|SVT #68: The Middle School Gets Married
||[Oct. 20th, 2007|02:38 pm]
Elizabeth and Jessica are better than you.
I bought my copy of this book in Oxfam for 40p. When I looked inside, I saw that the previous owner had stuck a bookplate onto the front page. The previous owner's name? Jennifer Mitchell! John Pfeifer's ex-girlfriend! I wish I shared a name with a Sweet Valley character. As long as it wasn't John Pfeifer. Or Psycho Margo.
I have to admit that this is a pretty good cover. I like the concept of having a "wedding photos" theme, and the kids all LOOK as though they're twelve or thirteen. My only beef really is that Bruce Patman, the dark-haired boy in the blue shirt, looks incredibly creepy, the way he's stroking the egg like that. When I first glanced at this cover, I honestly thought that he was rubbing his nipple through his shirt. What's worse is that it took me a moment to question that reaction - clearly Bruce has established himself as a nipple-rubber in my mind without my being aware of it.
The title refers to a health-class project rather than a story about the citizens of Sweet Valley falling under the influence of a cult which promotes child-marriages, you may be pleased to know. Or maybe not! The twins are involved in surprisingly few storylines involving cults and you might have clicked on the link hoping for burning incense, mysterious robes, and lots of group sex. If so, I'm afraid you're going to be sadly disappointed! You're also probably going to be arrested some day. These kids are twelve, you sick fuck.
Anyway, the entire middle school is called to an assembly given by Mr. Seigel, the science teacher, who wants to give them all an experience of what marriage will be like, including budgeting, cooking, and taking care of an egg-baby. Why is Mr. Seigel running this? I was given to understand - from similar books set in American middle schools, such as my favourite, The Babysitters Club #34: Mary Anne and Too Many Babies - that usually the health teacher runs this sort of thing. I don't know. I was never involved in this sort of experiment, partly because I went to a faith-based all-girls school and they'd have had to have made us all single mothers or lesbians, and partly because I don't think it's a particularly common experiment in the UK. We're behind the States in many ways. Why, we only got the moving picture theatre over here for the first time two months ago! We like it a lot, although could you please send us over some of this "pop-corn" we've heard so much about? And would you mind explaining what the deal is with Tom Cruise? Thanks!
This announcement sets the Unicorns all atwitter, even though each person will be assigned their spouse at random. Jessica hopes that she doesn't wind up with Randy Mason, who as far as I can tell is pretty much Sweet Valley's answer to the nerds in Saved By the Bell. His favourite T-shirt has "Physics Is Your Friend" emblazoned across the front, and even though I've long been a fan of the slogan T-shirt, I have to admit that that's pretty weak. I hope Randy gets a thinkgeek.com account when he grows up, and orders some cooler nerdy T-shirts. All the Unicorns shiver and hope that they're not paired with a nerd.
Jessica wants Aaron Dallas to be her husband, but it turns out that he's paired with Veronica Brooks, who, we are told, is Jessica's archenemy. Wait, who? Has anyone even heard of this character before? And isn't Jessica's archenemy polyester-based clothing? Janet Howell, predictably, is paired with Randy. Ellen Riteman is paired with Winston. Is it just me, or can anyone else see Ellen and Winston making a really great couple ten years into the future? She's kind of scatty, he's kind of geeky - I can really picture them as the two main characters in a screwball comedy from the 1930s. Jessica is paired with Rick Hunter, a seventh grader. I don't really know much about him, except I seem to recall that Lila has a crush on him in several of the SVT books. Guess this isn't one of them.
For much of the rest of the project, Jessica and Rick FIGHT. On their first day of marriage she has spaghetti, garlic bread, and soda for lunch, and he says that she's going to end up "fat, pimply, and stinky". Charming. (Although he might actually have a point - that's a slice of cake and a helping of ice cream away from what Lois Waller has for lunch every day, Jessica, and you wouldn't want to end up with her flabby forearms now, would you?) He calls her an airhead. She calls him a bonehead. That's pretty hurtful. For 1958.
All the couples have to pick out an egg-baby in front of the whole school, and Jessica and Rick have to go first. Mr. Spiegel makes them choose a name as well. Jessica wants to call the baby Steven. Rick wants to call the baby Fido. Says Jessica:
"That's a dog's name."
"Well, I'd rather have a dog than a baby," Rick said with a shrug.
"I'd rather have a dog than a husband," Jessica retorted.
Heh. They are so lame. Eventually they agree to call the baby Steven Fido. Jessica breaks the egg almost immediately and they're forced to adopt another, which they christen Steven Fido the second. Later in study hall they pick careers out of a pamphlet in order to work out how much money they'll have to spend. Jessica wants to be an actress or a model; Rick wants to be a rock star. So...waiting tables at minimum wage for both of them, then. Jessica smashes the second egg. I'll just cut to the chase now and say that this becomes a running theme, and she ends up smashing an egg in almost every scene until the end of the book. Love Jess. Don't want her babysitting my kids.
Rick does the budgeting for the two of them, but instead of things like food and electricity, he decides that they should spend the money on an "atrium for snakes" (surely that should be terrarium?), motorcycles, para-sailing lessons, and concert tickets. Jessica fumes, but Liz points out that Jessica would have probably done the same thing. I agree, although I suspect she'd have included more purple lampshades and fewer snakes. Jessica moans that she'll be up all night rewriting the budget.
Once it's finished, it looks great. She admits to Sophia Rizzo, "I guess I just figured out how to do it because...I couldn't get anybody to do it for me." In that case, God, think what Jessica would be like if Liz wasn't always bailing her out of situations. She'd rule the world, probably. She rushes to school and, in spite of everything, thinks that Rick is really cute and "if he wanted to call a truce, she wouldn't mind a bit". Oh, Jessica, you do frustrate me.
As the final part of their project, Rick and Jessica have to prepare a meal in domestic science for Mr. Seigel to grade. It all goes horribly wrong, though - Rick burns the noodles, Jessica burns the bread (which she apparently decided to make from scratch, which is a pretty darn stupid idea, if you ask me) - and Mr. Seigel yells at them for wasting the food. He leaves them to wash up and then Jessica and Rick fight some more. In the middle of the argument, Rick leans in and kisses Jessica, "right on the mouth", the ghost-writer helpfully specifies. It turned out that he had a crush on her all along! And she had one on him! The reason they were fighting was because they needed an outlet for their emotions! So remember, girls: when a guy tells you off for eating spaghetti because he says you'll get fat, it's okay! He secretly loves you! (Also, so much for SVT Super Edition #8: Jessica's First Kiss.)
Unfortunately, once Jessica and Rick are kind-of-sort-of-maybe a couple, their relationship very quickly takes a nosedive. Whereas before they had lots of fun snarking at each other, now neither of them wants to say anything that will upset the other. When Rick calls Jessica at home, things are in a pretty critical state:
"What are you doing?" Rick asked.
"Not much," Jessica replied. "Just getting all my notes ready for the study hall tomorrow. What are you doing?"
There was a long pause.
Then Rick sighed soulfully. "Thinking of you."
Heh. Jessica HATES this, much to her own surprise. She tries to complain to the Unicorns about it but they're all busy wrapped up in their own marital problems. Intriguingly, Ellen says that Winston is allergic to chicken, beef, and dairy. I'm sure Winston has eaten burgers and ice cream in other books, so is this really bad continuity or is Winston messing with Ellen's mind? Whatever the case, I hope that it culminates in the two of them ending up being responsible for a mischievous leopard! Also, Lila apparently once handed in a book report which was covered in paté. Klassy.
Things don't stay this way for long, however. In study hall, just before the final project has to be handed in, Jessica starts bragging about the great job she did on the budget. Rick gets annoyed and blows up at Jessica for making him look stupid. Rick's a bit of an ass here. Ditch him, Jessica! Around them, dozens of other couples are also arguing. Eggs go flying. Projects get ripped apart. Chaos. Everyone is convinced they've failed the project. It's the weakest fight ever, because no one really physically attacks anyone else and the only food to throw is eggs.
Up steps Mr. Seigel and tells them all that everyone will receive an A for their project. It turns out that the point of the project was to show all the kids that marrying someone you don't know very well is stupid. I'm not kidding. He says: "What I've been trying to demonstrate to you is that when you marry someone you don't know very well, and with whom you have not discussed the responsibilities and roles involved, you might as well marry someone...whose name you picked out of a hat." Then he tells them that they're only young once and should enjoy it while they can, and only get married after they've finished college and have started careers. I bet the principal is pissed when he finds out that Mr. Seigel has wasted school time and money to teach the kids such a stupid moral.
Also, I'm kind of amused that both Jessica and Lila end up getting married at age eighteen anyway.
I also can't believe that it was a total failure for everyone. I bet Ken Matthews and Caroline Pierce are sitting glumly in the corner while all this is going on because they tried hard to get on well and turn in a really great report on time. But because their marriage didn't collapse into a mud-slinging catastrophe, they get an F! I would bet my entire collection of Sweet Valley books that the only reason Mr. Seigel came up with this project was because he was going through a messy divorce.
The next day, Rick comes over and sits next to Jessica at lunch. They call each other rude names and smile at each other happily. I'm not sure whether this means that they're a couple now or what. It's an ambiguous ending. I bet this is exactly the sort of Sweet Valley book that Alfred Hitchcock, master of the ambiguous ending, would have written.
Liz and Todd have really big crushes on each other and it is awesome. (Todd smiles at Liz and she drops her pencil on the floor in excitement!) They are the greatest SVT couple EVER. Why did it all go so horribly wrong in the high school series? Sadly, they are not picked to work together - Todd is paired with Lila and Liz is with Bruce.
Obviously Liz's partnership is a disaster. Bruce shows up late to the assembly telling the kids about the rules and requirements of the project, and Liz is made to wait outside until he shows up, because "married partners must be able to rely on one another to live up to their obligations and responsibilities". That's a bullshit reason for her not being allowed inside, but okay. When Bruce finally does show up, he claims that he "had business". All I can think is that means that he was in the lavatory for a long time, which is really gross. Why do these girls have crushes on him again? Once the two of them are inside, Bruce ignores what's going on in the assembly and instead spends his time playing with his comb, occasionally running it through his hair. Evidently the ghost-writer has decided to interpret Bruce as Danny from Grease: a brave, if somewhat hilariously misguided decision.
Liz drags Bruce home to meet her father, who cooks, cleans, plays basketball, knows how to budget, and isn't afraid to swing a mean platitude at anyone who crosses his path. Bruce is totally impressed because his own father is away too often for the two of them to ever really bond. That's kind of sweet, although I thought that Lila was the character with the claim on "wealthy, distant father". Bruce ditches the comb and says to Liz, "From now on, I'm a family man."
True to his word, Bruce now takes control of every aspect of the project, quoting obsessively from the manual Liz gives him. Almost every one of his scenes now takes place in the Wakefield house, leading me to believe that he has moved in, and let me tell you that that is a sitcom I would watch! He decides to "spend some time with the children" (heh), and Liz is appalled to find out that he's made a makeshift cradle out of a shoebox, tissue paper, and straps. She's like, "Bruce, just put the fucking egg in your pocket," and he accuses her of being irresponsible. Liz explodes! It's kind of hilarious. She storms out into the kitchen with the egg.
Unfortunately she ends up smashing it, but she slyly takes another one from the fridge and replaces it in Bruce's carrier. Then she breezily returns to the living room, greeting Bruce as though nothing had happened. Ha! I love it when Liz breaks the rules.
The day comes when Liz and Bruce, like Jessica and Rick, have to prepare a meal in domestic science for Mr. Seigel. Bruce takes control of everything, leaving Liz to act out minor rebellions, such as not folding the napkins and putting the water glass on the wrong side of the table: she can't stand not being in control. While this isn't the greatest Sweet Valley book ever written, I do love that it pretty much admits that Liz has an obsessive need to organise everyone else's lives. In spite of her protests, Bruce gives her a healthy helping of spinach, telling her, "According to the manual, women need to be especially careful to get enough iron in their diet." Liz sulks. Mr. Seigel gives them full marks for their meal but declines an invitation to join them as he doesn't like spinach either. Bruce worries that Liz isn't getting enough iron and calcium and Liz flips out again, throwing her plate of spinach on the floor! Yeah!
In the final study hall, at the same time as Jessica and Rick are having their blow-up, Bruce finds out that Liz switched the egg - the new one is hard-boiled and doesn't smash when it falls on the floor - and shouts at her. But after Mr. Seigel gives his speech, the two of them make up. Bruce admits that he was just trying to prove that he could be responsible like Ned Wakefield. He leaves her, but implores her not to forget about the calcium and the iron. Liz is left standing there, totally bewildered. I really like her in this book!
Much to their satisfaction, Sophia Rizzo and Patrick Morris are paired together for the project. Sophia and Patrick are two of the SVT regulars who show up every few books. Patrick is a bit of a nonentity; Sophia is loudmouthed, Italian-American, and her mother is dating the father of Sarah Thomas, Sophia's best friend. They're basically the Liz and Todd of the SVT series, which I think tells you everything you need to know about them as a couple.
Sophia gushes to everyone she meets how she and Patrick are "perfect for each other". I find this incredibly creepy, given that she's twelve. But also incredibly believable, given that she's twelve. I bet Patrick's name has shown up in a few games of MASH amongst Sophia and her friends. She starts obsessing over her appearance and she refuses to eat anything else after she's had two slices of pizza, even though she's still starving, because she doesn't want to look like a pig in front of him. I hate teenagers.
At home, Sophia's mother phones up Sarah Thomas' father and agrees to have Chinese food with him. "But you hate Chinese food!" protests Sophia. Her mother tells her that sometimes it's nice to seem like an easygoing person. What the hell? That is incredibly stupid. Why would you eat take-out you hate just because it's your partner's favourite meal? Why doesn't Sarah Thomas' father order Chinese and Sophia's mother order pizza, and they put the leftovers in the fridge? Why is this bothering me so much? Anyway, this concerns Sophia. Do she and Patrick compromise enough?
Her worries are furthered when Patrick criticises Janet Howell for being so bossy, and Sophia makes a mental note to act as unJanet-like as possible. Then Jessica says that Sophia and Janet have a lot in common, which furthers her resolve. Sophia makes up her mind to be as easygoing as it is possible to be. That way, her marriage to Patrick will be perfect!
However, Sophia quickly realises that being married to Patrick isn't all it's cracked up to be. They're both so easygoing that neither of them get around to deciding anything. Finally, after two weeks of Sophia asking Patrick what he would like to do, and vice versa, they end up having an enormous argument about the fact that they are both so indecisive.
When she comes home, she finds that her family are celebrating. Sophia's mother and Sarah's father are getting married! It's very short notice - they have two weeks to prepare for it - which makes me wonder if Sarah and Sophia have a little brother or sister on the way. Sophia rudely says that marriage is stupid and she flounces out of the room, leaving the rest in an embarrassed silence. Sarah's dad thinks, I'm so pleased that I'm going to have a wife with whom I can share my favourite Chinese food every night. Or at least, I imagine he does. When Sophia's mother confronts her that evening, Sophia actually says: "Take it from me, Mama, marriage is a bad idea. I should know. I've been married for two whole weeks." Yeah.
Sophia eventually realises - after Mr. Seigal gives his speech - that her mother and Sarah's father have been married before and know what to expect. She makes up with Patrick and invites him to come to her mother's wedding. Let's just hope that her mother didn't want to keep it strictly family.
Lila doesn't care who she marries, although she is excited about having a husband. She says: "I wonder if Daddy will let me have a little wedding. You know, two or three hundred of my closest friends, a gorgeous white dress, a cake with ten layers..." Unfortunately, she's paired with Todd and, like most of the other couples, they hate each other. It's been a while since I read it, but didn't she have an enormous crush on him in Elizabeth's First Kiss? The only other book where I remember them having any real interaction is in the SVH book Earthquake, where they're trapped in the Wakefield bathroom for eight hours and a potential romance between them is hinted at. But, of course, SVH:SY didn't follow up on that at all.
Anyway. Lila wants to eat out all the time. Todd is a bit of an old woman about things being neat: he rinses forks for twenty minutes at a time. By the end of the book, however, they are reconciled to one another and Lila compliments Todd on the job he did on the label for the folder. Todd replies - and I really love this - "Thanks. I did the lettering with a calligraphy pen." Hee. You know, I think the ghost-writers who realised that Todd was best characterised as a secret dork really had the right idea.