Archive | July, 2011

All hail the lipstick feminist: SVH #86 “Jessica against Bruce”

25 Jul

This old favourite was a bit of a saviour this week, in a week where my feminist sensibility – and ego – copped a battering at the hands of my male, medical school counterparts.

Background – I’m in the final 6 months of medical school. And scared shitless, if you must know. I’m considering calling Project Youth for advice, and constantly berating my 18-year-old self about why I ignored journalism, or primary school teaching as suitable career choices.  [Maybe I could make a buck selling Tofu Glo? Who knows…]

This emotional state would probably be tolerable, were it not compounded by a soul-crushing breed of male medical student which I will refer to collectively as the BRUCE. The BRUCE male is typically showy, puts down women, brags about the number of hours he’s clocked up on the wards, and makes empty statements with a know-all air about everything ranging from to cardiogenic shock to brews of pale seed ale. I know about fifteen boys who meet this description, who for some reason regard the ending of a medical degree as something to get cocky about. Big fish in small pond syndrome? Who knows.

So this week, maddened to the core, I will live vicariously through Jessica Wakefield. In real life I do stupid things like hide out at my apartment in tears when they ridicule me, or just stand there, fuming, as an impressive comeback evades me. I bury my head in a textbook, making silly deals with God and begging that He won’t let me screw it up and asking why couldn’t He be a She after all?!

Jessica, for all her faults, wouldn’t do that. She’d simply grab the bull by the horns and kick a BRUCE squarely in the balls. So I guess that makes me more of an Enid, really. How pathetic.

Let’s take a look at the story:

Bruce [Patman] is being an all-around a-hole, convinced that he is way too cool for boring old Sweet Valley High. So to liven things up a bit, he starts an all-guy secret club – “Club X” – that does totally kick-ass dares like LET OFF THE SCHOOL FIRE ALARMS. In my experience, cool people don’t usually have to prove themselves like that, not that I would know, never having been one of them. But a secret club whose sole mission is to pull annoying pranks isn’t what I would expect from Sweet Valley’s social elite. He is Bruce Patman after all! Surely for kicks he can get his hands on some “good shit” and squander his family’s fortune at the Casino.

Several guys rally around Bruce to support his inflated ego, and they rile up the girls by calling it a “guys only” club, and going on about how a girl could never “have what it takes” to make it in Club X. Enter Jessica Wakefield, maybe the only girl who could look Brucey P in the eye and take him on, while still flashing her midriff and looking sensational.

And so an all out gender war erupts in the cafeteria. I find myself particularly enraged when Bruce Patman tells the girls they can “Cheer on Club X from the sidelines…in their shortest skirts.”. But I had to stifle a laugh when the cheergirls argued that “Girls can do anything….like Justice Sandra Day O’Connor..and Susan Butcher. She’s won the Idatarod, that incredible DOG SLED RACE IN ALASKA, several times.”

Thank you, Terri Adams. Nothing like a dog sled race to smash the glass ceiling for us.

Jessica stands up to the lions of injustice and joins Club X.

Meanwhile, several delegates from the “International Teacher’s Federation” are coming to visit Sweet Valley High, god knows why. And who better to show them around than Elizabeth Wakefield? She practically cracks a hernia when Chrome Dome announces at assembly that he will be choosing some exemplary students to show Mr Ociba and Madame Erlane around.

Get this:

“Guess who’ll get picked?” Enid said in Elizabeth’s ear.  “You.” [Fuck off, Enid.]

Elizabeth smiled. She thought it sounded interesting. She hoped she would have a chance to meet some of the visiting teachers and find out what high schools in other countries were like. [Fuck off, Liz.]

But wait for it – as she’s getting summoned from class by the principal, she checks with Mr Collins:

“Are you going to assign homework?”

For every point I give Jessica in this book, I take at least ten from Elizabeth. And 20 from Enid.

Joining Elizabeth on the committee are Todd and Enid, presumably because they are her closest friends. Also Bill Chase, which surprised me, as I assumed he was either too stoned or too busy surfing to attend class.

But while Liz is sucking up to her new multicultural friends, Jessica is effectively burning her aqua maillot in the war on sexism.

She throws the full force of her sized six body behind Club X. The secret society meets at night in their matching Club X jackets, and they spin a wheel to see who gets to carry out the dare of the day. Jessica is initiated – driving without headlights, smoking in Mr Cooper’s office and scaling a fence to jump off a 20m platform into a river. Strangely, the dares keep landing on her, because Patman is rigging the wheel with a magnet. But she gets her own back – when challenged to steal a car, she hotwires 1BRUCE1 and high tails it to the Dairi Burger. All the time there is this overtone of sexual tension, but I am SO thrilled that Jessica doesn’t disrespect the point of this story and give in to Bruce’s charm. [She’s currently dating Sam Woodruff. Heart!]

Elizabeth is less ballsy about the gender war, but prefers to debate it with Enid, which is obviously not a debate seeing as Enid agrees with everything she says. At least Winston has a new approach to Elizabeth’s question of whether men and women are equal.

“Of course not,” he says. “Women have better hair.” I’m glad Winston is getting to the heart of this matter.

Meanwhile, Liz is getting anxious that the escalating dare war will spill over and ruin SVH’s reputation in front of the international community. So she phones Project Youth hotline for advice. Given that the service is staffed by Amy Sutton and her equally vapid boyfriend Barry, I have to conclude that Liz is an idiot. Heeding Project Youth’s advice, she does nothing and lets Jessica and Bruce sabotage the school.

After learning about the rigging of the dare wheel, Jessica sneaks in and weights the wheel to land on Bruce. She dares him to play banned hard rock radio station KZZP over the PA system at the special assembly.

Bruce has no choice but to partake.

The music blasts, the school is humiliated, Jessica is actually put on detention AND grounded, and Liz gets the shits temporarily.

But of course, this is Jessica, and she never gets her come uppance. Liz disregards her spine and goes along with a twin switch so Jessica can sneak out to see Sam. I guess for once, I’m not even too pissed about a Wakefield getting off the hook with murder.

Maybe I could get a Club X jacket? Or get the precious logo embezzeled on my stethoscope? Maybe I could hotwire a BRUCE’s Lexus and drive it into our local burger joint? Either way, Francine has inspired me to smash the glass ceiling, Wakefield style.

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The One Where Yet Another Psychopath Fails to Kill the Wakefields: SVH #125 “Camp Killer”

13 Jul

Can we all take a moment to appreciate this awesome cover.

The guy with his hand in the fire.

Charlie Sheen on the right toasting marshmallows with the Sweet Valley gang.

The humorous attempt at perspective drawing which makes Elizabeth look like a dwarf.

And, oh wait. The axe-wielding psycho killer in the background about to lob her head off. [Like Margo, he was THAT close, but just couldn’t bring himself to do it.]

It’s another summer at Sweet Valley High, and all our fave gang are heading to Camp Echo Mountain, Montana, to live in sin with interstate campers and do the dirty on their long time loves back home. So really, just another ordinary summer for Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield.

Yet somehow, the ghosties managed to make this into a three-part story arc.

Elizabeth has finally met her match – a tough-talking, kick-ass chickie called Nicole Banes, who we know is tough because she wears a baseball cap. They fight over who gets the much-sought-after job of writing the camp play, and over Yale University student [read: wanker] Joey Mason. Must be those fricken coffee coloured eyes.

Also, Liz has found a replacement for Enid the Drip in one of my all-time favourite characters, Maria Slater. Maria is retiring from her acting post in Hollywood to Sweet Valley, and just happened to want an unglamourous job as a lowly junior counsellor for the summer. I guess Dancing With the Stars wasn’t hiring.

Anyhoo, Maria and Nicole have been best buds for several years, since Maria ditched out on Sweet Valley after middle school. Yet another spanner in the works for poor Lizzie, who even has to fight for a friend. I guess it would be difficult when you’re used to making friends by finding someone worth pitying and fixing their life.

I rather like in this book how Elizabeth just assumed she would be an awesome counsellor [the kids hate her]; and that she would automatically be chosen to write the play [she has to work for it.] I especially like this Nicole girl, who points out Elizabeth’s total hypocrisy in screwing around with Joey while knowing full well that Trusty Boyfriend Todd is pining for her back at basketball camp.

Also this: “I’ll fix her, and fix her good….” thought Nicole as she drifted off to sleep. “It’s payback time.” Ooh! Isn’t that just chillingly Margo-esque?

Meanwhile, another of Jessica’s dead boyfriends is quickly forgotten as she sneaks off to hook up with one of her camper’s older brothers, Paul Mathis. Sadly, Christian Gorman, the surfer dude who Bruce, Todd and Winston gang-bashed to death in the high school war seems just a blip on the horizon. She justifies her salacious behaviour by saying that Christian would want her to live “each day at a time.” Whatever helps you sleep at night.

Lila, meanwhile, has met the love of her life in Beauregard Creighton the third. The get caviar shipped from a gourmet shop in SoCal, and talk about skiing, and speak French to each other, just ‘cos they can. I still don’t know why Lila wasted a Summer at a hovel like this. But at least she keeps things spicy.

Speaking of spicy, let’s not forget Winston’s contribution to the gossip column – fearing that Maria Santelli was riding cowboys at the dude ranch where she spent the summer, Winston allowed himself to be seduced by a fifteen year old redhead.

Interestingly, Aaron Dallas spent most of his camp time with the other guys…

Late at night, the campers sit around the fire, making s’mores and telling stories. Camp Legend holds that an axe-murderer known as Crazy Freddy [I shit you not] lives in the bushes and comes out at night to terrorise campers. Throughout the story, there is an eerie premonition of “something in the bushes”…. which of course is “just a tree branch”, or “a twig snapping.”

This provides a perfect opportunity for Nicole to get at stupid, gullible Liz. She actually tricks Elizabeth into sneaking out into the night to meet Joey. Meanwhile, Nicole hides behind a tree with a rusted axe, pretending to be Freddy. The girl clearly has guts, but that is kind of creepy.

Their rivalry reaches a pinnacle with the Colour War, which sounds incredibly racist, but is really just a sports competition of the “red ream versus blue team” variety.

Nicole sneaks into the Camp Director’s office and changes Joey to her team. A teensy bit desperate, but whatevs. She also fails miserably in her bid to send Todd some written evidence of Elizabeth-and-Joey love notes. [Maria decides to intervene.]

The colour war ends with some kind of treasure hunt thingy which involves looking for a flag in the forest. Sounds kinda dangerous, what with a crazy axe murderer on the loose out there and all. But hey. Winston even bribes Elizabeth with pecan cookies [bless!] But she gets on her high horse and is all, “I don’t accept bribes.”

Bitch.

Of course, the hunt winds up with the twins right in the path of Crazy Freddy. Jessica is busy dry humping her man in the bushes, when a rough hand clutches her perfect face and a leering voice goes, “C’mon blondie, the forest needs you.”

For what, firewood? That’s kind of a weird psycho-line. I think I preferred Margo’s rasping.

Elizabeth momentarily forgets her bitchin’ as her twin-stinct is switched on, because, OMG you guys, they’re Wakefields! And one of them is in danger!

Meanwhile, Jessica is holed up and gagged in a hovel with Pauls’ sister. Like all kidnappings in Sweet Valley, the psycho talks rather suggestively [“Be a good girl, blondie! Open the door! Mwah ha ha!] but never actually molests anyone. Jessica calls him “Mr Freddy”, which makes me laugh.

Finally, Liz and Nicole band together with Joey and Paul to rescue our damsel in distress. Nicole even sacrifices herself, which isn’t really necessary at all because no-one dies. Not even Jessica’s boyfriend.

What does Wakefield have that Winston doesn’t?

1 Jul

Pucker up, Lizzie. The Patman is in the house...

Elizabeth Wakefield is the centre of the universe. This I have been told very unsubtlely approximately 437 times throughout this series. Which is why it should come as no surprise that in SVT #85, Elizabeth is suddenly too intellectually advanced for sixth grade, and is immediately skipped to seventh.

Academically, the higher grade proves no challenge for the Miss Know-All crown’s perennial winner. But socially, she winds up ridiculed and friendless, not to mention losing her editorial position at the SIXERS for a photocopying job at the 7&8 Gazette.

Seventh-grade social life throws up much more than Lizzie bargained for, which I find a little hard to believe given the storylines we get when the twins eventually graduate from sixth class in The Unicorn Club.

The seventh grade girls wear makeup, and discuss boys, and play games such as “Spin the Bottle”, which Elizabeth has never heard of till now [She thought that perhaps it involved throwing bottles at one another.  For someone who writes the school paper, she clearly lives under a rock.]

Steven is awesome in this one.  He and Jessica hatch a plan to employ “reverse psychology” which involves talking up seventh grade and all the “wild parties” and “cool friends” she’ll have.

Jessica, meanwhile, hangs out with Amy, Maria and Todd, and starts writing for the Sixers to send Liz green with jealousy and running back to sixth grade.

The pinnacle of this book is when Liz sneaks out to Tom McKay’s party, where the kids are playing Spin the Bottle. When Bruce Patman’s bottle lands on Liz, she pulls out of the kiss, making her the laughingstock of the entire school. To prove her merit as a seventh grader, she is dared by Janet Howell to smack one on Bruce in the cafeteria at lunchtime the next week. Woe betides our poor twelve-year-old scholar!

But ah, young Liz. There’s so much I need to warn you about. In the next ten years you will be groped on numerous occasions by this lecherous youth, including when you are comatose; you will make out with him in your kitchen when your parents are away; and eventually you will do the deed, aged twenty-seven, after he’s been silently in love with you since university.

But back to the story. Liz walks away from the much hyped kiss in the cafeteria, and is left alone with no friends in her own grade as a result. From someone who didn’t actually get kissed till the long overdue age of sixteen, I find that a little hard to believe.

The next night, while all of sixth grade goes on yet another camp, Liz is all misery. Jessica has done a lovely job of making things worse by cabining with Maria and Amy, and talking up s’mores and bushwalking and all those fun things that Lizzie will miss out on.

But Mr Bowman and Nalice finally come to the rescue, and take Liz to a surprise party, where all her sixth grade friends are there to welcome her back with open arms. The camp owners have so kindly postponed camp for one night, so that everyone can celebrate Miss Wonderful and welcome her back to sixth grade, ‘cause as Mrs Arnette puts it: “even though you’ve proved yourself academically, you’re not quite ready socially.”

Doesn’t Mr Bowman have somewhere better to be on a Friday night?

But now for my top three gripes, which I will preface by saying that I actually loved this book as a kid. Liz not fitting in with the cool crowd was [not surprisingly] relatable, and I always fancied that she was actually more mature that all the followers of the seventh grade crowd. But a few points need picking:

  1. Elizabeth was evidently a bright student, but I’m not convinced she was the smartest of all. Because, ahem, wasn’t I, Winston Egbert the winner of every spelling bee and science competition and computer prize there ever was? So why was I never offered a spot in the higher grade? Other candidates include Randy Mason, Donald Zwerdling and Lloyd “Bunsen Burner” Bensen, all of whom displayed scholarship well beyond their years. Bensen built his own fucking seismograph, for heaven’s sake.
  2. Nalice are at their absolute worst as far as parenting is concerned. What reasonable humans rock up to a spontaneous interview with their kids’ teacher on Friday afternoon, and decide in one hour flat to skip said kid ahead a grade, starting Monday? Did they consider the logistics of having a sixteen year old at University? Or Elizabeth’s feelings on the matter? Or the fact that she was miserable the whole time she was in seventh grade and all they did was chirp on about how proud they were? Or the impact it might have on the self esteem of the other twin? [and consequently on the entire Sweet Valley High series, which would never have unfolded without Jessica thinking she was god’s gift to the universe].
  3. “I’m so psyched you’re back with us,” Amy said. “I have to admit I was a little afraid of losing your friendship.”

              “That will never happen,” Elizabeth said. “We’re friends for life. You couldn’t get rid of me if you tried.”

Genius has spoke, peeps. You heard it here first.

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