Adaora Nwandu Earl returns to discuss pre-reading predictions for Book 43: HARD CHOICES, the challenges of asserting yourself with family, and strong female relationships in Sweet Valley...all in just over 10 minutes.
"Enid's grandma moves in" might sound like the least interesting chapter of our soap opera, like, ever. But think again: Nana's a citizen of Sweet Valley now and she brought the drama along with her from Chicago. Guest reader Adaora Nwandu Earl returns!
With a name like Jeffrey French, what teen girl could resist?
SEASON 4 PREMIERE!
The podcast is still here! Unfortunately so is Jeffrey French. Or, wait...is Jeffrey French actually kind of a catch? Marissa comes to terms with her raging case of First Romantic Coupling Loyalty Syndrome (FRCLS) while guest reader Tim Redmond is more concerned about what Mr. Collins is getting up to. Its Jess & Lila vs Liz and Enid but the real hero is a fearless 15-year-old booklover named cousin Jenny. Also, the "dance of the month" is a canned food auction.
It's tempting to say, "why are all these teen girls so awful?" But then you remember what being a teenage girl is like...which is not to say that Marissa and her guest, Denise Boylan, refrain from calling out teen girls like Amy Sutton, Jessica Wakefield, and even Elizabeth Wakefield on their bullshit. Because then, what would this podcast even be?
People who we deem "cool as hell" in this episode: Enid’s Aunt; Amy Sutton’s mom, Dylan Sutton; Denise Hadley; Alice Wakefield?
Popular fiction podcast (and soon to be YA series!) The Bright Sessions might just be the opposite of Sweet Valley High. Creator Lauren Shippen and Marissa speculate on what would happen if the two universes collided (hint: DRAMA!).
This is the Season Two Finale! Make sure to subscribe so that you automatically get the latest episodes when Season Three starts, and any special bonuses in the meantime!
Mayday! Mayday! This is not a test! A TEENAGER IS FLYING THE PLANE!!
What’s worse: your boyfriend cheating on you; your boyfriend crashing the plane he’s flying you in; everyone agreeing that your cheating boyfriend should stay with you because you’ll never walk again without his love; you convincing yourself you can’t walk without his love; or your best friend tricking you into walking by hanging the life of your hot teacher’s child in the balance?
Marissa debates this pressing question with Lauren Shippen, creator of The Bright Sessionspodcast. The quest for an answer takes the podcast into untrod territory. Also, Jessica learns to cook.
Merry Christmas Eve Eve Eve! I've got a new podcast episode for you! What did you get me? What's that? You subscribed to the Sweet Valley Diaries Podcast? How did you know!?
I'm particularly proud of this week's episode, in which filmmaker and friend Adaora Nwandu and I go deep into dangerous recesses of the Nostalgia Zone. We talk about the highs (ladies helping ladies) and lows (near-miss vehicular manslaughter, attempted date rape) of Book #2, SECRETS.
Do me a solid and subscribe, rate, review the show! Or just recommend it to a friend; I know we're in the early phases here, but I want to make sure the show reaches the ears of anyone who might get a lift from it.
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!
It occurred to Enid that although she and her mother were bending over backward to be nice, her grandmother wasn’t even trying to meet them halfway. She was picky, demanding, crotchety… - p. 103
Do you remember the first entry ever written here in the Diaries? It began, "As an introduction, Double Love sets one thing straight: Jessica Wakefield is a bitch." Well, as a book, Hard Choices sets another thing straight: Enid's grandma is a bitch.
I realize that's a pretty harsh description to assign to an old lady, but this book is clearly trying to prove little else. I mean, why else make this elderly woman, Mrs. Langevin, alias Nana, the catalyst for all of the problems in the book? She's breaking up Enid and her out-of town boyfriend Hugh (who I'd totally forgotten about), she won't let Enid or her mother (who has a sexy name: Adele) go anywhere without giving them a hard time about it, and she's keeping Enid from being involved in this week's B-Story. She sucks.
But let me back up a little bit. At the end of #42, we knew how thrilled Enid was that her grandmother would be moving in with her and her mother. Nana had been living alone in Chicago since her husband died, and Enid was sure that her grandmother would be much happier in Sweet Valley with the Rollins gals, and why not? Alone in a ghosty old house here in Chicago (it's sleeting here now), or with caring family in sunny California? Seems like a no brainer. (I may or may be bitter because of that whole winter thing.)
The beginning of Hard Choices finds us on the cusp of Nana's arrival. As soon as Nana gets out of the car after being picked up at the airport, Enid can tell something's wrong; grandma seems so...old! Enid's memories of Nana were of someone a little less frail. And way less plaintiff. This woman constantly mentions that she "doesn't want to be a bother" and yet manages to bother everyone at every turn. She doesn't feel comfortable driving in strange town, but she doesn't try to work her grocery shopping or senior center activities around that of Enid and her mom. Enid makes tea for her once, and now Nana expect it every day. She even convinces Enid that her mom's boyfriend is a dick, and to then convince Adele that Enid's boyfriend is no good.
Of course, all of this is frustrating to the reader as well as the characters. It's clear early on that grandma needs a stern talking to, but the younger women just can't help but treat her with constant (and increasingly resentful) deference. Poor Adele actually gets proposed to by her boyfriend, Richard, but can't bring herself to say use because things with her mother are so "complicated!"
Enid has a similar type of problem. Her boyfriend Hugh goes to nearby Big Mesa, and the two have been having trouble finding time to spend together. Enid is really excited when he invites her on this group camping trip, as it will be an extended period of togetherness on neutral ground. Mrs. Rollins, however, has been soured on Hugh by suspicious talk from Nana, and decides at the last minute that Enid can't go on the trip! She can't even get the message to Hugh before he arrives to pick her up, and he is, of course, pissed. Enid is, too, but she can’t really do anything about it.
As if things weren’t bad enough, Enid has been totally unavailable to work on this movie project that Elizabeth cooked (B Story) up because she’s constantly keeping her grandmother company. This is making Liz et al (but mostly Liz) rather worried about Enid, but Enid’s keeping any ill feelings toward Nana to herself, for the most part. That is, until Nana pulls some serious shenanigans. Despite not really being a part of the movie project, Enid is still looking forward to making things up to Hugh by attending the film’s premiere (at the Wakefields’ house) with him. Meanwhile, Adele is trying to make things right with her own boyfriend by attending a special awards dinner with him. Do you smell a problem yet? Well, Adele has actually foreseen the problem of leaving grandma alone for the evening (it’s not that she can’t fend for herself, it’s just that she doesn’t want to) and called a friend to stop by and hang out with grams. But Nana protests! “Don’t bother sending a stranger over here” she says. Adele says fine, and cancels, and after doing so, Nana drops the bombshell: “You’ll have to stay home now, Adele. I can’t be here alone. I might get sick.” (p. 130)
Why, at this point, doesn’t Adele say “that’s bullshit, Mom. You’re a grown woman, and you knew we had plans. Your choice was to have my friend come over and stay with you OR to be alone. You made that choice a minute ago and now you’re out of options” ? WHY?! I suppose it’s because such a reaction would have ended the book a chapter or two too early. Instead, Adele says “I’m sorry Enid, this is the last time” and rushed off to her date. Hugh arrives shortly after and is furious that Enid has broken yet another date. He storms off, and now Enid is furious with her obviously scheming grandmother and yells at her for being such a jerk. She even tells her she hates her! Then she, too storms out and sneaks into the Wakefields’ living room for the end of the movie. But she can only fume for a while before worrying that her unkind words have done some irreparable harm to Nana. She darts back home before Liz can stop her.
When Enid gets home, she finds her grandmother in fine spirits. She’s baking, in fact. The two make up, and then Hugh stops by to apologize for getting so angry. Enid’s mom is shocked to come home and find them happily munching away around the dining room table, but she rolls with it. And Nana announces that she’s sorry she was acting so strangely, that she was feeling sorry for her poor old widow self, and that she is now ready to face life again...back in Chicago. She’s leaving, just as things started to get not-awful.
All in all, this book was kind of a place-holder. Like, “We need to write about something this month, but we can’t have another kidnapping just yet.” And that’s okay, because I needed something tame to prepare myself for the insanity of Sweet Valley Confidential, which I promise to write about very soon. Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that Mrs. Langevin, a.k.a. Nana, did NOT make an appearance in that volume, so get your fill of conniving old lady now while you still can, people. It’s all sex and confusing relationships next time.