“If he’s in love with Olivia, fine. That’s it. It’s all over between us.”
- Elizabeth Wakefield, p. 78
Oh, my friends. Sometimes we toil through thankless hours, wondering why we even bother…and then, just when our hope is at its nadir, providence sends a sign, a reminder of what all that toil was for. The past few volumes of Sweet Valley High have been a bit of a slog – Robin has issues choosing a college? Julie Porter has a crush? That’s the best you can do, Francine and Friends? – but this, #48…this is why I’m here.
You see, as a young woman I too caught Slam Book Fever.
Unlike the girls of Sweet Valley High, I didn’t contract SBF from a cheerleader (Amy Porter) who’d recently moved back to town after several years on the East Coast (where SBF was apparently an epidemic). No, I caught the fever at an early stage – fourth grade – while in an unlikely incubator for the disease: Girl Scouts. As former Girls Scouts among you will recall, if you hit certain sales goals for cookies, those hours of leg work and Thin Mint hocking paid off in the form of strange little prizes, with a fun little theme each year – stuff like, "Explore Your World"; "Make It Happen!"; or "Only Closers Get Coffee". I had a penchant for these finely detailed but pointless little pewter statues they offered each year – a little tiger, or a girl reading a book to her teddy bear. But in 4th grade, they had something new on offer: a slam book. My mom knew what it a "slam book" was and suggested I choose it as a prize (sensing, correctly, that I would get more use out of it than from a heavy miniature sculpture of a koala - but don’t worry, I sold enough cookies to get both!). So you could blame my mother. But it would probably be more accurate to blame me personally for catching Slam Book Fever and spreading it, temporarily, to anyone who would humor me over the next several years. In my circle at least, I was patient zero.
But hold up; do you guys know what Slam Books are?
In the world of Sweet Valley, slam books are instruments of evil. Well, that’s not how Amy Sutton pitches them to her fellow cheerleaders and teenage taste-makers, but it’s clear right away that when she says the slam books are “so much fun,” she means that it’s fun to hurt people’s feelings. Everyone buys a book (every girl, that is…the boys are welcome to participate but the ladies acknowledge upfront that secret smack talk is more of a chick thing). And then everyone writes a bunch of categories in her book, kind of like senior superlatives: “Best Dressed,” “Nicest Person”... and then the actually interesting categories, say, “Biggest Slut” (ok, ok, that’s not actually a category the author specifically mentions, but a girl can dream). The book’s owner puts her name in the front cover and each girl passes her book around for everyone else to fill out, all without listing who’s writing what for each category.
It’s no Burn Book, but you can see how this could get bad very quickly.
It does. In fact, both Wakefield twins are infected with Slam Book Fever. Jessica gets the old-fashioned kind: she buys a Slam Book right along with the first wave of book buyers and fills it out with the best of them. But she’s burned, burned bad, and fast. Everyone in every book has put her down as “Biggest Flirt.” The nerve! Jessica insists that she’s not a flirt (“I’m not one bit of a flirt, and I’m sick of people saying I am.” p. 35), which leads everyone to think that Jessica is suffering from some kind of personality disorder. And in a way, they’re right – as the author repeatedly asserts, Jessica is just not feeling like herself all of a sudden. She has a crush on this new guy, a “cute redhead” (???} named A.J. Morgan.
Jessica looked at him and, to her horror, felt herself blushing…They walked together in silence for a few minutes, and Jessica felt herself beginning to panic. She couldn’t think of a single thing to say to him! How could this be happening?
Thing is, A.J. is actually into this odd Jessica he meets – the quiet, reserved girl who acts so demure around him instead of throwing herself at him like all these other California skanks. In another book, Jessica might’ve purposefully taken advantage of A.J.’s misunderstanding (and in the next book, that’s exactly what happens), but this time around she honestly can’t help herself.
She kept her eyes lowered, her face averted…She knew no one in the world would believe it, but she was in love. Really, totally, in love. She was so much in love that she felt like a new person, and all she wanted to think about was A.J.
Apparently, when Jessica is in love, she shuts up. Which really makes you wish she’d found Mr. Right sooner.
Elizabeth’s case of SBF is more of the secondary variety. She doesn’t have a book of her own, but she allows what other people write in their books to affect her behavior…which might be even worse, like how Hepatitis B is worse than Hepatitis A. It all starts when school newspaper editor Olivia asks Jeffrey to help her edit a new literary journal (side note: seriously, what IS this high school?) and do a photo spread for the first issue. This wouldn’t be such a big problem normally, but two factors complicate matters in Elizabeth’s eyes. Firstly, Olivia and her boyfriend Roger Barrett Patman break up. In another book, that would have been a plot all it’s own, but as we’ve already established, this is no ordinary edition of SVH. And (2), when Amy comes up with the idea of adding a "Crystal Ball" section to the books that includes future predictions, the result is that in nearly every slam book, under a category called “Couple of the Future,” some clever little Miss Cleo has written “Olivia Davidson and Jeffrey French”. Oh, and I guess a third factor would be that Elizabeth gradually turns into an irrational idiot who jumps to conclusions instead of asking her boyfriend if rumors are true. That becomes a problem.
Jeffrey isn’t totally above blame here. He cancels like three dates throughout the course of this book, which would have me feeling a little less understanding than normal, too. Then, right after Jeffrey has stood Elizabeth up for a trip to the beach, Cara Walker tells her that she saw Jeffrey and Olivia locked in an embrace. In his car. At the rest area on Route 9. Pretty damning testimony. Elizabeth instantly resolves to pretend to be cool about it, so as not to give the world the benefit of knowing what pain she’s in. CUE EYEROLL.
Rather than continue to wait for Jeffrey to pick her up, she goes to the beach with the girls as if it ain’t no thing. But of course the girls at the beach quickly catch the scent of an impending break-up and pry the story out of Elizabeth.
Lila frowned…“What does Jeffrey have to say about it? Have you two talked about this?”
“I –“ Elizabeth stared at her. “No, of course not! I can hardly sit down and say, ‘OK, Jeffrey, tell me why Cara happened to see you with your arms around Olivia today.’”
Lila’s eyes bulged. “You saw them?” she demanded, turning to Cara.
“Wow.” Lila was quiet for a minute. “Liz, that’s bad, I admit it. But it’s still no reason to panic. You’ve absolutely got to talk it over with him. Tell him that you trust him and love him and all that, but you need to ask him a few teeny little questions about what’s been going on between Olivia and him. Don’t let him know you’re jealous. It never works if you do.”
Notice anything strange there? I sure did. Is that reasoned, helpful advice coming out of the mouth of …Lila Fowler? In a book where everyone seems to be acting out of character, this was the behavior that most surprised me. Lila goes out of her way to straighten things out between Elizabeth and Jeffrey. She even has long talks about the future with Jeffrey over fancy French dinners – her treat! – and…ohhh. Of course: She’s trying to steal Jeffrey away. Despite her bizarre behavior, I didn’t see this twist coming at first! She’s such a schemer she even schemed me.
It takes Olivia and Jessica even longer to catch on to Lila’s plan, but eventually they put two and two together. If you’re wondering why Jessica even cares about this misunderstanding (after all, she’s always saying that Liz and Jeffrey should break up), it’s because Elizabeth, in order to suppress her sadness over Jeffrey and appear nonchalant, has been flirting hard with A.J. Morgan. Elizabeth has no idea that Jess likes (loves?) A.J., because Jess has point-blank denied it to Elizabeth’s face. Rather than talking to Elizabeth, Jessica decides an elaborate scheme would be more effective. At this point in the book, I have lost count of how many problems that should have been solved by a simple conversation have devolved into complex social engineering. But whatever. Try not to think about it.
Anyway, Olivia suspects that whoever wrote her name and Jeffrey’s under “Couples of the Future” in the slam books likely wouldn’t have written it in her own book. Jessica remembers how much Lila liked Jeffrey when he first rode into town, and also recollects that Lila is a stone cold bitch. So Jessica dresses up like and impersonates her twin, asks every girl to turn over her slam book temporarily (saying it’s for an “Eyes and Ears” column in the paper), and then she and Olivia check every book hoping that just one of them doesn’t say “Olivia Davidson and Jeffrey French” in the applicable section. And what do you know, only one book doesn’t have their names written. And it’s Lila’s. And this, I guess, proves that Lila was the one who was writing the prediction in every other book? Um. Sure! Gotcha!
Had it been me, I probably would have done a handwriting comparison, but hey, who am I to question the queen of elaborate schemes on her mode of scheming? Scheme. That’s a funny word. I’ve repeated it so much it’s starting to lose its meaning…scheme. Scheeeme. Skeeammmmm…
Once Olivia and Jessica have their proof, they take it to Elizabeth, who becomes extremely embarrassed that she succumbed to Type B Slam Book Fever. Liz and Jeff get back together. A.J. and Jessica make a connection. And they all get back at Lila by adding a category called “Biggest Sneak” to everyone’s slam books and writing Lila’s name there. Mega ultra burn. That'll teach her.
In my mind, the true ending of this book isn't the closing words, which foreshadow Book 49's misadventures of yet another "new" Jessica as she tries to trick A.J. into loving her by totally suppressing her actual personality. I think this book ends with an ironic splash when we turn to the end page advertisement:
That's right. After reading this cautionary tale, young readers are asked, as if by Lucifer himself, "DON'T YOU WANT A SLAM BOOK OF YOUR OWN? YOU KNOW YOU WANT ONE. ALL THE COOL KIDS ARE DOING IT!" Priceless. Genius.
And what about my girlhood case of Slam Book Fever? Put your minds at ease. The slam books my preteen girlfriends and I adored weren’t about pointing fingers; instead, we passed a single book around at parties and answered questions about OURSELVES. Everyone chose a sticker (or one of those fun stamper markers Crayola had just invented) that was our “code symbol” for the book. We put that symbol next to each of our answers so someone could later figure out who wrote what, if she so desired. Sometimes we’d try to embarrass each other, but it was never possible to do so anonymously; mostly we tried to make each other laugh.
I wish I could share some images from my ‘90s slam books. I think one or two of them are still extant, somewhere in a family member’s garage, waiting for me to come back for them, but that doesn’t help us now. For reasons I cannot fathom, I’ve never forgotten that, in my first slam book, under the “Favorite Song” category, one girl in my troop wrote “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” I remember that, by middle school, the books got a bit racier: we wrote about "sexiest celebrities" and whether or not we would do it with JTT. (I cannot overstate the importance of that latter question to my circle of friends in 1995. I might’ve been the only hold out, not because I did not find JTT to be a dreamboat, but because I was saving myself for marriage to Ben Savage.)
Maybe if we’d been juniors in high school, our Slam Book Fever would have been more virulent, more deadly. But as far as I know, slam books didn’t reach my small town until several years after Sweet Valley #48 was written, and at that time I was quite a bit younger than the Wakefield twins. I guess like shoulder pads, side ponytails, and Bob Saget, slam books lost their edgy potency between the '80s and '90s once 10-year-olds became fans. Now, decades later, the idea of teenagers taking pen to paper in order to insult each other sounds downright quaint. Even so, I have no doubt that, many years from now, notebook, pen, and stickers in hand, I will attempt to infect my future daughter and her little friends with Slam Book Fever. Once it’s in your system, you’re a carrier for life.