Thursday, 28 June 2012

1990s Nostalgia: Sweet Valley Kids #36 Elizabeth's Video Fever

Okay, could someone please explain to me how I ended up deciding to review a Sweet Valley Kids book on my blog. Oh, that's right. I was around at my local vintage store on a Saturday afternoon looking for pulpy horror novels when I stumbled on a copy of Elizabeth's Video Fever which had been mistakenly put on the shelves with the adult books. I bought it, thinking that my five year old niece might like to read it (or perhaps have it read to her,) when she next came to visit her Auntie Kathryn. Anyway, then I figured there had been a lot of comment about the whole Sweet Valley franchise on my blog, so I may as well write about at least one book from this series. (Note, during my childhood I ever read a few of these. I think there were only about four on the market before I grew out of them. I'd still borrow them from the library occasionally, when none of the Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley Twins books were available for loan.)

Sweet Valley Kids was the second spin-off series from Sweet Valley High. (The first being Sweet Valley Twins.) Once again, this series starred twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield and many of their lifelong friends including Lila Fowler Amy Sutton and Todd Wilkins. In this series, the twins are seven and in second grade at Sweet Valley Elementary School. Consequently, the writing and set-up for each book is very simple--it was intended to be read and understood by emerging readers. In the mid-1990s the series would find itself with a whole new audience--the books were used to help international students learn to speak English. The reason these books were chosen were for their simple stories that depicted an American way of life without using slang or childish language. (Click this link for more details.)

Anyway, Elizabeth's Video Fever opens with, surprise, surprise, Elizabeth being addicted to a hand held video game. She is competing with Todd and a nerdish boy called Andy (I'm not sure if this is meant to be Andy McCormack who appeared in the Sweet Valley Twins series,) to get the highest score on Goin' Wild a video game that revolves around getting a camper safely to his tent. There are all kinds of terrible obstacles like mosquitoes (who would have thought ... maybe they really do have malaria or the Ross River virus in Sweet Valley,) and other things that make the game seem rather stupid and boring, but then again, I'm not a seven year old. But for the record, when I was seven, I preferred Bolder Dash. Yeah! Doo doo doo ... 


Sorry. Completely lost track there. Now where was I? Oh yes that's right. Elizabeth is addicted to a video game called Goin' Wild and all she wants to do at recess is play her video game. I'm not sure why kids in Sweet Valley are allowed to bring expensive video consoles to school, but it probably has something to do with the fact that one, no theft ever occurs in Sweet Valley and two, Elizabeth is so responsible she's probably never even lost a pencil, let alone something worth a lot of money. (Or at least something that would have been worth a lot of money in 1992, the year the book was published.) There's also the smaller problem of Elizabeth and Todd being described as friends--oh Liz, if only you knew that years later he would cheat on you and jilt you for your twin sister--maybe you would have walked away then and there and none of this drama would ever occur. Anyway, Jessica is getting upset that Elizabeth no longer wants to play with her, or do her chores at home. One night Elizabeth's best friend Amy comes over to play and Elizabeth ignores her and plays her video game instead, leaving the tomboyish Amy to put up with playing dolls with Jessica instead. 

At school there is also a story writing competition. Everyone is expecting Elizabeth to win, including the teacher, which makes the whole idea of having a competition a little pointless. Elizabeth decides that she will enter, but cannot come up with an idea for a story. Every time she tries she is distracted by her video game instead. Meanwhile, Jessica, who is said to be the less academic of the pair, starts writing a story about a pair of twins who are working on a story competition. One twin is good at writing and the other isn't. The one who isn't good at writing wants the twin who is to help her, but the twin who is good at writing is too busy playing a video game. Hmm. Can't see any parallels between those twins and the Wakefields at all.

The next day at school, the class teacher, Mrs Otis, asks Elizabeth to stay back at recess and wants to talk to her about her declining grades. She is concerned that Elizabeth is spending too much time playing video games. And then, horror of horrors, she says that she is going to call Elizabeth's mother. Surprisingly, Alice Wakefield was oblivious to her daughter's addiction up until that point. (A familiar pattern in the Sweet Valley universe. Kid behaves strangely, Wakefield parents unaware until the behaviour reaches crisis point.) Anyway, the upshot of it all is Elizabeth is banned from playing her video game for a week. She secretly plays it anyway, gets caught and her punishment is this. She has to help Jessica improve her story for the competition. But Elizabeth writes her own story as well, about a girl who is out camping and refuses to listen to the warnings of her family and finds herself in trouble. It's all very deep and metaphorical and typically beyond the capabilities of your average seven year old writer. (Hey, when I was seven the best story I ever wrote was about a mouse who turned orange. It was titled The Orange Mouse. The other mice were scared of him at first but he decided that he didn't care because being an orange mouse was more interesting than being a brown mouse. Hmm. Maybe that was really all Abigail Carter's earliest incarnation. Wow. I'm really getting off topic here.)

Anyway, Elizabeth decides that she's had enough of her video game and returns to her friends. The winner of the story is never mentioned, but the final chapter leads in to the set up for the next book, in which a soap box derby is to be held in Sweet Valley.

PS Just a word about the cover. I'm a little surprised to see Eva there, seeing as she only appears in one paragraph out of the entire novel. And not once do any of the characters play with a skipping rope.