Sweet Valley High #3: Playing with Fire by Francine Pascal

Back Cover: Too hot to handle…

TL;DR: Jessica gets pussy whipped, Bruce is a douche, Todd becomes likable, Liz frets over her sister and Robin is fat. Just another week….um month?….let’s go with extended period of time at SVH.

The Main Plot:

Playing With Fire, the third installment in the Sweet Valley High series, asks us the all important question of whether or not Jessica can play Bruce Patman’s game and win. For those of you who don’t remember, Jessica is the evil Wakefield twin with sociopath tendencies and Bruce is basically the evil, rich douche cliché the 80s loved so much.

One would think these two would be perfect for each other and result in much horror and mayhem for the rest of teens in Sweet Valley so I suggest you sit back, grab the liquor of your choice and let’s find out where this goes.

The book picks up at yet another high school dance, a few weeks after Secrets left off. Elizabeth, the good yet naïve twin, is attending it with her boyfriend Todd, who I actually found likable in this book. You go, Todd. I’m sure it’ll be short lived but I’ll let you have your moment.

The two have noticed that Jessica has finally arrived with her date Winston. This results in Todd getting a bit bitchy about Jessica, Liz defending her sister and the narrator remind us:

[Jessica] was the only sore sport in Elizabeth’s relationship with Todd. He still hadn’t forgive Jessica for the time she’d made him think Elizabeth wasn’t interested in him.

It glosses over the part where Jessica accused him of trying to rape her but let’s no dwell on the superficial (she did get pushed into the pool because of it, after all).

Meanwhile, Jessica is still distraught over being stuck with Winston as her date, due to tradition, because he’s the class clown (they were the king and queen of some unnamed fall dance and now have to attend this event together or something). We’re reminded that she’s in love with the previously stated Brad since forever…or at the very least the previous book.

Liz get’s a little self righteous over Jessica ignoring her date and looking for Brad, which is ironic since getting Winston elected as Fall Dance King was another form of revenge against her sister. However, she’s still willing to go along with Jessica’s pleas for her to throw the dance competition and let her win (because obviously Jessica and Elizabeth are the best dancers in the school).

We are also introduced to Robin Wilson, who is apparently the only fat girl at Sweet Valley High. I’m torn between finding her character unintentionally hilarious and being terrified of the way she is treated and portrayed.

We’re going to go with unintentionally hilarious for the sake of the review, because within one paragraph she’s been referred to as Miss Tubby, Jessica is expressing her mental horror over the idea of wearing the same outfit as someone who is fat and we’re given the description:

“Party? What party?” Robin asked, running after Jessica as fast as her plump legs would carry her.

I don’t need to even write commentary on that, it speaks for itself really.

Jessica eventually ditches Winston because he’s naturally a horrible dancer, wins the contest with Bruce as her partner and is instantly pussy whipped by his charm.

And all of that was just chapter one.

After the dance, the entire school moves on to Ken’s party where Winston continues to pout, Liz frets about her sister being on Bruce’s arm and Todd is passive aggressive about the whole situation (“Jessica’s a big girl. She can handle herself just fine without your help. Besides, I’d say Bruce is the one who should be careful). While this is going on, Jessica has changed into her “bright red bikini that accented every curve of her trim body“ and joined Bruce in the ocean.

It gets a bit scandalous when Bruce unties her top in front of everyone which leads into the first signs that Bruce makes Ronnie (see Secrets) look like an ideal boyfriend. Jessica has a bit of common sense and realizes that she needs to slow down the situation so she does the only reasonable thing….go off alone in the woods with him to fool around in a pile of leaves.

Ok, scratch the common sense part out.

And this is where Liz finds her, after making an attempt to save her sister from herself. After being blow off Liz throws her hands up in defeat, Jessica tries to smooth everything over by implying…ok not even implying, straight out lying about Todd cheating on her sister and yet somehow Bruce manages to being a bigger bitch by letting Jessica know that if they had any problems she would know “by the empty space next to [her].”

Bruce is such a catch, don’t you think?

Jessica certainly does, forcing her sister to cover for her when she spends the rest of the night out with him before finally taking the walk of shame home at dawn. At least there are no references to sex hair or rumpled clothing so we can safely assume that the small amount of virtue Jessica had between her legs is still intact.

The next few chapters are fairly repetitive: Jessica continues to gush about how in love she and Bruce are while Liz tries to ignore the tension it’s causing between the twins. Bruce and Jessica spend most of their time together making out while skipping classes and going to the beach a lot.

Jessica also ignores the big test that is coming up in one of her classes, which becomes relevant later on, as well.

Along with blowing off her school work, Jessica forgets that she agreed to give Robin, who is fat in case you forgot, a make over. After frantically searching for her all over school, Robin showed up at the Wakefield house where she finds Liz.

Robin eventually confesses that she has a crush on Winston and Jessica was suppose to be helping her win him over. Liz is actually a bit on her game here and realizes that her sister is up to something. She tries to gently let Robin down, explaining that Winston is in love with Jessica and even if she did get him it would be on a rebound situation and no one wants that.

I was a bit thrown by he sudden appearance of real common sense.

However, it was a false hope because that moral lesson was followed by this:

“No,” said Robin, smiling. “I mean I’d definitely take him on the rebound.” They both laughed.

….moving on, Bruce and Jessica take a break from sharing DNA to play a game of tennis (because Bruce is far to rich to play basketball or football, he needs a yuppie sport that involves fashionable shorts and sweatbands). Jessica also excels at the sport, because the Wakefield twins continue their trend of being perfect at everything they put their mind to.

However, turns out that Bruce doesn’t want a challenge from his girlfriend or anything resembling a real game. Instead he wants to beat her and when it looks like she may be able to take him he grumbles, angrly throws the ball at her and pretty much continues his tantrum until Jessica gives up and lets him win.

He rewards her with a kiss and she dreamily thinks:

He really loves me. And if it makes him happy to have a girl who wants what he wants, then that’s the kind of girl I’ll be.

I never thought I’d say this but I miss the Jessica who would scream rape and try to destroy his social life for acting the way he is. At least she had spunk, this Jessica is just starting to get depressing. She even starts skipping cheerleading practice and going to Bruce for help when she fails the previously foreshadow big test (Bruce, being the gentleman he is, lets her know where the teacher keeps the answer keys so she can steal them.)

Meanwhile there has been a whole subplot going on with The Droids getting a manager and starting to book gigs at local bars. Liz is covering the story for the paper and invites Winston to go along to a concert with her, Todd and pudgy Robin.

The book doesn’t miss the chance of taking another shot at Robin’s weight by having Winston let us know that “[He] gets nervous around people who eat all the time.

Sorry about your body issues, 1980s.

The bar The Droids get booked at turns out to be a total dive with only a handful of customers, Winston throws a fit when they see Bruce’s Porsche parked off the side of the road and Robin hates her life…because she’s fat.

It was worth noting that Todd thinks “[Winston] didn’t even give Robin a chance”. Keep this decent human being thing up Todd and I may end up actually liking you for real. The conversation eventually turns to Jessica, because everything always comes back to that, and Todd finally caves and let’s Liz know that the entire school pretty much think Jessica is slutting it up with Bruce and her virtue is in question.

Liz is, of course, shocked and scandalized by even the idea that her sister is unable to keep her legs shut and blames it all on Bruce despite admitting that she knows her sister is heading towards disaster.

One that is a bit more severe than a dip in a pool or nerdy date.

Somehow it’s still football season in Sweet Valley and despite missing every practice since the start of her relationship with Bruce, Jessica is still on the cheerleading team. Because it’s Friday, which means that it’s the day of the biggest game of thee year (at least until the next book), Jessica shows up to school wearing her cheerleading uniform.

When I was in high school most guys would have been thrilled to date a cheerleader but Bruce’s reaction is the following:

“Who said you’re going to the football game?[…] How come you didn’t mention this to me?

Now both Jessica and I shared the same reaction: She’s a cheerleader, going to the football game should be assumed however Bruce is one step ahead of us and let’s Jessica know quickly:

“Never assume anything with me, babe.”

It’s like Bruce is forever stuck in the 1950s, it’s both creepy and slightly endearing in a fucked up way (like the classic black and white movies). Despite the countless hours Jessica has spent watching his Tennis practices or doing whatever he wants Bruce declare football boring, cheerleader nothing more chicks with fat thighs in short skirts and basically threatens to break up with her if she doesn’t skip the game.

Seriously, sociopath Jessica would have destroyed him for even suggesting she was connected to people with ‘fat thighs’ but pussy whipped Jessica just fakes sick and goes to the beach to fuck around with him yet again.

At this point Jessica’s social life has gotten to a point where she is forced to hang out with Robin, who is fat, after another broken date with Bruce (which has been happening at an increasing rate as the book goes on). This is because obviously no one other than over-weight Robin would be available to rush over at the last minute to spend time with her.

Jessica invites her over to finally give her that make over she promised at the start of the book (which involves Jessica momentarily thinking Robin would be pretty if she just lost a bunch of weight. This, like her humanity, is short lived) and later bringing her a long to baby-sit. This later event results in Jessica ditching her with the kids to go have lunch with Bruce when he calls her up and says to be ready in 15 minutes.

Liz, despite being the naïve little flower she is, has figured out that Bruce is lying to her sister (thanks to a blind item in the school paper about him being at road rally when he claimed to have had a family emergency) and is justly upset over Jessica skipping her sorority dance because he couldn’t go and refused to let her go stag.

However a bit of old Jessica re-emerges finally a few pages later when she manipulates pudgy Robin to steal the test answers for her so she doesn’t fail History by leading Robin to believe that it’s a form of hazing and if she does this Jessica would sponsor her bid for membership in the sorority.

Robin is desperate and lacks any form of self esteem so she goes along with it, despite moral qualms.

We’ve finally gotten to the point where there are roughly 30 - 40 pages left in the book which, as always, means a quick solution to all the drama, deception and pain will be found and everything will be wrapped up quickly.

In this case, everything goes down on Bruce’s birthday. Jessica thinks that on his special day, the two of them are going to spend the night having a romantic dinner alone and fucking on the beach afterwards. However, instead it’s totally the biggest party of the year and everyone has been invited.

And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. For some reason Bruce even invited Elizabeth and Todd and they surprisingly show. Even mutual hate couldn’t keep these teens away from the biggest event of the last twenty pages the year!

With Bruce’s level of douche that he’s reached in this book I would think he’d be a bit more selective in who he invited but I suppose the side of him who wants everyone bowing down to him wins out.

However, Bruce never bothered to tell Jessica the change in plans until they arrive at the party. He is able to pull this off by somehow managing to convince the entire school to keep it a secret in order to surprise Jessica…or something. That or Jessica’s isolation from society is more severe than the book is letting on.

This actually pisses off Jessica, especially when Bruce ignores her for he duration of the party and dances with every vagina (except fat Robin) but her until the last dance.

Everyone eventually split’s the official party because the food at the country club sucks and they all move on to Guido’s Pizza Palace. Shortly after arriving Bruce excuses himself to use the pay phone (which, I am ashamed to admit, confused me for several minutes until I remembered there weren’t cell phones in the 80s).

He comes back upset, telling everyone the party is over because there is yet another family emergency. Liz and Todd offer to take Jessica home for him, despite her protests. Bruce quickly agrees and pretty much shoves the three of them out the door. However, hope is not lost because Liz and Todd have a plan to out Bruce’s two timing ways to Jessica.

On their way home Todd makes an excuse to stop to look at the stars because he’s taking an astrology class (A+ excuse, Todd. You’re officially in my good book) and Liz pretends to have forgotten her keys at Guido’s pizza when they’ve almost reached the house so the trio are forced head back to the pizza joint.

It’s not shocking, at least to anyone that isn’t Jessica, that no one else has left the party and Bruce is there with a hot red head on his arm.

This is the final straw that finally snaps Jessica back into her sociopath ways and she immediately sets out to get revenge for the way he’s been treating her.

Which turns out to be extremely anti-climatic because it only involves her hitting him in the face with a piece of pizza before he stumbles backwards into the fountain that just happens to be behind his seat.

Jessica, I am disappointed. We all know you could have done so much better than that.

The Sub Plot

The main subplot involves The Droids attempt at the fame, which I vaguely covered in the main recap.

At the start of the book an agent approaches them at the dance competition, which they were performing at of course, with promises of making them super stars in LA. Liz is pretty involved in the plotline because she is going to chronicle they’re climb to the top of the charts in the high school news paper.

This results in the band going overboard with practices, spending every waking hour trying to perfect their songs and sucking all forms of joy out of their lives.

By the end of the book, they’ve ended up only playing at two very run bars with no customers.

They eventually figure out that the agent wasn’t a real agent, he had been fired because he sucked at his job from his previous agency, and had only wanted to fuck the hot female lead singer of the band. They promptly fire him and go back to playing high school gigs.

But it’s ok cause they’re totally happier with no pressure and playing at Bruce’s party.

WTF In what world does this make sense?:

Jessica’s plot to cheat on the second or third big test, I lost count how many she had failed honestly, is the most overly complicated and confusing aspect of the book.

Instead of just taking the answers key that she had gotten Robin to steal from their teacher’s desk for her she makes Robin slip it into Emily’s locker. See, Jessica had always cheated off Emily in the past but, because Emily is the drummer in The Droids, she was also failing all the tests due to the increase in practices she was taking par tin.

So, after Emily finds the answer key to the next test in her lock, Jessica threatens to tell their teacher she has it unless Emily uses it and gets an A.

Because, as Jessica explains, if she gets an A on the test the teacher will totally know something is up. But Emily is smart so the teacher would be all whatever over her scoring that. This benefits Jessica because she only plans to copy some answers off of Emily’s test.

Now, really? This is such over kill it’s ridiculous.

Jessica involved multiple people, which upped the risk of someone ratting or being caught, along with making things way more difficult than necessary.

Did it never cross her mind that she could have simply memorized just enough answers to pass the test and could have totally bypassed Emily altogether?

Or studied on the numerous nights she sat alone next to the phone waiting for Bruce to call?

Morals of the Story:

If you’re the evil twin: ….be evil. Because when you get pussy whipped it’s just boring and kind of pathetic. No one wants that.

If you’re the good twin? Don’t confront your sister over her mentally abusive boyfriend until you have a surefire way to make sure she’ll break up with him because it’s easier to watch her be miserable than to get her pissed off at you for a few days.

Final Thoughts: NGL, the book had it’s moments but overall I was pretty disappointed in it. They could have done so much more with the Jessica/Bruce coupling by making them evil and heartless but instead they kind of just upped the scale of the Enid/Ronnie relationship from the previous book….speaking of which, what the fuck happened to Enid?

Anyways, as always, I absolutely adore feedback and love to hear what you think. Any suggestions are adored. I have the fourth book out of the library and I’m going to attempt to get that one done this weekend.


Juju at Tales of said...

Whoa. You're funny. My husband and I both enjoyed this review (even though he has never or will never read SVH). Kudos!

Lauren said...

This is hilarious. For some reason, this was one of my very favourite SVH books as a teen. Having read this recap, I'm not at all sure what that reason was.

Anonymous said...

Oh the memories! Loved the review! My mother threw out my box load of SVH over the summer, needless to say I was devastated. I think the best SVH are the Legacy ones, where it details about the various families in Sweet Valley. Great stuff!

Man I wish i could go back to being 12 and read these again.

Anonymous said...

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