Christmas Isn’t Christmas Without A Car Crash or Sweet Valley High Super Edition #2 “SPECIAL CHRISTMAS”

9 Dec

This book seemed so nuts to me, even as a twelve year old. It’s not because Elizabeth has a casual bottle of champers, or ‘cause Todd starts hooking up with her nemesis, Suzanne Devlin [duh, Toddster]. No, it’s because of the insane plot twist where Suzanne is diagnosed, then undiagnosed of multiple sclerosis, with a full neurological recovery in the space of a Christmas break. Between Suzie and Mike McAllery, we could write the fucking Christmas Edition of any medical journal. Or Woman’s Day.

Cover courtesy of ShannonSweetValley

Finally, after ten years, I decided to work up the courage and consult a specialist in the field about the possibility of such a phenomenon.

Winston [disrupting MEDI4000 tutorial]: I was just wondering, Prof, if you know of any cases of an MS-type disease after a bout of mono? Is that possible?

Esteemed neurologist: Certainly! Some viruses such as EBV [mono], have antigens similar to myelin [protective sheath around nerves] and there is an auto-immune-mediated cross-reactivity resulting in demyelination and an MS-like phenomenon. [or something like that]. Why? Do you have a patient to present?

Winston [mentally cursing Francine for proving him wrong]: Oh, erm, well, yeah, no, not really. I just read about it

Esteemed neurologist: Oh, you read the case report in last month’s ANZAN?

Winston: Erm, no, I read it somewhere else.

Esteemed neurologist: Care to share?

Winston: Oh, um, this book called “Special Christmas.” The patient recovered in about a month, though.

Esteemed neurologist, stroking his chin: I’ll have to check this out. Revolutionary! [That’s what I wish he said.]

Esteemed neurologist, frowning: A month? Winston, you really need to stop reading young adult fiction.

But I haven’t, and I won’t, so let us revisit the ridiculosity of “Special Christmas.” [Ps: Special? Not your most PC moment, Fran-Pasc.]

It’s the last day of school before Christmas break, but this time, Margo isn’t distributing “Happy Horrordays” cards, and Ken isn’t dressed up as an elf. Instead, Elizabeth is looking forward to TBT’s return from Vermont, and dreaming about his coffee-coloured eyes. The twinkies are getting into the spirit of Christmas, dressing the same for once in “navy cotton skirts and light blue short sleeved sweaters that showed off their tans beautifully”.

Because Creepy Collins is a shit teacher, he gives them the afternoon off for a party in the gym:

“Liz!” Mr Collins called, hurrying over to greet the girls as they entered the crowded gym. “I need your help on the Secret Santa assignments.” [I’ll bet he does!]

Because six Christmases a year isn’t enough, we are having an entire Secret Santa Week, culminating in a bash at the Patman Mansion. At least Bruce alternates with the Fowlers every year. Also, Lila and Jessica are vying for the title of “Miss Christmastime” to see who can ride through the freaking main street on a float during the Christmas Parade, which is apparently annual, though we’ve never heard of it before or since.

Back at the Wakefields, there is a surprise Christmas visitor! I’ll give you three seconds….that’s correct – Steven’s home! This time, he bears the news that Suzanne Devlin will be staying with the Wakefields for Christmas. In case you missed “Too Good To Be True”, Suzanne is a snobby little trouble maker who came to Sweet Valley from New York, stealing lavalieres and spreading [t]rumours that Mr Collins cracked on to her. The twins, naturally, are devastated, and even Liz gets in on the diabolical plan to give Suzanne the Worst. Christmas. Ever.

When Alice brings demon child home from the airport, the bitching begins. After discovering a small bottle of pills in her luggage, the twins decide Suzanne is a crazed drug addict. However, they can’t help gossiping about how gorgeous Suzanne looks, on account of all the weight she’s lost. They go on and on about it for four freaking scenes, until finally they change the subject and discuss Lila’s recent trip to a day spa to shed her non existent spare tire.

“Lila should really find out Suzanne’s secret,” Elizabeth said thoughtfully. “She really is thinner. I wonder how she did it.”

“Probably by being crafty, evil and manipulative,” Jessica retorted. “That’ll make you lose weight any day.”

Thank you Jessica. This explains SO much.

While the twins are short-sheeting her bed and the SVH gang are writing nasty Christmas cards to their former exchange student [Exhibit A: “SUZY DEVLIN GO HOME. FROM YOUR SECRET SANTAS”] Todd descends on the Wakefields for the festive season. But – shock horror – we soon learn that a month ago he had a snow-trip fling – with Suzanne Devlin. Todd, you effing bastard. I cannot believe Liz chose you over Jeffery. Also, shouldn’t Suzanne have had mono at that stage, if her funny post-viral-multiple-sclerosis kicked off in time for Christmas? [At least Ann M Martin had a diabetologist review the Stacey books. This is pretty awful fact-checking, ghostwriters.]

Every time Todd walks into the room, Suzanne gets the shakes and faints, and Liz is suddenly aware that the Liz-Todd spark has vanished. Maybe that’s because as soon as Todd left for Vermont, she started hooking up with Ken Matthews, [incidentally, Todd is staying at the Matthews’ now.] However, that little fling plays no part in this plot and isn’t mentioned for another 40 books or so when the ghosties decide to add it in, after the fact. Riiighhht.

We also learn that not only does Suzanne have a bizarre ailment, but that she has changed into a boring, pious do-gooder, and is basically a skinnier, brunette version of Liz. In other words, she has changed for the worse. She tries to make amends with all the people she wronged, and accepts Aaron Dallas’ invitation to a fake party, because she wants to apologize. Blah. Can’t she orchestrate a fake-rape situation and wreak havoc again? I’m bored.

Aaron, however, is under the instruction of J Wakefield, and is planning on deserting Suzanne at a haunted mansion. Ha.

As Christmas Eve approaches, Jessica and Lila are still fighting over the title of “Miss Christmastime”, and we learn that the loser will have to dress as an elf and endure public humiliation. Nalice decide to keep Suzie’s diagnosis from the kids, while the invalid sneaks around with Todd. The Wakefields enjoy another as yet unheard of  “annual tradition” – Handel’s Messiah. I admit to being a major Christmas nerd, but I really did enjoy the Chrissy celebrations in this book.

Finally, Bruce’s bash arrives! We kick off with PRE-DRINKS, [yes, you heard correctly] PREDRINKS at the Wakefield’s. I hope Elizabeth doesn’t get in the Fiat!

 

“You two look great tonight,” Todd said, smiling at the twins. [Piss off, Todd.] Elizabeth was struggling to get a cork out of a bottle of champagne the Wakefields had left for them.

“Thanks,” Jessica said shortly. She could hardly bear to talk to Todd. But she had to admit that he was right.

Elizabeth looked terrific in a shimmery, peach-coloured dress with spaghetti straps. And she herself was wearing her new blouse with a pair of black satin pants.

 

Suzanne was too distracted about the night’s party to realize she had never looked so beautiful in her entire life. [And modest, too.] The blue velvet dress she had borrowed from Liz had a high neck, edged in cream-coloured lace. It was more subdued than anything Suzanne had ever owned, almost prim. But it looked amazingly good on her. It made her look like the heroine of a Victorian novel. A simple strand of pearls at her throat completed the look. Steven who had come into the living room just as the champagne was being poured, let out a long, low whistle. “You look fabulous,” he said softly. “Absolutely fabulous.” [Creep]

So they act like normal teenagers for once and have a couple of celebratory drinks. Then Suzanne TAKES THE FIAT to meet Aaron at the “party.” I guess it was the 80s, but, hmmm. On account of her disease and the champers, she falls asleep at the wheel and crashes the car. How many fucking crashes do the Wakefields have at Christmas? I’ve counted three already. Meanwhile, the landline is ringing off the hook because Suzanne’s doctor back home is trying to get in touch with her to bring some good news. On Christmas Eve. Because he has nothing better to do, nor an entire emergency department of drunken revelers to attend to.

Then home comes Nalice from a soiree next door, and on finding the empty bottles are all “OMG did Suzie drink this?” In Ned’s words:

“She’s on very strong medication, and a glass of wine could completely knock her out, even kill her.” Dr Ned is in the house, people!

Nalice fess up about the MS diagnosis, and everyone rushes to the deserted house on Forrest Lane to save Suzie. Never mind that they’ve all been drinking.

On the way, the twins get the guilts about all the horrible things they’ve been doing to the invalid. Liz gets that annoying pitying look on her face and an uncontrollable urge to shoulder pat, because, Poor Suzanne! Never mind that she tarnished the reputation of your favourite teacher and screwed your boyfriend  – she has a DISEASE! OMG! Jessica also feels guilty, which is rather disappointing and out of character because disease or not, Suzanne deserved all the nasty things those Wakefields did.

At Forrest Lane, the Fiat is nowhere to be found, so the Wakefields deduce that something terrible has happened. How logical – but somehow they are right, and after contacting “the authorities” they learn that Suzie had a nasty crash and is in Joshua Fowler Memorial Hospital.

Dumb-ass Liz finally figures out that Todd has been doing the dirty on her with Suzanne.

If Todd cares for Suzanne, Elizabeth thought, sighing deeply, she deserved Todd. And that’s the very best way I can think of showing her that I think she’s a wonderful person – someone I’d like to have as my friend. Save your pity vote for someone more worthy, Liz. Will you feel the same way when you find out she’s been un-diagnosed of MS? Probably not, because we never hear of Suzanne Devlin. Ever. Again.

At the hospital, Suzanne is not dead. The gang instantly forget their pity and hightail it to the Patmans, to party like it’s 1985. Including Worst Boyfriend Ever, Todd Wilkins, and Steven The High-school Predator. Creepy Collins is chaperoning, as usual.

Back at JFMH Suzanne’s physician flies in from fucking New York city, at Christmas, to personally deliver the news that:

“Suzy, you don’t have multiple sclerosis at all! We’ve been racking our brains all day, and we finally figured out what happened. You see, you had an undetected virus and several months later began to experience a very rare complication from it…We’ve been treating you for a disease you don’t even have.”

Good God. I can appreciate that in ’85, the T2-weighted MRI – diagnostic gold standard for MS – wasn’t around for personal use. However, an EBV serology might have helped. And why have they just come to this conclusion now? WHY!?

Note to doctor – its 1985, so the treatment for either is probably the same anyway.

Furthermore – do you really want to offer a prognosis when there’s been about 20 case reports on this? Just because it’s post-viral doesn’t mean it’s going to clear up in the space of a couple of weeks like magic. Gaaa!

On Christmas Eve, Jessica wins Miss Christmastime while Lila has to play the elf, wearing a green unitard. Thank god she lost all that weight at the day spa last week, you guys! Bruce and Winston drag a tree to Suzie’s hospital bed, and Mr and Mrs Devlin arrive just as Bill Chase [remember him?] serenades Suzanne from the bedside with a harmonica version of Silent Night. The jocks join in song. How merry! Don’t they have somewhere other to be on Christmas day?

Chronologically, this is our first Sweet Valley Christmas, and possibly one of the best. The downside of this? Its Christmas break, and I’m on Medline, researching various case reports on post-mono neurological complications. Even some from the mid-80’s just so I can justify the doctor’s reasoning.

Merry Christmas, inept ghostwriters. And Happy Horrordays.

If only....

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5 Responses to “Christmas Isn’t Christmas Without A Car Crash or Sweet Valley High Super Edition #2 “SPECIAL CHRISTMAS””

  1. sophie December 9, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    Those photos – epic. I loveeed this book. You are so right about ELizabeth’s pity vote.

  2. Daniella December 10, 2010 at 12:18 am #

    I remember when I first read this in young adulthood, that I was very curious as to why Suzanne’s doctor from New York actually flew to Sweet Valley to tell her she didn’t have MS. REALLY!??!?!

    I was also very confused at the misdiagnosis. I had mono as a teenager and I had a friend with MS. The presentation of our symptoms was not at all the same.

    • winstonegbert December 10, 2010 at 7:20 am #

      Occasionally, an MS-like complication can occur a couple of weeks after a bout of mono, [in 1% infected people]; that is a recognised phenomenon. But the way they portrayed it in this book was really unrealistic. For starters, it usually happens around 2 weeks after symptoms of mono appear, but in this book the Dr was all “oh, remember how you felt sick a few months ago? That’s what set this off.” Also Suzanne’s symptoms in this book were nothing like MS – her eyes would get blurry at the same time for around 20sec, then resolve, which doesn’t fit the picture at all. I don’t know how they screwed up the diagnosis so much, but I’d better not pass judgment till I’m a neurologist and do the same thing…In fact the way they glamourised her weight loss and fragility was really insulting to patients who actually live with MS day in and day out.
      But yeah, flying across the country at Christmas for that? [shakes head]

  3. Olive Bell December 13, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    I like the way the doctor flew to her her HOSPITAL BEDSIDE to tell her she didn’t have MS instead of phoning the JFMH doctor in Sweet Valley to pass on the happy news – that’s the kind of personal service I expect from my doctor.

  4. Dan Dahlen November 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    the fever from mono is a bit high and i really hate the muscle pain from mono.*

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