I have to admit, I really love the dorky taglines on the front of the SVT books. They're just so lame. This particular tagline is "Trouble at turkey time..." which is very possibly as far from menacing as it could possibly sound. Turkey time? Seriously? Couldn't you just call it Thanksgiving? I know it's a long word and all, but I'm sure the kiddies reading the books can figure it out.
The A Plot:
Jessica and Elizabeth are excited. This weekend is Thanksgiving, and their cousins are coming for the holiday. Alice's side of the family will be visiting, making me wonder why Ned has no relatives. Possibly they just don't want to be forced to admit they're related to him, which I can sympathize with. Oldest sister Nancy is bringing her two girls, Robin and Stacey, and youngest sister Laura is coming all the way from Tucson, Arizona with her daughter Kelly. Oh, and Kelly looks almost exactly like the twins. Of course she does. Robin, Kelly, Jessica, and Elizabeth are all about the same age, which makes me think something must be fishy. Three sisters all got pregnant at the same time? Was there a family orgy or something? Do I really want the answer to that question?
To prepare for the relatives arrival, Alice has the kids help her clean out the house. Only she goes a little overboard, making Elizabeth dust the lightbulbs, sending Steven to the store four times in an afternoon, and getting Jessica to scour the dishwasher. Every detail has to be perfect. All this cleaning has the kids feeling testy, and there is much fighting to be had. Which really isn't any different from any other book, but this time it's blamed on all the obsessive cleaning going on. And Alice takes the opportunity to tell her kids she and her sisters had a perfect childhood, during which they never, ever fought. Elizabeth thinks this is far-fetched. So do I. Then again, I suppose sisters who get knocked up together would have to put aside their differences.
Jessica manages to unearth a piece of her Aunt Laura's backstory; apparently Laura was married to Greg, a funny, charming man who was also completely unreliable. Laura divorced him, and took Kelly with her to live in Tucson. Apparently Alice feels her sister should have married someone else, but she cuts herself off, much to Jessica's frustration. Later, however, Jessica overhears part of a phone conversation her mother has, talking about a big surprise for someone. Naturally Jessica assumes the surprise is meant for her, since this is Sweet Valley and nothing can ever happen unless it revolves around Jessica Wakefield. She thinks she hears the name Aaron and gets excited, since Aaron Dallas is her "almost boyfriend." Obviously, her mother must be inviting her twelve-year-old daughter's almost boyfriend to have Thanksgiving dinner with all the relatives. Yeah, that sounds likely, don't you think? Honestly, the things Jessica gets into her head...
Amongst all their fighting, Jessica and Elizabeth find out they'll be sharing a room while their aunts and cousins are in town. I'm thinking they should have been expecting this, considering the number of people coming out, but the girls are shocked and appalled. Sharing a room for the entire weekend is obviously a horrible, horrible fate. Really, I don't get what the big deal is. I shared a bedroom with my sister until I was well into high school, and there are three years between us.
Elizabeth get the idea in her head that since Kelly lives in Arizona, she must be lonely. Because if you don't live in Sweet Valley, your life sucks. She and Jess agree to be extra nice to Kelly, and they figure they can try to get Kelly and Robin to be good friends, too.
Finally, people start arriving. First is Aunt Nancy with Robin and Stacey, who is several years younger. Jessica and Elizabeth get into a competition for Robin's attention, which lasts until Aunt Laura shows up with Kelly, who is shy and quiet. And seemingly always on the verge of tears. Kelly is delighted to be in Sweet Valley again. She's missed it a lot, and has apparently made no friends in Tucson. This would be understandable had they just moved there, but apparently the divorce was four years ago. I'm thinking if you can't make friends in the span of FOUR YEARS, the fault might be your own, perhaps?
When she gets a minute, Jessica starts telling Robin about all the things Robin and Kelly have in common. Of course, most of them are completely made up. She tells Robin that Kelly is fluent in French, loves poetry, and that English is her favourite subject in school. Of course, none of this turns out to be true when Robin asks Kelly about it later.
"Well, que sera, sera," Robin replied, smiling.
Kelly smiled back. "Exactly," she nodded. "Whatever that means."
"Tu n'est pas serieuse," Robin protested. "Don't be shy. I know you're fluent in French."
Judging by this excerpt, the ghostwriter speaks about as much French as Kelly does, considering "que sera, sera" is a Spanish phrase. Ye-eah. The two do discover they have things in common, though, and have a good time despite the faulty start Jessica gave them. Kelly is excited to have friends and feels like she's finally home.
Nancy, Laura, and Alice spend the afternoon looking through old photo albums, remembering their perfect childhood. Oh, and bragging about their kids, of course. Steven listens in on this conversation with far too much interest for a 14-year-old boy. When the other two ask her what Kelly is into, Laura kind of hedges the question, and mentions Thanksgiving is a difficult time, as it's the time of year Laura left Greg. Nancy starts going on about how Laura should never have married Greg in the first place, since the wedding only happened because she was mad at Darren Caruso, her high school sweetheart. It seems Darren and Laura had planned to go to the same college and then get married, but Darren took off and joined the marines without even telling her about it.
Halfway through watching a movie, the girls notice Kelly has disappeared. They go downstairs to look for her, but she isn't there. Just as people start panicking, Kelly shows up. She went for a walk to their old house, just to see it again. This girl desperately needs to move out of the past. Nancy thinks Laura is too lenient with her daughter, which is why Kelly runs off. After all, you never know what kind of serial killer/stalker/rapist might be hiding in the bushes. Elizabeth thinks it's odd that there should be so much tension between three sisters who never, ever fight.
The tension is not eased by dinnertime, which is mostly silent. Robin yells at her younger sister and gets sent upstairs. Jessica and Elizabeth get into an argument and are sent to their rooms. Steven asks for a funny story from their childhood, and Alice starts with some nonsense about a donkey, but she, Nancy, and Laura can't agree on the details and get into a full shouting argument about everything and nothing. Everyone else clears the table and disappears, not wanting to be a casualty of war.
There are a lot more petty arguments. Elizabeth and Jessica fight. Robin and Stacey fight. Nancy, Alice, and Laura fight. Finally, Thanksgiving dinner is ready. But much to everyone's surprise, there are 12 places set, despite there being only 11 of them. Who could the twelfth be? Jessica is still convinced it's Aaron Dallas. Because the SV writers have never heard of a plot twist, the mystery guest turns out to be Darren Caruso. It seems Alice ran into him randomly and he had a chance to explain, earning himself an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. As soon as Laura hears this, she sends Kelly upstairs to pack her bags. They're leaving immediately. Everything is in an uproar. Kelly is crying. Laura is crying. Nancy blames Alice for everything. Jessica is still disappointed the mystery guest isn't her boyfriend. Good old Jessica. We can always count on her to be self-absorbed in the middle of someone else's crisis.
Before Laura can take off, Darren arrives. He begs for a chance to explain. It seems he suffers from dyslexia (only they never call it that; they call it "learning disabled" which really irritated me), and the college rejected him. He didn't know how to break the news to Laura, so he joined the armed forces and wrote to her, asking her to wait for him. Being dyslexic, however, he miswrote the address, and Laura never received his letter. By the time he'd realized his mistake, more than three months had passed, and she was so mad she wanted nothing to do with him, destroying any other letters he sent to her. But as soon as Laura and Darren see each other, everything is forgiven and forgotten. Yet another Big Misunderstanding resolved.
Everyone sits down to eat... when they notice Kelly is missing again! The girls are sure they know just where to find her, and set out. I love how it's not okay for Kelly to go out on her own, but it's okay for the other 12-year-old girls to run around unsupervised. They find Kelly in front of her old house, as they'd expected, and she's been crying. She admits she has no friends in Tucson, and the only person there who ever pays attention to her is her mom. Kelly's upset that her mom is so happy to be with Darren, since it means her attention will now be split, and Kelly won't be the focus anymore. Stacey tells a ridiculous story about a lonely girl who has a doll that comes to life. I don't really think it bears any relevance, but it seems to make Kelly feel better, and they all return to the Wakefield house. And of course, Kelly makes them all realize the importance of family, and how lucky they all are to have sisters, and how they should all put their differences aside. Because having a sister is like having a built-in best friend. And they all raise their glasses in a toast to sisterhood. (Incidently, I notice they never tell us what's in the girls' glasses. Judging by how attentive their parents are, I wouldn't be surprised if they all had a glass of wine to go with their dinners.)
The B Plot:
Steven has to do a project about his family for school. He starts with a family tree, spending some time over whether he should label himself "Steven the Great Wakefield" or just simply "Steven Wakefield." To go with it, though, he needs stories about his family history, and he figures this weekend will be the perfect time to collect. So he spends most of his time trying to convince his mother to tell him family stories, but something always comes up (usually another argument). Eventually, after the whole Darren Caruso thing comes out, Steven figures he can get away with only telling that soap-opera worthy plot and get an A on his assignment. Whoopee.
As a sidenote, I've gotta give kudos to the ghostwriter for trying to keep Laura's story straight. But according to SVH's Family Secrets, her ex-husband Greg was an abusive drunk, as opposed to the charming, likeable if irresponsible man he's depicted as in this book. Also, if they uncovered all of this when they're twelve, why have they forgotten it all again at sixteen? Hmm. Overall, I have to give this effort at continutity a C, I think. Good try, though.