Lila clutches her pearls, literally.

Cover courtesy of The Closet

Truthfully, I’ve been avoiding writing about this one. I am unsure if the purpose of having a sexual assault storyline is to:

(a) bring awareness to the issue

(b) use it to make an interesting storyline

(c) a cautionary tale for teenage girls

For any of these, it still is pretty damn frustrating. Not much else to do but give you the deets:

Lila and John Pfeiffer, sports reporter, are starting to hang out. Lila is into John because he is really interesting and genuine, not like the rich dolts she usually dates. Also, he actually listens to her and cares what she has to say. So, since it is actual a somewhat interesting and actual less shallow relationmship, it has to be too good to be true.

They finally go out on a date, Lila wears a black spandex dress, and they go to Miller’s point. They start making out, and Lila enjoys it, but then he gets aggressive, and then…well, you can guess, it’s pretty scary. John tells her “you know you want it” and even unbuckles his belt. Which is ironically the most specific reference to someone’s actual anatomy in any book.

Lila manages to get away and is (obvi) very upset. She shuts herself in, and…gasp!…doesn’t care about her looks or makeup. Of course, Mr. Fowler is out of town. Many of Lila’s friends get annoyed by her sulking and depression. Really, she’s being such a buzzkill. Surprisingly, Lila completely rebuffs her housekeeper, Eva’s offers of support. It is pretty sad that Eva is the only parent-like figure that Lila has, and she doesn’t seem to realize it.

John suddenly turns from an interesting guy to an aggressive sociopath. He taunts Lila in the hall and threatens her if she tells anyone. Meanwhile, Lila has another one of her famous parties and John has the audacity to show up, and after he taunts Lila more she breaks down and yells at him for what happened. It’s all over school and the students are divided between believing Lila and believing she made it up. I think Caroline Pierce had an aneurysm when she heard this gossip.

Here’s the other surprising thing: Jessica seems to be the only one who cares that Lila is acting different. She claims it is because she misses having someone to go shopping with, but at least she gives Lila some tough love and is pretty assertive in supporting her and getting her help. It is maybe the one time where I don’t totally hate Jessica. I know, right?

Elizabeth, despite being the savior of the needy, is doubtful of Lila. The fuck? Suddenly she is not going to feel empathy for Lila because she thinks Lila is a snob and god forbid anyone special enough to work at The Oracle should dare do something like that? Or maybe she is just mad the attention is on someone she isn’t able to help.

Another student, Susan Wyler,  emerges from the character bermuda triangle, and admits to Lila that she went out with John and the same thing happened. (I feel like this is similar to an episode of 90210. Or something.) They both confront John in the Dairi Burger, stating that he needs help. Suddenly John’s friends realize what happen and leaving him sitting all along, to ponder the error of his ways. Lila suddenly feels a bit better, but isn’t totally cured by the end of the book, which is a bit more realistic. Although she does end up getting involved with the world’s most inappropriate therapist, but I’ll write about that later.

In the completely ridiculous subplot, Sam and Jessica are going through…the opposite of sexual assault, I think? As in, they can’t keep their hands off each other and they are afraid that they will let things go to far. Just get over it and wear a condom. What’s the big deal? They both seem to want it badly, and the only reason they find they want to stop is because of some uptight morals and not because of their own choice. So they both decide to engage in activities that won’t allow them to have too much physical contact, and hilarity ensues. And then they resolve it by just agreeing to trust each other.

Why was the sexual assault plotline juxtaposed with the ridiculous subplot? Anyone who has taken Intro to Women’s Studies knows that sexual assault is not about sex specifically. Was that trying to lighten the tone?

Ok, now I shall step onto my soapbox. John seemed to be angry because he broke up with Jennifer Mitchell, who was being distant and wishy-washy with him. It got him annoyed and of the “you girls are all alike, you seem to want one thing, and then say another! No means yes!” mentality. So really, it’s not John’s fault that he tried to assault Lila? It’s because his girlfriend dumped him? THE FUCK??!?##

It seems that these teen stories of sexual assault seem to follow the same pattern: Girl likes guy, they go out, guy attacks, girl sinks into deep depression and blames herself, guy manipulates situation and terrorizes girl, only with the assistance of a savior helping them, confronts boy and shall overcome. Sure, it may help in giving some PSA about assault, but it doesn’t always happen this way. There are a HUGE array of emotions that happen after an assault, and all of them are valid. Some girls may not get upset, they may channel it in other ways or report it right away. Some girls often stay in a relationship with the guy. I just don’t remember seeing any deviation from the standard plot. And the “I Spit On Your Grave’s are few and far between. Even Thelma and Louise was a unique take on it.

I didn’t read this one the first time around (probably because it didn’t include a party, a makeover or a Slam Book) so I am not sure what I would have got from it the first time. Never trust guys? Be careful who you date, they might rape you? If it happens, it will ruin your life? If it happens, there is hope? I’m not sure.

Despite my annoyance for the expected story arc involving sexual assault, this recalls one of my favorite made for tv-movies, When He’s Not A Stranger, starring the always lovely Annabeth Gish. The assault scene is actually very hard to watch, but it’s very compelling, and she does triumph in the end, with the help of the less significant Dillon brother. Also, in a very odd way, this made me excited to go to college. NOT because of the assault, but it portrayed college not as a wild party with crazy shenanigans, but as a serene place where a gal can just spend her time quietly studying and befriending a nice, non-macho guy in her science class. (Dammit, it’s not on Netflix).

On a completely different note, I must insist that everyone drop what they are doing immediately and read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the sequel, Catching Fire. It is an example of young adult fiction that is amazing and compelling, and appeals to adults as well. I read both books with a 72 hour period. As fellow book lovers I know you can relate to this experience; it was the kind of book that caused me to lay in bed awake and think about for hours. It haunted me as I went through my day. I loved the sci-fi element, the writing style, the premise, and the fact that the characters were set in a world where modern day standards of attractiveness and social norms did not exist. It had just enough of a love triangle to be enticing and not ridiculous and irritating.  I am counting the days until the third book is released in August. Grab a copy and clear your schedule.

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40 thoughts on “Lila clutches her pearls, literally.

  1. Mary Anne Bruno says:

    It’s probably because I’ve been obsessed with Twilight, but Lila kind of looks like a vampire in the cover. And John looks like an actor that I can’t seem to place.

    And not that this is any excuse for a guy EVER to assault a woman, but what kind of guys do Jessica and Lila expect to attract with their sexy outfits?
    Stupid SVH and their horrible messages to teen girls.

    • ihatewheat says:

      It seems that John was the one guy that wasn’t into her sexy outfit, but into her personality, so I guess Lila should never trust a guy who likes her for her? Damns is you do, damned if you don’t.

    • That Kind Of Girl says:

      I mean, a girl can wear whatever she wants, but it’s true: because Lila and Jessica obviously only value their bodies and their ability to hook guys, it does seem like they might be likely to be blind to or even flattered by aggressive slash borderline abusive behavior until things go pretty far. Sad. Sad.

    • Genevieve says:

      Also known as “Slut had it coming?” amirite?

      Yea, don’t perpetuate the idea that what a woman wears has any bearing on how she deserves to be treated. It’s insulting and demeaning to ALL women.

      • Magpie says:

        Well, I guess at least it builds up the dramatic tension – I read it thinking the attack would happen on Lila’s doorstep and then – OMG – it turned out that the scene of the crime was Miller’s Point! As compared with “Jessica Quits the Squad” (you’re right, a definite contender for the most awesome/lame title in the series), which literally is all about Jessica quitting the squad.

      • Miss Moppet says:

        I love the ‘does what it says on the tin’ titles. It’s the ‘tease’ titles which annoy me. Showdown, which doesn’t have a showdown. All Night Long, which doesn’t have any sex.

      • Magpie says:

        Yep, All Night Long was one I (needlessly) hid from my parents because I thought it would be scandalous! Even better is when they spoil the plot of the next book in their teasers: as in one of the SVU books, “Will Elizabeth and Todd live happily ever after? Find out in #28, Elizabeth’s Heartbreak”.

  2. bookslide says:

    I never read this one, but it always weirded me out that it was JOHN, a long-established character. I guess that makes more sense than creating someone new for the book, but…JOHN.

    Also, YES YES YES on the book recs. I read them recently and fell utterly in love. SO good.

  3. bookharlot says:

    Ugh, I don’t remember ever reading this one. I think I’m glad.

    Love the Hunger Games. You now must read The Knife of Never Letting Go and it’s sequel The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness. Totally insane and awesome. 3rd book is not out here yet, though.

  4. Whallie says:

    I think they kept him around because he comes back and tries to kill Lila in another book by burning her house down. And yes, her parents are far far away with no number to contact them. Leave it to Frannie to have a psycho path rapist/murderer at the age of 16 running around town trying to kill his ex because the previous ex ignored him. The story lesson is: When 16 year old boys don’t get laid they get psycho. WTFUCK?!?

  5. KT says:

    I was wondering if you were going to write about this one! It’s one of the few plots that I remember well, only because it scared the crap out of me.

    Also, does John look a little like Superman on the cover, or is it just me?

  6. BartTempleton says:

    Thanks for treating the issue with nuance, IHW. It’s rare for Fran and the gang to tackle a genuinely relevant “issue” (dah, dah, dum) as opposed to overhyped or outright fabricated ones like teen gambling and sociopaths that try to steal your face.

    I remember I liked this one and re-read it several times. Pardon my attempts to wring substance out of these characters, but I always felt that it brought to the fore the personality traits of Jessica and Lila that the other books only gave us glimmers of. I have always championed Lila because I felt she was not the typical “mean girl” but actually an appealingly vulnerable character whose insecurities and longings stemmed from her literal Daddy issues. Let’s be real; her father is the worst parent ever.

    And I’ve never been one for the Jessica-is-an-irredeemably-evil-narcissist school of thought. Yes, she’s narcissistic and does wacked-out mean-spirited things that Fran and the ghostwriters just wink at and never punish her for (we demand punishment in our morality plays, dammit!). But, I also like that when the chips are down, she is resourceful and no-nonsense in a way that the so-called “practical twin” never could be. Jess demonstrates that in the scene in this book when she bustles about ordering Lila out of bed, opening the curtains to literally force her depressed friend into the sunlight.

    Oh but the abstinence subplot in this one was truly ridiculous. The ONLY time that sex as an act is alluded to other than vague “she runs with a fast crowd” gossip in other books, and it’s an abstinence storyline. Go figure. But I remember liking Sam’s characterization in this books; he was likeable even as he cooked up Medieval sex-avoidance rituals like gender segregation when riding in cars.

    P.S. great new look for the site!

    • Whallie says:

      Well said, Bart. Lila has always been my favorite. Not because she was wealthy and had a clueless (movie) lifestyle, but because there are a number of SVH books that depict her as a caring and sensitive young woman. All of that other stuff like her snob-like attitude is an obvious reaction to a life where she has a hard working daddy but he’s never around. And a maid Eva that’s not really a mother type.

      Yet, I still do not understand why 16 year olds get so damn dressed up to go to Miller’s Point. John’s outfit makes him look like he’s 30. Lila’s can pass for a 16 year old’s, minus the pearl necklace, unless of course it’s a Chanel original.

  7. Neek1981 says:

    I don’t know what happened to my previous post, so I’ll say it again:

    “What happens when ‘no’ isn’t enough?” Uhm, you kick him in the balls, duh!

    Seriously, did they ever report what John did? This one sounds awful.

    This reminds me of that SVU book where Jess is attacked by a date rapist and all anyone can talk about is the fact that she was wearing a sexy bustier at the time. Anyone remember that one? I think it was called No Means No.

  8. Jen S says:

    Another webpage redesign! You’re the type who rearranges their furniture a lot, aren’t you, IHW? 😉

    I didn’t read this one until I was an adult, and while a lot of things bothered me about it, for once it wasn’t the fact that a real problem was squashed through the SVH machine and rendered unrecognizable. Lila’s torture of herself afterwards–did she dress too sexy? Lead him on because she was enjoying making out?–are sadly all too typical reactions to a sexual assault (NOT the only reactions, but definitely common.) And yes, while John, being a regular, was “shocking” in his apparent rage against women, that’s pretty typical too.

    But as you pointed out, what teenager has a sociopathy so advanced that when his girlfreind breaks up with him, he not only trys to rape at least two women, but ATTEMPTS MURDER THROUGH ARSON? I mean, really! It’s like the ghostwriters suddenly realized they were getting too good and creating characters that were too realistic, so they quickly rummaged around in their “nutsos who steal your face and become werewolves” bin, pulled out a Crazy Suit, and forced John into it.

    And yes, it’s frustrating that the only way to be a “good” sexual being is abstinence. I mean, it’s good that Jessica and her gentleman freind are presented as actually thinking of consequences, for once, but why not use a condom and enjoy yourselves? Neither are shown as having very strong religous or family beliefs, so where does this “morality” spring from?

  9. Magpie says:

    Good recap. I feel that their approach to this was surprisingly much more sensitive than how they dealt with, say, anorexia or racism. I think they screwed up by turning John into a total maniac in the later books, however, thereby undoing any semblance of realism and social relevance. (In case anyone doesn’t know, they brought him back in the “Firestorm” mini-series as a pyromaniac trying to kill Lila with a firebomb.) It would have been better if they hadn’t gone down the “people rape because they are psychotic” route.

    And thanks for the reading recommendations – it’s always good to hear about YA fiction that isn’t just rich kids being totally bitchy to each other!

  10. Becca says:

    I never read this one, but I’m really surprised that Liz wasn’t going crazy trying to help Lila out. Also, how was Lila’s therapist inappropriate? I can only imagine.

    • I hate meat. says:

      I think the first book of the Evil Twin mini-series is the next or second next book after this one, and it features Lila and her therapist becoming romantically involved. As a future therapist myself, NOT a good idea!
      BTW IHW, welcome back! I was about to send an APB out for you! 🙂

  11. IWantYourSass says:

    Glad you liked The Hunger Games, it (and the sequel) were two of my fave ya books last year.

    Have you tried The Uglies trilogy? I think I might like it just as much (if not a little bit more) than Hunger Games. Yay for dystopian teen fiction!

  12. Vanessa Saxton says:

    I loved this one. It’s one of my favorite SVH books ever written. I liked it because I actually thought it was good. I thought it tackled the issue as best SV could have. I thought it was well written and realistic. Lila is shown as very vulnerable and Jessica is shown as someone with a soul. A+ in my book.

  13. HeckYeah HeckNo says:

    I never realized how bad this series was until now! I need to reread these so I can laugh at the horror. I remember absolutely LOVING those Margo/Evil Twin books without thinking about how ridiculous they are. And Liz & Jess sound like real jerks!

  14. Becca says:

    I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned it, but as you say, Lila isn’t totally “cured” by the end of this one. In fact, a later books talks about her father’s shock at seeing his daughter when he comes to take her shopping or to lunch or something. She’s wearing sweats, no makeup, hair not done, and it’s like he’s seeing his daughter for the first time. He has no idea what’s happened to her, no idea that she’s in therapy with Creepy Therapist Man, no idea whatsoever who his daughter is. It was, dare I say, poignant, and a very real moment for a very unreal character.

    • I hate meat. says:

      Exactly! And Lila’s father’s shock at seeing a disheveled daughter is what gets the ball rolling for him to contact his ex-wife, Lila’s mother; he figures bringing Le Mama back into her life will cure the funk she’s in once and for all. Funny, some fathers send their children to therapy, others will dig up long lost parents from Paris. Ya gotta go with what works.
      Which, BTW, is a whole other plotline altogether.

  15. Donna says:

    Well said Becca. I also remember being in quiet awe of Jess and what a good friend she was to Lila during this time…it was totally out of character for her but it was to nice to see she had hidden depths, even if it was fleeting.

  16. MaisieD says:

    I was cataloging my Sweet Valley collection…I do believe Sweet Valley High students have had the unfortunate luck to have every single horrible horrifying and perhaps unrealistic occurrence happen to them (Liz has been kidnapped, been in a plane crash, a boat accident…among other things). Then there are books like this, yes, SV as a series, is often ridiculous, but in this story we see a different side of Lila and Jessica, sides that show a horrible situation and the healing that comes after.

    Last weekend I read Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, and the following two books in the trilogy—AMAZING! The moon is hit by a meteor, which pushes it off-center. The Earth is impacted, their are severe storms, volcano eruptions, and the sun is blocked completely. People now have to figure out how to live.

  17. Carolina says:

    The plot for this is so much like the SVU “Take Back the Night” plot that it’s insane

    although I have to give kudos to that one for getting me involved in my college’s women’s outreach center

  18. Merrie says:

    I picked up The Hunger Games this weekend at the library. I finished it within hours and am on the waiting list for the second one. So good!!!

  19. winstonegbert says:

    This would not be a fun one to tackle but you did it justice. And thanks for the plug penny. Miss Moppet – I agree, totally the best title ever. My dad [also a John] cracked up when he saw it in my bookcase

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