Can Jessica find a way to stop Elizabeth from leaving Sweet Valley?
"Steve, I can't bear the thought of her taking off this summer and staying away for an entire year! Can you imagine how rotten my senior year would be without Liz?"
What could be worse than spending a year abroad? The teenage wisdom of Book 38 would suggest that the answer is “nothing.” And from a highschooler’s perspective, spending the summer before your senior year and your entire senior year in a foreign country does seem a little rash. From a happy, popular highschooler’s perspective I mean.
But that’s what Liz Wakefield wants to do. A lot. It came out of nowhere, but as far as she can see, all the signs are pointing to a future in Switzerland at the Interlochen school. She’s so excited about the prospect of winning a scholarship for the school (and studying under a prestigious writing teacher name Nadia DeMann) that she begins to ignore any signs that don’t point to Switzerland. This book is full of them. In short, her boyfriend Jeffrey doesn’t want her to leave, her best friend Enid doesn’t want her to leave, her parents are only weakly supportive of her plans, her brother and sister are so dead-set on keeping her in Sweet Valley that they are plotting to sabotage her scholarship application, and the guy awarding the scholarship is a total tool. Those seem like bad signs.
At first, everyone’s sullen attitude about Liz’s planned departure seems a tad selfish. After all, if they really cared about her, wouldn’t they be happy to see her so excited? But any sympathy we have for a misunderstood Liz flies out the window as she unfeelingly drones on and on about how excited she is to leave. She thinks she’s saying “Switzerland is so exciting! They can cure deafness, further my writing obsession, and improve my skiing!” but everyone around her hears, “this place sucks! I can’t wait to get out of here.” It’s a classic case of the all-knowing Liz having no clue whatsoever about herself and her own dilemmas.
Now, look: I love Switzerland. I took two study-abroad trips to Germany during high school (during which I got to visit Basel) and I spent an entire quarter in Rome during my senior year of college. It was the greatest three months of my life, all things considered. But even I wouldn’t have missed my senior year of high school for anything, and it was only so-so; some things you can never get a second chance at. So one would think that Liz would at least approach the subject of Switzerland – however exciting it may be – delicately, understanding that she’s making a bold decision that will affect the lives of many a fragile peer.
There are two big events in this book that ultimately change Elizabeth’s mind. (That’s right, she stays. I would have issued a spoiler alert, but if you can’t figure out on your own that Liz’s presence is pivotal to the 100+ books that remain in this series alone, then no mere spoiler alert can help you.) First of all, Steven and Jessica plot a hilarious (and effective) string of pranks to make Elizabeth seem unworthy of the scholarship she’s trying to get. Second, Jeffrey and Enid start spending tons of time together working on a surprise for Liz, and she insanely mistakes their new “closeness” for some sort of affair. The first issue is much more interesting and funny, and doesn’t make me want to punch Liz in the face for being an idiot, so let’s start there:
The man who awards the Interlochen scholarship is appropriately named Mr. Sterne, and he is as concerned with Liz’s family and friends as he is with her studiousness. So when Mr. Sterne arrives at the Wakefield house to meet the family, it’s bad enough that her parents aren’t home (they were both held up at work). But Steven and Jessica put the icing on the cake – Steven by plopping a dirty old motorcycle on the driveway (Good heavens!) and talking about how he’d rather spend time at home than stay at college (Oh my word!); Jessica by dressing up like a whore on Halloween (Jesus Mary and Joseph!). Not convinced that such tactics are severe enough, the two continue their barrage the next day at school. Jessica sneakily dresses just like Liz and talks boy-crazy nonsense to Mr. Sterne whenever he’s not with the real Liz; Steven interrupts Liz’s private conversation with Mr. Sterne by calling repeatedly and pretending to be boys she dates, looking to talk with her. Now, why a school would allow some random dude to request a 17-year-old student via phone during the school day, I have no idea. But at the end of the day, Sterne thinks Liz is a slut at best, a total schizophrenic at worst. It was a good plan.
Of course, Liz finds out what has happened and is both furious and beside herself. Feeling guilty (rightly so!), the bad Wakefield kids call Mr. Sterne and tell him everything. He comes by and awards Liz the scholarship, but not before Jeffrey and Enid deliver their surprise: a scrapbook for Liz to take to Switzerland to remember them by. They weren’t in love at all! They were just crafting together...aww. Feeling pretty stupid and awash with the love of her friends and family, Elizabeth refuses the scholarship and decides to stay where she belongs: sunny California.
I’d like to think that part of Elizabeth believed that it was wrong to accept a scholarship from a man who would judge the applicant by her family, a phone call she got at school, and the obvious machinations of a scheming twin (he’d already spent time with Liz and met Jessica before she pulled her “Bizarro-Liz” stunt, so you’d think he’d be able to see through it). It’s like when I decided not to apply to Yale because the application asked me to write my essay twice, once in the “normal” way and once as if I weren’t trying to impress the admissions board. Why would I want to go to a school where they assumed I was disingenuous? But I digress...I think we all know the real reason Liz stayed in Sweet Valley: without her, there’d be no one to resolve every other character’s problems.