude to and resentful of Sally (nobody asked him if he wanted a new sister! Harumph!). One particularly sad turn of events is when Sally dismisses the affections of Jeremy’s friend Mark Riley, not because she doesn’t like him, but because she doesn’t think Jeremy would like their dating. Worst of all, this go-with-the-flow-at-all-costs attitude isn’t really working. Dana and Jeremy are both feeling upstaged by Sally’s polite helpfulness, not realizing that she’s just trying to hold on to her new family by being a good foster daughter.
Naturally, I waited for Elizabeth Wakefield to save the day. Surely the fact that Sally dreams of writing for the school paper would give Liz the chance to intervene! It does, but this volume changes things up a little by having Liz butt in only slightly, with a sensible suggestion that Sally should do what she wants to do with her time, and that Dana would likely understand that choice. In fact, it's Sally herself who solves her family drama — but not without the aid of some local criminals.
The criminals, predictably, are not immediately helpful. Right when Sally is sure the Larson family is kicking her to the curb (the girl is NOT super familiar with the whole “family” thing), she, Jeremy, and Dana pick up some shady hitchhikers. To be clear, Jeremy voluntarily ignores Sally’s warning that these guys look like trouble, and then the guys demand to be driven to Kelly’s, where all of Sweet Valley’s street thugs hang out. When they arrive there, shit gets real:
“…there’s a couple of things I need from you first,” Jim said, breathing heavily down Jeremy’s neck. “Like your wallet.”
Jeremy whipped around in his seat. “What the –”
“Or my friend here will think of something to take from your sister here,” Jim continued, a sinister note creeping into his voice.”
Whoa! That’s right. He said “here” twice in one sentence! Oh, and he’s threatening to take advantage of Dana. But Sally, resigned to her imagined fate of familylessness, pulls a mega stunt. She pretends to be into the idea of boozing it up at Kelly’s with two crazy ne’er-do-wells. She calls Dana a “dead bore,” and says that she knows “how to have a good time – even if no one else around here does.” Yeah! It’s like that now!
Jeremy and Dana drive off. Then Dana figures out what just happened. Feeling terribly guilty, they rush to get the manly Mark Riley and all three head back to Kelly’s. In a dramatic standoff, Dana refers to Sally as “my sister.” Everyone heads back to the Larson home, and to the surprise of all three Larson children, mom and dad have decided to formally adopt Sally. Oh, happy day! She will be Dana’s sister after all!
This whole drama is handled with at least as much seriousness and grace as Elizabeth’s kidnapping. Or Regina’s kidnapping. And the book showed some promise in the way it kept Elizabeth out of the debacle – after all, we wouldn’t want our nearly-racy, sensationalist, teen soap-opera series turning into a little-miss-fix-it series, would we? Would we?
I wouldn’t. I’m counting on more drama, and I’m hoping for more problems that Elizabeth can’t solve