“Watch it, Annie Whitman! Jessica’s out to get you!”
The 2018 podcast episode about this tremendous book is right this way.
The extra exclamation points in this page’s heading speak to the undying love I have for this stupid, stupid book. If you’d like some details on the role this book played in the creation of the Sweet Valley Diaries, read More About the Diaries.
I will say this: this was the book that reminded me, or perhaps revealed to me in a way I couldn’t understand when I was younger, the intriguing, absurd jewel that is Sweet Valley. What I found so interesting isn’t that hard to sum up: The Sweet Valley High series is this perfect, precise snapshot of every fabled high school stereotype. The faults of these characters and the problems inherent in their presence in a book series for teens are so enticing! Also, hilarious. And let’s face it, I wouldn’t spend these long hours reading, thinking about, and writing on the Sweet Valley HIgh books if I wasn’t supremely entertained by them. And this insane piece of fiction is, so far, the supremest of them all.
Annie, who desperately needs some attention, has worked hard on learning all the cheerleaders’ moves, and is actually something of a gymnast. Like once-fat Robin from Books 3 and 4, she won’t feel special until she becomes popular. Where Robin had her heart set on Pi Beta Alpha, the high school sorority in the sky, cheerleading is Annie’s chosen path. Robin and Annie differ in another way: Robin found solace in food, but Annie has tried the fleeting love of many, many boys to cure her feelings of loneliness and ineptitude. Not so unbelievable so far, huh?
Though her talent is certainly not in question, the hitch in Annie’s plan is obvious: co-captain of the cheerleading squad is none other than Miss Jessica Wakefield (btw, a little epilogue from the whole Robin Wilson story: she is the other co-captain. No joke.). This, my friends, is where the story gets good, but it is also where reality and the Sweet Valley Universe part ways to a degree. Jessica can see that Annie’s talented, but doesn’t want her on the squad because “if we take her, everyone will think we’re just like her.” In fact,when Annie proves herself to be far and away the most talented auditioner, Jessica tries to convince a majority of the cheerleaders that “the image and the very integrity of the cheerleading squad are in terrible danger!” Nevermind the gaping holes in her logic, you can bet this plan is successful. She’s Jessica Wakefield, after all.
Because I first read this book before reading Books 1-9, I did not see one of the biggest flaws in Queen Jessica’s anti-slut decree: Jessica herself takes pride in the fact that she’s dated virtually every eligible male at Sweet Valley High. Sure, she doesn’t have sex with them, but half the school – the bourgeoisie – probably assumes she does. When I was in high school, and even more so today, sluttier girls were viewed with the same combination of disgust and envy that popular girls were. It made sense that the two groups often overlapped. But back in Sweet Valley, this is apparently not the case, though the only clear difference between Jessica and “Easy Annie” is that the latter is a little less discriminating in her tastes. This is what Jessica and, to a lesser extent, the whole school hold against her, and what keeps her off the cheerleading squad.
Returning to the plot, we now reach the crossroads in our story where someone learns a lesson. Lately, the lesson has been learned by the person who was trying too hard to join the popular aristocracy. But this time, it’s Jessica who is forced to change, in a turn of events that far surpasses Elizabeth’s coma on the scale of absurdity.
Annie tries to kill herself.
After overdosing on her crazy mother’s prescription drugs, Annie goes into a coma. “Ha ha!” Annie must have thought, “Jessica will be sorry when I’m dead.” Sure enough, upon hearing the doctor say Annie might not make it because “she seems to have no will to live,” Jessica realizes that she actually caused this with her evil powers. So Jessica decides that she has the power to save Annie, too. She does the unthinkable: she expands the cheerleading squad to eight, and tells the incapacitated Annie that there was a mistake. She was supposed to be on the squad all along.
“Somewhere deep inside her pool of fright and loneliness, Annie Whitman had found an anchor. Something held her, kept her from drifting beyond the horizon of infinity. Desperately she had clung to that anchor and struggled to listen to a faint voice that reached her as if through the depths of the ocean. Through the long night, Jessica’s hand had kept her from slipping into the total blackness. Jessica’s voice had comforted her.”
So there you have it, folks. Jessica has saved yet another soul from a coma that she played a major role in causing. Way to go, Jess! The only thing that kept this ending from sounding totally blasphemous was the emphasis throughout the book that was put on Annie’s vastly superior performance as a cheerleader. There was no question that she deserved a spot on the squad, so we could honestly feel that Jessica was to blame, and forget, if only a little, what a huge overreaction this was on Annie’s part. HUGE. I will, however, admit it felt pretty good to finally hear Jessica call herself “selfish, spoiled, impossible, vindictive...stuck-up and cruel.” Somehow, though, I think she’ll get over it. Soon. Oh, well. There’s always the next coma.
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