Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sweet Valley High Revisited - Power Play

I realise that there have been more tumbleweeds than blog posts around here lately, which is due to real life work being so ridiculously busy for the last while and my getting home in the evenings and not having the energy or inclination to go near a screen, unless it's to play Draw Something. Things seem to have calmed down somewhat for the moment, so I've decided to do the next in my continuing series of posts wherein I'm appalled and fascinated by The Glorious Wakefields. Also because the last time I met my lovely friend Brenda for a pint, she shouted "READ FASTER!" at me.

Sweet Valley High #4: Power Play 

The twins look like they're about to shift the faces off each other. Also, nice eyebrows.

Right so, this book's main plot concerns one Robin Wilson, whose introduction in the last book served only to quickly establish the fact that she's REALLY FAT and wants to be friends with Jessica. Well it turns out that she also desperately wants to join the Pi Beta Alpha sorority that the twins are members of, even though they sound like a shower of self-important bitches who don't actually do anything. Even Elizabeth keeps harping on about how snobby they are so I don't know why she won't just fucking well leave. Anyway, Robin is under the illusion that Jessica is her friend and has promised to nominate her for membership at their next pointless meeting. Elizabeth knows full well that Jessica won't do anything of the sort and is just using Robin as some kind of errand-running lackey, so she decides to throw the poor girl a bone and nominate her herself.

Unsurprisingly, Jessica and the Pi Betas don't want Robin in their clique because a fat girl would be bad for their image and they're all terrible people. However, they go ahead and agree to nominate her, as that means they get to torment her via the ridiculous and totally stupid process of hazing, before having to vote on whether she can join or not. I've always thought the Greek system was a load of wank and it totally is. Jessica, Lila and Cara call to Robin's house to tell her the "good" news and for some reason are repulsed by her nervous and kind offers of milkshakes or sodas, because, again, they're TERRIBLE PEOPLE WITH NO SOULS. Who wouldn't gladly accept a milkshake when offered one? VAPID IDIOTS, that's who.

Lila, Jessica and Cara are like an Eighties version of this in my head.

If the last book was bad for constantly pointing out that Robin is overweight, this book is utterly relentless in reminding us. In the first chapter alone it mentions her hungrily munching two giant bars of chocolate while talking to Elizabeth and describes her getting up off the couch as "struggling to get out of the deep cushions". See, it's because she's SO FAT, YOU GUYS. She can't even SIT DOWN without ending up like a chubby turtle stuck on its back, HA HA HA. When Jessica and her cronies leave the house, Robin is so overwhelmed with happiness that she celebrates the only way a fat bird knows how, which - according to Francine and her cackling, body-shaming ghostwriter army - is by eating an entire cherry cheesecake.

The next day, Elizabeth is furious to discover that Jessica and her posse of bitches are making Robin run laps of the school's running track after school for a week, while they and a bunch of other horrible people mock her in a vicious and heartless display of bullying. Her next task is to go to the beach and play volleyball in a bikini, which Robin is dreading, because in case you've forgotten, SHE'S FAT. Anyway, Robin perseveres and gets through each challenge, much to evil Jessica's annoyance, so she cooks up an impossible one to stop Robin in her big fat tracks. She now has to get Bruce Patman to take her to the Disco-marathon that weekend. DUN DUN DUUUUN. And yes, so far we've had a dance PER BOOK since book one. The students of Sweet Valley High must be fucking exhausted. Elizabeth tries to console her and this actual conversation takes place:

"I might as well ask Elvis Presley!" "Robin," Elizabeth reminded her gently, "Elvis has been dead for-" "That's just my point. I'd have a better chance with a dead superstar than a live Bruce Patman!"

Oh my GOD, Elizabeth you PATRONISING GEEBAG. Did she ACTUALLY think that Robin didn't know that Elvis is dead? SERIOUSLY.

Anyway, Elizabeth persuades Bruce to take Robin to the dance in exchange for her writing a big feature about him in the school paper about him being brilliant at tennis. Which results in what must be the most hilarious line in the whole book, because Bruce has inexplicably turned into a 1930s cartoon gangster. "All right. I'll take her. But I want my picture in, see! A big one. And tell how I whipped that guy at Palisades." I swear I nearly fell out of bed laughing at that one.

So Bruce takes Robin to the dance but immediately ditches her in the middle of the dance floor, loudly asking if anyone wants to steer the Queen Mary around for the night, before walking off, like an utter dickhead. Robin runs off crying and Elizabeth tries to give her a pep talk in the bathroom, realises that Robin is actually really pretty and for some reason seems totally amazed that a heavy girl could be good looking. Robin has had enough of the Wakefield wenches at this stage so she runs off to the car park and ends up meeting the lanky school paper photographer, Allen Walters. He gets her to come back inside, they dance together and then he takes her home. Aw. In your face, Jesssica!

Meanwhile, Lila "Daddy Issues" Fowler has been shoplifting the shit out of Lisette's, a fancy new French boutique at the mall. Elizabeth sees her yoinking a bracelet and it turns out that she's doing it for attention because her dad is hardly ever home. She gets caught by mall security and calls Elizabeth to come help her, even though they hate each other and gets six months probation and a promise from her dad that he'll be less of an absent jerk.

The Pi Betas hold their vote on new members, but Robin gets blackballed (by Jessica, of course) and is distraught. She disappears for a bit and when she returns she stops talking to anyone at school and walks around like a "space cadet" according to Jessica, whom she totally blanks now. Go Robin! She also takes up pounding the running track every day after school, losing weight (a bit too) quickly and as a concession to the fact that anorexia is bad, m'kay, Elizabeth tells her she hopes she's doing it the right way, so Robin assures her that she's not starving herself to death. She tries out for the cheerleading squad and not only does she make the cut, she becomes co-captain and now that she's skinny and hot, everyone thinks she's brilliant so she's suddenly popular. This book sends out SUCH a horrendously bad message.

At this stage, even Bruce Patman has a raging hard-on for Robin and when she declares her candidacy for Miss Sweet Valley High (I don't know how these kids actually get an education at this school, when 90% of the curriculum is dances and pageants) the school splits into Team Jessica and Team Robin. The chemistry club name their newest formula "The Robin Reaction" (because all high school students INVENT FORMULAS, right?) and the football team's offensive and defensive lines carry banners around the school declaring their support for either Jessica or Robin. The one for Robin reads Robin Has Us Throbbin'. Seriously. FILTH! On the night of some big football game, Robin is announced as the winner and then publicly disses Bruce by asking him to drive her around the stadium in his Porsche for her victory lap, but choosing Allen to be her escort, reducing Bruce to lowly chauffeur status. HA! Good enough for him.

Notable outfit:
There was a serious lack of hilarious clothing this time around, but we DO get treated to the most Eighties sentence in the world:

"Jessica was wearing leotards and exercising with Jane Fonda via video cassette."

Leotards? Plural? How many did she have on?

Things I counted:
Number of pages: 150
References to the twins' blue-green eyes: 3
References to the fact that the twins are blonde: 4
Amount of times people blush: 9
References to Robin being fat: 30 (THIRTY! For realz.)

15 comments :

  1. I adore these posts! When I found them the other day I remembered the SVH I found in a charity shop a while back, dug it out from under my bed and had a good old giggle. #63: The New Elizabeth. She's had enough of being the good girl, and decides to go SURFING to show everyone just how crazy she is. Brilliant.

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    1. Ah, be fair now, she does also get a perm.

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  2. Hmmm...wonder how Robin ended up the way she did in #74 The Perfect Girl?? Appallingly bad messages being sent out via powder pink (blue?) princess phone in these books.

    Another absolutely wonderful post. You make me laugh out loud every time! Thank you.

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  3. i love these posts! I'm already looking forward to the next one x

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  4. Nicola - That Elizabeth, she so CRAZY! I think at this stage I've emptied all my nearest charity shops of any copies of Sweet Valley High. I'll have to look further afield!

    Charlene - SHOCKING bad messages. I don't know how Francine got away with it.

    Mulq - Thanks lady! x

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  5. I think I was about 10 when I read this and even then I was like, "Hey, wait a minute, that's a bit..." about the whole "she's fat! she's unpopular! She's skinny! They all LOVE her!" If even a 10-year-old in the late eighties thinks your fat-hating's a bit unsubtle, you'd probably want to work on that.

    Have you ever read the SVH Senior Year books? When I finished my masters dissertation in 2003, I went straight to the local library and got out ALL the SVH books. Mostly they were SV University (OMG! Suddenly everyone's having sex!) and SV Senior Year. Apparently, the twins were in junior year for so incredibly long that by the time they turned seventeen, everyone had started drinking skinny lattes, carrying mobiles and South California was about 25% Latin@. Amazing how that worked!

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  6. laughed a little too hard at this at my desk. Reaffirming my annoying workmate status!

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  7. Almost broke myself laughing at the Bruce Patman 1930's gangster and the "leotards" part. Love these SVH posts.

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  8. I'm so nostalgic reading this post - I definitely didn't notice all the body image references when I was in primary school. Ah, sweet naivety...

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  9. Ms Bias - I haven't read any of the Senior Year or SVU books, but I pick up one of the University ones in a charity shop recently. I'll probably write about it here once I've run out of SVH ones! The Wakefields must have gone to high school in a time warp of some kind. :)

    Laney - Haha, you have Francine and the mysterious Kate William to thank for that.

    CeeCee - I can't even explain how much I love Bruce's gangster line. SO amazing.

    Third Attempt - Welcome! I don't think I noticed what terrible messages they send when I was reading them as a young 'un either. Just as well really.

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  10. I was obsessed with Sweet Valley High!!!

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  11. Gra in Kuwait (but from Ireland ;))20 April 2012 at 12:03

    Completely loving these reviews!!! Cackling away here- and as a fat girl, I LOVE that we hate the Francine subtext. When you wrote the review, I remembered reading the book even though it's been about 13 years. Once you mentioned Robin's name I remembered that she was the anorexic one. I had SO MANY of the SV books growing up, sadly they are all gone. BUT my amazing friend bought me the SV Reunion book for Christmas a few years back.
    In honour of the greater good I offer this book to you, when I return to Ireland later this summer. It might take me a while to dig it out- stored in boxes in my dad's, but I WILL post it to you, and see what you make of it. Of course we have to figure out where to post it to.
    G

    PS did you ever watch the tv series?

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  12. Susie Amy - It's compelling reading sure!

    Gra - A reunion book!? That's so very kind of you, thanks so much! I used to watch the tv series too but for some reason I can hardly remember it, just the theme tune and the girls who played the Wakefields. I had a look for it online and it's only available as a region 1 DVD, boo!

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  13. I love these, I keep meaning to look for them in the charity shops but I always end up buying vintage smut instead. I did get the Sweet Valley Confidential one and it was *almost* bearable until I got to page 9, where she started banging on about how they were so gorgeous and their aqua eyes danced like shards of precious stones, and I thought of a Thomas the Tank Engine that my son has with wiggly eyes and went into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. I couldn't read any more - gonna give it a go again, the writing is just.... I don't know how I managed to devour so many of these as a tween!!

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  14. You had me in stitches!!

    Unfortunately after moving on from Enid Blyton to the Sweet Valley Mysteries, (with Judy Blume's "Forever" inbetween) I skipped onto Maeve Binchy at the grand old age of 12 - they were more titillating.

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