YA Book Club: Francine Pascal’s ‘Sweet Valley High: On the Edge’
Oh, Regina Morrow, you poor, sweet, innocent teenager. You just had to try cocaine at a party that one time, didn’t you? You were too good for this world, and most certainly too good for Bruce Patman who cheated on you, but you forgave him, because that’s what good girls are supposed to do. I suppose you’re beyond the realm of caring now, what with the fact you’ve been dead for 32 years due to the cocaine you tried that one time causing a fatal heart attack due to an undiagnosed heart condition, and oh yeah, you’re a fictional character in Sweet Valley High.
Yes, friends, today we talk about SVH #40 “On the Edge” otherwise known as the one where Regina Morrow tries cocaine for the first and last time. Now, I was never a huge SVH fan as a kid because it wasn’t particularly about teenagers solving mysteries and occasionally getting murdered in the process (although, honestly, Sweet Valley could have used a few serial killers to thin out of the herd of unrelenting psychopaths that seem to exclusively live in that area. Someone go write the next book in the series where Jessica Wakefield finally takes the logical next step in her development as a remorseless a-hole because she gets a small scar on her face, and since she’s so vain, self-absorbed and all-around horrible, starts killing anyone in Sweet Valley who she deems to be more perfect than her, now. Let’s call it “Say Goodnight, Elizabeth” because obviously after taking out Lila Flower, Bruce Patman, and others, she turns her attention to Elizabeth, fixated on the face she once had. The book will end with Elizabeth, sacrificing herself because even in death she’s sanctimonious and a goody-two-shoes, by pushing her sister and herself off a cliff, but I digress…) So, I missed Regina Morrow’s not-so-graceful exit from the series back then, but friends, I’m here to make up for lost time so we’re here to talk about this ridiculous book today.
So what is “On the Edge” about, other than serving as a 150-page foil to warn pre-teens about the dangers of cocaine? Oh, friend, read on and find out.
Regina Morrow has it all, or so she thinks. Ever since she went to Switzerland to get her hearing fixed (delightfully referred to as “her handicap” because people first language wasn’t a thing in 1987, and I doubt it is even to this day in Sweet Valley, where self-absorbed white people roam freely, seemingly without a care in the world.) Things with Bruce Patman, her boyfriend, have never been better. Regina is on top of the world! That is, until Bruce is assigned to work on a hard-hitting report with a blonde cheerleader, Amy. Their topic? Drugs. Their thesis? Honestly, I have no idea. This is Sweet Valley High, so I imagine Amy and Bruce will bully some smart kid to actually do the homework for them, but they like to play like they’re actually doing “research” which primarily involves talking to Amy’s cousin Mimi (that family sure likes to end first names in vowels.) See, Mimi is a trying to get a social work degree and works at a drug rehabilitation center because that’s absolutely a job 19-year olds are given because they took a few classes in college. Anyway, Mimi has the goods on “drugs” and even tells them that there is a big drug dealer in the area, Buzz, who is 19 years old but has been dealing drugs since Jr. High, so … I dunno. Just remember that name. It’s Chekov’s drug dealer.
So, you may think Amy and Bruce have the best of intentions for their report on “drugs” but really, Amy is excited because now’s her chance to pursue Bruce Patman because she has a thing for rich, hot jagoffs who happen to be dating Regina Morrow.
Anyway, we could wax poetic about how horrible Bruce is, but honestly, I’d rather post this clip from Heathers, because the interaction between Heather Chandler (*cough* Jessica Wakefield *cough*) and the other popular kids who clearly hate her sum up how I picture Bruce Patman to be. He’s that idiot who is told the world is ending, and still wonders how much money he can make.
So Bruce and Amy start to hook up on the side, before Bruce can tell Regina (he’s pretty sure he can convince her to let him see other people while she remains faithful to him. Oh, to have the misplaced confidence of a rich white guy!) This plan is shattered when Regina shows up to the Wakefield twin’s barbeque and notices that everyone is looking at her funny, since obviously, Jessica told everyone that Bruce and Amy are hooking up. Even her twin, Elizabeth, who of course was conflicted whether she should tell Regina or not. She opted not to. This pissed Regina off even more when it finally dawned on her that Bruce and Amy were a thing. So she storms off from the party and goes home.
Now comes one of my favorite passages in the book, because it shows just how horrible the people are in Sweet Valley without knowing they’re horrible. Even Regina:
“Hi Nola, it’s only me.” Regina said letting herself into the front door. […] Nola hadn’t been in the household for long, but already she was almost like one of the family.
“Where’s Mom and Dad? And Nicholas?” she asked in a flat voice.
“They’re all out,” Nola told her.
It figured. It was Saturday night. Everyone was out…”
Bitch, the housekeep you consider “almost like one of the family” is standing right in front of you. So no, not “everyone” is out.
Anyway, the casual indifference everyone has to others existence will serve them well by the end of the book when they’re required to mourn.
Getting back to the plot, Regina is pretty upset over Bruce and Amy, so she decides to start hanging out with Justin Belson, who rumor has it, is on academic probation. Now we’re cooking with gas!
So Regina and Justin, in the span of less than a week, become inseparable, although Regina’s older brother Nicholas isn’t happy about it. There are a few places in this book where Regina’s mother inexplicably defers to Nicholas in his judgment of Regina and Justin because if I know one thing it’s that 18-year old boys have impeccable common sense and that it’s just good parenting to stay out of your 17-year old daughter’s life and leave it to you son to manage. It’s called delegation, people.
Anyway, Justin invites Regina to his ex-girlfriend, Molly’s, party on Saturday night, where Buzz is rumored to show up, and peddle his wares. Regina is uncomfortable at the thought of drugs but she likes Justin and doesn’t want to stay home on a Saturday night with the help (the horror) so she agrees to go. Of course, Elizabeth finds out about the party and Buzz and tries to convince Regina not to go. Regina, like many, many, many people out there, don’t like being told what to do by Elizabeth Wakefield and tells her to leave her alone and hangs up on her. However, Regina softens and decides to write a letter and mail it before she heads out to the party.
Anyway, once at the party, Regina is having an OK but not great time. She has a few beers but is getting teased by Molly’s friend, Jan. Jan is a real bitch, and Regina doesn’t like how small she feels when Jan is talking to her. So, when Buzz finally arrives with his drugs, Regina is sick of being treated like a goody-two shoe and tells Buzz she’d like to try his coke. So she does one line, then Molly insists she does another line. So Regina does and all of a sudden she starts to feel funny, her heart is beating too fast, and she is forced to lay down.
Now, if you think Elizabeth is going to let her friend go to a party with drugs, you’ve got another think coming here, friends. Elizabeth calls Nicholas to go to the party and stop Regina. Nicholas, being the man of the house (by the way, Regina does have a dad in the picture. He never says anything in the book, and this is all very confusing. Why is Nicholas given so much leeway, and Regina none?) decides to go and stop Regina from doing drugs. Only he rushes out of the house without his wallet (and thus, driver’s license) so naturally, he’s pulled over by a cop because he’s speeding on his way to Molly’s house.
So, Nicholas gets hauled into the police station where he regales the officers with the story of Regina, Molly’s house party, and Buzz and his drugs. Naturally, since a white man is talking the police take all of this at face value, and rush out to stop the teenage drug party, only sadly, they get there too late. Regina is already lying down, almost passed out, so they have to call an ambulance. Before it arrives, Regina mumbles the names of Elizabeth and Bruce, so f*cking Nicholas tells the cops to wait for him, he needs to make a phone call to get Elizabeth and Bruce to the hospital, but he wants to ride with Regina in the ambulance. Presumably, they do because what’s a few extra moments when you’re rushing someone who is possibly OD’ing or having a heart attack to the hospital when a guy named “Nicholas” needs to make a phone call? God bless America, all I can say.
Wondering where Regina’s parents were? At the country club of course, but it doesn’t matter. You won’t see them again. Don’t worry. Nicholas is here, though.
Regina dies, due to said heart defect, and the school mourns. A day or so after she dies a letter shows up in the mail for Elizabeth. Regina has forgiven her (and Bruce!) for not telling her Bruce was catting around on her and letting her get publicly humiliated. The letter can be summed up as basically “the heart wants what the heart wants, and never apologize for letting someone get publicly humiliated.” I mean, call me kooky, but wouldn’t the obvious answer for Elizabeth would have been to simply tell Amy she couldn’t come to the barbeque? Or is that too logical!?
Anyway, Regina is dead so I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. Sweet Valley High decides to have an assembly at the end of the week to honor Regina Morrow, where a family representative will show up. Regina’s dad is who comes and he’s very broken up.
JK. Of course its Nicholas. He’s sad but composed, because why not? This book is almost over anyway.
Actually, that basically is the end of the book. The cliffhanger here is that Molly is being ostracized, but who cares? It won’t bring Regina back.
Wow. What a journey.
Now, I’m sure if I had read this as an impressionable youth, it probably would have had a much more lasting impact on me. As it stands, I was more baffled at the gender roles and power structure at play in the Morrow household than I was that Regina Morrow would try cocaine once and die. I’m not sure if this would have kept me off the stuff but as it stands, I had my own effective deterrent. See, at some point in the early ’90s, I was told that one of the side effects of cocaine is a sore throat. As a kid who had chronic strep throat —I would get it up to 3 times a year— the idea of willingly taking on the mere risk of a sore throat was something I had no interest in doing. Kid logic can be weird, yet incredibly effective. I imagine Regina’s death probably did dissuade some people from experimenting later on—share your own experiences in the comments, please!
Anyway, the more I re-read Sweet Valley High books, the more I’m just sort of dumbstruck at how truly awful everyone in these books are. During this read, I started to imagine Sweet Valley as a part of hell where there’s no one soul there to torture at present, so the residents of Sweet Valley, who are obviously hell demons, are just living their lives until a new soul comes for them to rip apart. So, in that regard, under a certain light, Regina Morrow was able to escape the unending misery of Sweet Valley and hopefully go to someplace better. A place where they view their hired help as people and not inanimate objects who clean. A girl can dream, can’t she?
Next week, we’re going to do Christopher Pike’s “Die Softly” because murder is always better than cheating, at least when YA books are concerned.
Header Image Source: Bantam Books
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