Sweet Valley High #50: Out of Reach

The moral of the story: You can get your father to rethink his traditional conservative values by taking him to a high school variety show.

The Big Deal: No dance or party, but the school’s putting on a show to raise money for something or other.


Jade Wu is a sophomore and all anyone really knows about her is that she’s supposed to be a terrific dancer. There’s a variety show coming up and everyone is wondering if she’ll audition. She wants to, but her father is a pain in the ass and doesn’t think she should be dancing in public. He’s Chinese and he wants Jade to act like a Chinese girl, but Jade wants to act like an American. I can see this book going terribly wrong. Jade asks her mom to talk to him and convince him that dancing in the show would be okay, but Mrs. Wu is also Chinese, so she believes women and children should defer to their husbands and fathers. She says she’ll try to talk to him, but she isn’t hopeful. That night at dinner, Jade brings it up. Her father asks if it would be serious ballet or that newfangled modern dancing. Jade is too dumb to lie, so she says it would be a modern piece. He says no.

The twins’ father is having some kind of mid-life crisis. He gets an invitation to his 25th high school reunion and says he can’t go because everyone will laugh at him because he’s so old. Hey Ned, it’s been twenty-five years for everyone else, too. He decides he has to do something to make himself look younger. The twins decide to use their famous Wakefield Reverse Psychology and help him feel young by playing loud rock music and taking him to clubs and stuff. They’re sure that he’ll go back to being happy with his age in no time flat.

Jade gets all weird during a social studies unit on China. When the teacher asks if her family practices any traditional customs, she gets snotty and says it’s not like her dad runs a laundry. She feels bad saying that because her grandparents actually do run a laundry in Sweet Valley and her biggest fear is someone finding out about it.  Jade’s crush, David Prentiss, asks her about her family and says it must be cool to have an interesting heritage, but Jade just wants to be normal like everyone else. She talks to her dance teacher, who tells her she’ll back her up if she wants to audition to dance in the show. Jade decides she’s going to do it.

Amy Sutton is trying out for the same part as Jade. She doesn’t think Jade’s right for the part because she’s Chinese and not an all American blonde like her. During the audition, Amy screws up really bad because she sucks at dancing, but she blames it on Jade. That night when Liz gets home, Jessica says Amy called to make sure either Cara or Susan Stewart gets the part. I guess it’s okay for a brunette to get the part as long as she’s not Chinese.

Ned Wakefield wears a purple tie to work and the twins worry about this whole mid-life crisis thing. They, along with Alice, put their plan into motion. Alice enrolls him in some kind of marathon club and talks about how much exercise he should be doing. The twins plan to get him to the Beach Disco that Friday. This is so stupid. Ned hates everything about the Beach Disco; the music, Jessica writhing on the dance floor, the noise. He calls Alice to come pick him up and the twins are sure their plan is working.

There’s like a whole chapter about the dance audition, which is unnecessary because we know Jade’s gonna get the part. And she does. David is excited because he’s going to create the posters for the show and he can’t wait to paint Jade because he likes her “distinctive features.” Jade gets all offended and thinks, “That means different, right? Not like everyone else.” Jade’s starting to piss me off. But her father pisses me off even more. Jade tells him she got the part in the show and he freaks out and tells her she’s not allowed to dance in public. She tries to explain to him that a dancer just isn’t a dancer without an audience, but he thinks she should be a good little Chinese girl who comes home every day and helps her mother with dinner. Her mother tells her to keep planning on being in the show while she tries to work on her father.

David’s poster design is lovely and Jade can tell he must care about her a lot to have drawn her so beautifully. He asks her out, and instead of explaining that her dad sucks and won’t let her date, she makes up some excuse. And then David gets all bitter and hurt and I’m so fucking sick of these kids being so damned predictable. I’m trying to hurry through these early books so I can get to the good stuff. Werewolves! Vampires! Evil twins! *sigh* For now, I guess I’m stuck with David being pissed for no reason and Jade being secretive for no reason. On we go…

David asks Liz if she thinks Jade is a snob. He thinks the reason she won’t go out with him is because he comes from a poor family and his mother is a housekeeper. Liz is sure Jade’s not like that, but then she thinks about the fact that Jade doesn’t really open up very much. Maybe David is right! Ugh. David lightens up after a few days, but he doesn’t ask her out again. Meanwhile, Jade is getting the same advice from her dance teacher and her best friend, and that advice is to show her father how important dancing is to her. Dammit, this is going to be one of those books where the oppressive parents see the light at the end because of some puppies-and-rainbows type revelation. Just wait.

David gives Jade one last chance and asks her out again, and this time when she refuses, he asks her if it’s because he’s poor. She’s shocked and tells him that’s not it at all. He doesn’t seem convinced, so she tells him the biggest secret in her life: her grandparents run a laundry. David looks at her blankly and has no idea what that has to do with anything. I don’t get it either, Dave. She says something about the stereotype about Chinese people running laundries and he still doesn’t get it. He kind of shakes it off and tells Jade that if she wanted to go out with him she would. He walks away and she can’t believe he didn’t understand about her grandparents and she’s sure that means he wouldn’t understand about her father, either. Whatever, Jade, I think I hate you. Nobody cares if you’re Chinese. Well, nobody except Amy.

Amy and her mother go to pick up some of Mr. Sutton’s dry-cleaning (my inner feminist wonders why the girls have to pick up the man’s dry cleaning – I try to keep her quiet, but sometimes…) and where do you suppose they end up? That’s right, Jade’s grandparents’ place, Sung’s Laundry. There’s a poster for the upcoming school show and Amy shows it to her mom. Mrs. Sung says her granddaughter Jade is going to be in the show. Amy hates Jade for stealing the lead from her and is foaming at the mouth to spread it around that the star of the show is “just the granddaughter of someone who runs a Chinese laundry!” The next day, when Jade gets to Saturday rehearsal at the school, the first thing that happens is Amy and Lila making snide remarks about Jade’s grandparents’ laundry. So, of course, Jade thinks David is the one who blabbed. He tells her she’s ridiculous for even keeping it a secret in the first place and he doesn’t care what her grandparents do. They have a big fight and he quits the show, taking his set piece with him. David may be the first character ever (besides Lila) that I don’t want to stab.

Jade goes home and cries to her mother about how everyone knows about the laundry. Her mom is pissed that she was trying to hide it. She goes off on a rant about what good people Jade’s grandparents are and how upset she is that Jade wants to deny her heritage just to fit in. If I were there with Jade and her mother, I’d probably say that if being Chinese means I can’t have friends or date or anything (as it clearly does, at least according to Francine), I’d probably wish I was just a plain old American, too. Liz calls later and Jade finds out it was really Amy who told everyone about the laundry. Jade feels like a big old jerk. Liz tries to patch things up between Jade and David, but David isn’t sure he wants to be friends with Jade anymore.

Here comes the mega happy ending: Jade’s father says she can dance in the show and even shows up to watch. Jade dances better than she’s ever danced before. David realizes Liz was right and puts his set pieces back up. Then he asks Mr. Wu if he can take Jade out. Mr. Wu, who didn’t realize American boys could be so polite, says yes. A talent scout who was in the audience offers Jade the opportunity to dance with the L.A. Summer Stock Dance Company that summer. Woohoo! But wait! The talent scout says the woman who sponsors the internship is from a really old and respected family, and that Jade should accept under the name Jade Warren. Jade stands up for being Chinese and turns the bitch down. Ned learns a lesson from Jade that he should accept himself for who he is. Woohoo!


“She can take Dad to that new-wave nightclub downtown, where all those strange couples in their twenties hang out.”

Are they strange because they’re in their twenties, or because they’re new-wave clubbers?

David had said something about her “distinctive features.” Was he going to make her look ethnic? Jade worried. She was trying so hard to look just like everyone else!

Um, but Jade, you’re Chinese. You look Chinese. I don’t know what to tell you.

The Cover: Dancers always walk around with towels around their necks. And Chinese people are really short.

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  • Sadako May 26, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    God, this book sounds so, so, so awkward. I don’t think YA series book writers knew how to deal with ethnic characters. Why does every Asian/black/etc. character walk around with a huge chip on their shoulder due to race? (I.e., Jessi Ramsey.)


    Shannon Reply:

    I know, I used to feel uncomfortable about Jessi Ramsey for just that reason, ha ha.


  • Jenna May 26, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    “The Cover: Dancers always walk around with towels around their necks. And Chinese people are really short.”

    And Liz looks like a condescing meddlesome bitch, as usual.


    Shannon Reply:

    Yeah, she does. It looks even worse with her being so much taller than Jade. She’s like a towering monster of condescension.


  • Mara May 26, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I’m with Sadako, maybe kids would be more accepting of diversity if these YA books weren’t constantly modeling racism for them.

    Also, the whole Ned mid-life crisis B story is hilarious. I just love how everything requires so much scheming and so many new wave night clubs. Every young person loves new wave night clubs, right?


  • HelenB May 26, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    I love that we’re clearly supposed to think there’s something wrong with Mr Wu expecting his wife and daughter to be subservient etc etc and then we see Amy Sutton and her mother picking up Mr Sutton’s drycleaning for him. The irony is delicious!


  • Jeni May 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Oh my God – I just tried to imagine my brothers and me taking my dad to a “new wave” club to help him through a mid-life crisis, haha!! Seriously? Methinks Daddy would be in for a bit of a rude awakening these days…


  • nugirl77 May 26, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Ned wears a purple tie to work and he’s deep in a mid-life crisis?! Maybe he remembered how Jess was a Unicorn when she was 12 (Unicorns tried to wear at least one purple thing to school everyday, to show how special and beautiful, and like royalty, they are) … After all, there’s nothing wrong with being a successful attorney who has a way with salads (especially those with cherry tomatoes) wanting to be popular and IN! 🙂


  • Kate May 28, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    “She can take Dad to that new-wave nightclub downtown, where all those strange couples in their twenties hang out.”

    I don’t know, Shannon… maybe it’s a gay bar!


  • jannghi June 16, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Something about Amy in this book that occurred to me. She’s clearly expositing some of the seven deadly sins.

    Pride: She’s sure she’ll get the solo dance role if works all week on a routine for the audition. She even gets a new leotard for the audition. Then she takes the proverbial fall: she messes up and doesn’t get called to the solo auditions.

    Anger: This comes when she doesn’t get the solo call back and furiously storms out of the auditorium. She’s even angrier when all she gets is the grand finale chorus line.

    Envy: She is jealous when Jade get the role. Her envy is even greater when the dance show poster gets hung all over the school, as well as the stage set (an enlarged image of that on the poster).

    In a way, you could she was also displaying lust, as in lusting after the lead role in the beginning of the book, which begins with Amy acting excited over the show and expressing her desire to get the solo dance before the grand finale.


  • Meg June 14, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    There were vampires?! I mean, I remember the evil Twin, but in which one were there vampires and werewolves? It’s like, Sweet Twilight Valley. ha!


    Shannon Reply:

    I know, it’s ridiculous!

    The werewolf miniseries starts here and the vampire miniseries starts here. Be warned: they’re awful.


  • Anonymous April 17, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I love the end when she says no way to that lady about changing her name. I also love the lecture from her mom, real life parenting there.


  • Anonymous April 17, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Interracial couples!! I love it! Except for the Sandy/Manny thing because Sandy was being stupid.


  • Twisted Sister October 5, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    I think most Asians in general are really short


  • Bertha Mason October 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    A club with “strange couples”? Sounds like a swingers, s&m or fetish club. I can just imagine how that would play out – similar to those Brady Brunch movies. “Oh look, honey! They must be having a costume party. Everyone’s dressed as squirrels, puppies and bunnies. Oh and how sweet – they’re hugging!”

    And Jade being asked to Anglicanize her name? Duh, she’s Chinese! Once they see her, it’s a dead giveaway. Stupid, stupid!


  • Erica June 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Just want to put it out there that Liz and Winston are the ONLY characters in these that I like. Until senior year and SVU. Jessica is a psycho bitchand Lola is an arrogant, entitled and snotty bitch.


  • Erica June 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Also, I detest Jade Wu after what she did to Jess in senior year (the only time I liked jess)


  • butterfly March 25, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Jade wu is pretty 🙂


  • Alex Kennedy July 15, 2016 at 7:09 am

    OMG – Ned W in a purple tie!!!


  • Alex Kennedy February 28, 2017 at 8:12 am

    The teacher who asks her if she practices Chinese traditions is pretty stupid. Does the teacher ask anyone else? I am assuming that most people in that class had grandparents who came to America from somewhere else. Ignorance!


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