Recap #228: Sweet Valley Twins Super Chiller #1: The Christmas Ghost by Francine Pascal
Title: The Christmas Ghost by Francine Pascal
Tagline: This year Jessica is in for a very scary Christmas
Summary: Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are looking forward to the most glorious Christmas ever. The tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped, and movie star Beau Dillon is coming to town! The actor, who’ll be in Sweet Valley to publicize his new movie, has agreed to help Elizabeth raise money for the children’s wing of the local hospital. But when the teen star arrives at the Wakefields’ house, it’s Jessica, not Elizabeth, he meets.
What’s the harm in pretending to be your twin? No harm, Jessica thinks – until strange things start happening and three ghostly visitors appear. Is Jessica’s imagination working overtime or have the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future come to teach Jessica the lesson of a lifetime?
[Wing: A couple years ago, Dove and I, along with our secret evil triplet, Raven, started recapping Sweet Valley Twins over at sweetvalley.online. We’ve recapped a handful of the Super Chillers, and Dove suggested that we cross-post them here, considering the subject matter. I’ll be doing that over the next few weeks.]
Ok, first of all, I think if you’ve listened to the podcast you may know this, but I don’t assume that everyone does: I LOVE THE SUPER CHILLERS. Actual ghosts are here.
Before I was confident enough to ask Wing to take on this gigantic recapping project, I used the “mentionitus” method of testing the waters. While we sat on PointHorror.com, griping about how rarely the bad guy (known on that site as the “Muffin Man”) was supernatural, I would say lightly-casually-oh-I’m-not-hinting, “It’s funny, Sweet Valley Twins has a much younger audience, but they always had real ghosts in their ghost stories.” Wing would raise a scathing eyebrow and say that she’d never read Sweet Valley. Ever. And she was sort of proud of that.
Then curiosity would overcome her. “Really? Because in Babysitters’ Club, it was always the Scooby Doo villain – a human pretending to be a ghost. So you have actual ghosts?”
“Actual ghosts,” I would say. “And it’s odd, they seem to act up the most over Christmas.”
And that is the groundwork of how you get someone who clearly is going to hate something, to do it anyway. [Raven: I have such an inappropriate comment here.] Mention that one thing they like. (Also, there will be werewolves in Sweet Valley High.) [Wing: I feel like I should be more upset that my BFF so blatantly exploits my weaknesses, and yet.] [Dove: I do realise that the above is basically “how to brainwash your friends”. But I had an agenda. And here we are.]
Second of all, I adore A Christmas Carol. I know most people do, but I feel like I might go the extra mile. I feel like I’ve seen every fandom-variation of this story – heck, I’ve even written one. I adore this story.
I’ll admit The Carnival Ghost is a better story on its own merits, because it’s not fanfic of an iconic tale, but this one holds a special place in my heart.
The Cover: Why is the ghost awkwardly pointing to the left? Jessica looks great, but the ghost looks like it wasn’t happy to be modelling for the cover.
[Wing: Tis truly the season for Christmas Carol retellings. We did a few over at the Devil’s Elbow (Fright Christmas and The Fright Before Christmas), and yet somehow this has the best versions of the ghosts. I mean, come on: an angry flying unicorn? Clearly this was going to win.]
[Dove: … seriously? I win?]
The book opens with the twins shopping at the mall, a week before school lets out for Christmas break. Which means that everything between The Haunted House and Jessica the Rock Star happened in a six-to-seven week period. #SweetValleyTime.
The girls exclaim over how beautiful the mall looks when it’s all Christmassed-up. I too am one of those people who goes a bit giddy at the sight of Christmas decorations. Which is why it’s a bit sad that Raven and I don’t have the space to put a tree up. [Wing: Have you had a tree while you’ve had the cats? How do they react? I was talking about this with my sister, Canary, the other day, and her cats have been lolling about underneath the tree like the ridiculous giants they are.] [Dove: They react with blazing indifference. It’s disappointing.]
Jessica sees a blue sweater, and a purple purse with a gold braid that she desperately wants. Elizabeth sees a carousel horse ornament with a purple harness. It reminds her of the carousel in the park (for some reason, called a merry-go-round, in the book, [Wing: Ha, I did not even notice just automatically replaced it with carousel in my head. Merry-go-rounds are so very different here.] but everything else: American spellings, sidewalk, jumpers not being sweatshirts/knitted tops, etc., remains the same). She cried when they tore the carousel down. Jessica suggests she adds it to her Christmas list – and she’s a bit envious, because she likes the ornament too. Elizabeth says no, she’s already asked for a lot of things.
They get home and Amy Sutton and Julie Porter (or Amy Porter, if you’re Raven) [Raven: Ah, get fucked Wing… erm, I mean Dove.] are there waiting for her to discuss the holiday bazaar, the proceeds of which are going to a “new piece of equipment for the children’s wing of the local hospital”. [Raven: If we ever start writing PG-13 versions of our recaps, we’d have our very own Children’s Wing.] [Wing: Darn it, that made me laugh too freaking hard.] They hope to raise at least $100. Wow, I hope it’s like a stencil or some colouring books or something, because I really don’t think $100 will go far in the field of medical equipment.
Team Boring will be selling cookies at the bazaar. Amy makes a feeble joke about how they won’t be “old cookies to go with the old clothes”, and I just fucking loathe informed jokes. If something’s funny, just let it ride.
For example, this is Nina’s response to a pep rally in Making Out #3: Nina Won’t Tell by Katherine Applegate (and Michael Grant – but his name is not officially down as the co-writer).
“Beat Camden, beat Camden, beat Camden,” the chant began, becoming rhythmic and mesmerizing.
Nina jumped up, clenching her fists. “I vow total destruction on everyone from Camden. Kill the Camdenites! Slaughter them like pigs! They are the epitome of evil and must be wiped from the face of the earth! Forget football; we’ll bomb the bastards! We’ll make slaves of their children and whores of their women! Their men will be turned into beasts of burden!”
See that? That’s an actual funny line.
Amy, I want you to go away and read Making Out and stop being so fucking unfunny. Actually, just going away would work too.
As Elizabeth shows out Team Boring, she overhears Jessica asking their mother for the carousel horse for Christmas. Alice, once again sober, says it sounds more like an Elizabeth thing than a Jessica thing, but Jessica is emphatic that she will die if she doesn’t get it for Christmas. [Wing: And flat out says that Elizabeth doesn’t want one, which is such a fucking lie. Damn it, Jessica. This is not using your lies for good. This is not #bestjess.]
At first Elizabeth is upset, but then her lack of spine wells up, and she tells herself that Jessica must really want the horse if she has to lie about it.
After school on Friday – no idea when all of the above took place – Elizabeth races home to make cookies with her mother for the bazaar. Jessica should be involved, but naturally she shirks with some bollocks about Lila needing her help to plan the Fowler Christmas party. Elizabeth is upset, but – as per bloody usual – just gets on with her life, except for a small comment.
Jessica shrugged. “Oh, you’ll do fine without me,” she assured her sister. “Besides, you’re a much better cook than I am. And Lila really needs my help.”
“Sure, all alone in that big house with only a housekeeper to help her,” Elizabeth murmured, shaking her head. But still, she hated to dim Jessica’s excitement.
Wow, Elizabeth. Ever wonder if Lila’s demanding the Unicorns’ attention because she’s all alone in a massive house with only Mrs Pervis for company? At Christmas. Are only non-Unicorns worthy of your empathy? (I mean, yes, usually Lila’s a fabulous diva, and I love that, but it’s fucking Christmas, and she’s twelve. I’m cutting her some slack for once.) [Raven: Good point well made.]
Alice and Elizabeth make cookies for hours, and then Steven comes home and tries to convince them to let him eat them. Because apparently Steven’s appetite is more important than charity work. It’s a good thing Elizabeth is only a doormat to her sister, otherwise I’m sure she’d still be up at 3am, replacing all the cookies Steven scarfed.
The next day, Team Boring sell cookies all day, and when they count the cash at the Wakefield Compound, they find out they’ve raised $47.35, which isn’t bad given that they were selling bags of cookies. I think. I’m sure Wing will correct me if I’m wrong. However, Elizabeth is upset because they’re less than halfway to their goal and nobody has any brilliant ideas. Or even mediocre ideas.
[Wing: I think this is kind of low even if they were just selling cookies (though I thought they were also selling crafts and donations and things, though I’m not sure why that combo), but of course we’re not giving a real idea of how big the bags of cookies were. Elizabeth and Alice made at least 4 batches of sugar cookies plus other cookies. All the sugar cookie recipes I’ve used make about 12 to 14 cookies per batch, but since she did shapes (I found this so charming), I’ll round that down to 10 cookies. They also make at least one batch of ginger snaps (#needsmorewerewolves), and though I don’t make those myself, the recipes I checked generally make between 20 and 30 cookies per batch. I’ll take the lower number, so we’re at 70 cookies minimum. If all they sold were cookies, each cookie is going for around 68 cents, but what with all the parents there likely buying the ornaments and things too, I estimate only about 1/2 to 3/4 of that amount came from cookies. Generous estimate of 3/4 means that the cookies are selling for about 50 cents each. That is very low for decorated sugar cookies during a fundraiser.
No guarantees all the math is correct, but I’m pretty confident with the estimates. Also, I realise I’m deeply overthinking this, but I was shocked that their goal was only $100 and they raised less than half that in their main fundraising activity. Especially in Sweet Valley, where the Wakefields Always Win.]
[Dove: See. Told you Wing would know this shit.]
The next day, Elizabeth is editing her final Sixers article, when she hears a movement within the house. Interestingly, she jumps to burglar, rather than the assumption that one of her family is making the noise. After tracking the noise to her parents’ bedroom, she finds Jessica searching for Christmas presents. Before Elizabeth can protest, Jessica shows her a shopping bag with the carousel horse in it. Elizabeth wonders who it’s for, but Jessica says her, since she actually asked for it. [Wing: Jessica searching for their gifts and successfully finding them (not that they were well hidden) is such a gloriously Jess thing to do.]
Elizabeth pushes down her pain and heads back to the living room to read the newspaper. And therein lies the answer. Superstar hottie actor, Beau Dillon, is coming to Sweet Valley to promote his movie where a teen tragically gets cancer. (I bet that’s a fun movie. Didn’t those types of movies tend to get a Lifetime TV release, rather than cinema? Also, I really hate those kinds of movies. Every time there was something about cancer on TV/movies some adult would say, “Dove, why don’t you write to the actor and tell them about your dead dad?” And I would stare at them for an uncomfortably long time before asking “Why?” They would never get past, “Well, I just thought, well – you, I mean – never mind.”) [Wing: What a terrible thing to say to baby!Dove.] Anyway, Beau has spent a lot of time in children’s hospitals researching the role, and doing fund-raising, so Elizabeth decides to contact him.
She writes a letter saying they are raising money for a new kind of laser (I really don’t think Sweet Valley Middle’s goal of $100 will go far for lasers), and she knows he’s really busy, but good cause, can you rock up to our fundraiser? [Raven: I presume they don’t think $100 will buy the whole laser, but their cash will go towards a larger sum. Every little helps.]
(Wait. So the holiday bazaar wasn’t the fundraiser?)
[Wing: I hope that Elizabeth is still pushing for another fundraiser because they didn’t raise enough the first time, but considering the ghostwriters, I have little faith that this isn’t just a weird inconsistency.]
She sends it to the studio, whose name and address were in the article, which is incredibly helpful, and definitely didn’t happen in the local papers of my hometown. Also, wouldn’t the studio be the wrong place? It’s not like he’s a soap star and always working in the same place.
Steven catches her posting the letter, and teases her that it’s a love letter (I think he must have mistaken her for Jessica in this scene, because usually he just ignores Elizabeth), and then when Elizabeth clarifies that it’s All For A Good Cause, Steven points out that Beau likely won’t even see the letter, as he gets bags of fanmail, and even if he does, he probably can’t be bothered. Elizabeth keeps her hopes up, but considers a car wash as a backup plan.
In the next few days at school, basically everyone’s on a wind-down. And I wouldn’t usually bother recounting this pointless faff, but during an assembly, the choir sings Christmas carols, and the twins are noted as being part of the choir, and Elizabeth has a solo in Silent Night. How’s that for continuity? Although I’m shocked Jessica didn’t get the solo. Wait. Didn’t they go to Washington the week before Christmas for the competition? So they should be there right now? Good old #SweetValleyTime
[Wing: Great point and shocking continuity. And this all reminds me of how many things brother Raptor and I didn’t participate in when we were each in elementary school because we weren’t allowed to do Christmas things. (Raised in a religious cult.) We didn’t mind at the time, but it’s still interesting to me to see the types of things we missed.]
After school Elizabeth races home to check the mail, and do you know what? Beau Dillon has replied. I guess Sweet Valley doesn’t have the awful Christmas backlog with their postal services, because somehow her letter has managed to get to a movie studio, through reams of fanmail, to a movie star, and a reply has been sent back in a matter of days, during the busiest postal period of the year.
Naturally he’s well up for doing some good works, but wants to come to Elizabeth’s house to talk with her privately, around noon on Christmas Eve. (Do cancer movies really play well for a Christmas release? I’m just thinking over my holiday watching: Home Alone, Gremlins, Love Actually, Elf, the Santa Clause movies and the Muppet Christmas Carol… and do you know what they lack? Cancer. The Fault in Our Stars was released in June.) [Raven: Don’t forget Die Hard.] [Dove: Which also lacks cancer.] [Wing: It really does sound like one of those Lifetime movies which very well might be a Christmas release even with cancer, depending on how the story goes. Not a blockbuster release for the holidays.] [Dove: Definitely sounds like a TV movie.]
Elizabeth jumps for joy and tells Alice and Jessica. Jessica doesn’t believe it at first, and then goes into vapid attention-seeking scumbag mode, deciding that she’ll be famous, and that she’s only going to invite Janet and Lila over to meet him. Elizabeth actually says no to this, it’s a business meeting for a good cause, not a chance for Jessica to fawn over a movie star.
Then it’s off to Lila’s Christmas party. Elizabeth thinks her Christmas decorations at home are much better, even if they don’t match as precisely as Lila’s. She also notes that the boys are making a terrific effort to ensure that they’re not caught under the mistletoe. Ok, that’s kind of cute. I do like in this series that the boys are so immature about this, because I remember when the boys I knew (probably when I was younger than 12 though) were mortified about the idea of romance. There was a point where all the girls on our road used to religiously read someone’s older sister’s copy of Just 17, and the boys would be terrified that all this icky girlishness would infect them, and they’d just avoid us until we did something normal, like get our bikes or play rounders.
Elizabeth then finds Team Boring (Amy and Julie) and tells them the joyous news about Beau Dillon. Amy shrieks and attracts the attention of the whole party. Jessica then jumps in and takes all the attention, claiming to be a fucking saint when it comes to fundraising, and she’s sure she and Beau will have plenty to talk about because she’s seen all of his movies at least twice. Elizabeth is irritated and points out that all they’re going to talk about it fundraising.
Then Lila suggests it’s all a lie, because it’s very unlikely that a big movie star would visit the Wakefield Compound. Sure, Lila, it is now, but wait until the end of this series, when all semblance of reality is well and truly hacked away, and celebs are running around left, right and centre. [Wing: I didn’t feel a lot of sympathy for Lila when I first read this, but going back to what you said earlier about her loneliness around Christmas, you make a very good point and I am feeling sorry for Lila, trying so hard to find attention for herself.] [Dove: I feel certain her father is away on a “business trip”.]
Elizabeth says that she has his note, but didn’t bring it with her. She waits for Jessica to back up this story, but Jessica stays silent.
After the party, Elizabeth is cross with Jessica, who obliviously babbles on about how exciting it is that Beau is coming to their house. Elizabeth asks why she kept quiet when she knew the truth, and Jessica explains that she thinks Lila has bought her a great gift, and if she took Elizabeth’s side, Lila might give it to Ellen instead.
Elizabeth bit her lip. This was too much. “I think you acted really awful,” she told her sister. “Honestly, Jessica. If you keep on being so selfish, you’ll end up with no friends at all.”
Jessica looked outraged. “What a thing to say! I’m not selfish. And I’ve got lots of friends. What about all the Unicorns? Everybody at school likes me. You take that back.”
Elizabeth was too tired to argue. “Have it your way. Good night, Miss Popularity,” she muttered, flipping the light switch.
Hi Elizabeth’s backbone. Haven’t seen you before. Kinda of like you. Why don’t you stay?
The next day is Christmas Eve, where at noon Elizabeth is due to meet Beau, then after that, she and Team Boring are going to hand out gifts at the children’s ward. At first, my brain didn’t really understand this – at work we collect gifts to give to kids in foster care or group homes – but then I remembered that the USA charges for healthcare, so anyone who’s got a kid in hospital probably can’t afford to give them gifts.
[Wing: It’s that plus the idea of cheering up families who have kids in the hospital over Christmas. We also collect gifts for foster care kids and poor families and homeless people, etc.] [Dove: Good point, and we know that there are no poor (except the Rizzos) or homeless people in Sweet Valley.]
The first thing Elizabeth does is apologise to Jessica for reacting reasonably to Jessica’s selfishness. So long, backbone. Then the twins clean the house while Alice puts out cookies and eggnog for Beau.
Noon comes and goes, and Jessica starts pouting that Beau was never interested in her – Jessica, keep up, he doesn’t even know you exist – and Elizabeth keeps trying to find reasons why Beau would let the sick children down. Eventually she has to leave to give out presents, but she knows he meant to make that appointment.
Over in Jessica’s head, she’s planning a revenge fantasy, where she pickets the cinema line and his popularity plummets. Because a single twelve year old in a small suburb threw a tantrum in front of one movie theatre. (Also, I’d have hoped Jessica’s revenge fantasies were more along the Kill Bill lines.) [Wing: Those would be her true revenge fantasies.]
Then, of course, Beau shows up. He had car trouble, and he did try to call, but the line was busy each time he tried – this is because Alice was on the phone to her sponsor. Beau assumes that Jessica is Elizabeth, although to be fair, this isn’t a twin switch, he just had no idea Elizabeth had any siblings at all. He can’t stay long, but suggests they meet on 27 December and have lunch in a private room of a restaurant to discuss the hospital. Jessica jumps at the chance, and as he leaves, he calls her Elizabeth.
She should have told him right away that she wasn’t Elizabeth. Now she was starting to feel a little bit guilty. Except she’d been so excited when he actually showed up that she hadn’t realized right away the mistake the young actor had made.
Jessica, you are either very thick or very desperate, because if you didn’t realise he thought he was talking to Elizabeth, then you assumed that a movie star walked into a random’s house, and asked them to lunch for no reason at all. [Raven: This is prime Jessica logic. Nothing considered that might detract from her desires. Fuck common sense or reality.] [Wing: #bestjess]
Then she decides that no sensible human being could give up a lunch date with someone as handsome as Beau, even if it is for the sake of sick children. So, fuck Elizabeth, Jessica is going to lunch with Beau. And, like, she’s totes gonna plan that fundraising thingy, does it really matter which twin does it, as long as it gets done? She’ll totally tell Elizabeth after the lunch, and then Elizabeth can take over the organisation of the actual fundraiser – are you fucking kidding, Jessica? Even for Jessica, this is a new low.
And she realises it. She can’t really look at herself in the mirror, because she sees Elizabeth, looking hurt over the betrayal, and she feels jumpy. But she doesn’t care enough to change anything.
When Elizabeth gets home, she asks if Beau called and Jessica changes the subject by asking how the gift-giving went.
Then their evening unfolds: listening to carols at the Civic Centre, then home to put up the tree, Ned reads the last chapter of A Christmas Carol, and The Night Before Christmas, and then everyone is allowed to open one gift. This actually sounds nice, but I’d like my tree up for at least a week before Christmas. [Wing: I’m shocked they didn’t have it up sooner, and during Elizabeth’s judgment of Lila’s tree, my impression was that the Wakefield tree was already up, too. Christmas decorations often go up Thanksgiving weekend here, so about a month before Christmas. A Christmas Eve setup seems very weird to me.]
Jessica opens Lila’s gift: a poster of a purple unicorn; Elizabeth gets the latest Amanda Howard mystery from Amy; Steven gets a biography of his favourite basketball star; and the adults apparently don’t open anything. Or their gifts were really boring. I bet they were ties and aprons. [Raven: Porn for Ned, Gin for Alice. ‘Tis the season to be horny / hammered, tra la la.]
Elizabeth says it’s been an almost perfect Christmas Eve, except for Beau. Jessica wishes she’d just get over it, because Elizabeth’s sadness is making her feel guilty.
Before bed, Jessica hangs up her poster, but feels like the unicorn is angry with her and looking straight at her. Elizabeth hears her yelp of fright, and comes in to check on her. She says that Jessica looks pale, and Jessica yells that she’s fine and is Elizabeth trying to accuse her of something? Elizabeth looks alarmed and backs off. I’d be the same. All this excitement could make Jessica snap, and we know she’s killed before (Roberta Manning, Sally Holcombe and Sandra Ferris).
When Jessica reaches for the bedside light to turn it off, it morphs into the old baby lamp the twins had when they shared a room – white and yellow with a clown face on the base, sounds terrifying. Elizabeth had loved the lamp (of course she did), but Jessica hated it, so smashed it one day. [Wing: And who could blame her? That is horrifying.] Elizabeth had been upset, but Jessica had never confessed. The clown lamp calls her a liar. Jessica sticks her head under the covers for a few moments, and when she pops out again, the lamp is back to normal. She turns off the light, but can’t sleep. She thinks she hears rain, but when she checks the window there is none. The room seems darker than usual. She forces herself to calm down, and just as she’s drifting off, she hears a new noise and snaps awake. It is exactly midnight, according to her clock. And there’s a girl standing at the end of her bed. [Wing: SAMARA OH FUCK.] She’s the Ghost of Christmas Past. [Wing: … or that.]
Jessica doesn’t believe it at first, and it takes her a page and a half to notice that the ghost looks just like her (and Elizabeth, obv). The ghost says that she’s Jessica’s younger self and they’re going to visit her past.
This recap is going to get complicated. Apologies for how many past/present/older/younger-$name(s) you’re going to have to read.
We all know what happens now: the ghost takes Jessica’s hand, they fly out the window and land in the past. And, obviously, as soon as Jessica realises she’s somewhere familiar, she tries to talk to her sister from the past, only to be given the standard spiel of how these are just shadows of the past.
Past-twins, who are “not more than a few years old” are at the park, riding the carousel. Once the ride is finished, past-Elizabeth wants to ride again, while past-Jessica wants to go on the slide. Past-Elizabeth gets her way, and Jessica is glad, with the knowledge that it gets torn down later.
[Wing: Wait, no more than a few years old? I missed that the first time. What the fuck are you doing letting them sit on those horses while you’re not even on the ride, Alice?!] [Dove: Gin. And good point. When we rode the carousel in Santa Cruz, there were plenty of kids older than “a few years old” who were being held in place by parents.]
The next scene is Sweet Valley Elementary school in second grade. The past-twins are there, dressed the same but with different hairstyles (yeah… I don’t think so). Past-Elizabeth says that she loves the story they read today, and past-Jessica comments that past-Elizabeth was the best at reading aloud and she’s glad her twin got a gold star for it. Past-Lila rocks up and asks past-Jessica to sit with her at lunch, but gets turned down, past-Jessica would rather stick with her twin. Jessica notes that she probably wouldn’t make the same decision now. Past-Elizabeth shares a cookie with her twin, because past-Jessica didn’t get one. Then past-Bruce Patman comes over, is a douche, and past-Jessica calls him “Pat Man the Fat Man” and he bumbles off in humiliation.
The next scene is Christmas Day when the twins are seven. They open their presents and the twins both receive dolls, past-Elizabeth says she likes past-Jessica’s doll better, so past-Jessica swaps without hesitation, and everyone is proud of past-Jessica’s Christmas spirit. Jessica realises she wouldn’t do the same thing now.
Jessica finds herself back at home, everything is normal, except the unicorn poster Lila gave her is missing. Oh, and the light in her room is so bright. Only no lights are on, there’s an intense glow from the landing. She has the urge to dive into bed and pull the covers over her head, but she hears her name being called. She opens her door and the landing isn’t their usual landing, it goes on endlessly. She walks for awhile, then comes to a large window, which files open and a purple unicorn gallops into the room.
I hope it’s this one. After all, who better to teach Jessica about friendship than Twilight Sparkle. *sigh* Now I want a crossover. Add it to my NaNoWriMo idea pot. (Note: I wrote this recap in October.) [Wing: Twilight Sparkle is my favourite. And now I hope you’ll write a new crossover.]
Jessica asks who the unicorn is, and it (non-gendered, so maybe not Twilight Sparkle) introduces itself as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
As she looked closer at the beautiful creature, she saw sprigs of holly and mistletoe caught in its thick mane. Its body glistened, almost as if it were lightly dusted with stars. And its midnight-blue tail was so long and so thick, it seemed ready to brush the sky.
How pretty does this horse sound? I’m quite tempted to break out Daz and see if I can render it. [Wing: Yes please! That “lightly dusted with stars” is a particularly wonderful description, and not at all what I expect from SVT.]
It invites her to climb on its back, and they will go on a journey. She doesn’t want to, but it commands her to. She is utterly terrified as it bounds forward and they gallop through the fog, which sounds both fun and scary.
She winds up at Beau Dillon’s house. He’s relaxing by the pool. Jessica gushes to the Unicorn about how thankful she is that it showed her this. The Unicorn snorts, and Jessica wonders if it’s in anger.
Beau is blathering on to a random stranger about how marvellous Elizabeth is, how she’s not a spoilt brat (really? Read the book where she’s told she can’t have a horse). Jessica at first gets excited, thinking he’s talking about her, but then realises he means Elizabeth.
Since Beau is no longer fun, Jessica is delighted to move on to the next scene. The Unicorn takes her to her own home, but she’s not home-home, she’s arrived at Christmas day this year. The Unicorn tells her that she’s seeing the day through Elizabeth’ eyes (literally) and will be able to hear Elizabeth’s thoughts. I bet that’s a party-a-palooza. Elizabeth is generally such an exciting person. [Raven: This would be epic if Jessica learnt some of Elizabeth’s more salacious and confusing thoughts about Mr Bowman.]
The present-twins start opening their presents, and present-Elizabeth comments that present-Jessica has received a sweater almost the exact shade as her slacks (both sound terrific!) and present-Jessica immediately snaps that she should back the fuck off, this sweater is present-Jessica’s and she is not motherfucking sharing, ok! [Raven: The present-twins opening presents. Nice.]
Real Jessica is a bit embarrassed that her present-self is a dick, and the Unicorn tells her to focus on her twin and she’ll hear her thoughts. Naturally, Elizabeth is having deep and sorrowful thoughts about how Beau didn’t show up and how this makes her a terrible fundraiser.
Jessica says she didn’t realise that Elizabeth was so upset. The Unicorn comments that Elizabeth is a fucking saint and wouldn’t ruin anyone else’s Christmas with her angst.
Jessica didn’t answer. That sounds just like Elizabeth, she thought crossly. So noble. Why couldn’t her sister just come right out and admit she was miserable?
On the one hand, way to victim-blame, Jessica. On the other… I do tend to applaud anyone who loathes Elizabeth’s martyr complex as much as me. Jessica then complains that it’s not her fault, she didn’t know Elizabeth was miserable. The Unicorn quickly puts her in her place on that.
Also, Jessica hears more of Elizabeth’s thoughts, and she’s sad because she thinks Jessica knows something about Beau.
Jessica says that nothing – not even Beau – is worth it, not if it comes between the twins. I’m certain this resolution will stick for… zero books.
The unicorn then takes her to the next scene… which is in the past. Not the present. Hey Unicorn, you’re as stupid as the Unicorn Club.
The unicorn shows us the scene from Best Friends, where Elizabeth has a big old cry over Jessica wanting to be a Unicorn, and while she doesn’t want to be one, she doesn’t want to be apart from Jessica. Jessica feels terrible about how Elizabeth put a brave face on when she was really that co-dependent heartbroken.
The unicorn flies off into the night and then soars and dives until Jessica falls off.
To her death.
No. She wakes up in her bed. She tries to get back to sleep, but can’t sleep because of the smell of flowers and the rocks under her back. When she opens her eyes, she sees that she’s in a small field on the side of a forest, which Jessica thinks is beyond Secca Lake, fabulous venue of Johnny Buck concerts at 3pm.
She walks through the woods and it gets darker and darker. She senses something is following her. She finally sees a vague tall, thin form, draped in a loose robe with a deep hood. Your standard third ghost. It doesn’t speak, but Jessica asks if it is the third ghost and it nods.
They trek through the woods and come out on the edge of Secca Lake. Jessica immediately spots an older “slim girl in stylish clothes” and knows it’s her. Teen Wakefield is surrounded by admirers, both boys and girls. Jessica is delighted at how beautiful she looks, and in your face, Elizabeth! It looks like future-Jessica is just fine in the popularity department, especially when the boys find excuses to be close to her while roasting marshmallows.
Teen Wakefield asks a nearby boy (nobody is named in this… because either the ghosties didn’t read Sweet Valley High or yet again the publishers made bizarre demands that made no sense) if their “initiate” is doing well.
Despite the fact they barely use names in this future, I’ll give you a quick spoiler for the first page of Sweet Valley High #1: Double Love. Sweet Valley High has a sorority (why???) called Pi Beta Alpha. They make their pledges do embarrassing/silly tasks to get in (and because this is Sweet Valley, if someone is fat, ugly, poor, quiet, wears glasses, etc. their tasks are significantly harder than they would be for a “beautiful” girl). Oddly, I’m pretty sure Sweet Valley University does not have sororities. So I’ll guess that they’re initiating someone in to Pi Beta Alpha.
When Teen Wakefield leaves to get hot dogs, the other kids talk about what a complete “witch” and “creep” her sister is, and how they’re never going to let her join their sorority.
Our Jessica can’t work out why they hate Elizabeth so much. Being boring and doing your homework isn’t as bad as say… being fat. Ok, I’m paraphrasing, but after this many recaps, I know how Jessica’s mind works.
Jessica hears crying, and heads off into the woods to save the other Teen Wakefield that we’ve not met yet.
The teenager huddled on the forest floor muttered to herself. Jessica stopped pacing and leaned closer to make out the words.
“Oh, Elizabeth,” the girl murmured. “How could you let them treat me like this? I know they’re all spiteful, but I didn’t expect this of you.”
SHOCKA, RIGHT? We didn’t see that coming. Well, we are smarter than Jessica. She is floored by the idea that she’s not popular. She stamps her foot and screams that she doesn’t believe it. That’ll fix things.
The scene fades and the next one starts. She’s by the football field of Sweet Valley High, and sees a bunch of the same kids from the bonfire. We hear the name “Cara”, which is Cara Walker. Some boy is yelling about how she’s got the best spirit of all the cheerleaders. Uh-huh.
Jessica watches the cheerleaders enviously, wishing her older self was out there. She sees older Elizabeth – she can tell because her hair is pulled back – and then spots her older self.
She hurried forward, anxious to see the lonely girl more clearly. The girl on the bleachers wore a stylish outfit; her skirt and sweater were perfectly matched, and her hair was expertly groomed. She looked lovely, just like the kind of girl who would be appreciated and liked by the other high school students. What had gone wrong? Why was she sitting here all alone?
I honestly have no idea, Jessica. All of Sweet Valley works on the toxic notion that beauty = goodness, and therefore you should be set. Believe me, you are going to pull some shit in the future that makes this Beau Dillon thing look like nothing. And you’re still popular.
Two girls are bitching about Jessica, saying that she’s a selfish gossip, and remember that shaving foam/ice cream prank she pulled on Lois. (Uh, not to defend Jessica, but why aren’t we judging the hell out of the Unicorns, who thought that was an ok thing to do too?) Also, remember the time she tried to steal Todd Wilkins from her sister? (Uh, no, because that’s nine books from now, or the first book of Sweet Valley High.) And then they bring up the Beau Dillon thing, saying how could you possibly trust Jessica after that?
I’m thinking how could you possibly trust Jessica after her selfishness nearly killed a dog? But sure, let’s go with the celebrity thing. It’s a lot sexier than a lonely old woman who loves her aged dog more than most humans. [Raven: I actually liked the continuity nods in this section, even the ones I just assumed would happen in future books I’d not read yet.] [Wing: Same, though I think they probably carry more weight if you’ve already read the future books. Reading them in this order (I assume the SVH books came first) does make for interesting foreshadowing.] [Dove: I’ve just realised that this means that Jess went into Sweet Valley High knowing that people would badmouth her for trying to steal Todd, and she still did it.]
Jessica begs the spirit to take her home. Instead it takes her to the Dairi Burger at Christmastime. She spots older versions of Lila and Bruce sitting together (when in the hell did those two hang out?) In the next booth over older Elizabeth is surrounded by Olivia Davidson, Winston Egbert and Todd Wilkins… who Raven and Wing haven’t met yet. Todd gives Elizabeth a fountain pen for Christmas, which Elizabeth is delighted by. Jessica notices that Elizabeth is wearing a gold bracelet with a heart charm on it – our Jessica and Elizabeth had swooned over it at the mall in the beginning chapter. Jessica is very jealous. And I’ve got to be honest, I’m actually surprised we don’t have a twist ending where Jessica kills her whole family to make sure nobody else is more popular than her.
Naturally, Jessica is most interested in finding herself. She spots two girls sitting alone at their own tables. And on reading this, I’m thinking the Applegate/Grant team did this – Michael Grant confirmed they did a lot of Christmas books, and with this being the first, it was a likely guess anyway – because any other Jamie Suzanne would have listed the 50 billion items on the fat girl’s tray, to explain that she was fat, glutinous and alone.
Jessica hurried closer to take a look. The first girl was Lois Waller, still overweight, still looking lonely and out of place. At the table across from her sat the older Jessica. Today she looked as well dressed and pretty as ever, but the perfectly applied makeup couldn’t disguise the spiteful droop to her mouth, or the malicious glitter in her blue-green eyes. Once in a while she shot nasty glances toward the other students.
“Good grief,” Jessica muttered to herself. “Why am I sitting all alone?”
As if in answer, Lois looked up and called in a timid voice, “Jessica, would you like to sit with me?”
“Sit with a loser like you?” The teenaged Jessica rolled her eyes. “You must be joking.”
Get in the fucking sea, you vicious, vapid void of humanity. Lois Waller is worth a hundred of you – and that’s not a fat joke, you dick.
Even our Jessica is shocked, and tells off her older self for being mean. Yeah, you read that right. Our current Jessica is standing up for Lois and is mortified by her older self’s behaviour.
Elizabeth and her crowd leave, Lila tells Bruce to “do it now” (make your own joke). Bruce then swaggers over to older Jessica and flatters her a bit – our Jessica feels it’s a trap, but older Jessica has apparently lost her scheming and devious nature, as well as her popularity. He then asks her out for Saturday, and says they’ll go to a dog show. He’ll remember to let her know the booth number. Y’know, so she can enter, because she’s a dog.
This joke is so hilarious, Bruce explains it.
The Dairi Burger falls about laughing, because their values are satisfied by ponies and friendship destroying other people’s lives.
Is this just an awful dystopian version of Sweet Valley we’re looking at? Sweet Valley’s internal workings have gone wrong. It’s accidentally judging Jessica on her personality instead of her looks, when she does far worse things all the time and never loses popularity. All the popular kids (sans Elizabeth and her Team Boring friends) act like Evil Jessica but they’re still popular.
Wait, never mind, I’m using logic on Sweet Valley. I’m forever telling Wing off for this. I’ll stop. [Raven: Also, it’s not that much of a leap. The Sweet Valley Kids seem to latch onto anything for scorn, not just looks. Sophia is poor, Nora is creepy, Ginny-Lu is a hick, Brooke is mean, Billy is mannish, Nydick is predatory… throwing Jessica under the bus because she is spiteful is entirely in keeping with what we know.]
Jessica wails that her future is awful and demands to go home.
The spirit does take her home, but not home-home. It’s still the future. She is draw to Elizabeth’s room without wanting to go there. She sees that Elizabeth is president of Pi Beta Alpha, a member of the honour society and has won numerous awards.
Older Elizabeth is sitting at her desk, writing in her journal. And she’s writing about how sad she is that Jessica is so miserable. She reminisces about how happy they were in the scenes we read about in Christmas past, and then naturally fixates on the Beau Dillon thing. And we get some details of how badly it goes: Jessica doesn’t know a thing about charity, Beau thinks she’s a fame-whore, and no money was raised. I guess we can infer that a child named Tim died. [Raven: NO LASERS FOR YOU, TIMMY!]
Jessica turns to the spirit and pleads with it that her future can be changed. She yanks off the robe, and gets tangled in it – and she’s in bed, safe and sound and she’s been fighting with her sheet.
It’s 8:05am, and yay! It’s Christmas!
She leaps out of bed, but can only find one of her slippers, [Wing: I love this detail so damn much.] so skips that part and races down the hall, where she bumps into her twin and blurts out that she loves her – and that’s sort of adorable. Very un-Jessica-like. Elizabeth comments that she thought Jessica was downstairs, because when she checked her room, the bed was empty. Oooh, spooky.
Elizabeth urges her to come and open presents, but Jessica needs to come clean now about Beau. She waits for Elizabeth to become angry, but Elizabeth is too excited to be angry. Jessica then apologises for being selfish and mean.
They go downstairs, and Jessica is in such a good mood she hugs everyone, even Steven. I bet that’s going in the spank bank. [Raven: Steven has plenty of material there. After all, he’s Jessica’s very own Santa Claus… He sees her when she’s sleeping.]
The first present Jessica opens is the carousel horse, which she immediately gives to Elizabeth, because she knows she wanted it more. Elizabeth doesn’t know how to thank her, but Jessica comes out with this gem: “Having a family who loves you is better than a whole roomful of presents.”
Twins: books, clothes, misc gifts.
Steven: electronic basketball game.
Alice: brown leather coat, which I’m sure will be useful in the glorious sunshine Sweet Valley is famed for – yes, I know regular California has a bit of variation in their weather, but this is Sweet Valley. There’s only ever a storm if the plot requires, and there’s only so many Super Chillers in this series. [Wing: Didn’t they recently judge someone for giving leather gloves as a gift, and yet the leather coat is amazing?] [Dove: #ItsOkIfaWakefieldDoesIt.]
Ned: ties (fucking called it!), cologne. It must be awesome being a fictional dad, and knowing that socks, ties, slippers and man perfume is all you have to look forward to.
There’s a present that came by courier for Elizabeth too, a gold bracelet with a heart charm from Beau. (So Jessica had no hope in getting away with her lie then.)
Elizabeth offers to share it, but Jessica says no, it’s just for Elizabeth.
(1:1 odds that she’ll rip it off her sister’s wrist the moment she decides it would look good with her outfit.)
And it ends with this sickening line.
Jessica laughed, knowing Elizabeth was right. Nothing would ever come between them. They would always have each other, and Jessica felt like the luckiest girl in the world. This was surely the best Christmas ever.
(Until The Carnival Ghost, The Magic Christmas, A Christmas Without Elizabeth or BIG for Christmas, I guess.)
Overall, dystopian Sweet Valley aside, I really like this book. But I really love A Christmas Carol in general. My favourite version is the The Muppets Christmas Carol – the cut with the lovely song “When Love is Gone” – but still, I love it when my fandoms collide.
This isn’t necessarily the best Christmas book – I have an odd kind of love for The Magic Christmas (controversial) – or the best Super Chiller – The Carnival Ghost is my favourite ghost story – but still, I love this for it being a Christmas Carol, and I’m delighted I got to recap it. (I’m also happy Wing gets to recap The Carnival Ghost, because I keep promising that the Super Chillers are awesome, and it’s so much easier to convince her there’s hope when she gets a good book.)
[Raven: This was fun! It was a departure from the usual fare, but the story is well established and it hit all the right notes. I’m sure her Scrooge-like change of heart won’t even last the bloody day, but even so. Growth and redemption. Go Jessica!]
[Wing: On the one hand, as usual whatever lessons Jessica has previously learned have flown out the window and these lessons will too. On the other hand, this is adorable and fun, though now I’m curious as to where the other Christmas books will fall once we read them, knowing how Dove feels about them.]
[Dove: Well, The Carnival Ghost takes place on Boxing Day (26 Dec, for the non-English), so in theory, it takes place the day after this one, but doesn’t mention this one at all. The Magic Christmas and The Year Without Christmas take place Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so same time period as this one, and A Christmas Without Elizabeth and BIG for Christmas takes place in the week leading up to and including Christmas Day.]