gossip_oracle (gossip_oracle) wrote,

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Welcome to the newest wing of the alternate Sweet Valley Universe

Let's get this out of the way immediately. Academic All-Star? is nowhere near as bad as Sweet Valley Confidential. It's not as bad as most of The Sweet Life series, the attempted reboot from a few years ago, or even the Elizabeth series (which was, until SVC, my most hated of all things SV). I didn't finish the book and immediately hate myself and/or everyone involved.

But it's definitely something I will consider canon AU, sorta like as far as I'm concerned, Senior Year is an alternate universe. I enjoyed parts and I think it's worth a read if you're so inclined.

I don't normally utilize spoiler cuts for things here but since this is actually new and some people might like to experience it for themselves before some jackass (me) goes on and on about it, we shall be considerate.

Head's up if you buy the actual physical copy of the book: it is very floppy. It's glossy but there's no reinforcement to keep it from being bent when shipped. It's also smaller than I anticipated, but I am also terrible with dimensions so whatcha gonna do.

Sweet Valley High #1: Academic All-Star?
July/August 2019
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When Jessica falls in love with her Shakespeare teacher, she begins to act like her studious twin sister Elizabeth to impress him. Now it's up to Elizabeth to make sure that all's well that end well - but with Jessica playing her role, will anyone be able to tell which twin is which?
The treasured series that has entertained generations and sold over 60 million books returns! Fans of the over 600 classic novels and spinoffs and the TV show will adore this charming graphic novel from rising star writer Katy Rex (Charmed Magic School, Jade Street Protection Services) and artist Devaki Neogi (The Skeptics, Curb Stomp). Sweet Valley High is also in development as a major motion picture.

We begin our story with an opening shot of the beach. I'm not sure it really looks how I always envisioned the beach (any of them, really) in SV, but my local beaches are odd so my imagination is probably skewed. Still, I think I'd remember a ferris wheel being mentioned. We're told that SV is rated one of the top ten school districts in the country and that SV is welcoming to all. We may or may not also see Liz with a surfboard and Jess dining out at a restaurant. Perhaps those are other blondes who look similar to the twins. Who knows. This is fictional California, after all.
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I do know that we officially meet Elizabeth as she's reading in her room. She's reading Chicken Soup possibly for the teenage soul and I... book, are you fucking with me already? Jess is in her room, painting her toe nails, with the music up way too loud. You know what's going to happen. I know what's going to happen. Sigh.

Liz asks her to turn the music down. What? Turn the music down! What, I can't hear you, let me turn the music down. Yes. That just happened. With the music out of the way, Jess gets a text from Lila alerting her to the fact that she's here. Jess tells Liz she probably wants to stay away as the girls are coming over to watch their fav: Young and Beautiful. I kinda love that even as soap viewership has gone down over the decades, Jess and company are still very into their soap, whatever it happens to be.

Only three of Jessica's friends are named, though at least one more gets a line or three.

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Yeah. I don't know why Amy looks like Ellen or why Ellen looks kinda like I would expect Enid to look if she ever showed up (she doesn't) or why Lila has blue eyes or what. We just roll with it because AU, everybody. AU. NGL, though. I will forever have a soft spot for Ellen after the Unicorns series.

Lila flaunts her wealth and then pretends to feel bad that Jess won't be at Bruce's BBQ because she has summer school. Because she skipped too many English classes, allegedly since that's when Boosters practice was. I have so many questions.
1) Why the hell are the high school cheerleaders called the Boosters? They're just the cheerleading squad in the books. This is just one of the many, many reasons I think of this as SV Twins in High School.
2) SVH is in one of the top ten school districts nationwide, yes? Then why didn't Collins step in before Jessica missed too many classes to not need summer school?
3) How did Jessica manage to stay on the Boosters if she was missing that many classes? Seriously, they will kick your ass off the team for that. It's a plot point in more than one SVH book, not to mention reality.
4) Why wasn't Boosters practice after school? Or an alternative for gym, possibly?
5) Why am I still looking for logic in Sweet Valley High?

Anyway, the other girls feel bad for Jess who points out that as bad as summer school may be, you know what happens when you go to SS on a college campus? You run into college boys!

Cue the squeeing and then Lila points out that odds are good these are the uber nerds and that's hardly anything to get excited about. Jess eventually gets to the point: she's hot for her T.A. and she's sure he feels the same way. Ellen questions this:
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And Amy continues her Mean Girls streak, and not!Amy (but looks like 80's!Amy) points out that uh-duh, Jessica is hot.

Lila senses she's no longer the center of the universe so she's gotta go because she's promised her followers a contouring tutorial that night and everyone has to go, too, because Lila's their ride. Bye, mystery characters #4 and 5!
Liz is off to work but before she leaves, she asks a clearly upset Jessica if everything is okay and Jessica replies that everything is fine, Elizabeth.

One of Elizabeth's many, many activities this summer is working as a lifeguard at the Community Center and Municipal pool. It doesn't take long before we're introduced to Todd, who asks Liz if exotic pets are allowed at the pool and Liz is all, "oh, Todd, you're so funny." You're a dork, Wilkins, but this tracks. Before the cute can get even more dorky, an obviously upset woman demands to know if Liz really just yelled at her kid... for running. Lady, wtf. Liz points out that everyone has to follow the same rules for safety and crazy woman is all, "but kids run, it's what they do!" and Todd decides that this is the perfect time to resume his conversation with Liz.

I... I'm so, so sorry, Todd. You deserve better than this. The only version of Todd I can see being this absolutely stupid is SVU Dana era Todd, and that's a dark, dark timeline that we try not to speak of, okay? Maybe TV Todd, I dunno. But given how Liz is presented, there's no way she'd be with a guy who didn't know when to press pause on a conversation while she's being yelled at, at her job.

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This ultimately culminates in this and I don't even know how to begin to interpret what Crazy and Liz are doing. So confused am I.

Anyway, we get a rundown of just how busy Liz is: lifeguarding, volunteering at the hospice, dog walking for the shelter, horseback riding for the blind, making scarves for wounded veterans, volunteer brunch at the center for homeless senior citizens, wetlands cleanup and restoration, prepping account books for the non-profit art therapy guild, and I know I've missed a few others, all during the summer before junior year. Just in case you wanted to know when this took place.

Todd's missing Liz but she kinda blows him off with her reasons for why she's busy (being a good citizen and wanting to get into a good college) and besides, they have a standing Wednesday date because their relationship IS important to her.

Liz. Honey. Sweetie. I hate to defend the idiot who doesn't seem to understand how lifeguarding isn't something you should half-ass, but one day a week in the summer for your boyfriend is clearly not enough for him and he's trying to tell you that. Perhaps he's fumbling over the execution but you don't get to take the high road here.

Before my brain can explode completely, we switch back to Lila/Jessica/Amy who are looking through Elizabeth's closet. I don't understand. Again. (Take a shot each time I say this and you'll probably die. Sorry.) Didn't Lila take everyone and go home? Why did she come back? Did Jessica sulk enough or suck up to her ego? In any case, we get a fun montage that works pretty well. The girls decide on the perfect hot!smart girl look for Jessica's next class.

They're doing Twelfth Night and Jessica gets to show off her brains and then there's a moment that breaks my brain:
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No, it's not Jessica being smart that does me in as that's a fairly well documented thing across the SV books. Nope. It's that you expect me to believe that Jess is forming this opinion while Liz is reading Chicken Soup for the Whatever Soul? Are. You. SERIOUS.

Class ends and Roy, the TA, says he wanted to check in since Jess is the only non-college student in the class but based on her participation in today's class, she seems fine. He then says it's just the sort of class he would've enjoyed at her age and Jess legit does the "oh, you're so funny" thing before realizing dude is serious, and then backpeddles into "I live at the library and poetry and reading yay" territory. He then invites her and her friends to a poetry reading and Jess is sure she's snagged her man. Oh, Jessica.

Todd and Liz time! Liz is trying to get Todd to understand that she just has to do this one errand for the shelter and she'll only be ten minutes late for their date. Annnnnnd then on their date she's busy on her phone with yet another thing and by the time she's actually managed to pay attention to Todd, it's time for him to go. Cuz, y'know, Todd's got shit to do too, Liz. Liz really puts her foot in her mouth when she says she can't keep track of Todd's schedule on top of hers and Todd points out that he does it for her... and doesn't mention that she expects him to but maybe only because we've already mentioned that. Anyway, Liz says well all he's got is basketball and Todd does not go in for the "well, then it should be easy to keep up with my schedule, huh" dig and instead goes with the ol, "ONLY basketball?" We learn that Todd is trying to win a basketball scholarship* Todd leaves and Liz tries to get me to feel bad for her. I refuse, Elizabeth Wakefield. I REFUSE.

Back at casa Wakefield, the twins are watching one of Jessica's shows and eating dinner. Liz asks when their parents will be back and Jess doesn't know, besides, they're at a museum gala thing. Hold that thought, ok?

Liz eventually bursts into tears and Jessica immediately tries to console her and this is probably one of the biggest reasons I do like this book, even if you might not be able to tell. Jessica is actually super nice to Liz and really supportive. She doesn't go out of her way to bash Todd, she just flippantly says of course he doesn't get it. Liz doesn't want to talk about Todd, so Jess doesn't pursue it. Instead, she suggests the solution for her is to date an older man.

And we get my absolute favorite moment in the book. It makes me laugh every single time I think about it:
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I legit cackled when I read Jessica's Oh, I would.. The poor cat thought I'd lost my damn mind. I mean, I did, but that's not news.

When I first read the summary of the book, I face palmed so hard that I probably left a handprint. I still don't think we really needed this particular re-tread of Jessica wants to impress a guy so she adopts Elizabeth's personality to try and snag him because it seems super wasted on an adult, but I do like that, through Liz, we get it hammered into our heads why, oh why, this is a terrible, no good, very bad idea. But it still manages to not be incredibly preachy, which is a difficult thing to pull off. For as much as Liz in the rest of the book kinda makes me want to drink, her part in the Roy part of the story is needed and appreciated.

Steven comes home and we find out that he's dating Tricia, and Jessica is still not a fan of Betsy but does seem to at least be smart enough to say she likes Tricia well enough. Liz points out that for someone who didn't want their love life picked apart, she sure is being a hypocrite. Jess backs off and then Ned and Alice come home.

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...who are you people because you are not my Ned and Alice.
Steve's pretty dead on, though.

Jess pretends she was just exaggerating about Roy but later, in her room, she's texting with Lila and is still very much hung up on the guy.

Now, to further blow your mind, let's meet Todd's mother.
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* I am confused. Todd and Mama Wilkins are obviously loaded since she's volunteering to get Liz an Hermes scarf, to say nothing of Gucci being a favorite store of Todd's. o_O These aren't the sort of people who live and die on basketball scholarships. I miss my Todd. And to be fair, it feels like this Todd misses that Todd, too.

They stop at the same shop where Jessica is meeting Roy, sans her friends, for the poetry reading. Since she's dressed like Liz, Todd sees her and assumes she is, in fact, his girlfriend. He double checks her schedule and then texts her. Coincidentally, Jessica texts Lila at the same time Liz texts back and it's all a huuuuuuge misunderstanding that could've been solved if Todd had just walked over to Jessica and said anything in person. Sigh.

But there is this moment:
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And I've gotta ask: if Todd sees this and still thinks this is Liz, wtf is going on with Liz? (He does and he does so...)

Lila and Jess meet up and Lila is throwing a party but Jessica is all, meh, high school boys. Lila snaps that no one said Jessica was invited and hey. Lila is Lila in almost any timeline, I suppose.

Todd and Liz find themselves without anything scheduled, so he takes her on a mystery date to the same place he "busted" her hitting on Roy. Liz doesn't get it because she's never been there and she's wanted to go and eventually Todd blows up because he can obviously tell the difference between his girlfriend and her identical twin and how DARE she try and pull the twin switch excuse on him?!

Liz texts Jessica in hopes of getting a ride but Jessica is busy pretending she's on another date with Roy. Now's as good a time as any to point out that Jessica's pretending very publicly, on Instagram, that she and Roy are a thing. She takes carefully timed photos that make it appear they're together at an event when in reality he's just walking by or something. So all her friends and classmates totally think she and Roy are an actual item. Liz is far too busy to check her sister's IG, so she's missed the wacky hijinks of devilinablueJess... until she makes the mistake of asking Amy about it.

Amy's surprised Liz is in the dark and prattles on about how scandalous it is that Jessica is with an older guy and if her mother knew, she'd never let her socialize with Jess again and mentions Jess maybe, possibly sleeping with Roy and Liz is ...well:
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So now Liz must save her twin from herself. She pretends to be Jess and stops by Roy's class where she kinda makes a bit of an ass of herself because she doesn't know that Jessica's IG is filled with liiiiiiiiiiiies and Roy's just her teacher, nothing more.

Todd is in the area because of basketball and sees Liz and Roy chatting and Liz very clearly flirting and this time he's right: it is Liz. So I kinda want to cut him slack from earlier but also refuse to do so because you could've just talked to the blonde, Wilkins. Todd's confused and hurt and Liz forgets her backpack (she never sees Todd, btw) and when she runs back to get it, she realizes Roy is very much taken with a pregnant gf/wife/partner and she realizes that this is a case of Jessica being full of it.

At home, Jess is painting Elizabeth's toenails while Liz knits scarves for wounded veterans and Todd storms in, demanding to know what the fuck he witnessed earlier. Liz doesn't want Jessica to know what she was up to, but luckily Todd's vague enough that Jess is none the wiser. Liz tries to kind of lie her way out of it and Todd's having none of it. Eventually she asks him to just trust her.

Liz. You just take this big ol' boyfriend of yours out to his car and explain everything. GOD. It's that easy.

But I do get why she doesn't, beyond plot contrivance. It's pretty clear that we're well into the bad part of Todd and Liz (I'm so sad about this, and yes, I actually mean this) and Jessica confirms it when she's trying to console her twin again.

Jessica offers to do all manner of things that regular Jess would never (alphabetize canned donations for one) but Liz, in a spark of deviousness, says what she really needs is a day at the beach. You see, she overheard Roy making specific plans and she has every intention of dragging Jess to see her crush is most definitely taken.

I have a moment or three throughout the book where I wonder if it's a case of not knowing how Jessica's door works/Jessica having the same sign on both sides of her door/or artist failure.
Liz knocks on the door and from the hallway it looks like this:
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But this is clearly from inside the house room:
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Which is to say nothing of the fact that Jess Room sounds stupid. But my back hurts so it's making me a little bit meaner than normal so you may find it endearing.

At the beach, they run into Roy and Jennifer, his partner and Jessica gets what's going on. We find out that Roy will be teaching at SVH in the fall and his nephew, Ben, has moved to town. Annnnnnnnnnd Liz and Ben immediately hit it off and Jessica's into Ben even though he shows no interest in her whatsoever and she seems to realize this. Guess this Jessica's only interested in the guys who don't give her a second look? *shrug*

Anyway, we get a lot of Ben and Liz flirting via text and there's another whiplash moment:
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April? I think not, book. Earlier it was August 20th.

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Todd tries to apologize and Liz gets distracted by more texts from Ben and we end the book with Liz blowing Jessica off to meet Ben for coffee.

Great. We didn't even make it one book into the new series before Liz cheats.

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Now. For all my snark and there's probably way more here than is strictly necessary, this thing kept me reading. Yes, I have some serious issues with things, but if the actual intent of this book is to create new SVH fans, then it doesn't matter what happened back in my SVH. And on that level, it almost works. I say almost because this thing got shoved back sooooo many times and I haven't heard anything about it without having to go looking for it. You could not escape the PR for SVC, TSL, or even the failed reboot that resulted in me having a nifty SVH tote bag. This? This has been released with a whimper, and I'm someone who should have freakin' targeted ads for this popping up everywhere.

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But if one ignores the lack of publicity, I think it works as SVH (by way of SVT) for 2019. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the social media bits, but Jessica's IG name is inspired and the texting and things are pretty well done. I don't always love the art, but it has some moments I really do enjoy and I think the artist manages to capture Liz and Jessica very well at times. There's potential here, if one either goes into blind because they're a SVH newbie OR if they're an old fan (ha, I'm old) they just treat it as AU fic.

Elsewhere I mentioned that this Jessica felt different from SVH Jessica and couldn't put my finger on how. I figured it out when re-reading it: this Jessica lacks bite. The closest she comes is her timeline spanning dislike of Betsy Martin and maaaaaaybe the stuff with Lila. Then again, maybe this says more about ye olde Jessica than nu!Jess that being nice to her sister at almost every turn feels off. :P

Ultimately, I'd pick it up when it's on sale if you're curious and I wouldn't be upset if we wound up with more of these. I just have a strange way of showing my appreciation, I suppose.

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But this page is one of my favorites because it feels very Sweet Valley High to me. Pretty and a little cheesy. You could do worse.
Tags: graphic novel, jessica schemes, liz schemes, reboot

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