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Sweet Valley Twins #48: Mandy Miller Fights Back

8
May 2018
Sweet Valley Twins #48: Mandy Miller Fights Back by Jamie Suzanne

Sweet Valley Twins #48: Mandy Miller Fights Back by Jamie Suzanne

Title: Mandy Miller Fights Back

Tagline: Will Jessica lose her new friend?

Summary: Mandy Miller wants to join the Unicorns, but the Unicorns don’t want Mandy Miller! She wears wild second-hand clothes, and the other members think she tries too hard to fit in.

Jessica thinks she’s funny and nice, and she likes her offbeat way of dressing. The Unicorns have asked Jessica to tell Mandy that she can’t join, but Jessica just can’t bring herself to break the bad news.

How can Jessica be friends with the Unicorns and Mandy at the same time? Suddenly Mandy gets some frightening news that makes the Unicorns seem unimportant to both Mandy and Jessica—and now Jessica is afraid of losing her new friend for good!

Initial Thoughts:

Mandy sounds like an old friend of mine, from my college days. Let’s call her Plover. She had her own unique dress sense and a fun, gregarious personality. She was very popular. She’s now a super-ace singer and photographer, still rocking her style with aplomb.

I think I’m going to like Mandy Miller.

[Raven: This recap is like Gandalf, in that this recap is never late, nor is it early. It arrives precisely when it means to. By this, I mean this recap is late, so I’m attempting to put a wizard’s hat on it. So, apologies. But if you really think about it, IS this recap late? Yes it is. But IS it? Yes. But it’s actually ON TIME. *waves hands in a mesmerising way*]

Recap:

We start this week’s shitshow with the twins running late for class. Jessica has mislaid her book. Apparently, she only has one.

After the customary twinny schminny bollocks – in which the ghosties do mention Jessica’s new glasses but not her earrings – we jump straight into the A plot. Jessica, still looking for her book, which I’m convinced is likely a pamphlet on birth control, is approached by one Mandy Miller with an offer of help.

A girl came up behind them. “What kind of help do you need, Jessica?” she asked eagerly. “I’m available for homework, housework, babysitting, and running errands.”

Mandy Miller has been lingering around like a bad case of thrush for quite some time. While pleasant and fun, she has been constantly offering her help to Jessica for any little thing, in the hope that such indentured servitude would eventually lead to Unicorn membership.

Weirdly, Jessica’s not really up for this. First, it’s Mandy’s clothes: they are rag-tag and thrift-store, but sported with a certain panache. Next, it’s her clowning antics: admittedly though, they are pretty funny. And while she isn’t beautiful, her waist length hair is the longest and prettiest Jessica has ever seen, outside Mr Nydick’s pubic thatch of course.

Jessica seems confused. This seems a proper love / hate relationship. Girl crush? [Wing: Definitely a crush.]

The three girls dash to Mrs Arnette’s social studies lesson, but as they go Jessica is accosted by Janet Howell, president of the Unicorns. A meeting has been called, and it cannot wait. Jessica will be late for class, and that can’t be helped. Jessica dashes off to attend, even though another late arrival at the Hairnet’s class could spell disaster.

How the hell does THAT work? Why aren’t the other attendees on their way to class too? Do schools in America have split lesson times or something (e.g. classes for Group A run 10:30-11:30, while classes for Group B are go 10:00-11:00)? In my school, in my day, the timetable for lessons was fixed for all students. EVERYBODY started and finished their class at the same time. [Wing: It may be different now, though I doubt it, but at the time, classes here were the same as in your day, which was that any particular period started and ended at the same time for everyone. (Generally a 55 minute class or so with a 5 minute break in between to get to your next class, but that can vary by school and classes offered.) They’re all going to be late and they’re all flicking the vs at the school. How dare anyone think classes are more important than Unicorn meetings. How very dare.]

In the restroom, we discover the meeting is about Mandy Miller. Her fawning has not escaped the notice of the Village Elders, and they called this meeting to set the record straight and formally decree to NOT let Mandy join their bulging purple member(ship).

As you’d expect, the charge against MM is spearheaded by Lila and Ellen. Lila calls Mandy’s attentiveness boring, and Ellen slams her dress sense.

“She looks weird, too, in those strange clothes she wears,” Ellen Riteman added. She perched on a sink. “They look like they came from a thrift shop. And today—” Ellen rolled her eyes. “Today she’s wearing purple, of all colors. What makes her think she can wear our color?”

“We can’t keep kids from wearing a color they want to wear,” Jessica began, and then fell silent.

Of course you can, Jessica. You have access to knives, rope and duct tape.

Mary Wallace, often the Unicorn Voice of Reason, lays a little of the blame at the Unicorns’ manicured hooves. They’ve encouraged her, she claims, by asking her to run errands and laughing at her jokes. Jessica, who as we’ve seen is probably besotted with Mandy, is quick to jump to her defence.

“You’re right, Mary,” Jessica said. “We have encouraged her.” Even though she agreed that Mandy wouldn’t be a good Unicorn, Jessica was sorry to hear the way everybody was talking. “But just because Mandy’s funny doesn’t mean she ought to be a member of the club,” she added quickly.

Really? REALLY?!

So close, Jessica. SO CLOSE.

As usual, it’s Lila who sums up the entire affair:

“I agree with Jessica. Mandy’s comedy routines can be amusing, but they’re not suitable for a Unicorn. Mandy’s not cool.”

Get FUCKED, you vapid bitches. We’ve only met Mandy briefly thus far, and she’s seemed nice enough. She did an imitation of Mrs Arnette blowing a fuse, which was charming. [Dove: I think the issue is that everyone likes Mandy, whereas only the Unicorns like the Unicorns. They’re popular, but nobody likes them. Mandy’s popular because everyone likes her. It’s completely blowing their tiny purple minds.]

The Unigibbons task Jessica with the grim honour of crushing Mary’s spirit. Of course, they phrase it as a blessing to Mandy rather than a finishing move, using twee nonsense like “it’ll be best to let her know now,” or “don’t be mean about it.” Whatever you need to help you sleep at night, you lilac witches.

After a paltry last-minute plea of clemency on Mandy’s behalf, Jessica falls in behind her leaders. Mandy’s just ain’t purple enough. She must be stopped.

The bell rings, and everyone legs it to class (ah, so they were all just meeting before their own classes… fair enough, I guess).

In Social Studies, Jessica is admonished for her late arrival. Mrs Arnette, it seems, trucks no tardiness. Worse than the trouble she’s facing, though, is the fact that the class had already paired themselves for Mrs Arnette’s as-yet-untitled project. Any guesses on Jessica’s partner?

Yup. Mandy fucking Miller.

Jessica’s heart sank, as Mandy chatted happily. Before telling her how the stars had aligned to cement their project partnership, Mandy comes out with a straight question: was the Unicorn meeting held to vote on Mandy’s membership?

“I heard Janet say the meeting was important, and from the look she gave me in the hallway, I thought maybe you were voting on me.”

Jessica took a deep breath. Now was her chance to tell Mandy the truth and get it over with. But suddenly she felt very uncomfortable. It would be cruel just to blurt out the bad news. She shook her head. “No,” she lied. “It wasn’t about you. It was about… well, other Unicorn business.”

Really? REALLY?!

FUCKING hell, Jess. There are so many balls dropping in this book that it’s like the eighth grade boy’s locker room. Personally, I’m really looking forward to Sweet Valley Twins #56: Bruce Drops An Octave. [Dove: With the tight pants he wears, that seems unlikely.]

Jess moves onto the subject of partnership. How the hell had she been paired with Mandy fucking Miller?

“Well, it wasn’t just luck,” Mandy said playfully. “But this is your lucky day, Jessica. Everybody was begging to get me as a partner. They wanted my absolutely superior talent.” Mandy grinned conspiratorially. “But I knew how crushed you would be if we weren’t together. So I told the Hairnet you were the only person in class I would even remotely consider working with. That settled it. She had to give in and pair us up.”

Bless Mandy, she really is sweet and funny and full of energy.

Jess and Mandy turn talk to the project, a fun-sounding piece on America in the 1920s. The project it suitably wishy-washy: do “something to do with the way things were back then.” Something “unique and different.” By Friday.

“We’re supposed to come up with something unique and different by Friday?” Jessica squawked. “But today’s Monday! Most teachers give at least two weeks.”

Mandy nodded. “Right. But this is different. See, a museum in Hollywood is putting on a big 1920s festival, and they’ve asked all the middle schools and high schools statewide to submit projects for a special exhibition. A jury will choose winners and award prizes. Mrs Arnette just found out about it, and she thinks it would be a great honor if a project from our class won a prize in the exhibition.”

I feels ya, girl. No way Mrs Arnette only found out about this project. I reckon the memo has been on her desk for weeks, and she’s only just stumbled upon it while searching for the corkscrew. I really hate these teachers.

The pair vow to think on the topic. Jessica also vows to think on how to let her partner down gently. Intriguing!

After class, Jessica receives a midterm report card from Mrs Arnette. She’s mortified to discover that Elizabeth did not get the same. Liz gently lets her know that those report cards are for students who are not excelling, to help them focus on their shortcomings.

Jessica glanced down at the report. It said “tardiness and inattention.” And what was worse, there was a place for a parent’s signature. She sighed. Her parents were not going to be happy about this.

Immediately, our little sociopath starts complaining. First she’s forced to work with that “clown” Mandy fucking Miller, and now she’s on a special report. Again, it’s down to Liz to break the news

Elizabeth frowned. “Listen, less, you owe that ‘clown’ a lot. She got you out of a very tight spot.”

“What are you talking about?” Jessica asked.

“I’m talking about what happened in class this morning,” Elizabeth replied, “when Mrs. Arnette asked people to choose partners.” She hesitated. “Nobody wanted to choose you.”

BOOM. MOTHERFUCKING TWINNY HEADSHOT.

Elizabeth breaks the news that, when it comes to actually working in class, everyone thought Jessica was as flaky as a Voisey. Mandy, as a kindness, was the only non-identical classmate willing to take a risk with her. [Dove: People are now going to be googling ‘voisey’ to try and figure out what it is and why it’s flaky.] [Raven: As it should be.]

My thoughts on this are threefold.

FOLD THE FIRST: Mrs Arnette banning the twins from working together feels pretty fucking arbitrary. Another school decree fuelled by brandy and ketamine. [Wing: This is one of the few things that the teachers have done which makes sense to me. I’ve seen teachers ban siblings from working together (and, in fact, often not allow them to be in the same classroom, at least when they’re younger), and sometimes even friends from working together. Also — are we sure Elizabeth isn’t just lying because she didn’t want to work with Jessica, either?] [Raven: I’d love it if Elizabeth was written as a sociopath that would stop at nothing to achieve a good grade.]

FOLD THE SECOND: Mandy is awesome for stepping up, AND for not mentioning it when talking with Jessica once she’d arrived. Hmmm, Mandy’s not a self-serving plum… maybe she’s NOT Unicorn material after all.

FOLD THE THIRD: Take notes from your sister, Jess. THAT’S how you break bad news. Hessian bag, double tap, rolled in lino, dumped in a lay-by. Ded.

At lunch, the Unicorns quiz Jessica on whether she has told Mandy fucking Miller to go do one. Jess informs them that she’s not yet had the chance, which is a blatant lie of course, and that she’ll do it the next time she and Mandy cross paths.

The Unicorns leave.

Up rocks Mandy.

Does Jessica tell her she can’t be a Unicorn?

Does she balls.

To her credit, Jessica does try, but Mandy is too excited to let her speak. She’s had the BEST idea for the Hairnet’s social studies project. However, the idea is just too damn brilliant to tell Jessica… so Mandy invites Jessica to her house after school, in order to show her.

Erm… isn’t this how horror films start? It’s all gone very predatory. “Do you want to see some puppies, little girl? Get in the fucking van.”

Jessica is charmed by her exuberance, and agrees.

After school:

Mandy’s house wasn’t a typical suburban house like the Wakefields’. It was a big, rambling Victorian building in one of the older neighborhoods in Sweet Valley. Like Mandy, the gingerbread-trimmed house had a definite personality.

So, Mandy and her house go hand in hand. Love it. [Wing: Mandy(‘s house) + Nora(‘s house) = TRU LUV] Her mother, it seems, is the inspiration behind the house’s quirky style, with the green and blue and purple woodwork being a family project.

“Well, as my mom says, who wants to live in an ordinary house when you can live someplace really special?” She looked up at the house proudly. “My brother and sister and I helped my mom paint it.”

“Didn’t your dad help?” Jessica asked.

“He’s dead,” Mandy replied.

“Oh,” Jessica said. She wished she hadn’t been so tactless.

Fucking hell, Mandy. Way to drop the mic, love. No messing, just a dry slap to the ballsack. “Dad’s dead. And scene.” [Dove: I actually admire the fuck out of Mandy for this. My dad died when I was 9, and people got so awkward when it was brought up (freaking out, ignoring me, crying — yes, fucking crying over a person they’d never met!), that I started saying that my parents were divorced and he lived in Milton Keynes. This led to me being labelled as ‘crazy’ when the truth came out at my school. The teachers were Very Worried about me and why I lied about it. And nobody believed that I was so socially fucking awkward that I couldn’t deal with other people’s bullshit when it came to the death of my dad. Thankfully, I’m working class, so they stopped caring just as abruptly when it became blazingly apparent that I wasn’t going to stab someone or whatever else they thought crazy people did.]

We meet the rest of the Miller clan. Mommy Miller is an excellent seamstress, and supplies the girls with Cookies and Lemonade. Little Brother Archie Miller is a royal pain in the hiney, as all boys seem to be in this series. And the unseen elder sister Cecilia Miller is a highschooler. Straight As, never in trouble. Mandy calls her Saint Cecilia.

Annoying brother and insufferable sister? Seems like Jess and Mandy have a lot in common. This fact does not escape Jessica, dear me no. Delightful.

Mandy then gets down to business. Apparently, in the 1920s, the Miller Grandparents came to California with a dream to take their Vaudeville act to the big screens of Hollywood. Alas, it seems they were a bit shit, and their dreams became memes. For the Social Studies project, Mandy proposes to dig out their old musty costumes from the attic, and she and Jessica can put on a Vaudeville act of their very own!

Okay, that’s actually pretty cool.

The girls begin rummaging through trunks, looking for cool costumes and ideas. And having fun, too, courtesy of Mandy. She’s actually pretty great.

Jessica grinned and picked up the fancy cane. Then Mandy stuck a straw hat on her own head. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she announced loudly, “I am proud to introduce for your afternoon’s entertainment the hottest new act in vaudeville: the one, the only, the original Unicorn Sisters!” She pulled off her hat and made a deep bow.

Jessica started to laugh, but stopped. “Hey,” she said, “we can’t call ourselves that.”

“We can’t?” Mandy asked. She frowned. “Yeah, I guess we can’t. I’m not a Unicorn yet.” Then she brightened. “But I might be by Friday. And anyway, I’ll bet we can come up with some great Unicorny jokes.” She poked Jessica with her elbow. “Get it?” she giggled. “Uni-corny.”

Jessica got it, but she didn’t laugh. Now was the time to tell Mandy the Unicorns had turned her down. Mandy had given her the perfect opening. But somehow Jessica couldn’t bring herself to say anything. If I tell Mandy now, she thought, the rest of the afternoon will be spoiled.

But for Jessica, the rest of the afternoon was already spoiled. While they worked on their project, Mandy laughed and giggled as usual. Jessica tried her best to laugh and look as if she were having a good time. But she just couldn’t be enthusiastic about the project or at ease with Mandy. Jessica had a nagging feeling the Unicorns were making a mistake.

Come on, Jessica. Have a little backbone. Either tell Mandy the truth, or convince the Unicorns that your blossoming friendship means that either Mandy SHOULD be a Unicorn, or that someone else needs to let her down because you’re too emotionally involved.

That night, Mandy phones Jessica to make a date the following day at the school library. A project on Vaudeville history needs more than a kickass routine, and so Research Must Be Done. Jess agrees in principle, but still doesn’t want to be seen with Mandy fucking Miller. So she tries a tactic which is at best misguided, at worst deeply offensive.

Suddenly an idea occurred to her that would make Mandy a little less embarrassing to be seen with. Without thinking, Jessica said, “I’ve been thinking. You’d look really cute in my green striped top, Mandy. How would you like to borrow it tomorrow? You could borrow a skirt, too.”

There was a silence on the other end of the line. Then Mandy said in a quiet voice, “No, thanks, Jessica. I think I’ll wear my own clothes, if you don’t mind.”

Fuck you, Jessica. And awesome work, Mandy. I think this was the point I decided you were fantastic.

Mandy goes on to explain her style, and her beliefs, in a wonderful section which just needs to be included here. It’s pretty much the best part of this book, and maybe even of the series so far.

“The thing is, Jessica, I’m not the kind of person who likes to pretend to be something she isn’t. I figured out a long time ago that I could never afford the kind of clothes you and the other Unicorns wear. In fact, I’d feel really stupid if I tried to fake everybody out by being a cheap imitation of a Unicorn. Then you’d never want me in your club.”

Jessica winced. “Listen, Mandy, I—”

“So I decided I’d have my own style,” Mandy went on. “It may be weird. But I don’t want to look like everybody else anyway. I want to look like me. So thanks for your offer, but no thanks. Your green striped top is very pretty, but it isn’t me.” She paused. “Do you see what I’m saying?”

Jessica took a deep breath. Mandy was right. Her style was genuine, and Jessica had to respect that. “Yes, I do,” she answered. “You have to be who you are. And if people don’t like it, that’s their problem.”

Bloody lovely, that. Top marks.

In the spirit of friendship, Mandy then asks to borrow Jessica’s denim jacket, while Jessica asks to borrow a vest made out of neckties.

Actually pretty damn cool.

I had to Google that. Huh. Actually works much better than I expected. Probably why I’m not a fashion magnate. [Dove: The first time I read this, i was convinced it would be bow-ties (they’re cool, apparently), because I hadn’t heard anyone refer to a regular tie as a “necktie”. I still thought it sounded cool though.]

After the call, Jess spills the beans about her dilemma to Elizabeth. Jess likes Mandy, but the Unicorns don’t. What’s a girl to do?

Weirdly, Elizabeth offers nothing useful. In fact, she basically just slaps the Unicorns down like a boss.

“I can understand why the Unicorns don’t want her,” Elizabeth said sarcastically. “After all, Mandy is a real person, and that makes them uncomfortable.”

Mic drop, Liz out.

Lunch queue, Tuesday. The Unicorns badger Jessica about Mandy.

Mushroom, Mushroom

Lila and Ellen demand Jessica set Mandy straight asap. Kimberley Haver then upped the stakes.

“What I want to know,” Kimberly Haver asked curiously, “is why Mandy is wearing your denim jacket, Jessica.”

Jessica stutters and splutters as the Unicrew continue putting two and two together to get five.

“I saw it, too, Jessica. It had to be yours,” Mary Wallace said. “Remember when you put your elbow down on Aaron’s candy bar? Your jacket still has chocolate on the sleeve.”

Ellen frowned. “Maybe she stole it out of your locker, Jessica.”

To her credit, “Jessica (is) momentarily speechless with fury.” But of course, she largely does what she can to keep the peace. Lila and Ellen drive the point home.

“If you don’t tell her today, Jessica,” Lila warned, “I’m afraid either Ellen or I will have to break the news to her.”

Jessica is screwed. After lunch, Elizabeth makes it worse.

“Caroline Pearce turned in her Sixers gossip column this morning. There’s something about Mandy in it,” Elizabeth replied. She began to read. “‘Word has it that the members of the most elite club at Sweet Valley Middle School have told hopeful Mandy Miller to buzz off and quit bugging them. But cheer up, Mandy. There are lots of people who aren’t Unicorns.’”

That evening, Jessica and Mandy work on their Vaudeville project at Mandy’s house. Jessica meet’s Archie’s Iguana – NOT A EUPHAMISM – and Saint Cecilia. Seems like the Millers are a lovely family.

Mandy shares a couple of self-penned scripts for the upcoming project, and Jessica is suitably impressed. Bizarrely, Mandy has written some jokes about Unicorns. They prove to be the final straw for Jessica, and she comes out and says it.

“You’re not going to be a Unicorn, Mandy,” Jessica blurted out.

Mandy stared at her. “What?” she whispered.

Mandy is NOT HAPPY.

First, she rightfully takes Jessica down a peg by asking why she hadn’t told her if the call was made two days previous. Then she asks why she wasn’t accepted.

Jess, feeling awful, and thinking the Unicorns were snobby fuckwits, tries to convince her friend that it’s THEIR problem, and not hers. Mandy isn’t falling for it.

“I may not have as much money as Lila Fowler, or as many clothes as Janet Howell,” she said through clenched teeth. “And I may not be as pretty as you are, or as popular as Ellen Riteman. But that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough to be a Unicorn!”

You go, girl. You’ve every right to be angry. They are fucking bitches, no doubt. [Dove: ILU MANDY!]

Jessica hits back with a comment about how Mandy is only fawning over her to curry favour with the voting committee, and Mandy fires back saying she picked Jess as a project partner because no one else wanted her. The whole thing gets very messy, very quickly, and Jessica finally storms off with tensions raised and egos bruised. So much for their budding friendship.

Aside:

This whole scene is well paced and well written. I actually feel for both girls, as Mandy is rightfully indignant while Jessica is stuck between her old friends and a potential new one.

Nice work, Grapplegate!

End aside.

Back at the Wakefield Compound, a tearful Jessica tells her twin what’s happened. Elizabeth is consolatory, but is firmly on Mandy’s side when it comes to the snobbish attitude of the Unicorns. Deep down, Jessica is too.

Are we actually seeing growth from Jessica here? Is she finally going to see her purple horny friends for what they truly are? Will Elizabeth FINALLY utter the two words she’s been attributed in every introduction for around thirty books… and call the Unicorns the Snob Squad?

OR.

Are we simply seeing the plot of this book being writ large, and we can expect the usual mind wipe and reset going into book 49?

My money is on the latter.

It’s now Wednesday, and Jessica tells the Unicorns that the deed is done. Mandy is now under no illusions that she’s destined for a fabulous purple mono-horned future. Jessica hesitates when retelling – should she tell them how horribly it went? Of course, she opts not to.

Really? REALLY?!

Attagirl. Path of least resistance all the way.

The Unicorns are complimentary of a job well done, and talk turns to the Social Studies project. Lila and Ellen are planning something special. Apparently. If it’s not about Unicorns in the 1920s, then they’re not doing it right.

During the class, a cool and professional Mandy teams up with her partner Jessica to run through one of their routines. They avoid doing any Unicorn humour instead lumping for the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First?” routine.

Mrs Arnette likes it so much, she actually pisses herself. It is a classic, to be fair. The rest of the class also enjoyed it, although Lila and Ellen were not particularly impressed. [Wing: WHY WHY WHY ARE THEY ACTING SO WEIRD? They won’t tell Jessica about their project because it is some Super Important Secret, they seem really shocked and upset by Jessica and Mandy’s performance — are they doing something similar? Have they been completely upstaged? What is going on with this subplot? [Spoilers: We never find out.]]

That evening, under the duress of politeness, Jessica visits Chez Mandy to check out their finished Vaudeville costumes. After the rest of the Miller clan are as charming as ever, the ice between Jess and Mandy is considerably thawed. Jess makes to apologise, and Mandy cuts her off.

“Mandy,” Jessica said, “I want to tell you that I—”

Mandy frowned. “If you’re going to talk about what happened yesterday, I think we should forget it.”

“Forget it?” Jessica asked. “But I really want to apologize for—”

“What I mean,” Mandy said thoughtfully after taking a bite of her sandwich, “is that I’ve decided you’re right, Jessica. I’m not like any of the Unicorns. I may be a little weird, but I’m me, and I intend to stay that way. And I don’t care whether the Unicorns like it or not.”

Jessica felt a great sense of relief. “You’re not mad at me?”

“Well, I was,” Mandy confessed, “when you said all that stuff about my using the Unicorns. But then, when I really thought about it, I decided you had a point. Maybe I did go out of my way to get you to pay attention to me.” She grinned ruefully. “Sometimes I overdo things a bit.”

Another great scene. Mandy is wonderful. Self assured, self aware, and generally a Good Egg. Seriously, why the hell does she want to be a Unicorn?

The girls, now friends once more, tussle for wigs and costume details in the basement trunk. They grapple over a feather boa (and somewhere, Steven’s head asplodes in a spunkstorm), and Mandy falls on her arse with a bump.

With a bump.

With a bump that reveals a lump.

Whatever. That can’t be important, right?

For their final performance that Friday, they vow to use the full-on Unicorn-joke-fuelled routine. Because fuck the snooty bitches.

There’s more practice on Thursday, and the Friday arrives. And of course, Jessica and Mandy steal the show. This is quite refreshing, as it’s usually Elizabeth who wins the school things. Jess usually wins when soap stars or musicians are involved. But to be honest, it’s unsurprising they knock ‘em dead, compared to the lacklustre competition:

Winston Egbert and Tom McKay had teamed up to build a model of the Spirit of St. Louis, the airplane Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic in 1927. Elizabeth and Amy had videotaped silent films from the television and had written a report on the beginnings of the Hollywood movie industry. Randy Mason and Pamela Jacobson had assembled some pictures and written a report on the stock market crash of 1929. The book report that Lila and Ellen had written seemed pretty ordinary in comparison to the other projects. Jessica couldn’t figure out why they had wanted to keep it a secret.

Also, Liz and Amy? Recording stuff off the telly is a crime. And in revealing their report, they’ve put themselves on Tony Rizzo’s Burgle Radar. [Wing: Yes and no. The USA Supreme Court addressed this back in 1984 in the Betamax case. They held that recording from the television is fair use and non-infringing so long as it is an individual copy for time-shifting purposes, which basically means so that it can be watched later, outside of scheduled broadcast. So Elizabeth and Amy recording it could arguably be legal. Them publicly showing it at the school? Probably not fair use. Schools generally have to pay a license to watch things, though this may fall under an educational use fair use exception. Showing it at the big event? Certainly not legal without a license.

And this has been Wing’s Legal Power Hour. This does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship between Wing and the reader. Oh yeah. I just disclaimered you. \m/]

[Dove: Fuck all that law stuff. Pamela Jacobson is still alive? I was convinced she died on the school field.]

Even though they rocked the place, Jessica knew it wasn’t their best performance. Mandy seems a little off the pace. Was she alright?

Mandy pulled off her wig and her long brown hair came tumbling down over her shoulders. “I’m OK,” she said wearily. “Except that I’ve been tired for the past few days. Maybe I’m coming down with the flu. And that bump under my arm has been bothering me.”

I’m thinking the worst here.

Monday rolls around, and Lila / Ellen congratulate Jessica on her fun routine. Are Lila and Ellen an item in this book? They seem joined at the bloody hip. [Wing: I ship it.] [Dove: I don’t. And I don’t know why. They are my favourite Unicorns, but I don’t ship it. I might if someone provided me fic, then I could really understand the ship.]

Ellen thinks they could have used another animal instead of Unicorn. Jessica tells her to do one.

Lila reckons the punchline of the joke, which involved purple sneakers, could have been any other colour. Jessica suggests she fuck off.

Anyway, conclude the pair. At least you don’t have to hang with Mandy fucking Miller any more, right?

Jessica walks away.

GO JESSICA.

At Social Studies class, however, Mandy ain’t about. Worrying.

Mrs Arnette reveals her selection for their entries into the 1920s Exhibition Competition. First? Jessica and Mandy. BRILLIANT! Second? Elizabeth and Amy. STANDARD. God forbid they give some quality time to Winston or Lois or Brooke or LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE. Fuck it, I’d take a report on 1920s Rohypnol from Bruce Patman at this point.

The Hairnet reveals that, to enter the competition, Mandy and Jess must supply a video of their routine. Do they have the equipment to get this done?

Erm… DOESN’T THE FUCKING SCHOOL HAVE THIS EQUIPMENT? Like, haven’t multiple competitions and fundraisers been held during these fucking books? This school is an ABOMINATION.

There’s no Mandy in school on Tuesday either, so Jessica phones to check up on her pal. She has flu, apparently, but she’s better now and ready to return to school the following day.

Wednesday? No Mandy.

According to Caroline Pearce, Queen of Gossip, Mandy did attend school in the morning, but she was sent home after a fainting fit in gym class.

This is the talk of the school for the entire day. The Wakefield Twins collect up Mandy’s homework assignments, and bump into Lila and Ellen as they leave school. There’s a Unicorn meeting, and it’s obligatory for Jessica to attend.

Jessica frowned. She had forgotten all about today’s Unicorn meeting at Janet’s house. “I’m afraid I can’t make the meeting,” Jessica said. “I’ve got something else I have to do.”

Lila is unimpressed. But, like the honey badger, Jessica Wakefield don’t care.

“Tell Janet I’m sorry,” Jessica said. She turned to Elizabeth. “Come on, Elizabeth. We have to go.”

“Well, really, Jessica,” Lila huffed. “I don’t know what Janet’s going to say.”

“I don’t care what Janet says,” Jessica muttered as she and Elizabeth hurried away.

Hah! Excellent work, Jess. Those Unicorns can go fuck themselves. [Dove: So proud of my favourite tiny serial killer right now.]

At Mandy’s house, after Mother Miller marvels at the twinny nature of her daughter’s friends, we hear that Mandy is too sick for visitors, and that she is awaiting test results from the local hospital. We also learn that she will not be able to make the video for the statewide Social Studies project in time for the Friday deadline.

In a nice exchange, we learn that while Jessica is sad about the video, she’s more upset about her friend’s illness. Bless Jess. #MandyIsTheNewWhiskers

On Thursday, Jessica tells Mrs Arnette about Mandy’s predicament. Arnette doesn’t give a rat’s ass.

 “I’m sorry, Jessica,” Mrs. Arnette said sympathetically. “You two did a very good job and I think it had an excellent chance of winning a prize in the special school exhibition.” Mrs. Arnette paused thoughtfully. “I wonder… I know it’s short notice, but what would you think of substituting another person for Mandy in the act?”

As long as you get your cut of the fucking prize, eh? You fucking teachy cleft. You and Madame Andre need to get in the fucking sea.

Jess puts up a token resistance, but she’s soon on board. If they can get buy-in from Mandy, her place on the video – to be submitted by Monday – will be played by… yup. ELIZABETH.

Fucking HELL, can’t we have ten fucking minutes without Saint Elizabeth hogging the damn limelight? [Dove: My Liz-hate is spreading!]

Of course, when Jessica calls her friend to ask if that’s okay, Mandy’s mother relays the message that Mandy thinks it’s a splendid idea.

That weekend, they record the video, using Ned Wakefield’s video camera. I bet he’s taping over a video of his and Alice’s scat play.

Steven really enjoys the Twins’ run through Vaudeville act. Of particular delight is the Unicorn joke, which is pretty funny but not really a barnstormer unless you know of Sweet Valley Middle’s Unicorn Infestation. I guess Steven pays a little too much attention to the comings and goings of his younger sister… What the hell am I saying? Of COURSE he does.

On Monday, with Mandy still absent from school, Jessica submits the tape to the Hairnet. And Lila invites Jessica for dinner, commenting that Jess hadn’t been an attentive Unicorn of late, or an attentive friend. Although Jess wants to visit Mandy that evening, she reckons Lila has a point, and promises to attend.

But that afternoon, the shit prepares to hit the fan: Mandy’s mother calls to summon Jessica just as she’s about to set off for dinner at the Lila Estate. Mrs Miller asks to speak to the Elder Wakefields, and Jessica knows something is seriously wrong.

The family van it over to the Millers, and Jessica is granted an audience with Mandy while the others stay outside. Outwardly, she looks terrible, but when she speaks she’s her old ebullient self.

After some good-natured banter, Mandy cuts to the meat. The test results are in.

Mandy leaned forward and grinned. “I tell you, Jessica,” she said, “the Unicorns are going to turn absolutely green when they hear what I’ve got. I am going to get so much attention from everybody, they’re going to wish they had let me into the club after all.” Her grin faded a bit. “What I’ve got is cancer.”

THERE IT IS, FOLKS.

SWEET VALLEY TWINS DOES THE BIG C.

In the words of Wade Wilson, Cancer is a shit show, like Yakov Smirnoff opening for Spin Doctors at the Iowa State Fair kind of shit show. [Dove: I really love that she’s just like, “This is a Big Thing and the Unicorns are going to be sooooo cross they didn’t get in on the ground floor.” Mandy is so damned cool, and not in an earnest “Isn’t she brave?” way, which was the trend for 80s/90s cancer books.]

As Snap once famously sang, Cancer is Serious Business.

Jessica is horrified. She tries to get her head around it, and the wonderful Mandy becomes a consoling voice and a font of information all rolled into one. Team Grapplegate knock this section, and this character in general, out of the park.

“Are you going to lose all your hair?” Jessica blurted out. When she saw the stunned look on Mandy’s face, she wanted to cry. What a stupid thing to say! How could she have been so thoughtless?

Mandy was silent for a few seconds. Then she burst into laughter.

Mandy is great.

Jessica leaves Mandy to rest, and heads back to the van. Alice clues her in on some of the more gory details, talking lymph glands and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Mandy is set for surgery that Friday, and chemo shortly after. She lays the cards on the table, not unkindly.

“Twenty-five years ago, Mandy’s future would have been very sad,” she said quietly. “But now, doctors have learned how to treat this disease. Mandy’s chances are excellent. I can’t tell you there’s nothing to worry about. But Mrs. Miller says Mandy’s doctor is optimistic.”

Nice work, Alice. If only your reassuring words weren’t marred by the stench of gin.

Jess cancels her dinner date with Lila, which is a dangerous game when you consider that Lila has an unlimited credit card and the contact details of several hitmen. At school the following day, Lila lets her irritation show, but is silenced when Jessica tells her of Mandy’s condition.

Lila scurries off to tell Janet Howell of this important news, and Jessica feels she’s been ditched by her best friend as she does so. Jessica then tells all to Caroline Pearce, knowing it’ll be all over the school by lunchtime.

By lunchtime, Caroline had done her job. All the students at Sweet Valley Middle School knew that Mandy Miller had cancer. Everybody wanted to talk about it and kids kept pestering Jessica about it. She did her best to answer everybody’s questions briefly and accurately without embroidering any of the details.

Jessica is pretty sweet here. In previous books, she’s always revelled in being the centre of attention, but here she’s all Dragnet. Just the facts, ma’am. [Dove: Again, I’m just here to agree. Jess is so well-behaved her. She actually cares, she’s not just pretending she does.]

Bizarrely, the Unicorns remain quiet on the whole Mandy Miller debacle. At first, Jessica enjoys the respite from incessant questioning, but as time passes she’s weirded out by their apparent lack of interest. To be honest, I totally side with her. What gives, Unigibbons? Cancer too real for you? If a house burns down, you’re all over that shit, but a tumour?

All this is grist to the mill of Jessica’s growing disdain for all things purple. Ellen informs her of their plan to visit the Dairi Burger that evening to discuss party planning, and Jessica snubs the whole thing without even giving out a weak excuse. Seriously, I like this devil-may-care Jessica. Usually she has self justification for her heinous crimes coming out the wazoo, but THIS Jess doesn’t give a fucking fuck.

In an attempt to organise her thoughts, she asks Elizabeth if she’ll join her that evening in the park to talk some things through. Before she sets off, she bumps into Julie Porter, who tells her she thinks it’s just swell that the Unicorns sent poor Mandy a card and flowers.

Um… say what now?

Jessica is confused at this turn of events, and quite frankly, so am I. Are they cutting Jessica out of the loop, for some reason? Interesting.

Elizabeth appears like a bad smell.

“Julie just told me the Unicorns sent flowers to Mandy,” Elizabeth remarked. “That was nice of them.”

“Well, maybe,” Jessica replied. “Or maybe it’s like the time Amy’s house burned down and the Unicorns wanted to be friends with her just to be part of the excitement.”

Ooooh, Jessica is genre savvy! JessBot31 has levelled up in its AI #AllHailOurTeenRobotOverlords [Dove: She will satisfy your values through friendship and ponies unicorns.]

Jessica then asks some odd questions about cancer, which are answered by an overhearing Brooke Dennis (and a tagalong Amy Sutton). Brooke, it seems, has some experience in this field, as a cousin of hers had suffered a few years previous. We learn:

Cancer isn’t contagious.

Cancer isn’t triggered by hurting yourself.

Cancer doesn’t cause a lump, cancer creates a lump.

Radiation treatment causes hair loss.

All good, important information. This entire conversation serves a valuable purpose, and is deftly handled. It would be easy for the whole section to be preachy, didactic or heavy-footed. Not so. Good skills, Team Grapplegate!

[Wing: Super realistic from my experience as a preteen girl around the same time in the USA.]

The girls vow to treat Mandy no differently, and Amy has a dig at the Unicorns in doing so. When Brooke comments that her cousin thought the amount of attention she received quite laughable, Amy replies thusly:

“Tell that to the Unicorns,” Amy remarked with a sarcastic laugh. “Last week they thought Mandy was a big nuisance and they couldn’t get rid of her fast enough. Now I hear they sent her a big bunch of flowers. How hypocritical can you get?”

Jessica tells everyone she knew nothing of this Unicorn act of apparent spontaneous kindness. As the evidence mounts, she begins to think she’s being excluded on purpose. [Wing: Things have taken a sinister turn around here. Maybe avoid backyards for awhile, Jess.] [Dove: Does anyone else want a thriller style story, where Jess is on the run from the Unicorns and the bodies keep piling up? I’m not writing it, I’m doing a poll to see if Wing will write it.] [Raven: I second this notion.] [Wing: … well this backfired spectacularly.]

Friday arrives, and Jessica learns of new Unicorn-powered Mandy-kindness. Lila sent Mandy some perfume. Ellen sent Mandy some chocolates. Kimberly and Betsy clubbed together for a glass pig full of jelly beans.

Random.

Jessica had been ignoring the Unicorns all week, partly through pique, but mainly because her concern for Mandy trumped all. Luckily, Mandy came through the surgery in great shape, with a great chance of a full recovery. One ladybug in this cherry pie filling? The chemotherapy she’d be undertaking would strip Mandy of her beautiful hair, never cut since the age of three.

Time speeds up at this point.

Monday: Jessica makes up with the Unicorns. Sort of. Janet Howell takes her to one side, to stress how valuable a Unicorn Jess really is. Jessica is flattered, and happy they are all chums again… but her chosen stance of “pretending that nothing happened” leads me to conclude that there’s more to reveal in this banal theatre of the absurd.

Friday: Mandy is finally well enough to receive visitors. Jessica is overjoyed, and dashes out of school to storm the Miller Residence. As she goes, she’s cornered by Mrs Arnette.

Mrs. Arnette was smiling broadly. “I just received a phone call from the organizers of the 1920s festival,” she said. “Your social studies project has been awarded first place among all the middle-school entries! And Elizabeth and Amy’s has won second place!”

Aside:

Right. I FUCKING HATE THIS.

Oh boy. Where to begin?

I have no beef with Jessica and Mandy’s act (with Elizabeth) winning first prize. That’s standard. But AMY AND ELIZABETH WINNING SECOND? Give me a fucking break.

This is a state-wide school contest. I don’t care how excrementally fabulous Liz and Amy’s report on silent films may be. I don’t care if they’ve, I dunno, interviewed the relatives of some famous silent movie stars. Fuck, I don’t care if they resurrected the twitching corpse of Harold fucking Lloyd. I’m pretty sure that the people RUNNING THIS FUCKING CONTEST WOULD SPREAD THE PRIZES BETWEEN DIFFERENT SCHOOLS.

THERE’S NO WAY THEY’D GIVE THE FIRST AND SECOND PRIZE TO THE SAME ESTABLISHMENT.

Also, this means that Elizabeth wins both FIRST AND SECOND PRIZE. Jesus FUCKING blue balls monkey tits tiger bellend Christ on a Krispy Crème Eggy Bread HOT CROSS BUN, will they lay OFF with the Liz love? At this rate, she’ll be the fucking PRESIDENT before we reach SVU.

End Aside.

So, let’s concentrate on Jess and Mandy’s first place finish. They have an opportunity to perform their Vaudeville routine, live, in a museum in Hollywood! Sadly, they can’t postpone until Mandy is well enough, and it’s not Broadway, but it’s still sweet as Hermasetas.

And there’s a prize:

It’s a computer! … … … For the school.

Really? REALLY?!

So close… so damn close.

It’s a computer! … … … For the school.

You’ve been voted Most Sexy Man! … … … In the Burns Unit.

Jessica thanks the Unicorn, and searches for the silver lining. At least Mandy would be happy to hear that they’d won!

Sadly, when Jess arrives at Mandy’s house, she soon discovers there are other there before her. Can you guess who?

Aaaaa-Yup! It’s the Unicorns.

In a pregnant and terse scene, Jessica learns the truth behind her apparent ostracising: The Unicorns hadn’t involved her in the card, the flowers, or this current visit, because they thought it’d be awkward. Jessica was the one to tell Mandy she couldn’t be a Unicorn, after all. She wouldn’t want a reminder of that. And Mandy wouldn’t want to see Jessica, surely?

Huh.

That actually makes sense. Sure, it’s a twisted sense, but it’s still got a compelling logic underpinning it. And Jessica did play down her friendship with Mary, so really, how were they to know? #GoTeamUnicorn … ! [Wing: Damn, so much time, so little sinister.]

The Unicorns depart, leaving Jess and Mandy to plow through exposition and catch up. Mandy laughs about the prize of a computer for the school, and the scene ends with a touching exchange in which she presents Jessica with half a feather boa. If they hadn’t been fighting over the thing, Mandy might never have fallen. If she hadn’t have fallen, she might never have discovered the lump in her armpit. So, go Jess, go Friendship, and fuck Cancer. [Dove: I wish this was a thing that got called back, you know, like the Johnny Buck’s cap in her room? I wish later books would show the boa pinned on her wall or something.]

The following week charges on. The twins perform the Vaudeville act in front of a rapt audience and TV crew in the Hollywood museum. Liz and Jess rocked it, and invited Mandy up on stage to share the limelight. And on Sunday evening, the Unicorn Joke is let loose on the bemused nation via the power of LOCAL NEWS PROGRAMMING.

The other thing of import? Mandy finally loses most of her hair. In another excellent exchange, she mugs and clowns with Jessica over the selection of proper headgear. Jessica’s laughing like twat, but we all know it’s masking the sadness that Mandy feels. There’s a wig in her future, and while the Millers aren’t Rizzo-poor, the treatment costs probably screwed them over good and proper, so the best Mandy can hope for is something like this:

Worst Wig EVER.

As she predicts, when Mrs Miller does buy her daughter a wig later that week, it’s pretty atrocious…

“What does it look like?” Jessica asked.

Mandy paused and then asked, “Do you remember Little Orphan Annie?”

It’s a hard knock life in Sweet Valley Middle School.

JESUS FUCK WHERE ARE HER PUPILS?!

The girls laugh the whole thing off over the phone, but again, it’s clearly troubling Mandy.

“Wait a minute, Mandy,” (Jessica) said. “Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong angle. Don’t forget, Annie was a hit musical. The actress who played her became a big star. Who knows what it’ll do for your career in show business?”

Mandy gave a short laugh. “Good try, Jessica. But it doesn’t matter how you look at this wig—up, down, or sideways. It still looks ugly.” She sighed. “But don’t tell my mom that, OK? She’s not crazy about the stupid wig either. In fact, she apologized when she gave it to me. It was the only one she could find in our price range.”

As soon as Jessica ends the call to Mandy, the phone rings again. It’s the Unicorns. Emergency Meeting in One Hour, Stat!

Aside:

Do the Unicorns have a hotline? They should!

“Quick Jess, to the Uniphone!”

I’ve just Googled “Uniphone”. Apparently, that’s a product name for something straight out of the Eighties.

Tomorrow’s world, today!

 

So I tried “Unicorn Phone”.

SO. MANY. UNICORN. PHONE. CASES.

Fancy!

 

End aside.

The Unicorn meeting, at Janet’s house, concerns the topic on everyone’s mind: Mandy fucking Miller. Mainly, should she now be considered for Unicorn membership?

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Bunch of fucking bellends. Mandy’s cool now she’s ill, right? Cancer is the New Black?
To be fair though, their motivation is somewhat more nuanced. Janet sets the record straight:

“In the past few weeks, since Mandy’s been sick, all of us have had a chance to get to know her better. I think most of us would agree that she’s… well, she’s different from what we thought.”

Ellen chimes in with a dissenting opinion.

“She’s still not exactly Unicorn material,” Ellen put in. She looked a bit annoyed. “I’ll bet when she comes back to school on Monday, she’ll be wearing one of those weird outfits of hers—with her purple sneakers. I hear she’s losing her hair from all that radiation, too. She’ll probably be wearing a wig.”

I think I actually hate the Grapplegate Ellen. She’s just mean. [Dove: *sigh* I think you’re right there. It does make me sad. I like thick Ellen, not spiteful Ellen.]

The Unicorns vote privately, and Mandy is granted membership with only two dissenters. Jessica thinks she’ll not join after the initial rebuke, but thinks it’s nice she’ll be asked.

Jessica then turns talk to a good deed she believes the Unicorns should undertake. They should cancel their next party, and use the money to buy Mandy a decent wig.

After a little pushback from Ellen (FUCK OFF, Ellen), the purple crew agree to meet at the mall the following day, to peruse the select offerings at Sweet Valley Wigs. Erm, I mean Parker’s Wig Salon.

“I think Jessica has a very interesting idea,” Janet said. “We don’t actually have to cancel the party, just postpone it for a little while.” She smiled generously. “And I’ll be glad to donate my allowance for this month.”

Not to be outdone, Lila spoke up. “I’ll donate my allowance, too,” she said, “and I’ll ask my father for some extra money.”

Ellen sighed. “Me, too,” she said, and there was a chorus of agreement from the rest of the Unicorns.

Bless you, you idiotic huddle of sponks. It’s like you’re really trying to be lovely, but you lack the comprehension on how to do it. I love this act of kindness, probably because it’s SO UNICORN. Amy’s house burns down, and she loses everything? Interesting, but not really their problem. One of their members looks UGLY?! To the wig shop, post haste!

At the main store in Sweet Valley’s Wig District, the Unicorns choose something special.

Jessica would wear this EVERY DAY.

Just kidding. No Twilight Sparkle here.

With advice from the Wig Tinker, they plump for a short wig that would make Mandy look like a cute pixie, with a colouring not unlike her actual hair. Jessica worries a touch that Mrs Miller might take offence at their generous gift, treating it as a barbed commentary on her parenting skills. Pfft, I’m sure she’ll be fine. Free hair, y0.

Wrapping this up, Mandy loves the wig, and decides to join the Unicorns despite their previous misdeeds. Mrs Miller thinks the wig is a lovely gift. Mandy doesn’t compromise her excellent style, and the twins wish they had a little sister in the last few sentences to set up the following book.

Done!

Final Thoughts:

I really liked this one. Mandy Miller is awesome. Funny, brave, quirky, loyal. And bald.

I hope we have more Mandy Miller in future books.

Solid 5/7, would read again.

[Wing: I enjoyed this book a lot, and one of the things I love best is that Mandy doesn’t change when she agrees to join the Unicorns. I hope this continues if we see her in later books, because I was annoyed as hell when Billie went through her Belinda transformation complete with joining the Unicorns despite showing no sign of being interested in them previously. Mandy has wanted to join for a long time but also refuses to sacrifice who she is, and I love the hell out of her for that.]

[Dove: I love this book, it’s one of my favourites in the Grapplegate run. Mandy is just THE BEST character in the series. I thought it was ace that they avoided the obvious narrative of “Oh, she’s sick, I feel bad we didn’t invite her to join our club because she’s sick and might die,” and went with a much more Unicorn-sensible “OMG, having cancer makes you the centre of attention, damn, we nearly missed the boat, let’s pull it back now.” And it’s even better that they decided that they actually did like Mandy when they got to know her. Just all round love for this book. Except for Team Boring winning second place. However, Raven going BOOM over it helped. A lot.]

Looking back at things I've enjoyed, and smashing them to pieces with the Snark-Hammer. Lover of games of every stripe and hue. NOT A REAL BIRD.

 Category: Sweet Valley Twins

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