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Oh dear. You thought you were done with Sweet Valley TERROR, didn’t you? Yeah, well, so did Jessica and Elizabeth. Generally, a glass shard to the neck means the death of one’s enemies, but not when they’re Margo, who is powered by more crazy than you can shake a stick at. I can’t even sufficiently preview this. Friends, Romans, countrymen, my mom – I hope you’re all the sort of people who wear hats, and are frequently in the position of losing them, so I can say this. Hold onto your hats, guys. It’s about to get real. Identical shenanigans abound in Return of the Evil Twin. Spoilers to follow…

When we open, Jessica Wakefield is teasing her twin sister Elizabeth about being the most boring person ever, and wanting to spend her New Year’s Eve (now three weeks away) in the living room watching balls drop with Todd. Subtract Todd, and balls, and that basically sounds like what I did for New Year’s. Oops. Elizabeth wisely points out that last NYE didn’t exactly go so well, what with an evil doppelganger trying to assume Elizabeth’s life and killing a lot of people in the process. So maybe they should just stay the hell indoors. But wait! They were conveniently at the last minute appointed co-chairs of a fundraising committee for the local children’s hospital. And the carnival came to town! The twins brainstorm to rent the carnival for New Year’s as a fundraiser. If you think that there aren’t going to be some evil hijinks in the House of Mirrors, you have not been paying attention.

(On a side note, within the past twenty-five odd books since this particular miniseries started (and we’ve gone through a few more), the twins have had three Christmases. And remain perpetually in their junior year. Whatever!)

Meanwhile, in the south, we meet Nora Chapelle shortly after her father’s funeral. She is living with her stepmother Blanche (the book at one point mentions “Blanche’s Savannah home” but I misread it as Blanche Savannah, who is now incidentally going to be the star of my own teen novel about evil twins – no one steal that), who hates Nora for being potentially mentally ill like Nora’s dead mother. Nora isn’t particularly interested in being a debutante, which is the only “crazy” thing about her, really. Oh, well, also she can see smells, some of which are sinister.

In any case, Nora’s dad dies, and immediately after the funeral, Blanche offers Nora fifty thousand dollars to disappear. And drops the truth bomb that hey, it turns out Nora had a twin sister that Blanche gave up for secret adoption fourteen years ago. This fuels the fire of Nora slowly losing her sanity, as she takes the money to go to Long Island in search of the shady lawyer that put Nora’s twin into the foster system illegally. I don’t have to tell you who the twin is, do I? It’s Margo, guys.

Super boring story short, Nora gets her hands on some underground paperwork that inexplicably ties Margo to her cross-country series of murders. It’s not inexplicable that someone would have files on this, I suppose, as Amateur Teen Detective Josh Smith (Sir Not Appearing In This Novel) figured it all out; it’s weird that people would continue to keep files on someone who was proclaimed dead last year (not once, but twice, even!). Margo Black (so named by the shady lawyer for her long midnight/ebony/raven/onyx hair) was presumed dead in the fire she started that killed little Nina and launched her on murderous road trip. But I digress. The files also contain information about Elizabeth’s trial, and about the party that went awry at the Fowler mansion. Nora takes herself to Sweet Valley to investigate.

In Sweet Valley, everyone is meeting at Secca Lake for a cookout before going caroling. Jessica and Todd are both late. In Todd’s haste to get there on time in his old and crappy T-bird, he drives too fast around a rough corner of the perplexingly hilly cliff-side drive, crashes into the guardrail and starts to go over the side. Todd falls unconscious, embracing death. Spoilers: Todd does not die.

Jessica is rushing along the treacherous roads in her not-as-old and not-as-crappy Jeep, which has already been in its requisite car accident in the past twelve months and is therefore immortal, when she comes across Todd clinging to life, and she goes and pries him from his car right before it topples off the cliff, resulting in a giant orange fireball.

The orange fireball is seen from Secca Lake, and Elizabeth, who has been having an odd feeling about the evening, knows that something is up. She steals Lila’s car and cell phone and dials 911, and manages somehow to make it to the crash site in time to see poor, unconscious Todd being hauled off in an ambulance. I’m thinking the same thing you are: WHERE THE HELL DID LILA GET A CELL PHONE and why hasn’t anyone used it in any other tragedy that has befallen Sweet Valley thus far?

Blah blah, Nora makes it to Sweet Valley, discovers that Margo is presumed dead, and somehow susses out Margo’s masterstroke of trying to kill Elizabeth. She then makes the leap to blaming Elizabeth for Margo’s death, and vows to honor her unknown twin’s death by finishing her plan and killing Elizabeth. Seems reasonable. Screw the identical twin thing; this is how you know they’re related. Fun things about Nora: she’s obsessive-compulsive. She’s starting to hear voices. She thinks the voices are Margo communicating with her from beyond the grave. Her dreams tell her to go to Margo’s memorial and dig. (Apparently the local coalition of homeless youths or whatever erected a small memorial in the local cemetery for Margo, who had gone on a cross-country killing spree – not even a secret cross-country killing spree. I don’t know.)

Todd is now in the habit of gazing adoringly at Jessica, all enamored by her life-saving-ness. A reporter investigating the story takes a photo of them together in the hospital, but doesn’t have time to do any research before submitting for the morning edition so he lists them as boyfriend and girlfriend. Elizabeth is livid. Not even for the lack of journalistic ethics and poor research. She is trying hard to just be grateful that Todd is alive, but she is consumed with jealousy, since Todd will not shut up about how great Jessica is. Elizabeth ends up going to a showing of The Shining with Ken just as friends, and Jessica is now equally livid. Is The Shining the golden standard of date movies, and I missed it? The girls are fighting, and it all comes to a head when Todd and Ken come over for Christmas Eve dinner at the Wakefields’, and Elizabeth lets her jealousy consume her [while Nora watches through the window].

But Christmas morning comes and Jessica and Elizabeth both recall last year’s Silent Night (ohhhhh, she went there!), and decide to apologize and be besties again. They also both realize they’re having bad recurring nightmares, and rather than listen to their gut instincts which say “remember when this happened last year and y’all almost died?”, they decide that it’s just their brains dredging up bad memories and everything is fine. IF YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE WEIRD PSYCHIC POWERS, USE THEM. God.

Nora goes to Margo’s grave on Christmas to be with her sister. Then someone tries to choke her to death. It turns out Margo is still alive, and even crazier than ever before. Nora takes uber-dirty Margo back to her hotel room of crazy, and then they crazy together. (I don’t want to diminish the seriousness of mental illness, I assure you, but also they have large knife collections and want to steal other people’s identities for no good reason.) Margo tells her all about how she can hold her breath for up to three minutes, so everyone just assumed she was dead without coming any closer, and then she killed the paramedics and drove the ambulance off a bridge to cover her tracks. Nora’s response to this is “Wow!” That is the incorrect response. Margo’s essentially been living in lairs and spying on the Wakefields since then. Everybody change your locks. You never know.

Nora’s losing her murderous nerve a bit now that it turns out Margo’s alive. Hard to avenge someone who isn’t dead. But Margo talks her into doubling the plan – they’ll kill both Wakefields and assume their lives. They’ve been researching for awhile now (Nora’s been researching a whole week!) so they think they can pull it off. Also, DNA testing doesn’t exist here, so anything goes. They decide to divide and conquer, because united twins will compare notes on weird crap going down, so they impersonate the twins and fool Ned and Alice. Nora pretends to be Elizabeth on a date with Todd, and they go to the movies (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with a main character named Elizabeth, because subtlety got on the first bus out of town a hundred books ago) to make out in the front row…

…right in front of the real Elizabeth, who is there with Enid. Obviously, she thinks this is Jessica (who is in the back row making out with Ken), because why wouldn’t it be? And after all their talk of not wanting to steal each other’s boyfriends, and renewed friendship and the whatnots! Elizabeth storms off to Todd’s house, throws rocks at his window, and starts screaming at him on the lawn all ‘how could you do this to me’ and Todd is less concerned with his girlfriend’s potential break from reality than he is with the idea that her break from reality could wake up his parents:

Todd stood frozen on the front step, his hand on the side of his face [where Elizabeth slapped him]. For a moment he wondered if he should catch up with her and force her to accept a ride home. It wasn’t safe for a girl to be out alone after midnight. You never knew what sort of psychos lurked in the dark.
Then he shook his head. If Elizabeth met any psychos while she was in her current mood, the psychos were the ones who would need protection.

Todd sucks. Given that someone actually is going to get murdered by a psycho, Todd really sucks. You suck, Todd.

But Todd sucking (and sucking face) means Nora and Margo’s plan is in excellent motion! Except… remember how last year Margo wanted to be Elizabeth, thinking she had the perfect life (conveniently ignoring the fact Elizabeth was on trial for manslaughter)? Yeah, Margo says screw that, Elizabeth is boring, Todd is boring, sexless monogamy is boring, and she’d rather be Jessica, let Ken get in her pants, and carry on with her day. Plus, cheerleading! I really can’t argue with any of this. But Nora can, because Nora wants to be Jessica, and since the initial plan was always to let Margo be Elizabeth, they should stick to that. Guys, if the twins swap places all the time, it makes no sense why you guys can’t switch off every six months or so. Why am I helping you with this?

But now it’s carnival time! Elizabeth is grumpy because she doesn’t want to be single on New Year’s Eve and know that Jessica and Todd are making out. Given that Jessica is with Ken, this seems an unreasonable assumption, but Elizabeth is something of an unreasonable person. Jessica goes to the House of Mirrors by herself and is vaguely terrified by the idea of all these warped images of herself. But then she goes back to the main tent, gets the cold shoulder from Elizabeth, and decides to cut out and go home.

Nora, meanwhile, is staking out the Wakefield house. Her crazy has hit maximum capacity and she’s decided that the best way to have Margo let her be Jessica is to just be Jessica and Margo can suck it. So she sneaks into the house-

It’s time, the voices told her, rising to a crescendo in her head, like a hurricane-force wind. Do it!

-and stabs Jessica in her bed.

Elizabeth is having a dream about Jessica being in trouble, and wakes with her twin’s intuition screaming danger. She runs into Jessica’s room to see her twin in a bloody heap and a panicked Margo climbing out of the window. The Parents Wakefield drive up from their NYE party at the Egberts’ to see a dark figure leaping from the window, and call 911. Elizabeth keeps insisting with the police over and over again that it was most assuredly Margo she saw leaping from the window, which of course everyone thinks is totally nuts. Margo is dead, totally dead, Elizabeth was standing there last year when it happened.

Jessica dies in the hospital.

There is a surprisingly nice scene, where the twins’ friends are starting to show up and mourn. Enid and Olivia are there first, of course, presumably in support of Elizabeth? Because Jessica wasn’t kind to them. Jessica actually hated Enid. But then Lila and Amy show up, as they heard the report on the radio (who is listening to the radio at like four in the morning on New Year’s Day?), and Lila falls to the ground, wailing and sobbing. It’s touching. Lila is the only one of these bastards I like. Ken is off being sad and alone in the bushes, or something. We all process grief in different ways.

Of course at this point, Nora has realized her horrible mistake: now everyone knows Jessica is dead, and she can’t be Jessica. She returns to the hotel room she shares with Margo, fearing Margo’s wrath, but her twin is nowhere to be seen. Nora knows it’s about to go down. She also decides she’s not about to back down from being a Wakefield, and will settle for being Elizabeth. Of course, she knows to do so, she’ll have to stab Margo to death first, as Margo will never let it stand for Nora to steal her plan/thunder. Obviously.

Meanwhile, school has been cancelled because of Jessica’s murder, and Elizabeth manages to convince her parents and Principal Cooper that Jessica’s memorial service should be held at Sweet Valley High, since it was Jessica’s favorite place in the world. (In fairness, Jessica was sixteen and didn’t travel much.) It’s a touching ceremony, with Lila still sobbing a bunch, and Ken being haunted by Elizabeth’s resemblance to her twin sister. Ken, as quarterback, has taken a lot of blows to the head.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, starts to read a terrible poem she wrote, then is too overcome to finish. Nora is watching from the shadows, because serial killers always return to the scene of the crime or whatever. But as Todd is taking a distraught Elizabeth outside, she senses Jessica’s presence, strongly, and is now convinced Jess is alive.

There’s a lot of hemming and hawing, while Nora is afraid of every shadow, thinking it’s Margo, and Elizabeth tries over and over again to convince people that a) Margo is still alive, and b) so is Jessica. No one believes her. So eventually Elizabeth cunningly distracts a cop so she can steal his gun and sneak off to the high school after hours to hunt down Margo and end this for real. FOR REAL, you guys. None of this pussyfooting around assuming that a shard of glass to the jugular will do someone in. In any case, Nora is also drawn to the high school, sensing HER twin’s presence. She wants to end things with Margo and Elizabeth, in that order. It is SHOWDOWN time.

Nora gets there first, and goes down to the boiler room, where she senses Margo crouching in the corner and slashes wildly at shadows. She and Margo are wrestling on the floor for the knife when Elizabeth shows up wielding a firearm and whispering to herself about how she’s not afraid of the dark.

But surprise – it’s not Margo in the basement, it’s Jessica, who is still alive and drops some exposition about how Margo clocked her in the House of Mirrors and tied her up for nefarious purposes, only to reappear just now. Bad news bears, really. Elizabeth bursts in and can’t figure out which lookalike is which. It happens. It actually happened last year, when Margo was trying to stab Liz and Jess couldn’t tell who was who. So your twin-tuition told you that the sister whose bloodied body you held dying in your arms was actually alive all this time hiding in the high school boiler room, but it can’t tell you which sister is which, even though one is wearing the same clothes she was the last night you saw her alive? Eh.

Jess thinks Nora is Margo. Elizabeth thinks Nora is Margo. Nora thinks Jess is Margo. But Margo had gone to the Wakefields’ that night as Jessica, and it was Margo that Nora stabbed to death. This manages to be both a great twist and a total bummer. Well, for Nora. Elizabeth finally trains the gun on Nora, as police storm the building. A sobbing, grimy Jessica tearfully wonders how Elizabeth knew which twin was which. Elizabeth gleefully reveals Nora has a tattoo. Congrats, Jess, sixteen years of sisterhood and friendship could have been so easily taken away had this person not gotten inked last year. WELL, OKAY THEN.

Elizabeth apologizes to the detective for stealing his gun, and the detective apologizes for thinking Elizabeth was nuts and (in wake of the theft) suicidal. It was Steven’s solid detective work that saved anyone’s life tonight. Let’s all go to bed feeling the utmost of safe. Then there’s a Welcome Back from the Dead party, because that is how these people celebrate anything, where Jessica reveals that she heard the entire funeral, and it was Elizabeth’s [crappy] poem that gave her the will to fight. You could do better.