Jessica and Lila are in love with the same boy!
Wow! she thought to herself. Before I was only half-serious about stealing him from Lila. But now... - Jessica, p.9
Foreshadowing is an amazing literary device. At its best, its subtlety suggests excitement to come, but leaves room for incredible surprise. At its worst, it's ham-fisted, making excuses and spoiling any possibility of an unforseen finale.
Sweet Valley High is not a series known for its subtlety, but in volume 19 of the series, Showdown, a new facet was added to the gem that is foreshadowing. We'll call it the facet of ridiculousness.
Allow me to elaborate.
Like so many of the Sweet Valley novels, this one includes a mysterious stranger, one that we were introduced to in book 18. I didn't mention it in my last post, because it really didn't register as a B story. Or a C story. Maybe a D. The stranger's name is Jack...something. His last name is a secret. All we know about Jack is that he seems to be more than he reveals to the world. He meets Lila at one of her father's construction sites. Lila wouldn't normally approach a construction worker, but this particular one was SO attractive that she was forced to look past his probably thin wallet to his tanned and dimpled visage. Bummer. But Lila immediately had a feeling that this Jack could be no mere construction worker. Any one as articulate and handsome as he was must be somebody...and "somebody", in Lila's book, means "somebody with money."
Meanwhile, Jessica is still pretty ticked at Lila for screwing up the history report she wrote for Jessica after losing the Bruce and Regina bet (see Book 18...Lila managed to pull down a B for herself, but could only jot up a D for Jess). So when she finds out that there's a mysterious stranger who meets Lila's high standards of approval, she thinks maybe said mysterious stranger would be the perfect guy for HER. It should be noted that this is a decision Jessica comes to before ever meeting Jack – before, in fact, she has even laid eyes on him. Truly, the depths of her devlishness are untold.
So what about the foreshadowing? Relax, I'm getting to it.
Especially at the beginning, the book focuses mostly on the possibility that Jack has a secret history that he's keeping from us. Most of the characters are pretty sure this history involves something wonderful, like his own island in the South Pacific, or a yacht the size of the Patman Estate. It's only here and there that the book suggests to us that there's probably something a little darker in Jack's nature. For example, in Chapter 3, Lila's father's cufflinks go missing. It's after a big pool party she's thrown, so there's no real reason to suspect anyone in particular. As the story continues, Jessica finds herself on a date with Jack when her spending money goes missing. It's just ten dollars, no big deal, but odd how Jack calmly assures her that she probably left it on her bedroom floor. A conscious reader (by "conscious", I mean not asleep or in a coma) sees that the only new ingredient here is Jack: QED, he did it. Great. Jack's a thief...maybe some sort of con artist? We bide our time through the 9 remaining chapters, waiting for the big reveal. A few other oddities in Jack's demeanor are shared with us, but at this point, they seem inconsequential. He gets really testy when asked to divulge more about his past. He's lying bluntly to the two girls he's dating. His eyes are sometimes bloodshot. He's occasionally seen in a daze. Sounds like your average 18 year old to me.
But wait! How could we forget? This isn't some kind of neo-realist character study…this is Sweet Valley! We forgot to consider the fearlessness with which Pascal's plot bible* approaches even the simplest of story lines. These stories have the courage to be brash. The courage to be insane. The courage to have Annie Whitman try to kill herself over cheerleading tryouts and to have Elizabeth kidnapped by a quiet, dopey orderly. It was this courage that made Showdown's foreshadowing so effective. For you see, NEVER, not in a million years, could I have imagined the truth about Jack's mysterious aura.
It's Nicholas Morrow who first riles up Jack's discomfort and anger at being grilled about his past. When Nick suggests that he may have met Jack somewhere before, Jack vehemently denies it as a possibility. He privately reveals to Lila that he is the son of a very important man and, having everything in life planned out and handed to him, he decided to run away from home and try to make it on his own terms before returning to his old life. While we can suspect that this is at least partly bogus, we're unsure where the truth ends and Jack's con begins. But all hell breaks loose when the truth is finally revealed to us by a friend of Nicholas's, visiting from the East Coast, who recognizes Jack as the book nears its end. It seems he and Jack went to boarding school together until Jack was kicked out for robbing a date at knifepoint. That's right, I said knifepoint. When Jack's whole family died in a boating accident, he developed a bit of a derangement, one of the Jekyll/Hyde variety. Sometimes he's sweet, almost normal, but other times his rage flares up and he becomes defensive and dangerous. The Hyde side is fueled by his drug addiction – excuse me, drugs addition, as there are several – and his constant quest for drug money. Possibly strangest of all, he has gradually built up a sort of fantasy word pieced together from his various lies, where his family is much richer than they really were, and he's vacationed in places that he's really only seen in pictures.
If that last paragraph left you thinking, "WHAT?" I could leave you, dear readers, with just a simple advisory: remember that feeling. Never underestimate the prospect of a ridiculous surprise. But it would be cruel of me to leave out the story's end, so here goes. Jessica is at Jack's place, and things are getting weird. Meanwhile, Nick and his friend hunt down Elizabeth to try and find Jessica and save her. Elizabeth calls Lila to get Jack's address. Lila is reluctant to help Liz, but when she hears about Jack's dark past, she sees she's dodged a bullet and spills it. Liz, Nick, and Nick's friend storm into Jack's place to find Jack with a butcher knife pointed at Jess, who's fighting him off. There's a struggle! Nick gets cut! He's bleeding! Jessica does a cheerleader kick! She kicks the knife right out of Jack's hand! He's caught! He's arrested! Enid's plane is in trouble! Drama!
Yes, yes, my friends. Things are getting good. We should have seen it coming.