Shall we see what's been going down in Sweet Valley town?
Sweet Valley High #17: Love Letters
Our story opens with school gossip Caroline Pearce getting up the morning after the big Patman party from the end of the last book. But don’t worry and for god’s sake, stop panicking because the Wakefields haven’t been forgotten about. It’s ok. We don’t even get as far as halfway through the second page before they’re mentioned, as everyone in Sweet Valley is just living their lives in relation to Jessica and Elizabeth.
You see, we’re kicking things off with Caroline because she’s been getting all these romantic letters from a guy called Adam and has been reading them out to everyone in school, which is a frankly bizarre thing to do. But she’s been getting loads of attention from the other girls in her class, as well as her sister because of the letters. Attention which she’s been longing for as poor Caroline is super lonely and fed up of being unnoticed and unpopular. However, what no one knows is that there is no Adam and Caroline has been writing these letters to herself.
It turns out that Caroline is such a gossip because she just wants to make friends but goes about it all wrong. She tries to know what’s going on with everyone because she feels left out, although her sister Anita points out that telling stories about people is the surest way to stay left out. Apparently it’s easy for Anita though, with her good looks and her almond shaped eyes and her excellent grades at college.
At breakfast that morning, Anita is reading the paper and disinterested in Caroline as usual, until she mentions that she’s going to the beach with the Wakefields, at which point she’s all ears.
“Anita thought the Wakefields were the nicest girls in Caroline’s class. She was always pushing Caroline to get to know the twins better.”
Even college girls have a boner for Jessica and Elizabeth.
When Caroline says that she’s going to the beach with the Wakefields, what she means is that she overheard Cara Walker offering to give Jessica a lift there and butted in to ask if she could go along too. Apparently Jessica looked “noncommittal”, but that was good enough for Caroline to decide to chance her arm and stop by the house that morning.
Jessica sees that it’s Caroline at the door and persuades Elizabeth to answer it instead and fob her off. Elizabeth thinks it’s mean, but, surprise, does it anyway and then gets annoyed when Caroline tries to convince her to come to the beach as well, because she wants to work on a play for some competition at school. Even Saint Elizabeth, the personification of honesty and fairness and sympathetic smiles and kittens in flowerpots is kind of a bitch to Caroline. Having been rejected by both twins, Caroline leaves the house all sad and accidentally finds a copy of a letter from Alice Wakefield to a design firm in San Francisco by the bin that was put out for collection. Yes, I know, tenuous at best. However, the letter reveals that Alice Wakefield is considering a major job offer which, if she accepts, would mean the twins are moving to San Francisco.
DUN DUN DUUUNNN.
Cheered up by her newfound slice of juicy gossip, Caroline heads off to the beach in search of people to hang out with. Eventually, she spots Jessica, Lila and Cara sunbathing with their slender legs and perfect manicures. She tries desperately to think of something interesting to say to them and ends up blurting out some story about a row between Annie Whitman and Ricky Capaldo. The conversation soon turns to her mysterious boyfriend though, with Lila wanting to know when they can all meet him. Caroline quickly changes the subject and runs off to say hi to someone, but then catches Jessica doing an impression of her when she comes back. Fed up with trying to win favour with this bitch, she angrily throws the San Francisco letter in Jessica’s face. Ha! Take that, Wenchfield!
Jessica runs home distraught, as leaving Sweet Valley is “a fate too horrible to consider” and shows the letter to Elizabeth.
“A mixture of confusion, hurt and panic flashed in her blue green eyes.”
Wakefields are fucking CHAMPIONS at emoting.
That evening, over pizza, the twins confront their parents about the potential move, but their plan to be reasonable goes out the window when Jessica starts shrieking about how unfair it is and how selfish they’re being. Ned angrily throws his napkin down on the table and sends Jessica to her room. She storms out, tossing her napkin on the table and Elizabeth follows, but she neatly folds her napkin before leaving. I’m not sure why we get so much napkin detail, but there you go. #napkin
Elizabeth has been busy writing her play, which is inspired by the romance between Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, after Olivia Davidson loaned her a book of Barrett’s poetry. Apparently the play that she’s been hard at work on is “filled with letters Browning had written”, so it sounds like she essentially plagarised the entire thing. HOW NOBLE AND FAIR AND HONEST.
But she’s not the only one who’s been lifting content wholesale from the Barrett-Browning love affair, as Caroline Pearce’s love letters from Adam have also been getting the Victorian poetry treatment. She’s been borrowing books of their work from the school library, all sneaky-like so no one will find out what she’s up to and wonders what it must have been like to be Elizabeth Barrett. (Out of your box on laudanum, if Wikipedia is to be believed.)
However, Caroline kicks it up a notch to get her sister Anita’s attention and pretends to be on the phone to Adam one evening when Anita arrives home after college. The plan works and Anita asks who she was talking to, so Caroline shows her the love letters and tells her all about Adam, delighted that her sister is so interested. Anita offers to go shopping with her the next day and says she knows a place that’ll do “something terrific” with Caroline’s hair.
Caroline is thrilled, but also can’t fight the feeling that the only reason Anita and the girls in school are taking an interest in her is because of her fake boyfriend. I actually really feel for Caroline, she’s so lonely and just wants some friends and a sister who actually gives a fuck about her! Come on people!
Meanwhile, the Wakefield twins have been plottin’ and schemin’ to convince their parents that Sweet Valley is the best place to live in the world EVAR and San Francisco is full of murderers. Their grand plan is to sign their parents up for all the mailing lists about events in the town, so basically they’re spamming them with brochures, which is supposed to remind them of all the good times they’ve had in Sweet Valley. Apparently Ned and Alice don’t react like normal people do to junk mail. i.e. FUCKING JUNK MAIL BULLSHIT FILLING UP MY GODDAMN RECYCLING BIN.
Back at school, Caroline is feeling more confident with her new hurr and scoop neck t-shirt, but still manages to put her foot in it with Bill Chase when she asks how his play for the competition is going and inadvertently comes off as a prying busybody. Then Annie Whitman tears into her for spreading stories about her and Ricky Capaldo. Womp womp.
After talking to Bill about the play, Caroline thinks he might be cheating and getting help from Mr Jaworski, the drama teacher and rushes over to tell Elizabeth, who is having lunch with Todd on her high horse.
When she leaves, Todd talks about Caroline being a troublemaker and how she should stay out of other people’s business. But while he’s MID SENTENCE, Elizabeth “held up her hand, signaling for Todd to be quiet”, like she’s Cleofuckingpatra and immediately starts to wonder aloud why Bruce Patman is sitting with Regina Morrow.
WELL ELIZABETH, MAYBE THAT’S NONE OF YOUR FLINGIN’ FLANGIN’ BUSINESS, YOU HYPOCRITE.
Also, may I remind you that she’s the one who writes the school paper’s gossip column and LITERALLY STALKED Regina in the last book to find out why she was leaving school early instead of just backing the fuck off when she clearly didn’t want to tell anyone what she was up to. But somehow Caroline is the Sweet Valley busybody, of course.
|Here's Caroline all delighted with her fake letter. But oooh watch out, Elizabeth Judgeypants Wakefield is lurking. We know it's Elizabeth because her clothes are so fucking BORING. Also, barettes.|
Anyway, that evening the twins move to phase two of their plan to stay in Sweet Valley and treat their parents to a takeaway veal dinner from their favourite restaurant and lemon chiffon pie from Sweet Valley’s most spectacular bakery. Then Elizabeth announces that she wants to read her play to the family for their feedback and makes a big deal out of how the competition is the only one like it in California and how lucky she and Jessica are to go to Sweet Valley High. While saying all this she sounds like one of those insufferable radio ads where two idiots have a conversation that consists of repeating the name of a tile shop and its website over and over.
So Elizabeth reads out her dumb play and to the surprise of no one who’s been paying attention, Jessica suddenly realizes that the Robert Browning letters that Elizabeth has filled her one act play with - instead of actually writing anything original - sound verrrry familiar.
As soon as Elizabeth is done, Jessica rushes off to ring Lila and tells her that Caroline has been writing the letters to herself. Lila reckons there still is an Adam but that he’s just been plagarising his letters. Either way, the two decide to up the ante in order to find out what’s going on and demand to know when Caroline is going to see him again, telling her they’re going to throw a party in Adam’s honour at Lila’s mansion.
In between all this, Caroline digs herself even deeper into the lie and tells everyone that she’s going to visit Adam in Cold Springs for the weekend. She’s even got all her proof sorted out, as her cousin gave her a Cold Springs tshirt when she broke up with a non-imaginary guy that went to the school there and after rummaging around the Oracle office in secret, manages to get her hands on a Cold Springs school paper.
How and ever, Jessica sees Caroline out by the Las Palmas Canyon that weekend while she’s on the way back from dragging Ned Wakefield out there under false pretenses in order to remind him how nice it is out there. Sure what else would you be doing of a Saturday.
But when she and Lila pounce on Caroline back at school, Caroline brazens it out with her Cold Springs tshirt and stories about romantic dinners and hiking and picnics. Jessica evilly twirls her silky hair around her finger and points out that Elizabeth might like to hear one of Adam’s letters, seeing as she’s working on a play about them, the Barrett-Browning ones, to be precise.
The next day, Lila and Jessica get Caroline over to their table at lunch while Elizabeth is there and make her read out one of Adam’s letters. When Elizabeth realizes the letters are cogged, she keeps quiet in front of Jessica and Lila, but is furious with them for setting up Caroline like that.
“Angry sparks shooting from her blue-green eyes, Elizabeth tried to catch Jessica’s gaze.”
LIZBOT MALFUNCTION. MEEP MORP.
When they’re alone, Caroline tearfully fesses up to Elizabeth, as she knows she can be trusted. She asks Elizabeth not to read her play at the competition as then everyone will figure out what’s been going on and she’ll be a laughing stock. Liz, however, is none too pleased.
“She’d slaved over this play and she’d been really looking forward to reading it.”
Girl, please. You ripped off a dead poet’s letters and considering it’s a one act play, how much original dialogue actually made its way in there? Slaved me hoop. Anyway, she agrees to look into seeing if she can submit her play without reading it aloud.
Elizabeth then confronts Jessica to see what her game is with torturing Caroline, without letting her know the truth. Jessica tells her she doesn’t think there really is an Adam, but instead of confronting Caroline outright, she has decreed that Caroline needs to be publicly humiliated for trying to trick her and Lila, which is why they’re throwing the party that weekend. Jessica Wakefield ain’t nothing to fuck with. She also calls Caroline a spoiled brat, which is a bit rich considering that this whole conversation takes place with Jessica sunning herself on a lilo in the Wakefield’s pool.
Meanwhile, Caroline miserably ends up telling her sister Anita what’s going on when she asks after Adam. When she sees how lonely and unhappy Caroline is, Anita has a heart to heart with her sister where they talk through Caroline’s behaviour in school and how she needs to realise that if what she’s about to say is going to hurt anyone, then it’s not worth it. Caroline attentively takes in all of Anita’s advice and decides to change her ways, so she apologises to the people in school that she had spread rumours about and tells Elizabeth to go ahead with her play reading. Elizabeth asks if she's sure and says she doesn't want to cause any problems for Caroline.
"Caroline was amazed, and very ashamed of herself. Never in her life had she been that selfless."
There's no better way to realise what all your worst faults are than by standing in the slender blonde size-six glow of a Wakefield twin.
Back at the split-level, ranch-style, overly-hyphenated house, Ned and Alice return home after a dinner in some other favourite restaurant of theirs that the twins arranged. They then reveal that Alice isn’t taking the job offer after all and they’ve been yanking the twins’ chains for the past week because they reacted like selfish jerks when they first heard the news. It’s just as well, as surely the Wakefields leaving Sweet Valley would be akin to the ravens ditching the Tower of London.
So Elizabeth reads her play the day of the competition, to "wild applause" (ugh) and – oh shocker – she wins. Caroline congratulates her and Elizabeth decides to try to help Caroline out, as the party is the following night and she hasn’t managed to work up the nerve to confess the truth to everybody yet. Elizabeth and Todd seem to have a plan to rescue Caroline, so they meet her outside Fowler Crest (you’ve got to love it) and arrive at the party together. But not before a backhanded compliment from Todd.
“Wow”, was all Todd could say. “Is that really you?”
Caroline smiled shyly. “Do I really look nice?”
“Yeah. There’s something different about you tonight - and it’s not just your new dress. You’re pretty,” he said.
Fuck you Todd.
So Caroline sweeps into the party and decides to make her announcement, but before she gets to confess that Adam is made up, she’s interrupted by a tall handsome stranger, who calls her name and apologises for being late with a hug and a kiss. It turns out that it’s a friend of Todd’s called Jerry Fisher, called in to save Caroline from having to admit the truth. Hooray!
Jerry plays the part perfectly all night, dances with Caroline, only pays attention to her and even rejects Lila Fowler’s request for a dance. Ermahgerd! However, Caroline’s relief wears off after a while when she realizes that now she’ll have to keep the deception up after the party and decides it’s better to tell the truth. So she gets up to make another announcement, confesses that she made Adam up and that the guy with her is just playing a role and runs off crying. Jerry follows her out onto the lawn, tells her how brave she is and that most people would have just kept quiet. Most people, i.e. me, because while reading all that I kept thinking “What are you doing! Fuck those smug bitches, you don’t owe them anything!”
I would not do well in Sweet Valley High. Anyway, Jerry really likes Caroline, she gets the shift for real this time and they agree to write to each other and visit when they can. Yay, pen-pal fuck buddies! The end!
"Caroline looked beautiful. She was wearing a flattering new green satin dress, and Anita had brushed her hair back with tortoiseshell combs. Her eyes looked bigger than usual, thanks to a bit of green shadow lining her lashes."
YES. Eighties Debs dress realness. (Why yes, I have been shotgunning episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race at every opportunity.)
Things I counted:
Number of pages: 150
References to the twins' blue-green eyes: 10 (Blammo.)
References to the fact that the twins are blonde: 5
Amount of times people blush: 11
Amount of times people cry: 7