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Sweet Valley High Super Edition: Perfect Summer
It's summertime and the Wakefields are going on a month-long bike trip along the California coast with Todd, Annie, Lila, Olivia, Roger, Bruce, Bruce's friend Charlie who we've never heard of before and Barry Cooper, the principal's nephew from Ohio. Chaperoning this trip are sexy Roger Collins and also-sexy Nora Dalton, teachers who have split up recently and are apparently willing to give up a month of their summer holidays to cycle around with their ex and the students they see every day. Yup. Sounds like literally none of the teachers I know. And I know a LOT of teachers. My extended family is like 80% nurses and teachers. Why yes, I *am* a culchie, however did you guess?
So, everyone arrives at the school with their bikes and all their gear, and when Chrome Dome Cooper pulls up in his car, everyone is excited to see what his nephew looks like. It's Sweet Valley, so everyone expects him to be a Grade A Ohio ridebag and nothing less, as only beautiful people are allowed into this town, but UH OH. Looks like border patrol were caught napping, because poor ol' Barry is a bit of a chubster.
All eyes were on the pudgy, pale-faced boy who waddled out.
Pudgy. Pale. Waddled. WADDLED, like. HE JUST GOT HERE, LAY OFF.
Elizabeth felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. She suspected that Mr. Cooper's roly-poly nephew had come all the way from Ohio for a whopping big dose of trouble.
Roly-poly! Fuck you, Liz! Immediately before this, Jessica refers to him as a toad and Lila calls him a loser. All of these insults get tossed at Barry in ONE PAGE. It's basically pre-diet Robin Wilson all over again.
The gang sets off on their bike trek and go camping, taking turns to cook dinner, light the campfire, cycle with the group equipment and so on. Elizabeth writes letters to Enid that get us up to speed on what everyone's deal is, such as the fact that Annie Whitman and Ricky Capaldo broke up recently and Charlie seems to fancy Annie, Bruce being mean to his cousin Roger, because Roger's a Patman now, Mr. Collins and Ms. Dalton being frosty to one another and Barry being a hopeless misfit, slow at cycling and incapable of doing anything right.
Barry Cooper had just emerged from the tent he had shared with Mr. Collins (the fuck, Roger?) and was trying, without much luck, to stuff his sleeping bag - as bulky and inappropriate for camping as Barry himself was - into a sack made for a much sleeker kind of sleeping bag.
AS BULKY AND INAPPROPRIATE FOR CAMPING AS BARRY HIMSELF WAS.
Apparently only skinny people are good at camping. How DARE he sleep in a tent, and he a fat kid. CAMPING IS FORBIDDEN FOR FAT PEOPLE. WAKE UP BARRY.
After a few days of cycling and camping, the group arrive in Los Angeles, where a friend of Bruce Patman's dad, Steve Thomas, has offered the group the use of the grounds attached to his fancy mansion. So instead of putting them up in what is clearly a massive fucking house, the kids and teachers have to camp in his garden. Thanks for nothing, Steve. Mr. Thomas has a beautiful but obnoxious daughter named Courtney, who's rude to everyone, including her dad, and has a no-good, motorbike-riding, mowhawk-sporting boyfriend called Nolan, who wears leather wristbands and is quite clearly Bad News. Nolan turns up when Courtney is supposed to be showing the Sweet Valley group around, so she calls the SV kids a bunch of goody-goodys and takes off on the back of Nolan's bike.
Mr. Thomas later confides in Roger Collins and Nora Dalton (who he's literally just met) that Courtney is a bratty pain in the hoop and asks if they could take her with them on the rest of their expedition, as it might do her some good to be away from LA and around some wholesome team players who don't wear leather. For some reason, they agree to take his nightmare daughter with them and the next day Courtney is suddenly all sweetness and light and fresh blueberry muffins. Everyone is amazed at her transformation, but Jessica isn't fooled, as she's still annoyed, nay, OUTRAGED at being referred to as goody-goody.
"Nobody calls me a goody goody and gets away with it." You tell 'em, Jess. How VERY dare she.
Courtney charms the whole group, but Elizabeth isn't entirely convinced by her sudden personality change either and is none too happy that she seems to be sidling up to Todd quite so much. The group leave LA with their new member, and Jessica and Lila pretty much immediately begin to scheme and plan for a way to get Courtney off the trip. Neither of them are buying Courtney's act and Jessica can see that Courtney's play for Todd is making Liz miserable. Todd, however, is totally oblivious and is just being friendly as far as he's concerned.
The group arrive at a youth hostel, and Jessica spots a guy "too gorgeous for words", so naturally, she must have him. She later finds out from other kids staying at the hostel that his name is Robbie October (!!!) and he's cycling along the coast with his brother Danny. But, the other kid warns, they're "totally wild" and were kicked out of the first hostel they stayed in for throwing beer bottles out the window. Rock 'n roll, Robbie!
Meanwhile, Courtney is writing a letter to Nolan, outlining her fiendish plans to steal Todd away from Elizabeth, as having a good boy like Todd by her side will somehow lead to her being allowed to come home early from the bike trip. She's going to make up a bunch of stories about a troubled home life and is pretty much seconds away from an evil cackle the whole way through the letter, as she is a Bad Gal.
It turns out that Jessica and Lila's dastardly plan to get Courtney to leave the trip involved secretly putting lime jelly in the bottom of her sleeping bag to gross her out. However, Lila got the sleeping bags mixed up and put the jelly in Nora Dalton's one by mistake. Jessica thinks she did it on purpose, because Nora has gone back to dating Lila's dad and Lila is none too happy about it.
Jessica writes a letter to Cara Walker, bitching about Courtney and I'm really only mentioning it because of this line in it:
What's absolutely incredible is that all she has to do is toss her mane of hair and smile, and everyone buys her act. Especially boys.
Which is hilarious, because that's BASICALLY YOU, JESSICA. It's so funny how any other girls that come into these books and act exactly like Jessica does are cast as devious villains. I mean, flirting with someone's boyfriend is a quiet day for Jessica, but when Courtney does it she's pure evil.
Ooh also, while she's giving out about Courtney throwing herself at Todd and Todd being too dopey to see what's going on, she writes:
"Somebody ought to give both Todd and Courtney a sound spanking!"
DAMN GURL. I'm not sure that would play out quite the way she intends.
|Look at Elizabeth on this cover! SO pretty! Well done, cover artist for not making her look like she's forty like they usually do. Her high-waisted shorts are super cute, but a frankly terrible idea for cycling, as they would 100% end up wedged up your hole. Jessica looks like an eejit.|
Anyway, the gang are staying in another hostel and Jessica and Bruce are on dinner duty, when Lila bursts into the kitchen to talk to Jessica about their plan to get Courtney to leave the trip. Jessica leaves Bruce chopping onions, and he is decidedly not impressed.
"Next time I'm going to remember to bring my cook along when I go away," he mumbled.
Jessica sighed. "Honestly," she said when they were out of Bruce's earshot, "he's as bad in the kitchen as you are. What do you people do on the servants' night off, anyway?"
Lila looked Jessica straight in the eye. "Cold lobster and caviar," she said earnestly.
COLD LOBSTER AND CAVIAR. Lila Fowler you magnificent bitch. I love you.
Lila wants to back out of the plan to sabotage Courtney's trip, because Courtney's stories about problems at home and her father being an alcoholic have made their way around the group and Lila doesn't want to pick on her anymore. They have a bit of an argument because Jessica doesn't believe a word of it, but their disagreement is cut short by the appearance of none other than Rock 'n Roller Robbie October. Jessica gets her game face on and runs up to him, throwing her arms around him while exclaiming "Bart! Bart Templeton!", because player gotta play. After acting all embarrassed at her "mix-up", it turns out that Robbie is off to a bar in the next town, like the bad boy rebel he is, and asks/dares her to come with him. He also acts like she's a total square for being on a group bike trip with all their "rules and chores and people looking over your shoulder all the time", but come on Robbie, cycling along the California coast with your brother isn't exactly the work of a hellraiser. Before Jessica can decide if she's going to ditch her kitchen duties, Bruce interrupts, telling her to knock off "the enchantress act" and come back to help him. Robbie leaves, Jessica is distraught that she's missed her chance with him and in a move completely inconsistent with his character, Bruce is really sweet and funny with her because she's so upset.
Lila gets chatting to two boys in the hostel (called Pat and Don, which makes them sound like a pair of fifty year old men), who recognise Ms. Dalton as Beth Curtis, a French teacher who used to work at their school in Arizona and mysteriously left town a year and a half ago. Lila finds out that Nora Dalton was married to some rich dude who killed himself when she left him and then uses her knowledge of Nora's secret identity to make her do stuff like carry the pots and pans when it's actually Lila's turn and other incongruously small-scale things, considering she's blackmailing her teacher.
For one of the stops on their trip, the gang end up setting up camp in an unused greenhouse owned by a random kindly lady in return for doing some chores in her flower shop. They all sleep in this old greenhouse for the night, which seems like a fucking outrageously terrible idea. I mean it's bad enough waking up in a tent at Electric Picnic on a vaguely sunny morning, sweating your actual face off, nevermind a GREENHOUSE in CALIFORNIA in SUMMER. YOU'LL BE COOKED ALIVE, YOU FOOLS. Anyway, this merry band of idiots are delighted with their sweatbox camp for the night.
Todd held Elizabeth close as he hummed along with the guitar Olivia had brought with her. On the other side of the old greenhouse, several of the kids sat around Olivia in a circle, singing as she strummed.
Fucking Olivia. There's always one. Also, this means that she's been cycling for this entire trip with a guitar strapped to her back, just so she can inflict Blowin' in the Wind on her mates. Which is what she's playing at this point. Goddammit Olivia.
Later that night, when everyone's asleep, Elizabeth wakes up to hear Courtney crying and notices that this LA bitch has also maneuvered her sleeping bag so she's lying on the other side of Todd. Before Elizabeth can say anything, Todd wakes up and comforts Courtney, stroking her hair before they both go back to sleep holding hands. Fuck. This. Girl. Also, extremely uncool Todd. Come on, dude.
The next day, Todd and Liz have a big row about Courtney, Todd insists that they're just friends and that Liz should be more sensitive towards Courtney, what with all her alleged family problems, but Liz reckons that he crossed a line. They can't manage to agree on anything and the row escalates to the point where they break up and Liz is left alone, crying into the spaghetti sauce she's making for everyone's dinner.
Weirdly, no one seems to have noticed that golden couple Liz and Todd have broken up, and the group have moved along the coast to a state park campground in Big Sur, where Jessica manages to run into that rebel on a pedal bike, Robbie October. The fact that on this occasion she's "barely covered by a copper-coloured bikini" and expertly throws a frisbee back to Charlie Markus means that she actually gets Robbie's attention this time and they arrange to meet for a night-time hike when the Sweet Valley group are asleep so Jess can sneak away.
"I'll bet you're a night person, anyway." She arched one eyebrow suggestively.
Robbie took another careful look at her, his gaze caressing every inch of her. "You're right!" he said finally. "I am a night man."
Aaaaand now I have to leave this here. (Trust me, this is hilarious if you watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.)
The next morning, everyone wakes up but there's no sign of Jessica. Elizabeth eventually gets it out of Lila that Jessica had planed to meet Robbie to go see some waterfall in the middle of the night. Todd knows where the waterfall is, so Mr Collins tells him to take Elizabeth along one of the paths to it, and he'll check the other route with Charlie, Roger and Barry. (Mr. Collins gently tries to talk Barry out of coming, because he's fat and slow, you see.) Courtney says she wants to help too, so she goes with Todd and Elizabeth and proves to be totally useless, screaming at the sight of a tiny water snake and moaning that she's getting a cold because it's been raining while they've been searching. Todd thinks they should go back to the camp if Courtney's getting sick, and Liz is like "eh, no, I'm going to keep looking for my sister, obviously". It looks like Todd is going to have to choose between Elizabeth and the crafty bitch that's trying to steal him away, but just in time, the other group shows up, so Liz goes with them and frostily tells Todd to take Courtney back.
Meanwhile, Jessica and Robbie are trapped in a cave with a black bear because they got lost on the way to the waterfall and ended up in the cave when it started raining, without realising it was already occupied. The group that Liz has joined then comes across the cave and see what's happened. Charlie goes to throw a rock at the bear, like an idiot, and Barry stops him, because the bear is just trying to protect her cubs and black bears aren't usually violent, unless confronted.
Elizabeth and Mr Collins exchanged a look of total astonishment. Who would have guessed that under his insecure, butter-fingered pudgy exterior, Barry was an expert on animals?
Jesus Christ, maybe people who AREN'T terrible? Just because he's heavy doesn't mean that his only interests are cake and sandwiches, you DICKS.
Also, while they're taking this moment to get some digs in at Barry, despite the fact that he's actually being helpful and stopping Charlie from making the situation worse, let's take a look at some of the other ways this book and its characters has referred to him, since Liz's "roly poly" thought, up till now.
"tub of lard", "butterball", "jelly belly", "awkward, heavy-set boy", "big fat klutz","slow as molasses"
Real nice kids, that Sweet Valley group.
Anyway, Barry then runs at the bear and gets her to follow him while he tries to lead her away. Jessica and Robbie get a chance to come out of the cave and the bear doubles back when she hears one of her cubs crying. Mr Collins then runs over, "scooped the exhausted boy up and hoisted him over his shoulder", which seems unlikely if Barry is as hefty as the book is constantly telling us. Unless Mr Collins is built like The Rock or Terry Crews. After the incident, everyone is really sound to Barry and Jessica even kisses him on the cheek and deigns to give him some of her valuable attention. Because if you're not sexy, you have to literally save someone from getting eaten by a bear to get any respect from these assholes.
That night, after everyone is gone to sleep, Courtney wakes Todd and tells him she has to talk to him about her father. While she's waiting for him to get dressed, she smokes a Marlboro (because she's evil) and we find out that she called her father a few days ago and convinced him to let her come home after saying that she missed him and that Todd was going to come back with her. Steve Thomas has agreed to let her leave early, because he thought Todd was the best guy ever when he met him, so Courtney's plan has all fallen into place. When Todd comes over to her, she finishes her cigarette, "carelessly flicked the rest of it into the bushes behind her" and tells Todd that she has to go home because she's "so worried" about her dad and his drinking and he just sounds worse and worse every time she calls home. She convinces Todd to come back to LA with her, kisses him and says that they can leave the following day.
Later that night, Elizabeth wakes up and smells something burning, because OH NO, FOREST FIRE. Everyone scrambles to try to put the fire out, Lila is freaking out and when Nora Dalton tries to calm her down, she starts screaming about how Nora just goes around ruining people's lives, like her husband's, and Roger Collins is like "Husband?! Wtf!?" but now is really not the time you guys. The group work together and eventually put the fire out. Afterwards, Roger Collins asks Nora what the this whole husband business is about and she tearfully tells him that the man she married turned out to be horrible and violent, so she left him and when she wouldn't come back to him, he killed himself. His wealthy and powerful family then turned on Nora/Beth and said they'd ruin her life if she told anyone what he was really like, so she fled and changed her name to get away from them. It also turns out that George Fowler knows this family and realised who Nora really was, so he was blackmailing her into dating him or something. It's pretty dark, but they sort of breeze past that bit. Anyway, Nora, or Beth as I'll have to call her now, unless they pull an Armin Tamzarian on us, makes up with Mr. Collins and they get back together.
In the meantime, Elizabeth is blaming herself for the forest fire, as she was the one responsible for putting out the campfire that night. She has a heart-to-heart with Mr. Collins and tells him all about Todd and Courtney and that Todd is no longer her boyfriend.
"The astonishment on his face was clear. And it was no surprise. Elizabeth and Todd had been the first to agree when people said they were a perfect couple."
Mr. Collins then tells Elizabeth that Steve Thomas sent his daughter on this trip to get her away from Nolan Ruggers and they agree that neither of them believe a word of Courtney's sob story. The group reassembles and Beth Curtis has been telling everyone about her true identity, even though it's none of their goddamn business. Afterwards, Liz confronts Courtney in front of everyone, pushing her on the real reason for her being on the trip. Todd jumps to her defence and Liz tells everyone that she's leaving the trip too, because the fire was her fault. Everyone is astonished and about to cry because if the group is losing Saint Elizabeth, they might as well have all died in the fire. Todd then pipes up about Courtney and her nefarious fag-smoking ways, prompting her to lose her shit and start screaming at everyone, showing her true colours. EVIL COLOURS. She gets sent to stay with her aunt, Liz and Todd are reunited, Patmans Roger and Bruce are all good, Annie and Charlie have hooked up and everyone has a nice time for the reminder of their trip.
It was actually a pretty sucky summer overall, so the title seems like a bit of a misnomer here.
There wasn't much in the way of fun outfits in this one, seeing as the group had to carry whatever clothes they packed while cycling, so Courtney gets this one for her ensemble at the send-off dinner her father hosts in the mansion before the group departs from LA.
She was swathed in an exotic Indian silk sari, shot through with gold threads. Her hair was gathered loosely off her face, but a few stray black curls cascaded softly down around her shoulders. To complete her outfit, a pair of crescent-shaped hammered-gold earring dangled from Courtney's ears.
GAWD Courtney, cultural appropriation, much? Inapprops.
Things I counted:
Number of pages: 249
References to the twins' blue-green eyes: 10
References to the fact that the twins are blonde: 5
References to Todd's coffee-brown eyes: 6 (Get in there, Todd!)