Love Nancy Drew Mysteries? Except for the mystery part? And the Nancy Drew part? Have I got the series for you!
Background: Clearly designed to cash in on the popularity of Sweet Valley High, River Heights is a direct continuation of the then-current incarnation of the venerable series, The Nancy Drew Case Files, which was published from 1986-97. Volume #39: The Suspect Next Door, dealt with teen-sleuth Nancy clearing her teenaged neighbor Nikki Masters of murdering her boyfriend.
(Can we take a moment to admire the 1989-ness of this cover? The blonde permed half-ponytail! The oversized jean jacket! The mauve-white-turquoise spattered graphics! The 45 year old-looking boyfriend!)
The Plot: The book opens with Nancy advising Nikki on her back-to-school wardrobe and giving her a little pep talk. Nikki is anxious about starting her Junior year after that whole murdered-boyfriend misunderstanding over the summer. Nancy gives her friend a fancy pen and promises her that Junior year will be the best ever.
On the first day of school, we are introduced to Nikki’s two best friends, athletic Robin and girly Lacey, who will fulfill the George and Bess roles in the story, in addition to an avalanche of other names that are dropped with a brief description. I guess because they’ll figure into future non-mysteries. Honestly, at this point, I was so distracted by how blatantly it was knocking off Sweet Valley High that I was mostly matching up the equivalent characters from each series.
These include Jeremy “Preppy” Pratt (Bruce Patman!), nasty popular girls Kim and Samantha (Cara Walker and Amy Sutton!), and River Heights High’s queen bee, Brittany Tate (Lila Fowler!)
The main problem with the book is that it immediately sets up Nikki as the heroine and Brittany as the antagonist, but then goes and makes Nikki beautiful and rich and boring, and Brittany poor and smart and scheme-y. Well, River Heights poor. She lives in a split-level ranch instead of a mansion and has to take the bus to school.
Conflict! Hunky new guy in school Tim Cooper is attracted to Nikki upon meeting her, but Brittany has also set her sights upon him, and launches an incredibly elaborate scheme to win him for herself.
This includes standing up for Nikki and announcing that she won’t take any murdered-boyfriend gossip for her column in the school paper, because murdered boyfriends are so last summer. Nikki is grateful for having the attention deflected from her, but Robin and Lacey are convinced Brittany is up to no good.
Brittany kicks her scheme into high gear when she finds a letter and a photo from Tim’s ex-girlfriend, and starts subtly suggesting that Nikki should try out a new look. That’s some pretty great sleuthing, right there: on the basis of one photo, Brittany is able to come up with, like, three different outfits to make Nikki into a clone of Tim’s ex.
When Nikki shows up for their date at the opening of the new teen night club, Tim is pretty much bowled over, but not in a good way:
Nikki was not reassured. Was she making Tim so nervous that he couldn’t drive? What was wrong with him anyway?
Um, if the dude can’t handle a little gold-glitter eyeshadow, maybe he isn’t the catch you think he is.
Meanwhile, in a truly brilliant bit of scheming, Brittany slips Tim’s lost letter and photo into Nikki’s locker when she knows he will see it and Tim LOSES HIS SHIT:
“You didn’t have to do it. I liked you, not what you were wearing. Why did you pretend to be somebody else? It ruined everything!”
On to the B-plot: Brittany’s father has purchased her a car, but it’s a junker and breaks down in the school parking lot on the first day she drives it. Really, I feel bad for Brittany, since her father says he’ll tow it, and then he doesn’t, and Brittany doesn’t want to ‘fess up to owning it because everyone in school is talking about how awful it is (seriously, you’d think she was driving Hitler’s Death Car), and then the car becomes the center of controversy when the art club decorates it with paper mache and turns it into some kind of sea-monster. Desperate to be rid of it without letting on that she owns it (seriously, Dad, call a tow truck already!) she writes an editorial against keeping it as some sort of mascot, igniting the ire of the art club.
And then Nikki and her friends start following Brittany around and taking pictures with a telephoto lens, which reveals that Brittany has the car’s license plates in her locker and decide to blackmail her with the information. Nikki sanctimoniously insists that she is above that sort of thing, but does not protest when Lacey steps in to blackmail on her behalf, threatening to reveal to the entire school that Brittany owns the car unless she confesses to Tim that she was behind Nikki’s makeovers.
To her credit, at this point Brittany is pretty much “Whatever, this Tim guy is clearly not worth the drama.”
Nikki and Tim are reunited when they are cast as the leads in that perennial High School English Class Theater classic Our Town, and Tim agrees to help Brittany with the homecoming game’s half-time show, and
Will Tim’s hidden past come between him and Nikki? What will Brittany’s next move be? Find out in River Heights #2, Guilty Secrets.
Brittany, I hope your next move is to find a boyfriend who isn’t a complete bore and who possibly owns a tow truck. You deserve it, girl.
Sign It Was Written in 1989 Department: “If you got me out of my room for nothing, I swear I will erase every one of your floppy disks!”
Cameo Department: “Amid the clutter of makeup and photos on Nancy’s dresser sat an odd-looking antique clock.”
Tampon in a Teacup Department: “A ‘found object’ is a piece of art that isn’t created in a studio, but is instead found on the street. The artist may or may not modify it. It doesn’t matter. It’s still art.”