It’s not easy to be fifteen and in love- especially if the boy you love is seventeen, gorgeous and doesn’t know you exist!
Francine Pascal has made her fortune as the writer-behind-the-ghost for adolescent touchstones such as the Caitlin mega-miniseries and (of course!) Sweet Valley High and its indefatigable army of spin offs. Pascal returned to actually writing under her own name for Sweet Valley Confidential, the 10-years-later sequel that was an all-round disappointment to the now-middle aged fans of the series.
Background: Confidential‘s failure was all the more disappointing because Pascal can be a good writer, as seen in a trio of her early works dealing with sophisticated Upper West Side teenager Victoria Martin.
When last we left Victoria, she was going through a troublemaking phase and had been somehow spirited back to the 1940s, where she had spent the weekend learning a valuable lesson from her mother’s own teenaged brush with delinquency.
The Plot: Victoria, now fifteen and having just finished her freshman year of high school, seems unfazed by her time-traveling two years earlier- it doesn’t even rate a mention! But, that is probably because she is so focused on getting her parents to allow her to take a job as a “mother’s helper” to their glamorous divorced neighbor when she spends the summer on Fire Island.
Victoria has ulterior motives for wanting the job: in addition to the money and freedom, it will also give her the opportunity to ensnare her crush, the hunky New Guy At School, Jim, who will be spending the summer there.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that Jim’s BFF, regular normal not-hunk Barry, has a crush on Victoria and will also be working on Fire Island for the summer.
Oh yeah, and Jim already has a girlfriend:
Her name is Gloria, and she’s been his girlfriend since the start of his junior year, which makes it almost a year that’s she’s been going more or less steady with him.
She’s sixteen. I would sell my kid sister’s soul (and all the rest of her too) to be sixteen.
And on top of that she’s also one of those really girlish types of squeamish, too-too precious dainty things… Very dependent type. You don’t see too many of them around anymore since women’s lib.
But first Victoria has to carefully orchestrate her parents into allowing her to take the job- she plans on springing the idea on them when they go out for her birthday at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village. Victoria tries to cover all the angles:
I can’t find the right dress to wear. It’s got to be a good dress, but not my best in case I have to throw myself dramatically out of the chair and pound the dirty floor in a tantrum.
Victoria does eventually convince her parents, but both job and romantic entanglements start to go wrong the minute Victoria arrives on the island. Cynthia, the Cool Divorced Mom, shamelessly exploits Victoria’s labor, leaving her not only with care of her two young children, but also with mountains of laundry, dishes, cooking and cleaning to do while she slinks around the local discos and party scene, apparently on a man-hunt of her own.
Furthermore, she is engaged in a bitter legal battle with her deadbeat husband and his family: Cynthia has banned her ex-father-in-law from seeing his grandchildren in attempt to squeeze child support out of her husband.
Victoria’s own love life isn’t going much better, when she runs into Jim and Barry on the first day: Jim has Gloria with him, while Barry puts Victoria in an awkward position
“I didn’t say you were my girlfriend, more like… that…”
“More like what?”
“That… you know… more like I liked you.”
Well, I can’t exactly hang him for liking me.
“Actually… It’s more than that. More like… I love you.”
“You can’t love me!”
“But I do.”
“But you can’t!”
“I can’t think of anyone but you. You’ve become the most important person in my life. We have to be together.”
Victoria reacts with shocked laughter, but genuinely feels bad when she realizes that she’s hurt Barry’s feelings… but also:
Still, you have to realize it’s only partly my fault that it worked out so bad. After all, that was a heavy thing to lay on someone, especially when they didn’t expect it at all. And then that part about letting Jim think I was his girlfriend- that really bugs me. That was really gross of him- not that what I’m saying what I did was right- still, he wasn’t so right himself.
Barry, you can’t just stalk a girl into liking you.
Things start to look up when Victoria befriends some of the other mother’s helpers on the island, who fill her in on all of the gossip:
Dana and I sit there listening to the stories Anita tells us. She knows all the juice and there’s enough dirt to bury the whole island. The stories are all about adultery. It’s like nobody is happily married.
Later that night Cynthia has a party, and the guests include the people that Anita works for and that she “told a whole juicy adultery story about”. Victoria can’t stop staring at them when she sees Cynthia and the husband “giving each other little special looks.”
Wow! This is weird place.
Victoria is finally supposed to get a night off, but Cynthia louses up her plans to meet Dana and Anita at the local disco, when she can’t decide whether she wants to stay in or not (“I don’t like to be tied down…”); when Victoria wakes up around midnight and finds that Cynthia decided not to go out after all, the jerk, she rather guiltily decides to sneak out to meet her friends for a little while.
At The Monkey, Fire Island’s favorite non-carding nightclub, Victoria is thrilled to run into Jim and share a dance with him as Dana and Anita look on, impressed. She’s even more thrilled when Jim pulls a hey-let’s-get-out-of-here and he takes her down to the beach to smoke a joint and engage in some truly epic making out.
It is a scene that is salacious enough to be bookmarked for reading aloud at slumber parties, but also awkward and funny, as Victoria tries to negotiate her own raging hormones, worries about being labeled as “easy”, and Jim trying to push her boundaries:
“I’m not doing anything. I’m just touching you.” He lies as if I don’t know what he is trying to do.
This stupid conversation goes on and on and we discuss my body like it was a map and he can touch here and can’t touch there and it turns out that he owns the entire northern half down to someplace around Tennessee and I own the rest. For now anyway.
Victoria returns home long past her curfew, only to find that she’s locked herself out of the house, and has to ring the bell and wake up Cynthia, who will surely be furious about all of this rule-breaking…
Except she’s not, because Cynthia is Cool Mom, and she says that she thinks of Victoria as her “summer daughter”, so she’s not in trouble, but could she be a doll and devein a mountain of shrimp for her weird swingers party the following evening?
Victoria is supposed to have a full day off after Cynthia and the adulterers spend all night playing “some crazy game… a kind of porno-charades that they think is the funniest thing since the belly button”, but is instead left to deal with more phone calls from Forbidden Grandpa, to whom she accidentally lets it slip that Cynthia is going into the city for the entire next day. Oops.
She also has some pangs of conscience for trying to steal Jim away right under Gloria’s nose:
In my dreams I’m the one who gets the boy because I’m so wonderful and good. But this time I got him because I’m really bad. Except maybe I didn’t exactly get him anyway. I’m confused.
Jim dismisses her concerns with a sneer (“Come back in a year or two. You have a lot of growing up to do”), but Victoria barely has time to wallow in her own misery because Forbidden Grandpa has maybe kidnapped his grandchildren.
A heroic Victoria and Barry (and a reluctant Jim) make a daring rescue off Long Island’s south shore in a thunderstorm, Cynthia manages to stop using her children as a bargaining chip, Victoria stands up to her employer, and Barry learns to not be so presumptuous about declaring his feelings to unsuspecting girls. Victoria will surely survive the rest of the season.
Sign It Was Written in 1979 Department: “Mostly when people think of Broadway they think it’s all theaters and hookers, but around my way, up in the Fifties, it’s really okay.”
Public Service Announcement Department: “Steffi and I discussed this a million times about how boys put their hands in their pockets so you can’t see they have an erection.”
Sequel Department: Victoria Martin will return in Love & Betrayal & Hold the Mayo.