ou, "Les jumelles américaines ennuient un garçon français"
Relive your totally universal teenage memories of spring breaks in Cannes, France – exploring the topless beaches, returning puppies to countesses, picking up medication for your host mother's patients...you know, all the normal spring break stuff.
Kat Hazelton remembers! And she's back, all the way from the Book 1 Episode, to marvel at the way Sweet Valley has changed, and the ways it's stayed the same.
Technically summer doesn't start until next week, but here at the Diaries, summer break is in full effect...and it's PERFECT. In this special between-seasons episode Marissa and guest-friend Alex Bishop dig into the series' first SPECIAL EDITION novel. Are you ready to bike a major chunk of the California Coast with nothing more than a couple of saddle bags and a heap of moxie? No? Well, neither were the Wakefield Twins et al, but they did it anyway, and lived to tell the tale (but just bear-ly).
Apologies for missing the obvious "Barry"/"Bear-y" puns during the BOYS section of the show.
This episode marks the advent of the "COLLINSWATCH" segment.
I don't think "Seafoodwatch" will have the same staying power, but you never know!
Just then, the man stopped to hoist the load up, as if to get a better grip. Part of the green blanket fell back as he shifted the weight, and Jessica felt her heart–almost literally–stand still. A woman’s arm was clearly visible, hanging limply out from underneath the blanket. – p. 60
If you remember the later years of the Sweet Valley High series — or even if you've ever perused the list of book titles — you know that, at some point, things in Sweet Valley get nuts. Instead of semi-annual kidnappings and occasional deaths, these later books offer non-stop action, murderers, the infamous evil twins, and these Fear-Street-style plotlines sometimes span several volumes. Looking back, it's hard to pinpoint a single book that marks this shift into Crazytown. One candidate is Double Jeopardy, the first Sweet Valley "Super Thriller."
This first Thriller occurs during Sweet Valley's "Impossible Summer," which is what I like to call the time during all summer-edition SVH books that is somehow both before AND after the girls' junior year. Liz has already met Jeffrey (who's away as a counselor at a summer camp), but somehow everyone's going to go right back to junior year as soon as this volume's over. So, other than existing within a rift in the space/time continuum, what's so thrilling about this book? It still features a boy-crazy Jessica, precocious bordering on sociopathic. Elizabeth is still focused and annoyingly levelheaded. But this time, there's a murderer.
The mere presence of a murderer isn't thrilling enough for you? Wait, there's more! The murderer has killed the girlfriend of one of Steven Wakefield's buddies, Adam, who happens to be staying with the Wakefields for the summer. He then put the body in the trunk of Adam's car, so everyone thinks Adam's a murderer! The one person in Sweet Valley who knows the truth is Jessica: she actually saw the murderer carrying his victim's dead body through a parking lot. But no one believes Jessica's story, because she's been lying her ass off to impress some boy, a reporter for the local paper no less! AND the murderer knows Jessica saw him, so he's probably going to come after her, too!
That thrilling enough for ya?
Jessica has to do all she can to convince the police that Adam's innocent, and that there's a real killer on the loose. As I mentioned earlier, some pathological lying on Jessica's part is causing something of a roadblock. Here are the primary lies she tells at the book's outset:
1. She tells the hot Sweet Valley Times reporter that there was foul play in a recent fire at the Dairi Burger. Assuring him that there's something to this story, they go check it out. The owner is totally baffled, as it was a very straightforward grease fire.
2. She tells the same reporter that her neighbor is a murderer. For some reason, he writes a story about it and turns it in to his editor. He nearly gets fired for irresponsible journalism.
3. Because she thinks relationships are boring, she want Liz to forget about Jeffrey and fall in love with Adam. She writes a love letter to Jessica, pretending it's from Adam. In it, "he" professes his displeasure with his girlfriend. This causes a bit of a snafu when Adam's girlfriend is suddenly dead, and Liz feels she has no choice but to turn in her evidence against him — namely, the letter she believes he wrote to her. Oops.
Damn, Jess! That's a lot of lying, even for you! But she's able to gradually convince them she's in earnest about the whole murderer thing. Primarily she does this by exhibiting an air of hysteria and terror. After all, now the murderer is probably after HER., the one person Jessica actually cares about.
I won't tell you how it all ends up. Suffice it to say, everybody dies.
Just kidding. Suffice it to say, nobody dies. Except Adam's girlfriend. She's still dead.
The 2018 podcast episode about this book can be found here.
Even though I have lived within 50 miles of America's 3rd largest city for my entire life, there's just something about growing up in the Midwest that makes most other places seem glamorous. New York was always high on the list, but California pretty much topped it; the sun, the ocean, the mountains, the sun, everyone in the pool all year, movie stars everywhere, the palm trees, the sun...and I'm not just talking Los Angeles. The Tanners may have lived in San Francisco, but the Beach Boys didn't mind driving up there to pay them a visit. California is a big state, sure, but few images of it didn't seem appealing to me. Hell, why am I using the past tense? Years later, I am still bound for California, as are many of my Midwestern compatriots, and when I hear it described as "another planet", I want to buy my tickets as soon as possible. Maybe it's just a case of Californian grass being greener, but when I imagine Sweet Valley, it is definitely glamorous. It's downright perfect, a place where the rich people have estates instead of mansions and the middle-class drive Italian sports cars. And yet, in Too Good to Be True, Sweet Valley is constantly described as a boring little town. Somebody somewhere has forgotten about all the recent sexual assaults and comas! But if Sweet Valley is a boring little town, its podunk residents are the perfect prey for a villainess from the last remaining glamorous land: New York City.
Her name is Suzanne Devlin, and her plan is simple, if pointless. She will pretend to be the sweetest, most helpful girl on the face of the earth and in so doing she will lure the naïve townsfolk into trusting her completely. Then she will be free to corrupt their men and steal their jewelry! Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha! Seriously though, this is the plot. And don't you start crying to me about spoiling the surprise - if the title alone weren't enough to let you know Suzanne would prove herself evil, you could take one look at the cover picture (above). That girl has "Bitch" written all over her face! And Elizabeth is looking quite suspicious. To be perfectly honest with you, this took a bit of the fun out of it for me. Since I knew "Suzy" was going to turn out rotten, I was a little impatient with the Sweet Valley crew for the way they worshipped her – and that's just what they did. They worshipped her because she was sweet, but mostly because she was beautiful. mature, and glamorous; because she was from New York City.
Speaking of New York City, this is where Jessica spends the duration of Book 11. While Suzanne comes to stay with the Wakefields, Jessica stays in the Devlins’ ritzy townhouse, and she is, of course, beside herself with delight. That is, until she realizes that in Suzanne's circle, everyone is a Jessica Wakefield - they all love to manipulate men, they all love to be condescending. Jessica is a big lake bass who suddenly finds herself in the Atlantic Ocean, if you get my meaning. I suppose that makes Suzanne's boyfriend, Pete, some sort of hammerhead shark who is pretty sure that this lake fish would be tasty...and that it so obviously wants to be eaten! Ok, leaving my super-apt analogy behind, Jessica, once again, has to face the fact that some boys think "yes" means "yes." When she tries to be coy, she ends up getting assaulted AGAIN. Someone (cough, Jessica, cough) needs to decide whether or not she's a slut already. Needless to say, she just wasn't fancy enough for the fancy New York fancy-pantses, and she has a miserable time because there's no one to pay attention to her.
Back in Sweet Valley, Suzanne tries to seduce super-hunk English teacher Mr. Collins. When he refuses her because she's too young and "acting foolish," she vows to destroy him. This girl, we come to see, is like a thousand Jessicas in one. She's so angry with Mr. Collins for not falling for her that she pretends he tried to rape her (!!!). This almost gets him fired, since everyone believes sweet, beautiful Suzy's absurd story. But when Elizabeth finds a necklace she lost in Suzanne's luggage, she gets the feeling that it all might be an act. FINALLY. It only took her 16 chapters to realize what she could have found out just by reading the title page.
Incidentally, have you ever met anyone from New York City, female or otherwise? Of course you have. A lot of people live there, and sometimes they leave. Perhaps you are, in fact, from New York City yourself. When I was in college, I swear it seemed like a good 20 percent of my peers were from New York City. And while all of my New York City friends had the annoying habit of being very sure that they came from the greatest city on Earth (this really pisses off Chicagoans - just ask any one from the Tri-State Area how he/she feels about the Macy's buyout of Marshall Field's), none of them ever pretended to be something they were not. Pretty universally, I think true New Yorkers loathe fakeness to a fault. That's why New York and LA are so far apart.
At any rate, as I read Too Good to Be True, I couldn't help but feel that the author had a deep-seated grudge against the Big Apple. There is no doubt in my mind that Suzanne and her friends are meant to seem horrible BECAUSE they are from New York. That's all the motive they need for drinking heavily, lying to an entire town, stealing, and being callous. This somehow strikes me as both stupid and hilarious. Hmm...much like my entire infatuation with the Sweet Valley series...oh, Francine Pascal et al, you've done it again! Well played, my mysterious friends, well played.
[Ed.: I've since learned that Francine Pascal actually lives in New York (when she's not in France). So...there goes that series. Unless this book's characterization of New Yorkers was the work of an angry ghostwriter.]