The Wakefields end racism, or #94 Are We in Love?

I should be careful what I wish for: I’ve complained that SVH does not even touch on issues of race in its WASPY world, and then we get one that touches on it directly and…I wish they just hadn’t even tried.

Some quick backstory: Cheryl Thomas’s Dad and Annie’s Whitman’s mom are getting married, and they just bought the house next to the Wakefields (also, their parents are living together BEFORE THEY ARE MARRIED!!! Oh my. And least someone’s having premarital sex in SV.) Cheryl and her dad moved from New York City. Oh, and also, she’s black. Because you may not infer this from the plot. She has recently become friends with Steven, who still insists on hanging out with high school kids.

Everyone acts overly friendly with Cheryl, I guess to assuage their guilt about their white privilege. And to prove that they are okay with black people. Also to say that some of their best friends are black, I guess. Steven is teaching Cheryl to drive, and one afternoon after a lesson they stop at a cafe and everyone is staring at them and some skinhead guys are giving them dirty looks. It’s pretty awful. They are both so upset that after they leave they take comfort in each other and make out. It was actually pretty horrifying, and it proves to me that SV is about as liberal as 1954 Alabama.

The next morning, both are kind of regretting making out, they are not sure if they really like each other or were in an emotional state. Meanwhile, rumors are all over everywhere that Steven and Cheryl are a couple. Like all the kids at SVH really give a shit about Steven, who doesn’t even go there. Wait, he’s a Wakefield, so every bowel movement is big news. Both Cheryl and Steven both know they are really not into each other, but keep going out to prove a point, and I think Steven feels guilty that he is thinking about Cheryl’s race and wants to convince himself it doesn’t matter to him. It makes him sound shitty, but for real it is actually nice to see an SVH character have an internal dialogue that is actually intriguing and realistic.

So, for the next 70 pages or so, Cheryl and Steven hang out and each want to tell each other they aren’t that into each other but are too afraid to do so or are conveniently interrupted. It goes on forever and it is ridiculous.

Steven doesn’t want to be alone with Cheryl so invites her out to the Beach Disco with his college friends (wait, he has college friends?) and she hits it off with some guy Martin Bell, who is also black. Cheryl plays it off like, I just happen to like him and he also happens to be black. Again, to me, this is totally skirting the issue. I really would have appreciated it more if Cheryl was thinking, “wow, I am a person of color in this incredibly white, ignorant and privileged place, and it is really nice to be with someone who can really understand where I am coming from.” But noooo, it has to totally ignore the issues that she is going through.

So Cheryl and Steven stay together to fight for the cause of interracial couples, as if they were the first ones in Sweet Valley. Hold up- are they really the first? What about Jade Wu and that David guy? Don’t Sandra and Manuel have a West Side Story thing going? So they are really viewing race as a black and white thing here. Argh.

Of course, our friendly residents are not as supportive as the perfect, liberal, and accepting Wakefields. Lila is kind of shitty about the whole thing, More that she is cynical about the whole thing and doesn’t think anyone will ever accept them, so why try? Oh Li, you are making it hard for me to like you. Bruce, surprise, is even worse. He runs into the twins at the mall getting supplies for the cake they are baking for the wedding and is all, “these black and white liaisons are quite the thing these days” and Cheryl and Steven are “making spectacles of themselves” and finally, “make sure the cake is half-chocolate”. Real cute, Bruce.

Finally, Cheryl talks to Mrs. Whitman and tells her she’s proud that she is marrying her father to fight a cause. Mrs. Whitman is all, wtf, that is not why I am getting married. Cheryl finally gets the balls to break up with Steven. And how does she do it? By the toast she gives her parents. She directs it at Steven. Because it’s always about a Wakefield, and no one else. Finally it ends with Cheryl setting up a date with Martin. Who, by the way, likes jazz music. Stereotype much?

I do like Cheryl, because she calls Jessica out on her shit. Jessica is being overly friendly to her, and Cheryl tells Steven it’s because Jessica is trying to prove that she is “okay” with them and not because she is sincere. See, I told you Cheryl was likeable!

Oh yea, secondary storyline: the twins bake the cake for the wedding after some mishaps. Jessica’s samples taste like ass and they make fun of her a lot. Last time someone made fun of Jessica’s cooking, she threw a shit fit and almost ran away to San Fran. Also, Sam, Tod, Liz and Jess hang around together a lot. I thought Todd hated Jess…and I couldn’t help thinking that Sam, you’re days are numbered (the next book is the infamous Jungle Prom.)

Som brief mentions of ugly outfits for the wedding: “Elizabeth had borrowed an outfit from Enid [bleccchhhh]- a pale yellow silk dress, and in her hair she wore a lace bow [she is dressed as me for my second grade school pictures]. Jessica, however, had splurged on a peacok-blue minidress with big black buttons all down the front.” Yarf.

Ugh, that just ended too easily! Suddenly Cheryl’s life is perfect, everyone accepts, blah blah blah. Also, this is infuriating: Cheryl decides how lucky she is to live in Sweet Valley because it is just so beautiful. Yes, I am SURE Cheryl wouldn’t rather have stayed in New York City, where there are actually more interesting people and she is not the only person of color and everyone is always gossiping about her business.

Well, it is good to see Annie’s mom settle down. Back in #10, we were given the impression she was a bit of a drunk and a tramp. Apparently she met Cheryl’s dad on assignment when she was doing a modeling shoot. The models per capita in Sweet Valley is pretty high, doncha think?

Argh! So frustrating! On the one hand, some ghostwriter tries to address issues of race, but then just when they touch on something that could be somewhat deep, it barely discusses the issues realistically. And everything ends well at the end of the book!!! It’s almost like it would have been better not to happen!!!

And how can I leave without making a comment on the cover? Cheryl looks 38. Steven ACTUALLY looks like a sixteen year old boy, although he is actually older. He looks dorkier than he did in earlier books. The whole Sears Portrait covers really bug me. Who are they posing for?

Grade: C

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24 thoughts on “The Wakefields end racism, or #94 Are We in Love?

  1. “Oh, and also, she’s black. Because you may not infer this from the plot.”

    BWAH! Once again your snark hits the target dead on, ihatewheat. :)

    “Cheryl…calls Jessica out on her shit.”

    Finally! Someone who doesn’t enable Miss Head Bitch and support her sociopathic schemes. How refreshing! Of course that means we’ll never see Cheryl’s character again, right?

    “Cheryl decides how lucky she is to live in Sweet Valley because it is just so beautiful.”

    Huh. I always suspected the SV municipal water supply was spiked with some kind of lead-based contaminant or experimental mind control drug (probably the latter). Seriously, it seems like everyone who moves to this f’in town turns into an illogical wacko overnight, waaay too fast for toxic waste poisoning to occur. Besides wealthy whiter-than-white WASPs don’t tend to live near toxic waste sites, do they. Perhaps SV is located closer to Bakersfield than I thought? ;)

  2. “Half-chocolate”? Christ.” — CMD

    At least the sh*thead didn’t suggest marble cake.

    And thanks for the link, CMD — priceless!

  3. “Sweet Valley=Stepford. Just saying.”

    Oh.My.Gawd. CMD, I think you’ve nailed it! I hadn’t even considered the Stepford angle, but yes, it makes total sense. [shudder]

    It’s so simple, how could I not see it? Each newcomer is discreetly replaced by a perfect robotic counterpart shortly after arriving in SV, hence the 180 degree change in personality. The whole g.d. place exudes a gated community entitlement reek, everyone’s model pretty, and uber-white. Plus there’s, like, a billion inane social events to show how hunky-dory life is and how so-very-happy all the denizens are. (Fourth of July barbecue scene, anyone?)

    But given SV’s rampant miscegenation, wouldn’t Cheryl’s “replacement” be white? Then again, maybe The Board thought it would be too obvious if her pals from NYC ever showed up? Imagine what a crazy storyline that would be. Her friends would come for a visit and be all “Day-um, Cheryl, you’ve really changed since moving to the West Coast. Wassup with that, girl?” ;)

    Hee! Glad you liked the marble cake reference, CMD. I’m part Irish too, but I love my sweets with a vengeance. No perfect size 6 for me! :)

  4. Funny, I’ve never read this one, and I wish I had. It always bothered me growing up that there was never anybody black in Sweet Valley High. And even in the Twins & Unicorns series, the token had to relocate from Jamaica. On the other hand, this does seem like one of the crappiest books ever written.

    I do love it when people call Jess out on her BS. And as for Bruce, I guess the Patmans whitewashed over that little part about James and Hope, huh? I have say, the “half-chocolate” comment was REALLY lame.

    @Amber Tan: Your marble cake one was brill, though. I’m just really glad I wasn’t drinking anything at the time.

  5. Holy shit!
    i’ve vaguely remember this one but wow! you hardly ever saw white men with black women sporting afros back then. Hell, you barely see it today in books or movies.

    Even the racist remarks are lame.

    There was so much potential to teach. Waste waste.

  6. Bruce and Lila’s reactions are hysterical…I always imagined them to be stuffy conservative young Republicans, but Bruce’s comment goes way beyond that. It is like 1954 Alabama. Sheesh!

  7. I think Lila’s reaction would have been really out of character – surely she wouldn’t mind what colour someone was as long as they’re rich enough…?

    Also, I’ve never read this one so help me out here – why are people in Sweet Valley making a bigger deal out of who a Wakefield is dating (as a Wakefield his shit smells of roses and he can do no wrong) than the fact that the school tramp’s mother is living with a black man? Isn’t their cliched racist fervour a little mis-directed?

    Steven feels guilty that he is thinking about Cheryl’s race and wants to convince himself it doesn’t matter to him.

    I think he feels guilty for dating someone who DOESN’T remind him of Tricia Martin. Tool.

    Finally, I’m calling BS on Cheryl ever loving Sweet Valley. I grew up in a town just like it and when my cousins visited from NYC they hated every moment of it.

  8. There actually is another book before this one that deals with race issues. #69, “Friend Against Friend.” Pretty intense stuff. But this was the first one that appears to deal with a black/white romantic relationship.

  9. “I’m just really glad I wasn’t drinking anything at the time.”

    Me too, Melody_Grey, or I’d owe you a new monitor! ;)

    “…why are people in Sweet Valley making a bigger deal out of who a Wakefield is dating (as a Wakefield his shit smells of roses and he can do no wrong) than the fact that the school tramp’s mother is living with a black man? Isn’t their cliched racist fervour a little mis-directed?”

    Agreed, Winnie — this disconnect struck me as weird too until I remembered that the “good citizens” of SV are illogical douchebags. They probably have their collective panties in a twist because their warped world view is being threatened.

    I mean, heaven forfend that a Wakefield (better known as “F’in Pillar of the Community”) should deign to date a cool, smart black chick like Cheryl. Their lame little society might collapse because St. Steven openly defied the townspeople’s pointy-headed expectations, thereby rendering him imperfect and their (shallow) lives (even more) meaningless. O noooooes!

    On the other hand, it’s a total given that Mere Whitman would hook up with a black dude ’cause she’s soooo NOCD as per Lila’s take on the situation. (IME the noveau riche are always snobbier than Old Money ’cause they’re insecure.) As a borderline alcoholic “prostitute-turned-model”, Mere Whitman is d#mn lucky the “morally upright” SV citizens even allow her and Annie to reside in their pristine town. Of course WHY the Whitmans would still want to live in SV after being treated lower than dog doo requires my already suspended disbelief to start levitating of its own accord. ;)

    BTW, how many occupations exist in SV? “Model”obvs is #1. The only ones I can remember offhand are: architect, educator (administrator/ teacher), healthcare professional (doctor/ nurse), interior designer, legal professional (lawyer/ judge), maintenance engineer/ janitor, newspaper editor, and photographer. Oh, and “independently wealthy” natch! ;)

    And St. Steven really does look like the Tool of All Tools in that dumb*ss cover picture. I kind of like Cheryl’s earring though.

  10. Amber-

    A couple other SVH occupations:

    I believe that nouveau riche George Fowler is a “computer magnate”.

    And Dyan Sutton is an anchor on the SV news, right?

    And of course Jamie Peters is a rock star…and I believe that Mrs Davidson works in a department store (though her husband is an architect, of course).

  11. Whoa, a non-blonde Wakefield!?!

    Guess I never paid much attention to what Steven looked like in the books, but at first glance I thought it might have been Bruce. What a stir that would have caused!

  12. I would really like to meet these SVH ghosties. I’m curious as to whether or not this one is written by a black person. Also, I’m curious as to how many ghosties there were and which books each one wrote. If I look at the books I enjoyed the most, could it be possible that the short list of acceptable ones were written by the same two or three people? And the people who wrote this shit, did they actually believe a person had to be blonde, blue-eyed and thin in order to be accepted? Were the ghostwriters brainwashed as well? What did they look like? Were they blonde haired and blue-eyed? Were they old or young? Were they happy in their own lives? Why were they completely unable to express a different or radical opinion in these books????????

  13. Love it. Great post.

    I was a massive SVH fan when I was in my teens and still have a soft spot for them. My mother remarried, and so I mostly grew up in an interracial marriage – I remember reading this particular book, and my mother idly picking it up one day and flicking through it. Being a totally self absorbed teenager, I never wondered what she thought about the interracial topic…

    And Bruce, well, he was a total goober from day 1.

  14. Coming from Philly and being born in 84 and coming from a very multicultural family (both parents biracial), I can honestly say that that the attitudes in SV were no different really anywhere else, it’s just that in cities you could be more covert with your fuckery.

    I hated this book (even though I love SVH even if I know now that it’s craptastic) only because why couldn’t Steven and Cheryl actually like each other. Would have been so bad if ultra white Steven liked and ultra black girl? I mean damn. The whole, let’s stay together for the cause kind of made me mad. And I didn’t even believe in IR dating for myself (yes, I know, but I had my reasons at 10!)

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