I cannot stop laughing at the disgusted expression on Liz's face.
Casa Wakefield. Believe it or not, it's the end of the twins' school year! They have ~graduated sixth grade~ at last. Unfortunately, they're doing work experience for the first two weeks of the holidays. The reward is, apparently, a pizza party at school. How very Babysitters Club. Jessica has applied to work at Sweet Valley Makeovers down at the mall! Jessica, you clown. Working in retail is the absolute worst. Steven is cynical about her getting the job, however - and rightly so, as Jess only applied the previous day and the internship starts on Monday.
Suddenly in bursts Liz with terrific news! They've won the lottery! Greedy Jessica immediately starts imagining all the clothes she'll buy and the trips she'll take, but this is actually one of those "hilarious" misunderstandings. They've won the school lottery, and both of them have been chosen to work at the zoo. Liz is pleased - apparently they beat their friend in their homeroom who wants to be a lion tamer, which intrigues me. Why can't I be reading a book about that kid? - but Jessica thinks that the zoo is lame. Shut up, Jessica! The zoo rules!
Jessica is angry with Liz for putting her name into the zoo lottery, and Liz is pathetically apologetic: "I'm really sorry, Jess. I didn't think. I - I - I - should have asked you what you wanted first. I - I'm sorry." For fuck's sake, Liz. Jessica resigns herself to the fact that she's going to be working at the zoo, but she's still cross because she hates all animals. Remember when I recapped The Wakefields of Sweet Valley and was all cynical about Jessamyn/Jessica being keen on snakes and horses? This book vindicates me.
Come Monday, Jessica is assigned to work with bears. She brats about it but she's not allowed to switch with anyone. In case this hasn't got through to anyone yet, Jessica hates the idea of working with animals. No wonder she didn't care when Prince Albert ran off at the beginning of Senior Year. She rudely tells Justin, the guy in charge of the bears, that she thinks bears are boring and she wants to go on her break. Justin sensibly doesn't let her get away with this crap and tells her to go and watch the polar bears.
At the first opportunity, Jessica runs off to the office and calls up Sweet Valley makeovers to see if she got the internship there. She didn't. Jessica is depressed and spends the rest of the day sulking. Fire her ass, Justin. When she's finally allowed to leave, she bikes off to the mall to see if there are any other internships available, but she is deservedly rejected from every place she asks at. At Briana Taylor's - a boutique which sells fancy, expensive clothing - she runs into Lila, who's interning there. Lila rubs Jessica's nose in it a little. Jessica cries. Wait, I just checked the book, and no, she doesn't. But she should.
However, the next day, a mother and baby grizzly bear are brought into the zoo, having been captured outside a mall. Maybe the same mall Jessica was at! I can't believe that the ghost-writer wimped out on giving us Jessica and Lila vs. Bear. That alone would propel this book into the slot of my Favourite Sweet Valley of All Time. Anyway, Justin leaves Jessica to watch the two new bears - only while he's away, the mother bear has a fit and falls unconscious. Jessica gets into the cage to comfort the baby bear.
Jessica, you fucking idiot. You deserve to be eaten.
Fortunately, the mother bear is dead. Well, fortunately for Jessica. I bet the mother bear is pretty pissed about it, up in the great big bowl of porridge in the sky. Jessica decides to adopt the orphan baby bear. She calls him Gus and the two of them soon become great friends. She's the only one he'll respond to - he even cries when she's not around. Like the Wakefield twins needed the animal kingdom to confirm their place in the centre of the universe.
All Jessica can think about when she goes home that night is Gus, but she's less sure about her internship the following morning when Lila calls her up to gloat about working at Briana Taylor again. Jessica is able to save face, however, as immediately after, the lady at Sweet Valley Makeovers calls her up and offers her a job. She realised that no one in Sweet Valley but Jessica Wakefield could give her the valuable insight required for renaming her clients after French food and pushing them towards eating disorders! Actually, she just had a staff member quit, and figured that unpaid child labour was more convenient than hiring an adult. I don't know. I think that's what's implied. My head hurts.
At Sweet Valley Makeovers, Jessica learns a lesson that everyone one day will learn: working in retail fucking sucks. Here is a true story from when I worked in retail: one day, a lady came into the hardware store I was working at with a toddler, who was wearing nothing but a nappy and a T-shirt. The lady browsed for a few minutes before a sudden yell arose from her aisle, and she left the store hurriedly with her child in tow, now half-naked, with his legs, alas, bestreaked with poo. I discovered the abandoned nappy shortly afterwards. Worst day of my life.
Jessica leaves at the first opportunity, and heads back to the zoo. Surprisingly, it isn't the dumbfuckery of the customers or the perfectly normal all-consuming desire to stab her boss through the heart with a mascara brush which makes her decide to quit, but rather the fact that one of the eyebrow pencils is the same colour as Gus' fur. Oh, Jessica. Just...oh, Jessica.
Once reunited with Gus, Jessica turns into a sort of crazy mother bear zombie. All she can think about is Gus. She tunes everyone else out entirely - when Liz confides that she's worried that she might be fired from her internship (see C plot) Jessica just jabbers on about how Gus can laugh. It's basically an excuse for the ghost-writer to make a lot of bear-related puns. I curse my bad fortune - I have never met a pun I didn't like, and as such this ghost-writer is technically in my good books.
Tragedy strikes, however, when Justin reveals that Gus has to be relocated back into the wild. I'm relieved because this breaks up the monotony of the mother bear zombie scenes. Jessica is, naturally, devastated. Justin is like, "Them's the breaks, kiddo," which is fair enough. Jessica hasn't really given him a reason to like her, after all.
Jessica comes up with the brilliant plan to steal Gus - by putting him in her rucksack which she straps firmly to her back, and amazingly, it works. Justin suspects nothing, telling her that he's had a great time working with her. Exit Jessica, pursued - kind of - by bear. She hides Gus in her room, telling her parents that it's "alternative-fusion-world beat" music when they ask what the strange moaning is. Mama and Papa Wakefield, never especially on the ball when it comes to childcare, swallow this. Did you get that? Jessica keeps a bear in her room and they don't even notice. Jesus Christ.
It all comes to a head the following morning, however, when Jessica awakens to find that Gus has snuck downstairs to steal the garbage, scaring the life out of Alice's snobby clients. Alice makes her give Gus back. Jessica cries. I suppose she expected that she'd be allowed to keep him forever. And, to be fair, given the low standard of law enforcement at work in Sweet Valley, I wouldn't have been surprised if, come Monday, Jessica would have woken up to the headline, "Backpack-Sized Bear Missing From Zoo. Police Baffled."
The following day, Jessica and Justin release Gus into the woods, where a few years from now he'll probably be shot by a redneck on a hunting trip. I had a joke here about Gus going off to live with the Gummi Bears (who, as anyone who was a child in the late eighties will recall, lived in a sort of medieval forest kingdom and, if I recall correctly, bounced not only here and there, but everywhere as well), but it wasn't very good, so let's hurry on to the
Bruce also won the zoo lottery, as did Melissa McCormick. Melissa is a minor Sweet Valley character who I believe was featured in the Twins book Elizabeth and the Orphans: she lived alone with her seventeen-year-old brother for a few weeks after their mother died, leaving them parentless. Until their dad showed up at the end of the book. So they weren't really orphans after all. I don't know. I'm looking for logic in a Sweet Valley book. Clearly I've been driven insane. Liz saved the day, as you can tell from the title, by sticking her nose into a situation which didn't have anything to do with her. Business as usual.
None of this is mentioned in this book, however. In fact, all you need to know about Melissa McCormick is that she is smokin' hot. For a twelve-year-old. Or at least, Bruce thinks so. Remember in My So-Called Life how Angela had an enormous, embarrassing, obsessive crush on Jordan Catalano? In this book, Melissa is Bruce's Jordan Catalano. It's the way she leans. Bruce thinks to himself, "The Wakefield twins are OK, if you like that sort of thing. But Melissa! Is she hot, or what?" Ha! Dissed and dismissed, Wakefields!
Happily for Bruce, he and Melissa are assigned to work together in the aviary. Unfortunately, Bruce doesn't know what aviaries contain, and when the zookeeper tells him, he's horrified. Ready yourselves, guys. Bruce Patman is scared of birds. "Bruce tried hard to push a picture out of his mind. A picture of an enormous hawk whooshing down from the stratosphere, wings beating six zillion times a minute, seizing Bruce with razor-sharp claws and carrying him into the air while Bruce screamed and screamed - "
Francine Pascal, this is why I love you, deep down. Just when I'm sick and tired of all the eating disorders and rape, you go and give Bruce a hilarious fear of birds. That is genuinely the greatest mental image I've had all month.
Speaking of which - hey, Bruce.
Anyway, Bruce doesn't want to look lame in front of Melissa and he also wants to work with her for the two weeks, so he doesn't ask if he can switch to something different. Which I guess is understandable, if a little stupid.
Bruce spends the rest of the day hanging out with the flamingos. Ha!
Unfortunately, much of the rest of Bruce's storyline is tragically unvaried, involving scene after scene of him screaming and diving for cover whenever a bird looks at him the wrong way, then trying to look cool in front of Melissa. In spite of the fact that the joke is overused, I laugh every time, because it's Bruce Patman and he's fucking scared of birds. If only the Palisades High gang had known while that feud was going on. They could've planted a few robins in Bruce's locker and he would have caved in to all their demands. We'd have been robbed of the experience of the Ultimate Pool Push, though, so I guess it all evens out.
Anyway, Bruce finally volunteers to watch eggs hatch, on the grounds that eggs don't have talons and beaks - little realising that eggs eventually hatch and baby birds come out of them. What a genius. Melissa fucks with him by telling him that a "raptor" might hatch out of one of the eggs, allowing him to believe that he's going to have to grapple with a dinosaur, before revealing that "raptor" means "predator".
A bird hatches and Bruce calls it Drumstick, "like in 'finger-lickin' good'". I think that's pretty funny, but Melissa doesn't agree. She gets very upset and storms out. She's kind of a lame character and isn't much of a foil for Bruce. I wonder why she was chosen as his love interest out of all the minor characters in the Sweet Valley universe. Certainly it wasn't for her scintillating personality. Belatedly, I realise that while Bruce is hilarious throughout this storyline, I only want him to be my boyfriend when he's making fun of Todd, who does not feature in this book at all. I kind of miss him. Is that weird?
Drumstick learns to fly by the time she's four days old, which seems pretty unrealistic to me, but I don't know. I don't think we're told what breed she is, even, so maybe this is normal for birds in Sweet Valley. Anyway, on the last day of the internship, Bruce is in the middle of changing out of his zoo coveralls when he notices Drumstick sitting on the top of a pole while raptors circle hungrily around her.
So Bruce, clad only in his underwear, heads out to rescue her, scaling the pole to snatch her from the jaws of death! Of course, Melissa walks in as soon as he's got the bird down. She saw it all - I mean, the entire pole-climbing saga, not Bruce Jr. - and her heart is won. She gives Bruce a kiss on the cheek. Get your coat, Bruce: you've scored! No, seriously, get your coat. It's kind of indecent to be wandering about in your underwear.
The storyline ends with Bruce and Melissa holding hands at Casey's and whispering, "Oh, Melissa," and "Oh, Bruce," to one another. That's pretty funny, I admit. Especially if you're still picturing Melissa as Jordan Catalano.
Liz is elated to be working with the monkeys. Watching monkeys play is better than watching TV, she thinks to herself. Clearly Liz is not following Gossip Girl. Then we get this, which is hilarious: "In her mind's eye she saw herself in the monkey cage, immediately accepted by a whole troop of monkeys. She'd be practically part of the group, just hanging out in their cage all day long and doing everything they did." I personally look forward to reading the book where Liz throws poo at her friends, "for a laugh". (Perhaps I can join in, with my soiled nappy.)
However, Liz isn't convinced that the monkeys are intelligent as Madeleine, the lady in charge of the monkeys, claims. In fact, they remind her of the Unicorns because of how mean they can be. Oh, Liz. She goes and hangs out with the bears for a while, and Justin convinces her to give Gus a cuddle - Jessica is off working at Sweet Valley Makeovers - but Gus gives her a hard stare and refuses to share his marmalade sandwiches with her. Gus, my man, you have good taste. Liz is butthurt and stalks off back to the monkeys.
Later in the week, one of the monkeys escapes when Liz leaves the cage door open. The monkey's name is Spanky. Spanky the monkey. That sounds vaguely dirty to my ears. Anyway, Liz tells Madeleine, but Madeleine is pretty blasé about it. "Eh, he'll show up," is pretty much what she says. Madeleine is one cool cucumber. I'm betting she's on drugs. You'd have to be, really, to live in Sweet Valley. God, this storyline is so stupid. Even more stupid than Jessica being in love with a bear. I hate you for this, Liz. Anyway, Liz freaks out about Spanky being at large and on the loose, and she chases after him, hoping that she'll be able to catch him before he leaves the zoo. "I can certainly outsmart a monkey," she thinks to herself. She can't.
Casa Wakefield. Liz is jealous again because she's stuck chasing Spanky around Sweet Valley while Jessica gets to play with Gus all day. I like how even Liz realises how dumb her storyline is. Over the following week, Spanky shows up at Casa Wakefield (three times), Casey's ice cream parlour, the library, outside the monkey cage and SVMS during the pizza party. Each time, Liz fails to catch him. How hard can it be to catch a monkey? (Disclaimer: I have never caught a monkey.)
Incidentally, Liz gives a presentation to her classmates before the pizza party kicks off, which begins, "I'm Elizabeth Wakefield, and they've just let me out of the monkey house." If everyone from 1bruce1 were in attendance, we'd all be at the back of the room, chewing gum and rolling our eyes and shouting out impolite remarks. This does beg the question, however: would you sit through an Elizabeth Wakefield presentation if you got free pizza at the end of it?
By the end, Madeleine begins to think she's overworked and is just imagining seeing Spanky everywhere. "But I do keep seeing him. I really do!" Liz protests. Madeleine just smiles and nods at the crazy girl. Heh. Gus and Madeleine are the best characters in this book. Liz cries. I think that if Spanky doesn't show up, she should offer her services to the zoo as a replacement monkey.
Unfortunately, Spanky does finally show up once Liz admits to Madeleine that monkeys are cleverer than she thought. Liz meets up with Amy and Maria, both of whom scoff at the idea that Spanky deliberately ran away in order to teach Liz a lesson. Liz thinks to herself, "I guess I had to see it for myself. Maybe they do too." Liz, I was there alongside you throughout this storyline and I'm not convinced.
In conclusion: this book was awful, except for Bruce being scared of birds, which is something that ought to be celebrated in legend and song.