Sweet Valley High Super Star #4: Olivia’s Story

SS04The moral of the story: You don’t need money as long as you have love and oil paint.

The Big Deal: Party with Robert’s country club friends, a party at Lila’s is mentioned


Olivia is looking at some paintings on display at the Forester Art School where she takes a painting class. One painting in particular catches her eye, and a handsome young man asks her what she thinks about it. Then he tells her he painted it and is glad he got her unbiased opinion. His name is James Yates and I think he’s a pretentious know-it-all art snob, but Olivia is fascinated and takes him out to dinner because he focuses so much on art that little things like money and carrying a wallet escape him. The next morning, Olivia wakes up thinking of James and his “I don’t care what people think” attitude, and decides she will continue to dress the way she wants, haters be damned. She puts her hair up in a ponytail and holds it in place with an Elvis record. Because she is just that awesome. Her conservative parents don’t really approve, but they don’t try to change her.

Jessica decides she and Liz need to get jobs to make money for Christmas presents (this book starts just after Thanksgiving). They apply at a department store called Simpson’s, which, incidentally, is where Olivia’s mother works as a manager. One of the upsides to the job is Robert Simpson, the owner’s son. Jessica has heard Robert is gorgeous and not much older than she is. She intends to meet him, but gets assigned to the completely boring and isolated children’s department stockroom. Liz will be in gift-wrapping.

Olivia hangs out with James again. They meet in a crappy coffee shop and then go to his crappy apartment, which is a one room deal located above a television repair shop. It has a kitchenette and a fire escape and probably came out of the ghostwriter’s imagination after she watched Fame or Rent or something. Olivia tells James she likes him, but he says he can’t get involved in a relationship because his art is too important. Olivia says she’s content to just be friends.

Olivia’s aunt June and cousin Emily are coming from Connecticut for a visit so Emily can look at schools in California. When they arrive, Olivia has been working so she’s covered in paint. June and Emily are nonplussed. They are super conservative, and Emily already has her whole life planned out. Mrs. Davidson convinces Olivia to take Emily with her when she goes to meet James. Emily and James have nothing to say to each other. Olivia and James act like Emily’s an idiot for not understanding anything about art, and James is offended when he says he’s dedicated to his work and Emily says, “Oh, you have a job, too?” On the way home, Emily expresses her concern, saying it’s not very practical for James to be living the way he does. Olivia sort of agrees and starts to worry about her own future. She eventually asks her mother to get her a job at Simpson’s. Olivia is easily influenced, remember.

Olivia meets Robert Simpson on her first day, and he lets her redo the Christmas display. He observes that she’s very artistic and she says he can come see some of her paintings over the weekend. When he shows up, he totally doesn’t get her abstract style, but really digs her cabinet of “rejects,” which is mostly crappy landscapes and still lifes. Olivia is depressed that nobody understands her art, and she puts the half-finished painting she’s been working on so passionately in the cabinet with all the other rejects. Nobody “normal” would ever like it anyway. A few days later, Robert asks Olivia to a party, but she has plans with James to go see a foreign film or something.

Emily gets lost while driving around one day and finally recognizes the coffee shop where she and Olivia met James. She sees James, so she sits down with him and tries to talk with him, but he just makes her feel stupid. She decides she really likes him, though, so a few days later, she dresses in Olivia’s clothes and goes back to the coffee shop. He doesn’t notice her clothes, but he does take her back to his apartment to show off his paintings, none of which she understands.

Olivia calls James to make sure they’re still going to see that film, but he says he’s much too busy with his painting right now and can’t make it. So Olivia calls Robert to see if she can still go to that party with him. He’s happy to take her with him, but warns her that it’s being given by one of his country club friends, and sort of asks her to dress “normal.” Olivia decides to go ahead and change her whole image. At work the next day, she asks Robert to help her pick something out for the party, and he comes up with some horrible dark green velvet thing. Olivia buys it.

The party goes pretty much as expected. Olivia feels out of place with a bunch of preppy types who have all figured out what their whole lives are going to be about. She looks around the house and mentally compares it to James’ crappy apartment. She asks herself if she really wants to live like James does, and the answer is no. The next morning, she sits down and reads the business section in the paper, then asks to look at Emily’s college brochures. She decides to ask Robert to help her pick out some more clothes, then she cuts all her hair off because wearing it long made her look like a hippie. Oh, Olivia. I can only imagine what her “springy” curls look like short. The next day, she doesn’t have anything to wear to work, so she puts on one of Emily’s suits. Robert says he told his father about Olivia’s still life and landscape paintings, and Mr. Simpson has said she can display and sell them in the store.

Jessica finally meets Robert Simpson, but it’s pretty clear he’s not interested. He blows her off so he can continue his conversation with Olivia. But Jessica is determined, and finds him again one day and invites him to a party at Lila’s house. Robert says he has plans with Olivia. Jessica has noticed that Olivia has changed recently, but she’s sure it’s only temporary. When Olivia goes back to being the kind of girl Robert wouldn’t look at twice, Jessica will be ready to swoop in. Nothing ever actually comes of this and, truthfully, the twins could have been kept out of this book entirely without anyone being the wiser.

James calls and invites Olivia over. She hasn’t really thought about James lately, what with being so busy becoming a proper lady and all, and she isn’t sure she wants to go to his apartment, but agrees anyway. He doesn’t like her new clothes and he really doesn’t like hearing that she’ll be selling her still lifes at Simpson’s. Olivia tries to give him his Christmas present, a paperweight in the shape of a J, and he gives it back to her, saying it’s the “emptiest, most meaningless present” he’s ever received. Olivia has finally had enough and walks out.

Olivia’s mother is worried about her and finally takes her up to the attic to show Olivia the paintings she did as a teenager. Mrs. Davidson had a real talent, but she gave it up for the security of a business degree. Now Olivia is more confused than ever. James calls a few days later and apologizes. He’d like to see her again and give her a Christmas present.

Emily has decided to go to school in California, and she’d like to carry on a relationship with James. She’s sure she can convince him to live in a better house in a better part of town, and maybe get him to shave every once in a while. She wants to solidify things, so she goes to his apartment and tells him she’d like to be “friends.” He tells her they’re already friends, and from this, Emily somehow understands that James is in love with Olivia.

That same afternoon, Olivia goes to Robert’s house. She gives him one of her still life paintings and he gives her an address book. After she opens it, she knows exactly how James must have felt when she gave him the paperweight. She leaves Robert’s and gets home at the same time as Emily. They look at each other’s clothes and both decide to stop trying to be something they aren’t. Olivia finishes her abstract masterpiece and brings it to James and tells him it’s his real present. He says they have to go out for hers, and he takes her to the alley behind the coffee shop, where he’s painted two portraits of Olivia on the shop’s back wall. She’s free and artistic in one portrait, and closed and restrained in the other. James asks her which one she wants to be. Of course she picks the artist, and James tells her he loves her.


“I have a job interview.”

“A what?” Lila gasped.

Gotta love the Lila.

She knew she was becoming much more the kind of girl he liked to be with, and she appreciated that. It meant that she was becoming more adult, more in charge of her life.

How does changing your image to please someone else make you more mature?

The Cover: Now, this is Olivia. I don’t know what they were thinking on her other cover, but I always thought she looked great on this one. I, um, kind of wanted to be her. Oh, and sorry for the quality of this cover. I really should have taken that sticker off, and it already looked like a dog tried to eat it when I received it.

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  • trappedintheattic July 24, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    I read this one about a million times. I thought Olivia was the coolest. I’d stopped reading SVH by the time of her tragedy, but when I saw it mentioned on a site somewhere, I was truly saddened. Not my record-album-scrunchie wearing Olivia!


  • Jenna July 24, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Between Dana Larson giving up on men forever, and now Olivia being willing to give up on art to appease everyone, I’m starting to wonder if the ghostwriters hate artists. I mean, I’m sure they consider themselves artists, and these well written books their masterpieces, so shouldn’t they present the artistic bunch of Sweet Valley (besides Liz, the oh-so-talented writer) as more inspired, stronger women? I guess writing is the only form of art that is a good enough medium to create strong women. . . go Liz!!! *waits for someone to clap* No? Ugh, whatever.


  • Daners Isadora- Bond Girl July 25, 2009 at 11:12 am

    I wish I could get away with my hair in a ponytail and held in place by an Elvis record 🙁


  • Karla January 12, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Love the Phar-Mor tag! That’s a metastatement for this whole series.


  • Natasha December 30, 2015 at 3:41 am

    Olivia is my second favourite after Lila and I loved this book. I kind of related to Olivia back in high school because she reminded me so much of myself. We’re both petite and have brown hair. Mine was long and frizzy too and I was kind of bookish and arty too. We had to wear a uniform at school and I always tried to dress mine up with weird Jewelry and used and Liv gave me the idea of using a record to use in my pony tail but I wasn’t brave enough to do that so I used a pencil. She was an inspiration to me. One of the better, relatable characters.


  • Natasha December 30, 2015 at 3:44 am

    Ugh poor Liv…I stopped reading after her untimely death too. I was so angry at the time! I actually gave all my SVH books to a second hand store after that out of spite. I’m now starting to slowly but surely collect them again.


  • Anonymous August 11, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    This is exact same as Robin Wilson in SVH 46…. Yawn.


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