Is Caroline’s romance for real?
“I do have a boyfriend,” she whispered aloud...”His name is Adam and he lives in Cold Springs. And he loves me very much.”
In pre-school, I was in a meaningful, long-term relationship with Sadat, who has become a sort of folkloric hero to my friends over the years. The cornerstone of our connection was that we weren't just boyfriend and girlfriend, we were friends. Though the two of us had to part ways when kindergarten rolled around, never since have I found any merit in having a boyfriend just for boyfriend's sake. This was certainly troublesome in high school, when I had lots of friends that were boys, but could never manage to fall in love with any of them. Meanwhile, kids were coupling up left and right to do God knows what up at Paradise Point! What was a single sixteen-year-old with such rigid standards to do? I had no choice. I had to invent a fictional boyfriend at a faraway high school.
I never did such a thing, because that's RIDICULOUS. Also, I'd seen that Brady Bunch episode, and wanted to try my best not to pull a Jan. Caroline Pearce, on the other hand, has made herself a genuine George Glass for Book 17, and she manages to come off as crazy – certifiably INSANE – before Chapter One comes to a close (see quote above).
For those legions of you who are not reading along, let me explain Caroline Pearce. There haven't been too many books in the series that haven't mentioned her, but rather than drive the plot forward, her appearance typically serves as an annoying intrusion for both the characters and the reader. She has three outstanding traits: red hair, a squeaky voice, and, above all else, a reputation as a notorious gossip. Jessica Wakefield and her crew despise Caroline (despite her membership in Pi Beta Alpha) because she's always trying so hard to hang out with them. Elizabeth isn't crazy about the girl either, because gossiping is just plain wrong. So perhaps I should add a fourth characteristic to the list of things we know about Caroline: NOBODY likes her.
Call me crazy, but that didn't sound like the best kind of character to build an entire book around. But hey, it's just 150 pages among tens of thousands. And in reality (in case you haven't noticed, I use the term loosely), Love Letters is quite a turning point for poor, misguided Caroline.
Because of the bizarre style of point-of-view-variable third person these books are written in, we learn as the book begins that Caroline isn't just a gossip, she's a sad, lonely gossip who feels she has no one to depend on. No one at school wants to befriend her for some reason, and she's convinced her cooler, prettier sister hates her. But she feels like things are starting to turn around for her now that she's got sweet, handsome, romantic Adam. "Maybe I'll never be as popular as the Wakefield twins or Lila Fowler," she thinks on page 2, "but I'm not going to be an outcast anymore. All that has changed now with Adam. Thanks to Adam, people are finally starting to pay attention to me." The bad news? He's a fake. Doesn't exist at all. Caroline made him up and carries letters "from him" all over school just so she has something interesting to say about herself.
And people are interested. Especially, alas, Jessica Wakefield and Lila Fowler, who are more that a little bewildered by the thought of someone LOVING icky Caroline.
I know what you're thinking: What does this story have to do with poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning?! Well, the answer may surprise you: a LOT. A lot to do. Elizabeth is writing a one-act play about the poets' romance for a school contest, and it features love letters Mr. Browning wrote to Miss Barrett. When Liz reads the play to her family, Jessica realizes that Browning's poems sound an awful lot like Adam's letters to Caroline. "Hmmm..." thinks the evil Jessica, and Caroline's house of cards begins to teeter.
Jessica and Lila conspire to expose Caroline's suspected misdeeds with a crazy party in Adam's honor, though they're not sure if Adam's totally fake or just a plagiarizer. Caroline might be a bit mentally deficient, but she's not so far gone that she can't see Jess and Lila's party for what it is: a trap. She tries a lot of things to save face. She makes up plans for Adam, like "he has a baseball game" or "he's too poor to afford the gas to drive to Sweet Valley" (and this was 1985!). She even has the nerve to ask Elizabeth not to read her play in front of the school (a required part of the one-act competition), lest the students recognize Browning’s words as the ones Caroline’s been parading around the town with. Needless to say, Jessica and Lila don't let up, and Caroline knows that no amount of stalling can make up for the fact that Adam doesn't exist.
Unsure of where to turn as the party draws nearer, Caroline confesses all to her sister, Anita. Caroline seems to think that no one cared about her until she had a boyfriend, but Anita helps her see that no one cares about her now, either. If that sounds harsh, good. It was only through such harshness that Caroline could see herself accurately. People weren't afraid to get close to her because of her lack of a boyfriend, her inherent unlikability, or her annoying voice (that's just Jessica). It was because she couldn't be trusted with a single piece of information, significant or insignificant. Anything that occurred in her line of sight could be considered fodder for the next conversation she tried to start with anyone who happened to stop near her. Hell, the entire B-Story (see sidebar) was catalyzed by Caroline's discovery of a letter that blew onto the Wakefield's lawn from the GARBAGE. Even though she "hesitated to read the letter", she did read it, and then she showed it to Jessica. I mean, come on, if you're going to steal someone's garbage and read it, you don't get on her good side by telling her about it!
Thus concludes my rendition of Anita's speech to her sister. And suddenly, a miraculous change comes over Caroline, and her heart grows three sizes, etc. She takes this new attitude around town, telling Elizabeth that she's sorry about asking her not to read the Browning play, and ultimately to "Adam's" party, where just as she's about to tell everyone the truth about Adam's non-existence, who should appear behind her but...Adam! The magic of her good deeds has brought her fantasy to life! It's a Sweet Valley Miracle!
Okay, so not really, but there is a friend of Todd's from out of town who's pretending to be Adam to save Caroline's ass and teach Jessica a lesson. His name is Jeff and, surprise, surprise, he and Caroline really hit it off.
That's about it. Another character learns a lesson and comes over from the dark side - excuse me, the fat/annoying/poor/slutty/unpopular side. But despite Elizabeth's major successes in the field of soul-saving, and despite her own best efforts, book after book, one character still remains as evil as ever: Jessica. How many changes of heart does this girl have to have before it sticks? Let me see...how many books are there in this series?
I'll leave the math up to you, friends.