Title: Jessica and the Secret Star
Tagline: What’s the new girl hiding? [Raven: A cock?] [Dove: That she’s been there all along and the Wakefield twins are just really fucking unobservant?] [Wing: Backyards full of bodies. She’ll be Jessica’s new BFF.]
Summary: Maria Slater has been an actress since she was three years old, but now that she’s twelve she can’t find any work. So Maria hopes to forget her past and start life again at Sweet Valley Middle School, where she can play the role she has always wanted: the typical sixth-grader.
But for Maria, being typical becomes harder and harder, especially when Jessica Wakefield discovers Maria’s secret past Everyone wants to be friends with a movie star, but will anyone want to be friends with plain old Maria?
HOLY FUCK JESSICA’S HAND IS FUCKING HUGE.
Also, there’s a black girl in Sweet Valley. Unexpected. I can’t see this ending well.
We start with Jessica moaning about having to learn about poetry. She complains about the poems being stuffed with thees and thous. Why can’t they just say you?
Jessica, if you’ve cracked the code, comprehension should be easy! It’s just because you’ve put off the assignment until the morning of the day it’s due. Slacker.
And talking of poetry, let’s have some limericks about our perfect twins
There once was a Wakefield called Lizzie
Who wasn’t content unless busy.
She’d forgo cool capers
For editing papers,
Her schedule made lesser kids dizzy!
There once was a Wakefield called Jess
Whose bedroom was always a mess.
When finally arrested
For murders contested
The police couldn’t make her confess.
Caroline Pearce, Sweet Valley Middle’s very own Gossip Girl, has the skinny on the plot. There’s a new girl in town. Her name’s Maria. Liz, Amy and Mandy have met her already, apparently – she’s pretty, and she wears funky clothes.
HEREIN LIES THE PLOT. Actually, HEREIN LIES THE PLOT OF ROUGHLY ONE-THIRD OF THESE BOOKS.
Class begins, and Maria appears.
Jessica studied Maria with interest. She was a tall, strikingly pretty black girl, with wide brown eyes and a shy smile. She was wearing large gold earrings and a suede skirt—just like the one Jessica had admired in the latest issue of Teenager. And there was something strangely familiar about her. Jessica had the feeling that she had met Maria before.
Huh. An African American in Sweet Valley. Interesting. I wonder if this will be important? I hope not.
There are brief introductions in homeroom (is that assembly? I feel we’ve discussed that before) [Dove: I thought we agreed it was like “form period”, where they take the register and then faff for a bit before starting real classes? Or did we never discuss it and I’ve made all that up?] [Wing: We did have this conversation, and that is basically right.], and Jess chases after the New Girl as soon as the bell rings. Sadly, she can’t catch her, as Lila distracts our beloved Evil Twin with grunting sounds and shiny things.
Happily, Jessica catches up with Maria at the lockers.
I wish my school had lockers. We had desks instead.
Okay, we did have lockers in the changing room, but they were only used by kids while in gym class.
I think the Locker System is what makes American High School seem so… American, I guess. And the old wooden desks, like this:
Are as English School as this:
[Dove: Does anyone else have the Duh-duh-duuuun-dunnnn stuck in their head now? Also, we had lockers. I always saw in Neighbours and Home and Away that the characters would constantly be at their lockers. We’d get a key on the first day of the year and then never use it again. We used to just carry everything around with us all day, rather than cross the gigantic school to store things.] [Wing: I have warm, visceral memories of flirting with people at my locker.]
Jessica and Maria bond in a womanly fashion at the lockers. Their bonding reveals three vital things:
- Maria can’t use a locker. Her last school relied on an “honor system.”
- Maria had a tutor before coming to Sweet Valley Middle School.
- Maria’s family left Los Angeles because of “business.”
Yep, Maria is being a proper Evasive Mavis. I’d be all agog and intrigued, if I hadn’t read the title and the summary.
So Maria, it seems, is being cagey about her past. Jessica lets slip that she could swear she’s seen Maria before, and the New Girl ups tail and fucks off at speed.
Maria slipped into the classroom just as the bell buzzed through the empty hall. Jessica lingered for another moment. There’s something mysterious about that girl, she told herself. And I’m going to find out what it is!
Atagirl, Nancy Drew, we knew we could count on you!
Next morning at breakfast, Jessica’s got a cold. Because Steven has a cold. And of course, we all know the common cold is sexually transmitted.
There once was a Wakefield called Steven
Whose appetite took some believin’.
His hands sprouted blisters
As he wanked to his sisters
And his biceps grew strangely uneven.
The ill siblings bicker over the remote in the family room, while Elizabeth goes to school and plans another blockbusting edition of the Sweet Valley Sixers – this one promises to have CLUB WRITEUPS in it!
Steven wants to watch Wrestlerama [Dove: Gosh, I wonder what that’s a riff on.]. Jessica wants to watch her soap opera. [Wing: But Jessica, Wrestlerama is soap opera + choreographed violence. You, like me, should love it for that reason alone!]
“Great,” Steven growled. “I’ll get stuck watching soap operas all day long. What is it you like to watch? Days of Turnips?”
“Turmoil,” Jessica corrected. “Which we have to watch, because Jake Sommers is fighting for his life after a tragic archery accident.”
Days of Turnips! I’m ALL OVER THAT.
Although Wrestlerama sounds great too.
Here at Sweet Valley Online, we all love Wrestling. Well, all bar Ostrich.
This book was first published July 1991. Let’s see who was at the top of the WWE totem pole at the time…
Although in November 1991, the title went to this guy…
Which means I can share my favourite Undertaker meme…
In the end, they compromise on The Visitor, a film a few years old that showcases “an alien from outer space” that “befriends a young girl.”
So, a female version of E.T.
FIRST GHOSTBUSTERS AND NOW THIS! I AM APPALLED, ALL FILMS SHOULD BE ABOUT MEN. TO THE INTERNETS!
It’s criminal that the remake of Ghostbusters won’t be getting a sequel. It was great fun. Curse all the giant manbabies who drove it into the fucking sea. We don‘t want to damage the legacy of a film that contains Dan Ackroyd getting sucked off by a ghost, now, do we.
WE WANT A GHOSTBUSTERS 2! (But not a remake of Ghostbusters 2, because that was shit.)
Who’s with me, sisters? *makes own sandwich*
Lo and behold, When Jessica watches The Visitor, the young girl is played by… Maria!
Jessica is astounded. This explains why she had a tutor! And why she couldn’t open a locker!
She and Steven mull over the reasons as to why Maria hadn’t immediately shouted who she was to anyone who’d listen. Steven, in a rare bout of wisdom that’s undoubtedly fuelled by excess Benylin, makes the following suggestion:
“She probably didn’t want you and your friends bugging her to introduce you to all her movie-star friends.”
Seems fair. Of course, Jessica takes this as a challenge:
Jessica’s eyes lit up with a sudden inspiration. Steven was right! Think of the possibilities! Maria probably knew all kinds of famous people—stars such as Kent Kellerman, Jake Sommers, and who knew who else?
Jessica had already been nice to Maria, without even knowing she was a star. In fact, she was probably Maria’s closest friend at Sweet Valley Middle School!
Gotta love Jessica. She’s pretty much the perfect as the person she means to be.
Next day, Jessica’s cold has miraculously evaporated, and she’s raring to get back to school to schmooze with Movie-Star Maria Slater. She catches up with her would-be New Best Friend after English class, along with Elizabeth. Predictably, Jess tries to bond with Maria over an assumed disdain for Mr Bowman’s chosen subject, but she’s dismayed to discover that Maria loves to write, and is excited by the class.
Elizabeth, naturally, jumps on such a statement and enlists the New Girl into her personal army of Sweet Valley Sixers reporting staff.
Seriously, there’s something fucking sinister about Elizabeth’s constant drive to recruit fresh meat to the Sixers. How many fucking writers does she need?
Is she secretly harvesting their souls for the afterlife, where these damned and tormented scribes gyrate as her listless sexual playthings for all eternity?
[Dove: I bet she just fires them to make room. First in, first out, “I have a new BFF to write with, so get fucked, Sophia. Nobody cares about you now I fixed you.”] [Wing: She needs them all for the numerous period stories that must be written.]
Maria offers to write something about the drama club – of course – and Jessica is appalled that she’s not got anything more star-studded to do with her time. Maria, to her credit, seems genuinely thrilled with the idea of writing for the Wakefield Twin that isn’t a vacuous profiterole.
Great, Jessica thought as she watched her twin dash off. Elizabeth is already trying to steal my friend away. She flashed Maria a brilliant smile. “Maria? Would you like to come over to my house after school?” she asked. “We have a swimming pool.” Jessica figured that stars loved to lounge around swimming pools.
Seriously, Jessica is amazing in this book. (Note: so are the Unicorns. But we’ll get to that.)
Later that day, while the group talk is rife with square dancing (for some unfathomable reason) [Dove: Yes. Wing, is this a thing? Did you learn square dancing as part of PE? Also, Lila’s ironic enthusiasm for learning to square dance is a delight.] [Wing: I never learned square dancing in gym, but I know schools where it happens. I prefer line dancing.], Maria meets Mandy. Mandy swears she recognises her, but swiftly moves on to talk about the Drama Club. She asks Maria if she’s like to try out, and Jessica tries to oust the secret from the beleaguered Secret Star.
“Are you interested in acting, Maria?” Jessica cut in.
“I guess everybody thinks about being an actor at some point,” Maria replied evenly.
Step the fuck off, Jess. You’re dealing with a badass here.
Mandy is her usual excellent self throughout this scene, so Go Team Baldie!
Class starts, and Jessica is left musing about Maria’s secretive nature.
Jessica hung back for a moment as the other girls raced to get in line. Why hadn’t Maria told everyone about her acting just then? It would have been the perfect opportunity. Instead, Maria’s expression had hardly changed when the subject of Hollywood came up. Jessica would have been autographing sneakers and passing out photos of herself if she had been the famous actress.
Autographing sneakers? That’s a bizarre thing to autograph. I mean, surely the real choice would be magazine articles or posters or something. [Dove: Yeah, this is a girl who proudly carried around Johnny Buck’s hat. Signature + clothing = awesomeness in Jessica-world.] Or hey, if we’re going full on…
“Hi there Miss Wakefield, I’m such a huge fan. Please can I have your autograph?”
“Sure! Anything for a fan, especially such a cute guy like yourself!”
“Please can you write ‘To Jonathan, with love, your friend Jessica Wakefield.’…?” *ziiiiiiip*
“Goodness, I’ll never fit all that on there!”
“Give it a few minutes…”
After school, Maria and Jessica lounge around the pool. Jessica tries to engineer the conversation toward the trifecta of Unigorn Talk: Boys, Shopping and Celebrities. Maria no-sirs it all deftly, and only brightens when Elizabeth appears. Has someone got a crush? I think so!
Maria says goodbye, and Elizabeth walks her out. Jessica, in need of some real conversation, tries calling her Unifriends, but they are all engaged. Eventually, she decides she’d better do some homework (WTF?), so fetches her backpack from poolside… only to discover Maria has left her own backpack behind!
Deciding, in her own Jessica way, to locate Maria’s phone number by rooting through her belongings, she discovers a red book and a blue book. Which will she choose?
The blue book is useless. The red book contains phone details… and PLOT. Jessica snoops, and discovers the following:
Jessica glanced at the first few words. It’s the role of my dreams, she read. A chance to play the average, all-American, suburban kid. To be what I’ve always wanted to be.
Jessica dropped into the lounge chair, the notebook in her lap. This had to be Maria’s diary!
Every good actor knows you have to research a role thoroughly. And there’s only one way I can do that. I’ll have to live the life of my character, an average twelve-year-old kid. I’ll go to a suburb, attend school, and make friends with the kids. It’s the only way. After all, I know absolutely nothing about that life. I grew up in front of the camera, on movie sets, in the public eye. I grew up in a make-believe world.
Jessica shook her head, marveling at the words she had just read. Now it all made sense. Maria was in Sweet Valley to research a movie role!
So! Maria was in town, undercover, for research purposes. Not to be confused with research porpoises, which are an entirely different kettle of fish. Sorry, mammals.
We next cut to Chez Maria, and leap inside her head. We meet Mama Slater, making cookies like a good American mom should. We also meet Helen Slater [Dove: Yeah, um, Maria’s sister is called Nina. Helen Slater is Supergirl from the 80s. But points for effort.] [Raven: Huh. Literally no clue where that came from.], Maria’s big sister. Her family seem pleasant.
Helen [Dove: Still Nina] and Maria discuss school, and their new home, but most importantly, they discuss PLOT.
Maria, it appears, is NOT in town to research a movie role. On the contrary, her acting career has dried up now she is a gangling teen rather than a cute-as-a-button kawai kiddiekins. It also seems that, alongside her acclaimed performance as Young Girl in The Visitor, Maria played a rather splendid Toilet Roll in a commercial. And finally, importantly, Maria reveals that she may even show Elizabeth the “story she’s been working on.”
Uh oh, spaghetti-os. Jessica’s got the wrong end of the shitstick again!
Maria notices she’s left her backpack at the Wakefield Compound. Then, like Candyman if you say his name three times, Jessica Wakefield makes eerily coincidental contact. Jess has the backpack, and gushes with Maria about how she can bring it over, read the notes out down the phone, basically do ANYTHING your average over-eager fangirls would do to ingratiate themselves to their star du jour.
Maria smells a rat –she just wants to be normal, damnit! – but agrees to meet Jess before school the next morning to take possession of her belongings.
Sure enough, in a rather awkward conversation before school the next morning, Jessica demands that Maria ask her questions about Sweet Valley, then lets slip that she’s discovered Maria’s secret identity.
Maria isn’t pleased.
Slowly, she probes Jessica for the details. Jess read her notebook. Jess knew she was a star as she’d seen The Visitor on her sick day. But was Jess just being friendly because she wanted to rub shoulders with a celeb? OBVIOUSLY.
Jess does her best to diffuse the situation. She assures Maria that her secret is safe, and she tells her all about her wonderful performance with Dolores Dufay from way back in Jessica On Stage. She then RUINS IT ALL by blathering on about celebrities, and asking what Johnny Buck is like.
Maria falls into the role Jessica wants to play with ease. Mise well give the crowd what they want, right?
So Johnny Buck is a nice guy once you get to know him, who gets lonely on the road. Jess asks if Maria can introduce her to this walking cliché next time there’s opportunity, and Maria promises to duly oblige. [Dove: Even before this, Jessica was up for “most likely to get an STD from a dubious rock star” in the yearbook.]
Maria’s day continues in a daze. She wanders from class to class, apprehensive about her “secret” and the lies she’s told to Jessica. After school, she meets Mandy outside the drama club meeting, ready to take notes for her Sixers article. Jessica, of course, is her usual self:
“Are you going to join the drama club, Maria?” Jessica asked innocently.
“No, Jessica,” Maria said shortly. “You know I’m just here to get information for my drama club article.” She had pretty much given up on the idea of trying out for the club now that Jessica knew who she was.
“Well, I was just thinking that if you did try out, you’d probably be a natural actress,” Jessica said with a sly smile. “I’ll bet you’ve got a lot of talent!”
FUCK OFF, you Pamela McDonald stalky fucknugget. (Who’s Pamela McDonald, I hear you ask? Wait until the next fucking book.)
Jessica dashes off for Boosters practice…
“You’ll have to come watch us sometime,” Jessica said meaningfully. “You might find it useful.”
… and Mandy / Maria chat shit about cancer until Mr Drew the drama teacher appears. Apparently, Maria played a girl with cancer in a TV movie, and is impressed by Mandy’s bravery. Go Mandy!
As Maria takes notes, Mr Drew earns his keep by imparting some acting wisdom alongside real information about the tryout process. What in the blue fuck, a teacher with some actual teaching chops? He must be new. I’ll give it ten days before he’s built a nest out of his own hair and faeces in the corner of the staff room.
Acting, apparently, is something we all do every day, Jesus, that’s bleak.
We’re all actors, every day of our lives. How about that time you tried to convince your teacher that your pet iguana ate your math book? Wasn’t that acting?”
Everyone laughed. Maria wrote very quickly, trying to make sure she was quoting Mr. Drew accurately.
“Or that birthday when you told your Aunt Gertrude you loved the zebra-striped sweater she bought you?” Mr. Drew continued. “You’ve been acting all your lives!”
Nice work, Drewfus. “We all act all the time! What about the time that your stepfather told you he loved you? Or that time that you told the lady from CPS that Mr Nydick didn’t touch you? That’s all acting!”
Mandy is suitably enthused. Maria realises that she misses the Craft. [Wing: Me too. Can you believe there are teens today who have never had the joy of watching it?] Eventually, despite her reservations, Maria agrees to try out for the drama club alongside Mandy.
We cut to Boosters practice. Jessica is distracted, and keeps dropping the baton. She intimates to her friends that she has a super duper mega big ass fuck off colosso-secret, and the girls begin to guess. Predictably, their guesses all revolve around boys.
The only non-Unicorn Booster – Amy – grows bored with the squad’s lack of concentration, and fucks off. Then the fun begins.
I fucking love the Unicorns.
They are ridiculous, and vapid, and full of self-importance.
They are also crammed with character, and bust-a-lung hilarious… when they are done well.
In this book? They are fucking FLAWLESS.
Best. Unicorns. EVER.
As Amy has gone, Jessica decides she can be a little more forthcoming. First, she behoves them to guess the secret. This, as you can envisage, goes badly. For some reason, the crowd starts thinking that Johnny Buck is visiting Sweet Valley Middle, which is a logistical impossibility since the decree that states he needs to keep at least 100 yards away from a school.
Jessica tires of the Unicorn idiocy, and decides to come out and say it:
Maria… is a bonefide star!
The Unicorns are agog, and begin listing Maria’s roles. There’s TP girl, and Young Gril, and Cancer Girl, and Macaroni Girl. All very high-brow stuff, I’m sure.
As her friends gush, Jessica delivers the headshot:
“She’s researching a role for a new movie. It’s about kids in a suburban middle school. Kids like us.” Jessica gazed at her audience triumphantly.
“Maria’s making a movie about us?” Ellen cried.
“Well, I don’t know if it’s about us exactly. But she’s here at school to find out what an average twelve-year-old is really like.”
“We’re average!” Tamara exclaimed.
BEST LINE EVER!
“We’re average!” Tamara exclaimed.
I read this a few weeks ago, and I’m literally still laughing at that one.
Now that the Unicorns are in the loop, they decree to keep Maria’s secret, and treat her exactly as they’d treat a regular person.
Yeah, that’ll stick.
Back home, Maria bemoans the events of the day. She has an opportunity to tell Nina [Dove: Oh, she’s Nina now, is she?] [Raven: Aaah, get fucked.]of her plight, but neglects to do so. Bad Maria!
For a brief moment, Maria considered picking up the phone and calling Jessica to tell her the truth. She tried to imagine what she would say. Hello, Jessica? That diary you read was really just a short story. It was just fiction, not fact. There is no research, there is no movie, and I am just a has-been actress trying to pretend she’s a normal kid.
No way—she just couldn’t do it. It would be so humiliating, and besides, she couldn’t risk it. She wanted to fit in, she wanted to be liked, and Jessica was one of the few friends she had.
Poor kid. I do feel for her. But all this could have been avoided from the start with a little backbone. And look! Confirmation that the “diary entry” is in fact a “short story”.
It’s now lunch on Friday. Maria enters the lunchroom, and is beckoned over by Elizabeth. Remember! At this stage, Liz and crew don’t know Maria’s terrible secret.
Maria joins the Sixers crew, albeit furtively. Apparently, she’s being stalked by Ellen Riteman.
Stalked by Ellen! The perfect choice. The Unicorn with the most rudimentary grasp on reality is the first sign on their crumbling resolve in the face of the OVERPOWERING CELEBRITY HOLOCAUST.
Next up? Jessica and Janet.
Jessica and Janet were approaching the table, with wide smiles plastered on their faces.
“Maria!” Jessica called. “Don’t you want to sit at the Unicorner?”
“Please, Maria,” Janet chimed in. “We saved a seat just for you.”
“Thanks,” Maria said quietly. “But I’m fine right here.”
Fucking hell, you Unigibbons, if this is you acting normally, I’d love to see you do something truly surreal.
Jessica and Janet were approaching the table, on all fours. Janet was wearing a gas mask, and Jessica was disguised as Bobby McFerrin.
“Maria!” Jessica howled like a banshee. “Don’t you want punch an otter at the Unicorner?”
“Please, Maria,” Janet chimed in on her rudimentary xylophone fashioned from soft cheeses. “EYEBROWS ARE FOR THE WEAK.”
“Thanks,” Maria said quietly. “But I’m legitimately terrified.”
Maria brushes them away, well aware that Jessica must have blabbed her secret to her Unichums. Once they leave, even Elizabeth and Amy comment on their bizarre behaviour, before Maria distracts the Reaper of Journalistic Souls with a tribute offering: her expose on the sexual abuse in the school Drama Club. Erm, I mean her article on the drama club tryouts.
Amy asks her if she’s ever acted before, and Maria dodges the question like the consummate professional she is.
Liz loves the story. It is lead article material. Whatever Amy has written can get in the fucking sea. [Dove: One day, Amy is going to snap and kill every single one of Elizabeth’s BFFs of the week, and that, at least, will make the front page of the Sixers.]
Elizabeth looked up from the notebook. “Maria, this article is fantastic! If this is just your rough draft, I can’t wait to see the finished product. You’re really a talented writer.”
Maria smiled, glowing at Elizabeth’s praise. It felt good to be appreciated for something real. “Do you really like it?” she asked shyly.
Heh. Writing is “something real,” is it? While Acting is not, presumably? Grapplegate showing their arts bias there. Writers all love writing about writers writing, as if it’s the most noble thing in the world. Firefighters can go fuck themselves, obviously.
Maria then tests the waters with her short story, which Elizabeth obviously loves. It’s unfinished, and she can’t wait to read the rest.
After lunch, Maria finds an expensive bracelet wrapped in purple tissue paper, nestled snugly in her locker. Come on, Unicorns! How the shitting fuck is that treating the New Girl just like anyone else? Maria knows the score: the Unicorns are treating her like a fan treats a star. [Dove: Also, Nora Mercandy, Brooke Dennis, Sophia Rizzo, Dylan McKay, and Ginny-Lu Culpepper want to know where the fuck their purple bracelets are.]
We skip back into the desolate wasteland that embodies the Unicorn Hive Mind. In an emergency meeting, which is wonderful once again, the girls plan their next step. They also clue Mandy and the rest of the non-Booster Unicorns into the secret, and Mandy is a little put out that her friend Maria didn’t mention it when they were at drama club the previous day. Fair enough Mandy, I see your point.
Once all the girls are up to speed, they all babble excitedly about how they can leverage Maria’s fame into stupendous benefits. Mandy wants pointers for the drama tryouts, which is pretty small beans to be fair. Lila?
“I want her to introduce me to some big producers in Hollywood so I can be discovered,” Lila interjected. “I’m thinking about asking my dad to take me to Paris to find the right dress. You can’t be discovered in jeans, after all.”
Never change, Lila.
Jessica insists she’s going to meet Johnny Buck. Doubtful.
There is, of course, a spiky pube in the celebrity pudding, and Janet gets to the nub of things:
“But if we can’t tell Maria we know about her, how are we going to get her do all this stuff?” Janet asked. “What’s the point of knowing a star if you have to pretend she’s just like everybody else?”
They decide to have an IMMEDIATE EMERGENCY SLEEPOVER that very night, as a vessel to house an Important Game of Truth or Dare. When Maria is chosen, they’ll ask her for backstory outright.
Later, at the Wakefield Compound, Jessica asks the Sainted Alice whether she can attend the IMMEDIATE EMERGENCY SLEEPOVER that night. Alice, most likely ripped off her tits on Bombay Sapphire, is impressed that her evil daughter has invited the New Girl to the party.
“That was sweet of you,” Mrs. Wakefield said, smiling. “It’s going to be awfully lonely here tonight without you, Jess. Steven’s going to a football game, Elizabeth is having dinner at Amy’s, and you’ll be over at Janet’s.” She threw up her hands. “How will your father and I ever stand the quiet?”
I’m sure you and Ned will think of something to do, Alice.
There once was a Wakefield called Alice
Her dream? Decorate a fine palace.
Every night, with a grin,
She gets twatted on gin
And then drunkenly thumbs hubby’s phallus.
At the sleepover, which is again a Unicorn tour de force, everything is going swimmingly for Maria. The purple bitches are being uncharacteristically nice, and no one is being particularly fawnsome.
On cue, Jessica suggests Truth or Dare, and Janet springs into action:
“Everybody get in a circle,” Janet instructed.
“But I’m not finished braiding Lila’s hair!” Ellen whined.
Lila shook out the tight French braid Ellen had been working on. “This is more important, Ellen.”
“Oh,” Ellen said. “I forgot.”
Wonderful! [Dove: Also, nice to see adorable/stupid Ellen back on form.]
Eventually, Jessica gets to ask Maria for her choice. Maria chooses Truth. The question comes out, with no guile:
“The question is: are you, or are you not, a famous actress in hiding?”
After a pregnant pause, Maria caves. She admits it all, and piles on the lies and untruths. Playing a famous actress is much easier than admitting the has-been truth, I guess.
This whole Truth or Dare plan has a glaring fault.
What if Maria just kept choosing Dare?
That would have been fabulous, just watching all the Unicorns get frustrated as Maria knocks dare after dare from the park, each more outlandish that the last.
As the Unicorns ask question after admiring question, Maria’s lies grow and grow. She’s in Sweet Valley to research a film role. Johnny Buck, Melody Power, Kent Kellerman and Nick England will be in it. Everyone is invited to the move set once filming starts. [Dove: Why are all the “actors” actually musicians, with the exception of Kent Kellerman, who’s a daytime soap star? This movie is going to suck balls.]
After a full evening of this tripe, even Maria is tired of it. The Unicorns hunker down to sleep with stars in their eyes. But before Maria can drift into a troubled doze, Jessica apologises, and Mandy clears the air about feeling put out. So yay.
Next morning, while Elizabeth is busy on her knees with Steven – GARDENING, you filthy people – Jessica finally manages to clue her better half in on the whole Maria-is-a-famous-actress-macaroni-toiler-paper thing.
Liz smells a rat from the start, largely due to Jessica’s revelation that Maria is researching a part by observing typical twelve-year-olds. Just like her short story.
Elizabeth promises to get to the bottom of things, but also vows to remain Maria’s friend and not fawning fangirl. Good work, Elizabeth.
At school on Monday, Maria’s worst fears are recognised. No, no her fears concerning a naked Mr Nydick, but her fears that the Sweet Valley Middle School student body are now clamouring for celebrity news and autographs. She’s beset by sycophants left, right and centre, and is happy to dash to the sanctity of the library at Elizabeth’s request.
At first, their conversation goes well. Elizabeth lets Maria know that her celebrity status doesn’t change their friendship, and Maria is genuinely touched. So much so, she begins to confess about her exaggerations and untruths.
“I want you to know how glad I am we’ve become friends,” Maria said slowly. “You’re one of the few people who really seems to know me. And—”
“That reminds me,” Elizabeth interjected. “I think a lot of kids would like to know you better, Maria. You’ve had such an interesting life. I know you’re working for the Sixers, but how would you feel about being interviewed for the paper?”
“An interview?” Maria repeated dully.
“It wouldn’t take me long to do, and I think it would make a good story.”
Nicely done, Grapplegate. A delicate touch with exactly the right amount of miscommunication.
Maria agrees to be interviewed when not busy learning lines for the movie.
After a bit of Pamela McDonald foreshadowing, Mandy Miller enters. As usual, she drops the fucking mic and struts away.
Just then Mandy Miller entered the library. She waved at Elizabeth and Maria, a mischievous grin on her face. “Say, aren’t you the Softee Toilet Paper girl?” she asked Maria.
“That was one of my proudest acting moments!” Maria replied, laughing.
“That’s why I brought this,” Mandy said, reaching into her book bag. She pulled out a foot-long piece of toilet paper. “Would you mind autographing it for me?”
Genuine LOLs. Good gravy, Mandy’s amazing.
Mandy and Maria discuss their drama club tryout. They like Romeo and Juliet, but both want to be Juliet. Hey, I’m down with Juliet and Juliet. In fact, I’m sure there’s plenty of videos on the internet to fulfil that urge. Just two girls, Capuleting together in a frenzy. [Dove: Down boy. Sweet Valley Twins #84: Romeo and Two Juliets is on the way. It contains a vicious twin-fight, a hot threesome, and a scissoring scene.] [Raven: I’m scared now.] [Wing: Dove, I know you’re lying and yet I am still beyond thrilled.]
Next morning, the girls discuss the scene again. Maria invites Mandy to her house for a rehearsal, and marvels how such a small thing gives her genuine joy – the life of a child actor is pretty tough, and that’s WITHOUT a connection to Michael Jackson.
We next have a comic scene in which the girls attempt to lure fellow drama club tryoutee Donald Zwerdling.
Yeah, with a name like that, you know EXACTLY what you’re getting:
Sadly for Juliet and Juliet, their “Romeo” is already planning to be Prince Charming. Both decline his offer of making them his Cinderella.
“Well, if either of you change your mind and want to play Cinderella, give me a call. I’ve got a glass slipper and everything.” Donald strode off down the hall.
This book is full of zingers, folks. Loving it.
As they discuss their options – primarily, the option that Mr Drew reads Romeo offstage as they act – Lila and Jessica come galloping along. Their reason for such speed? Lila’s convinced her father to throw a movie cast party this coming Saturday, for Maria’s “colleagues”, on his epic yacht!
Maria is boned, y’all.
She murmurs her acquiescence, and the Unicorns squabble over who gets Kent Kellerman and who gets Johnny Buck. No one gives a fuck about Nick England. Divine.
After school, Juliet and Juliet perform their tryout at Maria’s house, for an audience of Elizabeth, Amy and Nina (Maria’s sister). It’s a farce, of course, as both girls read the same section of the balcony scene and the “audience” rises up in rebellion. The banter flows, and Maria laps it up. She’s loving being a normal twelve-year-old girl. Great writing, very characterful.
That evening, Nina and Maria discuss, well, stuff. It starts with the good natured teasing from the Juliet and Juliet readthrough, and ends with Maria confiding in her big sister about the terrible pickle she finds herself in.
Nina is full of sage advice. She posits that people will soon tire of the celeb thing and start treating Maria like a normal twelve-year-old. She also believes that Nina should come clean asap, before things get any further out of hand.
“Trust me, Maria,” Nina insisted. “Friends like Elizabeth and Mandy and Amy aren’t going to suddenly stop liking you because you made a mistake.”
“That’s three people,” Maria said grimly. She glanced up at the glittering stars. “But what about the rest of the school?”
Yup. Pretty sure the Unicorns will toss Maria overboard once they discover the truth.
Talking of purple idiots, the action cuts to the super duper epic party planning Unicorns.
The clan are arguing over the colour of the crepe paper for the yacht shindig. Elen and Jessica demand it’s purple. Lila has other ideas.
Ellen took a sip of milk and shrugged. “I agree with Jessica,” she said. “After all, the Unicorns are sponsoring this party. Why shouldn’t the crepe paper be our official color?”
“Because the Unicorns aren’t sponsoring the party, my father is!” Lila fumed. “And he just had the entire yacht redecorated in apricot and puce.”
“Apricot?” Ellen echoed.
“It’s the color of an apricot,” Lila snapped. “You know, kind of orange.”
“So what’s puce?” Jessica demanded.
“It’s—” Lila hesitated. “It’s the color of a puce.”
Sublime! This book is PACKED with great one-liners. [Wing: APRICOT AND PUCE WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK.]
Also, PARTY PLANNER FACE / GOOF OFF! [Dove: Raven adores Cheese Sandwich. Bless him.] [Raven: Who doesn’t love Weird Al?]
When they realise that puce is basically a brownish-purple, all is good.
Later that day, as the twins set the table for dinner, Jessica finally confesses to Elizabeth just how she discovered Maria’s secret identity. As the whole subterfuge was based on Jessica sneaking a peek at Maria’s “diary,” she’s not too keep to come clean. She does so, and then dashes off before Liz can either admonish her for prying or set her straight on the whole short story thing.
Elizabeth is now far beyond smelling a rat. She smells a full-on fucking honey badger.
She jumps on her bike and races to Maria’s house, determined to solve everything as fucking usual. There, she meets Nina, who is only too happy to rat out her younger sister and tell Elizabeth everything.
Next day at School, Maria is still deflecting asinine questions from the Sweet Valley Middle School student body.
- Maria and Nick England are secretly married.
- Maria and Johnny Buck have a secret love child.
- Maria and Melody Power are releasing a cover version of Baby Got Back.
- Maria has killed Kent Kellerman and buried him in the Mercandy back yard.
Elizabeth, ready to help Maria confess her sins, offers to treat her to a fuck-off ice cream at Casey’s Place after school, because everyone knows that Ice Cream is a potent truth serum.
At the mall, Liz’s plan works perfectly. She starts by talking about herself, and how it’s great when people look beyond the twinny bullshit and treat her like an individual. Eventually, as the script dictates, Maria breaks down and confesses.
“The truth is…” Maria tried again, feeling the words stick in her throat. “I haven’t really worked in a long time. Nobody wants to hire me because I’m not little and cute anymore.” The words came tumbling out. “I can’t get work anymore, not even in commercials.” She dropped her spoon on the table and reached for a napkin to blot the tears spilling down her cheeks.
“It’s OK, Maria,” Elizabeth said softly. “Please don’t cry.”
“It’s not OK!” Maria managed between sobs. “You don’t understand, Elizabeth. There is no movie. I’m not an undercover actress. I’m just plain, boring me. It’s all a big, horrible misunderstanding.”
“You didn’t have to lie, Maria. We would have liked you anyway.”
Elizabeth convinces Maria to come clean at the weekend’s yacht party, which I think is a high risk strategy. Then again, as a backdrop for the book’s denouement it can’t be faulted. [Dove: As far as I remember, the denouemount of Saints Row took place on a yacht. Everybody died. Including the yacht.]
But before we can get to the stunning finale, there’s the little matter of the drama club tryouts. Predictably, the other students aren’t exactly A-list material, but Maria and Mandy – playing Romeo and Juliet, then swapping roles halfway through the scene – fucking nail it.
So we finally skip to the Yacht Party, which is IN NO WAY to be confused with a Lemon Party. And as has been rife in this book, the Unicorns are on sassy, snappy form once again. Man, I’m going to miss Grapplegate when we move on to writers new.
The party is in full swing, without celebrities or Maria, when the Girl of the Moment finally arrives with her family. Great move, Maria, you can use them as a human shield should things get ugly.
As for the crowd, they do indeed start off in an ornery mood.
“Where is everybody?” Jessica cried. “Have you talked to the cast tonight? Is Johnny coming?”
“Where’s Nick England?” someone else demanded.
“We want the Buck!” another voice rang out.
Elizabeth glanced nervously at Maria, who was watching the swelling crowd like a cornered animal.
Good old dependable Liz then offers up some grand advice. Maria might not feel brave, but she’s an actor. She can ACT BRAVE!
And act brave she does!
She monologues like a champ, pulls on the heartstrings, confesses her untruths, and gets a standing ovation from the forgiving throng.
Even the Unicorns are fine with it.
Lila was the first to approach Maria. “I have to admit I’m a little disappointed Kent Kellerman won’t be here,” she said. “But you gave me a good excuse to throw a party on my dad’s yacht!”
“Me, too!” Jessica agreed. She leaned close to Maria and whispered, “Don’t feel bad. You’re amazing whether or not you’re a movie star. Besides, I tend to exaggerate once in a while, too.”
That you do, Jessica, that you do.
So Maria is a hit! And not a celebrity hit, a normal, average twelve-year-old hit.
In the wrap-up, we discover that Mandy and Maria are fully-fledged members of the drama club, and that Elizabeth has a creepy ass Single White Female stalker called Pamela McDonald, who thinks Liz is the bee’s knees, the cod’s pods, and the badger’s tadger.
But that’s another story, and it will be told another time.
I enjoyed this book a lot. I was very apprehensive going in, thinking that race might be an issue as it has been in some of the previous books (the Rizzos say hi, folks), but it was a complete non-event in this one.
The plot was decent, and Maria was both believable and sympathetic. There was a lot of great interaction from Team Peripheral Character, especially Mandy Miller, who continues to charm.
But the best, the outright best thing about this book is the Unicorns. They are, hands down, the best they’ve ever been. Well, maybe on par with the time they started their own newspaper and held interesting meetings, but Top 2 lifetime is a fine result.
Jessica and the secret Star? Approved!
And also, even though he’s playing the role of Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Book, I’ve written a limerick for Daddy Wakefield too…
There once was a Wakefield called Ned
Ithig sprang forth from his head.
This single achievement
Caused so much aggrievement,
So fuck him, I hope he drops dead.
Until next time!
[Dove: I did not love this book as much as Raven apparently did, but I did enjoy it. What I’ve enjoyed even more is the limericks, so that’s a thing he has to keep doing.]
[Wing: Enjoyed the book, enjoy the limericks, a grand time was had by all. Except: APRICOT AND PUCE WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK.]