Sweet Valley Twins #115: Happy Mother’s Day, Lila

Sweet Valley Twins #115: Happy Mothers' Day, Lila by Jamie Suzanne
Sweet Valley Twins #115: Happy Mothers’ Day, Lila by Jamie Suzanne
Sweet Valley Twins #115: Happy Mothers’ Day, Lila by Jamie Suzanne (USA cover)

Title: Happy Mother’s Day, Lila

Tagline: The girl who has almost everything…

Summary: Lila’s got the Mother’s Day blues…

When Lila Fowler hears about the Sweet Valley Middle School spring fashion show, she knows she’s got to be one of the models. After all, not only is she one of the most beautiful girls in school, she also has the most fabulous wardrobe! There’s only one problem: it’s a mother-daughter fashion show, and Lila’s mother lives in France. She hasn’t seen her in years.

Lila doesn’t have her mother’s most recent address or phone number—there’s no way to contact her. So Lila has to think of something fast. If her mother can’t be in the fashion show, maybe someone else could pretend to be her mother. But who?

Initial Thoughts:

A Lila book! Fantastic. We all love the Valley’s Poor Little Rich Girl.

Of course, this has some stern competition. Lila’s Music Video is great fun, and Poor Lila is one of the best books in the series. Can what’s likely a maudlin tale of family disfunction topple these corkers? It’s a long shot, but after the glory of last week’s barnstormer Jessica’s No Angel then I guess anything is possible.

I’m also looking forward to Lila’s mother actually making an appearance.

[Dove: I too have been looking forward to this. I think there are some SVH books that deal with Lila’s mother, but I’ve never read them – and I don’t want spoilers, just confirmation – so this has been a long time coming. Also, as Raven says above, we just had a late surge awesome book, is it a sign of things to come, or is it a guarantee that every book that follows it will suck? So basically, this book has a lot of expectations riding on it.]

[Wing: Lila! I’m bothered more than I really should be over the fact that we didn’t manage to schedule this recap on Mother’s Day in the USA or the UK, both of which were earlier this month. That’s close enough to be a fail.]

Recap:

We start in sixth-grade English, with Jessica waxing lyrical on the greatness of The Great Gatsby. I can’t comment, as I’ve not read it, or seen the film adaptation. Neither has Jessica, we learn later on.

As we’re firmly in Lila’s head for this book. Her state of mind, her point of view, her thoughts, ideas, dreams, schemes. It makes a nice change, although it’s a little jarring. She begins the process by comparing herself to the pretty, rich and unhappy Jay Gatsby. She also bemoans her plight, being stuck in a classroom listening to Jessica waffle on and on about a book she hasn’t even read. I mean, I don’t blame Jess there… I’ve not read The Great Gatsby either. [Wing: But do you waffle on and on about it? (I guess you have mentioned a couple times that you haven’t read it, and we’re only two paragraphs into this recap. Is that enough waffling?)]

Jessica is, apparently, laying on the Ultimate Book Review in order to “prove” to her best friend that she has, in fact, read the book, although Lila disbelieves. This serves to highlight the pair’s rather dysfunctional BFF relationship, which has always been toxically competitive. Apparently, Lila had offered Jess some help the day before, which brought howls of derision from the mocking Unicorns.

[Wing: Lila as a tutor is an interesting idea.]

As Jessica waffles on with insights that are remarkably similar to Lila’s actual life (“Jay Gatsby’s closet full of expensive shirts became a symbol of his empty life,” [Wing: Interesting theory there. Now I want to do an in-depth, line-by-line analysis of something. It’s been awhile.]) and so on, Lila nods off to sleep, before being rudely wrenched from her daydream by an angry Mr Bowman. I suppose that’d be like being accosted by a vibrating homeless clown.

Jessica grins as Lila is admonished, before we return to the “action.”

As Lila searches the classroom for distractions to avoid another sleeping fit, she lays eyes on Caroline Pearce’s copy of The Sweet Valley Sixers, which allows her to shoehorn the boilerplate Twinparisons into the narrative. Let’s do this!

  • Liz likes horses, as straddling them makes a bell ring in her belly. Jess hates dogs, as she fears they’ll sniff out her murder sites. [Wing: So that’s why she tries to kill them. The dogs, not the people. She has plenty of other reasons to kill the people.]
  • Elizabeth’s first dalliance with alcohol happens when she’s twenty-four, with cognac, and it ends with canapes, waltzing and holding hands. Jessica’s first dalliance with alcohol happened when she was nine, with Tequila, and it ended with vomit, bottle-smashing and facial reconstruction.
  • Because they look so alike, Elizabeth and Jessica were nicknamed “Cut” and “Paste” when they were toddlers. In a similar vein, the toddler Steven had the nickname “Fucking Cunt”.

[Dove: *blinks* Wow. Just wow.] [Raven: Hey,you begged me to write these!] [Wing: “Cut” and “Paste” and “Fucking Cunt” may be the best ones yet.]

In a desperate state and looking to avoid napping, she snaffles up the paper and begins to read. Predictably, it’s all a bunch of boring crap, as it’s not about Lila or the Unicorns. Eventually, Lila’s eyes fall upon the following more promising headline…

Sweet Valley Middle School Will Host Fashionable Fund-raiser

Apparently, the Sweet Valley Women’s Shelter (top naming there) requires twenty middle-school students to model in their upcoming fund-raiser. Lila is excited at the prospect, so excited that she skips most of the article in order to get to the juice.

There will be a sign-up sheet outside the school’s main office on Thursday for all interested girls and—

Jessica interrupts her reading, having finished her overlong report. We learn that Lila was an uncredited co-author of the report, which is nice I guess if you’re thinking about friendship but a bag of shit if you’re thinking about academic advancement.

The bell goes. It’s Thursday. Lila leaps to her feet and rushes to the sign-up sheet. She’s determined to get her name on that list, details be damned!

We skip to Team Boring, where Elizabeth and her Lank-Haired Spunkwaffle friend Amy Sutton discuss the upcoming Hallmark Holiday, Mother’s Day. Elizabeth, it seems, wants to do something special for The Sainted Alice this year, rather than just throw money at the issue. Nice sentiments, I guess, but Alice just wants her gin. [Dove: Why make the effort? She’s a terrible parent. Also, it was mother’s day 36 books ago, within the same year. And I’m pretty sure there has been another one during this run. Fuck off, Alice.]

Elizabeth admonishes herself for not forewarning her fashion-obsessed sister about the upcoming fund-raiser, before shaking the feeling and moving on. It’s Jessica’s own fault if she doesn’t read the Sweet Valley Sixers. Amy laughs at the idea of Jessica missing out, because she’s a vindictive bitch more often than we care to mention. [Wing: I’d bet we mention it pretty often, though.] Sure enough, Jessica rocks up with a snit on her tits, [Wing: A SNIT ON HER TITS. This had me cackling.] and is peeved that she missed out on the signup. The event is proving popular, and the twenty slots are full.

So anyone can just sign up for this, right? That’s probably fair, and inclusive I suppose, but it’s open to all sorts of abuse. I mean, I’d love it if Lois signed up, or Winston, or some other as-yet unheralded non-predictable character, but it’s your usual cavalcade of Unicorns and Unicorn-adjacent girls. [Wing: Random Wing Fact, I participated in a fundraiser in high school where we worked as living mannequins at a department store. I was quite a bit larger than Lois seems to be, despite how they talk about her, and it was a great time. I’d do it again, actually. Why did we do this fundraiser? I cannot remember for the life of me.]

We learn that half the Unicorns have signed up, which royally annoys Jessica no end. Elizabeth tries roping her twin into Operation Impress The Fuck Out Of Sainted Alice On Mother’s Day (Operation ITFOOSAOMD), with scant success.

We’re now at the Unicorner! Unsurprisingly, all talk is of the Fashion Fund-raiser. We learn that Janet Howell is in, as is Ellen Riteman. Tamara and Mandy also speak, so I presume they’re models too.

Janet lets slip that the clothes for the Fashion Fund-raiser will be supplied by one of Lila’s favourite haunts, the ultra-swanky and expensive Clothes Encounter (great name!). Lila joins in, intimating that she hopes they supply her something she hasn’t already bought when they supply her clothes for the fashion show.

Then we get to the crux of the thing.

It seems, in skipping the “boring” paragraph of the Sweet Valley Sixers article, poor Lila missed out the pertinent fact… the Fashion Fund-raiser is for Mother-and-Daughter model teams. Lila, whose mother has been AWOL since book one, does not fit the bill.

Aside:

Well, that’s some bullshit right there.

I’m sure there are plenty of potentials that would love to try out, but have Mummy Issues of one sort or another which would disqualify them from the fun. Yes, it’s the plot of the book, this Lila-hasn’t-got-a-mother angle, but what of the other kids with aspirations that outstrip the number of parents? I’m sure there are kids whose mothers are estranged, or toxic, or dead, and I’m not just talking about Melissa McCormick. [Dove: You just won so many brownie points for mentioning Melissa. Or there might be kids with two dads. There will be by the end of the entire series, I promise that much. There are many variables at work here and the assumption that everyone has a mother and a father just pisses me off. At least it should take the approach of the Sisterhooves Social, who just look then nod and smile no matter who shows up as the “big sister”.] [Wing: This is absolute shit as Raven and Dove both point out, but it was believable to me. Well into the late 90s, there were events that were specific parent + specific child, including mother and daughter events, and there was very little willingness to accept a different option. It was damn shitty, and I had a mother with whom I had a good relationship, but who wasn’t available for most events like that due to working.]

I think there’s a fatal flaw with this story at the very core, which is a shame. Ah well, I guess I just hand-wave it away and try to have fun in the framework we’ve been given, right?

End aside.

So all eyes are on Lila, and she’s in a pickle. What will out little rich girl do? She’d double the fuck down, that’s what she’ll do. As the Unicorns all offer her their collective condolences and piteous looks, with Jessica even offering to take Lila’s place, she stiffens her spine and stares them down. She’s a fucking FOWLER, after all.

“Don’t worry about it, Jessica,” she said, forcing a breezy tone into her voice. “I don’t need you to take my place. I knew exactly what I was doing when I signed up.” She took a deep breath. “You see, my mom is coming to town next weekend. This will be the perfect way for the two of us to celebrate Mother’s Day!”

There’s the fucking story!

[Wing: Oh these little liars. Pretty little liars, even.]

Chapter Two, after School, lockers. Elizabeth is still coercing Jessica into caring about her vaulted ideas for the planned procession of pious flagellation proposed by the pitiful yet perfect Elizabeth. [Wing: Beautiful.] Jess no-sirs it with a subject change, spilling the pintos about the upcoming arrival of the Alleged Mrs Fowler. Elizabeth does her best to corral the convo back to Mother’s Day, but Jessica Wakefield Cannot be Killed with Conventional Weapons.

Elizabeth pushes the boundaries a touch.

“I’ll be happy for her when Mrs. Fowler shows up. But she’s not here yet.”

“What do you mean?” Jessica narrowed her eyes. “You don’t think Lila’s lying about her mom coming, do you? Why would she do that?”

Elizabeth paused. Actually, she hadn’t been thinking that at all. But now that Jessica had brought it up, it did make her wonder for a second. “Well, it is a little strange that Lila didn’t mention it sooner,” she said. “Usually she’s even worse at keeping a secret than you are.”

Jess, of course, buys this idea. Largely because she’s an awful, unsupportive friend, but in part because she accepts that the subterfuge is something she herself would undertake, and also that she’s ready to believe anything which will keep her in the running for the Fashion Fund-raiser.

Elizabeth tries her best to convince Jessica that the stone-cold truth that she stumbled upon accidentally is too far-fetched to be plausible, which is a conversation that the plotting committee should have had on this book’s inception. Jessica, our blinkered heroine, pays her sister no heed, and straight-up declares she’s gunning for Lila’s spot in the show, a spot she vows to obtain through the usual blend of subterfuge and incredulous plot-points. [Dove: I was waiting for all this nonsense to escalate, only for Jessica to point back at this conversation and blame Liz. Sadly – spoilers – that does not happen.] [Wing: Wasted opportunity, ghostie.]

We skip to the back of the Fowler Limousine, happily without a blacklight, and Lila bemoans her plight as the resident car-skivvy, Richard, shepherds her home. Back at Fowler Crest, she converses with perennial help Mrs Pervis before sojourning to her room to gaze at the one photo of her mother that Mr Fowler allows in the house. So, it seems their divorce was acrimonious. Predictable, I guess, for the rich.

Not one for wallowing, Lila decides that she would make her mother arrive in time for the Fashion Fund-raiser through sheer force of will. However, her calls to France – her mother’s last known address – become circular far too quickly and leave Lila floundering. Spending far too long on the phone to a foreign nation, she has time to grimly reflect on her life to date.

It’s a good thing Daddy never squawks about how much money I spend, she thought sourly as the seconds ticked past. This call is going to cost him a bundle.

Eventually, after phoning a plethora of European nations, she is forced to admit defeat when the trail runs cold in Madrid. As she ponders her next move, the phone rings. Answering, Lila is connected to Marcella from the Sweet Valley Women’s Shelter. Marcella is calling to inform Lila and her “mother” that there’s a fitting and rehearsal for the fund-raiser next Thursday, one week from today. Lila glumly confirms her prospective attendance.

That night, at dinner, Lila quizzes Mr Fowler about the whereabouts of his estranged wife. Mr Fowler blows off her enquiries with a businessman’s disdain. Can’t Lila see the man has work to do?

Honestly, I do feel for Lila here, although if she doesn’t reign it in she’ll likely end up under the patio with her murdered mum. [Dove: *thunderstruck* Really? You think he murdered her? This could be why she doesn’t even have a name! Let’s pick this up on the podcast in about eight years when we get to it.] [Raven: I’m sure I’ll have fleshed out this off-the-cuff comment by then…] [Wing: Wait, is that what happened to Bambi? I was hoping she’d come back into the picture for this book.]

Eventually, Mr Fowler tells his morose daughter that her mother is currently hiking in the Himalayas for two months, and she can’t be reached. He doesn’t even make an Abominable Snowman joke while doing so, which is an opportunity missed.

As Lila presses, he gobbles down his steak and fucks off because BUSINESS.

Poor Lila!

It’s suddenly the following day, and Jessica is getting help with Mother’s Day Artwork from an apparently talented Tamara Chase. I mean, we’ve canonical proof that Jessica is a decent artist herself, so why she press-gangs a fucking meme into helping is anybody’s guess. Also, Tamara Chase spends swathes of the scene boasting about her upcoming Fashion Fun-raiser appearance, displaying smug superiority while denigrating the suitability of the other volunteers. I mean, we’ve all thought that Lesley Forsythe is a gibbering clusterfuck, but it takes a special type of asshole to actually say it.

So, once more with feeling, and this time with fair reason… FUCK YOU TAMARA CHASE. [Dove: Can Raven see the future, because he’s been hating her for years for no reason at all, but now he’s right?] [Raven: Lottery numbers? Nah. I’ll use my powers to predict the downfall of incidental characters in children’s literature!] [Wing: Far more useful — or at least entertaining.]

Jessica, fervently wishing Tamara Chase would shut the fuck up about the Fashion Fund-raiser, does her best to keep TC on target, but her vacuous mind is elsewhere. She screws up the assignment in fine fashion, at first painting too many yellow roses, then turning that into a person wearing a yellow dress, then supplying said person with a shock of curly blue hair, as if channelling Marge fucking Simpson.

And…

Eventually, tiring of Tamara’s tactlessness, Jessica decides to pack it in. Of course, Tamara can’t help but dig a little deeper, and continues to poke the sleeping murderer with more ill-conceived boasts about her Top Twenty ability to sign a form fast. Careful Tamara: remember that Jessica’s version of digging a little deeper will likely see you six feet underground.

Eventually, Jessica can’t stands no more, and Hulks out in fine form. She throws a handful of water at her irritating foe, which provokes an equal response from Tamara. Happily, the fracas is diffused by a rampant Mr Sweeney before Jessica manages to go crazy with a hand dipped solidly into blue paint. Two by Two, Hands of Blue…

Oddly, we now snap-cut to their punishment: taking a few boxes of donations to the Sweet Valley Women’s Shelter. Anything to advance the plot, I guess, and I suppose it’s a good enough device to give us the skinny and the sob-story on the shelter and its collected inhabitants.

While Tamara and Jessica bicker, we learn that the Shelter is decorated in bright colours, that some of the homeless women staying there have children, and that the shelter’s raison d’etre is to give these women a leg-up in life, as evidenced by the snippet of a slender brunette of Alice’s age being helped into a nice job-interview outfit by two female companions.

Talk turns to the Fashion Fund-raiser, and the girls are introduced to Marcella, the woman running the event (and the caller that informed Lila of the rehearsal schedule in the previous chapter. Jessica thinks this is the perfect opportunity to state her case for inclusion on the catwalk. She states her case, but is no-sirred rather quickly.

“I understand,” Jessica said smoothly. “I wouldn’t dream of asking you to bend the rules for me.” She gave the woman her most winning smile. Actually, she had been planning to do exactly that, but she had just thought of another idea. “I wanted to volunteer my mom and myself as alternates,” she said. “You know, in case one of the other pairs gets sick or can’t make it or something.” Or in case any of the models turns out not to have a mother to bring, she added to herself.

… Jessica’s going to kill Lila.

Marcella agrees, somewhat under duress, and the scene ends with Jessica’s inner monologue outlining the nefarious scheme in a fashion that’s one single maniacal laugh short of a fucking supervillain.

Aside:

Why are Jessica and Lila such dysfunctional friends?

I hate this Jessica, determined to stab her bestie in the chestie just so she can don high heels and makeup in some third-rate charity gig. I know it’s the blushing bud of a redemption story, and that Jessica will come good in the end, but why can’t she still have a decent friendship with Lila and, I dunno, put the boot into Tamara or Ellen instead? [Dove: GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ELLEN.] [Wing: I love when Jessica and Lila go head to head as long as they aren’t fighting over a boy. Antagonistic best friends (or enemies to friends to lovers, etc.) makes for fun reading that I love. That being said, even I think she goes way too fucking far in this book.]

Spoilers: Jessica is a colossal bitch in this story, and I think the reparations she offers for her appalling behaviour fall far short of acceptable. I’m sorry Jess, but you fuck it up big time this week.

End aside.

The chapter’s winding down now, as we return to Fowler Crest. Lila’s beating herself up, rereading the skipped passages from the Sweet Valley Sixers article that led her into this fragrant piccalilli. [Wing: Today I learned what a piccalilli is. The more you know…] If only she’d have paid more attention!

She wistfully asks her mother’s photo what she should do, before turning to ponder the photos that accompany the Sixers article, probably taken by Elizabeth due to her newfound desire to be David fucking Bailey. Just let Donald have his thing, Liz, you fucking twat! [Dove: Remember when other people were allowed talents? Yeah, that was about 130 books ago.]

Here’s a pair of sentences. Peak Lila thus far.

Lila was surprised to see that the women in the photo looked perfectly normal—not at all the way she imagined the residents of a women’s shelter would look. She had thought they would all look like bag ladies, with layers and layers of sweaters and patchy gray hair.

This intriguing revelation spurs Lila to come up with the idea that drives the plot proper…

She peered at it more closely. Actually, a few of these women are fairly good-looking, Lila thought appraisingly. If you put some nice clothes on them, maybe added a little makeup…

That’s right, folks. Lila’s gonna go all Educating Rita on some unsuspecting patsy.

Chapter Four sparks up immediately, with an excited Lila internally monologuing the details of her plan for all us C3s and C4s. To bullet point:

  • No one has seen Mrs Fowler for ages.
  • Hiring a famous actress, or even an upcoming actress, for the part is beset with the threat of recognition and embarrassment in the future. [Dove: On that note, I guess George and Bambi broke up?]
  • The prospective candidates at the women’s shelter travel in different circles to the Unicorns and those who are Unicorn-adjacent, but for safety’s sake she can simply persuade Mr Fowler to employ the woman after the ruse is complete to avoid the possibility of her “getting a job in the mall or something.” This wouldn’t stop the possibility of her shopping at the mall or something, of course.
  • Throw money at the problem is practically the motto of House Fowler.

She phones the Shelter. Busy signal. No matter, she thinks, as she sequesters the limo to take her there immediately. She’s a Fowler, and she will not be denied.

At the shelter, she’s greeted by the same woman (Jackie) that met Jessica and Tamara, who we learn have just departed. Close shave there, Lila. Lila bluffs and blusters her way in, simply by saying she has heard so much about their wonderful service from her friends that she just has to see it for herself.

Jackie, who turns out to be the director, gives Lila the whistle-stop, but Lila isn’t interested. She’s gimleting the other women, checking them out for suitability in her scheme. At first, pickings are slim. Candidates are fat, thin, freckled, men, cauliflowers. Just as she’s resigned to hiring an actress then paying for their post-scheme plastic surgery, she spots salvation in a ratty t-shirt.

Someone had just come out of a small powder room under the stairs. Someone tall, with elegant bone structure, big hazel eyes, and long, straight hair almost the same shade of brown as Lila’s.

Lila slides into the woman’s DMs, and we have liftoff.

Once the plan explained, Kate – the prospective Mrs Fowler-alike – is suitably confused. At first, she asks Lila if she’s part of a hidden camera show. Lila assures her that this is real, before asking if she can speak French.

Chuckling, Kate tries to let Lila down gently, by informing her that wacky hi-jinks aren’t quite her style, and that no-one would believe that someone so low-born as herself was a high-falutin’ poshie. Lila, however, is insistent. Taking a page from the Fowler Business Playbook, she decides that making a monetary offer is the first step to making any niggling doubts melt away like butter under a blowtorch.

After a frankly unsettling period of soul-searching, Lila offers Kate “two or three weeks’ allowance” for her part in the scheme. The figure takes Kate’s breath away, and finally convinces her that Lila is full-on serious about the whole damn shebang. Positing that she and her young daughter could definitely use the money, Kate jumps in with both faux-Fowler feet.

Lila is determined that they start Kate’s training straight away, and demands she decamp to the waiting limo for transport to Fowler Crest. There are tailors to employ and graces to adopt, after all. Kate simply states that she can’t come now, as she’d need to find someone to babysit her daughter and friend, the two urchin-tots that have played quietly in the corner of this scene all along.

Lila glanced at the children and grimaced. She hadn’t really paid much attention to them until now. So one of them was Kate’s daughter? Lila guessed it was the one with the big hazel eyes. She was kind of cute, actually. And she looked surprisingly happy and cheerful, considering that she lived in a shelter.

Lila didn’t see what the big baby-sitting problem was, though. The shelter was full of people—it wasn’t as if anything terrible was likely to happen to the little girl in the next couple of hours. Still, she knew that mothers could be awfully unreasonable about leaving their children behind.

Most mothers, anyway, Lila thought with a pang, thinking of the gold-framed photo on her bureau.

Ouch. Poor Lila! The ghostie is laying it on thick here, not without success. [Dove: Yeah, that one hit me in the feels. Will someone just give Lila a hug?]

There is eventual compromise. Lila gives Kate cab fare, and asks her to come to the Crest when she can. Lila then flounces away, declaring that her limo is far to ostentatious for this particular burg. I’d love it if she exited the building to find the limo on bricks and the chauffeur stabbed. [Dove: It’s Sweet Valley, not Scouse Valley.] [Raven: How very dare you!]

We now cut to the Wakefield Compound, where the twins are spending quality time with a surprisingly sober Alice, who’s leafing though a catalogue and lady-jizzing over wide-brimmed hats. Elizabeth, at least, takes the hint that their mother would like a hat as a Mother’s Day gift, while all Jessica can think of is Tamara fucking Chase. Ha!

In a typically self-serving and insular internalized monologue, Jessica decides that it’d be best for her beleaguered friend Lila if the pair of them discussed the Mother Issue as soon as possible, and that Jessica’s offer to ease Lila’s self-inflicted burden by inserting J-Dub and Alky Alice into the Fashion Fund-raiser post-haste. To that end, she simply must depart for Fowler Crest immediately.

“Can I go over to Lila’s, Mom?” she asked abruptly, interrupting her mother and sister’s conversation about another hat.

Actual lol. Fucking hats, man. Fucking hats.

Alice isn’t keep on this development, and asks why the big rush. This leads to a nice bit of banter between the twins, with Sassy Elizabeth appearing with a well-placed barb.

“I won’t be long, I promise.” [said Jessica.] “Um, we just need to plan, um, the agenda for our next Unicorn meeting.”

Elizabeth looked up. “I can do that for you right now,” she joked. “Item one, boys. Item two, makeup. Item three, shopping.”

Nice work all round!

After promising to return in time for the family trip to Sweet Valley Bistro (I mean, the fuck?), Jess grabs her bike and pedals to her best friend’s citadel. As the fates decree, she arrives at the exact moment that Kate’s taxi deposits our little Julie Walters at the gate.

Jessica is sure the woman – cheekbones, eyes, gorge – is familiar. Before she has time to figure it out, however, her consideration is interrupted by a flailing Lila.

“Mom!” Lila’s voice came at that moment. The front door banged open, and Jessica turned to see her friend rushing out of the house toward the woman, arms outstretched. “I thought you’d never get here!”

Jessica is immediately wary, but she admits to herself that this woman is plausible. She certainly looked pretty enough to be an Elder Fowler. But jeans and sneakers? And no luggage?

Sensing her “best friend’s” unease, and correctly deducing the reason for it, Lila vamps like a pro. She introduces her “mother,” before apologising for the woman’s distressed look and lack of baggage. She’s just back from safari. See, where her belonging were crushed underhoof a wildebeest stampede. Because WHY THE FUCK NOT? [Wing: It was good enough for Mufasa after all.]

WILDEBEEST!

Before Jessica has time to insinuate herself into the picture, Lila rushes her “mother” away to spend some quality, and specifically non-Wakefield, time with her long-lost daughter.

Chapter Five! We’re cooking with gas now!

It’s the Fowler Crest hallway, immediately after Lila’s intervention between Kate and Jessica. Apparently, she’d spotted what was going down from her bedroom window, and dashed out to curtail the horror toot-sweet. HOW CONVENIENT.

Kate is gobsmacked by the opulence of Fowler Crest, which is sweet if a little Ginny-Lu Culpepper marvelling at her first ever mirror. It’s not like Kate’s spent the last decade shitting into a bucket, folks. [Dove: Speaking as a working class person who was once invited to a house large enough to have wings, I think it’s fair to jawdrop and gawp at the big house filled with nice things. And then judge them hard for wasting ten grand on a fucking vase.] [Wing: The first time I was invited into a multi-million dollar home I was definitely gobsmacked. Shit, every time I enter one, I’m gobsmacked. Such wild spending.]

Mrs Pervis bustles in, demanding answers, before she realises it’s Lila and Guest. She clams up quick, as it butters no parsnips to antagonise the meal ticket. Lila, of course, decides to double down on the deceit, and introduces Kate as the much maligned and missing Mrs Fowler. Although shaken, Mrs Pervis believes her young mistress, at least on the face of it, because I guess the whole thing falls apart if The Purv calls Daddy Warbucks Fowler and spills her guts. With great formality, Pervis plays her part, and to her credit Kate does too, albeit awkwardly.

Kate excuses herselt, ostensibly to powder her nose. Talking of noses, Lila turns her up at Kate’s use of the word “rest room” instead of the presumably more stately “bathroom” [Dove: Actually, Lila prefers “powder room”.], but at least she didn’t go full “shitter”. And I guess she should know where the log cabins are built, having lived at the Crest in a more taciturn era.

With Kate laying cable, Lila excuses her “mother’s” erratic behaviour to the housekeeper, putting it down to a rogue noggin-thwack from a wayward polo mallet. Perfectly, ridiculously posh. Mrs Pervis suggests she should make up a bed, but Lila naysays this.

There’s no need for that,” Lila said quickly. “Um, Mom isn’t staying here. Too many memories, you know.” She gestured toward the portrait of her father gazing sternly down at them from the wall outside his study. “She’ll be staying at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles and visiting me during the day.” She smiled at Mrs. Pervis. “We’re hoping to spend lots of quality time together.”

Mrs. Pervis smiled back understandingly. She gave Lila a fond pat on the shoulder. “That’s wonderful, dear,” she said.

Aside:

Mrs Pervis is a gem.

Of COURSE she knows that this isn’t Mrs Fowler. She just loves Lila, and is ready to go along with her game in order to keep her happy. Of course she knows what an emotionally absent father and an ACTUALLY absent mother is doing to our girl, and she’ll move heaven and earth to let her find the happiness she so desperately craves.

Either that, or she’s a fucking idiot, I guess. I reckon it’s fifty-fifty. [Dove: No chance. Mrs Pervis loves Lila and totally goes along with her. In a few more years, she’ll be the Dorota to Lila’s Blair Waldorf. That’s my headcanon. Not actual canon.]

End aside.

We’re now back at The Wakefield Compound, and Elizabeth is poring over the Hat Catalogue. Her mother wants a hat, goddamn it, so a hat she will fucking get. This hat will be so fucking special it’ll make the Crown Jewels look like folded fucking newspaper. It’ll be so hatty, so perfectly headpiecey, that it’ll blow every fucking tiny helmet-obsessed mind at Sweet Valley Millinery. It’ll be the hat equivalent of being fucked by God. [Dove: *headtilts* But we don’t have caffeine in this house.] [Wing: …are you sure?]

Jessica barges in, fresh from being ditched at the doorstep at Fowler Crest. She immediately tells Liz all about Mrs Fowler, and her zebra (or antelope) stampede. Elizabeth is surprised, and Jessica vocalises her unease at the scene in general, and the woman presenting as Mrs Fowler in particular. Jess mentions that she found the faux-Fowler a familiar face, to which the suspicious-but-trusting Elizabeth declares that this is likely because, y’know, she looks like Lila fucking Fowler, just as any decent genetic relation should. Whether this is enough to placate Jessica’s gnawing sense of selfish injustice remains to be seen.

And snap cut to Folwer Crest, where we find Lila putting Kate through what an eleven-year-old posh girl considers “courtly training.” Of course, it’s hackneyed and overblown… Kate is entrusted with walking across a room while balancing a book atop her unstyled and likely stampede-addled head. Once they tire of that, it’s straight to the other important thing: table manners. Like, who cares about learning anything relevant, like Lila’s family history, or even the names of her friends in the Unicorns. No, it’s far more likely that Kate’s petard will be hoisted when she’s called out for improper use of a melon baller by Ellen fucking Riteman. We all know what a spoon-stickler she is.

Mrs Pervis is sent to the store for caviar and pate (RIDICULOUS!), so Kate can practice etiquette in the cavernous maw of the Fowler Dining Room. Lessons continue, but they’re nothing but inappropriately twee. Kate should wait to be seated by a courtly gentleman, Kate should memorise the order in which spoons appear on the table, and so on. In fact, Lila insists that Kate needs lessons in eating soup, as if the pre-scheme Kate would devour the sustaining broth by plunging her entire face into the pan as if bobbing for croutons, or would display such difficulty in wielding the ladle that she’d decant minestrone into her fucking ear.

While they read chapters twelve through fourteen of The Big Book of Etiquette, which singularly tackle soup-wrangling (I’m not kidding), Kate is made to stomach bowl after bowl of broccoli soup, a substance which, to her, is gastronomic kryptonite. She’s not enjoying this, but in perfect pauper style she battens the hatches and thinks of the fucking payout.

One quick note: during Spoons 101, while teaching Kate about silverware, a confused Lila offers a telling comment…

This is the kind of thing a mother should teach a daughter, she thought irritably. Not the other way around.

This is obviously sad, and heartstrings are pulled, but I can’t help but think “yup, that’s right, it’s the classic mothering talk trifecta: birds, bees, and fucking spoons.”

Once the warming bouillon is finally quaffed, and Kate is green at the gills, Lila declares that Kate has passed the Soup Exam. Kate is not particularly thrilled, and indicates as such with a grumpy burp. Apparently, table manners will be tackled tomorrow.

As Kate complains about the draconian hours and enforced soup consumption, there’s one last lesson to learn today – how to say Darling. Because, apparently, it’s Dahling, not Darrrleeeng. Darrrleeeng is what truckers and waitresses say.

Eventually, Kate declares she has to get back to check on her daughter, leaving Lila to yearn for a soupcon of genuine motherly affection of her own. Again, I feel for her. Poor kid.

Chapter Six, and it’s the Wakefield Compound the following morning. Jess is dredging her memory for clues as to the identity of the oh so familiar faux-Fowler. Elizabeth is trying to convince her dubious twin that Lila wouldn’t lie about something so important, while Steven adds nothing to the scene other than his usual brand of asinine jokes and cereal consumption.  Elizabeth actually achieves the impossible, almost: Jessica begins to feel guilty about her avarice concerning Lila’s position in the Fashion Fund-raiser.

Of course, when Elizabeth declares they can no concentrate on Operation ITFOOSAOMD, Jess announces that first she has to apologise to Lila, and dashes off to make a phonecall.

Naturally, it becomes apparent that while Jessica’s sweetness-and-light act is an apology on the surface, it’s very much designed to gain access to the faux-Fowler and dig a little deeper. Jessica manages to finagle herself a lunch invitation for Friday, which is a day after the rehearsal for the Fashion Fund-raiser. Not to be deterred, she parlays that into an invitation to lunch that very day, claiming she could be there in fifteen minutes, and of course she’s not taking no for an answer.

Lila is silent, then acquiesces. I mean, nothing is left standing in the wake of Hurricane Jessica, so it’s best to bend with the buffeting breeze lest your boughs break in her boisterous barrage.

Lila hangs up, and turns to Kate, tiptoeing her way across Lila’s bedroom with a book on her bonce. It’s Jess O’Clock in t-minus-fifteen, time to crank up Educating Rita to Red Alert.

Lila calls a department store with a grimace, as needs must when the devil drives… Kate will have to wear off the rack for this impromptu luncheon. Though how the hell they can get something to them in the fifteen minutes it’ll take Jessica to rock up the Crest, I’ll never know. Like, sure, throw money at it, but teleportation still isn’t a thing no matter how rich you are. Actually, looking back, it seems Lila managed to put Jess off until one-thirty, so there’s a period of grace (Steven’s eating of cereal places this conversation as an early morning one, although I guess he could be eating it any time).

Before the lunch date, we see Lila versing Kate of European capitals and currencies, as it’s impossible to portray yourself as a well-travelled bon viveur without mentioning the fucking peso every thirty seconds.

Chapter Seven! And Jessica is bob-on time for her lunch date / fact-finding mission. Lila greets her with an open smile, and declares that “mom” is dressing for lunch. Because THAT’S WHAT POSH PEOPLE DO IN THE LATE EIGHTIES / EARLY NINETIES, I GUESS. Fuck me, if I were posh, I wouldn’t even dress for court.

Lila had already turned to glance at the stairs. “Oh, there she is,” she said.

Jessica turned and gasped in awe. A woman was coming down the wide staircase. The almond-shaped hazel eyes and high cheekbones were the same as they had been yesterday. But aside from that, she looked like a different person.

Kate? Scrubs up well, it seems. And as we get into the lunch proper, she leans into the role with aplomb. Jessica is awestruck, initially at least, as Mrs Fowler is entirely what Lila has always claimed her to be.

Kate asks Jessica about herself, as she’s “keen to hear about Lila’s friends,” and for once, Jessica is at a loss for words. What on earth could she say to this vision of worldly perfection? I dunno Jess, just casually drop your body count into conversation, I’m sure you’ll have her full attention with that. Let’s face it, they’re hardly rookie numbers.

Jessica deflects the question, and asks to hear more about the stampede.

Mow this throws the so-far impeccable Kate. Stampede? What fucking stampede? I certainly don’t blame Kate for forgetting or mishearing Lila’s glib and throwaway excuse upon her arrival the previous day. After all, her head is now full of pronunciation, pesos and three full chapters of soup. So the first crack appears in the high society sidewalk, and when Kate can’t provide salient and believable commentary, colossal rats are smelled. Because who the fuck doesn’t know that Prince Renaldo safaris exclusively in Kenya?

Soup is served. Asparagus. Cold.

Kate eats her soup like a fucking maestro, proving that hard work and dedication can pay off in the hot liquid food milieu. Lila eyes Jess all the while, and concludes that Kate’s performance is enough to beguile and distract a common pleb such as Jessica. What the fuck does she know about high society?

After lunch, as Kate and Lila walk Jessica to the door, things get a little tense again. Kate makes an excuse to sojourn upstairs, leaving the “best friends” a few sentences to debrief. Jess offers a backhanded compliment about Kate, which Lila takes at face value. Our poor little rich girl cannot help gloating, which is entirely in keeping with their relationship even though I wish it weren’t. [Dove: If I could reboot this series…] Jessica takes the bait, and lets her sour grapes show as she sashays away. Lila drinks it down like a salt vampire, her friend’s curmudgeonly exit vivifying her until she glows, full Ready Brek.

Lila is not sated for long. She realises there is still much to do, because OF COURSE there is, mainly due to the fact that they’ve spent two days on walking, Europe and soup. She asks Kate for more time to train her, but Kate has made plans for a park visit with her real daughter that afternoon. She’d return afterwards, of course, but there would be no monopoly of her time today.

At first, this throws Lila. It seems she’s getting into this scheme a little too much. After gracelessly tossing Kate’s unasked-for need for a limo ride home in her face, Lila actually feels bad. Thankfully, she has the self-awareness to realise why.

She couldn’t help feeling a little jealous of Kate’s special relationship with her daughter.

Poor Lila. I’ve said it before, but I feel for you, kid. She apologises, and offers the limo with a touch more humility.

Kate shook her head and smiled ruefully. “Thanks, Lila,” she said. She reached out and gently ruffled Lila’s hair. “But I think I’d rather take the bus this time. Really.”

Lila slowly raised her hand to her head to smooth her hair back into place. Kate’s fingers had messed it up a little. But for some reason Lila didn’t mind. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had run their fingers through her hair like that—affectionately. Had anyone ever done it?

If I may channel Wing… OH MY HEART. [Dove: Does nobody hug this girl ever? Probably the last time someone did was Elizabeth in either the endless Christmas cycle or when Lying Liz was in charge. And that’s just heartbreaking.] [Wing: SHE RUFFLED LILA’S HAIR OH MY GOD LILA IS SO FUCKING TOUCHED STARVED MY POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL. Hug her, Jessica! Without trying to find the best angle to stab her, too.]

Kate smiles, and insists on taking the bus. While she’s learning airs and graces for effect, she doesn’t want them to become her reality.

I mean, fuck that shit. Ride that limo hard, and smash the minibar on the journey home. [Wing: Take it to the local pharmacy for batteries! Do tours of the neighbourhood! Make friends with the driver! Oh, right, that part of the fun happened while you two were off doing official wedding things.]

There’s a reason for Kate’s limo reticence, of course. As she leaves for the bus, we learn that the sneaky Jessica is waiting behind a hedge, in order to spy on the departing faux-Fowler and get to the stone bottom of things.

Jessica watches as Kate heads for the bus stop, wearing the ratty tshirt and jeans combo from the previous day. Curiouser and curiouser!

Kate heads to the bus stop, which presents Jessica with a quandry… how could she possibly tail this imposter without being seen? Thankfully, there’s a touch of the mid-book Deus Ex Machina here, as:

  1. Kate’s bus arrives immediately, so Jess’s loitering is unnoticed,
  2. A second bus, with the same destination, is mere seconds behind the first, and
  3. Jessica has a pocketful of change to pay for the ride, as Elizabeth had tasked and paid her to fetch oysters for Alice’s Mother’s Day surprise. I mean, THE BLUE FUCK?! [Dove: I know, right? Everyone knows that Alice’s favourite meal is broiled flounder.]

So! We have Detective Jess, tailing Kate the Faux-Fowler towards the truth and Lila’s oblivion. How exciting! But damn girl, can’t you be supportive to your best friend for one hot second? You’re a bad person, Jessica Wakefield. [Dove: This is why Lila’s best friend is actually Melissa McCormick.] [Wing: YES MORE OF THAT FRIENDSHIP, PLEASE.]

Chapter Eight snap-cuts to that evening, with a returned Kate trying caviar for the first time at Fowler Crest. She thinks it mings, which is correct. I’m a gourmand, and I’d try it, but seriously? You don’t have to eat every fucking thing you posh weirdos!

The caviar-eating is, in fact, a break in the etiquette lessons. During this, Kate is apparently telling Lila about her life, which Lila doesn’t mind one bit. Our poor girl craves a mother’s influence so much, it’s sad to see her clinging on so hard to the most basic of interactions. We hear how Kate’s husband had died earlier that year after a long illness, with the medical bills consuming every penny they had.

Fuck’s sake, America. Get your shit together. [Wing: *sobs in high medical bills from one surgery last year much less a protracted illness*]

Kate isn’t melancholy about her lot. The Women’s Shelter is Good People, after all.

Lila is genuinely moved by Kate’s story, straight off the X Factor screen as it purports to be. She considers the shelter, and concludes that the women there aren’t rag-strewn stink-addled piss-witches, but rather normal people that are somewhat down on their luck. Nice work, Lila. Growth. [Dove: Which is interesting, because she didn’t learn that lesson when Melissa made her volunteer at the homeless shelter. So it’s actually nice that Lila is moving forward.] [Raven: I’d forgotten her previous stint with the homeless!] [Wing: Me too!]

Lila also learns that Kate has just completed a computer programming course, and is looking for work. Kate is doiung everything she can to elevate her and her daughter’s situation, and while Lila does feel pity, she also feels a touch envious. Sure, if she had her druthers, Lila would still be gateaux-rich, but she admires the drive and determination nonetheless.

Kate comments that Lila is a very lucky girl, as she’s privileged to have everything that Kate would wish upon her actual daughter. Lila, in a genuine moment of vulnerable affection, responds that Kate’s daughter is also pretty lucky…

“I only get to have you as a mother for a few days,” Lila blurted before she could stop herself. “She gets to have you as her mom all the time.”

The first cut is the deepest.

[Dove: *tears up*] [Wing: LILA. MY HEART. FUCK.]

Just as things threaten to descend into a sarlacc pit of tears, in strides Mrs Pervis, introducing a triumphant Jessica. Jess knows the secret, and is ready to shit out a massive brown souffle onto Lila’s hostess trolley.

Aside:

Jessica has, canonically, pulled a LOT of shit in this series. She’s abandoned dogs, ran away from home, cheated on boyfriends and royally screwed over her sister on many occasions.

However, I can honestly say, that in Book 115, she stoops to the single worst act of total cuntery that I’ve read thus far.

Sorry Jessica, you heartless bitch, but you’re not coming back from this one, for the remainder of this book at least, or perhaps even longer. I’ll endeavour embrace the traditional Etch-A-Sketch periodical reset as the book concludes, but I can’t promise anything.

Never forgive, never forget.

[Dove: For Steven it was the lawnmower shit. For Jessica it’s this. Which means by process of elimination, Elizabeth is the least sucky of the Wakefield crotchfruit.]

End aside.

The following section is presented without comment.

Just then Jessica pushed her way past Mrs. Pervis. She had a triumphant look on her face that made Lila’s heart freeze.

“There you are, you sneak,” Jessica crowed, pointing a finger at Lila. Then she turned toward Kate and smirked. “How are you enjoying your visit—Kate?”

Lila gasped.

“That’s right,” Jessica said smugly. “I know all about your little scheme, Lila. I know you brought in Kate to impersonate your mother.”

Lila put her hands over her ears. She couldn’t believe this was happening. She didn’t want to hear any more.

Jessica wasn’t finished. “But you can’t fool me,” she said. “She’s not your mother. She’s not a rich socialite. She doesn’t even have a home!”

Lila couldn’t take it another second. It was all over and she knew it. “It’s true,” she cried. “That’s what you want to hear, right? It’s all true!” Shoving her chair back, she raced out of the room. She was sobbing before she even reached the door.

There are no words.

They’re supposed to be best friends.

[Wing: LILA MY FUCKING HEART]

In the aftermath of her napalm strike, Jessica has the unmitigated gall to be surprised that Lila is being so sensitive. Mrs Pervis has departed to salve her surrogate daughter, leaving Kate and Jessica alone in the Fowler Crest dining room. [Dove: Jessica is fucking dead to me. She’s a toxic nightmare and I hate her for this. Imagine orchestrating the breakdown of your best friend at her most vulnerable spot over nothing. Lila didn’t even “start” this. Jessica just failed to sign up for something in time. This isn’t even one of their escalating fights where Lila buys the cute shirt Jessica wants. Lila literally did not do anything that could be construed as firing the starting pistol, and even if she did, this level of viciousness would be unwarranted. Fuck you, Jessica. You utter cunt.]

We now learn that Jessica had tailed Kate from the bus to the shelter to the park that afternoon, where the penny finally dropped and Jess recognised Kate as the woman who had been trying on clothes for her job interview when she and Tamnara visited the shelter earlier in the book.

Jess mumbles a half-assed apology to Kate. Not for her actions with Lila, but for the low-key stalking. [Wing: To be fair, she shouldn’t apologise to Kate for her actions with Lila, but certainly for the stalking (not very low-key at all) and for talking shit about her.]

To her credit, Kate takes no fucking prisoners. She lets Jessica have both barrels. She admonishes the sociopathic twin for her total lack of empathy, for her selfish and thoughtless conduct towards a girl that is supposedly her best friend. She clearly states that while the women at the shelter had little in the way of material wealth, they were rich in friendships, with allies and supporters that had their collective backs no matter what. And in a final flurry of approbation, she slaps Jessica down with the following Mortal Kombat level finisher:

She gave Jessica a disgusted look. “But you have to be a friend to have a friend. I hope you never end up in a homeless shelter, Jessica. I really do. Because you wouldn’t have anything at all.”

Jessica could feel her face turning bright red as Kate pushed her chair back and strode from the room. As soon as Kate was gone Jessica turned and ran for the front door.

Headshot. Fatality. Stone Cold Ded. [Dove: Kate. We. Love. You. Also, does anyone want Lila to kind of Overboard! Kate into being her mum. Just bring her and her child into Fowler Crest (no gaslighting) and when George gets back, like’s like, “Yeah, I have a new mother now. And also a young sister.”] [Wing: Goddamn, Kate, get it. And YES, I want Kate and child to come be Lila’s family now. Your father will give you whatever you want, girl, make it happen.]

The thing is, Jessica knows all this. Back in The Christmas Ghost, she was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, who showed her a potential timeline of terror if she didn’t buckle up and fly straight. And yet, in the best sitcom tradition, this pertinent and life-changing lesson was bubble-wrapped and shelved the moment that book was over.

Next up, we have a scene in which a motherly Kate does her best to apply tinctures and balms to soothe Lila’s bruised and manhandled soul. She provides empathy, and laughter, and even hugs, and in all honesty it does some good. She also posits the notion that the whole Faux Fowler scheme is officially dead in the water, a suggestion that Lila reluctantly embraces.

Lila is also classically magnanimous, writing a check for the full agreed amount as Kate did nothing wrong. After a token protest, Kate accepts the payment, as it should be. Kate then tries to return the very clothes off her back, but Lila simply yeets Kate’s ratty-tshirt-and-jeans combo out of the window, ensuring that Kate is forced to wear the gifted outfit to the garden at least if she wanted to gather up her belongings. [Dove: That was so Lila. And I kind of love her for that.] [Wing: I full-on laughed out loud at Lila and the clothes. Perfectly Lila.]

Lila pulls up her big girl britches regarding Jessica’s betrayal, for the departing Kate’s benefit at least. Kate is reluctant to leave a clearly upset Lila in the vulnerable state that she’s in, but she’s persuaded everything will be hunky dory in the long run. With one last hug, the kindly Kate exits the scene with a promise to keep in touch. Once she’s gone, Lila allows herself to dissolve into tears.

Kate’s departure made her feel worse than ever. She had seen Kate’s daughter only once, and she hadn’t paid much attention even then. But now all she could see when she closed her eyes was the little girl smiling up at her mother, hugging her mother, rushing toward her mother with outstretched arms, knowing Kate would be there to catch her. Lila wished she knew what that felt like.

Finally she exhausted her supply of tears. It was very late by now, and she was suddenly very sleepy. That kid might be poor, Lila thought just before she drifted off into a deep, dreamless sleep. But at least she’s got one parent who really loves her.

Onions. Onions fucking everywhere.

[Wing: MY HEART CANNOT TAKE THIS.]

Chapter Nine, next morning, Wakefield Compound. Jessica is still distraught over her appalling conduct of the previous day, but quite frankly she can go piss up a fucking rope. We’re told that the blond shitbag feels so bad, she didn’t even tell Elizabeth about what had transpired at Fowler Crest, so at least she has some dim understanding that she’s used her best friend’s soul as a fucking dishcloth to mop up a puddle of vomit. Luckily for Jess, aside from being apoplectic about the forgotten oysters, Liz is entirely focussed on “Operation Momfest”, which we of course know as Operation ITFOOSAOMD. [Wing: Operation Momfest makes it sound like they’ll be pitting mothers together in a battle royale.]

After a few lines of transparent soul searching, Jessica concludes that, actually, she HAS been a bitch to poor Lila, and that she should be ridiculously grateful that she has two functional parents, no matter what the recappers say.

We now learn that Mr Wakefield is off on a business trip, and Alice has left off the gin long enough to be his designated driver for his trip to the airport. Jessica tags along, ostensibly to broach the subject of the Fashion Fund-raiser and her and Alice’s apparent upcoming participation. So, not that cut up about fucking over your best friend then, Jessica? You gangrenous polyp. [Dove: Yep, that rang hollow with me as well.]

Of course, this bolt-from-beyond random trip to the airport is naught but a plot vessel for Jessica to bump into… Mr Fowler!

“Mr. Fowler?” Jessica blurted out before she could stop herself.

The man heard her and stopped short, looking around to find out who had called his name. Jessica gulped, glancing around for someplace to hide. Seeing him made her feel guiltier than ever about the way she had treated his daughter. Kate was right—Jessica hadn’t been much of a friend to Lila lately.

Suddenly it hit her. Maybe it wasn’t too late to be a true friend. She just needed a little help from one particular person.

“Mr. Fowler!” Jessica called, louder this time. “Over here!”

So that’s the plan, is it? Rope in George to act as a mother in the Mother-Daughter fashion show? I guess I don’t hate that idea, although I was looking forward to Mama Fowler actually making an appearance. I suppose it not gender-normative, and it challenges the preconceptions of motherhood in a healthy way, but I do feel somewhat cheated. Ah well, maybe it’ll pan out differently. But whatever happens, Jessica simply asking Mr Fowler to get involved does little to save her spirit from the eternal flame and brimstone she thoroughly deserves.

Chapter Ten skips us ahead to Monday, with Lila girding herself for the barrage of smug pity that’s sure to emanate from the braying Unicorns, as Jessica will have undoubtedly gloated about the whole affair. It comes as a shock, then, when no-one says a goddamn word. At first, Lila accredits this to Jessica’s silence, but then she assumes that its more likely down to a peculiar strain of uber-pity that makes the whole circus simply far too embarrassing to mention. But at the days pass Lila is more concerned about another surprising development: she actually misses Kate.

By Wednesday, Lila is reflective.

Maybe she’s not my real mother, Lila thought as she sat on the bench in the gym on Wednesday afternoon watching the gym teacher demonstrate something or other. But it kind of felt like she was. She paid more attention to me than either of my real parents ever did in their lives.

Aside:

Again, poor Lila. Thing is, I don’t really buy it.  Actually, I do buy it, but for an almost Bleak Valley reason.

You see, while I have enjoyed this book thus far, and hope I continue this trend to the end, I don’t think Kate has been shown to be displaying enough to warrant Lila’s devotion to her very own Faux Fowler. At first I saw that as a weakness in the prose, but on further examination I think it’s likely a strength. The very fact that Kate has shown Lila the scantest of motherly affection makes Lila’s peculiar devotion even more upsetting. The girl has literally no one, so of course she falls fast for Kate and her slightly-above-minimum-schtick. [Wing: This is exactly my theory. She’s so starved for kindness, especially from a parental figure, that even this bare minimum hits her hard like this. MY FUCKING HEART.]

Maybe I’m doing my patented overthinking here. Maybe I should consider Kate’s side of this relationship more than mere ballast. Who knows? One thing I do know is that I wish we’d actually met Mrs Fowler in this book, and also that Mrs Pervis got a little more love for the role she has in Lila’s life.

Also, where the fuck is Bambi?

End aside.

That evening, after an unsuccessful call to the shelter in search of solace from Mama Kate, Jessica once again invades Lila’s private sanctum. This time, however, she comes bearing gladder tidings.

Immediately, Jessica’s chirpy attitude grates with me. For a start, she doesn’t fucking apologise. Instead, she declares they have to talk, and then announces that she’s both solved Lila’s problems (doubtful) and kept Lila’s secret (incredible, but demonstrable). Lila greets these revelations with her trademark snorting snark. When Jessica announces that she’s found Lila a mother substitute that’s even better than Kate, Lila is forced to sit up and take stock.

Eventually, after some hardcore cajoling, Lila agrees to attend the rehearsal the following day, where she’ll meet the Kate Replacement in person.

Okay, so we know it’s her father, but why the hell does Jessica have to keep it a surprise revelation? [Dove: For the same reason that they needed to take the dog when they apologised to Brooke. Because it pads the word count, and reasoning be damned!] And what if Lila doesn’t want to do the fashion show with her dad? She’s being sold on the idea that it’s a mother surrogate, so the reveal that it’s her father might not be what she’s looking for. Oh, I know it’ll all be cool – Sweet Valley, y0 – but this is a paper-thin denouement and I’ve read fucking ithig.

Back at the Wakefield Compound, we find Jessica is pleased with her selfless act, however unapologetic she may be. Sure, she can’t now strut down the catwalk herself, but no matter.

… or CAN SHE?!

Turns out that Tamara Chase has come down with the sniffles, so therefore Jessica and Alice can join in the fun.

First up, FUCK YOU TAMARA CHASE.

Second? Just NO. Rewarding Jessica with this karmic payload is out of proportion against her crimes against friendship. Can we not go ONE FUCKING BOOK without the Wakefields striding through shite yet emerging rose-fresh? [Dove: THIS. Just once I’d like to see Jessica live with her own fucking toxicity and not do the barest minimum and be rewarded to the hilt. Just. Fucking. Once. God, if I could reboot this series… seriously Bantam, call me. I have pages and pages of notes.] [Raven: I second this notion.]

We now skip to the rehearsal, during which it’s revealed that, as we suspected, Lila’s Surrogate Mother is… her Father! Way to step to the plate, George, even if you did make your daughter wait an additional fifteen minutes, being late for nothing more than a build of dramatic tension.

Chapter Eleven begins with Lila’s reaction to her father’s upcoming fashion debut. She’s thrilled, of course, and we learn that he changed some important business plans in order to participate, once Jessica had made her impassioned plea. For once, Lila is dumbfounded. She never realised her father would put her before his precious company. Good for them, actually bonding at last. [Wing: That is both sweet and heartbreaking.]

Elizabeth (remember her?) takes photos throughout the rehearsal. FUCKING HELL, woman, DONALD IS BETTER AT PHOTOGRAPHY THAN YOU. Let him do the honours, it’s not as if he can’t be included in this book due to a clash of schedules. He’s not moonlighting as a Goosebumps protagonist on the fucking side. [Wing: AMAZING. DO WANT.]

The rehearsal proceeds apace. Lila snarls that Elizabeth is interrupting her moment of reconciliation with Jessica as Liz insists on snapping the scene, while Mr Fowler promises to be back in good time on Saturday for the show proper, even if he has to be in a meeting in Chicago that morning.

Uh oh, Spaghetti-os. I see trouble on the horizon.

With a mere two chapters to go, we’re caroming down the slalom, taking corners with a reckless abandon. Usually it’s at this point that we can take our foot off the proverbial gas and coast to the finish, but there’s a lot crammed into this penultimate part.

It’s Saturday morning, and Lila is feeling fine. She’s getting her hair done, and chatting blithely to the stylist, blathering on about the upcoming Fashion Fund-raiser, and the part she’ll be playing with her newly-attentive father. However, as the starting time approaches, it begins to rain, which is surely a portent for trouble ahead in the glossy photo-shoot realm of Sweet Valley. [Dove: Rain is… not good. I’d be more concerned if there was a thunder storm. Rain is just bad. Not death-bad. OMG, Lila the Orphan would be a heartbreaking conclusion to this.]

As expected, as the bleachers fill for the Fashion Fund-raiser, the rain still pours, and Daddy Fowler is nowhere to be found. At first, Lila is sure her dad will arrive in the very nick. He did promise, after all. Sadly, after thirty minutes of waiting, she admits defeat. Marcella, the Fashion Fund-raising Fuhrer, eventually calls Time of Death on Lila’s catwalk aspirations.

“Lila,” she said gently, “I’m afraid we can’t wait any longer. We’ve got to get started. I’m sorry.”

Lila shrugged. “Don’t be,” she said brusquely. “It’s no big deal.” It’s just business as usual, she thought bitterly. She wondered what had happened. Had her father’s business meeting run late? Or had he simply forgotten about the show? Either way, one thing was clear: His work was still more important to him than anything else. Even her.

FUCKING ONIONS, AGAIN.

Marcella, however, has a compromise. Would Lila like to commentate the show?

I mean, I WOULD BE DOWN FOR THAT. Lila, snarking like a fucking queen? I’d read entire BOOKS of that shit. However, her patent disappointment in regards to her deadbeat dad means she’s not feeling it. But, as she makes to decline the offer…

In.

Walks.

KATE.

Looking resplendent in her interview garb, and ready to take the reins, she offers her motherly services with a non-verbal wink. Jessica is also down for this clowning, but Lila, showing more maturity that I’d suggest is warranted, warmly introduces Marcella to her “good friend, Kate”, before graciously accepting the role of commentator.

(Morgan Freeman’s Voice: Sadly for all involved, we don’t hear any of Lila’s fashion commentary today.)

The show occurs, it all goes well, and Lila’s commentary was an apparent hit. So! All that’s left to resolve is the Case of the Missing Father. Did he ditch his daughter to dedicate his time to boardroom shenanigans in Chicago?

No!

Turns out he crashed his car. He’s dead!

(He’s not really dead.)

Mr Fowler’s plane from Chicago was delayed, and he span off the road when speeding to the shelter as to not disappoint his daughter. [Dove: This might be why he usually has a driver?] So he’s a lovely guy after all, albeit a reckless one, and the Fowlers bond for real at his hospital bed. Mr Fowler lets his daughter know that she’s the most important thing in the world to him, which goes a long way to assuaging Lila’s insecurities.

We close the book with the resolve of Operation ITFOOSAOMD, which upon reflection is a pretty anaemic sub plot. Alice loves her breakfast in bed – poached eggs and tuna fish, apparently, as Jess didn’t get oysters… hang on, that’s oysters for breakfast?! Oh, and it took Elizabeth three dozen eggs before she got the hang of poaching, which is fucking ludicrous. She can cook in other books, but not in this one. Three dozen of the fuckers? It’s a fucking poached egg. There’s not that many variables to tweak. [Wing: Now I want to try poaching an egg. I was going to say what a waste this was, but then I remembered Steven ate all of them, no matter how bad, I’m sure.]

Alice also likes the Tamara-ruined poster, and she praises Jessica for all the nice things she’s done for Lila this week. I’m guessing she doesn’t know the obverse of that particular coin, or she’d be choking on her tuna in rage. [Dove: Seriously? Alice is a fucking muppet. OMG, thank you for this poster of a yellow dress with blue hair that’s nothing to do with me, and was utterly half-arsed. Thank you for this horrible breakfast cobbled together because you spent the money that was to be used on it. I’m just so blessed to have a daughter that’s made no fucking effort at all. And also destroyed her best friend’s delicate emotions. #Blessed #HumbleBrag]

Also, no fucking Hat. Way to go, Liz.

We conclude with a charming scene in which Lila too serves her father poached eggs in bed, with a jaunty Happy Mother’s Day. Her eggs are atrocious, of course, because we all know the only thing she can cook is carrots. The pair bond over possible food poisoning, Daddy Fowler suggests they donate a bushel of clothes to the Women’s Shelter, and Lila realises that her dad is actually pretty great.

Also, they’re rich as shit, which is a bonus.

Final Thoughts:

I did like this book. I did.

But.

I have issues. While I liked the premise, and the plotting, and even the ending, I have a nagging suspicion that they could have made something more from this. Good books in this series leave nothing unexplored in their story. I’d come away feeling satisfied that all rocks had been upturned. Here, though? I felt that more could have come from the Kate angle, and there was a fair amount of water-treading in the middle.

Also, I think Mrs Pervis deserved a greater role in this book, and in Lila’s life. And I’d have loved to hear Lila’s fashion commentary, and to have actually met Lila’s mother. And, as I’ve mentioned, Jessica was an outright monster in this, with little retribution meted out for her misdeeds.

But the ghostie did hit the emotional core, and the incidentals were sassy and fun. So while it doesn’t beat the other Lila books in this series, it still merits a thumbs up. Even a bad Lila book is a good Sweet Valley book, right? Approved!

[Dove: I’m with Raven in my dithering here. A Lila book is almost always a win. And this one kicked me in the feels multiple times. However, Jessica was an atrocious bitch and the fact that Alice is proud of her just speaks volumes of how badly the Wakefields parent their hellspawn. I liked the Lila and Kate stuff, but I’d have liked to see more. I actually thought the mother-daughter show was going to end with Kate and her kid taking Lila’s spot, but that didn’t happen. I wish I’d seen her commentary, and I wish more than anything that Jessica had been punished for her bullshit.]

[Wing: I’m actually fine with not meeting Lila’s mother; I think having her show up would have undercut the rest of the story. I do want to see more of Mrs Pervis, and it seemed like the restrictions on the mother and daughter part were walked back real fast when it came to Mr Fowler, so the restrictions seems overblown by the end. I hate that we didn’t get any Lila commentary, that would have been far better than the actual b plot. I could have rolled with Jessica being terrible, even, if she didn’t end up getting to walk after all, which is bullshit. Yes, it wasn’t directly because of Lila, but it’s still fucked up that she gets everything she wants and doesn’t have to change a thing. Yes, I know life doesn’t always go with lessons like that, but this is not life, this is a story with a billion Christmases in one year, we could have some moral of the story going on here.]

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.