Title: Jessica the Nerd
Tagline: Is Jessica turning her back on popularity?
Summary: Jessica Wakefield is humiliated when she finds out she’s been accepted into a special program called SOAR!, for gifted math and science students. Along with her twin sister, Elizabeth, Jessica must go to special science classes every day with some of the biggest nerds at Sweet Valley Middle School.
Then a strange thing happens Jessica discovers that she actually likes SOAR! But Jessica’s friends in the Unicorn Club aren’t happy about her new interests. They tell Jessica she must choose: SOAR! or the Unicorns!
I hate it when the word ‘Nerd’ is weaponised.
Let’s look at the cover. FUCKING HELL, IT’S RICK MORANIS!
Four nerdy boys gathered around Jessica in a sinister, vaguely inappropriate way. I’ve seen videos like this on the internet.
And that ginger kid, what the actual fuck?! BEGONE YOU SOULLESS DEMON!
[Dove: I love this book. I’ve been looking forward to it for quite awhile now. Not as much as Poor Lila! but that book is pure magic.]
We begin with Jessica getting a detention for being late to class. Jessica, doing her best to wheedle out of it, argues that she’s only a few seconds late.
Mrs. Arnette glanced at the clock on the wall, “One hundred and twenty seconds, to be exact.”
Two fucking minutes? Behave yourself, Arnette. That’s within acceptable boundaries for crowds in corridors, surely?
The class settles, and Arnette springs the whammy – today’s lesson involves a pop quiz to ascertain aptitude for SOAR!, which was the B Plot of the previous book. SOAR! – which stands for Science Offers Awesome Rewards – is “a special two-week program of intensive scientific study”, which apparently requires an exam to gain an invite.
SOAR! is a terrible acronym. Okay, I get that it’s aspirational, but other than the word ‘Science’ it’s just waffle. And the exclamation mark! So weak.
Better acronyms for SOAR! would include:
Scientific Over-Achiever Retinue.
Sexual Offenders: American Register.
Satan’s Overwhelming Anal Rampage.
Students Other than Amy Required. (FORESHADOWING!)
[Dove: Pump Up The Volume offered “Bionic”, Believe It Or Not I Care. And I saw that used on a flyer some time after. So never underestimate the power of a shite acronym. They endure.]
Jessica immediately balks at the idea. It’s a Nerd Detection Test, and nothing more. She’s sure it won’t be for her. After all, science isn’t purple.
As the test begins, we see Jessica working on the first question, which seems to be an ecosystem puzzle. Apparently, she is confident that she can get the question right. Maybe her time with Whiskers at the Sweet Valley Aquarium, learning about oil spills, wasn’t entirely wasted.
[Wing: She looks at it like it’s a puzzle to be solved, and I have never loved her more, which is saying something.]
Next, it’s lunchtime, and we’re at the Unicorner. Lila and the Gibbons bemoan the SOAR! test, and nerds in general. There’s talk about the cliché that is pocket protectors, and high-water pants (which is a great image, not heard that one before) [Dove: Over here, they’re called “ankle-swingers” and if you’re my age, that thought is immediately followed by “swing your pants”.]. The questions on the test are slammed for being fiendish, before Jessica stuns everyone with a confession:
“They weren’t so bad,” Jessica said. “Not compared to most tests. They were a lot easier than the English test I took last week.”
“You thought they were easy?” Lila exclaimed. She cast a doubtful look at Jessica. “Come to think of it, you did finish awfully quickly. I just figured you were taking wild guesses.”
“That’s what I did,” Ellen admitted. “I’d answer A’s for a while, then B’s, then C’s. I ended up with a really nice dot picture.”
Ellen is amazing.
Janet Howell, President of the Unicorns, is also present at the Unicorner, if not for the conversation. Despite Jessica trying to involve her in the test discussion – the test was offered to the entire school and not just the sixth grade – it seems that the ol’ Prez is distracted by thoughts of dreamy Denny Jacobson.
I Googled Denny Jacobson for a laugh. Turns out that he’s a speaker for the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center.
Yup. Not joking about that, thank you very much.
Despite a barrage of questions from her chums, all Janet can do is stare into space and give garbled answers laced with lovestruck phrases. I’m sorry, Janet, but this reflects very badly on the Unicorns.
In a brief moment of lucidity, we learn that the Boosters have a new routine in which Amy – the non-Unicorn – has plans for a super cool solo baton twirling routine.
“Why Amy?” Ellen asked, pouting.
“Because she’s the best twirler on the squad,” Mandy said. “Even if she isn’t a Unicorn.”
“Mandy’s right, Ellen,” Lila agreed. “I mean, I’m sure any of us could be as good as Amy. We’ve just got more of a social life than she does, so we don’t have as much time to practice.”
Lila, you’re awesome. Never change. [Dove: Also, Ellen’s still smarting over the break-up then?] [Wing: Absolutely.]
In fact, the whole chapter shows signs that this Jamie Suzanne has a little gumption in their prose. Nice work, JS!
Chapter two gets knuckle-deep in the turd immediately. Mr Davis has the official results of the SOAR! Aptitude Test! Of course, Jessica immediately pours scorn on the club before the inevitable announcement.
“You know what SOAR! really stands for, don’t you?” Jessica whispered to Lila, who was sitting in front of her. “Seriously Obnoxious And Repulsive.”
Meh. Nice effort, but not stellar.
Mr Davis compounds the oncoming shitstorm by demanding that, once he reveals a SOAR candidates’ name, they should stand and bask in the applause of their peers. And to the time-honoured sound of a desk-slapping drumroll by the male class contingent, the names are revealed.
THING THE FIRST: I am inordinately happy that the names were given out in alphabetical order. That’s a good sign that the writer has their eyes on the minutiae, which is what makes the text pop.
THING THE SECOND: On the other hand, we have this clunker:
Mr. Davis took a deep breath. “And last, but certainly not least, Jessica Wakefield and Todd Wilkins.”
Erm… that’s TWO names that are apparently “last, but certainly not least.”
Mr Davis is an idiot.
Jessica, naturally, doesn’t realise that her own name has been called out, and obliviously chatters on before the shocked looks of her classmates drag her back to reality.
Mr Davis congratulates her on her moment of glory, but Jessica is horrified. Lila mocks her, and a cabal of SOAR! nerds (Winson, Randy and Lloyd) refer to her as “one of us.”
Elizabeth tries to convince her sister that SOAR! will be fun. Jessica isn’t convinced. Like the full-on diva drama queen she is, she declares that she definitely will NOT enjoy her time in the program.
“Don’t worry about SOAR!, Jess. You’ll probably like it.”
“No, I won’t,” Jessica replied. “Because I’m getting out of SOAR! if it’s the last thing I do. And nobody is going to change my mind.”
The chapter ends with a further twist: It is revealed that Amy, who loves science, is massively upset that she didn’t make the cur for the Super Cool Project Group. Elizabeth tries to console her, by bigging up Amy’s prowess with the baton in the Boosters ahead of her solo twirl routine, but Amy is bereft nonetheless.
Poor Amy. It must be shit being the drab sidekick of the boring half of Wonder Twins.
At Boosters practice that afternoon, Jessica is still upset about her accolade. The other Unicorns console and mock in equal measure, and fellow Booster and SOAR! student Winston does his best to chivvy her spirits. He lists a few of the cool non-geek kids that will be SOARing alongside them/
“You know,” he told [Jessica], “not everyone who made it into SOAR! is what you call a geek.”
“Name someone,” Janet challenged him.
“Well, moi, for starters,” he said. “Or how about Todd Wilkins, or Elizabeth Wakefield, or Denny Jacobson?”
Jessica looked over at Janet in surprise. “Denny’s going to be in SOAR!?”
“Denny’s the exception that proves the rule,” Janet said quickly. She smiled uneasily. “I have to admit, it shocked me a little at first, too. Then I realized that it’s OK for guys to like science. But girls? I mean, give me a break! Can you name me one female scientist?”
Wing goes boom in Three… Two… One…
[Wing: Wing went boom so much she broke the site and it didn’t save any of her comments when she had to restart. Alas, now I’m tired from the original boom.] [Raven: Oh Noes! The site ate the Boom!]
To his credit, Winston calls out Queen Unicorn on her sexism, and there’s some decent banter about women, science and the reputation of the Unicorns before Janet cracks the whip and Booster Practice begins in earnest.
Only Amy isn’t there. Sad little Amy is Sad. If she can’t SOAR!, why should she TWIRL?
Jessica, too, isn’t ready to Boost with all her heart, and Janet kicks her butt for it.
Janet marched over, grabbed Jessica’s hand, and yanked her off the bleachers. “Listen, Jess,” she said. “We’re all in this together. And we’re going to find a way to save you from SOAR!, I promise.”
For the first time all day, Jessica felt a little glimmer of hope. “Do you really think we can find a way to get me out of it?”
“Hey, we’re Unicorns, aren’t we?” Janet asked. “We always think of something.”
“Uh-oh,” Winston said, rolling his eyes. “Now you’re really in trouble, Jessica!”
I’m really enjoying this, so far. It’s sassy, and fun.
Jessica and cronies are anti-nerd. That’s fine, as it’s the starting point on the journey to growth. By the end of the book, it’ll all be fine, I’m sure.
Same with the sexism, I reckon. I guess we’ll see. For now, it gets a pass.
That evening, Elizabeth scuppers all hope that Jessica can wiggle out of SOAR!, by gushing to the Elder Wakefields about their shared triumph. Jessica, in a futile attempt to dissuade her sister from spilling the scientific beans, frantically kicks legs under the dining room table… with Steven being the accidental recipient, of course. Nice.
The parents are proud. Steven wonders why they are getting flying lessons, and ladles out the sexism even more…
Steven reached for a roll. “I can’t believe you two got into this science thing,” he said, frowning. “Everybody knows girls are rotten at science.”
“Steven!” Mrs. Wakefield cried. “I’m surprised at you! Where would you get an idea like that?”
“Really, Steven,” Elizabeth said, rolling her eyes. “What a sexist thing to say.”
“Not sexist,” Steven corrected. “Accurate.”
I’m liking this sexism, to be honest, which is something I never thought I’d say. It’s being called on immediately by everyone we have been told to respect, and it’s definitely leading on to some debunkage later in the text. It feels like it’s tackling the issue rather than skirting it.
And it’s FUNNY. Like, proper funny.
“It’s nothing to feel bad about,” Steven said with a cocky grin. “Guys are just naturally superior at some things. Right, Dad?”
“Don’t go dragging me into this one, Steven,” Mr. Wakefield said, shaking his head. “You’re on your own.”
“Take, for example, Ping-Pong,” Steven continued.
That last line is pure gas. It’s legit well written, funny stuff.
I’m really warming to this book. Apologies if you’re here for the snark and the (Ny)dick pics.
If you want to know what REALLY makes me laugh, listen to this.
Absolutely sublime. Graham Fellows (writer and sole performer of all the characters) is brilliant.
Apparently, the Wakefields have a Ping-Pong Table, and Steven has been hogging the Ping-Pong Paddles. He claims it’s to play Ping-Pong, but we all know he’s stuffing Jessica’s knickers in his mouth and paddling his bare arse in an auto-asphyxia erotic frenzy. He challenges his sisters to a game, but they tell him to fuck off.
In class next day, Mrs Arnette reads the list of names in SOAR!
“Mrs. Arnette?” An eighth-grade boy eased open the door and handed the teacher a sheet of paper.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Arnette said. She scanned the note. “This is a list of the students who will be missing class beginning on Monday while they participate in the SOAR! program,” she explained. “Hmm. Elizabeth, Todd, Julie,” she read. “It’s nice to see so many names—” Suddenly she stopped and looked up in surprise. “Jessica?” she cried. “The office must have made some kind of mistake! Or are there two Jessica Wakefields in the school?”
GET FUCKED, Hairnet. Seriously, that’s just fucking shitty on all sorts of levels. Arnette can go jump into the sea, the cackling witch. [Dove: I had the whole Shirley Valentine moment at school. In the first year, the English teacher asked us what we thought “o’clock” meant. I answered correctly and was told, “Well, the girl next to you must have told you.” A lot of teachers are absolutely awful.]
After class, Elizabeth tries to console Jessica while Amy tags along. Jess’s grumblings don’t go down well with Amy, as she loves science and is pretty disappointed not to be SOAR!ing too. Jessica gnashes and wails at the moon about SOAR!, about Elizabeth informing the Elder Wakefields, about her desire to get out of SOAR! And maintain her Uni-reputation.
“I don’t see why you’re making such a big deal out of this, Jessica,” Amy said quietly. “A lot of people think you’re lucky to have gotten in.”
“Lucky?” Jessica repeated in disbelief. “If you think I’m so lucky, maybe you should take my place, Amy.”
“Me?” Amy said. “Why would I want to be in SOAR!? It sounds incredibly boring. That’s probably what they ought to call it—BORE.
How are those grapes, Amy? Pretty sour, I’ll bet.
Despite some more advanced argumentation from Elizabeth, centred on how Jess should strive to prove everyone wrong. But Jess bats it all away.
“The point is, I’m a Unicorn, not a geek,” Jessica said. “And that’s not going to change.”
Later that day, Jessica chats with the Unicorns in an attempt to brainstorm ideas pertaining to SOAR! avoidance. Ellen, lovely idiot Ellen, suggests Jess transfer schools for two weeks. Lila proffers a feigned illness narrative. Both ideas are pshawed as talk turns to makeup.
“What’s that lip gloss you’re using, Jess?” Mandy asked.
“It’s called Magic Mud,” Jessica explained. “It’s part of the new Earth Tones line.” She dabbed a few spots of color on her lower lip and spread them with her pinkie finger. “It contains genuine mud. And it’s a blusher, lip gloss, and eye shadow, all in one.”
I found this rather funny, as the whole “blusher, lip gloss and eye shadow” thing is very “snake-oil wonder-product” to me. “This one product is a refreshing drink, engine lubricant and embalming fluid all in one!” … very Flim and Flam.
Apparently, though, Dove assures me that multi-using stuff like this is probably totes legit of kids at this age looking to make pocket money stretch. So fair enough. Also, look at me, researching and shit. [Dove: *blinks* Looking up and asking your wife a single question is research now, is it?] [Wing: Multi-use products are made for adults, too. NARS has one that’s eyes-cheeks-lips-body, which makes me squint at it, but people love NARS. I wear red lipstick and pretty much no other make-up most of the time, so I have no idea how well it actually works.]
Everyone mocks the Magic Mud, and Jess shoos them from the room.
When the bathroom had emptied out, Jessica rubbed her face. The Magic Mud seemed to be turning into Magic Cement. Her cheeks were the color and texture of brownies.
“Great. Just great,” Jessica moaned as the final bell rang. Frantically she began to wash the mud off her face. She was already going to be late. There was no point in being late and humiliated.
When she was finished, Jessica dried her face with a paper towel and sighed. So much for Magic Mud.
This whole bit seems very random. I’m sure there’ll be payoff later.
That evening, back at the Wakefield Compound, the twins overhear Steven wanking in the den.
“Did you hear that?” she asked Elizabeth, who was curled up in an easy chair reading a mystery.
“Hear what?” Elizabeth asked.
“A groan or something. It sounded like it was coming from the basement.”
Obviously, it wasn’t the sound of a Sweet Valley Spaffing, it was Steven getting roundly thrashed at Ping-Pong by his girlfriend Cathy. In a great exchange, Cathy inadvertently humiliates Steven at every stage by completely undermining him.
“What’s the score now?” Cathy asked Steven. “I can never remember it.”
Steven mumbled something.
“What was that, Steven?” Elizabeth asked.
“I said she’s ahead by twelve points! All right?” Steven exploded.
For a moment, Jessica almost felt sorry for her brother. “I guess you’ve probably played a lot, huh?” she asked Cathy.
“Not really,” Cathy said. “This is my first game.”
I mean, this can ONLY mean Steven is proper shit at Ping-Pong, right? Unless Cathy grows up to be a Ping-Pong champ, it’s unlikely she could just pick up a paddle for the first time and totally thrash someone who was actually AVERAGE at the game, never mind the “King of Ping,” as he calls himself later in the book. Either that, or she’s trolling him royally with “this is my first game,” and she’s actually pretty well practiced. Either way, it’s great.
Monday rolls around, and it’s time for SOAR!
The classroom has no desks, and is… unusually outfitted.
Jessica gazed around the room. She recognized most of the students, although there were some eighth graders whose names she didn’t know. A few of the students were examining a strange assortment of tools, test tubes, and batteries spread around on several long tables. There were tall stools scattered around the room, along with wooden boxes, a large plastic skeleton, an old beat-up bicycle, several children’s toys, and a tall steel ladder.
Already, I am intrigued.
The next thing that happens? Motherfucking ROBOT.
No, not like this:
The robot, it seems, is the emcee for the main event…
“Your attention, please! Get ready to SOAR!, people!” the robot continued in its shrill voice. “Presenting, for your learning pleasure, the one and only Mr. Baker!”
Following the robot was one of the oddest-looking men Jessica had ever seen. He was even older than Mrs. Arnette, but he was wearing sky blue high-top sneakers and a matching tie painted with pictures of fluffy white clouds. He had wild silvery gray hair, and deep blue eyes magnified by thick red-framed glasses. Mr. Baker was definitely not dressed like your average, everyday teacher.
“No time for long introductions,” Mr. Baker began. “We have tons of stuff to do. Tons! Why, we have to uncover the secrets of the universe, and we only have an hour to do it!”
Okay then. Mr Baker is OBVIOUSLY a cross between Doctor Who and Doc Emmet Brown.
HE’S EVEN CALLED MR BAKER.
Pretty sure I’m going to love this guy.
Mr Baker immediately hones on the twins, and sets up an experiment involving water balloons.
Lloyd grabbed the two balloons, but Mr. Baker gripped his shoulder. “Wait. Instructions. Very important. Fill the blue balloon full, but only fill the red balloon a little bit. Blue big, red little. Blue big, red little. Blue little, red big. Got it? Blue red, little big. Now go. We have to hurry. We have science to do!”
The twins are instructed to don raincoats and sit below a ladder… uh-oh.
“My question is this,” Mr. Baker announced. “If I drop both of these balloons—the big one and the small one—at exactly the same time, which twin will get wet first?”
Jessica looked up to see the big blue balloon poised several feet above her head. “You can’t drop that on me!” she wailed. “I’ll get wet.”
“Of course you’ll get wet,” Mr. Baker said calmly. “That’s not the question. The question is, who will get wet first—you, or your sister?”
“I’ll get wet first, of course,” Jessica replied. “My balloon’s three times as big.”
“So, you believe that the bigger, heavier balloon will fall faster than the smaller, lighter balloon.”
“So that would be your hypothesis. Your hypothesis is that heavier things fall faster, right?”
“I guess so,” Jessica said, eyeing the balloon warily. “Now can I get up?”
“But a hypothesis is just a guess. We don’t know if your hypothesis is correct,” Mr. Baker said in a regretful tone. “A hypothesis must be tested before we can know if it’s correct.”
Jessica doesn’t care about the experiment, so Mr Baker offers her a metaphorical biscuit. If Jessica’s hypothesis is correct, she can wear the SOAR hat. A crumpled green cap embroidered with SOAR! Superstar. The cap, apparently, goes to a student who is particularly bright on a given day.
Sorry Mr Baker, but you need to know your audience. To his credit, he rallies perfectly.
He stared at Jessica for a moment, tapping his finger on his chin. “What about if I say that if your hypothesis is correct, I’ll give you an A for the whole course and let you go home?”
Yup, that gets our little sociopath’s buy-in.
Obviously, the predictable happens. The balloons are dropped, the girls are drenched, and Jessica’s hypothesis is proved false by the watching SOAR! students.
Mr. Baker turned to the class. “The human race has been around for millions of years. And for almost that whole time everyone assumed that heavy things fall faster than light things. It wasn’t until about four hundred years ago that a guy named Galileo decided to test the hypothesis.”
“He dropped water balloons on people’s heads?” Jessica asked.
“Actually, he dropped cannonballs off a tower. But what was true then is true today. Everything falls at the same speed unless there’s a difference in air resistance. And the moral is—never assume anything. Nothing is true until it has been proved.” He bowed to the twins. “Thank you, ladies, for helping us all understand the universe a little better.”
“Any time,” Jessica muttered, but at the sight of Mr. Baker’s wide grin, she couldn’t help smiling back, just a little.
Mr Baker is AMAZING.
Funny, clever, engaging, and definitely well-written.
What the BLUE FUCK is he doing in this flaming garbage-heap of a school?
I’m actually GLAD he’s only here for two weeks, because it’d be so distressing to see his soul get crushed by the apathy of his colleagues if he were a full-time employee. A spirit shredded by a thousand paper-cuts.
Keep SOAR!ing, Mr Baker. Climb in your TARDIS and run. [Dove: HE’S HERE UNDERCOVER! We’ve seen this plotline multiple times. He’s finally chosen a more original name than John Smith.]
In the Unicorner at lunch, Jessica dodges the probing questions about SOAR!, as she’s loathe to admit it wasn’t as hideous as she’d first assumed. In fact, she’s beginning to see the members of the SOAR! class as a little more than simple faceless nerds and dweebs.
Jessica tells her pals about Mr Baker and the robot, and they all agree that he sounds horrid. So they can fuck off. Talk turns to the geeks in the class, and Janet wades in on the subject of Denny Jacobsen being a non-Geek in a Geek-filled world.
“They’re not all geeks,” Janet reminded Ellen. “Denny’s in there, don’t forget.”
“But he’s the exception that proves the rule, right?” Ellen asked, repeating Janet’s words.
Janet smiled with satisfaction. “Exactly.”
Unfortunately for Janet, it seems that Denny hadn’t spent the whole SOAR! class talking about her, so she wasn’t happy.
Aaron Dallas approaches, and congratulates Jessica on her SOAR! inclusion, much to everyone’s confusion. Aaron’s not a geek, surely? He and Jess have a cute exchange in which she teases him by saying she knows more about basketball that he does.
“Big no-no, Jess,” Janet said as soon as Aaron was gone.
“What?” Jessica asked in surprise.
“Never tell a guy you’re better at something than he is!” Janet cried. “Every girl knows that.”
Huh. More sexist bullshit that I’m assuming will be disproved by the end of the story. Okay.
One nice thing in this section, in which the Unicorns offer pointless and ill-conceived advice about how to make sure boys like you, is that Mandy – y’know, the Unicorn we all actually genuinely LIKE – is the voice of reason. And again, the whole section is well crafted.
The long and short of it? Jessica should act like an idiot to get the boy of her dreams.
“This discussion is ridiculous!” Mary exclaimed. “Janet, I can’t believe you’re actually telling Jessica to act stupid for the sake of a guy.”
“And for the sake of our reputations,” Lila added.
“It’s not so hard to act dumb, Jess,” Ellen advised.
“I wish I’d never taken that test,” Jessica said sadly. “I could have gone my whole life without knowing I was smart.” She sighed. “All I know is, I was a whole lot happier when I was dumb.”
[Wing: This ghost writer is on fire when it comes to Ellen especially, but really all of the characters. Such snarky fun.]
We cut to Tuesday morning, and Mr Baker is chairing some sort of debate on aliens. During the entertaining exchange, Jessica –still confused about how much she’s enjoying and participating – impresses to such a degree that she’s awarded the SOAR! Superstar hat. Finally, Mr Baker steers the conversation round to ecology, and the greenhouse effect. The bell rings to dismiss the class, but students linger and discuss the ramifications to the planet.
Eventually, Mr Baker calls a halt.
“Ah, ah,” Mr. Baker said, holding up his hand. “I have a meeting with the principal. I promise we’ll talk more about the greenhouse effect tomorrow. And Venus, and anything else you’d like. But right now it’s getting late, and—”
“Oh, my gosh!” Jessica shouted. “The Unicorns!”
“All right,” Mr. Baker said doubtfully. “If you want, we can talk about unicorns tomorrow, too.”
“I have a Unicorn meeting, and I’m late,” Jessica cried. “They’re going to kill me!” She dashed out of the room.
OH NO! A CLASH OF WORLDS!
Jessica dashes to the Unimeeting, at Janet’s house. It appears they are discussing the merits of Mega Mousse and Super Spray. Personally? Mega Mousse all the way.
The Unicorns are largely frost to Jessica’s late and breathless arrival, and her talk of ecology and greenhouse gasses. Eventually, they do get back to discussing the merits of Moose and Squirrel – I mean Mousse and Spray. [Wing: I was hoping that this would pay off with a comment about how bad aerosols are for the ozone layer, but it might be the wrong year for that.]
“What do you think, Jessica?” Janet asked. “Which one is better? Mega Mousse or Super Spray?”
“Well, I like Mega Mousse,” Jessica said thoughtfully. “But you know how we could decide? We could compare them. You know—do an experiment.”
“An experiment?” Janet repeated the word suspiciously. “Where did you get that idea?”
“From”—Jessica hesitated—“from Chic magazine,” she said quickly. “It said you should always experiment with different beauty products.”
Nice save, burgeoning Nerd Jess! [Dove: This entire scene is so well written. It has a lovely callback to the earlier alien talk and, as Raven’s pointed out over and over, the dialogue is on point in this book.]
Still loving the book. Love this section. But they did miss a trick, I think.
Jessica dashed to the meeting straight from the SOAR! class. The class in which she won the SOAR! Superstar cap.
She’d taken off the cap before she arrived at the meeting.
I think her wearing the cap as she arrived would have been awesome sauce, however they chose to handle it.
On Wednesday, we advance the Amy subplot. She and the twins are busy doing homework – like, NERD ASSIMILATION, Jess! – and she eventually tells Elizabeth that she’s missing her because of SOAR!
As Liz mumbles platitudes, Amy mentions her upcoming baton routine. Apparently, it’s a tricky one, and Amy is having issues. She’s thinking of quitting.
“Amy, you can’t do that!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “I’m sure it’ll be great. Won’t it, Jessica?”
“What?” Jessica asked distractedly, looking up from her book.
“Did you hear what Amy said?”
“Sorry,” Jessica said. “I guess I was sort of involved in my reading.”
Amy sat up abruptly. “That’s OK, Jess,” she said coolly. “I know how much you’ve always loved science.” She reached for her book bag. “I’ve got to get going, anyway.”
Oh, well just FUCK OFF then, you lank-haired drain-clogging pube-spider. These books are all about the Wakefields, not all about the Suttons.
Amy does fuck off, in an almighty strop after a barrage of argumentative nonsense between her and her best friend. Yeah, good riddance, Amy. I wish you’d died in your house fire.
Liz and Jessica discuss Amy’s flounce, and Jess again reiterates that it would have been so much simpler had Amy taken Jessica’s place from the start. She opines that SOAR! is ruining her social life, as it’s no 6pm and the phone’s not ringing off the hook. She calls Lila, only for matters to be made much, much worse.
“This SOAR! stuff is ruining me!” Jessica cried. “Do you know what today is?”
“No! I mean yes, but it’s also Ellen’s birthday! All the Unicorns gave her presents during lunch. And where was I? At the planetarium being a nerd! I would have completely forgotten if Lila hadn’t just reminded me.”
Poor Ellen! No hang on, I’m sure she’s got quite enough purple tat to wade through today, I’m sure she can wait a day or two. Although I actually do think it’s rubbish if a friend forgets your birthday.
“I’m sure if you call Ellen she’ll understand,” Elizabeth suggested calmly.
“I did, right after I hung up with Lila. And do you know what Ellen said?”
Elizabeth shook her head.
“Ellen said she was too busy to talk because she couldn’t wait to do her science homework.”
“So?” Jessica repeated in disbelief. “Ellen couldn’t wait to do her science homework? The same Ellen who once tried to get out of a lab project on fruit flies by claiming she was allergic to bananas? That Ellen?” Jessica sat down on the edge of Elizabeth’s bed, looking completely dejected. “She was making fun of me, Lizzie. Ellen Riteman was making fun of me. My life really is over.”
Hah! Never change, Ellen. This ghostie gets it. Approved! [Dove: A+. This Jamie really has a handle on everyone’s characters. I’m pretty sure the same ghostie is reposible for Poor Lila!]
Also, potassium overdosing is serious business, people. Just ask Peter Andre.
Next up, more sexism from Steven, which is again a calm before the coming storm of resolution. Cathy has agreed to a Ping-Pong rematch.
Ping-Pong 2: Ping Harder.
Ping-Pong 2: The Legend of Curly’s Pong.
Ping-Pong 2: The Empire Pings Back.
Ping-Pong 2: Electric Pongaloo.
The twins wager some chores that Cathy will win. Nice.
On Thursday, Mr Baker informs Jessica that the principal Mr Clark requires to see her in his office immediately. At least it might have been Mr Clark. It could have been a greased-up Mr Nydick with a false moustache.
As she dashes to see the Head, Jessica puzzles over the possible issues he might raise. She eventually concludes it must be to do with this little fracas…
Then she remembered. Last week in the locker room after gym class she and Lila had started a hair spray war. It wasn’t the first time they’d had a “hair raid,” but it had been one of their better efforts. Pretty soon everyone had joined in. By the time Ms. Langberg, the gym teacher, had arrived to break things up, the locker room was so full of hair goop that people could hardly breathe. It had been great.
That’s fantastic. Hair Raid!
The following section is a classic misunderstanding, in which Mr Clark and Jessica talk together despite actually focussing on separate issues unbeknownst to the others. And it’s wonderfully handled.
“You’ve betrayed yourself, Jessica,” Mr. Clark said, shaking his head. “And you’ve betrayed the school.”
Jessica cleared her throat. It seemed to her that Mr. Clark was getting a little too worked up over some hair spray. Still, she wasn’t exactly in a position to argue with him. “I could clean it up,” she offered.
“The damage has already been done, young lady.”
Damage? How much damage could some mousse do in a locker room? What did it do, eat the paint off the floor? If that were the case she’d be bald by now.
The confusion is eventually uncovered. Mr Clark, it seems, believes that Jessica cheated to get into the SOAR! programme.
“What?” Jessica exploded. “I didn’t cheat on that test, Mr. Clark!” She sighed. “I didn’t even want to do well on that stupid test.”
Mr. Clark pursed his lips. “How do you explain your high score, given the fact that you’re just an average student in science?”
“You tell me and we’ll both know,” Jessica said hotly.
You go, girl! Don’t take this bullshit from such an asshole. He’s chief clown at this shitshow rodeo, get the fucker under the Mercandy patio!
Jess offers to resit the test there and then, if it would convince this cleft of her innocence. Mr Clark says that’s unnecessary, but vows to keep his eye on her going forward. How very Nydick.
That afternoon, in a rather frosty Unimeeting at Casey’s Place, we learn the source of Mr Clark’s accusations. Apparently, the Unicorns were behind an anonymous tip that charged Jessica with the crime, in a misguided and perfectly Unicorn attempt to free their purple friend from Geeky Hell.
Jessica is about to explode at her angry, defensive clubmates, when Janet’s flick-fuel Denny Jacobsen rocks up… to talk to he SOAR!mate about her successful retention of the Superstar Cap.
Jessica pulls out the cap for the Unicorns to see… and to criticise. They all pile on, as Denny defends the whole incident.
“You don’t understand,” Denny interrupted. “Mr. Baker lets the person who gives the most intelligent answer of the day wear the cap until the next class. I know it sounds lame, but it’s really kind of an honor.”
“So what did you say that was so intelligent, Jessica?” Belinda asked.
“This morning before we left for the field trip, Mr. Baker asked us what a person needs more than anything to be a good scientist,” Denny replied.
“How about a microscope?” Lila ventured.
Denny shook his head.
“White mice?” Janet joked, batting her eyelashes at Denny.
“Nope.” Denny smiled at Jessica. “Imagination.
Denny leaves soon after, and Janet is fucking FUMING. She demands that Jessica quit SOAR! … but Jessica finally, gloriously, grows a spine.
“I’m sick and tired of people telling me where I don’t belong,” Jessica said. “Steven, and Mr. Clark, and you—this is my decision, not yours.” She took a deep breath. “And I’m not quitting SOAR!.”
So happy right now.
Janet doubles down, offering an ultimatum. It’s SOAR!, or it’s the Unicorns. Apparently, Jessica can’t have both.
In the tumult that follows, it seems that Jessica has a lot of support, from the Unicorns we like, such as Mandy, Mary and Belinda. However, Janet also has allies, in Lila and Ellen.
Jessica pleads with Janet, but to no avail. An emergency meeting is planned. Jessica has until Saturday.
“This is ridiculous!” Jessica protested.
“It’s SOAR! or the Unicorns,” Janet said firmly. “You can’t have both. You decide.”
This book is great.
I’m really feeling for Jessica here. She’s growing as a person, and learning about herself, and her friends are totally holding her back.
But she LOVES the Unicorns! They are literally her entire life. How will she choose?!
WHY DO I CARE SO MUCH?
That evening, she talks it over with her sister. Her choice, it seems, isn’t clear cut. Head says SOAR!, heart says Unicorns. Or is it the other way around? She laments the reaction of her friends.
“I can understand why they’re upset with me,” Jessica said. “I’ve hardly seen them at all this whole week. And I have been spending a lot of time with—you know. Non-Unicorns.”
“Thank you for not saying geeks,” Elizabeth said.
Non-Unicorns. Growth. Amazing.
This whole section is great, as it shows the sisters actually interacting as, y’know, sisters, and not as the clichéd saint-and-sinner double act they can often become.
Jessica shook her head and sighed. “It’s easy for you, Elizabeth. You’re not a Unicorn. You don’t understand what I’d be giving up if I dropped out.”
Elizabeth nodded. “It would be a tragic waste of all that purple clothing in your closet.”
In school next day, Liz and Maria and Sophia discuss the Amy issue. It seems that she is avoiding everyone in SOAR!. Sophia has an idea that seems to go down well:
“I’ve got a great idea!” Sophia exclaimed. “Why don’t we have a sleepover tonight? That would be sure to cheer Amy up.”
Yeah, and a great way to blag free food too, since Tony pawned your fridge for heroin money.
In SOAR! on Friday afternoon, we get more insight into Mr Baker’s teaching methods. I’ve glossed over their trips to the Planetarium and whatnot, but it’s fair to say that the whole SOAR! experience is absolutely great. I wish we’d have had something like this programme at my school.
Today, the SOAR!ites are planting trees near the school gym, in an extension of Mr Baker’s ecological leanings. He’s full of questions, and the class are quick to answer them. Even Jessica revels in, for once, being full of knowledge and happy to be called upon to share it. But of course, she’s still conflicted…
She glanced down at the bright purple laces of her high-tops. As much as she liked SOAR!, was it worth losing the Unicorns over? Without them her life would seem totally empty. No more meetings. No more Boosters. No more Unicorner. No more purple.
NO MORE PURPLE! That’s fabulous. I still think there should be a book in which the rest of the school totally reclaim the colour for the Greater Good.
In her confused and distracted state, Jessica flubs a question from Mr Baker, who refreshingly doesn’t show her up or get angry about it. Then the tree-planting begins, and the class become engrossed in the work. When the bell goes, however, the planting is not complete… but the class unanimously offer to stay to finish off, so the trees won’t be damaged in the cold over the weekend.
As Jessica finishes off her planting, she hears familiar sounds coming from the gym. It’s a Boosters practice! And she had forgotten all about it! [Dove: And this is adorable, because she can’t place it at first, and finds herself chanting, “One, two, three, four, fill my tree’s hole in some more!” Everything rocks about this book.] [Wing: SHE CHOSE THE TINY LITTLE TREE. IT’S BASICALLY THE BABY SEAL OF TREES. I LOVE HER.]
She dashes off, but stops at the gym door. Her hands are muddy, as are her jeans and shoes. She can’t practice in such a state, and by the time she’d clean up, practice would be done.
“It’s true,” Jessica moaned. “Janet’s right. I am a nerd!” She felt as if she were going to cry.
“Are you OK?”
Jessica glanced up to see Mr. Baker. She quickly wiped away a stray tear with the back of her muddy hand. “Um… I guess so.”
“Anything you feel like talking about?” he asked, looking concerned.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Jessica said miserably. “I don’t think you’d understand.”
Mr. Baker smiled. “That’s just a hypothesis. Why don’t you try me?”
SO GOOD. Great writing. Love the well-worked hypothesis callback.
Jessica takes a deep breath, and the scene closes with her telling our favourite teacher her multiple woes.
At the Wakefield Compound, Team Boring are preparing for their sleepover. Popcorn is popped, and videotapes are ready to go, although Slime Mummies From Venus sounds really shit (they say as much themselves, to be fair). [Dove: That actually sounds worse than The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley.]
The girls all eat popcorn and chat SOAR! for an hour, before realising that Amy hadn’t arrived.
That’s a bit shit, Liz. Maybe Amy has a point.
Elizabeth calls her best friend, but Amy is too full of Ennui to talk to her. Liz then suggests that Melissa should try calling, which she does, to the same effect. They Sophie tries. Then Maria. Each time, Amy doesn’t come to the phone.
What the fuck, girls?! Read the fucking room. I reckon Amy likely got grounded after the fourth call, with Mrs Sutton going apeshit about the evening being constantly interrupted by her daughter’s pushy friends.
Jessica, taking a break from her studies – WHAT IS THIS BOOK I CAN’T EVEN – pops down and mentions that Lila mentioned Amy wouldn’t show the Boosters her new routine that was planned for Monday’s game, and that she’d only perform it on the day if she felt like it.
I’m sorry, but Amy needs to fuck off, come back, and then fuck off again. I’m sick of her bullshit. [Dove: The problem with Amy is that she’s endlessly having to react to the twins. Which just makes her an annoyance in almost every single book.] [Raven: That’s a good point.]
Jessica also reveals that she and Mr Davis had come up with a plan to hopefully diffuse the Unicorn / SOAR! conundrum the following day. I say that Jessica should just kill Janet, that’d make the issue disappear completely. Especially if she let Lila and Ellen watch as a warning.
As the girls chat in the Wakefield kitchen, Steven bounds up from the basement. It seems the fabled Ping-Pong 2: Jurassic Pong had reached a climax, and Steven had won! So, full of boasts and bravado, he flaunts his success in his sisters’ faces.
Cathy is suitably meek about the entire affair, and Steven rubs it in further like the colossas dick he is.
He draped his arm around Cathy’s shoulders and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I must say you’re being very gracious about this, Cath.”
“That makes one of us,” she said. “If you don’t stop rubbing it in, I may have to ask for another rematch.”
Steven laughed. “There’s no point in your being humiliated twice,” he said.
What a tool!
He dashes off to phone his friend Joe, and we learn the truth: Cathy let him win.
“The truth is, I let Steven win that Ping-Pong game,” Cathy admitted.
“But why?” Elizabeth asked.
“I knew how much it meant to him to win,” Cathy replied. “But now he’s gloating so much, I’m starting to wonder if I made a mistake.”
“You did make a mistake!” Jessica cried.
They all agree that Steven was being totally obnoxious about the whole thing.
“Here I am!” Steven interrupted, striding into the room. “The King of Ping!”
Everyone stared at Cathy, waiting for her to confess. Instead, she just smiled sweetly. “How about a root beer?” she asked.
This had better end with Cathy winning a best-of-three rubber match. We can’t have Steven flouncing around like some kind of Ping-Pong Prick.
Saturday arrives, and Jessica attends the fateful meeting in which her future as a Unicorn is in jeopardy. She arrives at Janet’s house with a belated birthday gift for Ellen.
When Jessica entered Janet’s bedroom, the Unicorn meeting was already in full swing. Kimberley Haver was talking on the lavender telephone. Mary and Ellen were watching music videos on the portable TV on Janet’s desk. Tamara was sitting on the floor, concentrating very hard on her toenails, which she was painting purple. In the background, the radio blared.
Mandy is also giving Belinda a makeover. These girls have such a life.
Mary turned down the sound on the TV set. “Glad you’re here, Jess,” she said. “We were beginning to get worried you weren’t going to show up.”
“Like you didn’t show up yesterday,” Lila said.
“I was planting a tree,” Jessica explained.
“How noble of you,” Janet said. She sat down on the edge of her bed and crossed her arms over her chest. “So have you made your decision?”
Jessica puts Mr Baker’s plan into action… by laying down the science smack. First, she pulls the plug on Janet’s radio.
“Hey,” Lila complained. “That was Johnny Buck. I love that song.”
“You would never even have heard of that song if it weren’t for scientists,” Jessica said.
Next, she hangs up the phone on Kimberly Haver. Then she flicks off the lights. Mandy, getting the picture, unplugs the curling iron with a smile.
“Without science, you’d be stuck with straight hair,” Jessica said. She returned to the middle of the darkened room while the Unicorns watched her in stunned silence. “Look,” she said, “scientists can be geeky, I admit it. But without them, life would be awfully boring. We wouldn’t have TV, or VCRs, or radio, or stereos. We wouldn’t have makeup, either. Remember what we learned about the pioneers? They had to crush berries and rub them on their faces for blush. Not anymore, thanks to scientists. Without them, things like Mega Mousse would just be a distant dream.” She paused for a minute to let her words sink in.
The Unicorns were still staring at her silently. Jessica cleared her throat and continued. “And scientists are cleaning up the air we breathe and the water we drink,” she said. “Who knows what they’ll come up with next? Lloyd’s already working on a homework machine. Someday, scientists may even find a cure for zits.”
In the pregnant pause, it seems the Unicorns are coming around to her way of thinking. Well done, Jess, you’re at your best when you’re being persuasive.
Of course, it’s not a done deal yet. But when Mandy wades in, SHIT GETS REAL.
“I’ll tell you something else,” Mandy said quietly. “Without science, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today.” Mandy had had cancer. The treatments had caused all her beautiful long hair to fall out for a while, but she was well again now—thanks to medical science.
I did NOT see them going THAT far.
Once Jess has hammered home the science stuff, she turns to the Unicorn stuff. After all, the issues not all about science, it’s about Jessica also neglecting her friends. She vows to make it up to them, and apologises sincerely to Ellen for missing her birthday. Ellen opens her gift.
“It’s that wallet I saw at Leggett’s!” Ellen exclaimed happily. She held it up for everyone to see.
“We can’t see it very well with the lights off,” Kimberly grumbled.
Finally, she gets to the crux of things. She wants to be a Unicorn, but she wants to stay in SOAR! too. Surely, as a well-rounded Unicorn, she can do both?
According to the gathered Unicorns, she can. She’s welcomed back by Mandy, and Belinda, and Tamara, and Ellen, and Kimberley.
“Enough, already!” Janet cried, jumping off the bed. “You still haven’t made a choice, Jessica. I said it was the Unicorns or SOAR!. You can’t have both.”
“But why not?” Mandy demanded.
“Because I said so!” Janet snapped.
So the ultimatum is still in place. And despite the varied pleas from the other Unicorns, Janet will not budge.
“Unicorn rules say I can dump any member I choose,” Janet said. “Any member.”
“What Unicorn rules?” Ellen asked. “We don’t have any—”
“Shut up, Ellen!” Janet commanded. “We do now! Are you leaving, Jessica, or will I have to—”
“I’m leaving,” Jessica said angrily. She strode past Janet. “And it’s your loss.”
I am SERIOUSLY loving this book.
I mean, who saw THAT happening?! This is formula-breaking stuff.
Of course, we all know it’ll all be fine in the end, but even so…
LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT.
Back at home, Jessica stomps around the kitchen as Steven proclaims his excellence. In yet another excellent section, Steven pokes and pokes and pokes, constantly bleating on about his Ping-Pong Prowess, until Jessica can’t stand it. She eventually snaps, and reveals that the King of Ping was only crowned because Cathy let him win.
Steven, predictably, takes it badly. He slumps in his chair.
“A minute ago I was the Ping King,” Steven said sadly “And now what am I?”
Jessica dropped into a chair next to him.
“You think you feel bad,” she said. “An hour ago I was a Unicorn. And now I’m just a nerd.”
On Sunday, the Sainted Alice is presented with three despondent offspring. Elizabeth is down because of the Amy issue. Steven is down because of the Ping-Pong issue. And Jess is down because of the Unicorn issue. All neatly crafted and pleasantly symmetrical.
Alice tries parenting, and offers them all some advice. Steven and Cathy will work things out. Amy just needs space. And the Unicorns might convince Janet she’s being unreasonable.
Huh. Actual parenting. Weird.
Gotta quote this bit…
“Why should I have to give up being a Unicorn for a lifetime over one lousy school week?” [said Jessica.]
“A lifetime?” Steven repeated. “You actually plan to be a Unicorn when you’re an adult?”
“Once a Unicorn, always a Unicorn, Steven,” Jessica replied. “Unless, of course, Janet kicks you out.”
This book is SO QUOTABLE. [Dove: Also, I believe that one or two of the High books actually reference the Unicorns, so it’s very cute.]
Cathy phones Steven, so that’ll be fine. Elizabeth vows to support Amy at the game on Monday, so that’s sorted too. Then the doorbell goes… and it’s Mandy. Will Jessica’s problems be solves as well? Of course they will.
The wonderful Mandy is there to offer Jessica a lifeline. Apparently, after whe’d left the meeting, the other Unicorns – both convinced by her science argument and pleased she still wanted to be a Unicorn – did their best to persuade Janet she was being unreasonable… when suddenly, she started crying!
Jessica smiled grimly. “Because she felt so rotten about kicking me out?”
“Not exactly. Because it turns out Janet’s jealous of you. She’s afraid Denny likes you because you’re in SOAR!.”
So, it all becomes clear… and Janet actually gets a modicum of actual character, other than spouting how things reflect on the Unicorns or believing she’s a Hawaiian princess.
Seeing a way out of her jam, Jessica posits that Janet might relent if she realised that Jess wasn’t interested in Denny. Also, the girls realise that perhaps it’s not just boy jealousy. Maybe Janet is a bit jealous of the whole SOAR! thing too!
Jessica (now happy) and Mandy (in remission) sojourn to the kitched for some of Alice’s hastily-assembled cookies. There, they find Steven, happy as a clam. Cathy is set for Ping-Pong 3: The Pong of the Jedi. And she promises to play her very best.
[Wing: The series I want:
The Ping and the Pong
2 Ping 2 Pong
The Ping and the Pong: Tokyo Pour
Ping & Pong
Ping & Pong 6
The Providence of the Pong]
Okay, so I guess it’s a standard best-of-three tale, but if we’re taking this thing seriously it’s actually one-nil to Cathy. The game in which she didn’t bother trying should be declared null and void. Then again, Steven didn’t ask her to throw it, she did that of her own accord. Maybe it should be counted. Interesting.
As we approach the end of the book, we find Jessica playing matchmaker between Denny and Janet – Denny had been thinking of asking Janet out all along.
At lunchtime, Janet drags Jessica into the bathroom in order to apologise. At this point, Janet can’t have spoken to Denny, so it seems her apology and reversal is down to more than Denny. When Janet is pressed, Jessica learns the following:
“Oh, all right,” Janet said, throwing up her hands. “I might as well tell you. Yesterday my dad and Joe were trying to figure out how to set up our new VCR. But of course they were getting it all wrong and arguing over everything.”
“Janet, what does your new VCR have to do with me?”
“I’m getting to that, do you mind?” Janet snapped. “Anyway, I offered to help them out. And they both tried to tell me that it was a man’s job, and way too technical for a girl. Joe said they could figure it out because they were used to using complicated equipment. He said the most complicated thing I ever used was a mascara wand. Only he called it a ‘twisty eyelash thing.’”
“I know there must be a point here somewhere,” Jessica said, trying not to smile.
“The point is, I started telling them about all the scientific stuff I use every day. Like telephones, and hot curlers, and hair dryers, and—well, you get the idea. Then all of a sudden I realized I was repeating everything you said the other day. And worst of all, I realized I’d been telling you the same thing Joe and my dad were telling me—you know, that science is just for guys.”
“So you’re saying you were wrong?” Jessica asked.
“Don’t push it, Jessica,” Janet warned.
“So what happened with the VCR?” Jessica asked.
“Well, I read the manual, and I forced them to let me help.”
“And you fixed it?” Jessica asked excitedly.
“Well, no,” Janet admitted. “Actually, all three of us gave up. We got the seven-year-old kid from across the street to do it. He’s really into video games, and he set up the VCR in about two minutes.”
Jessica shook her head in confusion. “So I’m back in the Unicorns because you got a new VCR?”
“No, Jessica,” Janet replied. “You’re back in the Unicorns because I’m a very reasonable person.”
Yes, I realise that’s a long-ass quote. And yes, I realised I’ve been quoting a hell of a lot of this book.
But the scene that I’ve used a quote from, above? It’s probably my favourite scene in the series thus far. [Dove: Maybe not my favourite, but I’d say top five for me. This book just works. And it’s bloody nice to be able to say that.]
Perfectly pitched, well-written, tackling the talking points from the book, and damn funny.
I know, I’m a broken record at this point.
Not even sorry.
Next, we cut to Amy’s Booster routine at the basketball game.
She nails it of course. Some sort of mega-twirl triple-twist thing.
Everyone cheers. Everyone smiles. All are friends again.
Amy can still fuck off.
[Wing: Jesus, y’all hate Amy disproportionately to anything she’s done most of the time. I’m sympathetic toward her in this book; she’s struggling with learning that she’s not as good at one of her favourite things as she wants to be, which can be a hard blow, and she’s nervous as hell. Plus it seems like all her friends talk about is the science program, which must feel like a slap to the face every time. I feel for her.] [Raven, well, I guess, but Dove’s point about Amy being the foil to Elizabeth and Jessica, and thus always in a bad place or reacting to their stuff, is pretty valid here. I’d like to see her being a more active friend, rather than someone butting against Liz or the standard “…and Amy came too!” line. Also, it’s FUN to tell fictional people to fuck off!]
And finally, after a tiny bit of make-up nonsense, we have Cathy and Steven’s final Ping-Pong match. As befits a game of such epic importance, it goes all the way, back and forth, point after point… until finally, thankfully, wonderfully, happily, Cathy wins!
Steven walked around the table and shook Cathy’s hand. “Good game,” he said.
“Wow!” Elizabeth said. “Can that possibly be our very own Steven, being so sportsmanlike about losing to a girl?”
“Oh, I’ve learned a lot,” Steven said humbly. “That girls can be good at sports, for example?” Jessica said.
“Yes,” Steven agreed.
“And that girls can be just as good as boys are at science?” Jessica demanded.
“Absolutely,” Steven said meekly. “I now know that girls can be really great at science. Maybe even better than boys.”
And there’s the payoff! Lovely stuff.
Of course, it ends with a joke, as is to be expected. Steven convinces his sisters to tackle his freshman biology homework. Nice.
The remainder of the book deals with an art project, Sophia Rizzo and Sarah Thomas, and their obvious dislike of each other. Will they be important? As the book’s called “Sarah’s Dad and Sophia’s Mum”, I’m guessing that’s a big YES.
New favourite book. Not even close.
Engaging, structured, paced, witty, shocking, developed, exciting, and LAUGH OUT LOUD FUNNY.
Every character was great, from the headmaster to the titular heroine. Wonderful lines from everyone. I went in with such reservations, but the ghost-writer knocked it out of the park at every point.
5/7, would read again.
[Dove: I love this book so much. I would’ve swapped for it, if it hadn’t been in a batch with Poor Lila (we work in batches of three). But I really did think that Raven would get a kick out of it. You shouldn’t seen my text messages, during the lunchtime he read this in. Absolutely filled with delight. As for me, there are some really stand-out bits in this – I love the scene where Janet invited Jessica back to the unicorns, I loved the callback between the aliens/global warning SOAR class and the Unicorns scene after, and pretty much everything in between. This was written with style and sass, and it’s a huge contrast from the previous book, where Raven said he felt that Jamie was out of her depth (in the laughably shallow waters of Sweet Valley), to this, which feels like a real book, not just part of a cheap-and-cheerful-no-brain serial.]
[Wing: This is such a fun book, with great dialogue and fun use of characters, and a story that actually works. It’s not my favourite, of course, but I’m sad that the next book will certainly reset anything that was built up in here. I also wish SOAR would last forever.]
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.