Marissa brings back newly-minted Bill Chase/Dee Dee Gordon expert Russ Nickel, and the results may surprise you: realistic and relatable depiction of romantic problems? Healthy lessons for young readers? This isn't the Sweet Valley High I fell in love with...
Outtakes, b-roll, and real talk about the actually important moral of HEART BREAKER. Marissa is joined once more by former youth body-surfing competitor Russ Nickel, who points out all the dad jokes in the book and reads some favorite passages.
Now that all that coma/personality swap/assault unpleasantness is behind us, let’s get back to what really matters in Sweet Valley: the beach, boys, and miscommunications involving suntan lotion. Marissa is joined by Russ Nickel, funny guy, writer and former beach boy (not the singing kind…though he does sing a lot in this episode).
This is the book about Bill Chase giving Dee Dee Gordon surfing lessons, some sexy Todd-interloper named Patsy, and the school play, Splendor in the Grass.
For the original book recap of HEART BREAKERS, click here.
Somebody came down from outer space and zapped her. They took my DeeDee away and left this strange, sad girl down here in her place. – Bill, p.37
If I were to choose one thing about the Sweet Valley High novels that boggles me most, it would not be "Why is Elizabeth such a pushover?" It would not be "Why does Jessica keep learning her lesson and then forgetting it?" nor would it be, "Why does Kate William feel the need to keep reminding us that the Wakefields' kitchen has 'Spanish tiles'?" It wouldn't even be, "Why are Elizabeth and Jessica the only blonde girls in school?" These are all reasonable concerns, confusing and frustrating. But no Sweet Valley issue bothers me as much as the way time REFUSES to proceed in a sensible, linear fashion. Do these people live on a planet with a 700-day calendar? How many dances can fit into one Junior Year? WHY, if the first Special Edition volume, Perfect Summer, went to print before Book 22, Too Much In Love, is the latter still set in the middle of the preceding school year? In fact, two of our Earth Years have passed between Books 1 and 22, but what does that translate to for these people? I can't begin to imagine, but someday, mark my words, I will map out the most generous possible version of Sweet Valley High's calendar of events.
One of the reasons this issue is at the front of my mind after reading Book 22 is that the novel centers around the strained relationship of Bill Chase and DeeDee Gordon. The couple got together in Book 8, and according to the back cover of "Too Much In Love", they've "been happy together for a long time." But how long of a time are we talking? This is high school, but still, it's gotta be a few months, minimum. In those few months, Elizabeth was kidnapped, Tricia Martin died, Roger Barrett became Roger Patman…the list goes on and on (to view said list, see "Archives"). So how long would it take for so many events to transpire? Three months? Six? Ten? Regardless, the kids are still in school and DeeDee and Bill are having a particularly rough week…yeah, we'll call it a week.
When Too Much In Love opens, we know a few things about Bill and DeeDee's situation. DeeDee has stopped taking the art classes she signed up for at the civic center, and that, among other things, has been causing the two to fight a bit. Early on in Book 22, we learn the reasoning behind DeeDee's decision, which is a bit, shall we say, faulty: DeeDee's hardworking mother is divorced from DeeDee's father. After talking with her recently-divorced design teacher, DeeDee develops a theory about busy women – namely, that they don't have time for their relationships and end up destroying them. While such a scenario is certainly plausible, DeeDee's fear of being too busy for Bill drives her to decide that she will be actively subservient to him; she'll ask him before making any decision, she'll devote all her spare moments to him, and she'll count him into any plans she's forced to make. This will make it impossible for them to grow apart. "…Now he knows I depend on him for everything. Nothing else matters but him."
You've probably known at least one person, male or female, who has come up with a similarly stupid plan. Sometimes it works for a while, but in DeeDee's case, it simply drives Bill away. After all, she was once a fiercely independent person, which was one of the things Bill liked about her. What's more, Bill is also very independent, and REALLY busy. He begins to find that every time he turns around, DeeDee is there wanting to snuggle. As DeeDee's friend Patty puts it, "...she won't do anything without Bill anymore. It's like she's his shadow. She doesn't even seem interested in anything but Bill!" Because she's afraid that lack of contact will drive them apart, the more Bill tries to escape her grasp, the more she tightens it until, squeezing too hard, she pops his head right off, and he dies. She's then left with nothing but a head in a plastic box, sitting on her dresser.
Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little. This is Sweet Valley High, not Fear Street, so no one gets murdered...yet. But Bill does break up with DeeDee, leaving her utterly confused. Somehow in her quest to be Bill's shadow, she lost herself and all of her self confidence. The worst part of all of this is that Bill never asked her to change at all – she invented a problem and then realized it. I could just slap her. No, scratch that; I could punch her right in the face. I really despise the type of relationship that she was attempting to create, where both parties are totally dependent on one another. Bill and DeeDee were Sweet Valley's most functional couple! She had to go and ruin everything.
Luckily, one of DeeDee's friends has a plan to bring the old DeeDee back and save the day! Can you guess who it is? That's right, Elizabeth saves the day, again. She convinces DeeDee to take over set design for the school talent show (which Elizabeth is organizing, of course). Then she stages a severe illness that leaves DeeDee in charge of everything and forces her to realize that she is, in fact, her own very capable person. And guess what? Upon seeing that DeeDee has pulled herself out of the gutter, Bill is enticed to reconcile. Yay! Happy ending! In fact, maybe a bit too happy...doesn't anything go really, really wrong in this book? Don't we need a huge problem to address in Book 23?
Curse you for asking! There is a problem that arises in Book 22, and it's a doozy. Need a hint?: It involves Todd crying while reading a romantic poem on stage in the talent show. Shit. This is a B-Story so dark that I can't even discuss it. You'll have to wait until next week. And I will have to come up with some way to water-proof my computer; I have a feeling Book 23's going to cause a serious tearjerking.
Sometimes in the world of Sweet Valley, the title says it all. But in the case of Book 8, I truly could end my summary with a single quote from Chapter 1, describing Jessica’s thoughts on Bill Chase, the other central character of this book: “Once upon a time, she’d asked him to a Sadie Hawkins dance, and he’d done the unforgivable – he’d turned her down. Jessica never forgot an insult, especially one as serious as someone refusing the golden opportunity to go out with her. Bill Chase was only getting what he so richly deserved.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, and it’s nice to see that the author and I are on the same page here. There’s a biting sarcasm in those words that foreshadows Jessica’s eventual failure, but unfortunately for the residents of Sweet Valley (and maybe for us), that failure doesn’t come until page 129 of 134.
At the end of Book 7, Jessica decides that while her mentally unstable sister is out almost-fornicating with Bruce Patman (if you didn’t read about Dear Sister, it’s a doozy), she spies a prime opportunity to get back at some dude she doesn’t care about because he turned her down once. Bill Chase is a surf king, a loner, and perhaps the most genuine character we’ve seen so far in Sweet Valley – not that he’s had much competition. OK, so he did let Jessica trick him into falling for her by pretending she was Elizabeth. And he does only really like them in the first place because they look like his dead girlfriend. But he’s experienced real loss, loss that he keeps a secret, and in the end he realizes the difference between love and infatuation. I don’t usually have much sympathy for a character who lets a bitch like Jessica have her way, but his interest in Jessica is largely due to her cruel manipulation and his own psychoses. When he gradually realizes that DeeDee, a less flamboyant girl, both shares his interests and genuinely likes him, he slowly realizes how stupid he’s been. Bill finds love in the end, even if the girl he loves is slightly less attractive then Jessica. With freckles.
Heartbreaker was really a pretty decent little book, but it had all of the classic SVH ingredients that make me cringe. Liz defends Jessica’s behavior and gets pissed when Todd suggests Jessica’s up to no good. We get a precise description of exactly how pretty or ugly each new character is, from super stud Mr. Wakefield to “frizzy haired Olivia Davidson.” And there’s this one other thing...I’m afraid I’m going to have to devote a little time to the subplot here, something I typically avoid. You see, it’s the small matter of Todd and Elizabeth. I pledge to you here and now, people, if they almost breakup again in Book 9, I am going to FREAK OUT. I swear, I will revoke their title of perfect couple INDEFINITELY!
In my review of Dangerous Love, I mentioned Liz’s uncharacteristic and all-consuming jealousy of any girl Todd comes near (not my EXACT words), but this was admittedly based on little evidence. Well, in #8, a beautiful girl, inexplicably named Patsy, returns to Sweet Valley after a few years living in France. Patsy is Todd’s ex, but he lets Liz know that they are just good friends now. As her good friend, he spends time with her.
It’s understandable that this situation makes Elizabeth jealous, but it’s the way that she deals with it that makes me fume. First, she notices that Patsy is gorgeous - like Bo Derek! Then, she finds out that Todd and Patsy never really broke all those years ago. She puts two and two together and realizes that Todd is going to break up with her. But she never says ANYTHING to Todd about it! She just avoids him, and the “inevitable.” Harumph! And aren’t the Wakefield twins supposed to be, like, the most beautiful girls ever? This is really just too stupid. Todd and Liz – especially Liz – consider yourselves warned.
Speaking of future books, I expect we’ll be hearing more about Roger Barrett. I say this because he was brought up time and again in this book, despite the fact that his presence had no bearing whatsoever on the plot. All you need to know: he’s unpopular and in love with Lila Fowler. Ahh, the cycle continues.
If you're in search of the 2018 podcast episode about this book, look no further.