Sweet Valley Twins #80: The Gossip War

by on 1 July 2019
Sweet Valley Twins #80: The Gossip War by Jamie Suzanne

Sweet Valley Twins #80: The Gossip War by Jamie Suzanne

Title: The Gossip War

Tagline: Three-way calls can be triple the trouble!

Summary: Making enemies and influencing people…

Jessica Wakefield and her twin sister, Elizabeth, have persuaded their parents to get three-way calling for their phone. Jessica is psyched – more gossiping, more matchmaking, more fun!

There’s just one problem. Jessica didn’t read the instructions carefully, [Wing: Is anyone surprised?] and when she thinks she’s dishing gossip to Lila Fowler, she’s also dishing it to Ellen Riteman. And the gossip is about Ellen. The gossip spreads until the entire Unicorn Club is in an all-out gossip war!

Can Jessica turn her telephone tricks around and win her friends back? [Raven: Ah, a comedy basic. Nice.]

Note: Thank you to @idecisivekepner who provided the last sentence of this book. More on that when we get there.

Initial Thoughts:

I read this a few years ago when it arrived from an eBay seller, but I honestly couldn’t remember much about it other than this was an Ellen book. And that she doesn’t get within 5 miles of a stable. This book is about Ellen, and not the shrill screaming harpy that she gets turned into when a Jamie gets confused by the brief of “write about Ellen”.

Let’s do this.

(For those of you who weren’t here for the past hundred books: I love Ellen. She is my favourite character. My love for her has infected Raven and Wing. So I suspect we’ve all set our hopes rather high.)

[Wing: Well I have now. Prior to this week, I didn’t know it was an Ellen book.]

Recap:

We open with Jessica, Lila and Ellen all chattering excitedly about the most important event in the whole year: the President’s birthday. They think that the school should be closed, there should be a huge parade and holiday sales at the mall.

And if you were completely unmoved by all this alleged patriotism because you know damned well the purple morons are talking about Janet Howell, welcome to our world.

Then we get an awkward segue into the different/same paragraph about the most perfect twins in the universe. Then we flick back to the Janet fangirling. It’s probably the most awkward shoehorn of the default paragraph I’ve seen.

Tamara (FUCK YOU, TAMARA CHASE!) asks what they should buy for Janet, and Jessica pulls out a notepad and writes “Gift Ideas for Janet” at the top. But Ellen pipes up that there’s already a list started, and she flourishes her own.

“Huh?” Jessica looked at Ellen in surprise. Who had put her in charge? Ellen had trouble remembering her own name half the time.

Ouch. But kind of true. Except when done right, Ellen has the best lines in any book.

Ellen goes on to add that now she has her own personal phone in her room, she took the liberty of ringing round the group last night. Ellen adds that she knows it’s a nightmare trying to call Jessica. [Wing: AHAHAHAHAHAHA. For so many reasons. Always the risk of hearing Steven in the background.]

This causes Jessica to seethe with a homicidal rage and her fingers twitch for the shovel she has stashed in the Mercandy backyard. Ellen has apparently been going on about her phone for ages, whereas Jessica has to share a phone with her drunk mother, her absentee father, her suckup sister and her deeply dim brother.

Only last week, thanks to Steven’s endless gabbing, Jessica missed out on hearing the vital piece of information that the Unicorns were going to wear white and gold to celebrate the release of Johnny Buck’s new album, Gold Heart, the following day. The rest of the Unicorns rocked up to school looking like a footballer’s car, while poor Jessica was left looking like a grape. For this shocking faux pas, she was forced to sit away from the Unicorner, lest she spoil the colour scheme. (That’s not hyperbole, that actually happened. I know it sounds like the kind of thing Raven would say, but honestly, it’s in the book.) [Raven: She was actually forced to sit at the END of the table at the Unicorner, and while it isn’t quite banishment, it does make her the bulbous purple head of a glowing golden Unicorn shaft.]

I know we’ve had this plotline before. Last time around, Jessica made a little chart with coloured squares and assigned Steven the phone only during dinner time, then she was shocked that nobody stuck to her rather biased schedule. [Note from Future Dove: It was Elizabeth and the Orphans.]

She also missed out on being invited to Sea World with Lila last weekend, again, thanks to Steven, and she’s very bitter.

Ellen brings the conversation back to gifts and the suggestions are: day-glo earrings (Mandy’s suggestions), but Jessica shoots that down, saying plastic isn’t right, silver maybe, but not plastic; a magazine subscription (Tamara and Mary support this), but Jessica shoots it down again saying Janet has tonnes of magazines; Rollerblades (Belinda’s suggestions), which is universally shot down because Janet is going through a goth or emo phase at the moment. She wears all black and reads poetry. [Wing: What. WHAT. WHAT?! I do not believe this for a second.] Belinda then suggests a notebook, since the one Janet is jotting her dark thoughts down in is getting ratty. I would have personally assumed that was a style choice. Apparently, I was right to do so, because Kimberly has this to say:

South Park Goth Kids

The unicorns have taken a wildly different style direction.

“Janet’s notebook is part of her soul,” Kimberly said solemnly. She looked like a chimney elf in her gigantic black sweatshirt, black tights, and short pointy boots. [Wing: NO REALLY WHAT?!] “It’s not ratty. It’s wholesome and natural.”

Jessica likens it to granola, a joke that dies so painfully that she just has to push on. She suggests that they buy a super box set of Johnny Buck. It has three discs, guys. That’s all the Buck anyone could ever want.

Actually, Ellen suggests, it’s probably more. Janet has pretty much every Johnny Buck CD already. No, what she would want is a gift certificate for a reading with a psychic. Everyone but Jessica oohs and ahhhs over this suggestion.

Jessica wants to grab a knife and let the red mist descend, starting with Ellen. It’s not that she’s against psychics (although she doesn’t remember being one), she’s just pissed off that Ellen’s holding court, rather than being relegated to sidekick. She says what if the psychic predicts bad things? That would suck, it’s best to get the CDs. [Raven: “I’m getting the word… ‘nonce’.”]

Ellen counters they should vote. Which they do. Only Jessica votes for the CDs.

Ellen is going to be a bloody smear at the Unicorner if she’s not careful. Jessica is so irritated by this turn of events that she feels the need to storm off.

Yes. Jessica has somehow twisted Ellen’s few moments of coherence into a coup and now she is heading off to consider all of the “accidents” that could befall her.

We swap over to Elizabeth as Jessica storms into history class, clearly in a snit.

She looks pretty upset, Elizabeth thought. I wonder what happened? Then again, Jessica did tend toward the dramatic. A split end could be a crisis.

Welp. That’s a level of awareness not usually present. [Raven: This is a Sassy Book.]

And while we’re on the topic of never-before-seen things in Sweet Valley, Nydick is teaching (we’ve had scenes in his class, but we rarely see teachers teaching). So this will be our B-plot then. Any time a teacher has something to say, it’s oddly on the nose with the A-plot.

Nydick plans to start a unit called “Current Events”, even though he teaches history, using the logic that one day our current events will be studied in history classes. Uh-huh. And that’s why we had the vaguely titled “General Studies” at my school. I seem to remember us all trying to cluelessly debate what was going on at 10 Downing Street that week, based on the headlines we’d vaguely processed, before switching over to BBC2 for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Nydick wants to know what’s the one major event that “has affected global politics more than any other in the last five years”. Elizabeth is insufferably smart as she considers the Middle East peace talks or the end of Apartheid. Peter DeHaven (which one is he? Nobody cares) suggests the environment, which Nydick points out is an issue, not an event.

“I know!” Maria Slater called out, before Elizabeth could raise her hand. “The Soviet Union.”

I could be overthinking it, but is this a same-but-different reference. It feels like Elizabeth wants to cut a bitch over Maria calling out the answer before she – Saint Elizabeth – could politely raise her hand. Fuck you, Maria. Elizabeth knew the answer, she just wasn’t gabby. And she’ll bury you in the Mercandy backyard for your grabby ways. (Really though, A+ for beating Elizabeth to the answer.) [Raven: Yet Nydick doesn’t point out the “The Soviet Union” isn’t an event either. It’s a place.] [Wing: Eh, it’s a pretty realistic way to phrase it, though. The Soviet Union. The Red Menace. Those Who Will Bomb Us All. Etc.]

Maria adds that the government has changed in the Soviet Union, and Elizabeth quickly adds that the communists are no longer in charge, because if you think Maria is getting all the credit for being clever, you’ve clearly never met a Wakefield.

Basically, this whole class goes: question from Nydick; answer from student; addition from Elizabeth, who can’t bear that someone else has knowledge. I’m probably reading a lot into that, but you all know I hate Elizabeth. [Wing: I like your theory that this is the twins being alike in their hatred of being “shown up,” whether they’re actually being shown up or not.]

Lila says the communists were “mean”, then adds that the government told people what do to, where to live, what to think – without a hint of irony, as someone who forced Jessica to sit elsewhere last week because she didn’t adhere to the dress code.

Nydick explains that the Soviet Union was basically a big old prison, and in 1945 America began to get very nervous that communism would spread. What followed was the Cold War, and communism has had “a profound effect on American society.” (Bloody hell, was that an actual fact in these books?) Jerry McAllister says it’s lame to call it a war when there was no fighting. Nydick says that a cold war can be the most damaging kind. I’ll leave space for Raven to make a joke about Nydick’s feelings of persecution. [Raven: I’m loving that Nydick has a prominent role in a book called “The Gossip War”. Truth will out!]

Now, let’s all be very excited, because we have an Ellen POV. I’m pretty sure we’ve never had one of these before, so sit down, shut up, and enjoy it.

Ellen has one of those clear plastic phones that were soooo cool in the 80s/90s. Even Lila says it’s cool. She’s delighted with her new phone, because she is sick of everyone saying how stupid she is. Last week she was laughed at during Booster practice for trying to teach them a Laker cheer she’d only seen once.

Well, she wasn’t dumb! She was methodical. And she had a plan for getting Janet’s attention. If Janet saw she could take charge of the President’s birthday, then she’d see Ellen as a smart, dependable kind of girl. And if the President saw her that way, how could anyone think of her as dumb?

Ellen took out her list—her mother had helped her figure it out. Three columns. The first said, “Name.” Then, “Date Called.” Then, “Comments.” Now that her gift idea had been approved, it was time to start in on phase two of her plan—hosting the party.

This I find adorable. In case you can’t remember all the way back to Buried Treasure, Mrs Riteman one of a very small number of parents that we actually approve of (because she understood that stealing is stealing, whether someone notices or not). I think it’s sweet that she’s trying to help Ellen get organised so that people don’t think she’s stupid.

[Wing: Ellen: Snarky. Methodical. Organized. WELL HELLO WING’S NEW CRUSH. If preteen!Wing had read these books, she would have loved Ellen here even more than before.]

Of course, I hope she fails because Ellen is one of the most amusing people in this series.

Ellen makes conversation for awhile, before casually suggesting that she host the BBQ for Janet’s birthday. Tamara thinks this is a great idea because Ellen’s backyard is huge. (It also has a dead parakeet in it, and once housed buried treasure, but Tamara doesn’t mention this.) Ellen makes a note of Tamara’s support and even notes her specific comment, before calling Mandy and then Kimberley. As she’s speaking to Kimberley, her dad knocks on the door and tries a knock-knock joke. (José. José who? José, can you see? – I don’t get it. I really don’t get it.) [Raven: Really? “José” is pronounced “ho-say,” and the first lines of the Star Spangled Banner are “Oh, say can you see”. A perfectly adequate Knock Knock Joke, that. I mean, it’s not as good as this one…
“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Interrupting Cow.”
“Interrupti-”
“MOOOOOOOOOOO.”
… but it fits the form and fuction.
] Her dad then tells her dinner’s ready – eyeballs and goulash – and then, dad jokes shared and daughter embarrassed, he fucks off. This is not a man who rides an untamed mustang, is he? I TOLD YO U ABOUT 87 BOOKS AGO THAT MR RITEMAN WASN’T THE TYPE TO RIDE A WILD MUSTANG. I WAS RIGHT. BEHOLD MY RIGHTNESS!

Kimberley is still on the phone at this point, and disdainfully asks what all that was about. Ellen crumples in mortification, and hopes that Kimberley doesn’t think she eats gross food. (Also, she loves her dad, she just wish he would tone it down when she was trying to get the Unicorns to take her seriously.) [Wing: Awww, Ellen, you’re a delight.]

Over with Jessica, she’s plotting Ellen’s demise. She’s determined to host Janet’s birthday party. And it’s not just for popularity’s sake. Last year Janet gave Kimberley a “totally cool” Johnny Buck t-shirt as a thank you for hosting. If Ellen’s winning friends and influencing people by telephone then Jessica shall… win friends and influence people by telephone.

She picks up the receiver and starts dialling, only to find Steven on the phone to his girlfriend, Cathy, already. When he finally gets off the phone, she calls Tamara, who immediately says she was just talking to Ellen. Jessica is ready to cut a bitch over Steven hogging the phone, never mind the fact that Ellen’s showing signs of intelligence. When Tamara says that they’re leaning towards Ellen’s house for the party, Jessica is ready to snap. She quickly ends the call and tries Mandy instead. And gets the same response. Before she can start selling Mandy on her backyard being better than Ellen’s (the Wakefields have a pool) Elizabeth comes home and demands use of the phone for homework reasons. Homework trumps gossip, so Jessica has to get off the phone.

Jessica snaps that it’s unfair she has to share the phone with four other people, when Ellen doesn’t and she’s using her phone to interact with other people and turn them against her. Elizabeth says she’s sure Ellen isn’t turning anyone against Jessica, clearly ignoring the fact that the Unicorns will turn on anyone on a dime.

Jessica stomps off and turns on the TV, where she sees an advert for three-way calling, and her demon mind begins to spin.

And here begins the plot hole. How on earth would three-way calling help? Sure, she can speak to two Unicorns at once, but that’s supposing the line is free, and it’s been made abundantly clear that the issue here is that a family of five is sharing one phone, and two family members in particular (Steven and Jessica) can’t stop gabbing. [Raven: AGREED ON ALL COUNTS. Such bullshit.]

In all honesty, this should have been sorted out the last time it played out. Alice and Ned should have dragged themselves out of the gin stupor long enough to assign each kid an hour slot for phone calls or something like that, because in this and the other book, it appears they just let whichever kid gets to the phone first hog it all night.

Over dinner, Alice says that she’s got a new client at work, a vegetarian restaurant called Earthly Delights. If Raven told me he was taking me to something called Earthly Delights, I would assume that it was something sexual, and probably muddy, and fix him with a very inquisitive stare until he fully explained himself. Hang on, let me try an experiment. He hasn’t read the book yet.

Me: If I said, we should go to Earthly Delights tonight, what would be your assumptions about our evening?

Raven: I would assume that we’re… either going to a restaurant, or some kind of burlesque cabaret.

Ok, so I was a bit wrong there. I should have tried this experiment on Wing and/or Ostrich. They have much dirtier minds. That would have been funnier. Ok, I’ve texted them. I’ll come back to this part later.

And a response:

Wing: Earthly Delights? I’ll take you all the way to heaven, baby. Sleazy eyebrow wiggle goes here.

Sadly, Ostrich’s response was very boring, despite Wing’s wink-wink-nudge-nudge delivery, and suggested we were probably going to a restaurant where they cooked your food over an open flame at the table. Which Wing adores. And everyone else gets scared, because Wing + Fire = Pure Joy, and the world is deeply alarmed by Wing in the throes of pure joy because we see it so rarely. That and she threatens to burn the world to cinders on an almost hourly basis.

Still, everyone’s suggestions were far more exciting than the reality of a vegan restaurant owned by someone named Elvira. [Raven: My response was tempered by the person making the suggestion. I’m pretty sure my wife wouldn’t suggest we both went to a brothel / sex dungeon. Then again, she pretty much wouldn’t suggest we went to a restaurant either. Oh, and using the name “Elvira” in the offer would have driven up the sexy connotations too.]

[Wing: It being a vegan restaurant kind of kills all the jokes I want to make about Elvira and horror and the food is really people.]

[Wing: ALSO, I had a meal just the other day that involved a dish being brought to the table while it was on fire. It was the best. I want it again immediately. In summary: FIRE.]

[Wing: …that dish was not people.]

Ned thinks it’s a very catchy name, and Jessica gushes over the new client, in the hopes of getting the parents on her side. She brings up three-way calling, and Ned immediately shoots her down saying it’s an unnecessary expense. Jessica counters that he hates coordinating picking up Elizabeth and Jessica at the same time.

Bullshit.

Everywhere in Sweet Valley takes five minutes to walk. Occasionally the twins will take the bus because nobody has told the current Jamie they walk everywhere. Even more occasionally, the twins use bikes. But the only time I’ve seen them get in a car is when they’re going to LA, the airport, a school dance (that I understand, you wear your best dress and nice shoes, you don’t want to walk half a mile before making a fabulous entrance), or getting picked up at the end of a party (late, makes sense to pick up your kids in the car). And do you know what all those things have in common? The twins go together.

Anyway, the answer is no.

After dinner, Steven inexplicably calls her “roller-coaster head”. I remember Wing explaining “road head” to me a billion years ago. I can only assume this is a more extreme version that only the bravest (and most talented) practitioners of fellatio attempt. I’m pretty sure you could lose teeth, genitals, and probably life if it goes wrong. [Raven: *blinks* Is this why you recently learnt to drive?] [Wing: I nearly choked to death on my tea while reading this. Cheers, all.]

The twins then start shilling three-way calling to Steven, saying he could use it to arrange a basketball game, and he says there’s no point starting on him, Ned won’t change his mind. Jessica says she’ll think of something.

(Kill the people next door – isn’t that Caroline Pearce on one side and Mr Henkel on the other? – and steal their phone. Note to self: buy really long extension cable.)

Very conveniently, the next day Nydick sets them into groups of three to do reports they will present to the rest of the class. Their topic is “One way the Soviet Union affected American society was…

He assigns Elizabeth to work with Lila and Olivia Davidson (she’s arty, Wing, you’ve met her in previous books, but she’s not yet done anything of interest). [Wing: I appreciate you helping out me and my inability to remember people based on their names.] Jessica gets Mandy and Peter DeHaven (Ru-ru-rockin’ Peter).

Jessica rushed over to Elizabeth as soon as Mr. Nydick finished speaking. “This is perfect,” she said.

“You mean because you’ll get Peter to do all the work?”

Well, I think we can all agree that this Jamie has read some of the other books.

Jessica ignores that question and says she has a plan to show off three-way calling. She quickly makes sure that she and Elizabeth are both working on their projects with their respective teams, Jessica at Mandy’s house, Elizabeth at Olivia’s (Lila can’t host, her bedroom is being repainted).

We cut to the study session. Lila talks about Janet’s birthday, Olivia is interested, and Elizabeth judges her hard for indulging Lila’s chatter. Fuck off, Elizabeth. I find gift ideas interesting. Also, if Janet’s going through a crusty phase, that’s right up Olivia’s street. Or it will be, when she gets to high school.

Over with Jessica, she’s shocked to find out she’s going to have to do some work. Peter was in the Young Astronauts Club when he was younger – and it’s such a specific thing to put in I can only imagine it’s a reference to Sweet Valley Kids. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t he just say he had an interest in space exploration? Anyway, Peter suggests they talk about the space race.

And we see nothing of that, and immediately cut to Jessica’s plan. I’m not going to walk you through this step by step, because it’s tedious. A twin calls home and asks to be picked up, the other twin calls home to say one more hour, first twin calls home to remind twin to hurry up, second twin calls to change plans, etc. Basically it culminates in Ned receiving a dozen calls and deciding that three-way calling is a must.

[Wing: I cannot believe this damn plan worked.]

Jessica races home to try out three-way calling, and is heartbroken to find that it’s not as simple as Ned agreeing and the phone system magically sorting itself out. When she finds out that it will take a few days to set up, she stomps off and slams her bedroom door. I think every time Jessica has exited a scene so far, she has stomped off.

The next morning, Jessica tracks down Grace and Mary and asks where they were when she called last night. Apparently Grace was at church choir practice – that’s brand new information to everyone. I didn’t even know there was a religion in Sweet Valley beyond Wakefield Worship. Mary was clothes shopping. Jessica tries to grab their vote to host Janet’s party, but they already promised Ellen. In desperation she looks for Betsy and Kimberley, but finds Janet, who is carrying her notebook around, acting “thoughtful”. She asks Jessica what she thinks of when she hears the word “ocean”. Jessica says food, because everything makes her think of food. Sorry, Jamie, wrong Wakefield. [Raven: When presented with the word “ocean”, she doesn’t think of the cursed pirate ship scuba lessons she had in the previous fucking book.] She asks Janet where she can find Kimberley and Betsy. (“They’re on the stage in the gym.” She paused. “The stage of life.” She started to write that phrase down in her notebook.)

[Wing: Who the fuck replaced Janet?!]

Jessica finds them in the gym, where they’re sitting on the floor in silence, holding their books. Betsy says that Kimberley is trying to share something with her. They’re reading poetry and drinking java, which is “like coffee, only better”, according to Betsy.

I don’t know if it’s because we’ve had two months off, or because it’s just not my cup of tea, but this goth kids thing is irritating me. Maybe it’s because the South Park goth kids are so much better? [Raven: I really liked this stuff. Not because it was “goth kids”, but because it was “goth Unicorns.” Gold.] [Wing: Does the poetry thing go with the goth thing? Because them in their black and reading poetry and drinking coffee (because you are goddamn drinking coffee, I don’t care what you call it) makes me think more beatnik than goth. Hepcats, the lot of them.]

Jessica tries to bring up the party, but since it’s nothing to do with poetry, java or enlightenment, the goth kids tell her to strongly do one.

Over with Elizabeth, she’s chewing her pencil and wondering what to do her report on. Apparently Lila and Olivia have been no help, thus Elizabeth has decided they get no input. Steven suggests McCarthyism – accusing all sorts of people of being communists and destroying their lives. Elizabeth says this is a great topic, and then Steven says he’s going to call Cathy again, but gets bumped because Elizabeth has to share this great idea with Olivia. Again, I guess Lila gets no say.

Jessica gets home and immediately tries to dial out, but Elizabeth is still on the phone. She waits until Elizabeth is finished, and then dials again. Steven snatches the phone from her and says he was waiting first. Elizabeth backs him, so Jessica sits next to him for the whole conversation. Which doesn’t work in the slightest. To be fair, this is probably the most normal sibling interaction between the two of them I’ve ever seen.

When Jessica finally gets the phone, Mandy is busy and Lila is out. She seethes and imagines Ellen talking to her friends. Then Alice staggers through the door, saying she needs the phone to call Elvira, the owner of Earthly Delights.

Over with Ellen, she’s reviewing her notes. So far she’s got votes from Grace, Mary, Tamara and Belinda. She’s pretty sure that Betsy and Kimberley agreed, but they said it in goth speak. Lila and Mandy are still on the fence.

As she’s ready to get calling again, Janet calls her and asks for a favour: can she chair the Unicorn meeting tomorrow because Janet is going to her cousin’s dance recital. [Wing: Any other time, this would earn a threat to be booted from the club.] I guess it’s not Lila’s cousin then. Janet says, since Ellen has her own phone, can she call round to tell everyone, and actually, why doesn’t she host the meeting too?

Ellen is nearly bursting with pride – both at being asked, and the fact she didn’t blow it by saying something stupid.

The first person she calls is Jessica, who is clearly cross at Ellen hosting and chairing the meeting. Jessica says she can’t make the meeting because her mom has guests to dinner. It sounds like an excuse the way she says it, but it’s clearly not because she wants to go and her mother really does have a guest coming. She ends up snapping at Ellen, who tells her not to yell (you go, girl!), and they say goodbye, with Ellen smugly aware that without Jessica there, it doesn’t matter whether she has Mandy or Lila’s votes. She’s going to host the party.

The next night, Alice, Elizabeth and Jessica are making a vegetable lasagne. [Wing: They, uh, they know there’s a difference between vegan and vegetarian, right?] It doesn’t say either way, but I’m fairly certain that Steven is on the phone to Cathy, since I’ve never seen him help prepare dinner – just sandwiches for himself.

Alice notes that this meal takes a lot of prep, and Elizabeth sucks up by saying it’s her favourite meal. Really, Elizabeth? Because this is ninety-third book and you’ve never once mentioned it. You have, by contrast, mentioned spaghetti and meatballs repeatedly, and Jessica says it’s her favourite meal.

Alice points out this is a big deal, it’s hard to impress Elvira, who owns a restaurant. You know, if I was trying to prove to a gardener that my Excel skills are second to none, I wouldn’t show them my garden to impress them.

They are interrupted by Pacific Bell calling to say that three-way calling is hooked up. Wing, that sounds like a real firm, what am I thinking of? [Wing: Pacific Bell is what you’re thinking of. It’s owned by AT&T, often called PacBell.]

Jessica asks how it works, and the Jamie in question does a thing that really drags me out of any fictional story: she uses “you” as in a conversational way, rather than pausing to phrase it better. (Caveat: if the whole story is in first person, and implied it is being told to the reader, then “you” is fine.)

The operator explained that to use three-way calling you have to call your first party hit the button once, and call your second party. To disconnect one party you hit the button twice.

Jessica wants to try it out immediately, but Alice insists that Jessica continue to help with the meal. Jessica imagines smothering everyone with lasagne pasta sheets.

Over at the Unicorn meeting, Ellen is prepped. The house is clean, there are chips and sodas, even the patio area is cleared in case anyone wants to see the backyard when she makes her case. She has a clipboard filled with notes and she is good to go. [Wing: I love you, Ellen.]

She takes roll call, then asks for the treasurer’s report. At this point, Mark (younger brother, owner of the late Leon, parakeet pet extraordinaire) undermines her by doing bunny ears over her head. As she gets rid of Mark, she spots her father in the next room, surrounded group of other dads – it’s Monday night basketball night – in embarrassing dad attire: Bermuda shorts, an ugly t-shirt, and a baseball cap with an octopus on it. [Raven: It’s not, but it would GREAT if it were this hat.] [Wing: OCTOPUS. HAT. <3]

Dad walks in and makes a dad joke, pretending he thinks they’re called the Octopus club. Once he’s been corrected, he calls them the Mermaids, while Ellen dies of embarrassment. She tries to get him out of the room by suggesting he be anywhere else. He makes a final painful joke about being out on parole before leaving.

Back at the Wakefield Compound, Elvira appears. She is a “a large woman with flowing gray hair swept into the room wearing a long ruffled skirt, a rain forest T-shirt, and chunky leather sandals.” [Wing: LEATHER. SANDALS. I call bullshit.]

Alice shows her the preliminary sketches, which sounds like Edward Cullen’s idea of an exciting palette: “warm peach tones, with maybe a few accent colors like pecan and oatmeal.” And “The floors would be carpeted in a neutral color”.

Elizabeth remembers that Alice has used this scheme before on someone’s living room and it was just terrific. Alice, you’re like me. You have one style and no creativity. It’s why all of the websites I own look the same. That’s not a house style, it’s a crippling lack of creativity. (I can use “crippling” because I’m disabled. Hah.) Here’s a further secret: the pink colour I clearly adore so much? It’s the same pink as my employer’s logo.

Elvira says it sounds lovely, but not what she wants. She wants it to be free and open, “as Mother Nature intended.” Also, she’s vegan, so she can’t have the vegetable lasagne. Also, she wouldn’t eat non-organic vegetables. [Wing: AHAHAHAHAHAHA CALLED IT.]

Elvira ends up eating dry bread and water, and then biking home. A+ Alice. It’s always a good idea to make assumptions about clients when trying to woo them. [Raven: It’s nice to see ANY Wakefield get something wrong.]

The phone rings, and it’s Mandy, calling to confirm that Ellen won the vote. She adds that she wishes the party was at Jessica’s house. Mr Riteman grilled last time she was visiting and he overcooked the hotdogs and they were dryer than dust. Also, Jessica needs to call Ellen to ask what she needs to bring to the party. Jessica decides now is the time to try three-way calling.

She gloats to Ellen that she has three way calling, and Ellen does a “that’s nice” response and then says that Lila has it too. Go, Ellen. I’m loving that she’s standing up for herself. It doesn’t last long though. She tells Jessica to bring the cake, and then she wonders if she’s already asked Lila to bring the cake, she didn’t write it down.

Jessica tells her the cake is a rather focal point of a birthday party, and Ellen snaps back that Jessica wouldn’t do any better. And I agree with her. The problem here is that Ellen doesn’t have an identical twin with a strong desire to interfere.

Mandy says why doesn’t she hang up and they can call Lila. Which they do, and Lila says she was told to bring the cake. Jessica uses a snotty tone on Ellen and is given cleanup duty in return. This is delightful.

Jessica tries to do a dramatic hangup on Ellen (like I said, every exit has been stropping during this book), but since she’s not sure how three-way calling works, she just guesses. Then she immediately launches into a tirade to Lila about what a bitch she thinks Ellen is.

“Jeez! Ellen is so annoying. It just goes to show you that she can’t host a party to save her life. It figures she would stick me with cleanup. And after her father almost gave Mandy food poisoning, too—”

“What? How could you say that?”

Jessica gasped. That had been Ellen’s voice. “Ellen? Are you still on?”

Jessica is a fucking moron. She and Ellen have a bit of a row, and Lila peaces out, giving the excuse that she needs to shop for bedroom furniture. Eventually, Jessica apologises for what she said about Ellen’s dad, and they bond over mocking the goth kids – apparently Kimberley was wearing a Jamiroquai-style velvet hat and looked like The Cat in the Hat. [Raven: Sass! Love it.]

On the way to school the next day, Lila tells her chauffeur to slow down because she spots Belinda – he’s called Richard in this book. He didn’t have a name in Poor Lila! – and this Jamie thinks that Lila only gets driven to school when her father goes to work late. No, Jamie, Lila gets driven from one end of the house to the other, if she wants. Because that’s just how Lila rolls.

Belinda hops in and gets excited over the fact there’s a phone in the car. She tries to come up with someone to call, but since everyone’s on their way to school already and there’s no point in checking the weather, since they already know (everyone knows Sweet Valley weather: absolutely perfect, unless it’s a Super Chiller or Halloween, where fog or storms are required), Belinda doesn’t get to try it out. I thought it was pretty cute she wanted to try it, because I would have. Although surely they’ve been in Lila’s car before?

Talk turns to Jessica’s fight with Ellen last night. Lila says that Jessica said Ellen’s dad gave Mandy food poisoning, and they were screaming at each other when she decided to get off the phone.

Cut to Belinda’s point of view. She’s worried about the party now, what if Ellen’s dad poisons them all? When she spots Mandy, she can’t wait to tell her that Mr Riteman gave her food poisoning.

Grace POV: She tells Tamara that Mr Riteman gave Mandy food poisoning, she was sick for a whole day.

Tamara POV: She tells Kimberley that Mandy had food poisoning from Mr Riteman. Kimberley says her aunt got food poisoning, and because she was a teacher, she had to stay off work for three weeks until she could prove she was no longer toxic – it’s the law. Tamara says she bets Mr Riteman got into trouble. Betsy walks up and asks who got poisoned.

In Mr Davis’ homeroom, Betsy tries to relay what she overheard to Mary about Mr Riteman poisoning someone. She thinks he poisoned a teacher. Mary says she knew he gave Mandy food poisoning, but she didn’t know about this. Mary then passes Belinda a note relaying this new info, despite the fact Mary and Betsy are in the seventh grade and Belinda is in the sixth and, in fact, Mr Davis is the twins’ homeroom teacher, not theirs. Belinda writes back that this must be why Mr Riteman was “on parole”.

After homeroom, Betsy, Mary and Belinda rush up to Lila and update her on the new information they have. He’s poisoned a teacher – and who knows how many others. Lila is suitably alarmed.

[Wing: I. Am. Dying. This gossip train is great.]

We cut to Jessica being forced to actually do some work on the project. Peter is not intimidated by Jessica, and divides it up thusly:

“It shouldn’t be that hard,” Peter said. “I’ll discuss how the space race started in the fifties and escalated during the Cold War. Mandy can talk about the technological warfare of the sixties and seventies. You can bring the class up to date on the current spirit of cooperation between the former U.S.S.R. and other developed nations.”

While working, Lila hurries over and asks Mandy if she’s ok, because she’d heard she’d been sick recently. Mandy says she’s fine and Lila calls her brave. After Lila leaves, Mandy shrugs and says all she had was a little cold.

At lunch, Jessica is approached by Kimberley and Betsy, who want to know if she knew that Mr Riteman poisoned people and is on parole for it. Jessica is doubtful, she’s known the Ritemans forever, and has never heard of him going to jail. She asks why Ellen hadn’t told them this, and Kimberley says she was probably too embarrassed.

Over lunch, they continue to discuss the every-escalating gossip. There’s also a minor brick joke of Kimberley and Betsy wearing silly hats, which is amusing enough to read, but would be tedious to mention in a recap. Lila has a sidebar with Jessica, saying they only knew about Mandy being poisoned, but now they know he’s a murderer. Jessica realises that this is clearly a game of Telephone gone wrong. I don’t like using that phrase, because I then have to explain what I mean to all the people who still call it the racist name. So last night, Raven came up with waffleception.

Jessica asks if Lila told anyone about the fight she and Ellen had last night. Lila thinks she might have told one person. Before Jessica can do much with this information, Tamara suggests they have a new vote over where to hold the party. That puts the breaks on any good intentions Jessica had. She wants to host this fucking party, even if it means maligning the character of one of her friends. So she stays silent and boom, she is the host.

Ellen then arrives, apologising for being late. Everyone scarpers at roughly the speed of light. She wonders what she did to upset everyone. She checks her lunch for reasons – maybe they didn’t approve of her bringing Twinkies. Or maybe her tuna sandwich is a bit whiffy? (Again, “you” is used in this sentence. Bad form, Jamie.) But no, her sandwich isn’t smelly. She spots Kimberley and confronts her.

“What’s up?” Kimberly said.

“You know what’s up,” Ellen said. “I want to know why everyone got up and left the table when I showed up.”

“Um—”

“And don’t tell me it was the Twinkies,” Ellen interrupted. “I’ve seen you bring Twinkies on more than one occasion, and last week I saw Betsy eating a Ding Dong after school. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Ellen crossed her arms.

Ellen Riteman: the only person in this series who doesn’t fat/food shame. [Raven: I recall a book in which she hardcore food shamed someone… can’t remember the title though.]

Kimberley breaks it to her that they’ve decided to hold the party at Jessica’s house, because of Ellen’s father. Ellen, remembering the terrible dad jokes and his horrible attire, assumes that’s the reason, and flushes with embarrassment. She says she’s sorry and to tell everyone that she understands.

Caroline corners Jessica in the hall to see if she’s heard that Ellen’s father poisoned a teacher who used to work at Sweet Valley High, they fired her because she couldn’t prove that the poison was out of her body. Is anyone else subscribing to my theory that Caroline is not stupid, but bored, and is gleefully seeing if she can make fetch happen? Which she does. Frequently.

At this point, Veronica Brooks (remember her?) wanders past and asks if they ought to rename the Unicorns the Jailbirds. [Raven: This book has some lovelly call backs.]

Jessica realises this reflects very badly on the Unicorns, and if anyone finds out she was the root cause of this rumour, then she’s going to be buried in the Mercandy backyard.

We cut to Elizabeth, who is walking to the library in a sulk. She is saddled with researching the whole project because Olivia has art class and Lila – are you ready for this? – Lila has ballet. You know, that hobby that she’s literally never had? The one that was the subject of at least three books, and Lila honestly couldn’t care less about.

On the one hand, I think the Jamie of the week hasn’t a clue. On the other, I think she’s brilliant, because Lila has never cared about ballet, and Elizabeth knows it, and I can totally see Lila making an excuse to get out of research, and not even caring that Elizabeth sees right through it. “Research? No, Elizabeth, I can’t make it, I’ve got…” *appraises fingernails absently* “… ballet. Yes, ballet.”

A cat winds round her ankles and she realises it’s Mischief, the cat they gave to Delores Duffay aka Mrs Harrington, 51 books ago. Ok, I’m going with theory 2 on the ballet excuse now, since that’s pretty strong continuity. We get specified decades that Delores Duffay was famous: the fifties and sixties. Well, that’s helpful, isn’t it? [Raven: Also… Kitty!]

Elizabeth picks up the cat and carries her home, assuming Mrs Harrington would be looking for her. Mrs Harrington invites her in and asks what Elizabeth has been up to. Elizabeth obviously shares the subject of her report, and what do you know, Mrs Harrington had friends who were blacklisted during that time.

Mrs Harrington explains that the government would put pressure on the studios to name any communists working for them. They would round up people to testify, and they would be forced to name names. If names were not given, they would be blacklisted (unable to work). The lists became speculative, rather than factual, and a person could be blacklisting for having met someone who was speculated to be a communist. Oh wow, it’s totally mirroring the main plot. Duuuude. That’s so deep.

Elizabeth asks if she can bring Olivia and Lila over to discuss it in depth. Mrs Harrington is delighted to be able to impart the lesson.

Back at home, she overhears Alice’s phone conversation with Elvira, who is questing for chemical-free paint, and quite into the idea of sponging grape juice on the walls, despite Alice’s protests about attracting insects.

The next day at school, Ellen is still under the impression that she’s been blacklisted for her dad’s ugly hat, and she’s pretty sure that even non-Unicorns are judging her for it. On her way through the halls, she is accosted by Janet, who says they need to talk. As Raven has pointed out many times, Janet has a one-track mind: how does this reflect on the Unicorns? I was going to summarise, but because this is high quality Janet and high quality Ellen, I’ll quote it.

Janet steered Ellen by the elbow to a quiet corner. “As you know,” Janet said sternly, “we Unicorns have always had a certain image to uphold. People look up to us as trendsetters, image makers.”

Then again, maybe she’d heard about it, Ellen thought with a sinking heart. “It’s a great honor to be part of the Unicorns,” Ellen said, hoping it was the right thing to say.

Janet’s face turned menacing. “Why didn’t you tell me about your father?”

Someone definitely told her about the hat. Ellen sighed. “He’s always been that way,” she explained. “I think it’s his nature. We’ve tried to get him to stop, but he just won’t.”

Janet gasped. “You mean he’s killed others? I heard it was only one.”

“Killed…? What are you…?” Ellen suddenly had a terrible feeling. “You don’t think… no, you couldn’t think…” She felt sick to her stomach.

Janet shook her head. “This is worse than I thought, Ellen. I heard your father was put in jail for killing someone. I didn’t know he was a mass murderer.”

“A mass what?” Ellen shrieked.

[Wing: I AM DYING. I LOVE YOU, ELLEN.]

When Ellen finds out what people are saying about her family, she marches to the payphone and calls her dad at work, where she passes the phone to Janet and gets him to tell her directly that he’s never even gotten a speeding ticket (and he promises not to make any dad jokes while doing so). Janet listens to him, and then asks Ellen why she should trust him. Ellen points out that if he’d murdered a Sweet Valley High teacher it would be in the paper. Janet agrees, but says she doesn’t read the paper (nice). Ellen tells her to call the police then. Janet realises that this is serious.

And, presumably, that lies about a Unicorn reflects badly on all the Unicorns.

Janet Howell is ready to cut a bitch.

She quickly informs everyone that Ellen has been lied about, and Jessica feels very awkward.

Cut to Elizabeth, Olivia and Lila on their way to Mrs Harrington’s house. Lila is very excited that she’s getting to meet the Delores Duffay. Elizabeth says she can’t believe Jessica never introduced her. No, neither can I, since Delores performed with Jessica in Jessica on Stage, and Lila and Ellen were at that performance. I’m amazed she didn’t gloatingly introduce her to the Unicorns. [Raven: I thought she did. But I just went back and checked. Nope. Performance ended with an ovation, snap cut to the Wakefield Compound.]

When they arrive, Lila excitedly asks questions about the movies, and Elizabeth curtly brings them back to the topic at hand, despite the fact that Mrs Harrington seems to be enjoying the conversation as much as Lila. Honestly, Elizabeth, don’t be rude.

Mrs Harrington obligingly tells the story of a director they were friends with named Byron. He was called to testify, and when he refused because he wasn’t a communist, he was blacklisted. He could not get hired, he lost his house and his savings, and his wife had to support them on her teacher’s wage, until someone said a communist shouldn’t be allowed to teach.

She tells several similar stories, and makes it clear that there was no evidence, all of these terrible things happened to people down to nothing but gossip.

By the end of her talk, even Lila is enthused.

Back at the Wakefield Compound, Alice is tearing her sun-streaked, golden hair out, because Elvira hates all the fabric samples, so far. Ned is tearing his very normal brown hair out because he’s trying to learn three-way calling and as a male lawyer, he’s literally incapable of learning new things. (Yeah, I know #NotAllLawyers, but honestly, work in a support role for a law firm for six months and then see how much oomph you put behind your argument.) [Wing: Maybe #notalllawyers, but the majority of the older male lawyers I’ve dealt with absolutely did not embrace new technology, whether or not it was actually new.]

Elizabeth comes home burbling about McCarthyism, and Jessica tries to change the subject as it hits a little too close to home.

The next morning, when Jessica gets to school grounds, Janet, Betsy and Kimberley are waiting for her (with their java, silly hats and poetry). They inform her that Mandy is no longer a Unicorn. Janet had to boot her out when she found out that Mandy started the rumour about Ellen.

The goth kids offer her some poetry to soothe her soul, but she excuses herself to find Mandy. As she approaches Mandy, Ellen appears and yells at Mandy for telling lies about her father. Ellen stomps off in a rage and Mandy flees in tears.

Jessica realises things have gone too far. Not enough to admit that her harsh words helped start the rumour, but just enough to make her feel like she ought to get Mandy back in the Unicorns.

In Nydick’s class, they have to work in teams, so Peter and Jessica go over to Mandy, who’s crying on Grace’s shoulder, saying that she never said a word about jail, all she said was the hotdogs were dry.

“Excuse me, guys,” Peter said from where he sat on the other side of Jessica, “can we please talk about the space race?”

“Peter, do you mind? We’re in the middle of something,” Jessica said.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Peter mumbled. “Not like it’s history class or anything. Not like we have a report due or anything.” He folded his arms over his chest.

Everyone’s a bit sassy in this, aren’t they? And no, they don’t end up talking about their project, we just get an awkward cut to the end of the lesson. Poor Peter.

After class, Mandy, Jessica and Grace walk out together. Lila spots them and says that they shouldn’t be hanging out with Mandy anymore, because she’s not a Unicorn (uh, Lila, in my headcannon, your BFF is Melissa McCormick, so shhh). Grace says Janet needs to stop picking on Mandy, who didn’t start the rumour and she’s going to get the bottom of things. Janet is acting like a dictator.

And if you think everyone gasped and clutched their pearls at this, you are not wrong.

At lunch, battle lines are drawn. Belinda and Grace stick with Mandy, while the rest are at the Unicorner. [Wing: That is a great teamup.] Jessica says she’s going to talk to them and fix this. What follows is a very irritating back and forth as Jessica runs between the two tables with nothing but insults from the other party. Each time she is stopped in the middle by Veronica Brooks or Caroline Pearce who gleefully insult both sides or escalate rumours respectively. It culminates in both sides saying she’s a spy for the other side. Oh, and Jessica thinks she’s gotten blisters on her feet from walking across the lunch room four times. Sigh. [Raven: Again, I liked this stuff. It was twelve-year-olds acting like twelve-year-olds for once, not twelve-year-olds making mature decisions and catching art thieves or some shit.]

Over with Team Boring, Elizabeth is telling Amy how awesome it is that Mrs Harrington has a scrapbook showing her in all of her roles when she acted. I’m sure Amy already knows this, because remember when it got stolen? I just checked, she wasn’t there to find it, but it’s the kind of thing Elizabeth would have told her already. Then again, I bet Amy’s so pathetically grateful for Elizabeth’s friendship that she patiently listens to Elizabeth’s repetitive stories over and over again, just basking in the fact a Wakefield is talking to her.

“Wow,” Amy said. “Speaking of acting, is Jessica rehearsing for a play or something?”

“Jessica?” Elizabeth said, laughing. “No. Why?”

“Oh, my gosh! Then she’s crying for real!”

*blinks* Amy, it’s no wonder that nobody but Saint Elizabeth wants to be friends with you. You suck. Jessica is described as sitting “in the middle of the cafeteria floor, shaking with sobs.” And Amy’s first thought was performance art? [Raven: Hey, I side with Amy. Jessica could LITERALLY be doing ANYTHING for attention.]

Elizabeth leaves Amy to bundle her twin into the girls’ bathroom, where she listens to the whole sorry tale. She comments that it’s like a soap opera written by the whole school. Just wait until we get to Sweet Valley High. But Elizabeth has a plan, so everything’s going to be fine.

That night, the twins are on the phone with Peter and Olivia, ready to set their plan in motion. Olivia and Peter are happy to be part of it. (But I bet Peter has made the request that they do something about his space race project in return.)

The plan is put into action. Elizabeth three-way calls Olivia and Lila, and when they’re done talking about the project, Elizabeth says she’s going to disconnect Lila, but doesn’t. Then she tells Olivia she has a huge secret to tell her: Johnny Buck will be playing at Janet’s surprise party. She hears a strangled squeak and knows Lila has taken the bait.

Next up, Jessica does exactly the same thing with her team – when she fails to disconnect Mandy, she tells Peter Johnny Buck will be playing at the party.

Next, Lila calls Ellen to tell her what she overheard, only she adds that The Buck will be doing all of Janet’s favourite songs.

Ellen calls Kimberley and adds that Johnny is doing a special song for Janet.

At school, Lila and Ellen speculate on whether Johnny will give Janet a birthday kiss.

Betsy confirms to Tamara that Johnny has promised Janet a birthday kiss. Betsy says that he’ll be writing her a special birthday song. [Raven: He only does that for Lois Waller.]

At lunch, Jessica tells Elizabeth she overheard Mandy and Belinda talking about how Johnny Buck is moving to Sweet Valley. I don’t know why that’s surprising, that’s like the ninth time that rumour has gone around. Lila approaches them and in a very sweet and gentle voice asks if the party is still on. After a moment’s deliberation, Jessica casually says yes and Lila gives her a huge hug. Jessica asks if Ellen has arranged the gift certificate and Lila says they won’t need–uh, sure, she’ll remind Ellen.

At the Wakefield Compound, Jessica is prepping for the party when Alice rocks up to complain about Elvira. She spent ages finding the right tables, it had to be humane wood, and eventually she found something right. They needed two more, so Alice spent days of her life tracking down extras. When they finally arrived, Elvira turned them down because they’re on her endangered trees list.

Jessica suggests she keep it simple: “picnic tables, candles in little buckets, and straw on the floor” or maybe drop her. Alice says she’s no quitter – and this we know to be true. She never once put down the gin bottle through even one of her pregnancies – and she’s going to get Elvira and the furniture store both on the line and sort it out.

Ten minutes later, she’s back. The furniture store owner and Elvira got on like a house on fire, but she fired Alice anyway because she hasn’t a clue about tables or veggies. That’s probably true, but I’d be more alarmed that she thought a vegan restaurant needed the exact same décor as a middle-class living room. Actually, to be fair, this subplot is actually quite fun. It’s just I’m not used to Alice having anything sassy to say. I’m not used to a Jamie juggling three ideas at once. It’s a good thing, but it’s probably too good for Sweet Valley.

Ellen, Tamara and Lila arrive early to “help set up”. They’re all dressed to the nines and asking vague questions whether “anyone else” is here and so forth. Lila has brought her autograph book (doesn’t her uncle work with Johnny Buck? Shouldn’t she already have his autograph?), and Tamara wonders if the backyard will be too crowded if anyone else shows up.

Next up Mandy, Belinda and Grace show up and do much the same as the others – except Mandy apologises for the fight the other day.

Moments later the goth kids, sans Janet, show up, dressed in colour. A special day calls for a special outfit.

At 7:30, Janet arrives. Everyone pops out and surprises her. Janet wants to cut all the non-Unicorn bitches at her party. She is ready to leave when Tamara runs over to her and whispers something in her ear. Janet squeals, and all of a sudden is just fine with the situation. Lila can’t help but blurt out that he wrote her a special song.

Jessica innocently asks who wrote Janet a song?

The Unicorns fall over themselves to share their fantasies of Johnny Buck moving to Sweet Valley, and that he’s performing at Janet’s party. Imagine, they might see him at the Dairi Burger and share a milkshake and it’ll be just like Lady and the Tramp.

Jessica says she can’t really see that happening, since he’s on tour in Europe at the moment. But gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if he did move to Sweet Valley?

Lila accuses Jessica of starting this rumour, but the Unicorns are quick to turn on each other and assign their whimsical speculations as facts from the person they speculated with, but they trace it back to the twins. The twins confirm that they did indeed say The Buck would be playing at the party, and that is true. He will be playing on the stereo.

Elizabeth and Jessica explain this game of waffleception seems familiar – like the rumours about Mr Riteman.

After a few minutes of silence, Janet walked over to Jessica and clasped her hands. “Thank you, Jessica. Truth’s dagger sometimes hurts.” She gazed at her flock. “Now it is time for healing.”

Goth Janet will be missed when this book ends and we never mention this nonsense again. [Raven: Completely loving the Gothnicorns.] [Wing: Sounds like Goth Janet is even more Cult Leader than not!Goth Janet, and I am here for it.]

Anyway, everything’s good now and they have a wonderful party off screen.

On Monday, Janet, Betsy and Kimberley are reading poetry, drinking java and eating muffins from Earthly Delights, when they summon Jessica so Janet can give her the hostess gift. Jessica thinks about unwrapping it, but then decides against it.

She tracks down Ellen and tells her that she should have the gift. Ok, that’s actually remarkably sweet from Jessica. I don’t think she’s ever thought someone else deserves a gift. The only time I can think of is in Sneaking Out where she gives the present from Mrs Bramble to her mother because she stole her mother’s birthday gift to wear to a concert. (Or maybe when she swaps dolls with Elizabeth in The Christmas Ghost flashback to show she wasn’t always a sociopathic little shit.)

Sadly, the gift turns out to be a manky old book of poetry, which is not Ellen or Jessica’s thing. Still, they have a laugh over it.

We cut to the presentations in Nydick’s class, but we don’t get to see Jessica’s team. Nydick comments that he hopes Elizabeth is more prepared than her sister, so I can only assume that despite Peter’s interest and enthusiasm in the project, it tanked. I feel for him. It’s why I hate working with idiots too. Also, I know we all know that Nydick is a wrongun, but shaming a kid in class/comparing her to her perfect sister is kind of a dick move.

Lila uses the project as a platform to talk about the Unicorn drama, and advises everyone to think twice before repeating a rumour. And somehow the class applauds wildly rather than falling off their chair in fits of laughter at the thought of a gossipy Unicorn telling them to check their sources. [Raven: Class ends with a tearful Nydick… “Remember, children, that vicious rumours are very hurtful, can ruin careers, and have a huge impact on a person’s life. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve an appointment with my parole officer.”]

When Jessica gets home, her mother is laughing her head off. Apparently Elvira went with Jessica’s suggestion of “picnic tables, candles in little tin buckets, and straw on the floor” and her designer is probably twelve. Jessica remembers that the goth kids eat at Elvira’s restaurant, and agrees that Alice is probably right.

(Side note: sounds like a twelve year old had a better idea of what a vegan eatery should look like – that kid probably listened to Elvira’s mission statement. I’m still baffled that Alice thought using the same design as a living room was a good idea.)

And then we have the lead-in to the next book. Maria Slater approaches Elizabeth and they talk about Delores Duffay and acting. Maria says she’s got a video camera and likes to interview people. Elizabeth says that sounds fun, and Maria says that next time she goes out with the camera, she’ll give Elizabeth a call.

Or, thanks to @idecisivekepner, I know that, because this is how my book ended:

The Gossip War - Final Page

Who needs the end of that sentence. Just make it up.

 

Final Thoughts:

Well. That was a thing.

This book is more fun to read than recap, but it’s not great because if this was how the Unicorns acted all the time, they would have disbanded before Jessica even managed to join them. On the other hand, it was fun to see the gossip escalate. And the book was so much better than Steven the Zombie, which is my own personal worst of the series.

I guess I’m in a bit of a mood. It’s no secret that my favourite wave of this series starts with Grapplegate (I’d say Jessica’s Secret is probably where it really kicks in) and ends around The Middle School Gets Married, so anything after that probably won’t be as awesome as those books. Still, bonus points for the Ellen point of view chapters, which was adorable. I actually found it sweet that she knows she’s regarded as dim, and she knows she has a problem remember things and accidentally blurting idiot things, and both she and her mother are working on it.

But goddamn, can I please have an Ellen book where she’s the actual main story, rather than just the catalyst for Jessica’s adventures?

[Raven: I enjoyed this book a lot. It was VERY sassy, from every character, and from Jamie Suzanne herself. It had a number of things I like – kids being kids, amazing Unicorns, great Ellen and Janet scenes, Wakefields being human – and a few things I didn’t. I echo Dove’s point that getting Three-Way Calling doesn NOTHING to help Jessica’s main gripe, and also suggest that the whole Waffleception / Telephone Game plot didn’t need to have any Three-Way Calling nonsense in it at all. Also, having a book called The Gossip War that doens’t have Caroline Pearce front and fucking centre is verging on the criminal. But overall, I did enjoy it, and would read it again.]

[Wing: I love a good, ridiculous game of Telephone Gone Wrong. Was torn on the goth Unicorns, though. On the one hand, I don’t believe for a second Janet went there on her own. I do believe the others followed her if she did. Was there a love interest involved offscreen? I’m going with yes.

Also: Ellen was G R E A T. I want a book all about her.]

I am Dove. I am: Team Jessica (Sweet Valley); Team Bad Guy (Point Horror);  Team Geiger (Making Out); Team Nina/Lucas (Making Out); and I am the voice of a claymation cow named Daisy, and I was in an advert for Fairy Liquid in the 80s.

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