Stepsisters: A Dramatic Reading

Cover courtesy of The Closet

MRS. WHITMAN: Annie, I’m back from another modeling gig in New York! Nevermind a boozy, single mother in a small town in California works as a model in New York, but I have some wonderful news!

ANNIE: You’ve found me a new Daddy? Because being from a single-parent household caused me to become a slutty suicidal basket case.

MS. WHITMAN: That’s right! He’s a famous fashion photographer!

ANNIE: YAY! How sophisticated!

MS. WHITMAN: But there’s just one thing…..he and his daughter are…black.

ANNIE: OH NO! WHAT WILL EVERYONE SAY?

MS. WHITMAN: Don’t worry kitten. They are totally and intentionally not at all stereotypical! They live on the Upper West Side! Cheryl loves opera! Everyone will love them! Plus, I just bought a house next to the Wakefields! What can be more perfect than living next to that wonderful family?

ANNIE: Probably not having a black stepsister. What will I tell everyone! Wow, this is going to be so hard for ME!

—–
ELIZABETH: Hi Cheryl! Welcome to Sweet Valley! I’m Liz, I write for the school newspaper, wear sensible skirts, and I am so welcoming and inclusive of all races.

JESSICA: Hi Cheryl, I’m Jessica, I am a cheerleader, I like headbands and lip gloss, and I am not even noticing that you are black! Wakefields are so open and welcoming of all races.

CHERYL: Hey, hi guys. Wow, people in Sweet Valley are so nice. Sweet Valley is the most beautiful place ever, even though I grew up in New York City. I’m not at all bitter for my father dragging me out of NY to live in a small, all-white town. I look forward to getting to know more kids.

—-

CHERYL! OMG! I have to throw a party for Cheryl. Let me invite all our token students of colors Cheryl will feel better. Let’s pull Manuel Lopez and Jade Wu out of hiding. And, thank god Patty Gilbert was recently introduced in a previous book. And maybe some others that were never mentioned before.

ELIZABETH: Steven! You’ll be home that weekend! Why don’t you invite some college friends!

STEVEN: Good idea, I need to make some first. Plus, I’ll put an ad on the dorm bulletin board advertising for a black friend.

ANNIE: PERFECT! I am so glad we are neighbors. Nevermind that Jessica drove me to a suicide attempt once.

(At the party)

CHERYL: Why are there so many students of color here, Annie? And why do most of them say they don’t know you?

ANNIE: I, well, I just thought…it would make you feel more comfortable…I’m sorry…WAAAAHHHHHHHH (goes crying out of the room)

ELIZABETH: Oh Cheryl, you should not be so mad at Annie. I mean, this has been really hard for HER. She didn’t know how to make you comfortable, and was worried that other kids would be mean to you. Your move has been really stressful on HER. Come on, everyone, let’s go comfort Annie. Oh, but by the way, I am tolerant of all races. (They all leave)

CHERYL: Really? Really? Dad wanting a piece of ass from that model, and I have to live in crazy WASP town?

[At the football game]

STEVEN: So Cheryl, how are you liking your first football game??

CHERYL: I thought I’d miss New York City, but this is way better than all the museums, shows, culture, and shopping combined! I see why you all like it here! It’s the best place ever! It looks like things are going to be ok. Sweet Valley really seems to have a handle on this racism thing.

STEVEN: Well, get used to it, soon your days will be filled with football games, picnics at Secca Lake, and food binges at the Dairi Burger. And if your lucky, you may even be struck by a rare disease or attacked by a sociopath.

CHERYL: Gee, I hope so! Except that…I can’t drive!

STEVEN: What? You can’t drive? Let me withdraw from my college classes this semester so I can hang around here and teach you to drive.

CHERYL: Great! Our driving lessons will be a metaphor for the struggles we will have as Sweet Valley’s most famous interracial couple.

ANNIE: Cheryl, I’m really sorry. I just wanted to make things welcoming for you here. You don’t know how stressful you being black has been for ME.

CHERYL: That’s okay. I’m sorry I am black and this was stressful for you. Will you ever forgive me?

ANNIE: Sure. To show how much our friendship means to you, let’s go get our picture taken. I’ll wear stripes, you’ll wear polka-dots, and we’ll make ourselves look like a mid-40s lesbian couple.

CHERYL: It’s a deal! Then I’ll take you out for a double-scoop Sundae at Casey’s!

ANNIE: I hope it’s a vanilla AND chocolate sundae! Get it?

CHERYL: I think I do! It’s going to be all right after all.

A note: welcome to all new readers! I’m flattered that you all have been checking out the site. While you are at it, become a fan on facebook.

White Teen’s Burden

I take back everything I’ve ever said about others being the worst SVH ever. This one is beyond infuriatingly awful. Let me also say right up front the the strong upchuck reaction I had from this book are from my own personal thoughts on racism. So I’m totally using “I” statements here. I can imagine many will disagree, but let’s me respectful, eh? I’m taking about with each other. Feel free to belittle, insult, and rip all the characters to shreds. Photobucket The really really sad thing here is that some ghostwriter perhaps really thought they were doing a good thing. That in one book, they would nip the moral problem of racism in the bud. Some editor probably told Francine that she needed to address the race issue again, she argued that she already had an interracial romance and a Mexican Festivals, and some compromise was reached where they would release a book that would solve racism.

Some of you may say “but at least it was addressed, and may have got some people who read this thinking about it”. I argue that this makes it worse. This book includes some of my major pet peeves about how white people deal with racism. Look, as a white person, I am FAR from perfect in this arena. I do not claim to have the answers, but I know what this book shows ain’t the answers either.”But they are only teenagers!” you night say. Yea, well, for teenagers that solve crimes, and generally in other instances act like they think they’re 30, I’d expect more. And if the author(s) were seriously really trying to send a message about overcoming racism, they did a piss poor job.

Enough of my soap box (sorry I got all Liz on you) let’s get into it.

Pet Peeve #1: White people think that racism doesn’t exist if they don’t directly seeing it play out in their own lives.

We know trouble is brewing because Liz decides to do a survey for the Oracle on what people would change about Sweet Valley High….Liz is all stoked to write about how people would prefer  “more soft drink machines in the cafeteria and shorter classes”  but is all taken aback that some people at SVH think the school has issues. Liz gets all pissy when Penny suggests that the school get rid of Pi Beta Alpha. I hope that Lois Walker knows about this survey and that she goes to town with it. Also, shut up Liz.

Pet Peeve #2 White people pat themselves on the back when they have a friend of a different race.

Neil Fremount (who used to dry hump Jessica at the drive-in, and is now dating Penny Ayala) has a bff Andy Jenkins. Andy is really good at science, and is just like a regular guy! Neil loves talking to him! And it doesn’t even bother him that Andy is black! isn’t Neil so progressive? He has a black friend! He can’t be racist! And, Andy is just a “regular” guy, and is just like all the other white people!

Meanwhile, Neil’s dad works for Andy Jenkins’ Dad at some power plant or something. Mr. Freemount insinuates that Mr. Jenkins got the job because he’s black. Mr. F also works with Mr. Cashman, who is lucky enough to have that outstanding Charlie Cashman as a son. Mr. C is totally spouting off to everyone, and Charlie also gets these ideas from his dad and decides to give Andy a hard time because their dads are having a work feud.

Pet Peeve #3 White people get annoyed when people of color won’t accept their help.

Neil is pissed that Charlie’s crowd is giving Andy a hard time, and what makes him even madder is that Andy doesn’t want to do anything about it. Andy’s locker gets defaced and his tires slashed and wants to just ignore it.

“Listen,” Neil began hesitantly. “Try not to let it get yo you.” He groped for the right words but couldn’t find them. “Think-think of how Martin Luther King Jr would react to a situation like this.”

Yes, yes, Andy does give him shit for saying that, and explains how when something like this has happened before, a teacher told Andy just to ignore it. Neil, however, is pissed that Andy is pissed at him for trying to help. This makes Neil so pissed off!  He is trying to help out his black friend, don’t you see? He’s such a good guy! And Andy is making it so hard for him to be the progressive white guy! And it is just so hard for him! And we have to hear how hard it is for him for several chapters! You know who’s perspective I’d like to hear on this? Andy’s. But he is really just a contrived plot device so the school can learn about racism. We don’t have opne single chapter or paragraph told from Andy’s point of view. He’s not a character, he’s a plot device.

One day in the parking lot of the movie theater, Charlie and his gang  jump Andy and beat the crap out of him. Neil comes out and tries to stop them, but Charlie offers to let Neil have a swing at Andy. Neil looks at him and suddenly realizes how AWFUL Andy has been to him, and how Andy won’t take his sage white advice all the time, and decides he needs to take his advice out on Andy, and TAKES A SWING. Neil is all shocked at himself and calls the police after Charlie and his gang flee the scene.

So now Neil is the big hero, and the halls of SVH are buzzing because the school just had their first hate crime! Yay! Where’s the cheerleaders and the band? maybe Winston can do some stand-up to commemorate the occasion. Neil goes on for a while and lets people think he saved Andy, but is ALL TORN UP INSIDE about his secret. Yea, because NEIL is the true victim here, folks. Finally he goes over to Andy’s to tell him what he did (apparently Andy was beaten unconscious and didn’t know it was Neil that hit him) and Andy apologizes to him for being distant to him and not taking his advice and Andy tells Neil that HE’S THE RACIST FOR NOT LISTENING TO HIS WHITE FRIEND. And Neil still doesn’t tell him about what he did. God, this is sooooo hard for NEIL!

The twins get their airtime by having a serious discussion about inequity and privilege.  Liz is all torn up because she keeps getting answers to her “what would you change about SVH” survey and not every answer coming back is “Nothing! SVH is perfect! Except that we should have more dances!” and tries to engage Jessica in a powerful dialogue about privilege and system of oppression in America.

“So in other words, people who are good-looking and rich get extra, is that what you’re saying?” Elizabeth demanded hotly. “I know it’s not fair” Jessica said. “But hey, I don’t make the rules.” Elizabeth stood up, threw the pillow on the bed, and began to pace. “Then I want to talk to the person who made the rules,” she said fiercely. “We need some new ones.”

Ah, Jess, our very own Social Darwinist. And watch out entire system and history of oppression, Liz Wakefield wants to talk to you.

Pet Peeve #4 White people claim to know what discrimination and hate is like because of (what they think) are similar instances. AND Pet Peeve #5 Teachers/facilitators use trite and insulting exercises to simulate discrimination (see also: making people walk around with a blindfold all day so they can understand the plight of blind people)

After Andy’s beating, Jessica does get a bit pissed about inequities. So she decides to START A PETITION! Yea, that will show ’em. Meanwhile, in her sociology class (they take sociology in high school? as if that’s the most messed up thing in this book) and Mr. Jacobi tries to teach them a lesson about discrimination by dividing them into Light-Eyes and Dark-Eyes. And the Dark-Eyes get to treat the Light-Eyes like crap and there is nothing they can do about it. Oooooo, burn! Jessica gets all upset.

This is what is feels like, she told herself. This is what is feels like to be discriminated against.

Wow! In a 30 minute period Jessica is transformed and feels the entire plight of people of color! Thanks trivial exercise.  I also want to mention that people are talking about discrimination, but Andy’s situation is beyond discrimination. He was flat-out almost KILLED.

Oh yea, so what’s going on with Andy? He’s back at school and up for a prestigious science award/scholarship. The school has an assembly for it, and everyone rushes to be the first into the auditorium to show their un-racism. When Andy accepts the award there is thunderous applause and a standing ovation. I think it is great to support him and he had been through a lot, but before the “incident” did anyone even know who he is or give a shit that he was good at science?

See Pet Peeve #2

Elizabeth falls all over herself and makes a big show of inviting Andy and his girlfriend over to sit with the gang at lunch.Because, you know, she likes black people! And she can’t be racist, because she hangs out with black students in the cafeteria! Except that she never talked to Andy before this incident!

Elizabeth felt a surge of warmth when she looked at her friends. They all wanted to reassure Andy that they liked him. And it wasn’t just because of his race. That would be reverse discrimination, which was just as bad. They all genuinely liked him because he was a likable guy, and he seemed to recognize their friendship for what it was.

Sure, Liz. Inviting someone to eat with you because you want to get to know them better is JUST AS BAD as beating them in the parking lot. Also, Liz stop patting yourself on the back for being so accepting.

Charlie Cashman and his gang taunt Andy as he is walking across the football field and Neil sees this and stands up for him. Andy thanks him but tells him it doesn’t mean they are even, and walks away. The only redeeming thing about this book is that Andy doesn’t automatically forgive him. But he does, however, walk off alone. So Andy still feels isolated and alone in in uber white Sweet Valley, loses his only friend, but Neil makes up with his girlfriend and gets his friends back SO ALL IS WELL!  He does some serious soul searching and groveling, and finally Penny forgives him, and things seem to be back on track for him. For NEIL.  Thank god. What about Andy? Oh, there wasn’t enough time on the book to do his epilogue because the pages were needed for the contrived lead-up to the next book.

Pet Peeve #5 when someone tries to shove resources down your throat.

This one applies to me! No, seriously, as you all know, I love pop culture, and one of the reasons I love it is because it reflects the dynamics of society. I find it interesting to dissect pop culture in terms of its depiction of the the non-white, non-hetero, non-rich, non-able-bodied. I wouldn’t say I ENJOY it, because I wish I didn’t have to point out how it represents some fucked up stuff. Anyway, some great blogs I read and recommend are Stuff White People Do, not to be confused with the blog Stuff White People Like, which although is a humor site, is still a social commentary. And, one of my very favorites, Racialicious: the intersection of race and pop culture.

And special thanks to my friend John for making the book cover graphic above.

The Mexican Festival comes to Sweet Valley.

Yay, because one West Side Story rip-off is not enough.

Here’s what you need to know about Manuel:

  • He’s Mexican, and usually hangs out with the other Mexican students in school. What there’s other Mexican students? Oh yea, there is. One other person.
  • He’s totally in love with Sandra, even though she seems to have zero personality.
  • He and his family are totally stoked for the upcoming Sweet Valley Mexican festival. Yes, you heard me right.
  • He’s pissed that Sandra won’t tell her parents about him and feels totally disrespected.
  • He actually seems like a decent guy.

Here’s what you need to know about Sandra:

  • She has no personality and is supposedly a cheerleader and in Phi Beta Pi.
  • Her parents are country-club membership carrying, old-fashioned racists. In fact, her father wrote a letter to the Sweet Valley News”complaining how minorities and immigrants are ruining the community”. I was thinking about trying to recreate that letter, but maybe that would be going too far?They are also the kind of racists that cover it up with “we just want what’s best for you Sandra, and you will have a hard life if you associate with ‘that sort of crowd'”.
  • She hides her relationship with Manuel from her parents and makes everyone cover for her. Manuel feels disrespected but she ignores that. Good job Sandy.
  • She appears to be 37 years old.

How does Liz get involved?

Well, it wouldn’t be an SVH book if Liz didn’t get to stick her nose in people’s business and tell adults how to raise their children.

Suddenly, she is Sandy’s best friend. Considering Sandra is a cheerleader, why wouldn’t she go to Jessica? Anyway, Liz is about to print something in Eyes and Ears about Sandy and Manny and Sandra asks her not to print it. Liz gets all huffy and spouts off about journalistuic integrity and takes this opportunity to coach Sandra on the right thing to do. And then wonders to herself that she’s soooo lucky that she has such a tolerant and accepting family. I’ll let you do the vomit noise.

Then, to further assert her whiteness, Sandra asks Manuel out on her sailboat, but she needs to tell her parents that she’s taking a friend. So that friend gets to be Liz. Miracle of all miracles. the engine catches on fire and Manuel saves both Liz and and Sandra, but Sandra tells him to scram when the police come and to let Liz take the credit for saving them. Sandra’s a real peach.

Lix secretly loves being the hero, but still urges Sandra to tell her parents, especially after bystanders report seeing a MEXICAN BOY tampering with the motor. So now the police suspect Manuel! And when they bring him in for questioning, Sandra pretends that she doesn’t know him. Why in the fuck does he not dump Sandra?

Finally, her parents found out that Manuel was the one who saved her, they totally absolve their racism, decide to go to the Mexican Festival with Manuel and his family, and invite him to the dance at the country club. Yea, because that’s all he ever wanted, so be accepted into the snooty white crowd. Of course every person of color in Sweet Valley’s ultimate dream is to be treated just like the white people! Happy Ending!

If book covers could talk: #61 Boy Trouble

Elizabeth: Oh Patty[pat, pat] I’m so sorry that you are black.

Patty: That’s ok- wait, WHAT? That’s not why I’m upset. Why would you say that?

Elizabeth: well, you know…uh…. I mean, you’re not blue eyed and blond-haired. Isn’t that what your trouble is all about?

Patty: [SIGH] GEESH! Don’t you know this useless and uneventful book was created for the sole purpose of the creators to say that they did have positive black characters? And to say that they even HAVE black characters? So after this book they can go back to you crazy bitches going to dances and being chased by serial killers and feel okay about themselves.

Elizabeth: Oh, yea! That makes sense. So that’s why I am conveniently doing student profiles for The Oracle and I picked you to write it on, so I can conveniently be part of the plot even though this book is really about you.

Patty: Yea, so anyway, do you want to hear about my boy trouble?

E: Yes, wait. Let me get into position. My hand should go riiiiigghhhht here. Ok.

P: So, my boyfriend is supposed to come home last weekend, but my sister came home and announced she is getting married. So I called my boyfriend Jim to see if he could come home another weekend and he got mad and we had a big fight. So then I was at the movies the next night and saw him with some girl and then I got mad. And then my sister got all bridezilla on me and I yelled at her and then she was mad at me. It was all a big mess but it all worked out in the end.

E: Really? No dance was involved? No serial killers? No cults, vampires, or cheerleading competitions?

P: Um, no.

E: Wow, I can’t believe that was it! And you got a whole book out of it? Soooo, what does this have to do with you being black?

P: Dammit Liz! Nothing! The authors wanted to show that black people are just like white people and have the same petty issues! In fact, we ourselves don’t even seem to realize we are black!

E: Yea, but it did mention your “pretty dark eyes” and “dark hair” and called you a “pretty black girl” every other paragraph.

P: I know, but I don’t write the thing.

E: True…uh, I guess I gotta go, Mr. Collins called me and asked me to wash his car for him, and he asked me to wear a white t-shirt, and I gotta swing by home to get it. This was a great interview! I’m so glad we will finally have a picture of a black person in The Oracle! Btw, I love your pearls. Very country club.

P: Yea, love your barrettes, I guess. I am really unsure why our breasts have disappeared.

Elizabeth: Kay, bye! Here’s my card, call me if you need to talk.

Patty: Good riddance. I REALLY need to ask my parents if we can move.

Sometimes I like to pretend my grandmother is my cleaning lady, or Rosa’s Lie #81

Wow. No words for this glorious cover. First off, it looks like Rosa’s left boob is going to keep growing and overtake her whole body. Jessica’s jacket? Dayum. And Liz’s jeans are way high. My question is, how can one ever look at this and be okay with it? I guess we were. I was watching old episodes of 90210 and realized that Brenda’s jeans were under her armpits, but I still wanted to be her. So much that I had her bangs from age 15 to 22. That’s another story.

Rose Jameson is a sensation! She just started SVH, and at least 10 boys have asked her out so far. if you are a poor sophomore, that makes you the town whore. Pi Beta Alpha is alo accepting new pledges, and off course they want Rosa! She’s pretty! She’s popular! Does she hae any sort of personality? The book doesn’t indicate so. But, I guess, who cares?

But…shhhhh, don’t tell anyone…Rose is Mexican. She is really ashamed and doesn’t want anyone in Sweet Valley to know. That is why she changed her name from Rosa to Rose, and it relieved that her parents could pass for white. Now, before you pass judgement on Rosa, think about it. She is just a kid and living in Sweet Valley. Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to not be ostracized and tokenized? To further make her feel like shit, she watched Lila act like a bitch to her maid, who is Mexican. Lila complains….oh Lila, stop making it hard to like you! Apparently, all the Mexican kids at school hang out together. This is first I’ve heard of any non-Caucasion students, minus Jade and Manuel.

She is doing everything she can to hide it, and in fact, makes up this whole story about how she moved from Boston and her parents are decendents of colonists and her ancestors came over on the Mayflower. She goes overboard with the whiteness there. I am surprised she doesn’t tel anyne her family runs a working plnatation. She tells Lila that she was a debutante in Boston Society and that makes Lila putty in her hands.

Through all this pledging, Liz and Enid are both involved in the festivities. Oh, it’s okay for them to bash PBA but when they get the chance to judge people they jump right on board! Hypocrites! hate!

To make matters worse, Rosa’s grandmother will be visiting from Mexico. This is the first time she has seen Nana in years, and of course all she can think about is what will her new friends think? Also, Nana rules. I want her to have her own spin-off series. Could have been an awesome SV Saga, but can you imagine their depictions of Mexico? Lots of burros and sombreros. Anyway. Nana does awesome things like copy the pattern of Rosa’s favorite “American” dress and make her own with emroidery, etc. And bakes a fantastic cake for party Rosa is having for her friends, but Rosa thinks it looks too “Mexican” and throws it away, uneaten. At that same party, she had planned for her parents to take Nana to a concert, but Nana comes back because she frgot something and Rosa tells everyone that it “was just the cleaning lady.” OH. MUH. GAWD. Can we make a list of the most awful things that characters do? This may even be above anything Amy Sutton ever did.

Finally, at the closing pledge picnic, Rosa thinks she is going to get away with everything, but wouldncha know, a pesky Mexican girl has to go ahead and wonder into the picnic and fall into a well. What are the odds? Rosa can either let the girl suffer and die and keep her secret, or talk to the girl in Spanish and tell her to calm down. She actually hesitates for a while with that one. Finally, she decides to talk to the girl. Now, if I were Rosa, I could have still kept my cover by saying something like, “I picked up my Spanish during summers at our resort in Cabos San Lucas” or some shit like that. But she runs away in tears, and the gals come find her at home and tell her “It’s okay that your Mexican, we don’t mind, we’ll overlook it.” What the fuck? Again, another time that I wish a character would tell the SVH posse to fuck off and die and just be theselves, but no, acceptance by them is the only thing that matters.

Wait, Rosa has a little bit of a spine, because at the induction ceremony she decides not to join, because she needs to be a part of something that celebrates who she is and not “overlooks” it. Well, that was kind of a victory, although she vows to stay friends with everyone. Which, I don’t think happens because I am pretty sure we never hear from her again.

The secondary story is that Todd wants to amp up the frat because he is sick of Bruce being a dick. It took 70 books for him to realize this? They both propose pledges and keep proposing more and more obnoxious dares for each one. Finally, at the end, they kiss and make up and let everyone in. They WISH they kissed. Again, can we get some adult at the school to grow some balls and monitor this? One of the tasks is to steal a clock from the school and to steal a schoolbus. The good thing is that we get tons of SVH students coming out of the woodwork to add to the list. Although it is kind of weird, being at we are in book 70 and we’ve never heard about them until now.

Some quotes. I’m going to let them speak for themselves:

Sweet Valley, California! Rosa thought. It really is a place where dreams come true!”

[upon arriving at the PBA meeting at Casa Fowler] “In the back by the pool, there are a dozen fairy-tale princesses, Rose thought, and they’re going to make me a fairy-tale princess too.

[Lila, upon seeing Sandra Bacon with her boyfriend, Manuel] “I don’t know how she can date him” she murmered to Amy. “He’s so ethnic and working class.”

Shocker! The PBAs are co-sponsoring a dance with Phi Episilon. It must be a Friday.

One of the pledge tasks was to sneak into the men’s locker room and steal things. Liz claims she knows what kind of deoderant Todd uses. Ew.

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

The Patmans of Sweet Valley: a plantation in Georgia

Previously on…

Ok, so when I realized that the next segment would take place on a plantation during the civil war. I got super excited because I thought that the Patmans would be totally ignorant and the ghostwriter would be incredibly racist. Excited of course, because I love nothing more than hating on them.

You know what? It wasn’t bad. This is actually some of the better writing I’ve read. They must have gotten a special ghostwriter for this one. And they actually did their research and included some historical info. Anyhoo, James and Sanford are the sons of Henry Patman, who, as you know, was banished from England after he tried to elope with Sophie Edmunson. He later inherited a plantation and made a fortune off of it. It’s called “Enchanted Meadows”. Bwah! And, apparently, also became a crusty racist slaveowner. Their plantation has over 250 “Negroes” and the threat of the impending war will have an affect on that. James disagrees and challenges his father and asks about the rights of the slaves, and they debate about the rights of landowners and draw parallels to the rights of the colonies under British tyranny. I’m telling you, it’s deep. Jame’s father in law responds: “It’s admirable that you have this humanitarian instincts for these poor, inferior creatures. But all this talk about education and freedom from them…next you’ll be supporting rights for ladies, like those ill-bred, bloomer-wearing Yankee women!” Noyce.

James decides he’s going to side with the North and leaves his family. Three months later, he is smuggling slaves from safe house to safe house with the Underground Railroad. He takes notice of Hope, one of the slaves that has taken the lead in helping. “Her face and hair were so dark he couldn’t see her until he was a few feet away.” WE GET IT! She’s black. It mentions how beautiful she is, and I am surprised they didn’t mention that her “dirty rags emphasized her slender waist.” Seriously.

They deliver the runaway slaves to a farmer’s house and Hope goes with him to rescue more slaves. Then boom, it says they are married and Hope’s preggers. And we missed that part of the book? That would be the interesting part. Later on, he leaves Hope at the Darby’s farm with some other runaway slaves to go and help others escape, and when he comes back he finds that the Darbys have been hung in their field, and Hope has been shot and killed inside the house. WHAT? That is some intense shit, even in an SVH book.

Wait, it gets worse! After the war is over, James heads back to Enchanted Meadows. All his family has died, his brother died in battle, and the place is in ruins. He leaves and says he is “heading west.” Oooooo, I am hoping for a story about the Great Land Race, a la Far and Away.

What does this tell us about Bruce? Ummmmmmm…that even though he and his family employ lots of servants in demeaning roles, he has a special place in his heart for them?

This has totally given me the urge to read some good historical fiction. Anybody have any recs? I don’t want mass-market-supermarket paperbacks, but it doesn’t have to be intense. I’ve read the Red Tent and basically all of Phillipa Gregory’s novels….

The one where we learn a lesson, or #50, Out of Reach

MEMO

To: ghostwriters
From Francine

Well, despite our best selling storylines that have made me rich by not even picking up a pen, I got some word that we have to add some “diversity” to our books. I am not even sure what that means. Apparently the one about the poor boy who works as a janitor didn’t count. I thought maybe something about Lila’s maid would be fun, maybe a storyline where Lila loses some designer shoes and blames the maid, but that didn’t sit well with my publisher. So I am throwing it out to you all. We should have a dance in there. And maybe a desciption of Lila’s house. Make sure there are no fat people involved. Have it on my desk by Tuesday. If you need me, I’ll be out shopping for taffeta skirts and culottes.

Francine

I was really wanting to hate this one. I mean, it was no literary feat, but it actually had- gasp!- a positive, healthy message. When I read the back cover I was fearing (hoping) that they would use every stereotype under the sun. Well, they did and they didn’t. Jade is Chinese-American and her parents keep her sheltered. Her father is strict and only wants her to interact with other Chinese-Americans. This has made Jade really reserved and shy. Oh, she’s also a good dancer. So, SVH is putting on a dance showcase (uh, why) and Jade auditions and gets the lead, but doesn’t tell her Dad. She also kinda gets cozy with the set director, David Prentiss, who is poor and has a single Mom and has to –GASP!- work a part-time job after school. What a FREAK! Because of the uptight classist wasps at SVH, he keeps it a secret. Jade keeps rejecting his invitations for a date, because her dad doesn’t allow her to date non-Chinese men, but Davey thinks it’s because he’s poor. Star-crossed lovers!

So Jade is all happy that she is involved with the show and it brings her out of her shell and introduces her to a lot of new people. She is rully excited to get to hang out with Liz Wakefield, cuz she’s soooo pretty and popular, Liz is the stage manager, obvs, and acts like typical Liz and a total meddling mother and takes jade under her wing and acts like she’s ten years older. Ugh. Jade doesn’t want people to know about her strict family, especially that her grandparents run a laundry business- because it is so stereotypical, I guess. So, Amy Sutton, mega-sociopath, is toooootally jealous that Jade got the lead over her, finds out about it, and sreads the rumor everywhere. Okay, so they are petty close-minded high school students, but why is this the talk of the school? I know kids can be cruel and incredibly racist, but it disturbs me that SVH would totally alienate someone for this. . But maybe I have too much faith in Chrome Dome’s leadership skills as a principal. You also gotta remember that they gave a crap about Enid and her letters to George and that was the talk of the school.

So, finally Jade’s dad comes around and comes to see her in the show and is really proud. Also, a talent scout for a dance fellowship is in the audience, and offers the opportunity to Jade, but is all, we don’t want someone too…ethnic, you need to change your name. Jade is all, fuck you, take me for who I am or don’t take me at all. That was actually the one moment in SVH where I actually was proud of one of the characters. Jade learns that she should be proud of who she is and her heritage and is all “yea so my grandparents run a laundry business, wanna make something of it?” Like I said, it’s kind of a positive message, I have no criticisms. But wait…I’ll try.

So Jcredibly strict parents do a complete turnaround and let her dance her heart out anywhere and give David their blessings to boink their daughter. That was a little much.

Ick. I can’t stand Elizabeth’s condescending look. Jade is pretty. Nice mock turtleneck, Liz.

Not much Jessica in the book, there’s a stupid side story about how Ned Wakefield has a mid-life crisis over his twentieth high school reunion and tries to act all young. Alice and the twins hatch a plan to help him realize he should be happy about his age. So Jess takes him out with her to the Beach Disco and loud concerts and stuff. So then…oh wait, it’s just so dumb I can’t even get into it.

Other thoughts:

So, David’s set design is a picture of jade dancing, which will go behind Jade when she dances…yea, it’s really stupid.
Fucking Liz. She’s so perfect and give Jade a pep-talk about accepting her identity. Like Liz has ever been oppressed.

They actually give Jade’s Dad a history. He got his doctorate in physics and then worked as a consultant. I’m surprised they didn’t give him a fake university.

On the whole thing about Jade’s dad wanting her to meet more Chinese-Americans- they’re in Southern California for fuck’s sake, not Nebraska. I’m preeeeety sure there may be just a couple Asian-Americans living in the area. Just get her into another school district. Get her out of Sweet Valley while you still can!

Have you ever noticed the obsession with eye color? How many times do we have to hear about their sea-green eyes. Or they are always like “Todd’s brown eyes softened” or “Enid’s green eyes widened.” Amy has grey eyes. To be honest, I am not sure if I have ever met anyone with grey eyes. Then again, I am super-short, so I am usually looking at someone’s chest when I talk to them.

Aaaaaaannnd I am pretty sure jade will never end up in any other books.

My grade: B+

Next time: Bitter Rivals, where Amy moves back to Sweet Valley and we can delve into her complicated psyche.