Sweet Valley, California. A magical place where the sun is always shining, the beach is always beaching, and twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are always a perfect size six. But even though they are so golden-haired and aqua-eyed, they are so different! Elizabeth is serious and studious, and Jessica is shallow and flirty. One’s a journalist! One’s a cheerleader! But they are the best of friends… except for when they aren’t!
There you go, now you’re all caught up on what you need to know about Sweet Valley High. Sure, there’s been other stuff in the ninety-four books (plus special editions and what have you) leading up the majesty of A Night to Remember, but who needs to know all of that when you’ve got proms and school rivalries to look forward to? Strap in, everyone, spoilers to follow…
When A Night to Remember opens, the Wakefield twins are getting ready to go to a beach party. This is one of roughly six million beach parties in their lives, but they treat every one like it’s the most important beach party of all time. In any case, the twins are having normal sisterly bickering beforehand, but in their efforts to laugh off their anger, they end up brainstorming the idea of a Jungle Prom, to give SVH a much-needed dance (it’s “been ages” since Sweet Valley High put on a big dance), but also to benefit Environmental Alert. The girls are proud of their Wonder Twin Genius Powers activating, but immediately get into another argument about whether or not the prom should be tux formal or jungle wear casual. Is this important? Not super, but for whatever reason, they consider this argument a big deal.
At the beach party, Elizabeth is hanging out with her longtime boyfriend, basketball star Todd Wilkins, and Jessica with her surprisingly not short-term boyfriend, Bridgewater High dirt bike star Sam Woodruff (note that Jessica is a bit flighty when it comes to boys, and boyfriends rarely last more than a handful of books. Bruce Patman, SVH senior and all-around master class jackass, dares Jessica to take a midnight swim out to the buoy. Elizabeth goes overboard, pun not intended, in freaking out. Jessica, of course, is totally fine because we have so much plot to get to, but Elizabeth has a Profound Realization that she doesn’t want to spend all of her time worrying about Jessica, and instead become a More Complete Person. Also, rival school Big Mesa decides to crash the beach party in a raid, which, like raids of yore, involves a lot of shaving cream and throwing cookies in the sand. Sweet Valley’s Oreos aren’t NEARLY as good as Big Mesa’s Oreos. BIG MESA RULES!
To calm everyone down in these troubling Bully Mesa times, Liz & Jess decide to tell everyone about the prom idea they came up with six minutes ago, and everyone gets all psyched about it because now that their cookies are in the sand, they have nothing left to live for. Elizabeth goes ahead and gets the prom approved by the principal, talks to the Environmental Alert people about sponsorship, and basically does all the boring ground work that frankly,t he PTA should be heading up, or something. Is there even a PTA? Are there even parents? Her friends all say that Elizabeth, by virtue of being unofficial queen of prom planning, should totally become official Prom Queen. Elizabeth is on board with this, since Being A Complete Person means actually taking credit for her stuff and not letting Jessica always hog the spotlight. She becomes even more invested when this magical tree charity Environmental Alert says they’re going to drum up interest in this fundraiser prom by granting Prom Queen a special trip to Brazil to be some kind of environmental spokesperson. Elizabeth gets all psyched about spokesperson-ing, and Jessica “the beach is an ecosystem, isn’t it?” Wakefield dreams of the lies she can tell to get to go without any sort of supervision or responsibilities, and also possibly bring her boyfriend.
The competition between Elizabeth and Jessica for Prom Queen is heating up. Jessica bails on all prom committee meetings, despite being co-chair, and Elizabeth wows everyone with her excellent planning skills. Jessica pulls off cool cheerleading moves during anti-Big Mesa pep rallies, and reminds everyone that Prom Queen should go to the person with the most school spirit (she doesn’t name names, *cough* Jessica Wakefield *cough*). Jessica gives an interview to the school paper’s gossip columnist all about her involvement in the prom process. Elizabeth accidentally ends up stealing a prom photo shoot in a popular teen magazine that was intended to feature both of the twins (the ultimate copyright-1993 problem, Jessica is forty-five minutes late, as is her way, and Elizabeth tries to find her but cannot. Things were a lot less dramatic once everyone had a cell phone). (Fun fact: the teen magazine photo shoot is never mentioned again.) The girls manage to alienate their friends and boyfriends in their single-minded quests to be elected Prom Queen. Running alongside this small-scale rivalry is the rivalry between Sweet Valley and Big Mesa. Largely, Big Mesa are just being inconsiderate a-holes, who do a lot of vandalizing and write really crappy editions of their school newspaper about how much Sweet Valley sucks. No teachers seem to be involved in this. No adults of any sort, really. They might not exist in Sweet Valley. Also there’s a brief thing where the girls both go prom dress shopping and accidentally come out of the dressing room in -gasp!- the same dress! In short, they are a powderkeg of teen girl angst and loathing, and this is probably going to end poorly.
Meanwhile (back at the ranch), we have the subplot of poor little rich girl Lila Fowler, who is still reeling from the events of four books ago, the classic Don’t Go Home with John!, where popular classmate John I-Can’t-Spell-Pfiefer takes her up to Miller’s Point and attempts to date-rape her. In the middle of all this glorious twin versus twin stupidity, it is actual a reasonably well-done portrayal of survivor PTSD. Poor Lila is traumatized from her experience with John. Her friends are trying to get her to date again, but any time a boy comes anywhere near her, she panics. Except for Project Youth counselor Nathan (who might be an SVH senior?), whom she first loathes, then decides is cute, then grows to be afraid of. But we’ll get back to that.
Another thread that won’t come in handy now, but later, is Bruce Patman and his inability to find love since he left his girlfriend Regina to make out with someone else (this was probably like a dozen books ago), and Regina overdosed on cocaine, and now he cries alone in his room. He also is dating daughter-of-a-rock-star Andrea Slade, whom he finds clingy and boring, so he plays ‘games’ with her to see how verbally and emotionally abusive until she finally leaves him. He’s the worst.
But let’s get back to Prom. Jessica and Elizabeth are so competition fueled that they can’t even interact with one another or their boyfriends civilly in the customary pre-prom photo session. When I think of the amount of prom pictures the Wakefields must have at this point, I worry about the structural integrity of their walls. In essence, Jessica basically ignores Sam all night when she realizes that Todd just won a big basketball game against Big Mesa and is the only candidate for Prom King, which makes longtime girlfriend Elizabeth a shoe-in, meaning that He Doesn’t Even Go to This School Sam Woodruff is doing nothing for her social clout in this epic battle. Todd does in fact win Prom King and has to go do important prom stuff, so since Sam and Elizabeth are both essentially left behind, they decide to hang out together.
Jessica, at this point, abandons all reason. She sees Sam and Elizabeth together and assumes the worst, as one does (if that one is a highly dramatic Jessica Wakefield). So she decides to get revenge, as one does. Enter a convenient but reasonably well-foreshadowed Big Mesa student, who had bought a legitimate ticket to Sweet Valley High’s open prom (another epic battle between the twins: Jessica saying SVH-only in an attempt to illustrate her level of school spirit; Elizabeth going open to point out that saying no to Big Mesa means saying no to everyone, including Sam). He comes bearing a flask. This seems legitimate; getting a good buzz is probably the only way anyone can survive this nonsense.
Jessica cons the Big Mesa boy into dumping his flask of vodka into a cup for her, which she then in turn spikes into Elizabeth’s half-drunk punch. Which leads to us getting an all-drunk Elizabeth. Yes, she is drunk off of not a full flask’s worth of vodka, mixed into a cocktail, half of which she unwittingly shared with Sam. They are both falling down, word slurring plastered. In conclusion: this is the highest proof vodka in existence, and Elizabeth and Sam are the biggest lightweights in history. Everyone sees and murmurs about it, but no one does a damn thing, except Todd gets a little jealous that they’re dancing together. Elizabeth becomes pious once again under the influence, and gallantly drops out of the competition so that Jessica might win, as it means so much to her. Jessica, when she learns this, has a bit of a change of heart, but this is around the time where one, drunk Elizabeth and Sam stumble away from the prom to the parking lot, and two, more Big Mesa students show up and raid prom.
In the melee, Lila looks to her counselor Nathan in a panic, because this is too many people, mostly angry dudes, and she is too vulnerable to handle it. Nathan takes her to the counseling office where he knows no one will go, and in his attempts to reassure Lila that they are alone (as in safe), she hears it as a threat and flips out. She screams loudly enough that the police who’ve come to break up the raid (hey, actual adults!) come and find them in the room, and Lila accuses Nathan of attacking her. It’s not really true, and she’s having a breakdown, and poor Nathan, just a little, because he’s only like eighteen and he thought he was helping but isn’t old enough or smart enough or whatever to consider the idea that maybe taking a terrified girl (and a sexual assault victim, to boot) to an empty room is not a wise plan. But mostly poor Lila.
And let’s check in on Bruce Patman and his band of moronic ne’er-do-wells, who’ve all this time been wanting to get a good and solid revenge on Big Mesa, only to have the Big Mesa kids come and wreck their well-meaning environmental fundraiser prom. The solution: a massive brawl on the football field. Bruce takes a baseball bat to some deserving body part, and is lying on the ground half-conscious when he sees an angel telling Mark McGwire up there to cool it and maybe not beat a kid to death. Bruce passes out. This is probably the best for everyone.
But most importantly of all, Jessica has roped Todd into hunting down Sam and Elizabeth, because they are in danger. She doesn’t explain that they’re drunk, because that would mean she’d have to admit to spiking Elizabeth’s drink. Her silence on the matter will haunt her in the future. Well, sometimes. But in the now, she and Todd are stopped on the road because some flashing lights up ahead. And by some very inept cops, or very ambitious ghostwriters, who tell them that no one could have survived the car crash. In one fell swoop, both Jessica’s boyfriend and twin sister are dead. DUN-DUN-DUNNNNN. No, really, it’s that dramatic. I will close here with the cliffhanger I was given, so that you, too, may share my joy and suspense:
Jessica fell to her knees. “Elizabeth!” she sobbed into the unforgiving night. “Sam! No!”