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Sweet Valley High #42: Caught In The Middle
Jessica Wakefield and Cara Walker are heading to cheerleading practice and Jessica is grumpy because Cara knew that Sandra Bacon and Manuel Lopez are the school's newest couple and never told her. They've just spotted the two of them canoodling in a school corridor and Jessica is not happy about being behind the curve on SVH gossip. Sandy is late for practice and Jessica wonders what the Bacon family think of their daughter's boyfriend as Manuel comes from "a completely different world" and the Bacons have a reputation for being strict and also for being massive racists. Although this book does an amazing job of dancing around the word itself, i.e. "reputed to be bigoted." But back to Manuel.
His family was from Mexico and still spoke Spanish at home. Manuel had always hung around with the Mexican kids at school.
Excuse me? What Mexican kids? After over forty books we have literally met two Latina students, Penny Ayala and her sister and other than one throwaway mention of a black senior called Patty, this school is white AF. Sandy arrives all flushed from rushing over and Jessica considers a comment that Cara made earlier, where she said that Sandy looked different and that she's "so radiant" now.
Jessica was surprised at how pretty she looked. Not that she wasn't cute, but being best friends with Jeanie, one of the acclaimed beauties of the school, she was always complaining about looking "just average." And Jessica had secretly been inclined to agree.
Jessica, you bitch. I can't even act surprised.
After practice, Sandy tells Jeanie all about how wonderful Manuel is and that she's going to meet his whole family at a party in his cousin's house on Friday. She also confesses that she hasn't told her parents about Manuel and isn't likely to anytime soon because of the way the racist assholes "feel about Mexicans." At home that evening, Sandy is hanging out in the kitchen with her mother and feels uneasy about keeping a secret as she usually tells her everything. But when she reads out a piece in the paper about an upcoming Mexican festival in Sweet Valley (seriously, where has this thriving Latinx community been all this time? I call shenanigans), Mrs. Bacon gets all frowny and says it should be cancelled because of the "trouble those people can cause". Yeah. Real nice lady. Sandy gets upset and her mother continues to be awful, apparently she grew up in "a town plagued by racial tension" and for some reason her reaction to that is to cause more where she lives now. Slow clap for Mammy Bacon.
Meanwhile, Jessica is scheming for Lila Fowler's upcoming birthday. Lila has been dropping hints about as subtle as a sledgehammer that it's soon and that she wants a surprise party (classic Lila) and Jessica has been studiously acting like she doesn't care and that birthdays aren't really a big deal. She's planning a party for the day after Lila's actual birthday so it'll be a real surprise and enlists the help of Amy Sutton and Cara to act like they don't care either and to change the subject every time Lila brings it up. Cara thinks it's mean until Jessica reminds her that Lila once told her she thought her spring wardrobe was two years out of date.
Sandy is over at Manuel's house with his five younger siblings where everything is raucous and colourful and cheerful and not like Sandy's house where things are ordered and quiet and xenophobic. Mrs Lopez insists that Sandy stays for dinner, so she goes into the living room and calls home, telling her mother that she's over at Jeanie's house for dinner, but Manuel hears her and is upset that she's keeping him a secret. Sandy is ashamed of her racist parents and tries to explain, but Manuel thinks he should still meet them and Sandy promises that she'll come clean soon but needs more time. In the meantime, her oblivious parents are trying to set her up with some (white) golf-playing (white) country club (whitey white) kid called Carl who sounds like he'd be absolutely unbearable. Sandy tries to broach the subject with her mother, asking what they'd think if she already met a nice boy but one from a different background, like, oh I don't know, a Mexican-American? Her mother's reaction is predictably terrible, complete with an exclamation of "good heavens" and a "they're different from us", so Sandy feels like she definitely can't tell them about Manuel now.
There's a picnic that weekend that the Wests and the Bacons have every year, so Sandy calls Jeanie and asks if she'll help to cover for her, as Mrs Bacon is definitely going to say something to Mrs West about all the time that Sandy has allegedly been spending over at their house. Jeanie agrees but she's doubtful about the whole business and also gives Sandy a heads up that Elizabeth Wakefield is going to include an item about Sandy and Manuel being a couple in her Eyes and Ears column for The Oracle. Sandy panics because her mother sometimes reads the school paper, so she finds Liz the following morning at school before class.
"Hi Sandy," she said. She looked at the girl with admiration, thinking how much prettier and more animated Sandra seemed since she and Manuel got together.
Someone shove her into a locker.
Sandy pulls Liz aside and pleads with her not to print the mention of her and Manuel. Elizabeth looks "thoughtful" is all "I don't like to make major changes at this point. Is it really that important that it come out?" Jesus Liz, it's not exactly The New York Times so just take the fucking line out, she's clearly upset about it. Liz eventually deigns to remove it and decides not to press Sandra to explain herself.
It was obvious from the girl's expression that this was a painful subject for her, and Elizabeth didn't want to interfere.
I WONDER WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN. In yet another instance of "people who don't know Elizabeth Wakefield that well but confess everything to her anyway", Sandy blurts out the whole deal about how her parents will never accept their daughter having a Mexican-American boyfriend. Elizabeth thinks about how brilliant her parents are and that they'd never be prejudiced like the Bacons. She also tells Sandy that she has to come clean because sneaking around isn't fair on anyone and that if they get a chance to meet Manuel they might change their racist minds. Sandy knows Liz is right but she's also afraid that her parents will make her give Manuel up if they find out. Sandy manages to get through the weekend barbeque with Jeanie's family without incident, but Jeanie is getting tired of covering Sandy's tracks for her. Sandy tries talking to her mother again while she's out in the garden trimming her beloved azaleas and just tries the exact same tack as before, with the hypothetical Mexican boyfriend. Mrs Bacon says that she would just be making things hard for herself and that she and Sandy's father want her to meet nice people like the Aryan youth from the country club and that last night she was thinking about what Sandy had said before about falling in love with a Mexican boy and she got SO UPSET SHE COULDN'T SLEEP. I hope her azalea bushes die. Also, I'm no parenting expert but if your daughter has come to you twice with the same hypothetical situation about her potentially having a Mexican boyfriend, MAYBE SHE'S TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING.
|Look at these forty-year-olds, waiting to hear back about their mortgage application.|
Manuel is getting impatient about the whole thing and doesn't think it's right for him and Sandy to be dating when he still hasn't met her family and having to meet her in places instead of picking her up from her house makes him feel like she's ashamed of him. Sandy tries to make it up to him by saying that they can go out sailing on her boat the following week and lets him think that means she'll finally tell her parents about him as they won't let her go out on the lake alone.
In the meantime, Jessica's plan for Lila's surprise surprise party is in full swing, she's been insisting that birthday parties are for babies and Cara and Amy have been pretending that the three of them are going to see a "British rock group" the day of Lila's birthday. Over lunch in the canteen, Lila tentatively mentions that her father wants to take her to a fancy restaurant for her birthday but she wasn't sure what to tell him in case the gang are secretly planning something. Jessica keeps the ruse going and Lila storms off, upset that her friends are apparently going to a concert on her birthday and haven't even invited her. I know Lila's an absolute wagon, but I still love her and this is so mean.
Sandy asks Jeanie if she'd like to come out on the boat with her and Manuel, but Jeanie has plans with her boyfriend that afternoon and sees right through Sandy, because she's only invited her along to provide her with a cover so Sandy can tell her parents she was out with Jeanie on the lake. Sandy then runs into Elizabeth, who's just finishing up a project for sexy Mr Collins and invites her to come with her and Manuel on her boat, insisting that Manuel would love to have her there too. Elizabeth agrees to come as Sandy's story checks out because who wouldn't love to hang out with the illustrious Elizabeth Wakefield. Manuel isn't too impressed that Liz is coming (say whaaaaat!) and Sandy tells him that their boat trip plan just slipped out while she was talking to her and Sandy felt like she had to invite her. They head out on the boat, which was a birthday present from Sandy's parents last year and Manuel previously worked at the lake during the summer so he's good at boat stuff. They head out on the water and it's all going nicely, until the engine starts acting up. Elizabeth is worried about the weird noise it's making and Sandy gets the onboard toolkit and tries to fix it but next thing you know, THERE'S A HUGE EXPLOSION.
Elizabeth and Manuel are thrown into the water and they realise that Sandy has been knocked out and is on the bow of the boat, which is now in flames. There's gasoline under the seats and Elizabeth shouts that the whole thing could explode (again) any second. Manuel heroically swims back to the boat and gets Sandy into the water, and all three of them get to the shore, with Manuel towing an unconscious Sandy while the boat dramatically re-explodes behind them. Elizabeth sees a crowd of people over at the boathouse who've seen the whole thing and tells Manuel that help is coming. Sandy comes to and realises that Manuel saved her and Elizabeth almost cries twice over how pure and amazing their love for each other is. A moment which is then ruined by Sandy telling Manuel that her parents don't know he was out on the boat with her and to scram, basically. Liz can't believe it and Sandy pleads with her to pretend that she was the one who rescued her from the burning boat. Manuel is devastated by this absolute shitehawkery and leaves, crushed. Sandy is stretchered to the boathouse while they wait for an ambulance and tells the park service guy who has to file a report that it was just her and Elizabeth out on the boat. A boy who saw the whole things interrupts and says that there was a guy with them too, but Sandy denies it and is then taken away to the hospital. A reporter from the Sweet Valley News has turned up too and badgers Elizabeth for details of her alleged heroics. There's a photographer there too and Liz feels terrible for lying and taking credit for what Manuel did. She asks the reporter if they have to write this up and that she feels uncomfortable about it.
WELL WELL WELL. How's that medicine going down, Elizabeth? Does it taste like bitterness and blonde regret and tables turning? DOES IT?
The story is on the front of the following day's paper and everyone is falling over themselves to congratulate Liz for her bravery. Only her family, Enid and Jeffrey know the real story and Jessica thinks she should milk it for all it's worth. Elizabeth calls over to see Sandy, who isn't back in school yet and Mrs Bacon gives Elizabeth a fancy bracelet for saving her daughter. It's from Stowe's, so you know it's a fancy place when it doesn't have a typically Sweet Valley name like The Jewellery Shop (see also: Lisette's, where Lila shops). Elizabeth tells Sandy that she can't go on lying to everyone about what really happened, but Sandy insists that her parents will never forgive her if they find out about Manuel and asks Liz if she'll find him and tell him that she loves him and that she's sorry.
Back in Jessica's B-plot, Lila's actual birthday has come and gone and she's furious with her friends for ditching her. Cara and Amy then bring her to the Wakefield's house under the pretense of taking her there so she can confront Jessica. Once they drag her through the doorway, the lights snap on and everyone yells surprise ("in front of them all was Jessica, whose face was absolutely radiant") and Lila is thrilled about her surprise surprise party.
After a few days, Sandy comes back to school and when she finally gets a chance to talk to Manuel, he tells her he's had enough of sneaking around and though he still loves her, he's not putting up with it anymore and he pretty much breaks up with her. Later that day though, the cops show up and take Manuel in for questioning because witnesses saw him hanging around the boat at Secca Lake before the girls got in and they think someone may have tampered with the engine. Sandy and her parents are then brought to the station and told the cops have a suspect for the potential engine tampering and Sandy denies knowing anything about a Mexican guy that was there on the day of accident. Since Manuel has explained that he's a friend of Sandy's, the cops then bring him into the room and ask Sandy if she knows him and you won't believe the nerve of this bitch.
"No," she said in a clear, strong voice. "I've never seen him before in my life."
SANDY YOU ABSOLUTE WAGON. Manuel stares at her and asks "How could you?" and I too would like to know what the fuck she's playing at, goddammit Sandy. However she then immediately bursts into tears and confesses everything to her parents. For some reason Liz appears in the room halfway through the confession scene because of course she does, and confirms to Mr and Mrs Bacon that Sandy is telling the truth. Mr Bacon thanks Manuel for rescuing Sandy, shakes his hand and tells him that he's always welcome in his home, and Mrs Bacon manages to bring herself to thank him too, while staring at the floor. The cops all laugh about what a lovely resolution this is to a case of suspected foul play and cheerfully decide to call it a day. Never mind the fact that Sandy lied through her teeth to them about an investigation and almost got her boyfriend thrown in jail for an imaginary crime. Sandy and Manuel head up to Miller's Point afterwards and make up even though she was nothing but terrible to him and seriously Manuel, D U M P H E R. So the moral of the story is that racists will only get over their prejudice if their daughter's life is saved by a minority, but other than that, stay the fuck out of their country clubs.
Not a god damn one. For SHAME, ghostwriter.
Things I counted:
Number of pages: 138
References to the twins' blue-green eyes: 1 (ONE. Outrageous.)
References to the fact that the twins are blonde: 2 (Shoddy.)
Amount of times the word "racist" is used: 0
Amount of times Sandy's parents are racist: A fuckload. Like, so much.