Can Elizabeth outsmart Jessica in the hottest fued ever?
…this uncharacteristic plotting would have to be stopped immediately. Once Elizabeth realized she couldn't outfox Jessica, everything would be back to normal.
You all know that I’m very fond of Sweet Valley High novels, right? It would be pretty lame for me to devote an entire blog to something that was a thorn in my side. But I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever gotten through an entire book without experiencing a certain amount of disgust and frustration (one possible exception is my all-time favorite book, No. 10, also known as the Diarystarter, which evoked no emotions in me other than shock and awe). Why couldn’t each books just have its conflict sorted out in a normal, believable way, rather than offend us half-way through with some mind-numbingly absurd action or reaction on the part of its star…or so the argument goes, book after book, until this one, Book 31.
Book 31, my friends, is pure high school.
The story that unfolds between the covers of Taking Sides is one of deception, scheming, and, of course, boys. If you’ve never been a high-school age girl, you might not know how important boys are to that particular demographic; if you have been a high-school age girl, you’re sure to relate to Elizabeth and Enid’s plight here. When hunky Jeffrey French moves to town, Enid is immediately attracted to him. She’d been single, remember, since that jerkface George dumped her temporarily-paralyzed ass for Robin Wilson (my words, not hers). But of course, Lila Fowler instantly claims Jeffrey as her own personal conquest upon seeing him. Now Jessica and Lila are scheming to make sure Jeff falls for Lila, while Enid and Elizabeth work against the clock, hoping that he isn’t shallow enough to fall for bitchy Lila’s money and superficial charms. He’s 17, so it’s a long shot.
At this point, I’m so jaded that I was actually waiting for this little novel to fail me. When would somebody pull a totally bonehead move that creates a plot-halting misunderstanding to dominate 40 pages of the book? Would it be in Chapter 5? Would it hold off until Chapter 10? Well, Taking Sides does have a bonehead move but, miracle of miracles, it actually makes the book better and is even understandable. While trying to talk Jeffrey into getting to know her best friend Enid, Elizabeth realizes that he seems to be more interested in her…and that she doesn’t hate it. Liz, of course, is unswerving in her friendly duties, so she redoubles her efforts to get Enid and Jeff together, largely out of a secret guilt she feels for, you know, liking him. It’s Enid, however, who comes up with the genius idea of getting Jeffrey to put a date with his hot newbie self up for auction in the big charity fundraiser (this book does not, in fact, have a school dance; instead there are several events surrounding a canned-food drive). Then, Enid places the winning bid and scores a date with him.
Note: if you’re thinking, “how could Enid outbid the very wealthy Lila in an auction?” good on ya for paying attention. The auction is based on donations of canned goods, not actual money. As an added protection, Enid manages to keep Jess and Lila away from the auction by tricking them into thinking that they’ll be expected to help put cans in boxes for several hours if they show up. Very clever.
Guess what? Jeffrey and Enid find that they have no chemistry whatsoever. Enid feels like their one, perfectly pleasant date, was enough to convince her that they weren’t meant to be a couple. But Liz isn’t convinced. In what we later learn was a guilt-fueled rampage, Liz won’t take no for an answer and ends up making Enid and Jeffrey upset with her for being so dense and pushy. That lasts all of about three pages, and when Liz finally gets up the nerve to apologize, Jeffrey gives her the following hilarious speech:
He: Silly girl. Don’t you realize I’m already taken?
She: Taken? You mean –
He: I mean, I like Enid, but I couldn’t be interested in her, because I’m in love with someone else.
He’s talking about you, Elizabeth. Amazing.
So where are Jessica and Lila in all of this? While Jessica asserts several times in this story that she’s bound and determined to get Lila and Jeff together, she has her own boy crisis to deal with (see “B-Story,” left). Lila tries pretty hard with Jeff, buying him soccer tickets and dancing up a storm at her various pool parties. That said, you can tell it’s doomed (if it weren’t already obvious) when she whines to him, “Jeffie, this is my favorite song!” as he leaves to chat with Liz. Ugh. They’re not even a couple yet, and she’s already nagging. As far as Jessica is concerned, “Jeffrey and Liz” is at least as acceptable as “Jeffrey and Lila” as a pairing; it’s Enid she can’t imagine any self-respecting boy dating.
Experts on latter day Sweet Valley, does Jessica ever get over this whole “hating Enid” thing? In this book, she manages to accuse Enid of being both boring and scheming (not to her face, of course, but it one of those patented Sweet Valley ever-changing-narrator-perspective moments I love so dearly.
But enough complaining. This is an occasion for celebration! A totally engaging, totally silly, totally high school SVH novel. Way to go, “Kate William,” whoever you may be.