There is no shortage of items in this book that make me either want to (a) chuck it at a wall (b) laugh until I hurt myself, or (c) question why on earth I wasted so much of my parents’ money buying these stupid books.
But first, let me take you down memory lane with the opening description that pretty much marked the start of any Sweet Valley High book: When people in the sunny town of Sweet Valley, California, saw a five-foot-six gloriously attractive young girl with sun-streaked blond hair and sparkling blue-green eyes, they knew it was one of the Wakefield twins, but they couldn’t always be sure which one.
Only thing missing in the standard description – which appears on page 1 for God’s sake – is a mention of how the twins are a “perfect size six.” A river of dark, murky, growling ire runs through me every time I think about how many girls, myself included, were tortured by the idea that unless they met that ideal figure and description, they were not “perfect.”
But I’m not here to judge the sexism, racism, and fatism inherent in the Sweet Valley series, nor am I here to opine at the larger effect the series had on young women of my generation. No, no! I am here to tell you how bad this book was.
Was it bad? OMG. Please. It was fucking awful. And yet, I read it. And I paid .01c for it – which was still too much because instead of the drawing cover in the image above, I got one of the later copies of the book that features a photograph of the Daniel twins. In this one, “Elizabeth” is wearing perfect pancake makeup and is covered up to her chin by a hospital blanket so only her giant noggin shows, while “Jessica” is dressed marvelously in shiny iridescent pink taffeta and pink pants. I like the drawing version better, but hey, it was a penny.
Elizabeth Wakefield lies in a coma because she and her boyfriend Todd got into a motorcycle accident and while he’s fine, she’s nonresponsive. There is, of course, no mention of WHY she’s nonresponsive, or what injuries she sustained. She’s just in a coma. The story opens with Jessica sitting at her bedside, and the narrator going on for two damn pages about how usually you can’t tell them apart, but now Elizabeth looks like crapola on a crapola-colored cracker, and Jessica looks fabulous as usual. But Elizabeth is DYING do you hear me DYING.
No, sorry. Dear Sister.
Enter the doctor:
A hand fell on Jessica’s shoulder. Startled, she jerked her head up.
“I could see the resemblance. You’re both beautiful.”
Jessica regarded the man in his white lab coat….
“I can only guess how painful it is for you to see your sister like this.”
“I’m so worried!”
The man stooped so his face was on a level with hers….
“My name is John Edwards. I’m the neurosurgeon on your sister’s case.”
John Edwards?! No shit! Hope is on the way!
I know, there’s no way the author could have predicted the name but still. Absurd mental image yielding to complete befuddlement, ahoy!
So aside from the vaguely inappropriate remark by Dr. John Edwards (who also is running for President and talks about the two Americas and the plight of those living below the poverty line, in case you missed the political subtext of the book) and the complete lack of response from Jessica, Dr. Edwards is here to set Jessica straight about her sister’s recovery in a scene filled with angst, emotion, and a whole mess of continued inappropriateness:
“Jessica, accidents happen. They aren’t anyone’s fault. And right now, blame isn’t important. Guiding Elizabeth back to all of us is. I’ll help, Jessica, but it’s really up to you.”
“Talk to her. Just talk to her.” Suddenly he turned, and Jessica saw anger and frustration in his face.
“Jessica, doctors can keep people alive with machines, but we can’t will them to come back to us. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen, no matter how much you and I want it. The only thing we can do is try.”
What the almighty fucking hell are you talking about, John Edwards? You’re the one with the neurosurgery specialty and you’re telling dipshit Jessica it’s all up to her? Dear Lord.
No, Dear Sister!
It’s all up to Jessica to bring Elizabeth back, so she starts whining and pleading with Liz to wake up already, that it’s all Jessica’s fault and everyone loves Elizabeth and whine whine, oh, the angst, the angst.
Add in some crying, some very awkward backflashes to how Elizabeth ended up in a coma in the first place, and it’s worse than anything by page 9. So far, this book is on the annoyance scale between fingernails on a blackboard and the sound of someone using a circular saw to cut ceramic tiles.
Then Dr. Edwards comes back into Elizabeth’s room while Jessica is promising never to forgive Elizabeth if Elizabeth has the audacity to die – and really, were I Elizabeth, given Jessica’s performance that might have been preferable.
Dr. Edwards tells Jessica that her self-flaggellation isn’t what he had in mind, and whereas I wanted Jessica to tell that dimwitted blowhard to get on with the doctoring already and enough with the pathos-ridden babble, Jessica listens to what he says, and starts chatting with Elizabeth as if Elizabeth could answer. So we go from angst to random bits of gossipy, self-absorbed crapola, including a hit list of the plot lines of the past six books of the series. You know how, during the Top 100 shows on VH1, like “Top 100 Utterly Ridiculous Pairs of Socks Of All Time,” they start off each new episode by playing a snippet of every video in that countdown? It’s like that, only instead of 100-10, there’s only six books of plot lines to go over, thank the good Lord.
Then, miracle of miracles, Elizabeth moans.
“You deserve a lot of the credit, Jessica”
“I do?” Jessica shivered with pride, relief, and just plain ecstasy. Elizabeth was awake and she’d helped….
“Liz. Hey Lizzie. Time to wake up.”
It’s only page 12! There’s a whole entire book to get through – and really, the back cover description makes it sound like Elizabeth will be blissfully comatose through most of it. No such luck for her, or for me.
Elizabeth’s eyes opened fully. She stared at her twin sister and moistened her dry lips.
And like that, It is ON – the un-blurbed plot that isn’t mentioned in the back copy. Elizabeth now thinks that she’s Jessica. Whoa, nelly. We can’t have two sixteen year old twins with impulse control issues who symbolically represent the Id without one of them representing the Super-ego. This is a disaster!
I won’t bore you with the entire book except to invite you to shuffle the following plot cards. No matter what order you choose, you’ll get the basic plot of the book.
1. Elizabeth does something very Jessica-like: e.g. is thoughtless, self-centered, flirtatious, and generally awful.
2. Jessica notices that Elizabeth is “different” or that “something is wrong,” but doesn’t know what to do.
3. An ancillary character notices that Elizabeth is “different” or that “something is wrong,” but when that character mentions their concerns to Jessica, ol’ Jess blows up at them for saying something unkind about her Dear Sister.
4. Jessica has to save Elizabeth from one scrape or another, such as getting into trouble with their parents, or going out past curfew, or failing a test.
5. Elizabeth tells Jessica she’s being a stick in the mud.
6. Jessica is pissed off that she isn’t having any fun because Elizabeth is getting all the attention for her short skirts, sexy flirtation, and utterly Jessica-like behavior. It’s a double-switch identity crisis. Oh noes!
Enter Bruce Patman, the slimeball rich kid who took advantage of Jessica in an earlier book, and has had it in for her, and for Elizabeth, ever since. Elizabeth, it seems, has given Bruce the brush-off ever since he dared mess with Jessica, and since Elizabeth is an unfailingly loyal and utterly milquetoast kind of girl, she sides with Jessica and hates Bruce.
But Elizabeth-acting-like-Jessica thinks Bruce is atche-ay-dubble-yew-tee HAWT. Elizabeth-as-Jessica thinks her boyfriend, Todd of the motorcycle of coma-inducing power, is coma-inducing himself, and wants nothing to do with him. She wants Bruuuuce. And Bruce is very pleased with this turn of events.
Now, it would have been very sexy, and very intriguing if there had been a subtext of vindication or even validation for Bruce: he’s a slimeball, but there was ample opportunity to turn him into a slimeball who could be cured by the power of Luuuurve™. Of course, that does happen later, but for now, Bruce wants to get in Elizabeth’s pants and he has nefarious intentions with no emotional redemptive possibilities behind them. He’s a date rapist, pure and simple. He tries to get her drunk at a party, and Todd rescues her. Then Jessica tries to intervene, but not before Bruce escapes (in his Porsche, of course) with Elizabeth to take her on a tour of his beach house.
Bruce…pulled her onto a large white couch and began kissing her again.
“Ummmmm, Bruce,” she murmured.
“You like this, don’t you Liz?” He let one hand slide lightly onto her breast, waiting to see if she would protest.
“That feels so good, Bruce. ” Elizabeth sighed and ran her fingers through his dark hair, then pulled him closer.
Elizabeth couldn’t see his triumphant smile and didn’t know he planned to gloat about his victory over the girl who had always snubbed him.
And there you have it: the moment my young pre-teen self almost passed out. Bruce copped a feel and they used the word “breast” in a Sweet Valley High novel.
As a not-at-all-pre-teen reading the scene? My reaction was somewhere between, “Oh, yawn” and “Dear Lord.” Also Dear Sister.
So can I spoil the ending for you? It’s just too doofy and unreal not to.
Elizabeth and Bruce kiss their way upstairs, and it looks like Bruce might actually get into Elizabeth’s pants, when he decides to go downstairs for more wine (and one would hope, a condom). Elizabeth, confused in the dark, starts hearing a buzzing in her head, trips, and slams her head on a table. She doesn’t know where she is! It’s a strange bedroom! She doesn’t remember getting there! And then Bruce Patman walks in with wine and a big leer, and she goes running out of there, completely terrified.
She goes right to Dr. Edwards, the neurosurgeon, right? Gets herself the mother of all CAT scans?
Ha. Dear me, no.
She goes running down the beach away from Bruce.
It was wonderful to know who she was and where she was again. A brilliant moon sailed through the dark sky, and she wanted to yell, “Hi there, you old moon!” She wanted to thank the stars for still shining. The sound of the surf crashing on the beach was a symphony.
Dear Lord. [NO, Dear Sister!]
It’s an amnesia storyline except that Elizabeth had no idea that she was acting out of character. She never confessed to not knowing who she was or to even the slightest bit of confusion, until she whapped her head on a table and realized she was about to do the boingy-boing with Bruce Patman. Only then does she remember that she didn’t remember but now she does remember – and I’d sure like to not remember I read this book, personally.
Elizabeth runs right into Todd, who “looked for a moment into Elizabeth’s eyes…. those beautiful sea-colored eyes were the ones he know, the tearstained face was the one he loved.” It’s her! It’s really her! And Elizabeth is all teary because she doesn’t understand what’s going on.
Are they on the way to the neurosurgeon yet? Of course not. They go… walk on the beach! Because Elizabeth is back to being Elizabeth, and all is well.
One of the reviewers on Amazon, an Australian named “Nu-Girl,” writes, “How Elizabeth finally regains her memory and identity in the dark is so simple, so rational and yet so wholly unexpected that it neatly merges with the escapist / fantasy tradition of this genre without losing its believability.”
I don’t know about that – there’s no neat merging for me, nor is it the slightest bit rational. And believability? What malarkey. The whole resolution is unbelievable, not to mention enough of a blue-balls read to make me and many, many other readers turn to more satisfying romance novels, where the word “breast” is one of many words used to describe the hummuna-hummuna action.
What I find amusing is how many readers share that experience with me – this book somehow led them to look for more satisfying reads in a sexual and emotionally climactic sense, and ultimately led to a romance reading habit like mine. I suppose I should have some feelings of appreciation for Dear Sister, but really, it just makes me say repeatedly under my breath, “Dear LORD.”
And finally, the winner of my Dear Lord It’s Dear Sister contest! It took me 42 minutes to read this book, and I dog-eared 30 pages. My grade: D-.
The person who came closest to guessing was : Jaynie R! Congrats Jaynie – enjoy your free books. Maybe if you’re lucky my copy of Dear Sister will be one of them! MWaaaahahahahahahahahaaaaa.
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Dear Sister by Francine Pascal
November 1, 1984