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!

Where Did the Phrase 'Red Herring' Come From?

iStock.com/Mathias Darmell
iStock.com/Mathias Darmell

You may have seen a red herring in a recent book or movie, but you probably only realized it after the fact. These misleading clues are designed to trick you into drawing an incorrect conclusion, and they're a popular ploy among storytellers of all stripes.

If you've seen or read the Harry Potter series—and really, who hasn’t?—then you may recall some of the many instances where J.K. Rowling employed this literary device. That endearing plot twist about the nature of Snape's character, for example, is likely one of the longest-running red herrings ever written.

Sometimes they aren't even subtle. Agatha Christie's murder mystery And Then There Were None directly mentions red herring in reference to a character's death, and a statue of a red herring appears in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Perhaps most blatantly, a character in the cartoon A Pup Named Scooby-Doo who was constantly being blamed for myriad crimes was named—you guessed it—Red Herring.

But where does this literary device come from, and why is it named after a fish? For a bit of background: herring are naturally a silvery hue, but they turn reddish-brown when they're smoked. Long before refrigerators were invented, this was done to preserve the fish for months at a time. They can also be pretty smelly. As Gizmodo's io9 blog points out, it was believed that red herring were dragged against the ground to help train hounds to sniff out prey in the 17th century. Another theory was that escaped prisoners used the fish to cover their tracks and confuse the dogs that tailed them.

However, io9 notes that red herring were actually used to train horses rather than dogs, and only if the preferred choice—a dead cat—wasn't available. The idea was that the horses would get used to following the scent trail, which in turn would make them less likely to get spooked while "following the hounds amid the noise and bustle of a fox hunt," notes British etymologist and writer Michael Quinion, who researched the origin of the phrase red herring.

The actual origin of the figurative sense of the phrase can be traced back to the early 1800s. Around this time, English journalist William Cobbett wrote a presumably fictional story about how he had used red herring as a boy to throw hounds off the scent of a hare. He elaborated on this anecdote and used it to criticize some of his fellow journalists. "He used the story as a metaphor to decry the press, which had allowed itself to be misled by false information about a supposed defeat of Napoleon," Quinion writes in a blog. "This caused them to take their attention off important domestic matters."

According to Quinion, an extended version of this story was printed in 1833, and the idiom spread from there. Although many people are more familiar with red herrings in pop culture, they also crop up in political spheres and debates of all kinds. Robert J. Gula, the author of Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language, defines a red herring as "a detail or remark inserted into a discussion, either intentionally or unintentionally, that sidetracks the discussion."

The goal is to distract the listener or opponent from the original topic, and it's considered a type of flawed reasoning—or, more fancifully, a logical fallacy. This application of red herring seems to be more in line with its original usage, but as Quinion notes: "This does nothing to change the sense of red herring, of course: it's been for too long a fixed part of our vocabulary for it to change. But at least we now know its origin. Another obscure etymology has been nailed down."

8 Facts About Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein was a multi-talented children’s author, comic artist, poet, playwright, and songwriter, and above all else, a rule-breaker. From The Giving Tree to Where the Sidewalk Ends, his titles are beloved by children and adults alike. At the time they were written, though, they defied common notions about what a "children’s" story could and should be. This isn’t all that surprising, considering that the Chicago-born author, who passed away in 1999, led a pretty unconventional life. Here are eight things you might not know about him.

1. One of Shel Silverstein's first jobs was selling hot dogs in Chicago.

Shel Silverstein didn’t always want to be a writer, or even a cartoonist or songwriter. His first love was baseball. "When I was a kid—12, 14, around there—I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls," he once said in an interview. "But I couldn’t play ball, I couldn’t dance. Luckily, the girls didn’t want me; not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write.” The closest he came to his MLB dream was when he landed a stint at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, selling hot dogs to White Sox fans.

2. Silverstein never finished college.

Silverstein was expelled from one school (the University of Illinois) and dropped out of another (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Finally, he managed to get through three years of the English program at Chicago's Roosevelt University, but his studies came to an abrupt end when he was drafted in 1953.

3. Silverstein was a Korean War veteran.

In the 1950s, Silverstein was drafted into the U.S. armed service. While he was stationed in Korea and Japan, he also worked as a cartoonist for the military publication Stars and Stripes. It was his first big cartooning gig. "For a guy of my age and with my limited experience to suddenly have to turn out cartoons on a day-to-day deadline deadline, the job was enormous,'' Silverstein told Stars and Stripes in a 1969 interview.

4. Silverstein worked for Playboy magazine and was Part of Hugh Hefner's inner circle.

That’s right: the lovable children’s author was on Playboy’s payroll for many years. He started drawing comics for the men’s magazine in the 1950s and ended up becoming close friends with Hugh Hefner. In fact, he often spent weeks or even months at the Playboy Mansion, where he wrote some of his books. His cartoons for the magazine proved so popular that Playboy sent him around the world to find the humor in places like London, Paris, North Africa, and Moscow during the Cold War. Perhaps his most off-color assignment, though, was visiting a nudist camp in New Jersey. These drawings were compiled in the 2007 book Playboy's Silverstein Around the World, which includes a foreword from Hefner.

5. Silverstein wrote Johnny Cash's hit song "A Boy Named Sue."

Few people know that Silverstein was a songwriter, too. One of his biggest hits was the comical tale of a boy who learned how to defend himself after being relentlessly bullied for his feminine-sounding name, Sue. The song was popularized by Johnny Cash and ended up being his top-selling single, while Silverstein was awarded a Grammy for Best Country Song. You can watch Silverstein strumming the guitar and shouting the lyrics alongside Cash on The Johnny Cash Show in the video above. Silverstein also wrote a follow-up song from the dad’s point of view, The Father of a Boy Named Sue, but it didn't take off the way the original did.

6. Silverstein is in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Three years after his death, Silverstein was inducted posthumously into this exclusive society of songwriters. He wrote more than 800 songs throughout his career, some of which were quite raunchy. But his best-known songs were performed by country legends like Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings. “His compositions were instantly identifiable, filled with elevated wordplay and captivating, humor-filled narratives,” the Nashville Songwriters Foundation said of Silverstein's music.

7. Silverstein wrote the first children’s book to appear on The New York Times best sellerS list.

A Light in the Attic (1981) was the first children’s book to ever make it onto the prestigious New York Times Best Sellers list. It remained there for a whopping 182 weeks, breaking all of the previous records for hardcover books at that time.

8. Silverstein wasn't a fan of happy endings.

If you couldn’t already tell by The Giving Tree’s sad conclusion, Silverstein didn’t believe in giving his stories happy endings. He felt that doing so would alienate his young readers. "The child asks why I don't have this happiness thing you're telling me about, and comes to think when his joy stops that he has failed, that it won't come back,” the author said in a 1978 interview. This turned out to be a risky move, and The Giving Tree was rejected several times for being too sad or too unconventional. Fortunately, after four years of searching for a publisher, it found a home at HarperCollins (then Harper & Row) and has gone on to become one of the best-selling—and most beloved—children's books of all time.

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