Can Susan live with the truth?
A hollow, dry laugh, almost a sob sounded in Susan's throat…"Everyone's treating me like I've got the plague." - p. 109
Normally, Sweet Valley novels don't remind me of anything. They are their own autonomous category in my imagination, familiar and yet singular.
Book 37, though, reminds me of Caddyshack.
No, Rumors isn't about golf. But it is about snobby rich people who are loath to associate with lesser individuals whom may-or-may not even be rich at all. Susan Stewart's pedigree is a mystery, but she (and everyone else) has been told all her life that her mother is a wealthy lady who sends Susan's caretaker money each month, and for some secret reason can’t reveal herself in person. Susan has no idea who her father is, either. But at least this identify affords her a white-collar status. Her boyfriend is rich-guy Gordon Stoddard, whose parents are thrilled that he's dating within his caste. In my Caddyshack analogy, the Stoddards are Judge Smails and family. Susan, then, is Ty Webb, beloved and accepted as long as she doesn't act up.
And she doesn't. Susan is a sweetheart, and not at all snobby. Sure, she's stupid. But she's 16, so we'll cut her some slack. The troublemaker here is that nouveau riche snob extraordinaire, Lila. She starts a rumor that the truth about Susan's mother has come out: She's in a “hospital for the criminally insane!” Just to be classy, she adds that the story is unsubstantiated, and "you know how these things get started," etc. (see sidebar). She's a clever villain. Now she doesn't even have to feel guilty for lying!
What’s strange about this particular rumor is why Lila starts it. It’s not merely that she is unsure of Susan’s status as blue blood, and resentful of her (possibly) undeserved privilege. It’s that Susan (who may not even really be rich) has a date to the posh and exclusive Bridgewater Ball (for fancies only), while Lila (who everyone knows is filthy rich) still does not have a date. Harumph! Lila figures Gordon will disown Susan if her bloodlines are in doubt, freeing him up to take Lila to the ball.
Once the rumor is out, that’s exactly what Gordon does. He doesn’t even give Susan a chance to explain. Of course, she wouldn’t have been able to if he had; Susan is among the last people at SVHS to hear the rumor, but since everyone assumes it’s true, no one thinks they need to repeat it to her. Gordon and the Stoddard family are scandalized.
Which leaves us to wonder, “What the fuck?”
Is this freaking 19th-century France? Who are these ridiculously wealthy people with a total disdain for anyone who might be only moderately wealthy? And how does “unknown mother in mental institution” equate to “not worthy to play tennis at our country club?” Haven’t these people heard of Howard Hughes? …And other questions.
Spoiler alert: partially because of the pain the rumor has caused her, but mostly due to entirely unrelated circumstances, Susan finds out who her mother is. It’s the woman that’s been taking care of her for her whole life, pretending to be merely her caretaker. And her father? Well, it’s the famous movie director who’s come to town at the exact same time this rumor business went down. He came to Sweet Valley to reunite with his daughter, totally unaware of the lie his baby-mama had been living for 16 years.
Okay, just kidding. I’m totally going to tell you why a woman would pretend not to be her own child’s mother, especially when she raised that child from infancy. It’s totally logical, guys! See, Susan’s mom became pregnant out of wedlock, and this director man was married. She realized that if she made up a fake last name and a fictional mother for the baby, Susan could grow up with all the privilege that would be denied a little bastard baby in the late 1970s and 1980s. Then, she’d work her ass off waiting tables, pinch pennies wherever she could, and shower Susan with “gift” money from her supposedly-estranged mom.
When the true rumor about Susan’s celebrity father (and slightly-less-crazy-than-suspected mother) gets out, people are more excited about Susan than ever. Gordon even re-asks her to the Bridgewater Ball (despite the fact that he’s already asked Lila)! Disgustingly, she agrees. But then Elizabeth (who has been helping behind the scenes, of course) reminds Susan that she’s made a date with this guy Allan, who is actually not a creep OR a snob, AND really likes Susan. Susan is all, “oh, right.” I told you she was stupid. Lila also breaks her date with Gordon once she hears that he was going to break it to take Susan again. Suddenly she has principles. It’s a Sweet Valley miracle. I suppose it’s only right that Lila should end up without a date to the ball, since the book offers no other repercussions for her lying and rumor-starting. And somehow I don’t think “she’ll have to live with herself” will count much as a punishment in Lila’s case. (cough, worse than Jessica, cough cough)
And, um, everybody lives happily ever after. Except Gordon. See, it really is like Caddyshack! Cue Kenny Loggins…