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

Women’s Lib! or #76, Miss Teen Sweet Valley

Only in Sweet Valley: the Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a Miss Teen Sweet Valley contest and holding it in the SVH auditorium. They are doing this as a fundraiser. How this will make them money I don’t know. I guess they are expecting all the pervs out there to buy tickets. And also, why the fuck is this allowed in the school? Am I surprised by it?

Liz and her fucking matching barettes.

Jessica is ecstatic of course, and is sure she will win. In fact, she waits a bit to sign up because she doesn’t want to make the other contestants scared.

It was hard to keep her intention of entering , and winning, to herself. But it was better to wait and see who else was signing up in order to evaluate her competition. If the other candidates knew Jessica was entering, they were bound to get discouraged and withdraw. In either case, the pageant would be canceled or Jessica would win simply because she was the only person in the contest.

How do the ghostwriters sleep at night?

Elizabeth, on the other hand, suddenly grows a spine and goes on a campaign to get it canceled, because she feels it is demeaning to women. She writes a long article in The Oracle. The Sweet Valley News reads it and wants to print it. Seriously, because the ONLY news worth printing in Sweet Valley has to do with the Wakefield twins. Plus, the local news LOVES the story and has the twins on tv to debate the issue. Please let that be a shitty local access channel, and not the nightly news.

Jessica really really wants to win. Why? So her brother’s college friend will notice her. And she’s an egomanical sociopath. Wow, great reasons. The guy, Frazer, actually ignores jess and doesn’t seem interested. Wh-wh-wh-what? How is it biologically possible that a guy ignores Jessica?

Meanwhile, Jess is taking modern dance lessons to work on her talent portion. Her teacheris very short with her and keeps giving her a hard time. That’s impossible! Jessica is amazing at everything she does! How dare someone day otherwise! Oh, actually, he’s hard on her because HE’S NEVER SEEN TALENT LIKE HERS…EVER. And it’s his duty to encourage such talent. Again, stop. validating. Jessica.

Liz finds a loophole in which she can get the pageant cancelled, but all for her love of Jess she lets it go on. Any person wishing to have an event in the school auditorium needs permision from the superintendent, who has been out of town “visiting the Soviet Uniton meeing with Soviet educators.” The fuck? He’s a superintendent of schools, not a spy for the CIA.

So Jessica fucks up during the dance portion, and is all ashamed and doesn’t want to go. In order to help her, Liz enters the swimsuit part posing as Jessica, because doncha know that she has a perfect size-six, tanned body.

So, Jessica finally wins. And she starts to think…I screwed up the dance portion…did I really win just because I’m pretty? Of course because she is about to have a profound thought about the superficiality of it all, it is forgotten of course. Through rumors she heard that the prize was 10,000 bucks and a shopping spree, but it turns out the prizes are reallya haircut at the new styling salon in the mall, a month’s free bowling at Al’s Alley, a set of encyclopedias (omg remember those?) a twenty-five dollar gift certificate for Things for Girls, ten free movie rentals at Quick-dash. Bwahahaha.

Ok, but then…this is infuriating. Frazer then shows up and is like, I’ve liked you this whole time but was afraid to ask you out. WHAT? It’s like even when Jessica doesn’t get what she wants it’s like it’s because she is so awesome that it will always work out in the end anyway.

Other thoughts:

One of the other contestants is deaf (not Regina, she’s dead) and Jessica was all, oh it’s okay because her hearing aids were hidden behind her hair.