12 of the Sweet Valley High Books' Most Ridiculous Plotlines

Many of the Wakefield twins' adventures in Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series are typical teenage stuff: Young love, drama at school, difficulty at home. Sometimes, though, the plotlines of the SVH books were, in a word, bonkers. Here are a few of our favorites.

Note: It’s impossible to cover every ridiculous thing that happened in these books, so some information has been left out. For more complete explanations, check out Shannon’s Sweet Valley High Blog.

1. ELIZABETH’S BEST FRIEND IS PARALYZED IN A PLANE CRASH ... THEN IS QUICKLY UNPARALYZED.

The Book: Crash Landing! (No. 20)

Enid, Elizabeth’s best friend, is dating George, who just got his pilot’s license. He takes her along on his first solo flight, where he plans to break up with her so he can date a girl named Robin—but before he can do that, the engine dies, and the plane crashes in a lake. Enid saves George, but in the process hurts her back and is paralyzed from the waist down. George decides not to break up with Enid while she’s hurt (how nice of him!). Enid gets an operation on her spine, and goes to the school dance in a wheelchair. As she watches George dance with Robin, she can tell they're in love—which of course bums her out.

A few days after the dance, Liz invites Enid over and asks her to watch a kid named Teddy while he plays by the pool. Teddy falls in, and Enid is able to stand up, jump into the pool, and save him. She can walk again! It was all part of a plan hatched by Elizabeth; Teddy was her accomplice. Liz receives a standing ovation at a restaurant for so brilliantly orchestrating Enid’s recovery. Enid, meanwhile, decides she just wants George to be happy, and sets him free so he can date Robin.

2. JESSICA JOINS A CULT.

The Book: Kidnapped by the Cult! (No. 82)

Jessica gets grounded for her awful grades for three weeks; on her first day out, she’s annoyed when her boyfriend, Sam, plans to go to a dirt bike race instead of spending the day with her. She goes to the mall to mope, where she meets some kids from a group called The Good Friends. They tell her that they, too, used to be sad and mopey—until they met Adam Marvel, who took them in. They invite Jessica to dinner, and it’s not long before she’s sucked in, ditching her flashy clothes for more subdued outfits and helping the group collect money for charity. Even when Jessica finds out that The Good Friends isn’t donating that money to charity, she still can't be convinced that the group, and dreamy Adam Marvel, are bad.

Concerned that Jessica is in over her head, Elizabeth poses as her sister and infiltrates The Good Friends, where one member, Susan, tells her to get out while she can. Not long after, Adam tells Jessica that Susan left, and the group is going to move to another town. He wants her to come with them. Jessica packs a bag and goes to The Good Friends’ house, but hesitates when Adam asks her to get in the van with the rest of the group. Just in time, Sam, Elizabeth, and Todd, Liz's boyfriend, show up to stop her; Sam finds Susan, who’s actually an undercover reporter, bound and gagged in Good Friends’ HQ, and Todd has called the police. Adam is arrested; everything returns to normal.

3. JESSICA SPIKES ELIZABETH'S PUNCH AT PROM; LIZ DRIVES DRUNK, CRASHES, AND KILLS JESSICA'S BOYFRIEND.

The Books: A Night to Remember (Manga Edition No. 2), The Morning After (No. 95), The Arrest (No. 96), The Verdict (No. 97)

Elizabeth and Jessica are both vying for queen of the jungle-themed prom. It's not just the title at stake: The winner will get a trip to Brazil. On prom night, Jessica wants Elizabeth to lose, so she spikes her punch with booze she charms from another student. Elizabeth gets drunk and withdraws from the race for queen, and Jessica wins. After a commotion is caused by some uninvited kids from a rival school, Liz and Sam leave the dance together, with Elizabeth behind the wheel of the twins’ Jeep. They get into a car accident, and Sam is killed.

Over the next three books, the Wakefield family deals with the fallout: Elizabeth, who can’t remember anything about the crash, is arrested and spends the night in a holding cell with a prostitute; she’s eventually released, but is charged with involuntary manslaughter. Jessica, who wants Liz to go down for Sam’s death, alienates her from her best friend Enid and manipulates Todd into making out and going out on dates. Liz has nightmares about someone who looks just like Jessica, but with dark hair, who is trying to kill her (more on that later).

Eventually, Elizabeth goes on trial. The defense doesn’t have much of a case, because Liz can’t remember anything—but then, on the last day, a surprise witness named Gilbert comes forward to say he was out drunk driving that night and caused Elizabeth to crash. In the most unbelievable twist in the story, Liz—who was, in fact, driving with a lot of alcohol in her system—is acquitted. (Jessica’s role in the whole affair isn’t revealed until a few books later, when Liz has a number of dreams about the prom that show Jess spiking her punch. They eventually make up, despite the fact that Jessica is clearly the worst sister ever.)

4. A DOPPELGANGER PLOTS TO MURDER ELIZABETH—AND TAKE OVER HER LIFE.

The Books: The Morning After (No. 95), The Arrest (No. 96), The Verdict (No. 97), The Wedding (No. 98), Beware the Baby-Sitter (No. 99), The Evil Twin (No. 100)

Margo, like the Wakefield twins, is 16. She’s plotting her escape from her foster home in New York. Margo sets the house on fire to kill her foster sister—who saw not just the money Margo had saved up, but also the bus schedule Margo was reading—and takes off for Cleveland, where she gets a job as a nanny for a wealthy family. Eventually, she drowns the boy she’s been nannying for, steals money from his parents, and heads to California, where she thinks her real family lives. For some reason, the bus Margo is on heads to Houston, where Margo gets off and sees a newspaper with a photo of Elizabeth on the front, along with a story about her trial. Realizing she looks just like the girl on the newspaper, Margo comes up with a plan: Kill Elizabeth Wakefield and take over her life. (Never mind that this plan doesn't make a whole lot of sense if Elizabeth goes to jail. This chick is crazy!)

Margo heads to Sweet Valley, where she goes to the mall and buys a blonde wig. She befriends a dirt bike rider named James, who she pays to win a competition Jessica is putting on in Sam’s memory; he regularly gives her information on the Wakefields. Margo, meanwhile, kills a server at a catering company so she can get a job there and work the Fowler wedding—the better to observe the twins. Then she begins posing as Jessica and Liz regularly with their friends, boyfriends, and parents. This all culminates with Jessica, Liz, and Margo fighting over a butcher knife in the Fowler’s pool house. Margo is pushed through a window by the older brother of the little boy she killed in Cleveland—she framed him for the little boy’s death, but he’s been tailing her across the country. Her jugular is slashed by glass, and everyone thinks she’s dead.

5. THAT CRAZY DOPPELGANGER HAS A TWIN WHO IS ALSO CRAZY!

The Book: Return of the Evil Twin (Manga edition No. 6)

A year after the events of The Evil Twin, Nora, Margo’s twin, shows up in Sweet Valley to seek revenge for her sister’s death. But guess what: Margo’s alive! She managed to overpower (and presumably kill) the paramedics who took her “body” away, and hid for a year, spying on the Wakefield twins. These crazy twins hatch a plot to kill both Wakefield twins and take over their lives. They begin posing as the twins with their friends and boyfriends, with the main goal of making the twins hate each other, just like they did after the jungle prom. Eventually, Nora goes to the Wakefield house and kills a sleeping Jessica. Later, she finds out that Margo had kidnapped Jessica and was posing as her, sleeping in her bed, when Nora got all stabby. Nora killed her own twin! Jessica is alive and is saved by Elizabeth's heroics. Nora gets arrested, and all returns to normal.

6. LIZ FALLS IN LOVE WITH A “WEREWOLF” ...

The Books: Love and Death in London (No. 104), A Date with a Werewolf (No. 105), Beware the Wolfman (No. 106)

The twins head to London for one of their many newspaper internships. Murder victims keep popping up with their throats ripped out, and the twins are put on the crime beat to investigate. Though she’s still dating Todd, Liz goes out with a co-worker named Luke Shephard, who manages to convince her that werewolves are real. Jessica starts dating Robert Pembroke. His father, Lord Pembroke, is a werewolf expert. He also owns the newspaper where the twins are interning, and has been suppressing stories about the murders because he believes that Robert is the werewolf.

But it turns out that it’s Luke, not Robert, who is the “werewolf.” The product of an affair between a woman named Annabelle and Lord Pembroke, he’s been blacking out, dressing up as a werewolf, killing people, and framing his brother for the crimes—which we find out later, from his diary. There’s a climactic fight between Luke, Robert (who has a silver bullet to kill the werewolf, naturally), a cop named Bumpo, and Rene, a friend from when the twins went to France on Spring Break, who's interning at the French embassy for the summer and has been following Elizabeth to protect her. Luke is shot, his werewolf mask falls off, and he dies.

7. … AND JESSICA DATES A VAMPIRE.

The Books: Tall, Dark, and Deadly (No. 126), Dance of Death (No. 127), Kiss of a Killer (No. 128)

At the beginning of this miniseries, Jessica is digging through a dumpster, looking for a diamond earring, when she discovers a man’s body in the trash. There are bite marks in his neck, and his body has been drained of blood. The next Monday, a new guy starts at school: tall, dark, and handsome Jonathan Cain. Before long, SVH's entire student population, minus Elizabeth, has gone majorly goth, dyeing their hair black, painting their nails black, dressing in all black … you get the idea. 

Jessica decides that she wants to date Jonathan, but he ignores her. Jessica usually gets what she wants, though, and she's incredibly persistent: She gets a ride home from him, then later shows up at his house. He kisses her, and tells her she should have left him alone. There’s lots of making out and him telling her she should get out before it’s too late. (Sounds an awful lot like the plot of another vampire series, doesn’t it?) 

Jonathan decides he cares too much about Jessica to hurt her, so he invites Enid over instead. Jessica interrupts them, figures out what’s up, and gets mad. Jonathan is upset, but also relieved, because he didn’t really want to kill Enid.

Meanwhile, other people keep dying—including a girl named Katrina, who’s sucked dry during a party at Jonathan’s house. When Enid goes to visit her grave, she’s attacked and is in the hospital for the next week.

Jessica continues to see Jonathan, who Liz has figured out is a vampire based on some books she found at his house. She tells all the SVH kids, and they believe her. When Jonathan takes Jessica to his lair—a cave on the beach—Liz and Todd come to save the day, an angry mob on their heels. Jonathan turns into a bird and flies away. Vampires are real. The end.

8. STUDENTS SEARCH FOR TREASURE AND ARE ATTACKED BY CONVICTS IN THE DESERT.

The Books: The Treasure of Death Valley (No. 115), Nightmare in Death Valley (No. 116)

Liz, Jessica, Todd, Ken, Bruce, and Heather win a contest to go camping in Death Valley for four days with limited supplies. (Why anyone would enter a contest to do this is a mystery.) While hanging out near a mine shaft, one student turns on her portable TV and learns about some convicts who have escaped a prison. Meanwhile, Liz discovers a satchel full of gold nuggets, plus a map and a diary that discusses the “Treasure of the Scorpion,” in the mine. The group decides to hunt for the rest of the treasure, and are all soon carrying around their own bags of gold nuggets.

When the kids set up camp for the night, Jessica’s bag is stolen from her sleeping bag. She thinks Heather did it, but it was actually the three escaped convicts, who capture the kids, tie them up, and steal their gold. The kids manage to escape, but then they notice that one of the convicts is being swept away by a flash flood, so they rescue him. He turns out to be not so bad, but his buddies are pretty awful: They drag the kids into a cave, where they decide to kill them. The nice convict gets shot and dies; his killer leaves the cave, telling the other convict to kill the kids. Jessica convinces him not to do it, and he also leaves the cave—but not before firing six shots into the cave’s roof, which collapses, trapping the kids.

They take a path that goes deeper into the cave, and eventually they begin to walk through rapidly-rising water. It gets up to their necks, and they all think they’re going to die—then, miraculously, the water recedes. They realize that the cave walls are shale, so they kick and punch the walls away until they come out near the rendezvous point and head back to Sweet Valley. The kids are disappointed to learn the gold was pyrite, and the map and diary were fakes from a movie set.

9. THE TWINS BECOME NANNIES FOR A ROYAL FAMILY.

The Books: Once Upon a Time (No. 132), To Catch a Thief (No. 133), Happily Ever After (No. 134)

The Wakefield twins are very experienced babysitters, but who knew they were good enough to nanny for royalty? They travel to France for a month to be nannies for the de Saint-Maries. Liz (who was dumped by Todd for the summer) and Prince Laurent fall in love, but he has to get engaged to a horrible countess’s daughter. Jessica, meanwhile, is canoodling with Jacques, a guy she met on the train from the airport who claims to be a Duke’s son, but is actually a jewel thief. When Jessica wears an emerald he gave her—which was stolen from the countess whose daughter is promised to Prince Laurent—to a ball, the twins are thrown in a dungeon. They’re not there for long, though, before they’re rescued by their royal charges. The twins run into the woods and hide out there.

Laurent’s parents tell him they can convince the countess not to prosecute the twins if he agrees to marry her daughter, and he says he’ll do it. Meanwhile, Jacques finds the twins, and they convince him to confess to being the jewel thief. Laurent asks Liz to marry him; she’s so taken aback she can’t answer right away. Later, Jacques’s father comes to the castle and convinces Laurent to help him break his son out of the dungeon. Jacques and his father go free, Elizabeth turns Laurent down, and the twins head back to Sweet Valley, where Liz reunites with Todd. Happily ever after, indeed—except for Laurent, who now must presumably marry that awful countess’s daughter.

10. ELIZABETH IS ALMOST MURDERED BY HER BOSS.

The Books: Cover Girls (No. 129), Model Flirt (No. 130), Fashion Victim (No. 131)

The twins get an internship at a fashion magazine called Flair. Liz’s supervisor, Leona, tries to steal her idea for a column called “Free Style.” Lix tells the editor-in-chief of the magazine, but Leona accuses Liz of being the one to steal the idea, and Liz is fired. You’d think that Leona would feel pretty secure in her job, having eliminated the potential source of trouble and all, but instead, she goes to extremes and tries to kill Liz, first by hiring someone to run her off the road, then by aiming a gun at her in the Flair offices—but before she can pull the trigger, the police show up, and she’s arrested. Hope the column idea was worth it, Leona.

11. LIZ IS HELD HOSTAGE BY A GUY WITH A BOMB.

The Book: Deadly Summer (Super Thriller No. 4)

The twins are working at Sweet Valley News, where they learn that a man named Donald Redman has escaped from a psychiatric hospital. Liz is assigned to find out about Donald; she discovers that he was a Sweet Valley High student who kidnapped a classmate he had a crush on. Later, he plants fake bombs at the local movie theater and the high school football stadium, shows up where Liz is babysitting, and then starts to believe that she’s the same girl he kidnapped back when he was in high school.

Donald is building a real bomb in the utility closet at the football stadium when Liz and Bruce show up to have a talk on the tennis courts; not long after, Liz’s boyfriend, Jeffrey, shows up, pretty angry that Liz and Bruce are hanging out. Liz wanders away from the guys and is grabbed by Donald.

Jessica and Lila figure out that Liz is in danger—first because they’re told by a Ouija board they’ve been using to trick Liz into thinking Bruce has a terminal illness is triggered by Jessica’s twin ESP, and second after Donald’s sister comes to the Wakefield house to tell them Liz is in danger. They call the police, then head to the football stadium.

There, the police tell Donald to give himself up, but he won’t—so Jeffrey tackles him, knocking the remote control out of his hand. Bruce runs away with the ticking bomb. Jeffrey tells Liz to smash the remote and take out the wires, which she does. The timer stops. Disaster averted, right? Wrong! A few seconds later, they hear an explosion. But it’s not Bruce who was blown up; it was Donald, who grabbed the bomb from him, ran away, and died when the bomb exploded.

12. AN OLD CLASSMATE TRIES TO STEAL ALICE WAKEFIELD’S FACE.

The Book: Murder in Paradise (Super Thriller No. 8)

Being prone to finding yourself in perilous situations must run in the Wakefield DNA. In this super thriller, which was published in 1995, Momma Wakefield Alice wins a trip to a Paradise Spa. She brings along the twins and their best friends, Enid and Lila (whose mother also tags along; Enid’s mom can’t get off work). The owner, Tatiana, is disfigured, and there are no mirrors at the spa at all because inner beauty is all that matters, according to the spa's staff.

Tatiana hypnotizes Enid, making her believe that her mother doesn’t love her. Later, one of the staff members confesses to Alice how much she wants to leave, but can’t; soon after, she’s found dead in the steam room. Then, Alice disappears. Liz goes looking for her, and gets pulled into a cave, where Tatiana is waiting. She spills her evil plan: To get plastic surgery to look like Alice, and then kill her.

Tatiana, we discover, is an old college classmate of Alice’s, who was so ugly that the students—including Alice—called her Tatty Mule. When she was 23, she got plastic surgery, but the surgeon was so terrible that Tatiana was disfigured. She started the spa and took in runaways, hypnotizing them and practicing her plastic surgery techniques on them. But before she can pull off her dastardly plan, Enid, Lila, and Jessica show up and save the day with the help of some of the staff, who come out of their trances just in time. Tatiana is arrested, and the staff is free. What a happy ending!

5 Facts About Edgar Allan Poe on His 210th Birthday

You’ve read Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying stories. You can quote "The Raven." But how well do you know the writer’s quirky sense of humor and code-cracking abilities? Let’s take a look at a few  things you might not know about the acclaimed author, who was born 210 years ago today.

1. He was the original balloon boy.

You probably remember 2009’s infamous “Balloon Boy” hoax. Turns out the Heene family that perpetrated that fraud weren’t even being entirely original in their attempt at attention-grabbing. They were actually cribbing from Poe.

In 1844 Poe cooked up a similar aviation hoax in the pages of the New York Sun. The horror master cranked out a phony news item describing how a Mr. Monck Mason had flown a balloon flying machine called Victoria from England to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina in just 75 hours. According to Poe’s story, the balloon had also hauled seven passengers across the ocean.

No balloonist had ever crossed the Atlantic before, so this story quickly became a huge deal. Complete transatlantic travel in just three days? How exciting! Readers actually queued up outside the Sun’s headquarters to get their mitts on a copy of the day’s historic paper.

Poe’s report on the balloon was chock full of technical details. He devoted a whole paragraph to explaining how the balloon was filled with coal gas rather than “the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen.” He listed the balloon’s equipment, which included “cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water-casks, cloaks, carpet-bags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slack-lime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so.” He also included hundreds of words of excerpts from the passengers’ journals.

The only catch to Poe’s story was that it was entirely fictitious. The Sun’s editors quickly wised up to Poe’s hoax, and two days later they posted an understated retraction that noted, “We are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous.”

2. He dabbled in cryptography.

If you’ve read Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug,” you probably know that he had a working knowledge of cryptography. But you might not know that Poe was actually a pretty darn good cryptographer in his own right.

Poe’s first notable code-cracking began in 1839. He sent out a call for readers of his Philadelphia newspaper to send him encoded messages that he could decipher. Poe would then puzzle over the secret messages for hours. He published the results of his work in a wildly popular recurring feature. Poe also liked to toss his own codes out there to keep readers busy. Some of the codes were so difficult that Poe professed utter amazement when even a single reader would crack them.

Poe was so confident in his abilities as a cryptographer that he approached the Tyler administration in 1841 with an offer to work as a government code cracker. He modestly promised, “Nothing intelligible can be written which, with time, I cannot decipher.” Apparently there weren’t any openings for him, though.

3. The "Allan" came later.

It would sound odd to just say “Edgar Poe,” but the famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of the writer’s name. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to professional actors, but his early childhood was fairly rotten. When Poe was just two years old, his father abandoned the family—leaving the toddler's mother, Elizabeth, to raise Edgar and his two siblings. Not long after that, Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.

Poe actually had a little luck at that point. John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do Richmond family, took the boy in and provided for his education. Although the Allans never formally adopted Poe, he added their surname to his own name.

Like a lot of Poe’s fiction, his story with the Allans didn't have a particularly happy ending. Poe and John Allan grew increasingly distant during the boy’s teenage years, and after Poe left for the University of Virginia, he and Allan became estranged. (Apparently the root of these problems involved Poe’s tendency to gamble away whatever money Allan sent him to subsidize his studies.)

4. He had a nemesis.

Like a lot of writers, Poe had a rival. His was the poet, critic, and editor Rufus Griswold. Although Griswold had included Poe’s work in his 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe held an extremely low opinion of Griswold’s intellect and literary integrity. Poe published an essay blasting Griswold’s selections for the anthology, and their rivalry began.

Things really heated up when Griswold succeeded Poe as the editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe had been pulling in. Poe began publicly lambasting Griswold’s motivations; he even went so far as to claim that Griswold was something of a literary homer who puffed up New England poets.

Poe might have had a point about Griswold’s critical eye, but Griswold had the good fortune to outlive Poe. After Poe died, Griswold penned a mean-spirited obituary in which he stated that the writer’s death “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it” and generally portrayed Poe as an unhinged maniac.

Slamming a guy in his obituary is pretty low, but Griswold was just getting warmed up. He convinced Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, to make him Poe’s literary executor. Griswold then published a biography of Poe that made him out to be a drug-addled drunk, all while keeping the profits from a posthumous edition of Poe’s work.

5. His death was a mystery worth of his writing.

In 1849 Poe left New York for a visit to Richmond, but he never made it that far south. Instead, Poe turned up in front of a Baltimore bar deliriously raving and wearing clothes that didn’t fit. Passersby rushed Poe to the hospital, but he died a few days later without being able to explain what happened to him.

Poe’s rumored causes of death were “cerebral inflammation” and “congestion of the brain,” which were polite euphemisms for alcohol poisoning. Modern scholars don’t totally buy this explanation, though. The characterization of Poe as a raging drunk mostly comes from Griswold’s posthumous smear campaign, and his incoherent state of mind may have been the result of rabies or syphilis.

Some Poe fans subscribe to a more sinister theory about the writer’s death, though. They think he may have fallen victim to “cooping,” a sordid 19th century political practice. Gangs of political thugs would round up homeless or weak men and hold them captive in a safe place called a “coop” right before a major election. On election day—and there was an election in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, the day Poe was found—the gangs would then drug or beat the hostages before taking them around to vote at multiple polling places.

This story sounds like something straight out of Poe’s own writing, but it might actually be true. Poe’s crummy physical state and delirium would be consistent with a victim of cooping, and the ill-fitting clothes jibe with gangs’ practice of making their hostages change clothes so they could cast multiple votes. With no real evidence either way, though, Poe’s death remains one of literature’s most fascinating mysteries.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

This Test Will Tell You How Many Books You Can Read in a Year

iStock.com/elenaleonova
iStock.com/elenaleonova

It's tempting to compare yourself to others when pursuing a reading goal. According to the Pew Research Center, the average person in the U.S. reads about 12 books per year—but that number won't help you if you read at a different pace than the average American. To figure out how many books you should read in a year, Lenstore has come up with a test that measures your individual reading skills.

To start, click on the test below and read the passages that pop up at your natural reading speed. Once you've finished, you'll be asked a few questions about the reading to prove you understood it.

Lenstore gave the test to 1600 people and found that the average participant took 101 seconds to complete the passage. If a person reads for 30 minutes a day at that speed, they can get through 33 books a year (assuming book lengths average out to 90,000 words). Speedy readers who blast through the passage in 60 seconds can read 55 books in a year with 30 minutes of daily reading time—which comes out to just over one book a week.

If half an hour of reading a day sounds overly optimistic, you can see how your book goal would change based on your reading schedule. Lenstore also shows you how long it would take to read specific books based on your reading speed. They give examples of long reads that require many hours of commitment, like War and Peace, as well as quick books like The Color Purple.

After taking the test, check out our list of the best books of 2018 for some suggestions of what to read next.

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