Here's the cover, and I literally have no idea who's who in that human pyramid. Either Elizabeth or Jessica is presumably the blond girl at the top (I mean, where else would they be?), but everyone else is a mystery.
Our story begins with Elizabeth's eyes "bloodshot...from crying." So now they're blue-green-red, like the color of the Pacific Ocean right after a gruesome shark attack. Oh, was anyone curious about why she's crying this time? No? I'll tell you anyway: she just caught Jessica kissing Ryan, the love of Liz's life (at least during this particular miniseries).
"She could still picture Jessica's toned arms wrapped around Ryan's bare back, his tan hands in her sister's blond hair. Just thinking about it made Elizabeth's stomach twist with nausea." Looking at how graphically you're picturing the steamy scene, I'm not so sure it's nausea you're feeling.
By the way, if you're thinking that Jessica stealing Elizabeth's boyfriend is hardly the shocker of the century, you're not alone. Elizabeth--seriously, even Elizabeth--thinks, "You should have known she would." Well, duh. I'm having trouble coming up with any of Liz's boyfriends that Jessica hasn't taken a crack at, honestly.
Liz spends three pages catching us up with the previous two books: Jessica was jealous of her ex-boyfriend Ben's new girlfriend Priya and Ryan is a recovering alcoholic who fell off the wagon when Elizabeth accidentally stood him up for a date. In true doormat fashion, Elizabeth takes 100% of the blame for Ryan's relapse and decides that she has to tell Jessica about Ryan's alcoholism. It's a solid plan--nothing cheers Elizabeth up faster than a good meddle.
Incidentally, most of this scene consists of Liz not just talking to herself but even arguing back and forth with voices in her head. Get used to that. It will happen constantly in this book, and with most of the characters.
Nina arrives, distraught and hoping for Elizabeth's help, but the moment she sees that Elizabeth is unhappy her own problems get thrown aside. Once Liz explains her crisis and receives the obligatory sympathy, though, Nina gets her turn and explains that the miniseries' main bitchy character, Rachel, has been causing trouble. You know, the usual shenanigans: letting the air out of her bike tire, shoving her at the beach, knocking her unconscious, that kind of thing. I think Nina should have led with that last one.
As if that wasn't bad enough, she just found out that Rachel's been knocked up by Stu, Nina's boyfriend (or guy-on-the-side; I'm not clear on whether or not she's still technically dating Bryan or what). I'll cover this plot later on, as they diverge after this point. "But is that even...uh...possible?" Liz asks, blushing.
Seriously, Liz? Ned and Alice should have had this talk with you years ago. Sigh. Okay, when a boy loves a girl who doesn't have a million hang-ups about sex....
Anyway, so Nina says that she still loves Stu no matter what happens. Elizabeth admits she feels the same way about Ryan, and Nina laughs, "Some feminists we are!" Uh, no. If Sweet Valley characters are supposed to be the new standard of feminism, then I'm switching over to Team Chauvinist.
Meanwhile, Jessica is still making out with Ryan at his house, and Ryan offers her some whiskey. She turns it down, surprised that "judgmental" (her completely accurate word, not mine) Elizabeth would hang out with someone so "cool." "Not that drinking is cool," Jessica hastily adds, remembering the pre-teen readers at the last minute and then immediately forgetting them again with, "On him it just seems manly...sophisticated...sexy!" That's right, underage girls reading this book: If you chug a bunch of whiskey you can look mature and attractive, too!
Jessica wakes up in Ryan's bed the next morning, but let go of those pearls, Liz: there's nothing risqué going on. She fell asleep in his arms before anything could happen. Jessica is touched that he was a "gentleman" who didn't "take advantage of the situation," and it's pretty sad that Ryan not molesting Jessica in her sleep makes him a hero in her eyes.
Then she realizes she's late for lifeguard duty (because drowning people can go screw themselves; Jessica's in wuv!) and leaves after flirting briefly with Ryan. Elizabeth catches her on the beach and they argue. Elizabeth keeps almost telling Jessica about Ryan's alcoholism but decides cryptic comments are definitely the way to go instead. You'll be shocked to learn that this approach backfires and Jessica is even angrier and more determined to keep Ryan than before.
Ryan, meanwhile, is feeling hung over. It's his turn to argue loudly with himself, this time over whether or not he should start drinking. The voice in his head that wants to drink wins the argument, and I'm sure a drunken stupor will straighten out all those imaginary people he's talking to.
Jessica brags to her fellow lifeguard and barely-worth-naming secondary character Miranda about how great Ryan is, because they're on duty and God forbid they actually pay attention to the water. Not to be left out of the schizophrenic fun, Jessica also has a short argument with a "tiny voice in the back of [her] head."
Then Jess sees Ryan and rushes out to him. Did you notice that surfer who wiped out and hasn't surfaced yet? Neither did Jessica because she's too busy making out with her new boyfriend.
I have to share this bit:
"Ryan!" Jessica squealed with delight, her bare legs dangling. "Ryan, stop!"
"I thought you wanted a ride." He picked up the pace, making Jessica bounce even harder.
He's actually just giving her a piggyback ride, but you'll never convince me the ghostwriter wasn't trying to sneak in a sex scene under Francine's nose.
Ryan asks Jessica out on a date that night, and they kiss just in time for Ben and Priya to show up. As she shows off her new fling, Jessica could not be more obvious that she just wants to make Ben jealous, but of course she's not nearly self-aware enough to realize it.
From their post, Nina and Liz notice Jessica and Ryan canoodling and Nina is angry because she's afraid Jessica is going to "make the entire squad look bad." Nina, if no one cares that most of the squad is blowing off their duties and waltzing in late then a little PDA isn't even going to raise eyebrows.
At this point Elizabeth matter-of-factly tells Nina about Ryan's alcoholism. So she's capable of forming the words, but not when it might actually move the plot forward. She decides to try talking to Jessica again later on, but first she spends a page and a half talking to the voices in her head again. If you take a drink every time someone in this book talks to themselves, you'll wind up drunker than Ryan on a bender before the book's half over.
Jessica comes in and Elizabeth actually manages to tell her that Ryan has a drinking problem. Unfortunately, we're only on page 73, so Jessica gets defensive and skeptical and shrugs the whole thing off as Elizabeth being jealous. Which...well, she's not wrong about that part.
However, that's before Ryan takes her to Louie's Liquor Lounge after their dinner date and downs half a dozen beers. The bar is described as "tacky," the walls are "stained a dirty, nicotine yellow," the floor is "filthy," and the chairs are "sticky." Apparently Louie's Liquor Lounge is where people go when they aren't classy enough for Kelly's.
Ryan drunk-dances, stumbles around, slurs his words, and basically does everything short of throw up on Jessica's shoes to drive home exactly how wasted he is. Elizabeth is spying on them from the parking lot because of course she is--she's Elizabeth Wakefield--and she thinks it all looks very romantic. Because watching a guy stagger around a hoity-toity place like Louie's Liquor Lounge is every girl's dream date.
Liz spies on them and argues with herself for four pages, and I realize that most of her scenes in this book are either watching Jess and Ryan make out or talking to the imaginary people in her head.
Later, Jessica drives a thoroughly plastered Ryan home and, to her credit, briefly considers that Elizabeth might have been telling the truth. Then she puts the thought aside, deciding that Elizabeth is just trying to poison her against Ryan. Jessica, apparently, has forgotten which twin is supposed to be the manipulative one.
Jessica is already feeling humiliated and miserable, but Ryan really makes her swoon when he calls her Elizabeth. Though she's pissed, Jessica still doesn't throw in the towel because she can't bear to strike out romantically twice in one summer. Except that she's so many failed relationships that I'm pretty sure her ex-boyfriends have their own support group. I don't know why this time is so different. Is it because neither boyfriend is dead yet?
The next morning, Ryan apologizes and asks her to have dinner with him at his house that night. Jessica accepts without batting an eye, because now she's forgotten which twin is supposed to be the spineless doormat.
Meanwhile, Liz and Nina are on lifeguard duty, so I can only assume they're reading magazines and eating bon-bons. Their "me" time is interrupted when the emergency phone rings, and a panicky man on the other end insists on talking to Ryan. Nina sends Elizabeth to go find him, and Liz acts extremely pissy about being expected to do her damn job for once. He takes the call and it turns out it's his former AA sponsor's husband.
He holds a very cryptic conversation about something bad that happened and Liz's Meddle Detector starts pinging. She follows him back home and literally begs him to let her butt into this personal crisis that is 100% none of her business. Ryan slams the door in her face, and rightfully so, but I gather the reader is supposed to see him as cold and unreasonable.
It turns out that Ryan's former sponsor, Patti, is in the hospital after a drunk driving accident and is now on life support. I bet it was the magic vodka. Does it every time. Now it's Ryan's turn to argue with the voices in his head, so everyone can take another drink. Or you could, except that Ryan is now hogging the whiskey bottle. Save a little for the rest of us, Ryan! We've still got almost a hundred pages to get through!
That night, Jessica shows up for their date with "a homemade cassette tape of the most romantic songs she knew." Aww, Jess made him a mixtape! Hello, nineties!
Unsurprisingly (to the reader, but not Jessica), Ryan is drunker than Liz on Jungle Prom night and immediately starts dragging her out to the beach. He says a bunch of ominous crap about how nothing matters, and Jessica realizes that drunk, depressed Ryan is heading for the rescue boats. She finally works out that he might be about to do something Not Good.
She tries to talk him out of taking a boat for a joyride, he tells her off, and Jessica is furious because he could get himself killed. I get that she's sick and tired of dead boyfriends, but is Ryan really the one she's going to freak out over? She tries to storm off, but Ryan is like, "Bitch, you're joining this plot point whether you like it or not!" and physically carries her onto the boat with him.
During all this, Elizabeth hears the boat and recognizes that someone is driving it recklessly, but is too busy to care because she's thinking about all the meddling she wants to do in Ryan's life. At last she hears Jessica screaming, and calls the story's B-list characters in to help rescue her. I wonder what happened to that twin danger sense they're supposed to have. Is it because she's not wearing the lavaliere?
Jessica is begging Ryan to stop the boat, as he's going too fast and zig-zagging all over the place. She tells him he's going to kill them both and he laughs "harshly" and says, "How do you know that isn't the plan? Maybe that's exactly what I have in mind." Soooo...does alcohol turn people into psychopaths? Because so far in this book Ryan has been a moody drunk and a party drunk, but now he's basically Margo drunk.
Elizabeth, Ben, and Priya show up on a rescue boat to save the day, and Jessica wonders why "her three current sworn enemies were coming to her rescue." One, I love that Jessica has the presence of mind to specify that they're current sworn enemies, not to be confused with the many former sworn enemies she's accumulated over the course of multiple book series. Second, they're your ex-boyfriend, your romantic rival, and the twin sister that you had an argument with. They don't actually want you dead, Jess.
Ryan capsizes the boat and Jessica panics, as she's having trouble staying above water. I hope she realizes that this is exactly how all those poor drowning victims felt while she and her fellow "lifeguards" were too absorbed in their petty dramas to actually pay attention to the beach.
She manages to swim to the rescue boat, where Priya is ready to pull Jessica out of the water. Jessica, who literally will not let go of a grudge to save her life, actually hesitates until Priya has to beg her to take her hand. She actually thinks, "There were worse things in life than drowning. Putting up with Priya, for instance." Damn, Jess. Even real sociopaths have a self-preservation instinct.
Jessica magnanimously accepts both Priya's apology and offer to save her life and she and Ryan are both rescued. Ben, by the way, finally gets a speaking role in the scene. Wasn't he cool and snarky in the previous Lifeguard books? What the hell happened to him?
Jessica (rightfully) tells Ryan off for what he did, but he's staring blankly and barely responding. Once they're back on the dock, Liz keeps asking Jessica if she's okay because she's silent, withdrawn, and "shivering convulsively." They take her into the Harbor Master's office to be near a heater, but nothing is said about medical attention for the girl who nearly drowned and is obviously in shock. I guess it's just a near-death experience. For a Wakefield, that's just another Tuesday.
Elizabeth helps Ryan get home, obsessing the whole time over that damn phone call from Patti's husband. Once they get to his house, Ryan goes to change his wet clothes and Elizabeth boggles over Ryan's unkempt home, full of dirty towels and rumpled clothing. "It was just another sign of how far he'd fallen," thinks Liz. Forget nearly getting her sister killed; you know Ryan's drinking problem has gotten out of hand because his house is messy!
Ryan comes back and Elizabeth immediately starts badgering him about what happened to Patti. For crying out loud, Liz! Were you not paying attention to the dramatic rescue you pulled off less than an hour ago? Why is this still your top priority?
At last, Ryan tells her about Patti's car accident but adds that while she's in intensive care, she's not dead. Whew! At least she survived the accident! Hooray for Patti not being dead! Of course, that's when they notice that there's a message on his answering machine. Hey, I bet you'll never guess what they hear on the message when Liz pushes the button. I'll give you a hint: it's about Patti and it isn't about people who are alive.
Elizabeth immediately starts "rubbing his back with a soothing hand," and of course the patented Elizabeth Wakefield Shoulder Pat of Condescension works its magic and Ryan is quickly sobbing in her arms. You see, Ryan, try as you might you'll never be able to resist Liz's meddling. It's much better to just give in and let it wash over you.
The next morning, Jessica and Miranda laugh off Jessica's night of terror. She almost died! How hilarious! "These things happen," Jessica says, and when Miranda gives her a funny look she adds, "I know, only to me." That...is surprisingly perceptive, Jess. Well spotted.
In fact, Jessica has a whole bunch of insights one right after another, including realizing that she wasn't really in love with Ryan, that it's over between her and Ben, and that lifeguards should pay attention to actually guarding lives. Seriously, she says, "We've all been so busy bickering that we've forgotten what we're here for....saving lives, of course." She says that they should all focus on being great lifeguards, but she needs to tell that to all of the beachgoers who mistakenly put their fate in inept hands and suffered the consequences.
Elizabeth wakes up in Ryan's arms the next morning, and I know I don't need to tell you that sexytimes were not involved. I mean, I know nothing gets Liz turned on more than a good meddle, but even that's only good enough for second base at best. She reflects on how everyone learned a Very Important Lesson, and then Ryan wakes up with a predictable hangover.
He heads straight for the whiskey bottle, and while Liz almost has a meltdown he pours the whole thing down the sink. Although given how many times he's hit that bottle throughout this book alone, I feel like maybe "the whole thing" should mean about half an ounce. But the important thing is, Ryan's totally cured of his alcoholism! Technically Liz points out that "Ryan was still a long way from sober," but as far as this series is concerned this whole issue is now resolved. Freeze frame and roll credits; this loose end is tied up.
Elizabeth drags Ryan out to apologize to Jessica for, you know, almost killing her and stuff, and Jess is basically, "Whatever, douchebag." Then Liz and Jess have their obligatory make-up conversation and Jessica tells Elizabeth, "Did you ever stop to think what a boring place this world would be without me around to mess things up?" If by "this world" she means the Sweet Valley series, then I suppose she makes a valid point.
Elizabeth replies, "You didn't mess anything up, Jess. I mean, not this time. We won't go into all the previous occasions right now." No kidding. Even Liz knows there isn't enough time in the world to list all of Jess's screw-ups.
Anyway, everything's sunshine puppies and unicorn rainbows now, and Jess sashays off to bag some random hot guy who was barely mentioned earlier in the book. What an odd ending, but it is an ending so we'll go with it.
Nina is on lifeguard duty but, instead of keeping an eye out for drowning people, she's scanning the beach for Rachel. Seriously, never swim at this beach; if the lifeguards aren't entirely absent then they're half-assing their jobs. Speaking of asses, she's also "adjusting the leg elastic on her lifeguard suit," which I interpret as picking out a wedgie because at heart I am ten years old.
Later that day, Stu calls to invite Rachel over to talk about their situation. This scene is from Rachel's POV, and we are treated to yet another character talking to the voices in their head. I think in this case it's supposed to indicate that Rachel's a few crayons short of a box, but when every other character in the book is doing the exact same thing it's kind of hard to tell.
Rachel goes to Stu's house to talk, and the first thing out of his mouth is a request for a paternity test. I don't know what to say, guys. Stuart suddenly became the smartest character in this book, although it's an admittedly low bar. Rachel is too busy thinking about baby names--she's already decided that she's having a boy and they'll name it David--to really care.
She tries to manipulate Stu into letting her stay the night, but Stu continues to be smarter than a brick and sends Rachel on her way.
That whole visit was actually a diversion so that Nina could break into Rachel's apartment and rummage through her stuff, looking for, I don't know, a signed confession or something I suppose. It probably goes without saying that she's talking to herself the entire time. Take a drink if you aren't already passed out from alcohol poisoning.
She finally comes across a dresser drawer with pictures of a young Rachel with a little boy named David who looks like Stu, because what Sweet Valley book is complete without a random doppelganger? She also finds some torn scraps of paper, which she pieces together to reveal four hospital pregnancy tests, all negative. Torn up or not, why would Rachel keep the test results? Was it just to provide a plot point? I bet it was just to provide a plot point.
Nina heads over to Stu's the next morning to compare notes about Rachel's scheming, the fake pregnancy, Stu's doppelganger, etc. He's worried about Nina's safety, so he invites her to stay with him at his house. Rachel, an honors graduate from the Elizabeth Wakefield School of Eavesdropping, is spying on them from the bushes. She thinks about how much she hates Nina for interfering, then sneaks into Stu's house--noting that he shouldn't keep the doors unlocked when the baby arrives. Yeah, Rachel, you wouldn't want any intruders barging in. Also, if Stu's so worried about Nina's safety then why the hell didn't he lock the doors? Rachel may be a scheming, lying bitch from hell but she does make a good point about home safety.
Rachel overhears Nina and Stu talking about the "so-called baby" and is enraged. "Those hospitals didn't know anything. Their lab technicians were total idiots." No, Rachel, you have Sweet Valley's hospitals confused with their police. Rachel decides she has to kill Nina, because she suddenly took the leap from kind of bitchy to raging psychopath.
Later, Stu leaves to make some herbal tea and Nina notices Stu's favorite sculpture is missing. She gets oddly freaked out about it, so I'm sure she's relieved when she turns around to find Rachel about to bash her over the head with it. Nina has time to dodge out of the way because Rachel, like any good villain, is kind enough to taunt her before she strikes.
Rachel goes full-on Margo at this point, with screaming and strangling and crazy thoughts about blood washing her clean. She starts to smother Nina with a pillow, but is interrupted by her childhood friend "David" calling her name. She runs to him, but "David" pushes her away to check on Nina.
Crazy or not, Rachel is actually pretty smart for a Sweet Valley character because she pretty quickly works out that "David" is actually Stu. Nina regains consciousness, and Rachel starts talking like a child, asking where David is. She regurgitates an abrupt backstory about her friend David that was hit by a car and killed when they were children.
Nina immediately feels sorry for her and starts hugging her and stroking her back, and I gotta say it would probably take me at least a few minutes to feel sympathy for anyone who had very nearly murdered me in cold blood. Nina's been taking lessons from Saint Elizabeth.
Stu is concerned about Rachel ending up in a mental institution because he thinks that "meditation would help her the most." Yes, Stu. Meditation is a much better option for psychotic people than intensive therapy and a truckload of prescription drugs. You know, Rachel had a brother in the previous miniseries. Is anyone going to contact her family about any of this?
Apparently not, because Stu considers himself fully authorized to pay for Rachel to go to some kind of "fancy private sanitarium" as Nina puts it. She's incredulous that he wants to go to so much expense to help someone who lied to him and attacked her. I would say that she makes a good point, except that he wasn't the one cradling the almost-murderer in her arms like a mother hen five minutes ago.
Nina and Stu fill out some paperwork at the police station, which is exactly as exciting to read about as it sounds. We get a random cameo from Paul, who was in the previous miniseries but not this one, so it seems kind of pointless to throw him in now that the book is almost over. Nina ogles his "broad shoulders, and felt her heart flutter excitedly." Great, so now Nina is going to cheat on the guy she's already cheating on Bryan with. It's cheatception.
Nina shakes it off and tells Stu, "I'm so far from finished with you that I'm not sure I've even started yet." Which...I think that might have made more sense in her head because I've read that line five times and I'm still not entirely sure what she's saying. They flirt, make plans for a sexy dinner date, and presumably never see each other again because I'm pretty sure that's the last we ever hear about Stu in SVU.
Winston meets his friend/rock star Pedro Paloma at the airport, where he's returning from a tour in Sweden. I hope some distant cousin of the twins was at the concert! Ignoring all kinds of signs and warnings, Winston busts straight onto the runway, and I don't need to check the copyright date to know this book was written pre-9/11.
The backstory here is that another of Winston's friends, Wendy, is married to Pedro but wants a divorce because she's been lonely while Pedro is on tour and now has a crush on Winston. Winston's not into it, though, in part because he "already had a girlfriend, thank you very much." I'm glad at least someone in Sweet Valley can remember they have a significant other even when said significant other is not in their line of sight, Elizabeth.
Winston explains the situation to Pedro, but they're interrupted by screaming groupies. They run away, but Winston is tempted to slow down and let the crowd of beautiful women catch him. Sorry, Denise. If it makes you feel any better, he remembered you for a good two pages, which is probably a record.
The guys escape in Pedro's limo, and Pedro very sensibly wants to go straight to Wendy and talk things out. I know, right? I had to reread it several times just to let it sink in. Winston, of course, nixes that totally reasonable idea and explains that his idea is better. Spoiler alert: I read ahead, and it isn't.
The first phase of Winston's plan requires not only a costume, but an oversensitive and flamboyant stereotype to sell it to them. By the time they're done, the book tells me Pedro looks like a cross between Wayne Newton and Liberace, so that should tell you exactly what level of absurdity we're dealing with now.
The next phase of Operation: Wackiness involves redecorating Pedro's hotel suite to look like a "new age vision" so that Pedro can pretend to be some kind of guru that convinces Wendy that she still loves Pedro. Pedro, again very sensibly, points out that he doesn't like the idea of lying to Wendy. Winston shrugs this off, probably because he realizes that he's in a fluffy subplot intended to counterpoint the darker themes of the other two stories. He's guaranteed a happy ending no matter what ludicrous shit he pulls.
The boys practice Pedro's act over and over again until Pedro tells Winston that he's exhausted and jet-lagged and insists on going to bed. Winston falls asleep on the patio and ends up late to meet Wendy the next morning. She's angry, but gets over it because she's still got the hots for him. She's parading around in a shimmery nightgown and offering him a romantic breakfast. She's then surprised and disappointed when he sits down to eat instead of bending her over the table and making sweet love to her because, maybe she's only just met Winston five minutes ago? I don't know.
Winston talks Wendy into seeing the "guru," and they go to Pedro's hotel suite to find him disguised as Guru Futi. I'm impressed that Winston resisted the urge to call him Guru Tutti Frutti instead. Wendy is fooled by the disguise, and proceeds to tell Guru Footie Pajamas all about her marital problems. He "channels" Pedro, which basically means Pedro fakes a seizure, and tells Wendy that Pedro loves her, is sorry about being away so much, and wants to have a future with her.
Wendy immediately forgets all about having a crush on Winston and wanting a divorce and starts crying that she loves Pedro after all. Guru Fruity Pebbles reveals his identity by singing her a song and the happy couple embraces. Winston, who has finally had his fill of screwing around with his friends' love life, leaves before things veer into R-rating territory.
Now, let me make this perfectly clear: all Pedro did was tell Wendy that he loved her and then they talked things out, albeit through a bullshit guru charade. Aside from padding out the book, why was the subterfuge necessary? They could have just done that without the wacky hijinks and I'd still have those missing brain cells I lost reading about it. The one good thing about this plot was that hardly anyone talked to the voices in their head, which means this is somehow the sanest section of the book.
The next morning Winston makes Pedro and Wendy breakfast and they all have a good chuckle about Winston's ridiculous plan of ridiculousness. Pedro tells Wendy that from now on she'll accompany him when he goes on tour so they won't be apart as much, and I wonder why they didn't just do that in the first place. Pedro offers Winston a job as a roadie and this lame-ass sideplot comes to a merciful end at last.
If anyone can get number 31 in this miniseries, please recap it! Or any other Sweet Valley book that hasn't been done yet. I would love to see the list completed, but I only have SVU 34, 36, and 38 right now.