Title: Lila’s Secret Valentine
Tagline: Where is Lila’s valentine?
Summary: Caught in a lie…
Lila Fowler is dreading Valentine’s Day. She has no valentine, and she’s determined not to let her friends in the exclusive Unicorn Club know. So she tells everyone that she does have a boyfriend and sends herself flowers and candy to prove it. Her valentine’s name is Gray Williams, and he’s rich, cute and completely made up.
The Unicorns are totally impressed, and Lila is thrilled—until her friends pressure her into bringing Gray to the Valentine’s dance. How can she bring a date that doesn’t exist.
Today is Dove and I’s anniversary, so it should be a perfect time to recap a loved-up Valentine-themed book.
However, we’ve just had an argument, so the level of dewey-eyed gushiness this recap with entail remains to be seen. (Don’t worry, we rarely argue, and it’s all a storm in a teacup anyway.)
It’s a book about Lila, on the face of it, which is great. But I suspect there’ll be a lot of pre-teen mushiness, which I’m pretty meh about. We’ll see.
Also, I hate the new covers. I do like Dove’s rework, which I’m sure is displayed below.
[Dove: I’m here for anything Lila, although we’ve reached the point where I kind of don’t remember what’s going on. I didn’t read it as a kid, and if I’ve read it since, it was a few years before we started recapping, so it’s all mush. On the other hand, I did enjoy making a Super Edition cover for this, which you can see here:]
[Wing: Ridiculously adorable cover. I’m guessing this book will have far too many misunderstandings that would be resolved if people would just talk to each other, but since most of them are twelve, I suppose I believe it.]
We start with the Boosters practicing a Valentine-themed cheer…
“Give me an L! Give me an O! Give me a V! Give me an E! What’s that spell?” they all yelled in unison. “What’s that spell? Love! Love! Yay!”
Jesus Christ, give me a fucking break.
Sweet Valley Middle School, it seems, has drunk the Valentine’s Day Kool-Aid. It’s ten days out, but the love in the air is palpable.
During a cheer-fuelled water-break, Janet checks up on the Boosters’ assignments. Apparently, the bouncy children had been tasked with choreographing a bespoke Valentine-themed cheer for the Boosters to perform in the cafeteria. The Middle School kids can shell out two bucks for a personalized cheer for their beau, or double that fee for a new and unique cheer.
Damn, those Boosters will be making bank.
[Dove: It has been way too long since we’ve used that clip.]
The money is to hire a professional photographer to work at the upcoming Middle School Valentine’s Day Dance.
Seriously though, I don’t remember any of the clubs in my school do any fundraising at all, never mind this sort of clandestine self-driven fundraising. Like, my DnD group didn’t hold any bake sales in order to fund the purchase of some new gem percentile dice. Must be an American thing. Wing? [Dove: I can’t give an American perspective, but I can give a Sweet Valley one. Once they get to high school, they have a dance every few minutes with little to no fund-raising required. I suspect they’re banking the money while they’re young and cute, so they can get drunk on a paper cups of wine when they’re sixteen.]
[Wing: We did some fundraising, but not as much as SVMS does. We’d sell band candy, for example, to raise money for competitions (without the adults becoming teenagers part) and we sold more candy to raise money for a Spanish Club trip to Spain, but we wouldn’t raise money to have a photographer at the dance. Or at least we as a student body wouldn’t; I actually have no idea how student council or any dance committee would manage it.]
Jessica is bursting to share her cheer, but Winston pipes up first. He shits out some guff about stinky feet, before Jessica shares her cheer. As it’s for general use with a variety of names supplied by paying customers, it needs to have generic blanks to be filled.
Raising one pom-pom over her head, Jessica did a grapevine to the left, then switched pom-poms and did a grapevine to the right. She did some low kicks as she chanted her cheer. “Valentine’s is coming soon, and you know what to do. Hmm-hmm sends me to the moon. Hmm-hmm, I love you! Yay!” She finished with a high split-kick. She landed and waited expectantly, proud of the way she had made everything rhyme.
Ellen Riteman looked at her blankly. “What’s a hmm-hmm?” she asked.
Bless Ellen! Looks like this Ghostie knows how to write her, which bodes well for Lila’s character.
Janet Howell, president of the Unicorns, decrees the cheer to be a “good try” before moving on. Jessica thinks the cheer deserves wild applause, tickertape parades, and possible the Nobel Prize for Cheerleading. She’s pissed.
Kimberly Haver supplies her own cheer, on which she’s worked for a couple of hours.
She jumped up and came down in a split, then leaped up and twirled around. “Give me a K! Give me an E! Give me an N! What’s that spell? Ken! Be my valentine! Yay!” She bounced up and down, swinging her pom-poms.
Two fucking hours?! Kimberley needs a slap. [Dove: FUCK YOU KIMBERLEY HAVER as a tag?]
No one else has anything to add, for various pre-teen reasons. They decide to work on it immediately, but then they just chat about finding the perfect dress for the forthcoming dance.
Yeah, I’m sensing this book just ain’t for me.
(For the record, Amy states she won’t find anything because she’s a wiry tomboy, and Lila decrees she’s just gonna throw money at the problem.)
[Wing: I actually liked Amy during this part of the book, which surprised me. Away from Elizabeth, she’s much more interesting these days.]
With five minutes left in the practice, Lila daydreams of her perfect entrance to the Valentine’s Dance. A limo in the twilight, tinted windows. Door opening, a delicate foot in an adorable suede shoe. Everyone gasps at her perfect outfit. And at her arm? The glorious seventh grader, Jake Hamilton.
Of course, she and Jake weren’t a couple… yet. But he’d been sending her many signals of love, so it’s only a matter of time.
Ah Lila. Gotta love the confidence.
She’s snapped back into the conversation by Jessica. The girls then discuss their date prospects. Mandy Miller (beloved of Peter Jeffries) has yet to secure a date. Lila is incredulous, and declares that anyone who’s anyone will be attending the dance with a significant other. Patrick Morris has invited Sophia Rizzo, and Ken Matthews has snagged himself a lank-haired spunkwaffle.
Grace tries to dial it back, claiming she knows lots of people attending the dance with their friends. Lila doubles down.
Lila frowned. “Maybe going stag is OK for some people. But a Unicorn would never show up at the dance without a fabulous date.”
So there we have it. The plot for the book.
We cut to the offices of the Sweet Valley Sixers (for ‘offices’, read ‘classroom’). Just as the Unicorns have a cool way to make some green, Team Boring have their own: Valentine-themed personal ads! That’s right, the A-Plot from Jessica’s Blind Date has become the B-Plot for this book! So if you liked Jessica’s Blind Date, you’ll LOVE this!
As with the tiered cheers, there are two levels of personal ads: $1.50 for a submitted ad, or $2.50 for some extra help in writing the ad. Half the money raised in going into the Dance Fund, while the other half is pencilled in for Mr Nydick’s bail money. Sorry, I meant to say “newspaper operating costs.”
What the hell? The kids have to fund their own school newspaper? That’s fucking weak.
The meeting is adjourned, and the school day is over. Before we move into the plot proper, we hit the usual “look at these fucking twins” bullshit. And, as the Ghostie is regurgitating a chunk of the plot from Jessica’s Blind Date, I’m doing the same from the recap.
- Elizabeth has a favourite tree in the back garden. She sits in it when she needs to think something through. Jessica also likes the tree. She uses it to mark the graves.
- When Elizabeth is rushing, it’s because she needs to stop the presses with a huge scoop! When Jessica is rushing, it’s because she’s fleeing the scene of the crime.
- Elizabeth has blonde hair, and blue eyes. Jessica, however, has blue eyes, and blond hai-… FUCKING HELL! THEY’RE THE SAME!
Elizabeth confides with Julie that, because she’s warm for Todd Wilkins’ form, she’s tempted to do “something special” for him this coming Valentine’s Day. There’s a nice callback to the previous book, in which Todd played Romeo against Elizabeth’s Juliet. During that book, Elizabeth’s feelings for Todd were fuelled by the fire that only Shakespearean actors in Lycra leggings can stoke.
Julie suggests that Liz pens a lovegram for the Sweet Valley Sixers classified, but Liz wants something more personal and private. On her way to meet Jessica for the trip home, she decides to read as many love poems as she can, for inspiration. Not a bad plan, I guess, but a lot of love poems are fucking awful.
On the journey home, Jessica and Elizabeth share a nice scene in which the discuss the serendipity of the alignment of their respective love lives. Both of them have beaus at the same time. Elizabeth has Todd, and Jessica has Aaron. Jess hopes Aaron will buy a four-dollar cheer from the Boosters, dedicated to her. Sweet.
At dinner that night, Elizabeth tells the Wakefield Collective of the success of the Sweet Valley Sixers classifieds. The Lovegrams? All sold out for the next issue, released the following morning. She shares her favourite after some half-cut gin-fuelled cajoling from her lush mother.
Elizabeth grinned. “I guess since the paper will be out tomorrow, it doesn’t matter if I tell you. My favorite was: ‘Dark beauty with eyes of night, a smile like light of day. You I revere with all my might, until you say me nay. Happy Valentine’s Day,’” she quoted solemnly, gazing off into the distance.
The family are stunned. Steven helps translate the pretty basic and rather shit “until you say me nay” line, which is a bit weird since Jessica seemed comfortable enough to read Romeo and Juliet without missing the meaning. [Dove: Yeah, it’s weird how they all understood the bard last week, but Elizabeth’s poem stumps them.] [Wing: I was shocked as hell that this book referenced Romeo & Two Juliets more than once. CONTINUITY! At least a little bit.] [Raven: It’s odd for a Super Edition, as these usually sit outside the general timeline.]
Jessica convinces Liz to reveal the sender’s details. Patrick Morris dedicated it to Sophia Rizzo, apparently. And naturally, it was actually written by… Elizabeth herself.
After some rather entertaining sibling banter, Mama Wakefield gets to the crux of the issue.
“The poem was very nice, Elizabeth,” Mrs. Wakefield broke in. “I’m just surprised Patrick was comfortable sending such an intense lovegram to Sophia.”
“He wasn’t at first,” Elizabeth admitted. “But I managed to convince him. After all, it’s Valentine’s Day. Lots of people will be sending romantic love-grams.”
It appears that Elizabeth is going to get carried away with declarations of love in this book. Nice. [Dove: This is so Elizabeth, and while I feel like throttling her when she’s like this, I appreciate that it’s perfectly in character.] [Wing: It’s a very Elizabeth mix of Elizabeth Must Win and Elizabeth Knows Best and Thank God for Elizabeth and Elizabeth is the Greatest Writer of Her Age.]
Jessica then turns the conversation to her favourite subject: herself. She mentions the rent-a-cheer scheme headed by the Boosters. Ten people have signed up thus far, which is a pretty good start. The Boosters have a selection of cheers that are chameleonic enough to include names that are single or multiple syllables. That’s some surprisingly effective planning… I was hoping to make a “what if your name is Agamemnon?” joke there, but they’ve got all bases covered.
Later that evening, Liz chats to Amy on the telemaphone. Both their pre-teen minds are filled with thoughts of Valentine’s Day.
Elizabeth is determined to do something special for Todd, but she’s floundering with the details. Bizarrely, Amy actually has some good advice. She tells Liz to eschew what she thinks Elizabeth would do, and instead let her hair down and expose the real Elizabeth.
Really? I’m pretty sure the twinset-and-pearls Liz IS the real Liz. Unless Amy is suggesting Elizabeth harness some of the sassy Liz from Romeo and Two Juliets? That’d be great.
She vacillates between being uber romantic with a poem, and just sending a funny card. The phonecall ends with no resolution.
[Wing: Do they now have a wireless phone? Because Elizabeth goes into the hallway to get the phone to talk to Amy, but the next call she’s sitting in her room. I could have sworn the only phone in the house for the kids to use was downstairs.]
Next, Todd calls! He invites Liz to a double-date with Ken and Amy, at the movies the following afternoon. The film? Exterminator Aliens from the Deep.
APPALING title. [Dove: What exactly are the aliens exterminating in the deep? Of all the problems in the world, overpopulation of the ocean isn’t even a thing.]
After the call, Elizabeth decides what to do. Inspired by the love poems she’s been reading, she decides to pen Todd a Valentine poem, type it out on fancy paper, and pop it into his locker at school. Ahh, a teen Valentine staple. Can’t really argue.
Or can you? [Dove: This is exactly what I pictured her doing. Only with more clipart. Think the Publisher phase of Microsoft.]
I’m pretty sure Todd’s not really on the mushy page at the moment, if he thinks going to see Exterminator Aliens from the Deep is a romantic date. [Wing: Horror movies are a great romantic date.] [Raven: Horrible movies, not so much.]
Once she finishes the poem – which is presumably so raunchy that the reader is not treated to the text at this time – she audibly gasps at the content. It’s not like her at all. Nevertheless, she carries on regardless.
We cut to the Boosters. It’s Friday, and they are manning the Cheers Signup station. They’ve had no takers for the four-dollar cheer, but have SEVEN bites at the two-dollar cherry.
I’m glad we’ve cut back to the Boosters. After all, this is supposed to be LILA’s Secret Valentine, and all we’ve really had is fucking Wakefields.
Lila has been manning the table since the beginning of lunch, and she’s determined to look fabulous for when Jake Hamilton comes by and orders his cheer especially for her / asks her to go to the dance.
Okay, so I appreciate Lila’s confidence. Hell, it’s expected with Lila. Thing is, it displays a lack of understanding of the male psyche. Expecting Jake to rock up and order a chant for Lila, while LILA HERSELF IS SAT THERE LISTENING, is asking a bit much. I’m pretty sure he’d want to order the chant from anyone BUT Lila.
Rick Hunter orders a chant for Kimberley Haver, which gets everyone’s tongues a-waggin’. [Dove: Nooooooooooooooooooooo! FUCK YOU KIMBERLEY HAVER! (new tag added)] [Raven: I wonder how many Unicorns we’ll have told to fuck off by the end of the run?] We learn that Aaron has not yet ordered a chant for Jessica, just like Jake and Lila’s situation.
However, Jake is fast approaching. Has Lila’s time come?
Of course not.
The Ghostie does a fine job in bringing the supposed romance, with Jake leaning over the signup table to smile at Lila, and Lila flirting casually, before undercutting the scene, as we knew would happen, with the following…
“I want it to be for…”
Lila sat forward in her chair, a smile lighting her face as she gazed into his impossibly blue eyes.
“Brooke Dennis,” Jake said in a conspiratorial tone.
OH SHIT, IT’S GOING DOWN.
Gasps are gasped. Pins are dropped. Lila is in danger of floundering.
Then, she rallies, as is to be expected. She’s Lila fucking Fowler.
Lila was considering sinking to the floor when she realized that the Boosters and Jake Hamilton were looking at her. Get a grip, she commanded herself. You have an image to maintain. She was a Fowler. Not only that, but she was a Unicorn and a Booster. She didn’t need anybody, not even Jake Hamilton.
She gaily takes details of Jakes proposed cheer (“mention her dimples, call her Snookie, tell her my cock is immense” etc) before sending the oblivious Jake on his way with a friendly smile. Then, with the eyes of the Unicorns upon her, she KNOCKS IT OUT OF THE FUCKING PARK.
“Whew, what a relief!” she exclaimed, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “After I dumped Jake so hard last weekend, I thought he’d never speak to me again.” Leaning back in her chair, she fanned herself with her clipboard. “I’m really glad he’s decided to be big about it. Thank heavens he’s picking himself up and moving on with his life. I think dating someone else will definitely be good for him. You know, help him put the pieces back together.”
[Wing: Lila is on goddamn fire right here. That lie is AMAZING.]
The Unicorns, shocked and surprised, immediately believe her. Even Jessica, which is fucking astounding.
SPOILER – they keep taking her continued embellishments at face value throughout the book, which at first I found a little strange. Then I took it to be exactly as the Ghostie intended, a non-bitchy group of ACTUAL FRIENDS believing sticking up for one of their own. A lot of the Ghosties write the Unigibbons as a pack of wailing harpies, hellbent of mutual destruction, but at their heart they should be actual friends.
Having them react as true friends makes this book pretty charming, so I’m all for it.
[Dove: I was so excited to see them being friends, I kept pushing Raven to read it sooner so we could talk about it. I don’t think we’ve seen them being friends since Raven’s beloved The Older Boy.]
Jessica, of course, is the one to ask the obvious question…
“So why did you break up with him?” Jessica wanted to know.
Lila felt her heart sink. Why would I break up with Jake Hamilton? Why would anyone ever break up with him?
“Lila?” Jessica pressed. “I asked why you broke up.”
Think, Lila, think.
“Oh, because of Gray, actually,” Lila said coolly.
Now THAT’S how you end a chapter!
Who the fuck is Gray?
In the face of some good-natured girly-grilling, Lila vamps like a pro and invents a plausible meet-cute for herself and her new, non-existent boyfriend, the eighth grader Gray Williams. Here are some adorable details about Gray.
- Slightly wavy dark-brown hair
- Green eyes
- Schools at Lovett Academy
They “met” in the street, and got to know each other over ice cream at Casey’s, where he DEMANDED she immediately split up with Jake Hamilton. So she did.
Damn, maybe he IS Christian Grey.
The collected Boosters / Unicorns fawn over the story, lapping up all details about the adorable Gray Williams. Then Jessica, again, asks the difficult question.
“Gosh, I just can’t wait to meet him,” Jessica said excitedly. “Is he going to pick you up for the dance, or will you go in your dad’s limo?”
Lila went pale. The dance. Oh, no!
Loving the A Plot here. This Ghostie seems to have a decent handle on Lila’s character. And having everyone be friendly, but Jessica asking the tricky questions, albeit unwittingly, is a nice touch.
Unfortunately, we cut to the B Plot, with Elizabeth waiting to surreptitiously slip the love poem into Todd’s locker. She prints it out on the school computer (I thought the Wakefields had a computer? [Dove: True.]), pops it in an envelope, kisses the back of it, and trots off to Todd’s locker. One important plot point: she DID NOT sign it, preferring anonymity.
After a brief dose of peril in which Todd passes by as Elizabeth hides herself behind a gaggle of gabbing girls, she gets the job done and heads off to lunch, dreaming of illicit movie theatre kisses from Todd’s dreamy lips.
At this point, I was fully expecting this love note to have been popped into the wrong locker, but that proves not to be the case.
We now skip to the end of the day, and to Todd’s POV, which (unfortunately) we inhabit for vast swathes of this book from here on in. He’s finished his classes, and is ready to head home. Before doing so,m he heads to his locker… and finds the envelope, festooned with red love hearts.
His first reaction is correct. It’s an early Valentine from Elizabeth.
Then he reads it.
I’ve often wished that I could show
How you pierced my heart with Cupid’s bow,
But we’ve been friends for far too long
For you to buy my siren’s song.
Oh, Todd, so deep your eyes of brown.
I pray I see our friendship’s grown.
I pray I see your understanding
For the love my heart’s commanding.
On this, the feast of Valentine,
Please say your heart feels just like mine.
With wings of air I look ahead
Toward a day with joys unsaid,
And then I’ll know we two won’t part
Because I’ve given you my heart.
With love from…
And thus springs forth the confusion with which we are blighted with for the rest of the book.
Todd thinks that only Elizabeth would send him a Valentine.
Todd thinks that Elizabeth would NEVER write anything like the poem he’s received.
Ergo, Elizabeth didn’t write the Valentine. And Todd has a secret admirer!
Todd thinks it all through, and deduces that Elizabeth would not be happy to learn that Todd had received a note from a secret admirer. But that’s hardly his fault. So, what’s his play?
I feel Todd’s going to be a bellend. [Dove: As someone who’s read a lot of SVH, as well as Confidential and Sweet Life: yes. This is correct.] [Wing: I so hoped we wouldn’t get into this kind of shit until SVH, but NO NO IT IS HERE NOW.]
Back to the A Plot, and it’s Saturday morning. We’re at the Fowler Mansion, and Lila has thought through the Gray situation. It’s not gone too far, she thinks, so there’s plenty of time to ditch Gray. Over the next few days, she could start finding fault with Gray, and by Tuesday. She can kick him to the kerb on Tuesday.
Mrs Pervis (the Fowler housekeeper) enters with some freshly cut flowers, and tasks Lila with putting them in a vase. Lila complains that she’s waiting for the Unicorns to go shopping, but eventually grudgingly agrees once she learns that Mr Pratt the Gardener has injured himself and needs taking to the hospital.
Mrs. Pervis handed her the bunch of flowers, and Lila headed toward the kitchen. “Did Mr. Pratt hurt himself badly?” she remembered to ask. Her father always said that good employers made good employees.
Bless you, Lila. That’s a tick in the “Learn to be Human” column. [Dove: Absolutely loved this little detail.]
Naturally, the Unicorns arrive to find Lila arranging flowers. And naturally, when Janet asks if they are from Gary, Lila affirms their assumptions. Because why not? She’ll be ditching him, in a few days after all.
Next, we’re in the Dog House, the continuity-based hot dog emporium in the new mall food court. Elizabeth and Todd are enjoying some offal tubes of cow eyelids, but things are not exactly rosy in Elizabeth’s ladygarden. Todd had not mentioned her love poem at all during their double-date with Ken and Amy the previous evening, not had he mentioned it that morning now the two of them were alone.
She asks him a few banal small-talky questions. How’s you hot dog, what’s your favourite smell, how long on the slack, that sort of thing. He grunts through with noncommittal answers.
Elizabeth finished her last french fry and took a sip of her drink. Something was definitely going on with Todd. Something completely weird.
Yeah… Todd’s definitely becoming a bellend.
There’s a quick skip to the Unicorns shopping for their Valentine’s Dance outfits, in which we see Lila buy something incredibly expensive to wear for when “Gray” and she make their incredible entrance to the party. She has a slight wobble when she wonders whether it’s wise to buy such an extravagant outfit when she might end up datelessly skipping the event, but the true Fowler spirit shines through and she buys it regardless.
[Dove: I actually loved this shopping trip because it was Jessica that found the outfit and thought it would be perfect for Lila. Actual friendship. Support. Knowing your BFF’s style. FUCKING WIN.]
Just a quick note… it’s a black velvet bodysuit.
A black VELVET bodysuit.
We just spent the entirety of Big for Christmas arguing that velvet was for bloody kids, then they throw this shit at us?!
Back with Elizabeth, things are becoming weirder. While browsing at the Book Village, Todd has become full-on horndog. Any girl their age that wanders past? Todd stares at her, fixated, head snapping from skirt to skirt like a pre-teen velociraptor. [Wing: HOW DARE YOU INSULT THE DEADLY, VICIOUS, INTELLIGENT VELOCIRAPTOR. Todd could never be like those clever girls.]
Elizabeth reasons it away, concluding that even Romeo probably girl-watched a little, [Wing: … isn’t that pretty much exactly how Romeo found Juliet?] as they buy their books and head back into the mall. Liz spots her sister and the Unigibbons, and again tries to engage Todd in small talk. This time, however, she has an agenda: drop some subtle hints to Todd about asking her to the Valentine’s Dance.
It doesn’t work. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Todd makes up some feeble excuses and bolts for freedom. Apparently, he has to do “this thing.” For his “mom”. When of course, we all know he’s going home for a wank.
Elizabeth is confused, and plonks herself down on a bench. A bench that’s facing a prominent Valentine’s Day display. Then, using some frankly heroic leaps of logic, she deduces that Todd isn’t in fact becoming a bellend… he’s actually acting overwhelmed by her lovely poem, and has darted off to order her some flowers, or write her a poem of his own.
Oh, you poor child. [Dove: I dunno, Wakefields always win. This is perfect Wakefield logic.]
In a happier mood, Elizabeth heads for the exit… where she is ambushed by Aaron Dallas! Apparently, he has to speak to her about something, something Jessica cannot hear.
Curiouser and curiouser!
Well, not particularly curious, I suppose. He’s obviously asking Elizabeth for help with his Valentine for Jessica. But shush, we’re not supposed to know about that yet.
It’s now Monday morning, and Jessica is quizzing Lila about her weekend with Gray whilst they walk to school. As you’d expect, Lila suspects Jessica’s motives, even though they are rather transparent and wholesome throughout this book.
Despite it being a perfect time to ditch Gray, Lila strings out the story a little longer. Yes she saw him over the weekend. They watched TV.
Ellen approaches and joins in their conversation. Then, as they approach homeroom, she breaks all our hearts a little.
“Lila, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Ellen said as they headed toward their homeroom. “Do you think… well, does Gray maybe have a friend that I could go to the dance with?” She sounded hopeful. “I haven’t been asked yet, and a cool guy like Gray probably has adorable friends.” She put her hand on Lila’s arm. “Will you at least ask him about it? I’d really appreciate it.”
BLESS Ellen! [Dove: Squee!]
To her credit, Lila is also hit squarely in the feels. She mumbles through a promise to ask Gray what can be done, which puts a beaming smile on poor Ellen’s face. She thanks her friends and skips away.
To be honest, I’m liking everyone in this A Plot. Lila is great, Ellen is great, the Unicorns are collectively great, Jessica is great. It’s all so wholesome. Loving it.
Can’t really say the same about the B Plot though…
Back to the library with Team Boring, and Amy discusses Todd’s bizarre behaviour with a concerned Elizabeth. Since he abandoned Liz in the mall on Saturday, there’s been no contact. And, tellingly, Elizabeth has not received a reciprocal Valentine poem in her locker.
Amy is sure Todd will ask Liz to the dance some time that day. After all, Ken has finally asker her to the dance, so Elizabeth’s invite must be just around the corner.
The girls must have said Todd’s name three times, because he turns up like motherfucking Candyman. Looking just as uncomfortable as he was on Saturday. [Dove: That’s Bloody Mary. Candyman requires five.] [Raven: I bow down to your horror knowledge.]
He quickly guides Liz down a reference aisle, and begins stammering something.
Liz, beneficently, presumes he’s about to ask her to the dance. But she couldn’t be more wrong.
“I think, um, that maybe we should take it easy for a while,” [Todd] muttered.
Elizabeth’s mind went blank momentarily. “Take it easy?” she repeated in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, maybe we should see other people,” Todd blurted, then quickly lowered his voice. “You know, not be so… serious.”
That’s right, folks. The dependable, level-headed, considerate Todd Wilkins has dumped Elizabeth Wakefield just four days before Valentine’s Day.
Take a bow, son. You colossal bellend.
Elizabeth struggles at first, but then hardens in anger. She decides that Todd is a wimp, if he can’t cope with some heartfelt emotions supplied in anonymous poem form. So yeah. Fuck Todd. Fuck him in the ear.
She storms off, and we skip into Todd’s POV. And WHAT an obtuse point of view it is.
In his mind, he thinks that Elizabeth is nice, and pretty, but now he’s got a Secret Admirer that is obviously head-over-tits in love with the Wilkinator, that skank needs to be given a few inches of the sweet Todd-Rocket, if ya get me.
So Elizabeth is nice, and pretty, and so on, but the Secret Admirer may nice and pretty too! And she definitely deserves a chance.
All morning, Todd had been making eye contact with random girls, looking for their signs of love and devotion. Because THAT’S not fucking creepy, dear me no. He’s excited to meet this Mystery Girl, and believes she’ll show herself somehow by, I dunno, blowing the Horn of fucking Gondor.
[Wing: Messages delivered by fire are so much better.
He even references the pack of girls that were passing his locker while Elizabeth hid behind them with the poem… maybe one of THOSE was his Secret Admirer?
After a frankly irritating scene where he clashes with a taunting Bruce Patman, Todd also deduces that the reason his Secret Admirer has not made herself known before now is that she knew about his sort-of relationship with Elizabeth. But now that was ancient history, there was nothing to stop things proceeding apace.
Todd is sure that his breakup will be all over the school by the end of lunch. Then all his dreams will come true.
I dislike this shit intensely. WHY?
Because it’s not Todd.
You know who it IS?
It’s fucking STEVN WAKEFIELD.
I’d accept this from him, probably even enjoy the story. Because Steven is a proven Grade A Cleft, with a track record of asinine behaviour. Hell, I’d probably even accept it from Ken Matthews, or Aaron Dallas.
But TODD FUCKING WILKINS?!
I call Bullshit.
[Dove: Anyone else feel we should stop at the end of Sweet Valley Twins? Because the amount of boyfriend hopping is going to break Wing and Raven.] [Wing: NOPE. You got us into this for the long haul, no backing out now.]
We skip to the cafeteria, and Jessica is taking cheer orders for the faculty. Aaron Dallas drops by, and Jessica’s heart skips a beat in the hope that he’s about to order a cheer just for her, but that’s not happening just yet. Instead, she watches as the other Boosters perform their first ordered cheer of the book.
“You know you are a sweetheart
I really think you’re keen
I hate it when we’re a-part
Julie Porter, don’t be mean!
Be my Valentine! Yay!”
The Boosters jumped up in high kicks, shaking their pom-poms. At her lunch table in the middle of the room, Julie Porter sat up, a shocked expression on her face. She whirled around to stare at the Boosters.
“Me?” she squeaked. “Whose sweetheart am I?”
Janet Howell stepped forward and unrolled Julie’s cheer order. “With love from—Anonymous!” she read.
Julie blushed prettily as the whole cafeteria erupted into calls and applause.
To be fair, that’s pretty cute. I’d be mortified if it were me, but then again I’m sure someone would question why a 46-year-old man was having lunch in a middle school canteen. [Wing: *cough* Nydick *cough*]
Apparently, the cheer was Ellen’s creation, which the rest of the Unicorns find just as surprising as we do.
Winston approaches the signup table, and charms every reader by telling Jessica about Elizabeth’s breakup with a grim expression. He calls Todd “tacky,” which we can all agree is putting it fucking mildly.
Jessica is suitably sympathetic, and surveys the cafeteria. She spots Todd, unblinkingly scanning the female portions of the room like Randall fucking Boggs.
She then spots Elizabeth, sat despondently with Amy and Maria. She wonders what she can do to cheer up her sister… when Aaron Dallas sits himself next to Elizabeth wan whispers in her ear, causing Elizabeth to smile.
Careful, Liz… the Mercandy Back Yard beckons.
Thankfully for the plot (and for Elizabeth’s jugular), Scott Joslin also joins the Team Boring table, and says something to make Elizabeth laugh. Jessica concludes that they are both there to cheer her sister up, and the red mist passes from her eyes.
Erm… who the fuck is Scott Joslin? [Dove: Friends with Bruce Patman. Musician. Member of NRG in Jessica’s rock star days.]
That afternoon, Mr Bowman reviews the lovegrams from the previous Friday’s edition of the Sweet Valley Sixers, because why the hell wouldn’t you let the kids print their own unchecked newspaper each week without any supervision. I’m looking forward to when the Sixers is guest-edited by one of Abu Hamza’s kids on an exchange programme, and is just a ten-page diatribe entitled “Death to the West.”
[Wing: Wow. Also, in Sweet Valley, far more likely to have Klan recruitment happening. Or the secretive sundown town rich version of it.]
Bowman himself is rather taken aback by the fervour in which the lovegrams are written, calling them remarkably romantic, almost shocking. For some reason, Elizabeth takes this as a complement, which reminds me of the Friends episode when Monica gets her hair braided with shells while on holiday, and she believes Chandler says he likes it when in fact he actually said “I can see your scalp.” I’d link to a clip, but without the context it seems a little pointless.
Elizabeth naturally extends her apparent talent for romantic poetry to its logical conclusion, and pictures herself as an old spinster cat lady, penning poems to no one. Yeah, way to overreact, love.
Thankfully, it’s time to head back to the A-Plot now. For a book called Lila’s Secret Valentine, there’s not much bloody Lila in it thus far. She’s at home in Fowler Mansion after a long day at school, about to put on a bathing suit and go for a swim.
Grumbling to herself, she recounts the hours of Gray-based quizzing from the Unicorns, before stressing once more that it’s time to “kill off” her imaginary paramour as soon as possible. However, she realises that in doing so she needs to substitute the fantasy with an even hotter reality… and that’s the step that’s giving her the heebie jeebies.
She loads herself up with a tray of snacks, when Jessica interrupts her plans with a phone call. More questions about Gray. And then her father calls on call waiting, and Jessica assumes that that call is from Gray, which Lila goes along with against her better judgment. She even confirms that Gray has asked her to the Valentine’s Dance.
To her credit, Jessica’s questioning is 100% innocent, the product of friendship rather than of anything more sinister. And it’s refreshing to see. [Dove: I kept expecting Jessica to get to the bottom of things so she could humiliate her “friend”. I was delighted to be wrong.]
After the calls, Lila heads across the lawn to the pool, her tray of snacks held before her. Suddenly, BLAM! She’s flat on her stomach, cookies everywhere, apple in a bush.
Pulling herself up, a “boy in old, raggedy clothes” rushes to her aide. I’m sensing a love interest!
Lila is her imperious self almost immediately. She declaims that he’s a twit, and we learn that he’s the grandson of the injured gardener, filling in for his Mr Pratt while he recuperates.
The cause of Lila’s fall? An untended rake nestled in the grass. Lila is understandably incensed.
“You idiot!” she cried, pointing down at the rake. “I could have killed myself! How dare you leave a dangerous object around like this? Do you know who I am? I’m Lila Fowler! Do you know what would have happened to you if I had died by tripping on this rake? My dad would have killed you. He’d probably stick your head on a post, right in the middle of the lawn, for everyone to see!”
Hahaha! “Do you know who I am?”
Withering in the face of such a diatribe, the raggedy boy collects up the grass-stained cookies and hands them to Lila. Obviously, she’s not impressed. She stamps off for a swim.
As she swims, the tall, wavy brown haired, green eyed eighth grader from Lovett Academy / raggedy gardening grandson called Justin watches on with interest. Lila, he decrees, is the most fantastic girl he’s ever seen.
OBVIOUS A-PLOT SAVIOUR IS OBVIOUS.
Back in the B Plot, Elizabeth receives a ridiculous phone-call from one Bruce Patman, who hopes she’s willing to accompany him to the dance. HE’s apparently not the first potential suitor for the newly-single Liz Wakefield. And of course, he doesn’t ask in such a nice way… he’s the picture of entitled asshat, and it’s damn funny.
“Yeah, so, you know, I heard Wilkins cut you loose,” Bruce said casually to Elizabeth. “I’m figuring you need a date for the dance. Luckily, I’m still available.”
Elizabeth and an eavesdropping Jessica are tickled by this development. Happily, they both think Bruce Patman is a Grade A prick.
Elizabeth tries to turn him down gently, but he gives her twenty-four hours to make up her mind. She tells him she’ll think about it.
After the call, Jessica shrieks in delight. Bruce Patman and Elizabeth Wakefield! The Unicorns must be informed! Laughing, Elizabeth forbids her to say anything. Yeah, like that’s gonna stick.
Liz tells her sister she doesn’t want Todd to know that Bruce has come a-sniffin’, as they are bitter enemies. Really?
Jessica jokes that Liz has taken up too much phone time that evening, which means that Aaron hasn’t been able to get through and ask her to the dance. Elizabeth assures her that Aaron is likely to call soon.
Not for another six or seven chapters, I reckon.
Ten minutes later, the phone rings again. And it’s Aaron!
But he’s not calling for Jessica… he’s calling for Elizabeth.
An outraged Jessica watches her sister give non-committal answers to Aaron. Eventually, Liz hands the phone to Jessica, and Aaron makes small talk about TV shows before Jessica hangs up.
“So why was Aaron calling you?” she demanded.
Elizabeth looked up from her math homework. “Um, he needed to borrow some geography notes.”
“He’s not in your geography class,” Jessica pointed out, tapping her foot against the floor.
“No,” Elizabeth agreed. “But Amy is, and he knows we study together, so… anyway, did he ask you to the dance?”
“No, he didn’t!” Jessica practically shouted. “Did he ask you?”
“Me?” Elizabeth looked startled. “Of course not. He’s your boyfriend.”
Typical Jessica, assuming the worst of Aaron and her sister. I’m sure if the boot was on the other foot, she’d run off with Todd without a backward glance. In fact, I’ve heard rumours that she does exactly that when they get to Sweet Valley High. [Dove: That’s not spoilers. Jessica’s dated pretty much every male in California by the end of the series. Including the gay ones. Both of them.]
Next, we head back into Todd’s head, in the first of three near-identical passages in which he “comically” – and I use the word quite wrongly – assumes that some sixth grade girl or other is his secret admirer. Not only does he misread innocent smiles and glances for affermations of secret desires, he has the gall to pull a Full Patman and speak to them as if they know they are his Secret Admirer and are ready to prostrate themselves on the altar of Todd’s ego.
His first victim? The unsuspecting Brooke Dennis.
Apparently, she’d borrowed fifteen cents from him. She wanted his cock, obviously.
Here’s how he approaches her.
“Hey, Brooke,” he called. “Wait a sec.”
Brooke turned, looking surprised. “Hi, Todd. What’s up?”
Like you don’t know. What a kidder. Todd gave her an understanding smile. “So,” he said, lowering his voice, “do you always write love notes, or am I a special case?”
Brooke’s eyes widened. “Excuse me?”
Todd touched her gently on the shoulder. “Look, Brooke, we don’t have to play games. I know you like me. I won’t make you say it again. Just tell me what time to pick you up for the dance.”
I mean, just FUCK OFF Todd.
I know this is supposed to be funny, but it’s just horrible. I just don’t believe the Todd we’ve (barely) known for the past ninety-odd books would act this way. This is Steven Wakefield territory, pure and simple.
Happily, Brooke kicks him squarely in the metaphorical nuts and struts away.
It’s Tuesday afternoon at the Valley Mall, and the Unicorns are doing what they do best… shopping. They are looking for shoes and / or earrings. On the way to the shoe store (Wild Pair), Jessica and Lila discuss the upcoming dance.
Jessica is still awaiting a call from Aaron, which is making her anxious. Lila still blamed Jessica for forcing her in to this convoluted web of Gray-infused lies, but she’s sympathetic.
We learn that the wonderful band Walled Temple will be playing at the dance, which is great news to the square root of no-one. Walled Temple! What a shit name for a band. Maybe it’s a play on Stone Temple Pilots, as they’re a Californian band formed in 1989, but even so, I’m unimpressed. If they’d brought back The Skeletons, that would have been awesome.
As the gaggle try on shoes, talk invariably turns to Gray. As usual, Lila vamps through it with aplomb, until the lovely Ellen chips in with another request for Gray to set her up with one of his friends. Lila puts Ellen off once more, and tries to let her down gently.
Lila took a deep breath. “Uh, yeah, I mentioned it to him,” she said slowly. “And, um, he said he’d ask around. He’s going to ask around, and let us know tomorrow or the next day. But he said that Lovett’s having their own Valentine’s dance, and it’s kind of late notice, so it might be best if you plan on going with a girlfriend or something.”
Ellen thanks Lila for trying, and says she’s keeping her fingers crossed. And as she’s a kind soul, in this book at least, she thanks Lila once more for being a great friend.
Lila feels three inches tall. To her credit.
If Lovett Academy is having its own Valentine’s Dance, that could be Lila’s excuse for non-attendance at the Middle School Dance.
Although I guess that could be discovered to be a lie pretty quickly and decisively, so fair enough.
After shoe shopping, the girls head to Spuds n’ Stuffin’ (welcome to the Spud Shack, we’ve got jacket spuds!), and Lila is overwhelmed by her plight. She needs a date for the dance, and not an imaginary one.
In the Spud Queue, she locks eyes with an adorable boy, maybe a year older than herself, who returns her flirtatious glances with equal aplomb.
Maybe this handsome stranger is the answer to her prayers!
As she sits eating her curly fries with the Unicorns, she silently vows to drop by his table as they leave the food court. But she doesn’t have to wait, as he approaches her table himself.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I couldn’t help noticing you,” he told her with a smile, looking deeply into her eyes.
Lila stared at him, aware that all the Unicorns were silent with amazement. This is so perfect, so romantic.
“I was wondering, I mean, I know this is short notice, and we don’t really know each other, but do you think maybe this Friday night—”
Yes! Yes, yes, yes!
“Take a hike, bucko,” Jessica said firmly, waving a fry in the air. “Lila has a date for Friday. In fact, she has a date every Friday, because she has a fabulous boyfriend. Comprende?”
The other Unicorns also leap to Lila’s “defence”, and drive this poor unsuspecting hunk away from the Food Court in disgrace. Lila is livid, especially with Jessica, but it was all done with the most innocent motives in mind.
Despite her obvious dismay, Lila agrees that the wonderful Gray is more than enough for her. And lo, the intrigue continues.
Is this phantom boy from Sweet Valley Middle School? If so, why is he a stranger. If not, why is he inviting anyone to the Sweet Valley Middle School Valentine’s Dance? [Dove: Big Mesa Middle School?]
Hang on, it IS a school dance, isn’t it?
I am confusion.
We cut to Wednesday morning at school, a mere two days before the Valentines Dance. Melissa McCormick is pondering her Wakefiled-penned Lovegram with some scepticism. She thinks it’s too romnantic and overblown, but Elizabeth is having none of it. She sends Melissa on her way and hand-waves off any worries she may have with a blasé “pfft”. Elizabeth is very pleased with herself. Go fuck yourself, Elizabeth.
Lila, in her father’s limo, on the other hand, looks terrible. This is all planned, of course. No one can accuse Lila of letting her standards slip. She’s ready to put her Plan C into action… the Dreadful Breakup with Gray plan.
First, she switches on the waterworks by inhaling a bagful of onion (hah!). She then disembarks from the limo into the eager embraces of the Unicorn friends, who immediately realise that Something Is Wrong.
She whimpers through the shock revelation, shoulders slumped and shuddering. She and Gray’s relationship was over.
The other unicorns fawn and gush with genuine sympathy… and then Jessica asks the obvious question once more.
“But I don’t understand,” Jessica said. “Why did you guys break up? You two were made for each other.”
Lila looked at Jessica, whose open, concerned face was right in front of her. In all her determination to look brokenhearted, Lila had forgotten to come up with a reason. “Uh,” she stammered, “I, uh… forgot his birthday yesterday. Now he thinks I don’t care. It was so stupid of me!” She looked down sadly again as they headed into school.
Hmm… first misstep from Lila (and the Ghostie) for me. There’s no way Lila wouldn’t have come prepared with a reason for the breakup. That question is far to obvious to be overlooked. Hell, the reason she gives off the top of her head is weak, but could easily just have been her prepared reason for the breakup.
Either way, the Unicorns all believe the deception without any naysaying, as they do the rest of the book. Janet says it’s a shame, as now Lila wouldn’t have a partner at the Valentine’s Dance. And sure, Lila is concerned by this, but it’s much better than the alternative.
Next up, it’s Todd’s Great Secret Admirer Gaffe Number Two, this time, over a simmering science experiment with some red hot Bunsen Burner action, he accuses Maria Slater of being the phantom note writer.
As before, he wades in with a “hey babe, thanks for the sex note, wanna polish my helmet” approach, and, as before, Maria is one confused chicken.
Well done, you mammoth cleft.
While I’m here, we also get THIS nugget of shit…
Frowning, he thought of how Maria and Elizabeth had always been good friends. He hoped this wouldn’t ruin their friendship. Then he shook his head. They would have to work it out between themselves. He couldn’t let himself get all caught up in it. He just hoped that Elizabeth wouldn’t decide to fight for him.
Todd Wilkins, I fucking hate you.
Happily, Maria shoots him down in flames, and we can turn the page back to the A Plot. [Dove: I was disappointed that the girls weren’t ruder or more incredulous in their “no thanks” moments.]
The finalbell rings for the school day, and Lila heads home. She’s pleased that she’s free from the imaginary Gray, but she doesn’t want to bump into the scruffy gardener boy again. Don’t worry Lila, that won’t happen until the Valentine’s Dance, I suspect.
On her way out the door, she bumps into Janet, Jessica, Ellen, Mandy, Kimberley and Tamara acting rather strange with a white box.
Lila is immediately suspicious.
If this was official Unicorn business, why hadn’t she been told about it?
She quizzes her Unicorn friends over the box and the subterfuge, and while they all put up a token struggle before confessing the truth, they all crumble eventually.
Their scheme? Enough to melt the stoniest of hearts.
Mandy looked at her sheepishly and sighed. “It’s… it’s a birthday cake. For Gray,” she explained. “We all felt so bad about you two breaking up. And we know how you feel about showing up at the dance without a date.”
“You know, being a dateless Unicorn and everything,” Kimberly added.
“The Unicorns do have an image to maintain,” Janet reminded her gently.
“So we just thought that we’d go over to Lovett Academy and give Gray this cake,” Mandy finished.
I think Lila has smuggled that bag full of onion onto my desk.
Bless the Unicorns!
[Wing: FRIENDSHIP REALLY IS MAGIC.]
Lila’s stomach drops. How the hell can she get out of this one?
First, she simply cries “NO!”
Then, when faced with the bewilderment of her friends, she vamps for an explanation. Eventually, she come up with one. The obvious one.
Gray and Lila were an item once more. They’d made up during the day, and all was well again.
Everyone is happy for Lila, including Jessica, who is a little disappointed that she and Lila wouldn’t be attending the Valentine’s Dance as a partner-less twosome.
Then Jessica does what Jessica does. She asks the difficult and obvious question.
“Oh, by the way,” she said more brightly, “how did you and Gray make up? You’ve been at school all day.” She turned expectant eyes on Lila.
The other Unicorns slowly came to a halt and looked at Lila, too.
Lila’s mind froze. How did we… how did we… darn it, Jessica! Can’t you keep your big mouth shut for once? “He, uh…” she began. Dad always says a Fowler has to be able to think on her feet, Lila remembered. “He… called me here at school and had me paged. During seventh period,” she lied. “Didn’t you hear me get called to the office?” Brilliant, Lila, utterly brilliant.
Thankfully for Lila, she had been called into the office for a phone call. From her father, to let her know he would be out of town before returning on Friday with a surprise for her.
Thankfully, miraculously, and utterly predictably given the lovely nature of the Unicorns in this book, they all believe their friend, and head to the Fowler Mansion to eat Gray’s birthday cake. [Dove: This was adorable. I could have read an entire series of these Unicorns.] [Wing: Maybe we’ll get them in the Unicorn Club? /skeptical]
The chapter ends with Lila waving goodbye to her friends at the doorstep some two hours later, only to discover an eavesdropping Jasper hiding in a nearby bush. She sends him packing, dismissing him as a peasant.
Yeah, she’ll be gazing adoringly into his eyes before the book’s finished.
We begin the next chapter back on Todd, who’s being charged down by Caroline Pearce. He immediately recoils at the idea that CAROLINE is his Secret Admirer, which would be a fate worse than a fate worse than death for some unfathomable reason. Happily for all involved, Caroline was just after the gossip on Todd and Elizabeth’s split, with particular focus on Elizabeth’s plans to attend the dance with one Bruce Patman.
Todd does NOT like that development, dear me no.
He walked down the hall, dragging his feet. He couldn’t get Caroline’s words out of his mind. I can’t believe that stupid Bruce Patman actually had the nerve to ask Elizabeth to the dance. I mean, we haven’t even been broken up for a week! Did he really think she’d say yes?
Then again, he was already asking other girls out. What if Elizabeth did say yes to Bruce?
Todd would go to bed and stay there for a month, that’s what. With the covers pulled over his head.
While I’m glad that Todd has the self-awareness to acknowledge that she has every right to got to the dance with whomsoever she chooses, considering that he’s casting his net as wide as possible at this point, I still think he’s a massive prick. Seriously, I don’t think he can do enough to come back from this one by the end of the series, never mind the end of the book.
Next up, Mandy Miller is giving Elizabeth a hard time over the Lovegram she’s purchasing for Peter Jeffries. While Liz wants to pile on the romance, Mandy stands her ground and demands something simpler. She thinks Peter is nice. And she wants Peter to know she kind of likes him. Nothing more florid than that.
Way to go, Mandy. Take no shit, girl. [Dove: This was very satisfying. Especially as I’m someone who, if forced to buy a card, would search for something along the lines of “In a sea of people I cannot stand, you are the least irritating.”]
Randy Mason takes over the sale from an insistent Elizabeth, then gently takes her to task for being overly romantic in this endeavour. The section ends with both Aaron and Ken escorting Elizabeth to lunch. Aaron does so as he needs to ask Liz some questions. Ken? No clue why he’s there.
We cut to the Unicorner, who are watching Aaron and Ken escort Liz to lunch. They discuss Elizabeth’s situation, and comment on how that since Todd has dumped her, the boys are flocking around Elizabeth like flies around shit.
Mandy comments on how Elizabeth is acting overly romantic, as evidenced by her Lovergram debacle we witnessed mere moments earlier.
Jessica suggests it’s odd that Liz hadn’t accepted one of the three proposed dates to the dance. Deep down she thinks that she knows the reason why… she believes that Elizabeth has accepted an invitation from Aaron, which would explain why Aaron hadn’t asked Jessica herself.
Nice work, Jess. Never change, you dramatic hamster.
As Jessica muses about her predicament, and considers Lila to be the luckiest girl in the world, Lila is doing the self-same thing… except she wishes that her problems were as simple as a twin sister stealing her boyfriend. It’s true what they say, the grass really IS greener on the other side of the fence.
With the dance being held tomorrow, and all her plans thus far having fallen at the first hurdle, Lila is getting desperate.
She decides there’s only one thing to do. She has to come clean, and admit there is no Gray, and that there has never been a Gray. Sure, she’d be humiliated, but she could live through it. Perhaps.
Naturally, just as she prepares herself for a confession, talk turns to the subject of girls that lie about their boyfriends.
Apparently, that lying skank Sarah Thomas has been bragging about her boyfriend Seth, a fourteen-year-old in the ninth grade at Big Mesa High.
It seems that Seth is a twelve-year-old, in Big Mesa Middle School.
The nerve of that bitch!
The group all agree that such embellishments and untruths are a pathetic move, and definitely not a move that a Unicorn would make. Cool people don’t make up such nonsense, and the Unicorns are cool people.
Finally, the Unicorns hop to action to deliver some more Valentine Cheers, leaving Lila somewhat dumbstruck. Sorry Lila, that’s another plan down the drain.
At the end of the school day on Thursday afternoon, Todd has yet another Secret Admirer faux pas. This one, however, is thankfully short. For some reason, it’s now Sophia Rizzo who bears the brunt of his firehose of creepy intent.
Just as he musters up the courage to approach her, Sophia is approached by her boyfriend Patrick Morris, and they both head to Casey’s, hand in hand.
Tough break, Todd. Three for three. Seriously, I hope you die in a grease fire.
Things are similarly clusterfucky at the Wakefield Compound. When a gin-addled Alice asks her daughter what they are wearing for the Dance the following day, Elizabeth innocently mentions that she’s unlikely to attend. Jessica goes full-on Fight Mode, and accuses Liz of stealing her boyfriend.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know!” Jessica snapped. “Everyone at school knows about it. And all I can say is, people who steal other people’s boyfriends ought to be ashamed of themselves. Because the other people whose boyfriend she stole always know about it and they tell other people and then everyone realizes what kind of person the boyfriend stealer is and she ends up with no friends at all, even though she’s the kind of person who people usually really like.” She stopped, panting for breath.
Before a shocked Elizabeth can formulate an adequate response, Jessica storms out of the room.
Peak Jessica! Loving it.
After flouncing to her room and flopping onto her bed, Jessica phones Many with revenge against Aaron Dallas on her mind. And when Jessica vows to get even with someone, you know someone’s getting prison shanked.
Thankfully, Mandy manages to talk Jessica down from the ledge, and convinces her to talk to Aaron the following day instead of storming off the handle there and then. Well done, Mandy, you’re a real friend. Also, this gives Aaron the chance to redeem himself before the dance actually happens, which he undoubtedly will, because that’s where the narrative between Aaron and Elizabeth is obviously headed.
The final scene in the chapter is back at the Fowler Mansion, in which Lila laments the failure of her four plans to ditch the imaginary Gray thus far. In her misewry, she decamps to a special bench in the Fowler Mansion formal rose garden (Hah!), an bench at which Lila liked to be alone.
So, Lila has a thinking spot, in the garden, just like Elizabeth. How sweet.
As she considers her predicament, tears begin to flow…
She took a tissue out of her pocket and began to cry. She had to leave town. She had to join the witness relocation program. She would dye her hair, get colored contacts, and start over again, in some new town, some new state. Maybe Iowa. No one she knew would run into her there. She started crying even harder.
Of course, her tears are interrupted by the gardener’s grandson.
At first, she tries to dismiss him. This time, however, he’s more persistent. He offers a shoulder to cry on, and, after some initial reticence, she breaks down and tells him everything.
Crucially for the plot, she tells him all about her fantasy about arriving at the dance with Jake, including what they both were wearing. THIS MAY BE IMPORTANT.
The gardener’s grandson (Justin) is a very good listener, and totally understands Lila’s feelings. Can he help her?
He looked off into the rose garden, his forehead creased, as though he was thinking hard about something. Then his face cleared. “Hey, I have an idea,” he said. “I don’t know if you’ll go for it, but—”
“Justin!” Mrs. Pervis’s voice carried through the rose garden. “Justin Pratt, where are you?”
Damn that pesky Mrs Pervis!
Justin exits before finishing his idea, assuring Lila things will work out fine. And while he hasn’t really solved anything (yet), Lila is mellowing to this raggedy boy in his gardening clothes, and I’m still charmed by the whole affair.
[Wing: I’m enjoying the shades of The Princess Bride’s “as you wish” vibe.]
We’re hitting the downward slope now, and the next chapter starts with Elizabeth getting a gentle dressing down from Mr Bowman. He’s finally stepping to the plate and offering some guidance, once the horse has well and truly bolted. He takes his charge to task for making the Lovegrams a little too spicy for the Eighth Grade SVMS GenPop.
It’s 8:30am Friday morning, and Elizabeth feels like a failure already. But of course, she totally agrees with her teacher’s assessment of the situation, because why the hell wouldn’t she? [Dove: We have seen her double down before. Is she growing as a person?]
In Math class that morning, Lila has a stroke of luck. Mrs Wyler, their regular math teacher, misses the lesson due to a mild attack of appendicitis. Lila cogitates over her schoolwork.
Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of that before? She could have an appendicitis attack. Nothing was stopping her—who would know? Yes, appendicitis was the perfect answer to all her problems.
That’s right, Lila. Appendicitis is truly the answer to all of life’s woes.
At lunch, Jessica is grumbling to the collected Boosters about both Aaron Dallas and her sister Elizabeth. She’s still stuck on the “cheating sister stole my boyfriend” story, which, to be fair, is the most dramatic explanation and therefore the perfectly correct choice.
However, the Boosters are not buying into her bizarre theatre of cruelty. As they prepare to do their final slew of lunchtime cheers, it’s almost as if they know something that Jessica doesn’t.
Wait a minute… are you telling me that Aaron Dallas has in fact ordered a cheer for Jessica, which she will be receiving that very lunch hour? OH MY I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING.
As lunch progresses, the Boosters perform two more cheers. One for Maria Slater, from everyone’s favourite peripheral character Tim Davis (who the fuck is this bellend? [Dove: I got nothing beyond he’s cute.]). The second is an anonymous cheer for Bruce Patman, which Janet conspiratorially reveals is from Caroline Pearce. Oh Caroline, I thought you’d have better taste than that [Dove: It’s my headcannon she’s trolling him.]. Ah well, at least it’s from someone we’ve bloody heard of… it could have been from, I dunno, some no-mark random like Jennifer Wilson or someone.
The Boosters then prepare to wind things up for the day, which proves that Aaron Dallas loves cutting things ultra-fine. If he’s actual endgame for Jessica, she’ll stab him to death within eighteen months.
As the Boosters prepare, Lila readies herself for her big performance. But as she counts down to her dramatic entrance, Jessica decides that she’s had enough of Aaron’s apparent bullshit. She stalks over to his table, and gives him both metaphorical barrels.
However, as she does so, the remaining non-Jess non-Lila Boosters spring into action, with the bespoke four-dollar cheer that Aaron has bought for his one true love…
The chant, a full seven verses long, replete with high kicks and pyramids, is reproduces for your delectation below.
“Oh, Jessica, oh, Jessica,
You make my heart beat fast.
You’ve always been the twin for me,
From first until the last.”
“I love the way you chew your gum,
Right in our science class.
Around you I am never glum,
Not even when you sass.
Your long blond hair is like the sun,
Your eyes are like the sky.
With you I have terrific fun,
I’d never make you cry.
You take a joke just like a boy,
You look just like a girl.
I’d follow you to Illinois,
Or all around the world.
I can’t compete with Johnny Buck,
He sure gives me a blister.
And now I find, with just my luck,
You think I like your sister.
But Jessica, you must believe,
There is no other one.
I’d like to take you out tonight
In order to have fun.
Please say you’ll be my date tonight,
I’ll bring you one red rose.
There’s no way I’ll be late tonight,
Or step upon your toes.”
Pretty charming, and not without merit. One thing I have to mention, though, is this verse:
I can’t compete with Johnny Buck,
He sure gives me a blister.
And now I find, with just my luck,
You think I like your sister.
[Dove: Where are those blisters that Aaron gets from Johnny Buck located?]
Looking beyond the shitty “blister / sister” rhyme, this verse shows us that Aaron was HOPING for this reaction from Jessica, and that Elizabeth was in on the whole thing. I find it tricky that we didn’t get a small flicker of doubt over Liz’s involvement. She finds everything with a little moral ambiguity a tough choice, after all. I know it needs to be a secret to work for the plot, but even so… it could have been handled a little better.
Jessica is thoroughly enamoured by the whole thing, and accepts Aaron’s romantic invitation.
In the background, Lila mugs to the camera, feigning illness like a champ. Of course, all eyes are on Jessica and Aaron, so it passes completely unnoticed. Eventually, she gives it up as a bad job in a fit of pique.
So much for that plan, she thought gloomily.
This was it. She had no excuse not to be at the dance tonight. She was supposed to bring a guy who didn’t exist. And her career as a Unicorn was about to be over.
Don’t worry, Lila. I’m sure Justin Pratt the adorable gardening grandson will rise to the occasion and step to the plate.
Later that evening, Jessica is readying herself for the party. She’s also apologising to her smiling sister. We learn that Elizabeth was simply helping Aaron by supplying information on Jessica for his bespoke cheer.
Eventually, Elizabeth decides that she will not be attending the Valentine’s Dance, much to Jessica’s dismay. Happily, Jess manages to persuade Liz to attend by letting her be a third wheel with Jess and Aaron.
Next, we jump to the insufferable Todd, as he begins his face turn so the book can end as it began, with everyone loving who they originally loved.
After his “Secret Admirer” failed to reveal herself in the buildup to the dance, Todd is forced to take a long hard look at himself and his choices. Rereading Elizabeth’s love poem, he adds another couple of twos and declares the solution to be Sydney, Australia.
This time, he convinces himself that his Secret Admirer is waiting until the Valentine’s Dance to reveal herself. They’d gaze into each other’s eyes before snogging their way into the sunset together.
Suddenly Todd saw himself in the mirror over his desk. Who was he kidding? Hadn’t he gotten his hopes up over and over again only to make an idiot out of himself.
At last, the first fucking sensible conclusion this Grade 1 Nob-Crumpet has come two for this entire fucking book.
He now decides that Elizabeth is the perfect girl for him, and that he must prostrate himself before her and beg forgiveness.
Of course he should. He’s been an actual arsehole. And we all know this is going to be fine, and Liz will welcome his idiotic ass back with open arms, but I so wish this was the bona-fide end of their relationship, and that he drifted into fucking obscurity as he so deserves. [Dove: I genuinely feel you are not going to enjoy Sweet Valley High.]
We’re now back with the A Plot, and it’s seven pm at the Fowler Mansion. Lila has decided that the only way out of her predicament is to feign illness and skip the dance altogether. She tries to convince Mrs Pervis she has a fever with the old thermometer-on-a-lightbulb trick, but old wily Pervis ain’t falling for it. Also, Papa Fowler reveals himself as one of the chaperones to the dance, and the supplier of all the party food, so Lila is now duty-bound to attend.
Lila is week and truly screwed. Or is she? She dons her party gear, and becomes Fowler Prime.
Standing in front of her bedroom mirror, Lila couldn’t help giving herself an admiring smile. She looked great. It was a fabulous outfit, totally up-to-the-minute. And if she had to be brought to her execution tonight, she was glad that at least she would go stylishly.
She smiled with satisfaction at her reflection. She was a Fowler, and Fowlers never admitted defeat. If she played her cards right, she might find a few aces up her sleeve. Now for the hair.
Gotta love Lila’s confidence. Nice work, Ghostie!
We flick to the dance, where Elizabeth is having a good time despite being alone. Aaron and Jessica have a dance, then split up to join their friends. Once with the Unicorns, talk turns to the impeding entrance by Lila and the mysterious Gray.
All the Unicorns fawn over their personal image of the adorable Gray, and again, they still believe Lila and talk as though her story is undeniably true. So charming.
So where are Lila and Gray?
Lila, outside the school gym with her father, takes a deep breath and enters. All eyes are on her, as she hoped they would be. And when the Unicorns surround her, full of glee and questions, she handles them expertly. Jessica, of course, asks the question on everyone’s mind.
“So where’s Gray?” Jessica blurted.
Lila smiled and shrugged a little. “Oh, Gray is running a tiny bit late,” she lied. “He and his parents were down in San Diego today, but he promised me he wouldn’t miss the dance. I talked to him a few hours ago, and he was at the airport, chartering a plane just for himself.”
Perfect. Top Lila action.
[Wing: HE COULD HAVE DRIVEN FROM SAN DIEGO TO SWEET VALLEY IN A COUPLE HOURS WTF. Where the hell is Sweet Valley currently located? Usually it’s by Los Angeles, but it appears to have drifted again for plot purposes.]
Back with Elizabeth, we see her smiling as the other dance-goers had their pictures taken. Then we see Melissa McCormick apologising for snitching to Mr Bowman about inappropriate romanticism in her Lovegram. Apparently, the romance in the ad actually worked a treat, and Melissa and Tom McKay were now officially an item.
Yup. Even when Elizabeth is wrong, Elizabeth is right.
Then we get to the B Plot meat… Todd Fucking Wilkins. Besuited and bearing chocs / flowers.
He strides purposefully towards Elizabeth… who is asked to dance by a mischievous Ken Matthews (with Amy’s consent). Way to go, Ken and Amy! Let’s make Todd sweat.
After a brief interlude in which Lila informs the Unicorns that Gray is just around the corner, we see Todd cut into Elizabeth and Ken’s fast dance. He escorts Liz to the refreshments table, presents her with flowers and chocolates, calls himself out as a proper twat, claims that she’s the only girl for him, and begs her forgiveness.
Will she accept his apology? Of course she will. And she does, after a tiny flicker of rebellion and delight in watching him squirm.
Todd asks his one true love to dance, and they drift onto the dancefloor in a blissful cloud.
Back with the Unicorns, sans Lila, they are still discussing Lila and Gray’s upcoming entrance. We learn that Lila has been spinning them all individual white lies, to detract them from Gray’s absence. He’s been for a long private walk with Lila around the football field. He’s been tied up with a boy from Lovett’s Academy.
Then Jessica has an idea…
“You know what?” she said. “I have a great idea. Lila and Gray have had a hard week—what with breaking up and then making up and all. I think it would be nice to do something special for them. I mean, they are the most romantic couple at Sweet Valley Middle School.”
She shares her idea with the purple throng… who all think it’s fabulous, and lap it up. What is the idea? We don’t know yet, but it involves the singer of Walled Temple. And, more importantly, whatever it is, it’s an idea that’s bore from genuine friendship rather than anything dark. Lovely.
Back with Todd and Liz, we see Todd finally realise that Elizabeth was the author of the love poem. (“Your hair is winter fire, January embers. My heart burns there, too.”) Elizabeth now realises that Todd only dumped her so he could play the field with a prospective new girl.
Rather than being incensed, she shrugs it off and forgives him.
WHAT IN THE EFF?
I know we all joke that Liz has no spine, but come on!
Weak as almighty FUCK. [Dove: I miss Liz with a spine. The Elizabeth of BIG for Christmas would have teamed up with Jessica and ripped off his wild-oat-sewing balls and used them as Christmas tree ornaments.]
After dancing with Peter Jeffries, Lila checks her watch. Only twenty-five minutes left to steer the Unicorns away from the invisible Gray.
Then… disaster strikes. The Unicorns have put their plan into action. The lead singer of Walled Temple takes to the mic.
“Now, the students of Sweet Valley Middle School would like to congratulate the Valentine Couple of the Year,” the singer announced dramatically. He looked down at the slip of paper in his hand.
Lila couldn’t help laughing to herself. Whose harebrained idea had this been?
“In recognition of romance, devotion, and triumph over adversity,” the lead singer read, “could the following people please come to the middle of the dance floor for a special last dance? Everyone give a big hand for… Lila Fowler and Gray Williams! Valentine Couple of the Year! All right!” The lead guitarist clapped his hands along with everyone else, his long hair falling back into his eyes.
Yeah, Lila is FUCKED.
She stands, trapped in the spotlight glare. Everyone looks on, smiling, applauding.
Time passes. Seconds, minutes. People start to mutter.
The PA crackles. “Gray Williams, please come to the dance floor.”
The Unicorns watch on, confused. Where is Gray?
Suddenly, Jessica realises what’s happened.
“Oh, no!” Jessica gasped. Suddenly the pieces of the mystery began to fail into place. No wonder she had never met Gray! No wonder he’d been off doing something else all night!
She met Janet’s steady, serious gaze. “There is no Gray,” Janet whispered, suddenly understanding also. “Lila’s been lying this whole time!” An angry looked crossed her face. “She’s been lying to all of us!”
“Poor Lila!” Jessica said in a low voice.
BLESS Jessica! Concerned for her friend.
In the face of Janet’s opprobrium, she declares that this is not the time to censure their friend. This is the time to spring to he aid. Which they do.
They surround Lila on the dance floor, shielding her from the crowd’s harshening glares. They ready themselves to shepherd her out of the venue.
Lila, distraught, eyes filled with tears, starts to confess…
When a miracle happens.
“Excuse me, excuse me!”
Lila broke off as someone started pushing his way through the huddle of Unicorns. Someone tall, with wavy, dark-chestnut hair and beautiful green eyes. He was wearing black jeans, a white tuxedo shirt open at the neck, and a tapestry vest. An untied bow tie dangled around his neck.
Lila stared. He’s adorable. He’s incredible. He’s…
“Who are you?” Janet demanded.
The boy smiled, dazzling Lila with his even white teeth.
“I’m Gray,” he said confidently. “Gray Williams, from Lovett Academy. Hasn’t Lila mentioned me to you? You’re the Unicorns, right?”
There ya go, folks! That’s the payoff we were all waiting for!
Justin Pratt the gardening hobo to the fucking rescue!
The Unicorns are awestruck. How could they have ever doubted Lila!
In the cooldown for the book, Lila dances the night away with Justin, and they are both loved up. Will we ever see him again? Definitely not.
Todd and Elizabeth, and Jessica and Aaron, are also loved up. Standard.
And that’s basically it. Except…
WHY DID JUSTIN TAKE SO DAMN LONG TO APPEAR FOR LILA?
Couldn’t he have picked her up at Fowler Mansion, or at least met her at the door of the dance?
No, he just wanted to make a dramatic entrance himself. Complete arsehole. [Wing: And therefore perfect for Lila, who always wants a good dramatic entrance. Also, let’s pour one out for the days when people could randomly show up at school dances without setting off a panic.]
Boys… a bunch of pricks, the lot of them.
I enjoyed this one. But first, here’s what I didn’t like.
I didn’t like the B Plot. Todd Wilkins was a COMPLETE TUBE from start to finish. His Secret Admirer arc was far too repetitive.
I also didn’t like that, at times, Lila and the A Plot seemed to play second fiddle to the trials of the Wakefield Twins. I guess that comes with the territory, but even so.
These irritations weren’t enough to dull my overall enjoyment. The dialogue was sassy, the characterisation of Lila and the Unicorns was on point, and the overall plot was a fun romp.
So yeah. Sappy Valentine book… approved!
[Dove: Like Raven, I loved the hell out of half of this book. The Unicorns were a genuinely lovely group of girls all supporting each other — still exclusive, but not competing with each other. I was so happy when Jessica found an outfit for Lila and instead of hiding it and buying it later, she told Lila about it. When they asked for details on Gray, it wasn’t because they were trying to trip her up, they were interested in their friend’s romance. And Justin — I’ve said it before, but Lila needs people who are not afraid of her. Her friendship with Melissa was awesome, and her romance with Justin could be adorable. But I’m pretty sure we’ll never see him again.
And finally, Todd fucking Wilkins can fuck the fuck off.]
[Wing: Elizabeth with the Spine needs to come back, this ghostie handled Ellen and Amy surprisingly well and brought their A-game for Lila, Jessica, and the Unicorns in their friendship, Todd fucking Wilkins can fuck off into the sea, and this needed far less Wakefield drama and for more Lila. Still, more than 50% adorable, so I’ll take it as a win.]
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.