In the posh suburban Dallas high school of Highland Park, the beautiful and perfect Jeanette Sue is queen. The Ruling Class, her clique of spectacularly cruel girls, runs the school. Brutally. And no one questions them. Certainly not the little suck-up Myrna Fry, whose only aim in life is to be part of the Ruling Class, no matter what or who gets trashed.
It's a nightmare school caught in the grips of terror until the arrival of the totally undesir-able, absolutely unfashionable, and -- way worse -- poor Twyla Gay Stark. And then, of course, there is the tall and gorgeous hunk, Ryder McQuaid, Jeanette Sue's property. Or so Jeanette Sue thinks.
With uncanny insight and unforgettable characters Francine Pascal has created a searing, up-close look into the power games and class struggles within a seemingly friendly clique in a suburban high school. The Ruling Class is a magnetic tour de force created by a master storyteller at the top of her form.
My dream has so come true. Totally. I've only been waiting since my first day in high school, and I'm a junior now, but I don't care how long it took, it was way worth it. It's all about Jeanette Sue, even the name is gorgeous, you have to see her -- she's, like, fantastic. Every bag she has is either Kate Spade or Coach or Vuitton, and she wouldn't put her big toe, which has the most fabulous gold and diamond ring on it, into anything that wasn't at least Jimmy Choos or Manolos or better. She has four Harry Winston chains with silver links and one Tiffany bracelet with a tiny charm with her name on it. I mean, she's all Diesel or Gaultier or Armani, and everything looks, like, fabulous because she's got a to-die-for figure. And she only smokes these long, skinny, wicked Vogue cigarettes and she sort of, like, flips her hair, a quick back-forth, when she exhales, so that the smoke kind of goes all over like a cloud around her face, which looks fabulous when she wears her Von Dutch hat.
You know all that baloney about smoking being addictive and causing cancer and all? Not true. Rush Limbaugh said so on the radio. It absolutely hasn't really been proved yet.
On top of all that she's part of the horsey set, a champion jumper. Like, she won the blue ribbon two years in a row at the Fairmont Riding Club. That's the most totally elegant horse club in Dallas. In fact, she has her own horse.
Anyway, with her so blond hair (somebody said it's not really blond, but they don't know) and her aqua eyes (I heard they're color contacts, but I don't believe that) and the whitest teeth (this girl in my math class said they're all caps, but that's not true), she's way the most perfect girl in the school.
And everybody knows she's so the absolute queen. Now get this, the queen has invited me to have lunch with her and her whole gang today. These are not just regular nobody people, these are the absolute coolest guys at Highland Park High. She just asked me yesterday and I've been going so nuts ever since.
She sort of suggested that it was going to be like a picnic and I should bring some sandwiches. She said probably there would be about six of us. I hope everyone likes ham. If they don't, like if somebody doesn't eat meat, I made some tuna salad. Well, not exactly me, the maid, but I told her to do it.
And then if somebody else, like maybe a couple of the other cheerleaders, drops by, I threw in some extra stuff, like some peaches, but no bananas. Everyone knows that South American bananas are contaminated with that flesh-eating disease. Whatever. What with all the sodas, no Dr Pepper; I know for a fact that they put out a special-edition can that had the Pledge of Allegiance and they took out the "under God" part. Anyway, I had to buy an assortment, and I've been lugging this huge Armani shopping bag around all morning. But I so don't mind. I'm, like, totally excited that she chose me. I mean, this is blast-me-out major.
We're supposed to meet under the big pear trees on the back lawn behind the school. Somebody planted them when they first built the school, and now they're fully grown, and the way they've got them, like, in two lines facing each other, they sort of form a tunnel. Even though they never have pears, which seems, like, really dumb for a pear tree, still they make a perfect tent for a picnic. And you really need shade down here in Dallas when it gets closer to summer, that sun is totally like a ball of fire. It's such a bore how they're always going on about the ozone layer, how it's getting, like, holes in it 'cause of spray cans. Hello. Like I'm really going to stop using hair spray just 'cause of global warming. Gimme a break. Who doesn't love warm weather?
Anyway, all this was actually a desert before everybody came here. That's what my boring history teacher said. You should see her, my teacher I mean, she has the hairiest legs and she never shaves them. Even though her name is McGrady, I think she's really Spanish, because everybody knows how hairy they are. It's, like, from all the oil they eat. Or she could be Romanian, I never actually saw a Romanian, but I heard they're hairy too. Everybody knows most foreigners are hairy. That's what my family always says and we're real Americans, so we know. Anyway, somebody must have added a lot of dirt to the ground, because now we have these rolling green lawns that make our high school look like something out of a movie. Like I should care.
Even though it's a public school, it's in a very rich neighborhood and they do a lot of private financing, so we have everything just like the best private schools. I mean, we have this fabulous pool and tennis courts and of course a football stadium for the Highlanders, our championship team, and a theater and everything. And because it's Dallas and the weather is mostly not really cold in the winter, we have flowers with stupid names like bougainvillea and impatiens all year. It looks like the best country club you could find, and it acts like that too. You have to live in the neighborhood to get in.
That's the catch. If you're going to live in the neighborhood, you have to buy a house for at least a million dollars, and most of them cost even more, so that means only the right people would be living here anyway. My house is one of the ones that just makes it, only a million two. I mean, we're on the right street, Preston Road, but ours is the cheapest house on the block. My stepfather is a lawyer for the oil companies, and he's always bragging that that's the best thing to be, the cheapest house in the neighborhood. I think he's an asshole and I hate our house. I wish my mother were prettier so she could have married someone richer.
Anyway, because Highland Park is a public school, they have to do that integration stuff, like they have to take some poor kids from the Vickery houses, that's about a mile away, around Eastridge Street. They have really crappy houses there, and you can pick out the kids easy. They are so not HighlandPark, they don't stand a chance. They just come to school and then they disappear and nobody knows where they go and nobody cares. At least we don't, the real people who belong here.
Jeanette Sue said twelve o'clock, but classes got out at eleven forty-five so I didn't even stop to pee, I just came right out here. I guess I'm way early, but that's okay.
I'm not sure, but I think I probably won't try to sit next to Jeanette Sue today. That would be a little much for the first time. Maybe I should sit next to Joanne Wilson, she's only just got in the group, and I don't know how because she's got these ugly freckles all over her arms. Ugh! I suppose it goes with the red hair. I personally have nothing against the Irish, it's just that I don't want the pope moving in next door to me. You know how they have those four million children. But I'm not saying she is, just that if I did sit next to her, I wouldn't look so pushy. Or maybe Anna Marie, but no, she's like Jeanette Sue's clone, and besides she never liked me. I don't want to take any chances on my first day.
I didn't even think Jeanette Sue knew I was alive. I mean, she's never even talked to me except once when she forgot her geometry book, so I loaned her mine. Dumb-ass teacher gave me an extra homework assignment for being unprepared, but it was so worth it.
Actually, she never gave it back -- Jeanette Sue, I mean. But that was okay, all I had to do was go down to the supply room and tell them some dumb story and pay twenty dollars, and they gave me another one.
The next day I said hello to Jeanette Sue, but I guess she didn't hear me.
Anyway, today is totally fabulous. Imagine Myrna Fry, that's me, absolutely nobody, having lunch with the Ruling Class. That's what everyone calls them. It's so the best clique in the whole school. I mean, they've got the cheerleaders, the basketball and football stars, plus all the greatest people,including last year's homecoming queen, which of course just happens to be Jeanette Sue.
I can't believe how way lucky I am. Like I said, it's been my dream, me and Jeanette Sue, just hanging together. Going horseback riding together and sleeping over and all that and, like, eating pizza and watching The Ring for the hundredth time or American Pie. And then staying up till four in the morning and talking about boys. All this at her house, of course. Mine would be okay except it's got my parents in it.
Being part of the RCs, that's what everyone calls them, is everything I ever wanted.
I can't believe the time. It's almost ten to one, I guess they all got held up. It's going to have to be a quick picnic, lunch hour is over in ten minutes. They're not going to have much time to eat all those sandwiches....
Oh, I see them! Over there near the back entrance. They're all there: Joanne Wilson, I can see her red hair, and Anna Marie, of course dressed exactly like Jeanette Sue. Sometimes she wears jodhpurs even though she doesn't even ride, and Kathy Diggers, because she's so tall you can spot her anywhere, and Maryanne Tobby and Betty Jane Oborne. Except for Joanne they all have blond hair or blond streaks, like copies of Jeanette Sue. And I can see them looking in my direction. And pointing. I wave so that they'll know it's me.
Something must be funny, because they're all standing there and even from here I can see they're laughing.
Oh God, they don't know it's me. They're leaving. How gross is that?
"Hey!" I go. "I'm here! Over here!" I'm waving like crazy, but they mustn't see me, because they're walking away.
Damn! They're going back into the school!
I grab the shopping bag and start running, shouting, "Wait up!" but dragging that heavy bag slows me up, and by the time I get there, they've gone inside.
And the door is locked. They never lock this back door, but this time they must have, because I can't budge it. It's like it's stuck from the inside. I'm pulling like crazy but it won't open. It's like I can hear people inside, at least it sounds like somebody's there, but they don't seem to hear me.
Even if I go around the front, they'll be gone by the time I get to the back. I missed them. And now they're probably going to think I purposely didn't show up, like I think I'm too good for them, and maybe they'll never invite me again. I so missed my whole chance. I just know it.
I just hate my mother. Yeah, I know she didn't exactly have anything to do with this, but I can just hear her going on about how I probably screwed it up because I so didn't listen. That's her big thing, how I'm not a good listener. Ever since I was a little kid, it's like it's the most important thing in the world. She was always comparing me with some other kid who of course was always a good listener. Naturally she never stops talking long enough to listen to me.
In history class I try to explain to Jeanette Sue what happened, how I must have misunderstood where we were going to meet, but that I was really there and didn't stand anyone up, and please not to think I would do that, especially not to her.
And she goes, "Well, we waited for you."
"Under the pear trees?"
"No, dummy, I told you in the lunchroom."
By now Anna Marie, Maryanne, Betty Jane, Joanne, and Kathy Diggers -- she's the most stuck-up girl in the RCs, just because one time she rode on a float in the Orange Bowl Parade. She's always talking about it, like everything is, "When I was in the parade, we did this and we did that." Big deal, anybody could if their father was a lawyer for the Dallas Cowboys before he went to Halliburton (that's a charity group that's helping out in Iraq). Besides, she was only four at the time, how does she even remember? Anyway, they're all standing there swearing that I was supposed to meet them in the lunchroom.
And then I go, "Right, you did say the lunchroom, but I forgot. I'm really -- "
"How about you listen better next time? You're getting on my last nerve, darlin', I mean it."
See that? She called me "darlin'." Even though she sort of cuts me off and sounds annoyed, still I know that's not the way she meant it. Hey, I wouldn't like being stood up by somebody.
I sort of follow them out of the classroom into the hallway, and we're all talking about this movie with Rachael Leigh Cook and Josh Hartnett. Actually, they're the ones talking, because I never saw it; I never even heard of it which is strange because I always know all the new movies, especially with big stars like that, but I don't want to be left out, so I say I liked it too.
Then Jeanette Sue goes, "What about that part where the guy washes his dog and puts it in the microwave to dry and the dog explodes?"
"Yeah, cool," Joanne Wilson says. I don't know how she ever got into the RCs with those freckles, and even thoughshe's an only child, like I said, I think she's Irish and you know what that means -- Catholic. Like they're going to try to make all the rest of us Catholic.
Everybody is agreeing, so I go, "Yeah, that was great." I don't remember it in any movie, but I know it's a true story because this girl who lives on my block, her cousin knows the guy who did it. She told me.
As soon as I say "Yeah," everyone stops talking and they turn to me and Anna Marie -- who thinks she's Jeanette Sue but isn't nearly as pretty -- and I happen to know that she had her streaks done in Candy's, which is a really cheap hair place, and they came out looking like somebody painted them because her hair is really dark and she put in these orangey streaks. I personally think her hair is suspiciously dark for a white person. I don't know how she got into the RCs, but anyway, she goes, "So you liked when he put his dog in the microwave?"
"Not really, but I thought, well, that's what he was going to do."
"What else did you think?" Betty Jane wants to know, like checking with Jeanette Sue. She's always looking at J. S., like for approval.
"Yeah, tell us," both Anna Marie and Maryanne say at the same time. They all seem really interested in what I have to say, except I don't know what to say. I'm scared that they're going to find out that I never saw the movie, but then Jeanette Sue, who is really way nicer than the rest of them, goes, "Leave her alone. She said she liked it. That's enough for me."
And they all agree, but then she starts in and wants to know what part I liked best. I can feel the tears coming up in my eyes and I know I have to say something. So I take a chance, "That part where he makes her laugh?"
And they all start laughing and say they loved that part too. I mean, they all get really hysterical. So I start laughing too. I feel like I'm already part of the RCs. Just then the bell rings for last period, and I take a big chance and I say to them, "See ya later."
"You wish," Jeanette Sue says, but she's still smiling, and turns and they all go off in the other direction.
"You wish" is okay. It's a kind of fun answer to "See ya later." Unless she said "Jewish." Oh God, I hope she doesn't think I'm Jewish. They're hairy too, you know.
Francine Pascal is the creator of several bestselling series, including Fearless and Sweet Valley High, which was also made into a television series. She has written several novels, including My First Love and Other Disasters, My Mother Was Never a Kid, and Love & Betrayal & Hold the Mayo. She is also the author of Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later. She lives in New York and the South of France.