"This incident serves as a plot device to illustrate Aaron’s short temper."
Marissa is joined by her friend, geography scholar and fellow University of Chicago alumnus Sam Brandt, for history's most erudite discussion of fictional teen Aaron Dallas and his soccer/divorce-related emotional problems. But more importantly: this is the Tofu-Glo Book!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you happen to have been reading this blog for the long term, 2011's Sweet Valley Confidential may have been spoiled for you back in...well...2011. If not, MAJOR SPOILER ALERT FOR SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL!
Katie LaDue joins Marissa once again, this time to examine WHEN LOVE DIES (and a few of the Sweet Valley boys therein) through a new lens. All I can say is SPOILERS SPOILERS SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL SPOILERS! BEWARE!
Okay, okay. You've had a few months. Has everyone finished reading at this point? Like it or not, it's time to put your books away and get pencils out. I'm giving you a pop quiz?
1.Who sleeps with more guys in this book, Elizabeth or Jessica?
2. Which Men of Sweet Valley fall in love…with each other?
3. Which character(s) grew into reportedly despicable adults?
The answers to the above questions encompass (1) my favorite about-face in this brave new SVC world (and one I find somewhat believable); (2) the part of the book that makes me most giddy, despite the fact that it seems totally unbelievable; (3) the one thing about this book that really, truly stinks (putting aside my dismay about Jess and Todd ending up together). Let's explore.
Elizabeth. I haven't pored over every page of the book looking for sex scenes (I swear!) but by my count, Jessica only gets busy with two guys in SVC: Todd (past and present), and the rich guy she ditches in France. Elizabeth, on the other hand, has (to start) chapter one's infamous “crying orgasm” stranger. This event doesn’t occur during the book, strictly speaking, but I think we can agree that linear timelines and Sweet Valley are mortal enemies, and that’s true in this new book even more than in the never-ending junior year of the SVH series. Then there’s Todd of course (mentioned in the past-tense), the saucy playwright Will Connolly, and, ultimately, Bruce. At least two of those pairings are reactionary, Elizabeth acting out against her goody-goody, sweet, and trusting past, the past that wounded her so deeply.
Jessica, meanwhile, thinks of seducing others (her co-worker, most notably), but decides to put that out of her mind in favor of love. Now, that doesn’t sound much like Jessica. But when one is trying to put one’s life together after a failed relationship (or, in Jessica’s case, after MANY failed-by-design relationships), one often tries to make a drastic change, lest you make the same mistake twice. Especially at 27. Even though I was a bit disappointed that Jessica didn’t decide to seduce anyone in this book, you know, just for old times’ sake, I have to say that this particular turnabout in the lives of the twins makes sense to me.
Steven Wakefield and Aaron Dallas. Let me say that again, in case any of you are reading this instead of the actual book. Steven Wakefield and Aaron Dallas fall in love in this book. With each other. It’s kind of awesome, in a shocked-and-surprised-but-oh-what-the-heck sort of way. Of course, in real life, young men (and women) discover their homosexuality post-high-school, and most of us probably have at least one or two high-school peers whom we friended on Facebook only to find that, against expectations, they’d come out.
But seriously, now. Aaron Dallas, the soccer star with the anger management problem, and Steven Wakefield, the handsome brother who dated a high school girl (in the book, he and Cara are married, you’ll recall) while he was in college? These are not the prime suspects for gaydom in the Sweet Valley Universe. Who would I have picked, you ask? Easy:
Nicholas Morrow (infamous ascot wearer) and Tom McKay (though he had several girlfriends, it was once suggested that Jessica “turned him off the female sex forever”). Wouldn’t they have made a lovely couple? Sure, it wouldn’t have been particularly helpful to the story, but it would have been more believable. Or perhaps Steven could have fallen for one of them instead of Aaron. As one twitter follower pointed out, Steve and Nick could have adopted a daughter and named her Regina. Sweet.
Pretty much all of them. Enid is a bitchy doctor who Liz doesn’t even keep in touch with anymore, and she’s ashamed of her affair with mere salesperson (note sarcasm) A.J. Morgan. Lila and Ken have a disastrous and complicated marriage/divorce. Steven is keeping his homosexual affair a secret from his wife. Betsey Morgan is reportedly a drunk again. Don’t even get me started on Jessica and Todd. It used to be that only Jessica and Lila were consistently awful, and at least then it was with a fragment of soul that kept you interested. These 27-year-olds are just sort of awful.
Of course, the saddest example is Winston. That he becomes rich and famous definitely fits the model, and we know that wealth corrupts. But screw believability (and ignore the fact that I’ve been ranting about it throughout this entry), this is Sweet Valley! Why does Winston have to turn bad? Moreover, why does he have to die? (Sorry, non-readers, but I did say “super spoiler alert”.) This is just the prime example of what seems like the mean theme of this book: People are jerks, and you have to learn to live with it. Rise above it if you can, but it’s inevitable. And, yeah, that might be true, but it’s not exactly the message we Adult Readers of the Sweet Valley Series have been waiting for. As pre-teens reading the SVH series, we got lessons like “Don’t be a drunk driver,” “Don’t hang out with creepy older dudes,” or “Help your friends when they get kidnapped.” Some of us could still benefit from such lessons, I’m sure. One of the reasons I hope there are more volumes in a theoreticalSweet Valley Confidential Series is because I think these characters deserve a chance to redeem themselves, and we deserve a little more from them.
One more thing about Winston: As unpleasant as his storyline gets, it holds some fascinating implications. Remember how Winston and Todd grew apart after the former found out about the latter’s affair with Jessica? Well, what if that betrayal destroyed the fun-loving Winston’s faith in humanity? Success held little joy for him if two people he thought so much of could do something so hurtful to someone they loved. He could only take pleasure in joys of the flesh, so to speak, and they led him to accidental death. So, in a way, his death is Todd and Jessica’s fault. Wouldn’t that be interesting? I think so. Next book, please!
I have referred to several of the men on the cover of Sweet Valley High novels as “Tom Cruise.” I didn’t do it because of an obsession with Cruise, or because of the characters’ tendencies to hate on antidepressants and jump around on chairs. I did it because I thought they looked like Tom Cruise. Let’s review, shall we?
Here’s a cover image from Book 12, When Love Dies. I’m not sure how accurate a statement this was. I mean, look how tall Steven Wakefield is! One thing I do know for sure: I am very, very funny. :D
It’s not just Steven that resembles Ol’ Top Gun.
OK. There is no doubt in my mind that Book 35‘s Aaron Dallas looks exactly like angry Tom Cruise. As for the Zack Morris/Jeffrey French corollary, I’ll let you be the judge:
With Book 36’s entry a couple of week’s ago, I finally broke down and called out cover artist James Mathewuse. It’s not just Steven, Aaron, and Peter that look like Cocktails-era Cruise. About 75% of Sweet Valley boys resemble Tom Cruise in some way. I mean, even creepster Scott looks a little like Cruise with a mustache.
Imagine that Tom’s wearing regular glasses. Or, imagine that Peter’s wearing sunglasses. Either way.
Flip through the old entries (or your own book collection) and you’ll see what I mean. There are plenty of occasions when Todd Wilkins, Roger Barrett, or even Bruce Patman look a little Cruise-y. Perhaps it’s because of his popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Or maybe, they don’t resemble Cruise at all. Maybe he looks like them!
Will Aaron Dallas destroy Elizabeth and Jeffrey's happiness?
"It's not my fault!" he choked out, his throat constricting with hot tears."Everyone makes me so mad! What do they expect from me? It's not my fault!" - p. 77
So, Aaron Dallas is angry. It doesn't really matter what about; pretty much anything could set him off if he senses it's a slight or insult against him. This is especially problematic during soccer practice, as every rough steal or accidental push sends him into a blind rage. And, since he's the best player on the team, he puts Sweet Valley's championship hopes on the line when the coach threatens to boot him off the team if he doesn't quit wailing on people.
Now, you may be wondering why you should care about Aaron Dallas and his anger management issues (other than the fact that Francine Pascal told you to, which should be enough for some of us). The answer is simple: Elizabeth Wakefield and Jeffrey French are in a fight about it. Rational to a fault (well, not always), Liz sees that Aaron's behavior is way out of line. Jeffrey, though, is Aaron's best friend, and expresses his friendship through unquestioning loyalty instead of concerned intervention. He really doesn't want to hear Liz suggest that Aaron is in the wrong, and Liz is frustrated that Jeffrey won't listen to reason.
Of course, there is a reason that Aaron is so angry. His parents are getting divorced and his mother ran off with another man and left Aaron and Mr. Dallas to fend for themselves. Aaron's dad has anger issues of his own, but these are not the kind of dudes that talk about their feelings, hence the yelling and punching people. There is one thing that calms the Hulk, though, and it's a doozy: baby talk from his girlfriend, Heather. That's right. Baby talk. THE VERY THING THAT MAKES MOST PEOPLE WANT TO PUNCH THINGS IS THE THING STOPS AARON FROM PUNCHING THINGS! Sweet Pascalian irony. Blink and you'll miss it.
Heather is my favorite part of this book, mostly because of the well-deserved grief she causes for Elizabeth. Since Heather is dating Jeffrey's best friend, she and Elizabeth get to spend a bit of quality time together, much to the latter's dismay. To quote Elizabeth,"I mean, she's awfully sweet, but she's driving me crazy!". Liz is irked by the baby talk ("they sound like a couple of kindergartners!"), and by Heather's impetuous habit of sitting next to Liz and "making comments" about what's happening. Despite the baby talk, I felt like Liz was being awfully judgmental. Sure, the girl was annoying, but so are most of these Sweet Valley kids. What's more, Elizabeth hardly knows Heather.
As it turns out, Heather has been underestimated. She makes her own high-fashion wardrobe, and she only does the embarrassing baby-talk to pacify Aaron, who she's really concerned about. Maybe it's best to let the book speak for itself here:
"She was sorry about Elizabeth, because she really liked and respected her. But, well, Elizabeth Wakefield was so poised and smart, Heather felt that she herself always ended up sounding dumb and immature when she talked to the older girl. No wonder Elizabeth didn't want to be her friend." -p. 67
It's really Heather that ends up saving Aaron from himself. She convinces him to see a counselor for help after he punches Jeffrey.
Oh, yeah. He punches Jeffrey. Because Jeffrey was defending Elizabeth, who mentioned Aaron's misbehavior and suspension in an article for the school paper covering the soccer championships. Crazy, right? Why is Elizabeth covering soccer when sports is John Pfeifer's beat?!
The counselor makes everything okay so that Aaron and his dad start talking about their feelings, the coach lets Aaron play in the big match, and Sweet Valley wins. Aaron and Liz and Jeff and Heather can all be friends forever, or at least until some other major life event sets disaster in motion. I give it 3-4 books.