Sweet Valley High kicks off their spin off Sweet Valley Twins with a bittersweet story of Jessica and Liz age twelve growing apart and discovering their need to join other groups of friends – though Liz is a little more reluctant to part from her sister , Jessica too , still feels that need to drag along Liz. Both however discover they cannot stand each other’s interests , Liz thinks talking about make up and boys all the time is boring whereas Jessica thinks writing is a yawn. Gone are the hallowed halls of Sweet Valley High – replaced with Sweet Valley Middle school – sympathetic teacher Roger Collins has been replaced by the unsympathetic Mrs. Arnette. And the main addition is the exclusive Unicorn club full of snobby sixth to eighth graders that Jessica longs to join.
The book follows a pretty similar formula to the first Svh book – where as Liz was secretly the Eye’s and Ears writer , Liz is now starting a class paper , the girls were pledging Phi Beta Alpha , now the girls are pledging the unicorn club , Jess is mistaken for Liz whose reputation is smeared , Jess pretends to be Liz and plays a mean trick with Liz suffering the consequences. Studded throughout the story is a buffet of 80’s girls interest cliches – check it out – starting a newspaper , reading mysteries , loving horses , pink and white bedrooms , unicorns , ballet , the color purple – with shades of lavender and mauve, oreo’s for snacks and my all-time favorite Ellen’s rainbow room. I think they’ve got all the bases covered in just the starting book!
Jessica’s pledge tasks- a.k.a. dares for joining the Unicorns are to get the lesson book away from the dreaded teacher Mrs. Arnette dubbed the Hairnet for obvious reasons – she wears one. Successful in her task which has the bonus of securing everyone in class with no homework she moves on to her second task which is to get three girls to go into the boys washroom. Jess uses the excuse that the girls room has flooded but when two girls see that Jessica has let her sister in, rather than trick her, she quickly explains that Liz is in the future plumbers club – great for emergences. Her third task is to abandon looking like her twin which Jessica deems to be the hardest task. Instead of warning Liz , Jessica tricks her by sleeping in ignoring the identical outfit set out for her and curls her hair adding touches of make-up. She is startled by the change but no more so than Liz who locks herself in a bathroom stall at school and sobs – how many of us have gone through that! However she learns through inadvertent eavesdropping that the girls in her class are glad of the change now they can tell the twins apart and hopefully get to know them better as separate people not as the mental ‘blondie’ that Bruce has dubbed them.
There are two side stories – one involving their crabby older brother Steven who had dated ex-Unicorn Roberta Manning , whom Jessica thought was kicked out of the Unicorns but she finds out from Steven that Roberta dumped the Unicorn’s when queen Janet made a play for Steven. The other side story is the girls interest in taking ballet classes for which Jessica makes a faux pas by showing up in this outrageous outfit – a purple leotard , Lila’s borrowed purple legwarmers with yellow stripes and pink hearts , a filmy lavender scarf knotted around her waist , the sides of her loose flowing hair are pinned back with glittery purple barrettes dangling long lavender streamers. If that wasn’t bad enough – blue eye shadow up to her eyebrows. Needless to say she makes an instant enemy of her ballet teacher who pegs Jessica as wanting to be the star even before her first lesson!
What grabbed me was the gross food element- Liz invites Amy over after school and offers her a snack – peanut butter and banana sandwiches? Which Jess thinks are gross and Liz doesn’t care if Amy thinks they’re gross too, ( actually they’re not bad – but I was always partial to a peanut butter with sugar sprinkled over it sandwich- yum! ) Amy retorts that, yeah, it does sound gross but then again she likes peanut butter with pickles – ( hmm now is that with ordinary pickles or yum yums?) Weird food combinations always makes me think of two things – one a movie scene in a vintage 50’s movie called Susan Slept Here a really cute Debbie Reynolds gem in which teenage Susan’s weird food preference ordering strawberries and mixed pickles in diners leads to a lot of comedy hoopla. She even pours cream over both the strawberries and the mixed pickles! The assumption of course is that she is pregnant. But by who? She’s a seventeen year old bobbysoxer who parades around in saddle shoes , gingham shirt , blue jeans , carefully curled ponytail and a mink wrap whose married-in-name-only to the debonair Dick Powell.
The other weird food memory comes from a short story I read in one of my school readers – the reader is called Ripple Effects and the story is called Katie’s Promise – I managed to come across it in a used bookstore and boy did it bring back memories! – the story is only eight pages long with several clear black and white drawings illustrating it. It’s written by Bernice Thurman Hunter whom I looked up and it turns out she wrote all kinds of books some even on our fifth grade reading lists – most notably the Booky books. This story is dotted with weird food. After the initial short story set up of how the girls Katie and Deena are best friends and have similarities in looks and lived next door it slams the reader right into a fight in which both girls declare they will never speak to each other again. Katie seething with anger stomps into her house and makes herself a snack – a bowl of hot soup and a chocolate ice cream cone which she ate at the same time! I always thought of the soup as chicken noodle. I couldn’t imagine mingling any other kind of soup with ice cream, not cream of mushroom? Shudder. Or wait how about tomato – yikes! Katie continues in her bad mood , sulking and refusing to make up with her friend and the junk food reaches it’s zenith , sitting on a window seat she moodily munches get this – a potato chip and pickle sandwich. Her father grumbles about the ‘junk’ she’s stuffing herself with and tries to salve her mood by asking, where’s that shadow of yours? meaning Deena. In school the next day Katie tries what most kids try and are usually unsuccessful at – the seat change – she asks her teacher if she can switch seats – but the teacher won’t have it. This draws more attention from the kids in class who love gossiping about the girls. And the main topic which even the reader wants to know is what started the fight? But they’re as clueless and take advantage of the split with one girl horning in for a new best friend and latches onto Katie , while a boy who had a crush on Deena makes his move. Grumbling over the change in Deena her father’s main gripe is that all Deena ever does anymore is talk on the phone to Marty with her feet up on the wall, leaving heel marks behind. Did anyone ever do that? – I remember that – back when phone’s were basically stationary and you had to find a way of getting comfortable – especially in the hall for all those hour-long marathon talks! The story zips along with both girls being stubborn until Katie who has stayed after school for a project decides to call her worrywart mom to tell her where she is only she dials the wrong number – Deena’s number. Deena worried that Katie’s in trouble sparks enough courage in Katie to finally apologize – and Deena quickly follows with her apology. As they are laughing because they can’t remember what they fought about in the first place and even making plans to meet right now , Katie hangs up the phone and notices the first star of the evening which she swears by , that she will never reveal that she dialed the wrong number. I loved this story back when I first read it in fifth grade and was one of the reasons I loved my readers , I had others that went back further , I’ll work them in to an article don’t worry – remember Mr. Whiskers?! Or those long rectangular readers or even in the library those colorful
knowledge books called Childcraft?
Oh well back to Sweet Valley Twins! Where were we oh yes , Amy and Liz are discussing their paper – what name to call it – the Sweet Valley News , the Chatterbox – or the Sweet Valley Sixers – Liz’s pick of course. Strangely though both girls know they have more fun with their own friends still feel the need to cling together and wouldn’t you know it Jess wouldn’t dare sacrifice an afternoon to the Sweet Valley Sixer’s it’s Liz whose dragged to a Unicorn meeting. Liz’s pledge task is an especially mean trick probably meant to scare her off. She’s to replace the whipped cream on Lois Waller’s sundae with shaving cream. Liz immediately says no , but Jess does the trick pretending to be Liz but not before calling Liz a priss and telling Lila she can talk Elizabeth into anything. As if to add insult to injury the writer has Lois ordering a hot fudge sundae with marshmallow cream , nuts , cherry syrup and toasted coconut as if to say look at this hippo , she’s getting what she deserves. And how contary magazines can be on the issue of a teenagers appetite, in one vintage, borderline 80’s Seventeen magazine, among the diet articles, was a recipe for giant cookies! and an article on calculating recipes in metric – one of the examples was a foot long hot dog wrapped in stripes of bacon! Jessica is downright gleeful , merrily crying out, ‘ it’s a joke , it’s shaving cream!’. Her thoughts towards Lois are even uglier , calling Lois everything from a hippopotamus, tub to a blimp. Anyone a smidgen over their ideal weight would be cringing reading this passage , even if they think they can look to Liz for comfort , Liz really isn’t Lois’s friend – watch Lois practically gush and even thank Jess-as-Liz for calling her! Liz discovers Jessica played the trick on Lois after she goes to her first Unicorn meeting as a member and tells Jessica I will never forgive you as long as I live – don’t make promises you can’t keep , Liz. An interesting note is on page 85 , Elizabeth decides to use ‘Jessica’s tactics on Jessica’ namely blackmail, she’ll only quit the Unicorn club if Jess apologizes to Lois which Jessica does though scoffs it’s too bad she can’t take a joke. Jess and Liz get their own rooms completing the stories main theme that they are now their own person. And the book ends with Liz and Lois playing the same whipped cream/ shaving cream joke on the Unicorns at the Dari Burger – but I never did understand why Lila only had her sundae topped with shaving cream? Even though Janet delivered the pledge task and Jessica gleefully executed it but I suppose it was Liz’s influence not to decorate Jessica’s sundae out of loyalty ( too bad Jessica is never quite as loyal! ) , such a shame, it would have been interesting to see Jessica react to a mouth full of shaving cream.
Hope you like the pics!