She was right! Everyone was loved and happy except for her! With a strangled sob, Jessica burst into tears…
So far this year, we’ve looked at books dealing with clinical depression, terrible parents, eating disorders, alcoholism and a wide variety of Carter-era malaise. That means it’s time to pick up something really escapist and fluffy, and mainline some Francine Pascal and… oh Lord, have the Wakefield twins joined a cult?????
Background: Elizabeth and Jessica are twins with matching sparkling aquamarine eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean and perfect size-six figures. Supposedly Elizabeth is the studious one and Jessica is the wild one, but it’s more like Elizabeth is a nagging scold and Jessica is a status-obsessed sociopath. They have about 200 friends, some of whom are “ethnic” and only appear in one book. Elizabeth has a boring but surprisingly volatile boyfriend named Todd, while Jessica has several hundred boyfriends over the course of the series, a worrisome number of whom meet untimely ends.
The Plot: I can’t believe I am going to say this, but I actually feel bad for Jessica in this one. When she takes an interest in something other than pool parties and the mall, her friends and family are like “But, Jessica, you like shoes.” Sixteen years of that will drive anyone straight into the arms of the Manson Family.
The book opens with Jess 16 days into a three-week grounding for a failing math grade, and garnering no sympathy from frenemies Amy Sutton, Cara Walker, Sandra Bacon and SVH’s #1 badass, Lila Fowler. What’s worse, her own twin sister, Elizabeth is the one who ratted her out!
Jess suffers through five more days of hearing about all of the fabulous unsupervised parties that Lila is throwing while her father is out of town, not to mention Cara’s upcoming trip to London (“London, England?”), until she is finally sprung from the “the split-level prison on Calico drive” and intends to spend the morning shopping at the mall, before meeting her boyfriend (in this one it is Sam Woodruff, still a few volumes away from his untimely demise!) for lunch at the “café beside the artificial waterfall at the mall that always made Jessica think of Paris.”
But when Sam breaks the news that he has to go to the big dirt bike race that day, Jessica abandons him in the middle of their Dairi Burger breakfast and goes to the mall alone, where Jessica feels more alienated than ever.
How typical, she thought as she hurried into the mall. Even strangers disapprove of me.
When she bursts into tears in the middle of the mall, she is comforted by a boy her own age named Ted, who tells her that he too felt all alone in the world until he met Adam Marvel and joined his group, the Good Friends:
There was something about this boy’s voice that was strangely soothing, almost hypnotic. Jessica found herself listening to him in spite of herself.
Ted invites Jess to join the Good Friends for dinner that evening and JUST LIKE THAT, Jessica has joined the most boring cult ever.
Ok, she has some initial skepticism when she arrives at the Good Friends compound in the most unfashionable part of town (she notes it’s the same neighborhood where her older brother’s girlfriend, Tricia Martin, had lived before she had “died tragically of leukemia”) and sees:
The girls wore clothes that hadn’t been fashionable in at least a year. There was only one blonde in the room, and she didn’t even have a tan.
I mean, that description is so on-the-nose, I really think the ghostwriter is having some fun with us. More on that in a minute.
While Jessica remains dubious about the group using the power of macrame to become “total people”, when Adam Marvel himself walks in the door and is a MAJOR HUNK, Jess is ready to sign up. Soon she is wearing dowdy skirts and lying to her parents so she can go collect quarters from strangers at the mall for the Good Friends’ various charitable enterprises.
Everyone is disturbed by Jess’s new interest in do-gooding, especially Sam:
“Jessica, what happened to the girl I used to go out with?” The anger in his voice had been replaced with panic. “Where is she, Jess? What’s happening to you?”
“I’m a total human being, Sam, not just some pretty girl who likes to go to parties,” she yelled.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Jessica, but I’m going to find out!”
It’s not like her family is any more supportive, and are remarkably less concerned:
“Enid and I were just talking about that,” Elizabeth answered. “Enid thinks Jessica’s dressing like a social worker.”
Mr. Wakefield shrugged. “Well, there is a lot worse things than that.”
“Not for Jessica,” Elizabeth pointed out. “She always said she’d rather be dead than drab.”
But the a-plot really buries the lede. Because… Elizabeth has also come under the sway of a charismatic leader and joined a group with a restrictive dress code that is taking up all of her time and even coming between her and her boyfriend, Todd!
I’m talking about the bowling team.
And again, I think the ghostwriter is having some fun here, as Elizabeth’s sudden fanatical devotion to bowling is even more cult-like than Jessica’s to the Good Friends:
“There’s a new bowling team starting up at school, and Todd and I have decided to join!” she seemed inexplicably happy about this “You know, bowling shirts, those awesome shoes…”
“Not only will we get to improve our games, we’ll be able to spend time together, too.” Todd said, grinning.
“I hear the coach is excellent but very demanding. Just think off all of the hours of practice we’ll have to put in!”
I mean, if I was going to call Rick Ross for someone, it would be these two.
Especially once the presumably-adult bowling coach, Justin Silver, takes a special interest in Liz, and even Todd notes that he “had to grab you every time he wanted you to move your feet a quarter of an inch.”
When Justin makes arrangements to meet with Liz after bowling hours, she initially thinks she’s going to be kicked off the team for not being good enough, then figures it must be fundraising for new uniforms, but-
Justin cut her short with a rush of words. “Elizabeth, the problem is not uniforms. The problem is that I want to go out with you.”
DUDE, aren’t you an actual adult?
Liz continues to hide Justin’s intentions from Todd, because:
What was worrying her was her own reaction. She was enjoying his attention. She was beginning to look forward to practice because of the way Justin looked at her, and smiled at her and brushed against her when he was showing her a step or handing her her ball.
So, Liz is straight-up being groomed by her bowling coach. Gross.
Her parents can’t be bothered to notice because Ned Wakefield, Attorney at Law, is investigating this new group in town that may be a cult.
Ned, those are just macrame hippies scamming quarters. Maybe look into the bowling team?
In rapid succession, Ted’s parents have him kidnapped and deprogrammed, and Adam Marvel springs into action to kidnap him back before he can spill all of their macrame secrets. He insists that Jessica is the only one smart enough to help him on this mission, and she eventually agrees to pack a duffle bag and run away with them, but Liz and Todd roll up with the cops and find sullen-recently-missing Good Friend Susan has been tied up in the attic. Twist: she was actually an undercover reporter helping Ned investigate the Good Friends.
So after all that, nobody even gets kidnapped by a cult after all.
Last Word Department:
My edition of this book is from the era of the “Sweet Valley High Reader of the Month” feature, who in this case is Jamie T. of Kentucky who writes:
Sweet Valley books are my best friends. Jessica and Elizabeth are like the sisters I never had. But what I’m really trying to say is that Sweet Valley books aren’t just a series of book, they are a legend of reading. They are what gave this era a great series of books. They are the best and surpass all the others, and I hope the grow into infinity.
Laying it on a bit thick there, aren’t we Jamie?