Can Bruce Patman really fall in love?
I never would have believed it in a million years, [Elizabeth] thought. Bruce Patman is crying. - p.117
My opinion towards Book No. 18, as with so many of its predecessors, changed drastically from the time I started it to the time, shamefully weeks later, that I finished it. Also, as with the majority of the series, its premise was insanely absurd. Completely unbelievable. And I'll be the first to admit that there is a strong correlation between these two Sweet Valley trends.
When we last saw our friends, icky Bruce Patman and sweet Regina Morrow were beginning to date, much to the mystification of, well, everybody, including me. That's where Head Over Heels starts off. Why is this situation so preposterous? Let's stop and think about it for a second: for the past 17 books, Bruce Patman has been depicted as nothing more than a rich womanizer, constantly seen with college girls, and trying to screw with every woman he can get his hands on – in every sense of the word. Regina, on the other hand, is the most amazingly fictional deaf person in the history of literature. Now, I personally know a handful of deaf people who have achieved amazing things in spite of their handicap. But Regina's gifts seem a little bit too good to be true. Maybe I'm misinformed here, but I really don’t think it’s possible for a girl who was deaf since birth to speak so well that the most anyone picks up is the hint of an accent. In fact, when Jessica first meets Regina, her first thought upon hearing the girl speak was "She must be from out of town." People have to be told that Regina is deaf, lest they think she's just ignoring them when they say things out of her line of sight.
Even if we grant Regina this amazing gift, is it possible that Bruce Patman would date a girl who had ANYTHING wrong with her? Now, we do know that Regina is very smart, incredibly sweet, and so strikingly beautiful that she wins a cover model competition while walking down the street. But everybody in Sweet Valley – and me, too – is sure that Bruce has an ulterior motive. Oddly enough, there is one person who seems to have Bruce's back – Mr. Collins. It makes sense, really...Mr. Collins and Bruce have a rich history of trusted personal conversation...oh wait...FALSE. Mr. Collins does remind a skeptical Elizabeth that "People Change", which seems to be the somewhat trite message of this story. But you know, damn it, he's right. When is Mr. Collins ever wrong?
When we listen in on Bruce and Regina's private conversations, we understand that the things Bruce says to her are coming from what is essentially a different character. This is not the Bruce we've seen taking advantage of a drunk Elizabeth or playing mind games with a smitten Jessica. Regina's feelings, of course, are also genuine. This is probably the most believable aspect of the book – she's so happy to have finally found love and to feel so normal in Sweet Valley. After years of special schools and special treatment, Regina can't believe her good luck at finding so many good friends...and one VERY good friend in Bruce.
But then, conflict arises! A scientist in Switzerland may be able to restore Regina's hearing in as little as a year. The Morrow family is beside themselves with joy and expects Regina to feel the same way, but when she finds out about it, all she can think about is Sweet Valley and her newfound love. She doesn't tell her family about Bruce, but the excuse she gives them is kinda reasonable: in Sweet Valley she finally feels accepted and she loves her life here, how can they think of taking all that away from her, it's just not fair, a year is such a long time, we just moved here...all in all, a very believable teen rant, surely delivered in a flawless English dialect by the world's most preposterous deaf person.
Regina's mother doesn't take her daughter's initial decision too well. In one of this hyper-dynamic town's most soap-operatic scandals, it turns out that Mrs. Morrow actually caused Regina's deafness by taking dangerous diet pills while she was pregnant to complete one last modeling job before retirement. Blaming herself for her daughter's problem, she makes herself sick with anxiety and guilt, but sees a light in the distance when she finds out her daughter could be cured.
In our corresponding story line, Elizabeth & Co. are planning a fundraising carnival to benefit Fowler Memorial Hospital's Children's Wing or something like that. Mrs. Morrow is their parent advisor, so Elizabeth goes to meet with her and finds the beautiful woman looking ill and tired. When Liz asks what's wrong, gradually Mrs. Morrow divulges the whole story of Regina's proposed aural salvation and asks Elizabeth to encourage Regina to change her mind. While Liz doesn't mention Bruce to Mrs. Morrow, she secretly fears that he's the reason Regina won't go. In fact, so biased against Bruce is Elizabeth that she actually suspects him of asking Regina not to leave. I can't say her bias is surprising, given their history.
It might sound surprising at first that Jessica is the one who finally convinces Regina to go get her surgery, but her motive, of course, is evil. She actually doesn't know about the procedure or Switzerland, but she knows that she can't stand seeing Bruce happy, or thinking that someone like Regina could succeed where she failed. She also has a history paper she doesn't want to write. What do these things have to do with one another? Jess and Lila make a bet that if Bruce and Regina are still together by the Carnival at the end of the week, Jessica has to write Lila's paper. But if they don't go together, Lila will write Jessica's paper. Of course, Jess takes matters into her own hands. She does everything she can to try and separate Regina and Bruce. She prides herself in her talent in this field. "If anyone can botch up a perfect relationship," she tells herself on page 76, "it's me."
Not surprisingly, she succeeds, at least temporarily, She tells Regina that Bruce has entered the race for President of the Centennial Committee, a piece of information which he has not shared with his beloved. Craftily, Jess suggests that there’s a rumor going around that he's only dating Regina for popularity points so he can win the race against shoe-in Ken Matthews. Jessica assures Regina that the rumor is untrue, but she's planted the seed of doubt. When Regina confronts Bruce about it, he doesn't understand why it's such a big deal. He kept it from her because he wanted it to be a surprise, but he doesn't tell her that. He just says, who cares, why does it matter, and is extremely surprised when she storms off, saying she never wants to see him again. Feeling used and manipulated, she decides to leave for Switzerland as soon as possible. Nice work, Jess.
What ties the story up is the thing that ultimately completed my change of heart toward Bruce. (Periodically, I have to remind myself that this is a fictional story, and Bruce is just a character who does whatever Francine Pascal wants him to do.) A concerned Bruce goes to Elizabeth, who is very close with Regina, to ask if she knows anything about why she dumped him. Regina, at this point, has already told Liz everything, though she didn't mention Jessica's involvement (which might have raised a red flag for Liz). Liz is more than willing to believe Regina's reasoning, but the sincerity of Bruce's concern piques her interest. When he tells her the whole story, that it was meant to be a surprise, that he didn't enter until after they'd been dating for weeks, Elizabeth is compelled to tell him about Regina's Switzerland opportunity, despite misgivings about what Bruce might do to stop her from going.
But Bruce does something really noble in the end. He writes a letter to Regina explaining everything, but asks Elizabeth to plant it in Regina's suitcase so she won't be able to read it until she's already on the plane. The letter, which reads like something from a swashbuckling romance novel, ends with this touching thought: "I'm not selfish enough to let you stay in Sweet Valley for my sake, Regina. But I'm too selfish to let you go thinking badly of me. You must know that I loved you with all my heart from the first."
In the end, this is a sweet little story. Are Regina and Bruce the new Todd and Elizabeth? Not quite. But we can leave the couple, parted though they may be, content in their happiness, ignoring any future spoilers about what tragedies might befall them in later volumes. If you don't know what I mean, do yourself a favor and PLEASE don't try to find out.