All right, so this is a longer post, but it’s about a valid subject: Racism. This book is different from any other Sweet Valley High book I’ve read, but because so many people were being so hateful and stupid, it also made me want to do violence to these characters. Like I want them to be real, just so I can put them down. If you’re patient and can deal with “stupid” this is definitely worth a read.
“Friend Against Friend”
Sweet Valley Scale: 3.5 out of 5 Twins
Andy Jenkins and Neil Freemount have been best friends for a long time. They hang out together, double-date and help each other with their homework. Bully Charlie Cashman is determined to make life miserable for Andy, just because Andy is black. First Andy finds trash in his locker, then his girlfriend is harassed and then Andy is pushed around the high school parking lot. Neil wants to help his friend, but suddenly Andy turns against him, and Neil doesn’t know why. The two boys are about to face the greatest challenge of their lives. Can their friendship survive the test?
I really debated on what to rate this book. It wasn’t necessarily so craptastic that it was a 3.5, but it was a tad more craptastic than most books that I give a 4, so I flipped a coin. Andy Jenkins is smart, handsome, in a band, and an all-around nice guy. He’s very laidback and not confrontational at all, even when he should be. Oh, and by the way, he’s black. And this is a very big deal. He is “one of a few” black kids at Sweet Valley High. In all of the books to date, I have only heard of three black students, one Asian student and one Mexican student. It sounds like where I grew up (Nebraska).
This book doesn’t waste any time. In the first chapter, Andy and his good friend Neil go to Andy’s locker and it’s filled with garbage, like actual trash, and there is a note inside, “Go back to Africa.” Neil is outraged, but Andy plays it down as not big deal. Neil wants to tell the principal about it, but Andy insists on handling it his own way, which is not really handling it at all. You ignore it, and it goes away. Yeah, except that never works. Neil doesn’t feel right about it, but decides that since it happened to Andy, it’s up to Andy. Neil does tell his girlfriend, Penny Ayala, though and she is outraged and shocked such a thing could ever happen in Sweet Valley. Girl, please!
The next day, Neil has to stay for a family picnic with his father’s friends, the Cashmans. Charlie Cashman goes to Sweet Valley High with Neil and is a bully. In fact, he’s the prime suspect for the whole locker thing. Charlie doesn’t come with for some reason, but putting up with Charlie’s father is just as bad as putting up with Charlie. Mr. Cashman is complaining about his new supervisor who is black. And because he’s black it’s obvious he only got the job because of that damn affirmative action. Mr. Cashman goes on and on about how his new supervisor is always on his case for being late, but it’s only like every day, and only fifteen to twenty minutes. What’s the big deal?
This guy is a complete asshole and Neil wants to tell him off, but doesn’t. Why not? Just because he is an adult does not mean he automatically deserves respect. I would have called him a racist pig and told him off. And trust me on this; my entire mother’s side of the family is super racist. And since the age of seven I have put them in their place. Ugh. Neil realizes where Charlie gets his racist attitudes from but that is no excuse, again look at my family. Anyway…
Andy, his girlfriend Tracy, Neil and Penny are hanging out at the Dairi Burger the next day. Tracy has to get to work and Neil and Andy head out first, and run into Charlie Cashman and a few of his cronies. They tell Andy that he won this science award (he is a science genius by the way) just because he’s black. Then they try to act like they’re going to pummel Andy. I would have already gone for all of their balls. It’s self-defense and trust me… it would be a lesson, mind you a painful one, learned. Neil sticks up for Andy, but Andy just walks away and ignores it again! The girls meet them by Tracy’s car and they discover that all of Tracy’s tires are flat. Charlie and his goons are laughing hysterically and then take off. Neil offers to give Tracy a ride to work so she won’t be late and Andy takes care of her car, towing it to a tire place. But now Andy is all pissy. Neil and Penny offer to come back and help him but he says no. He acts like Neil is the bad guy, and even says that he especially doesn’t need help from “any white person.” Wtf?
What follows is much of the same. Elizabeth Wakefield finds out about the racist things going on and can’t believe it could happen in Sweet Valley; she’s utterly offended. Neil’s dad keeps talking about how his supervisor has it out for Mr. Cashman and says a bunch of racist crap himself. Mr. Cashman eventually gets fired and things just get worse. Neil keeps trying to be there for Andy, but now Andy is acting like a punk. Every white person is the same and they’re all horrible. This is the same shit Charlie is pulling, and it bugs the crap out of me. People are who they are, and that is not based on what they are. Then one day Charlie shows up at Neil’s and they go for a ride, because Neil realizes Charlie is just trying to get away from his bigoted father. Plus, Andy won’t even talk to him and he’s lonely. Even though they don’t do anything, Neil feels guilty about it afterward because Charlie is still Charlie. If it were me, there would be no way I could hang out with this guy unless it was a part of some elaborate revenge scheme, but that’s just me.
The next day at school, Charlie approaches Neil and asks if he wants to hang out, but Neil says no. He’s waiting for Andy. So Charlie starts in on all this racist crap about Neil’s “black buddy” and Neil doesn’t take a swing at him. Why not? Andy sees them together and Neil tells him the truth, he was just standing up for Andy, but Andy is being stupid again. He tells Neil they can’t be friends if Neil is going to hang around Charlie. Even though Neil despises Charlie he is pissed about being given an ultimatum and says he’ll hang out with whoever he wants to. Andy storms off and again they’re not talking. Sheesh.
The following day, Charlie trips Andy in the hall and they get into a fight. Mr. Collins breaks it up and asks Neil if Charlie is picking on Andy because he is black. Neil says he is, more or less, and Mr. Collins asks to be kept in the loop if anything else happens. I’m not sure why this scene is in the book except to make Mr. Collins look good. Perhaps the ghostwriter has a bit of a crush on him?
That night Neil and Penny go to the movies, but they leave early because Neil is still all bent out of shape about Andy. Like he is more distraught than the girls usually are over whoever they are pining for. Maybe in the adult series, “Sweet Valley: Confidential” these two go gay. I mean if there was ever a homoerotic cover in this series… back on point. When they get to the parking lot they see a cluster of thugs shaking a car. Neil sends Penny back inside so she can call the police (remember this is before cell phones) and he runs over to the mob. He realizes that it’s Charlie and his gang and they are surrounding Andy’s dad’s car. They drag Andy out and by the time Neil gets closer Andy is unconscious. Charlie hoists Andy up and taunts Neil, telling him to take a swing because Andy has been treating him like shit. And Andy has been treating Neil like shit, but what happens next… Oh my God. Neil punches Andy once in the stomach. And then he freaks out, and leaves, (meaning he strands Penny among other things) and after a few minutes he pulls the car over and throws up. What. The. Fuck? Neil is usually so grounded and independent; I don’t get how he could have hit Andy, no matter how angry he was at him. But we’ll get back to that in a second.
Everyone at Sweet Valley High can’t believe the attack on Andy. Everyone pretty much figures it was Charlie, even though Andy won’t say who it was, but he is already widely disliked so not much is happening there. In Jessica’s sociology class, the teacher, Mrs. Jacobi, decides to do a little experiment. Everyone with blue or gray eyes are second-class citizens and everyone with dark eyes are encouraged to be mean towards them. All of the light-eyed students are forced to sit in the back, and cannot talk or raise their hands etc. This totally reminded me of something that happened while I was at a leadership/diversity summer camp when I was sixteen. On the night before the last day the director acted all pissed off about something and the next morning at breakfast everyone had to sit at certain tables. It took me awhile to see people were grouped by their most obvious categories: Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, the disabled, LGBT people, etc. The director was dictating when people could get up, talk, the order people went in line for breakfast etc. I was so fed up that I made a big scene and left (fairly loudly) because it was bullshit. I was forced to come back, and everyone was still acting crazy, and then when it came time to get up to put my breakfast dishes away, I was instructed not to. The blacks had to do them. I was like fuck that, and gathered other dishes at my table and walked them up, giving the evil eye to anyone who tried to stop me. Then I helped get dishes from other tables, and a few other people who weren’t supposed to gather the dishes joined in. Turns out it was this exercise they did to see how people put into practice, everything we had discussed so far. At the “talk” afterwards, a lot of people mentioned me getting up and leaving, and how jolting it was. A few said it moved them or was brave, but to be perfectly honest it wasn’t me being brave or making a statement. I was so pissed off by how people were acting and being treated, I needed to leave before all of my redheaded fury was let loose. Memories…
So anyway, Neil feels terrible and the truth is eating him up inside, but Andy wants to be friends again. He apologizes and admits he acted like a jerk, but Neil proved that he is an okay white guy. Neil wants to tell him what happened, but chickens out, so he starts avoiding everyone. Neil’s dad takes him to a football game and during halftime he says that Mr. Cashman told him what Neil did. While it isn’t cool to hit a guy when he’s down, Andy had it coming. Because he’s black. OMG I want to cut this man down to size! Breath, Michael. Breathe. Neil doesn’t say anything. Dude, tell your daddy off. Tell him you no longer respect him. Tell him he’s wrong. Say something, dammit!
Neil still hasn’t come clean to Andy by the time Andy returns to school. Charlie tells Neil Andy obviously hasn’t learned his lesson and it’s time for another go at him. Neil tells Charlie to leave him alone, and Charlie tells Neil that if he doesn’t help Charlie get Andy, he’s going to tell the police it was Neil who beat Andy up. I don’t understand why Neil hasn’t gone to the police already. I mean he’s scared what people will think of him, knowing he hit Andy, but it wasn’t the same. What Neil did is no better than what Charlie and his crew did, but Neil is acting like he is suddenly a racist piece of garbage like Charlie. Neil screwed up – UNDERSTATEMENT. He hit his friend. He hit his friend, when his friend was already beaten and unconscious. That is seriously fucked. But he hit his friend because his friend hurt his feelings and rejected him. He did not hit his friend because he was black. Everyone else was hitting Andy because of his race, and his race only. All of the boys should be held accountable, including Neil, but I stil feel this distinction, which is never made is important. What Neil did is not necessarily more forgivable, but it is different. This seriously irked me for the rest of the book.
Neil finally grows a pair and tells Andy he hit him. But he really needs to work on his delivery. He frames it like he was in on it – again I don’t get this. Andy walks off and Penny tells Neil she isn’t who she thought he was. Looks like they might be over too. Neil skips class the rest of the afternoon and leaves school, just driving and he ends up back at school after it has let out for the day. He sees Andy walking across the football field and he sees Charlie and his gang approaching him. Neil jumps out and stands by Andy. Neil tells the group of thugs that they’ll have to beat both of them and this scares them off for some reason. Andy says it doesn’t change anything and Neil says that he knows that, but he’ll always be there to stand by Andy. They walk off in opposite directions and it’s unclear if they’ll ever be able to be friends again. But Penny does come around eventually. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever think of Neil the same way again, but she wants to try.
Wasn’t that a little heavy? I mean it’s definitely unlike any Sweet Valley High book I’ve read, and I think it is actually out of place in terms of tone and direction with the rest of the series, which makes it borderline well-done? Maybe the ghostwriter was going through some personal problems. And notice how there wasn’t a nice clean and happy ending at the end of this book? Because sometimes life is messy…
Anyway that’s it for Sweet Valley High Season 4! I can’t wait for the season 4 posts with a nice short summary of all of the antics in the last twenty books and some crazy extras after all those episode recaps. Mostly, I’m happy because I want to get to Seasons 6-8, and I’m almost there! 😛