The spotlight is on Jessica-or is it?
When TV talk-show host Eric Parker comes to Sweet Valley and announces a contest to find the perfect American teen, Jessica Wakefield vows to win the coveted spot as Eric's special TV guest. She's meant to be a star! Then Lila Fowler, Jessica's best friend, announces she's going to win the spot, and the contest becomes a battle of wills and wits.
With the help of Bruce Patman, who has his own score to settle with Jessica, Lila devises a brilliant scheme to ruin Jessica's shot at stardom. Will Jessica have her moment in the limelight, or will Lila succeed in stealing the show?
Full disclosure: We're entering a stretch of SVH that is pretty spotty, memory-wise, for me. Some of these books I remember bits and pieces of and some I suspect I'll remember more once I actually crack into them. I'm not sure why there's a memory lapse other than kid!me probably didn't re-read these as many times. Possibly because the library didn't have as many copies or my branch didn't anyway and also definitely because I don't have multiple copies of most of these running around from that whole "book of the month" thing.
Anyway, Starring Jessica is kinda odd right off the bat. I need you to take a good, hard look at that cover. Does Jessica not seem kinda punchable? Kid!me was never a fan of this cover and that's about all I remember from this book beyond her scheming. But really, you could pick up almost any SVH book and find Jessica scheming. :P I will say this for the cover though: it matches the outfit worn in The Interview. But we'll come back to this later.
In the last book, Jessica was all hyped up to land the guest spot on a special Sweet Valley episode of Eric Parker's talk show. Eric Parker is apparently some talk show host with a weekly show who graduated from SVH fifteen years ago and is now doing a special "All American Teen" episode. So he's looking for the perfect ordinary American teen. And who's more
Gotta admit, this is probably the other part where my brain just short circuits trying to reconcile the in world fiction with how the twins are perceived out here in reality. Still, in both Jessica isn't exactly average, though I guess with Jessica there's nothing that says she can't be stunningly popular and still be in the running. Otherwise, I suppose her grades are probably good but not Liz Wakefield levels, she's decently well rounded even though this book forgets the summer running theme of her working at a newspaper in an effort to push a Liz is jealous storyline... but I still feel like Cara, Olivia, or Winston or just about anyone else would've been a better fit for the whole "average" teen. Jessica is one of the freakin' stars of the school. Hell, if you stripped Lila's money from the equation, she's still a better fit. But of course we would never do that.
Running against Jessica are Lila and Winston. Cara and quite a few others are also mentioned, but really Lila and Win get the most screen time. Lila technically doesn't lie on her application, but she does stretch the truth to its very limits and forgets to mention that her father's money is bankrolling whatever parts of town the Patman's money isn't.
Jessica is outraged that Lila would be so deceitful and it's kinda funny how worked up Jess gets over this. Jess isn't above doing the same thing in nearly any other situation, but since we're supposed to root for her, she decides to approach this far more truthfully. When she eagerly fills out her application, she quickly realizes that on paper she seems, dare I say it, kind of shallow. It's this moment that allows me to buy that Jessica's not willing to outright lie on her application- she wants to win on her own merits, even if they are a bit exaggerated. Still, she needs a baseline before she can exaggerate, so she turns to Liz to help her with her application.
Liz takes Jessica's brief existential crisis in stride and points out things Jessica's forgotten, like her babysitting experience and that time she was a candy-striper, and later even offers something new: Penny's looking for something new for The Oracle and Liz is sure Jessica could come up with something good. Jessica takes two seconds to think about it before asking Liz for Penny's number. When Penny agrees to let Jess submit a piece, she also asks what Jessica's got in mind. Jessica falters for two seconds before coming up with "The Worst Dates Of My Life" and Penny loves it. She loves it so much that Elizabeth can't help but feel more than a little jealous that Penny thinks it's perfect as is, and Liz can't remember Penny ever saying such a thing about Elizabeth's writing. To be fair, Liz, you did help Jessica and convinced her to change the names to protect the guilty. You just couldn't convince her to come up with harder to figure out aliases.
Much like Bruce Patman's Guide To Dating, I would very much like to read the entirety of Jessica's article. Alas, we're just given a glimpse or two and some of the references, like Winston and Jess being stranded on an island, or the callback to Magenta Galaxy. Jessica can't resist the urge to take a little creative license and describes kissing Bruce like kissing a dead jellyfish. Liz worries that Bruce is going to be understandably upset, but Jess isn't because of all the guys at school, Bruce is the one who could stand to be taken down a peg or fifteen.
Yeah. For some reason Bruce is not overjoyed to have everyone taunting him with jellyfish cracks and in a blinding stroke of coincidence, there's an after school extra credit lecture for juniors and seniors and what do we begin with? Jellyfish.
Bruce vows revenge.
Also vowing revenge? Lila Fowler. You see, because our book required a little more tension, instead of just announcing the winner, Eric comes to down and has to interview the six finalists because they were all just SO GOOD. There's a great scene where Jessica's name is called first and she's overjoyed and Lila is most decidedly not, and you can tell she's getting madder and madder as each name is called. Lila's name is called last and Jessica is just so unbelievably happy that they both made it that they hug and kind of dance around and it's adorable and this is why I love Jessica and Lila. For a brief nanosecond, they're adorable and my heart can't take it. Naturally they spring apart and immediately decide that none of the other finalists are threats. They shouldn't be right, as Winston, Olivia, Jim Roberts (the photography buff) and Patty Gilbert are all interesting in their own way. Hell, of the six who made the cut, only Winston is one I'd consider average. Olivia's an ~artiste~ even if Lila and Jessica dismiss her as a newspaper editor instead, Patty's a dancer, and Jim's an accomplished photographer. Winston was right at the start of the book when he worried that Elizabeth, should she choose to apply, would've won hands down.
I digress. Because we need more proof of Lila being devious, the site of the interview changes from the conference room to the SVH auditorium since that's where the actual taping will occur. A note is left on the conference room door and instead of leaving someone trustworthy there to tell people, they rely on a note. Which works until Lila sneaks back by after Olivia's interview and takes the note down so that Jessica, who had the final interview, is none the wiser. Naturally things don't go as planned and Jess runs into Olivia who tells her about the switch. Jessica rushes to her interview and nails it, even managing to get 20 minutes while everyone else was given fifteen. Since Jessica is also no fool, she realizes that Lila tried to sabotage her, so she returns the favor by making sure to not-so-casually mention that the hospital where she volunteered (Eric brought it up) is the Joshua Fowler Memorial Hospital and gosh, is Lila back from Hong Kong already? That girl really does get to travel everywhere, what with daddy being so rich.
Book. BOOK. You're telling me this guy didn't have an intern or something do background on these kids? Or that someone from Sweet Valley wouldn't have known the name Fowler? Seriously? Oi. I might even buy that if Eric hadn't been spending the last however long in town. Hell, taking five minutes to talk to Chrome Dome or I dunno, Mr. Collins (or any of the teachers) would have helped. Thing is, Lila's wealth couldn't have mattered too much because she's named Jessica's alternate when Jessica is announced the winner.
But the book can't help itself and Jessica goes from incredibly charming (and she really is throughout a lot of this book) to incredibly stupid as she takes every single opportunity to rub Lila's face in the fact that Lila is only the first runner up and Jessica got the prize. I'm pretty sure there are transfer freshmen who could tell you not to piss Lila off because if you do, she will get revenge. Initially Lila grits her teeth and tries to fake smile her way through congratulating Jessica but Jess immediately pushes too far. So, like I said, Lila vows revenge.
Which will lead us to the most glorious moment in this book: Lila and Bruce
But I need to address our B plot first.
When Jessica's article finally comes out, it's an immediate smash hit. It's funny and well written and people love it, even those who find themselves mentioned in it- with one notable exception, that is. For a second Jessica worries that maybe it'll bite her in the ass when one of the guys she's dated in the past calls out to congratulate her but also says, possibly not joking either, that he'd been thinking about asking her out again but doesn't want to appear in part two. Liz points out that she'd like to see the day when the boys aren't lined up to ask Jessica out and all is right in Jessica's world.
Liz, however, is rattled. She can't help but be jealous over how easily Jessica managed to knock out an amazing piece of writing- something Liz has been struggling with recently. She couldn't really get a handle on her article on Claire, and while that was more Claire being evasive, it still bugs Liz. She also worries that had she actually applied for the talk show gig, she might not have been well rounded enough, as a good chunk of her extracurriculars are literary based. When Todd and Jessica point out that Liz likes literary based things, she admits that maybe Jessica was right when she said that perfection for the twins is somewhere in the middle of fun at almost all costs Jessica and grade-A grind Elizabeth. Not that she puts it in those terms, but she does say she wants to branch out, maybe do something less in the writing field. Perhaps something to do with her burgeoning interest in environmentalism.
Enid, sensing that Liz might be on the verge of another "take up something wacky like surfing" arc, mentions that she heard about a junior ranger program out at Secca Lake and she was going to look into. She invites Liz to join her and I wish, wish, wish that the ghosty had mentioned that Enid just broke up with her boyfriend, but Hugh and the breakup are never mentioned once this entire book, even though Enid makes more than one joke about appreciating the eye candy at the lake. I would have happily settled for Enid being happy to get to spend more time with Liz, but that doesn't really get stated either.
Instead, Enid and Elizabeth pass their test and become two of the twelve junior rangers, and right away Liz is tapped to be Don's (the senior ranger in charge of this whole program) assistant. Because of course she does. This leads to Liz feeling increasingly torn between her gig at Secca Lake and her writing for The Oracle. For the first time ever, she has to turn down an assignment and it doesn't sit well with her. Enid points out that Elizabeth wanted to branch out beyond her writing and in doing so, there will be growing pains.
Since we need things to return to normal though, Liz finds that her Secca Lake gig is physically exhausting and between her busy social life (or Jessica's demands on her time while also refusing to help out with the housework), homework, and writing, she's just spread too thin. Particularly since Don keeps calling her out to help out at the Lake and Liz can't say no since she agreed to be his assistant. Also, Liz isn't good at saying no to people in general, let's be honest.
Luckily for Liz, when she agrees to help Jessica practice her interview, even though she's dead tired, she remembers why she loves journalism so much. She loves finding the story and finding out what makes someone tick. We could've told you that, Liz,but I get it. She also has a nice moment where she realizes that Jessica being good at writing, even a one-off, and Liz helping her, didn't take anything away from Liz. Scoff if you will, but remember that this is basically the message hammered home years later in Mean Girls. And people love their Mean Girls. (And by people I mean me.)
Now, I believe I promised you the Bruce Patman and Lila Fowler
Alas, Lila's plan is far from brilliant though technically it works. She calls Jessica up Thursday night and says that she's thought about it and she's sorry for being such a bad friend and to make it up to Jess, she'd really like to go shopping for the perfect outfit for Jess to wear for her big break. And Jessica falls for it because she misses Lila, too. So Jess cancels her shopping trip with her mother (poor Alice) and agrees to head out with Lila the following day. Which, btw, is the day of the show. Uh oh.
Lila convinces Jess that the perfect outfit is in Cold Springs, a town an hour away. Jessica's not exactly thrilled because she needs to be at the SVH auditorium, ready to go, at 7pm. Lila points out they'll be back at 5:30, 6pm at the latest. Which is BS as they don't leave til 3pm. You can't convince me that these two shopaholics will find something in less than half an hour, but since we all know Lila's up to something, fine. There's a stupid slip where Lila practically cackles and says You'll be sorry! when Jess agrees, but Jess isn't really paying attention. Jess, you kinda deserve what's about to happen. *facepalm*
Lila takes Jess to The Lido, and almost immediately they find an outfit that appeals to Jessica. Lila convinces her to try it on and when Jessica goes to head to the dressing room, Li also volunteers to hold her purse. As soon as Jessica's back is turned, Lila scurries out the door and drives away, leaving Jessica stranded. Jess runs out after Lila and the clerks, who've been eying Jessica this whole time, immediately pounce. The cops are called before Jess even manages to run out the door ... because earlier that afternoon a Detective Tapnam called to warn them of a blonde matching Jessica's exact description who had been shoplifting from stores in the area.
How often are we subjected to being told that Liz and Jessica are the ultimate California dream girls, what with their tans and blonde hair, and blue-green eyes? I'm pretty sure a zillion girls match the same description, though I suppose this all hinges on the fact that high school girls don't typically shop at The Lido? I dunno. Lila didn't need Bruce for this, honestly, as all he did was make a phone call. Lila could've done that. But then we would've been robbed of the next glorious moment.
Lila practically flies back to Sweet Valley, high on her successful ditching of Jessica. What with the cops interrogating her and the distance, there's no way in hell Jessica will make it back home in time to be on Eric's show. Lila will go on and everything will be perfect. Revenge is exhilarating. She shows up at Patman Manor and finds Bruce climbing out of the pool, so she takes a moment to appreciate the view. She then gives him a thumbs up and says mission accomplished and with any luck, Jess might even be behind bars. Bruce is elated and swings Lila around in celebration and in the distance you can hear a thousand 'shipper hearts take flight. The pair take fiendish delight in the thought of Jessica missing her big break and Lila hugs Bruce. He puts his arms around her and then, for one brief shining moment, the two kiss.
They immediately spring apart, with Bruce very nearly toppling back into the pool, and Lila plays it off like it's no big deal, but you can tell that Lila most definitely does not think Bruce kisses like a jellyfish, dead or otherwise. And Bruce is equally thrown and my god, this scene erases any and all sins in the rest of the book because um, yeah. Lila and Bruce kiss.
So, where were we? Oh, yeah. Jessica's stuck at the Cold Springs PD along with the manager of The Lido and two sergeants. Jessica repeats that she didn't mean to steal or even give the impression of it, it was all some stupid prank her friend cooked up and you've just gotta believe her. The cops don't seem all that inclined to see things her way until Mrs. Loring flat out says she doesn't believe Jessica, especially considering that call she got from Detective Tapnam earlier. The cops are confused as not only is there no Tapnam on the force, but there hasn't been a shoplifter in town for weeks now. (I assure you, boys, there's always a shoplifter. People steal all the friggin' time.) Eventually they all believe Jessica, with Mrs. Loring willing to drop charges provided Jessica never darken her doorstep again. Not a problem, lady. Jessica's heartbroken though, as she has no chance of making it home in time to be on Eric Parker's show. She calls home and gets Liz and she wails. Elizabeth tells Jessica to just get home ASAP- Liz has a plan.
Remember how I mentioned the cover looked rather punchable? That's because that's Elizabeth pretending to be Jessica, which explains the weirdness in the smile. For me, anyway. The rest of you are probably like, "the cover's fine, shut up about it already." to which I say fair enough.
So yeah, Liz races to the auditorium just in time for Eric Parker to tell Lila to get ready to go on, as obviously Jessica has flaked. Liz waits til Lila is in the dressing room and then she wedges a chair under the door handle and finds Eric, playing up Jessica's total inability to be on time. Eric laughs when he remembers that she was also late to the interview and they head out to begin the show.
Jessica arrives just before the show ends and despite not wanting to see Lila shine in what should be Jessica's spotlight, she trusts Elizabeth and sneaks in... to see Elizabeth pulling a twin switch. I love that it's not until she sees Liz in action does it occur to Jessica that this is what her twin had planned. Jess sneaks backstage and avoids Lila before Liz appears and commands a twin switch. It takes her a moment, but Jessica realizes that Liz fully intends to let Jessica bask in the spotlight, even if Liz was the one who gave the interview. After the switch, and people begin congratulating her, Jessica spies Lila and braces for a confrontation. Instead, Lila lays into Bruce for fowling up the plan and their blow-up ends with Lila shrieking about Jessica being right- Bruce does kiss like a jellyfish. Jessica wonders briefly how Lila would know and then is plunged back into the spotlight. Still, while we know Jessica wasn't the Wakefield on TV, Lila doesn't, so Jessica snatches Lila's keys and tosses them up in the air, where they land in a rolled up curtain. Lila panics about how she'll get home and Jessica says it's not her problem.
To wrap things up, Liz steps down from the rangers and instead chooses to write about them in the hopes of sparking interest in her readers. She realizes there's a fine line between well rounded and over-extended and with her passion for writing back, she's fine in at The Oracle.
Amy and Cara finally tire of being stuck in the middle of Jessica and Lila's war, so they declare a ceasefire. If Lila and Jessica refuse to makeup, then Cara and Amy will declare war on them... and honestly, I don't blame Lila and Jess for immediately folding. Much as I mock SVH Amy, I would not want her working against me alongside Cara. Those two could create so many problems if not for Cara's newfound morality. Also, Jess and Lila miss one another and so the friendship is fixed. I suppose when you spend half your time backstabbing one another, you can't hold too many grudges. Yay, friendship?
We end with more gushing about Jamie Peters's new music and the appearance of Andrea Slade, a new transfer student who happens to be wearing the exact skirt Jessica's been coveting all book long. Lila immediately thinks she's uninteresting but Jessica's not so sure. We end our book on a ridiculous note:
Is there anything interesting about the mysterious Andrea Slade? Find out in Sweet Valley High #72, ROCK STAR'S GIRL
Gee. I wonder what that could be about.
- Eric Parker is a talk show host from Sweet Valley. He graduated from SVH 15 years ago and most of his teachers have moved on. He's got jet black hair, smoky gray eyes, and a chiseled bronze face. Also, the whitest smile ever, though he doesn't seem to be a jerk which is a nice change.
- Eric's weekly talk show is normally filmed in NYC but since he's shooting a segment called "Growing Up In America" he decided to choose an ordinary student from his old high school to interview.
- Amy starts eying Tom McKay this book even though he's still with Jean West. Amy thinks he's going to break up with Jean because he's looking for "Miss Right." Ahem.
- Dyan Sutton isn't a big fan of Eric Parker.
- When referencing the events of FaF, instead of calling a hate crime or even calling Charlie Cashman out for being a racist, we get this gem instead: "racially motivated disturbance." I kid you not.
- Winston doesn't seem as worried about Lila and Jessica applying as he is about the possibility of Elizabeth throwing her hat into the ring. Liz and Todd aren't interested though.
- References to previous books include: the "racially motivated disturbance" (my head might never stop hurting from me rolling my eyes), Tofu-Glo, Jessica's stint as a candy striper to get to Jeremy Frank, Jessica and Lila taking that cooking class, Jess and Win being lost at sea, Magenta Galaxy and the whole computer dating agency, Ned Wakefield's run for office and the break in his marriage, and Liz's attempt at surfing.
- Liz apparently uses a table as a desk and it's big enough for Jess to just sit down next to Liz, no problem.
- Lila was kicked off the cheer squad due to a prank.
- Jessica's article is "The Worst Dates of My Life."
- When changing names, Winston becomes Kevin Klutz and Bruce is Reginald Rich.
- Liz suggests that Penny print Jessica's article alongside Elizabeth's Eyes and Ears column on page four.
- Cara is downgraded from her usual spot as Jessica's best friend to merely a "good friend" of Jessica's who happens to date Steve.
- Applicants for the show: Jessica, Lila, Winston, Robin, Maria Santelli, Cara, Ken, Aaron, Dana, Bill Chase, DeeDee Gordon, Olivia Davidson, Patty Gilbert, and Jim Roberts.
- Don Wolff is a married graduate from the University of California (three years ago), with a degree in forestry, with a particular interest in environmental education. Enid thinks he's cute.
- In order to become a junior ranger, you have to score 100% on the test.
- Jessica's new picture of Jamie Peters came from Flipside magazine.
- Jessica's favorite song from his last album is "Barefoot Girl" and she and Lila both like to pretend he's singing it to them.
- Jessica, Lila, Winston, Olivia, Patty Gilbert, and Jim Roberts make the final cut, though Jess doesn't even know who Jim is.
- Lila has the first interview at 2:30, Olivia has the fifth at 3:30, and Jessica has the sixth at 3:45. I like that there's no taking into account the time for one person to leave and another to arrive.
- When it's mentioned that Eric gets the key to the city from the Mayor, it's never mentioned that the Mayor is Maria Santelli's father... even though we hear a lot of about Ned's run for office.
- Penny wanted Liz to cover the student government fund raiser and for the first time in her stint at The Oracle, Liz had to turn down an assignment. She didn't really want to do it either and I can't blame her as it sounds boring as hell.
- Only 12 applicants made junior ranger, including Liz and Enid.
- Secca Lake is fed by a stream that travels through an industrial area. Ten years ago, SV residents lobbied for a cleanup which led to the lake being safe to swim in again. Funny how that never comes up as a relatively recent event in SVT or SVK, as far as I know.
- Don picks Liz as his "informal chief of operations."
- Each junior ranger has two shifts a week: one weekend and one during the week.
- They offer a 4pm nature walk and a sunset tour which lasts from 7pm to 9pm. That seems like a bit much but what do I know.
- Secca Lake is a little less than half an hour away from the Wakefield's house.
- Danny Stauffer says he doesn't want to make Jessica's Part 2 right after Jess thinks to herself how cute he is.
- There's an extra credit after school science lecture for juniors and seniors being led by Mr. Russo and the first thing up on the docket? Jellyfish. All eyes are on Bruce.
- Despite Jess admitting she took liberties with her article, Amy agrees that Bruce kisses a bit like a dead jellyfish. To be fair, Amy's still shown to be pretty petty about Bruce.
- Liz thinks of Jessica as Lila's best friend.
- Liz is leading a Nature Education workshop for 6-8 year olds Thursday afternoon when it's pouring.
- The Lido is a little boutique in Cold Springs that carries clothes from Paris and Milan, "one-of-a-kind creations." Mrs. Loring is the store manager.
- Bruce pretends to be Detective Tapnam when alerting the Lido staff to the shoplifter.
- Sergeants Brown and Markowitz show up to bust Jessica.
- Don Wolff seems to want to make Liz a senior ranger after like, a week. That's insane.
- Jessica's eating a turkey sandwich with avocado and sprouts when Cara and Amy drag her away to makeup with Lila.
- Andrea Slade is a new junior.
- Other newbies that Penny wants put in at the end of the E&E column: a few new students and two teachers and a guidance counselor moving up from the middle school.
"If only I were a little more like you," she told Elizabeth now. "I mean, mostly like me, but with a little of your nerdiness thrown in for balance." - p16/17
"Filming a show here is great PR for Sweet Valley," Bill Chase pointed out. "It's just good politics to give the guy the key to the city and all that."
"I wish it was the key to my house," Lila said rapturously.
"So do I," declared Jessica. "Then he'd see where you live and realize that your application is a bunch of baloney and that you're not Little Miss Average after all!" - First, yay for Bill not being dumb and second, I snickered at this. p32
"So who's our competition again?" asked Lila coolly.
"Winston, Patty, Olivia, and Jim Roberts," Jessica recited.
Lila ticked them off on her fingers dismissively. "School clown, dancer, arts editor, photography buff. A classic bunch of nerds." pg47
"I always knew you had an evil streak, Lila, but this time you've really outdone yourself." - high praise from Bruce Patman. p91
"Jessica, you'll be a complete success. Aren't you always?"
Ten seconds had not been long enough to blunt the edge in Elizabeth's voice. Jessica stared at her twin. "No, I'm not always a success," she said matter-of-factly. "I said I was well-rounded- I never said I was perfect. You should know that better than anyone, that there are plenty of times when I need help." - p97
Jessica smiled in anticipation. No doubt about it, growing up in American is pretty fantastic when a sixteen-year-old can end up on TV just talking about what it's like! - I'll take passages that haven't aged well for 200, Alex. p106
She had not lost anything these past few weeks by helping Jessica to be the best person she could possibly be. Jessica's triumphs did not take anything away from Elizabeth.
"Shut up and strip!" - This realization followed by Liz's order crack me up. p138
"If she's worth knowing, she'll find her way to us sooner or later," Todd joked. - I mean, he's not wrong. p145
The Worst Dates Of My Life:
"Whoever said 'Chivalry is dead' and 'It's a jungle out there' must have had the Sweet Valley High dating scene in mind." - this is how The Worst Dates Of My Life begins and I need more, Jessica. p19
"The worst dates are with the type of guy who thinks wearing too much expensive cologne and throwing around a lot of money can make up for the fact that all he does is talk about himself. Bruce Patman falls into this category. I thought it would be fun to go parking in his black Porsche- until I discovered he kisses like a dead jellyfish!" - Don't hold back, Wakefield, tell us how you really feel.
The cropped cherry-red top had big gold buttons, a white sailor-style collar, and a matching miniskirt. - Jess falls in love at first sight and Lila describes it as Very French. Sharp, but not too dressy.
She pulled a short black skirt from a hanger, grabbed a white tank top from the pile on Jessica's bed, and pulled a boxy turquoise jacket off the back of a chair. In a few minutes, Elizabeth was dressed in her twin's clothes. She scrunched up the sleeves of the loose jacket, removed her watch, and put on a silver and turquoise bracelet and a pair of matching earrings.
This book is SO close to being fantastically good but it misses by just enough to be extremely frustrating. Lila and Bruce's kiss almost seems like it's from another book, the way it's written and presented, but it's also very much what I would consider classic SVH in terms of romance. Which I mean in the BEST possible way. But way back in Playing With Fire, we're told that "Lila had had a brief fling with the handsome, dark-haired senior some months earlier and considered herself an expert on him." (I have got to stop doubting my memory on SVH trivia.) We're told this as Jessica is getting tips on snagging Bruce from Lila, so why are we pretending that never happened in a book that LOVES to reference other books?
I touched on this previously, but I also wish we'd gotten a little more Enid in the book, or at least one mention of her breakup or even just wanting to spend more time with Liz because of the breakup. Instead we get a lot of Enid making comments about finding Don or the lifeguards pretty attractive but that's about it. I do really love a scene at the Wakefields where Todd, Enid, and the twins are having dinner, and it's not awkward or weird so it's clearly a thing that's happened quite a bit at this point. Jess isn't being snarky and the four of them actually work pretty well and while I'd love to see more of this kind of thing, I also get why we don't. It's something that clearly happens between books or scenes but doesn't really need to work its way into most of the books. But I love it.
This is also the book to point to later when Liz goes on her eco kick and joins Dawn Schafer in being unbearable in their pursuit of saving the world. Though given the state of the actual world right now, maybe they weren't militant enough. o_O But yeah, Jessica laments that Liz makes her scrub out the dog food cans for recycling and it's cute. My only real problems with Elizabeth's subplot are how of COURSE she's the person picked as Don's assistant, even though Enid seemed just as likely a choice, and how quickly Liz burns out. Seriously, it's an almost immediate thing, which I get is because the book is only so long and we only cover a couple of weeks but still. It's ridiculously quick and makes no sense, really. So again, we're so close and yet so far.
The best thing that isn't the Bruce/Lila pool scene, is probably how charming Jessica is for a good chunk of the book. If you ignore her feud with Lila, there are quite a few moments where you get why Jessica is so well regarded at school. She and Lila bond cutely over a new photo of Jaime Peters that Jessica has added to her locker shrine and they both adore the same song on his last album. When Winston mentions that he could be mad about making Jessica's article, she sunnily points out that it wasn't Winston that was the problem with the date, but the circumstances. That's right, Jessica Wakefield admitted to kind of thinking of that as a date and also that Winston wasn't the problem in that scenario. Her fears over messing up in the interview are kinda adorable (probably because like Liz, we don't believe for a second that's going to be an issue) as is her freakout over possibly being just a bit shallow.
Unlike a lot of the early SVH books where we're told how charming Jessica is but are rarely shown anything all that charming beyond a winning smile and a pleading Lizzie!, this Jessica actually walks the walk. Unless you're Bruce or Lila and then all bets are off. Which is a problem. Jessica goads Lila immediately and doesn't let up, even when people point out that it's long past being cute or acceptable. She pretends that Lila knows it's all in fun but Jessica can't be stupid enough to really believe that. She's just still pissed about Lila trying to trick her way into winning and then outright trying to knock Jessica out of the competition. Which is fair enough, except Jess and Lila do this shit all the time. It's why they can make up at the end and not have it seem *too* weird. But she should also know there are limits as to how far you can push people.
The Bruce thing... eh. He's an ass and I can see Penny letting it slide but that's also part of the problem, in that everyone takes a chance to take a crack at him at some point and that's not entirely right either. I'm calling this a wash though, mostly because of the team-up which requires the mockery. I do wish they'd played that out a little more, though.
Overall, there's some legitimately good stuff to be found here, especially if you enjoy the good 'ship Bruce/Lila.