Saturday, December 8, 2012

Best Friends (Sweet Valley Twins #1)

Best Friends (Sweet Valley Twins #1)
Francine Pascal
Bantam-Skylark, 1986

Genre: Realistic, School


Elizabeth is excited that Mr. Bowman is going to start a newspaper for the sixth-grade and has put Elizabeth in charge. She asks Jessica if she wants to write a gossip or fashion column but Jessica just looks bored and says no. Elizabeth is disappointed. Jessica informs Elizabeth that her best friend, Lila Fowler, has been asked to join the Unicorn Club. It is nothing to joke about. It's called the Unicorn Club because unicorns are beautiful and special and everyone likes them—just like the girls in the club. Hardly any sixth graders get to join but Lila is in along with Ellen Riteman. It probably helps that Janet Howell, the president and the prettiest and most important girl in eighth grade, is Lila's cousin.

The next day at school, Jessica tells Elizabeth that Lila and Ellen asked her to sit with them at lunch. Elizabeth says that's okay because she wanted to talk to Amy and Julie about joining the newspaper. This is the first time that the twins have not sat together at lunch. On the other side of the cafeteria Jessica is sitting with a bunch of members of the Unicorn Club and she has never been more excited in her life. Kids keep looking their way and she’s lost count of how many cute boys are stopping just to say hello. Lila tells Jessica all about the Unicorn Club. They talk about gossip and boys. They do everything together as a group, such as sit together at lunch and hang out after school. They plan things together to like this year deciding that purple is their favorite color. They also pay weekly dues to cover expenses. The club currently has 12 members and is very exclusive. Jessica asks if there is room for anyone else and Janet says maybe.

After school Elizabeth waits 30 minutes for Jessica to show up so they can go home and clean their room. However, at that time Jessica is walking with Lila to the Dairi Burger. Janet informs Jessica that they have two spots open in the club. She says that she asks only very special people—girls who can keep up with the image of the club and she thinks that Jessica might be Unicorn material. In order to join, Jessica has to complete three pledge tasks, which include hiding Mrs. Arnette's lesson plan book at the beginning of class and then returning it at the end to class without her seeing, standing outside the girls room between classes and tell three girls that the bathroom floor is flooded and they are to use the boys room, and finally she has to come to school one day looking so different from Elizabeth that no one would know that they’re twins.

Elizabeth is heartbroken when Jessica changes her look without even telling her. She doesn't understand why Jessica seems to be moving on and leaving her behind. She overhears two sixth grade girls talking about Jessica's makeover and Elizabeth knows what she wants to do. She puts her hair into a hairstyle that she loves and Jessica has always hated and feels like a new Elizabeth. All throughout the day both twins get compliments about how great they look and how is awesome it is that they’re not dressing alike.

When Elizabeth learns from Caroline, the school gossip, that Jessica has been accepted to the Unicorns she feels bad. She doesn't understand why Jessica didn't tell her about the biggest thing to happen in her life. She feels that Jessica will now spend every free minute with the Unicorns and she’ll be left on the outside. Elizabeth talks to her mom. She tells her that Jessica kept her membership secret and that she doesn't tell her anything anymore and they hardly do anything together. Her mother says that the Unicorn Club sounds like something that Jessica would want to do and not Elizabeth and she agrees. Mrs. Wakefield tells Elizabeth that twins can’t be together all the time and that it is good for them to do different things.

Jessica is at her third meeting of the Unicorns when she decides to suggest Elizabeth as a member. One of the eighth grade members calls Jessica baby who can't do anything without her sister. Jessica lies and says that she'll just have to drop out of the club because her parents think that twins should always do things together. Janet holds a secret conference says that it is okay for them to kick people out of the club but it's different if somebody quits so they will give Elizabeth just one pledge task to complete but it won't be an easy one.

The next day at lunch Elizabeth is invited to eat with the Unicorns. For her pledge task they want her to invite Lois to the Dairi Burger and order to ice cream sundaes. While Lois gets a table, Elizabeth is to scrape off the whipped cream on Lois's sundae and replace it with shaving cream. Elizabeth refuses to do it as everybody's already mean enough to Lois. Janet tells her to think about it. Jessica is mad at her thinking Elizabeth made her look like a fool. When Elizabeth says that she won't do that to Lois, Jessica calls her a first-class priss. Elizabeth refuses to hurt Lois and Jessica tries to say that it's only a joke and everyone will laugh but Elizabeth still refuses. Jessica secretly calls Janet to tell her that Elizabeth will do the task on Wednesday. She knows that Elizabeth has a dentist appointment that afternoon so she plans on trading places with her sister and doing the task in her place.

On Wednesday morning Jessica convinces Elizabeth to wear a certain outfit to school. The previous night she pretended to be Elizabeth and called Lois to set up the get-together. After school Jessica watches Elizabeth drive off for her dentist appointment and then changes into her Elizabeth disguise. Lois ends up falling for the joke and eats the shaving cream. Jessica starts cracking up and all Unicorns at a nearby table do the same. Lois, nearly in tears, can't believe that Elizabeth could do something so mean to her. Elizabeth was always nice and now she's acting like Jessica.

Elizabeth can hardly believe it when Jessica tells her that she is in the Unicorns and is glad they decided against the task. The next day Elizabeth attends her first Unicorn meeting. After 45 minutes she’s bored to death. However, everybody else seems be having a great time. As the meeting comes to a close, Ellen congratulates Elizabeth on her task. At that moment Elizabeth realizes what Jessica did, yells at her, and storms out. At home she talks to her mother about everything. Her mom tells her that they are both different people and she thinks it's time that Elizabeth stops following Jessica around and does what she wants to do.

The first thing Elizabeth knows she has to do is call Lois. Elizabeth convinces her that it was Jessica and that Elizabeth would never do such a thing to her. She asks her if she wants to sit with Amy and Julie and her at lunch and that they're starting a newspaper and maybe Lois can join. When Jessica gets home Elizabeth tells her that she will listen to her for once. The thing that makes her mad most of all is that Jessica thought it was perfectly fine to pretend to be Elizabeth and let everyone think that Elizabeth could do such a horrible thing. She tells her that she told Lois the truth and she expects Jessica to apologize to her. She tells Jessica that she's going to quit the Unicorn Club. When Jessica says that is a good idea because she doesn't think that it was the right fit for Elizabeth, Elizabeth says she will only quit if Jessica apologizes to Lois. And, as a loyal Unicorn, Elizabeth will have to tell all the other members what Jessica did if she doesn’t apologize within a week.

Elizabeth, Amy, and Lois plan a way to get back at the Unicorns. One day after school, Amy and Elizabeth go to the Dairi Burger and get a table near the Unicorns. Lois soon comes in and goes over to their table and tells them that the trick they played on her was actually pretty funny. As she is talking to them, the Unicorn’s table number its called and Lois offers to go get their food. Amy then approaches their table and asks if she can get a picture of the club for the newspaper and starts snapping pictures. Distracted, they don't see Elizabeth and Lois switch the whipping cream on the dishes to shaving cream. As they are about ready to eat Elizabeth goes over to warn them that Lois maybe trying to back at them. The girls start laughing (she’d never have the guts to try something) and start eating their dishes which are fine until Lila bites into hers. As Lila freaks out over eating shaving cream, Amy starts snapping more photos and everyone in the restaurant laughs at the very embarrassed Unicorns.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

Francine Pascal is a real author and she did create the Sweet Valley franchise. Unlike many series books that are ghostwritten, most of the Sweet Valley canon, while having Pascal’s name plastered on the front, does give credit on the title page to the actual author who wrote it. This volume was written by Jamie Suzanne, who was a main author for the Sweet Valley Twins series.

Out of all the series books I’ve read so far for my research this one (and it really isn’t that big of a surprise) is just full of juicy tidbits, especially about physical discrimination and economic issues.

Elizabeth doesn’t like Jessica’s friends as they always act “as if they were stars and the people around them where the audience.” However, Jessica feels the same way about Elizabeth’s friends and isn’t scared to voice her very nasty point of view sometimes. When Elizabeth tells her parents about the new school newspaper and how she's going ask Amy Sutton and Judy Porter to be on it with her Jessica says,“All you need is Winston Egbert and you can call it the Nerdpaper. I mean, honestly. Amy Sutton does her homework at recess and she wears such boring clothes and Julie—.” Elizabeth gets mad at Jessica and screams, “You are really unbelievable! Amy and Julie are a lot smarter and more interesting than the snobby girls you think are so great. And what gives you the right to say that—you don't even want to be on the paper!” Elizabeth just can’t believe that Jessica actually wants to spend time with snobby girls like Lila Fowler.

However, Elizabeth isn’t immune to making some snide comments about some classmates. As she, Amy, and Julie are brainstorming ideas for the newspaper, Caroline Pearce sits down next to them. The narration reads, “Elizabeth groaned inwardly. Caroline Pearce lived two doors away from the Wakefields and was the prissiest person in the world. Caroline also had the biggest mouth in Sweet Valley. Telling her a secret was like posting it up on a billboard.”

Jessica, now that she’s a Unicorn, has gotten the attention of Bruce Patman. The twins get into a ballet class at the dance studio. On their way to their first meeting, Jessica tells Elizabeth that she caught Bruce looking at her again. Elizabeth tells her, “I don't know what you see in him. He's a jerk and is always picking on people. He calls Lois 'the pig.' The other day in the cafeteria he stood up and shouted out everything Lois had on her lunch tray. All the kids were laughing at her.” Jessica says, “Well, it must have been pretty funny. She gets enough food to feed an army.” Elizabeth can’t get Jessica to see that that doesn't give Bruce the right to make fun of her in front of everybody.

On the afternoon that Jessica has her first meeting of the Unicorns, Elizabeth invites Amy over. They come up with a name for the school newspaper and Amy suggests that they try to write a book. Elizabeth says that she hasn't been doing much of anything except the newspaper and ballet. Amy says that her mother wants her to take ballet to be more graceful and ladylike. Elizabeth says that her mother wants her to be more independent. Amy says, “Why can't our mothers just let us grow up by ourselves? We're not stupid. We could do it.” Amy then asks Elizabeth how she feels about Jessica making the Unicorn Club and Elizabeth admits that she's a bit mixed up. Amy says that the Unicorns are glamorous but “most of them have as much personality as a hairbrush. All they can think about is what clothes to wear or who is going to win the football game.”

The Unicorns are the epitome of school cattiness among girls. After hearing some gossip from Caroline that she doesn’t think Jessica knows, Elizabeth shares the gossip that Roberta Manning was grounded for staying out late with a high school boy. Jessica says that she got kicked out of the Unicorn Club for it. Supposedly that was the last straw as Roberta and Janet were not getting along very well and the boy she was seeing kept putting the Unicorn down. A few weeks later, Steven, their older brother in high school, confesses that he was the “older man” involved with Roberta and that she dumped him because he was too immature. Elizabeth tells him that Roberta might not have meant what she said because she was supposedly upset about getting grounded and kicked out of the Unicorns. That's when Steven says that she wasn't kicked out—she quit the club because she was annoyed that Janet had asked Steven to go to a party with her. Jessica can't believe that the Unicorns were fighting over her brother. Elizabeth says that they're a bunch of mean girls.

Of course, the way that physical looks are most represented is in the whole character of Lois Waller—the stereotypical fat and unpopular girl. As mentioned in the plot description, the Unicorns decide to let Elizabeth in if she gets Lois to the Dairi Burger and substitutes whipped cream with shaving cream on her ice cream sundae. This isn’t the only cruel thing that the popular kids do to Lois. Early on in the book, Jessica and Elizabeth have this conversation:

“Did you see Lois Waller in gym class today? She was practically oozing out of her leotard. Fat everywhere. They shouldn't let a tub like that take ballet.”

“Jessica, she can't help it if she's fat.”

“She can too. She could loose some weight and she can help looking so ugly. I mean, she doesn't have to wear those baggy dresses and let her hair hang in her face. She was ruining our class. Ballet is supposed to be beautiful and graceful, and she was crashing around like a rhinoceros. It's tough on kids with real talent.”

When Jessica decides to do the pledge task disguised as Elizabeth and calls Lois to set up the meet at the Dairi Burger, the narration says, “Jessica could barely believe she was actually making a date with Lois Waller, the school hippopotamus. Eating in public with Lois would be about as much fun as having her head shaved.”

When Elizabeth comments on the fact that Lois has been out of school for the past four days, Jessica is a little worried about Lois—but only a little. She wonders for a second is eating shaving cream could be poisonous but then thinks, “Oh, don't be silly . . . Lois's parents probably just get tired of looking at her and sent her off to a fat farm. That was much more likely.”

The second biggest American belief or value that is present in this SWT book is all about economics. The twins are from a well to do family as they live in a “big split-level house.” Their mother works part-time at Sweet Valley Design while their father heads a busy law practice.

Lila Fowler is the epitome of the rich spoiled brat. She is described as having “the biggest wardrobe in Sweet Valley. Her father was rich and bought her everything she wanted. Jessica had been spending a lot of time with her lately, although Elizabeth couldn't understand why.”

The Unicorns are all expected to keep up a good image of being pretty girls with the most fashion sense. When Jessica sits with them for the first time she can hardly contain her excitement as so many people pay attention to them. But “she could hardly blame them. Every girl at the table was sensational looking and dressed in great clothes. Jessica knew she could hold her own looks department. With her silky blonde hair, blue green eyes, and perfect features, there was no doubt about it.”

Readers are also introduced to Jessica’s on again off again love interest, Bruce Patman. The narration says, “He was a really cute seventh grader from one of the richest families in town. Unfortunately, he thought he was the most important person in the world, and he often acted like a bully and a jerk, at least in Elizabeth's opinion.” A perfect example of this was Bruce calling both of them “Blondie” because he thought that it was easier than trying to tell them apart.

When Jessica starts getting smitten with him she tells Elizabeth that she thinks he likes her because their mother told Jessica that boys only tease girls they like. Elizabeth is dumbfounded because she thought Jessica hated boys and all summer long was saying how gross they were.

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