“I can’t believe we’re on our way to the most luxurious spa in all of California!” And so begins this literary gem and the latest comically absurd misadventures of Jess and Liz. Will Jessica and Elizabeth really discover paradise at the spa?! Will they make it out alive?! Does anyone care about Enid?
The cover features "Jessica" (who close up looks asian) and "Lila" frolicking in a waterfall while "Lila" points at her boob (possible dialog: "Look! Boob!") In the background, Elizabeth looks frightened. When you turn back the cut-away outer cover, you see that someone is grabbing Liz's leg, and also that her one-piece has major camel-toe aspirations.
Alice Wakefield has won an all expense paid week at THE MOST LUXURIOUS SPA IN ALL OF CALIFORNIA, aka Paradise Spa (inspired nomenclature, for sure), and the whole gang are on their way via train. You see, Alice won an all expense paid trip “for herself and six guests” so she decided to bring her lovely twin daughters, plus Lila and her mom, and Enid and her mom. Who the hell would give away a trip for exactly seven people to someone "chosen at random from the phone book"?! Certainly not a deranged former stalker-slash-plastic surgeon hell-bent on stealing your face and identity… or anything. It turns out Alice only brings 5 guests after all, since Enid’s mom had to work and can’t come. Poor Enid.
Back on the train, Liz and Enid go to the snack-car to grab some diet sodas. Enid is whining because Hugh recently broke up with her. I guess Enid was caught off guard by this, but it was only a matter of time, really. Even Liz thinks so.
"He wants to date other girls. I’m just positive that if I were prettier…” Enid’s green eyes glittered; a tear slid down her freckled cheek. “If I were prettier, if I looked more like you and Jessica, Hugh would have gotten tired of me.” Elizabeth continued to shake her head emphatically. Inside, though, she had to admit that there might be a tiny measure of truth to what Enid said.
That’s right Enid, even St. Liz thinks you’re pathetic. Deal with it. Out loud, Elizabeth tells Enid she’s super pretty and reminds her that "None of us should need guys to make us feel attractive". Ghost writer!! Does Francine know you’re spouting this nonsense?! But Eager-Beaver-Enid eats it up. "Enid cracked a weak smile. “I guess that sounds OK. I’ll be happy if I never laid eyes on another male person of masculine persuasion.” That’s right- it’s only trannies for Enid from here on out.
They all arrive at Paradise Train station and Elizabeth and Jessica already plan to cheat on their boyfriends with the hot shuttle-driver Chris. He also teaches golf lessons at the spa so Jessica makes plans arrangements for private lessons (*WINK*). Chris also tells the group about the spa’s fabulous amenities: aerobics and tennis, multiple pools and hot tubs, and beauty treatments galore; everything you need to be beautiful. When the shuttle arrives, Jessica muses at the gorgeous guys and classically beautiful women with "high cheekbones, ruler-straight nose, gracefully arched eyebrows, wide-set eyes, and full lips." Most of them are blonde. Liz can’t help but notice that every single employee "looks like a model"… are they also wearing red armbands with a little black symbol?
Chris introduces the group to some other Aryans, and then the spa’s owner, Tatiana Mueller introduces herself. Far from being the perfect beauty she expects, Jessica is horrified to see that Tatiana is "scarred and disfigured, as if she’s been in a terrible accident." Tatiana dotes on Alice and the twins, noting how gorgeous and perfect they are- “the template of loveliness.” As they walk away, Alice reflects that she thought she knew Tatiana from somewhere but can’t remember where. Really Alice? You think you may remember the disfigured woman but can’t quite place her? Is something about her hideously deformed face less than memorable?
Alice, Grace, Lila, Jess, Liz and Enid get set up in their three bedroom cottage, which oddly enough is devoid of mirrors. This really stresses Jessica out. Everyone else is nonplussed.
Now, this book was written in 1995 which is well after I stopped reading the series, so imagine my astonishment when it’s revealed that Elizabeth has a laptop computer. She decides to log on and send an E-mail to Tood, who had a personal computer and modem at home. What the hell is Todd doing with a personal computer in 1995? Everyone knows that the only thing on the internet in 1995 was porn and Star Trek, and Todd never struck me as a trekkie…
Before dinner, Lila encourages Jessica to dress like a common whore to catch the attention of Chris the golfer/shuttle driver, while Lila herself muses that she’s there to attract a wealthy bachelor. Enid thinks about how everyone else is much prettier than she is. Lila: gold-digger, Jessica: common whore, Enid: homely. Parents: un-involved. Yup, so far so good.
The next day, Mrs. Mueller stops by the breakfast table to fawn all over the Wakefields again. She tells Enid about the special facials and hair treatments for freckled red-heads. Mrs. Mueller feels sorry for Enid because Enid’s mother couldn’t be there and jabbers on about how the mother daughter bond is so important. When Jessica asks Mrs. Mueller to have a mirror sent to their cabin, Mrs. Mueller bites her head off- ”There are no mirrors anywhere at Paradise Spa, not a single one. Because it’s inner beauty that matters.”. This from someone who started a beauty spa and who won’t shut the hell up about how lovely the Wakefields are.
Jessica goes golfing with Chris but he just wants to talk about how pretty Elizabeth is. Jessica tells Chris what a boring bookworm Liz is, but that just makes Chris hotter for her & he asks Jess if she thinks Liz would go out with him. Jessica ends up ditching him - “I think my lesson’s over. And you know what? Golf is the most boring sport on the planet. See ya.” Aaaand that’s why we all love Jessica.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is befriending a shy and sad-looking waitress who seems ripe for the pitying. Katya, the waitress, seems lonely and homesick, but won’t tell Liz what’s bothering her. Katya apparently doesn’t know that for Liz, it’s open season on prying into the private lives of the less fortunate (and by “less fortunate” Liz means “you.”).
I was promised a murder. It’s page 50 and still no murder.
Chris asks Liz on a date and Liz, ever sensitive of her pathetic red-headed friend, tells Chris she’ll only go with him if he brings someone for Enid. This would be okay except that she tells him this right in front of Enid. Then she doesn’t understand why Enid gets pissy about it. But Enid does join Liz for the double date with Chris and his equally-gorgeous friend Alex (Alex/Enid/Alex??). Enid and Alex hit it off right away…. Until Jessica and Lila show up and crash their tennis match. Alex immediately falls in love with Jessica and starts ignoring Enid, obliterating what was left of Enid's self-esteem. Later, Jessica and Alex make out despite the fact that Jessica has a boyf back in SV.
The next day, Katya leads the group on a hike up to a waterfall. Katya really takes a liking to Alice Wakefield, especially after Alice tells her that she always puts her family first, which is a complete and utter lie. Elizabeth suspects Katya is a homesick runaway who misses her own mother terribly- so she proceeds to barrage the poor girl with invasive personal questions about her home. Katya bursts into tears and runs off. Liz tries to get some answers out of Chris, but he plays dumb. The two make out. Liz thinks of Todd and feels guilty for about zero seconds.
Meanwhile, back at the spa, Mrs. Mueller hypnotizes Enid during the special red-hair treatment and tries to convince her that her mother hates her. This is probably true.
Katya, Liz, Jess, Alex, and Chis play a round of Frisbee golf in the wilderness. It’s tons of fun! The jungle’s pretty thick, with lots of cover for Chris and Liz to slip away and make out behind. Jessica gets her Frisbee stuck in some tree branches. Alex lifted her up on his shoulders to retrieve it, but they were both laughing so hard it was all they could do to remain upright. Oh, I’m pretty sure he’s upright.
But then the group stumbles across a strange white building with no windows. Katya, Alex, and Chris freak out and tell everyone to run away. Later, Elizabeth overhears Mrs. Mueller yelling at Katya for leading the group off the spa grounds. Katya bursts into tears and runs off, per usual.
Okay, it’s page 95 and there’s still no murder. I’m getting pissed.
Enid has more beauty treatments-slash-hypnosis sessions with Mrs. Mueller, who I’m beginning to suspect is a rapist. When Enid becomes super-enthusiastic about the treatments and becoming more beautiful, Elizabeth gets suspicious. Enid has been exercising compulsively and barely eating. Liz probably would have noticed earlier, but she had another sad-sack pity-friend to hover over. Enid isn’t amused and thinks Liz doesn’t understand what it’s like to be plain and not have a boyfriend (she probably doesn’t). What Elizabeth also doesn’t know is that Mrs. Mueller has convinced Enid to undergo plastic surgery to look “perfect”- like Elizabeth.
It’s page 128 and we finally get a murder. Jessica finds Katya dead in the steam room. Mrs. Mueller insists she died of a heart condition but Elizabeth is skeptical. There are no obvious signs of trauma and no autopsy, since Mrs. Mueller tells the medics that Katya has a heart condition and has no family. Naturally, everyone believes this line of bull except Liz. Liz goes snooping in Katya’s cabin and finds a help-wanted add for Paradise Spa from a magazine she’s never heard of. Since this is the twentieth century, Liz has upgraded from regular prying to cyber-prying; she emails Olivia Davidson and asks her to research the magazine from Katya’s cabin. Actually, after logging into her portable computer, Liz dials Olivia Davidson’s email address at the newspaper office back in Sweet Valley. Olivia responds that the magazine is published at a home for runaways… in other words, Mrs. Mueller is targeting runaways to come and work at her spa. What kind of maniacal fiend tries to help underprivileged youth?!!
Meanwhile, Jessica and Lila are chilling poolside, and Lila comments on how boring the spa is getting. Jessica disagrees ”We’re at Paradise Spa, where there’s something different to do every hour of the day. We haven’t had a dull moment since we got here!” She ticked off the highlights on her fingers “I met Alex, I found Katya’s body in the steam room…” Yeah, Lila! Maybe tomorrow someone will get impaled!
In Elizabeth’s half-baked idea for a tribute to Katya, the group decides to hang out at the waterfall Katya first showed them ”to honor her spirit”. Before they go, Liz tells Jess about her theory that Mrs. Mueller lures runaways to her spa and then kills them. Jessica laughed out loud. “That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life”... and I’ve read the entire Sweet Valley High series.
At the waterfall, Alice disappears. When Elizabeth tries to call for help from their cottage, the phone line has been cut. So she emails for help. Seriously.
Jessica tries to get Mrs. Mueller or one of her Aryan henchmen to call for help but they’re like “oh I’m sure Alice is just out for a walk and will be right back.” After Mrs. Mueller leaves to go prep Enid for her face transplant, Jessica roots through her file cabinet and finds that all of the employee files have “before” and “after” pictures. Alex, Chris, Katya, and everyone else were pretty ugly in their before photos, but the “after” ones show the perfectly sculpted features they have now.
Then Jessica finds a file for Enid! Just then, Enid walks in , looking for Mrs. Mueller. Jessica is like “all of these attractive young people have had plastic surgery! I think Mrs. Mueller wants to plastic surgery you!” And Enid is like “yeah, I know. I’m going to be beautiful like you Jessica.” And Jessica is like “that shit is fucked up right there” but she inches out the door and goes to find Elizabeth.
Back at their cottage, Jessica finds Lila and Grace who say that Liz went back to the waterfall to look for clues or something. The laptop beeps and Jessica reads the email- it’s from Ned, in reply to Liz’s email for help. Only instead of worrying, like a normal, competent parent would do, Ned’s just like “what’s up? Is something wrong? Oh by the way, Tatiana Mueller went to college with Alice and I, where she stalked Alice before becoming a plastic surgeon. XOXO Ned.” Another dose of useless parenting compliments of the Wakefields.
Meanwhile, Liz is standing by the waterfall pondering what happened to her mother when a hand reaches out and grabs her leg. It’s Chris! He forces her through a tunnel into a lab where Alice is lying drugged on a surgical table. Like all maniacal fiends, Mrs. Mueller takes the time to explain her dastardly scheme to Liz, at length. I’ll give you the highlights: Mrs. Mueller like pretty lady. Mrs. Mueller take pretty lady face.
Jess, Lila and Grace figure out that Mrs. Mueller is probably using Alice for her twisted plastic surgery thing. Enid lets it slip that the plastic surgery is normally performed at that white, windowless building in the jungle. While Grace stays behind to try to call the cops, Jess, Lila and Enid head out to find it. They get lost on their way to find the white building- it’s night and the dense jungle all looks the same to them. Suddenly they realize they’re standing in front of a tree they just passed a few minutes ago- they’re going in circles. It’s the same fucking stump! Jessica starts crying and Lila steps up and proves herself to be the most intelligent, useful person in Sweet Valley (yet again). ”We won’t get out of here if you just cry like a baby. Come on!” Lila leads the group through the woods to the white, windowless building where Elizabeth and Alice are being held. They break in and find Liz, Alice, and Mrs. Mueller. Mrs. Mueller orders Alex and Chris to call the security guards. Elizabeth convinces them not to, proving that even hypnotized men will respond better to a hot blonde than an aging gimp. Just then, California State Troopers burst in and save the day. Mrs. Mueller confesses and Alice and the girls escape unharmed.
The police arrest Mrs. Mueller, but leave everyone else there. They don’t think to also arrest Chris, Alex, and Mrs. Mueller’s other brainwashed partners in crime. And if that wasn’t crazy enough, Alice, Grace, et. al. decide to go ahead and spend one last night at Paradise Spa, since "the danger was over." WTF?! The next day they say their goodbyes to their well-meaning but brainwashed former captors and head home. Just another family vacay for the Wakfield girls.
And now, your moment of zen.
Jessica opened the glossy Paradise Spa brochure that she held on her lap... Turning back to the owner’s note on the first page, Lila read it aloud to the others. “It is my firm and passionate belief that inside everyone, no matter how plain, a beautiful person waits to be discovered. Here at Paradise Spa, I make that my personal mission: surrounding my clients with beauty and comfort, I encourage the beautiful person within each of them to blossom forth. Yours in beauty, Tatiana Mueller.”
“Wow,” breathed Jessica, her eyes starry. “If she can do that for ugly people, just think what we’ll look like when she’s finished with us!"