Title: Poor Lila
Tagline: Has Lila gone from princess to pauper?
Summary: Poor little rich girl…
Lila Fowler has always been filthy rich. So when she overhears her father say he’s lost a fortune, she panics. Can she face the world without money? Her friends begin to suspect that something is wrong when Lila starts walking to school, bringing a packed lunch with her, and even turning down trips to the mall. But Lila’s afraid to tell them what has happened. Without money, she doesn’t feel special any more.
Finally, with a little help from Melissa McCormick and Elizabeth Wakefield, Lila learns that there really are more important things than money. But will her friends in the exclusive Unicorn Club agree? How will they react to a poor Lila Fowler?
This is the best Sweet Valley book ever. Don’t worry, I have a caveat – The Carnival Ghost is a Super Chiller, this is a main series. Two completely different categories. Both are the best in each. I’m not sure which one is better overall, because I like them for massively different reasons.
Either way, this is THE recap I have most looked forward to. I always knew I’d give Wing The Carnival Ghost, because I knew she’d like it. This one I’d have fought to the death for, so it’s kind of cool that it landed on me naturally.
I will be quoting 90% of this book. If you haven’t read it, you should. I love it.
[Wing: Updated 17 October 2018 with my comments. Sorry, dear readers, I have been slammed with work and am behind on everything else.]
We open with an invitation to the Unicorns’ Founding Fling. Let’s just ignore the fact the Unicorns probably aren’t something to celebrate, I love the fact that they pride themselves on their exclusivity, but they’ve invited the whole school. [Raven: What’s the point of exclusivity if you can’t flaunt it in front of everyone?]
The Fling will be held at Lila’s house and it is described as “the most spectacular party in the history of Sweet Valley!” I’m like 22 words in and it’s already amusing me. [Wing: How many most spectacular parties does this town have every … year? Repeating season? Not sure the appropriate word is in Sweet Valley Time.]
Jessica is aghast that Elizabeth hasn’t even opened her invitation yet, it’s such an honour to be invited. Elizabeth points out that entire school is invited, and she’s surprised they didn’t invite the mayor. Jessica says they did, he’s busy that day. [Wing: I love them. And how dare he. You’ll end up in the Mercandy backyard if you don’t watch yourself.]
Apparently the theme will be luau – I’m just going to breeze right past that, because Wing has repeatedly explained why other cultures aren’t a party idea – because of the weekend trip she took to Hawaii with her father. Not the trip that she and the Unicorns took over Christmas then? The one that was actually on screen. [Wing: Since I’ve already gone over the racism inherent in this, I’ll focus on the other part, which is: WEEKEND TRIP TO HAWAII?! It’s about a 5 hour flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu to this day, much less a couple decades ago. You’re flying 10 hours for a couple days? I KNOW HAWAII IS GREAT BUT THAT’S NOT WORTH IT.]
Then we swap over to the mall where the Unicorns are shopping in a clothes shop called Sweet Valley Clothes Clothes Encounters. Not only is this a break from the naming convention, it’s actually a shade clever as well. Lila is complaining to the Unicorns that being rich is very hard. When you can afford everything, it’s hard to choose. [Wing: Isn’t the point normally you don’t have to choose, Lila?] She gets mocked pretty hard for this by everyone, and even Janet has to point out that everyone needs a new outfit for the party, so they should go to a shop where everyone can afford something, not just Lila.
Lila says it’s her party. Janet says that people are still talking about the hayride they had at her fling last year. Lila says her ride is going to be even better.
“What kind of ride?” Belinda Layton asked.
Lila smiled. “I’ll give you a clue. It’s big and purple and full of hot air.”
“You’re giving piggyback rides to all the guests?” Mandy quipped.
Jamie Suzanne of the week, whoever you are, I need to buy you cookies. Or something else that is sweet an enjoyable, because the amount of sass in this book is off the charts. [Wing: OH. MY. GOD. THAT IS THE BEST. MANDY I LOVE YOU.]
When everyone’s done laughing, Lila huffily clarifies that she’s renting a hot-air balloon. She hasn’t actually run it past her father yet, but like he’s ever said no to her. She then grudgingly agrees to go somewhere cheaper, but picks up a couple of $90 (great-looking) sweaters – just for casual use – before she goes. Ellen asks how many credit cards does Lila have now. Lila says she thinned the herd and only takes one with her now. So it’s a bit unfortunate that her card is declined, even after it’s run several times. The Unicorns find this hilarious, and Jessica delights in mocking her about it.
At home that night, Steven asks how the “Wingding” plans are coming along, and Jessica tells a very bemused family that Lila just ordered souvenir t-shirts for everyone, and Jessica is so busy she will barely have time to do her homework. Alice is sober enough to give her a warning over that one. Elizabeth gives her a bit of a hard time that Jessica won’t have time to volunteer at the homeless shelter. She adds that Amy and Julie want to, but Amy has a science project and Julie has music. Uh-huh. So actually, your friends are no more saintly than Jessica. [Raven: Unfair, unless the Sixer Sisters are actually making up excuses as to why they can’t attend. Extra curriculars are fair game, wheras the “I’m just sooo sooo busy with Unicorn party stuff” is in each book as often as dimple-on-the-cheek four-minutes-older nonsense.] [Wing: Aren’t the Unicorns basically an extra-curricular activity, what with all the fundraisers and Boosters, etc.] She adds that Melissa McCormick will be joining her. Squee! I LOVE MELISSA.
Elizabeth whines, can’t Jessica just come for one afternoon, and Jessica says she hates it when Elizabeth makes her look bad, and she’s already explained, she’s busy.
Jessica cleared her throat. “I also care about the, uh… the underprivileged. But I can’t turn my back on my best friend when she needs my help, can I?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “We understand, Jess. You’re volunteering, in your own way. Only you’re volunteering to help the over-privileged!”
Sass by the bucket-load. Even Elizabeth gets a moment.
We then swap over to Lila, who overhears voices and follows them. She hears Mrs Pervis (who it says is like a mother to her) arguing with Randall, their chauffeur. Mrs Pervis is following Mr Fowler’s instructions to fire Randall because he’s costing them too much money. Randall argues that Mr Fowler has plenty of money, and Mrs P hits back that that’s not the point. She takes the car keys from him and he storms out.
Lila worries deeply about this. How is she going to get to school without a driver? She makes herself known and Mrs Pervis knows Lila overheard. Lila admits she never really liked Randall because he called her La-La all the time. But she’s rather outraged when she realises she’ll have to walk to and from school. A fifteen minute walk? It’s too far! Lila asks why Randall was fired and how soon will he be replaced. Mrs Pervis just shoos her out of the kitchen.
Lila is rather alarmed at this chain of events: her card was declined; the driver’s been fired, and there’s no firm answer on a replacement. Surely her father couldn’t have lost everything overnight, could he?
The next day after school, Lila hides in the library so that nobody will see her walking home and ask her about it. She winds up with blisters all over her feet, because her expensive shoes look amazing with her outfit, but are terrible for walking in. I do wonder how she got to school without figuring that out, but I’ll let it slide. [Raven: I assume she gets carried from class to class in one of these.] By the time she gets home, George Fowler is just being dropped off in a cab.
Despite her blistered toes, she runs over to him and eagerly gives him a hug and asks what present he brought home. He says nothing, he didn’t have time. Lila wonders if he means he couldn’t afford to buy her something.
When Mrs Pervis joins them, she confirms she got rid of Randall [Raven: Here comes Randall, he’s, a Berserker.], and George says that at least they fired him before he cost them too much. Lila asks when they’ll get a new chauffeur, and George says he has a lot on his mind at the moment. She then asks him for a hot-air balloon for the Founding Fling.
George is irritated and asks her why on earth she needs one. Lila tries the tears, but gets a no, he says he “just can’t manage it right now.” Lila is dumbfounded. Tears usually work. So the only reason can be… they’re not rich any more.
The next day, Elizabeth and Melissa are the only volunteers from school to show up at the homeless shelter. Do you want to take a wild stab at what this place is called? If you guessed Sweet Valley Homeless Shelter, then 10 points to Ravenclaw (or whichever house you’re in). Melissa isn’t surprised, she says most people want to get involved with skate-a-thons or bike-a-thons (or presumably any other wheeled-a-thon going [Raven: Best not show them this, they’d probably explode.]), but volunteering with actual homeless people is too depressing. Which is very generous of her. I’m pretty sure that the two $wheel-a-thons she mentioned were, respectively, a big party, and a contest to win a bike.
Elizabeth worries that what she’s doing is meaningless, how can two sixth-graders make a difference to “a problem as enormous as homelessness”. It’s actually a nice touch. It brings Elizabeth a bit down to earth. I’m sure if I told Wing and Raven that Elizabeth was going to help the homeless, they would imagine her walking around and singing “Kumbaya” to them or something, and everyone magically getting not-homeless by the power of seeing a Wakefield in person.
(Or, something as offensive as Glee, where the New Directions sung “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to the homeless. Telling homeless people to cheer up, at least they’re not in Africa, is offensive on every conceivable level possible.)
They meet Connie, who is a bit jaded by volunteers, as they tend not to come back. She explains that the place is a daycare centre so that their parents can look for work, knowing their kids are in safe hands. Elizabeth and Melissa say they’ve both babysat before.
Once they walk in, they find a lot of kids, some arguing, some playing, one writing on a wall, and Connie tells them to deal with the two girls who are squabbling over a doll. Elizabeth teaches them that “share” is a magic word, and why don’t they pretend they’re both the doll’s big sisters – and to head off another argument over who is the bigger sister, she says why don’t they be twins.
Connie then sets them on snack duty, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a glass of juice. Ah, the days before peanut allergies were a thing. They notice a kid with brown hair and blue eyes who takes one sandwich and pockets it, then takes a second to eat. They ask Connie who he is, without saying why, and she tells them he’s called David Lowell.
On Thursday lunchtime, Jessica pretends to forget her wallet and asks Lila to charge her lunch to her credit card. Lila is well and truly sick of this schtick. She snaps that the credit card issue is resolved, and if she wanted she could go back and buy every great-looking sweater on the planet if she wanted. Everyone says sure, if you want to prove it, whop out your credit card and buy me… and they all start quoting their wishlists.
She’s grateful when Elizabeth and Melissa rock up with a box, saying they’re looking for clothes donations for the shelter. Since nobody’s had any warning for this, are they expecting kids to strip and donate what they’re wearing? [Raven: This clothes drive is sponsored by Mr Nydick.] Lila says she has tonnes of stuff to donate and asks if someone can collect it since her chauffeur – she panics – has beriberi, and she’s walking to and from school – anything for him when he’s so sick. The Unicorns are taken aback by this, and point out that Lila loathes Randall, he calls her La-La.
Melissa agrees to drop by after school to pick up the clothes, and as she walks away Lila comments in a low tone that Melissa should take some of the donations for herself. Mandy puts her back in her box very quickly for that one. Lila hadn’t meant to be mean, she’d just been acting rich – this is Lila to a tee! – even if she might not be rich.
The Unicorns ask if her dad signed off on the hot air balloon, and she feels obligated to lie. Everyone is obviously delighted, which makes her feel queasy. She resolves to ask her dad if they’re poor when she gets home.
We skip to her being at home, outside her father’s study, but he’s on the phone and can’t talk. [Raven: If he can’t talk, he’d be pretty shit at making phone calls.]
The doorbell rings, so Lila decides to answer. It’s Melissa, with her box for the donated clothes. Lila tries to fob her off, but Melissa is on a mission [Raven: MELISSION!] and won’t be swayed – this is why Melissa is awesome. She is not intimidated by Lila at all.
A car backfires and Lila thinks it’s a gunshot and yells for them to duck. Melissa blushes and says it’s their car. Lila is suitably snobby about how rusty it is, and Melissa says if it runs, that’s enough for her. Then she mentions her brother is driving, and Lila chills immediately, because everyone knows that older brothers are hot. In fact, Lila met him at the party where Melissa’s dad wrote a song for Elizabeth, not his long-estranged children, and knows for sure he’s cute. She even offers to help Melissa carry the box to the car when they’re done.
Lila leads her upstairs, but catches Melissa staring at the chandelier. Lila wonders what Melissa’s gawping at, wasn’t she at the last party, and Melissa says no, she wasn’t invited. Lila quickly covers by asking if she’s coming to the Fling.
Lila starts going through her closet, pausing on a green silk dress, and commenting Melissa should have it, it would go great with her eyes. Melissa politely declines. Lila blurts out that she should take it because she’s – she manages to cut herself off before saying “poor”. Melissa seems bemused and asks if Lila’s mouth just works on auto-pilot without being connected to her brain. She says she’ll try to believe that Lila’s heart was in the right place. Again, I love Melissa. Absolutely unflappable in the face of Lila.
Melissa spots a picture of Lila’s mom and asks about her. Lila says she misses her all the time, and is aware that Melissa lost her mom recently (actually, she was fucking fabulous in her one line of that book), and they have a nice moment as they both appreciate the other has an idea of what they’re feeling.
Lila tries to apologise for calling Melissa poor. Melissa says she understands, and she’s honestly lucky compared to a lot of people – she has her dad and her brother, and a house, and food on the table, etc. Her attitude startles Lila, who reasons that it’s easy for Melissa, she was never rich, she doesn’t know what she’s missing. Oh god, Lila, I fucking love you.
“Well, you’re sure you won’t take the green dress?”
“Positive,” Melissa said. “But not because I’m too proud or anything. The truth is, it is a putrid shade of green. No offense.”
Lila is not offended. This is why I really love their friendship. It’s a much healthier friendship that Lila has with anyone else. She is not in competition with Melissa, and if she tried, Melissa would just ignore the challenge. She doesn’t get offended by Melissa, and Melissa manages to deal with Lila in a long-suffering/fond kind of way. I just love these two when they share a page.
[Wing: I would read an entire book series about these two.]
Lila says they should check with her dad to see if he has anything he’d like to donate.
They wait outside the study for George to come free, and Melissa spots a picture of great-grandma Fowler. Lila comments that she’s ninety-two and acts like Queen Elizabeth. Melissa snarks that it must run in the family, acting like royalty. Lila senses that Melissa’s not being cruel in that assessment and offers a faint smile in response.
Lila knocks on the door and opens it to check in with her dad, and this is what happens next.
“Listen, Jim,” he said angrily. “I don’t know what else to say. This whole set-up is ruined!”
Ruined? Lila felt her stomach do a flip-flop. She glanced back at Melissa, who was still staring up at Great-grandma Fowler.
Lila peeked into her father’s study again. He was nodding slowly, while the person on the other end of the phone talked. Suddenly Mr. Fowler slammed his fist down on his desk. “That’s not the point!” he yelled. “I’m going to lose a fortune on this deal!”
Lila gasped and quickly shut the door behind her. So it was true. She really was poor. Had Melissa heard? She was still studying the painting intently, but maybe she was just pretending not to have heard so Lila wouldn’t be embarrassed. Besides, what could Melissa say? Sorry to hear you’re poor now, Lila. Welcome to the club. “Daddy’s, uh, busy with a big deal right now, Melissa,” Lila said quickly.
Melissa immediately notices that Lila’s gone pale and asks if she’s ok. Lila says she doesn’t feel well, she may well be coming down with Randall’s beriberi. (Never change.) Melissa says she’ll run up and get the box and show herself out. She adds it’s probably not beriberi, just the twenty-four hour flu. Lila mutters it will probably last a lot longer than that.
We then cut to several days later with Elizabeth and Melissa heading back to the shelter. Connie is surprised to see them. Melissa proudly says she spent Sunday washing and ironing all the donated clothes. Somehow Elizabeth takes half the credit for this, even though she’s done fuck all beyond guilting her sister about being more into the Fling than the homeless.
I’ve just noticed, we’re in Melissa’s point of view, and I’m wondering if we’re actually, opening scene aside, going to be sans Wakefield POV for this book. I hope so. [Note from the future: This pretty much holds true. It’s refreshing.]
Elizabeth wonders if a few sandwiches makes any difference. Melissa confides she had the same thought, but remembers when her mom died, just knowing Elizabeth was checking in on her made things a bit easier, and really did make a difference in her life. Which is sweet, but I’m never forgiving the Suzanne responsible for that book for the all-hail-Elizabeth song at the end. [Raven: That really was SUCH bullshit.]
Once again, Melissa and Elizabeth are on snack detail. They watch David while trying to look like they’re not. He again pockets one sandwich before eating the second one he picks up. Elizabeth asks if they should tell Connie, and Melissa says maybe he’s been poor so long he worries about where the next meal comes from, and they should reassure him he can have as much as he needs. I love this exchange. Kinda shows the difference, doesn’t it? Elizabeth’s instinct is “let’s tell a teacher” and Melissa has empathy and understanding for the situation.
David heads for the playground, and they approach and say that they’re the ones who make the sandwiches, so does he have any feedback. He says a little less jelly, so it doesn’t get soggy. Melissa says they’ll make sure they do that, and is one enough? David is very defensive when he says yes.
And we have a smash cut to Lila, and she’s not having a good day. Her heart’s not been in cheerleading and she was off on every single beat. It starts to rain on the way home, and to add insult to injury she’s wearing some cute Italian suede shoes, which are ruined by the rain.
She is startled by a car backfiring and an offer from Melissa to give her a lift home. She’s so cold and miserable that even the McCormicks’ junker of a car looks delightfully inviting. Melissa says sorry about the newspapers, but she has a route in the morning and Andy drove her.
Lila tried to imagine delivering papers to help her father out with his money problems. No, she decided, she wasn’t the papergirl type. “If I ever got a job,” she said, “it would have to be less, um, physical. You know—like being a fashion model, or anchoring the evening news.”
Andy and Melissa both laughed, and Lila felt a little hurt. She hadn’t been trying to be funny.
Melissa gives directions to Lila’s house and explains that her driver has beriberi. Andy says he’s sorry to hear that. Melissa gives her an update on the shelter and thanks her for the clothes. She asks about the donation of George’s clothes, but Lila says he’s away on business, so she’ll have to wait for him to get back. Melissa asks who she’s going to have dinner with if her dad’s away, and Lila says usually Mrs Pervis, but it’s her son’s birthday, so Lila will be alone. She’s left a beef stew in the fridge that needs zapping in the microwave. Lila asks Melissa would an hour cook it?
Melissa is horrified and invites Lila to dinner with them. Lila is too depressed to argue.
When they get home, Dad McCormick greets them with a joke. Don’t be smarmy, I still don’t trust you. You never explained why you weren’t around, and then you wrote a song for your estranged child’s week-long friend. You’re an arse.
Melissa shows Lila her room – which Lila notes is just a smidge bigger than her walk-in closet – and then gives her some clothes. Lila baulks at that, she prefers natural fabrics. Melissa no-sells her snobbery and tells her it won’t kill her to wear non-designer for an evening.
And we get an echo of the earlier scene, when Lila spots a picture of Melissa’s mum on the dresser. Yes, it falls into the trope I don’t like (“Your dead parent is beautiful…” said nobody outside of fiction ever), [Wing: Oooh, hard disagree. I still get people telling me how beautiful my mom was when they see different pictures of her. People have said nice things about Ostrich’s brother, too, on seeing pictures.] but I’ll let it slide on these two. Lila is so touched by this moment, she considers telling Melissa the secret that she’s broke. Unfortunately, Melissa’s already taken off to start the salad.
Lila dries her hair and realises that she looks pretty good, even in Melissa’s clothes. Never change, you funny brat. Andy says he recognises the shirt she’s wearing – it was his until Melissa shrunk it (deliberately) – and Lila likes her outfit a bit more now.
Melissa asks Lila to peel the carrots, but Lila’s having a hard time concentrating. She’s never seen a dad in an apron, cooking with his kids. And that’s actually a good point. Ned does not actively parent, so she wouldn’t have seen it at the Wakefields; Ellen’s family… well, even I don’t know much about them, and what I do is spoilers, but I doubt he does much cooking [Raven: If he’s anything like his daughter, I can see him holding a potato bare-handed over an open flame, while crying.]; and I’m not really sure that she goes to anyone else’s house outside of gatherings or slumber parties.
Lila stared from the peeler in her hand to a carrot and back again. It had never really occurred to her that carrots needed peeling. She tentatively scraped the peeler down the side of the carrot, but nothing happened. After a few more tries, she turned to Andy. “There’s something wrong with your peeler,” she said.
Andy took one look and laughed. “You’re holding the peeler upside down,” he said. “Here.” He reached over and demonstrated on a fresh carrot, giving Lila a perfect view of his deep green eyes. “Lissa,” Andy said, “I think we may actually have discovered someone who’s a worse cook than you.”
Even Lila finds this funny. She later tells Mr McCormick he’s almost as good a cook as Mrs Pervis. She adds that she likes eating in the kitchen with them. At home they use the formal dining room, and the table is so long she can barely see her dad. All of our Lila sympathy is paying off in spades here.
Mr McCormick says she’s welcome any time she wants to come over. And then – this is a shocker – Lila helps Melissa wash the dishes. This is book 71 (including all the Chillers/Specials/etc.), and I don’t think I’ve seen Jessica wash a single dish yet. [Raven: Steven and Jessica wash the dishes in The Big Party Weekend. Jessica does the dishes in The Twins Get Caught. The twins do the dishes together in Against the Rules. Jessica does the dishes in Choosing Sides. #FactSlap!] [Dove: Why do I feel like you’ve been hoarding that information just to smack me down? And A+ on the research.]
Afterwards, Mr McCormick gets the guitar and sings songs (that he wrote for Elizabeth?) for them, including a song about a man who lost everything, which hits too close to home for Lila and makes her tear up.
The next morning, Jessica wants to know why Lila didn’t answer her phone last night. Lila tries to fob her off but doesn’t get far. In the end she has to admit she had dinner with Melissa McCormick. Jessica’s very intent on getting to the bottom of things until she realises that Lila may have interacted with the super cute Andy McCormick. Lila attempts to change the subject but Jessica switches over to the Fling, which is no better in light of Lila’s money troubles.
“I was thinking,” Jessica continued, “what if we just have the balloon banner say ‘Unicorn Founding Fling,’ and leave it at that? You know—simple, understated. We don’t want to be gaudy.”
“Jessica,” Lila said irritably, “a huge purple balloon floating over your house is gaudy.”
Just FYI, I will be quoting every line that amuses me here.
Jessica suggests they go to the mall and buy outfits for the party. Lila panics – will the Unicorns still like her if she has no money. She knows Melissa will, and she wants to talk to her. Mandy Miller is also poor, but she’s a Unicorn, so it has to be Melissa. So she bolts, leaving Jessica very confused about what just happened.
Lila finds Melissa, and is delightfully hopeless at bringing up delicate subjects.
“And I figured maybe you’d understand, because you’re, well, you know—the P-word.”
“P-word?” Melissa repeated. “You mean pretty?” she asked with a grin. “No? OK. How about perky? Pot-bellied?”
“Poor!” Lila shouted. As soon as the word was out of her mouth, she spun around to make sure no one had heard her.
After making sure that Melissa promises to never tell another soul, Lila finally confides in her that she’s broke – in fact, Melissa must have heard it that night she came over. Melissa points out that “lose a fortune” is a figure of speech. She is also not exactly swayed by the evidence that Lila was not given a hot-air balloon and her chauffeur has not been replaced yet. And she brings up the beriberi thing, forcing Lila to admit that not only does Randall not have it, she has no idea what it is. Shocking. Melissa says surely George would have said something if they were broke.
Lila says that rich people aren’t like other people, they suffer in silence. Melissa, to give her credit, merely replies, “I see.” Then suggests that Lila speak to her dad. Lila says no, she can’t, her dad is clearly worried about how she’ll take the news. And Lila’s a bit worried herself. Melissa is the only person who wouldn’t care that she’s poor now. She’s dreading having to cancel the Fling. She’ll be a “big fat nobody” and a laughingstock. Melissa asks if Lila thinks she and her family are nobodies, as they’re not rich, and Lila says she used to – NEVER CHANGE, DARLING GIRL – but now that she’s gotten to know her, she knows better. Melissa tries to reassure her that the Unicorns would feel the same way. In fact, she doesn’t know why, but Melissa likes Lila, and she’s sure Lila’s friends feel the same. Lila makes Melissa promise to tell nobody.
“Good.” Lila breathed a little sigh of relief. “Because I want you to be my poverty adviser.”
“You know. You can teach me how to act like regular people. Things like where the garbage goes when you take it out. And how to peel carrots.”
Lila is outstanding.
[Wing: I just laughed myself to tears. This book is truly the greatest of the main series. Someone needs to figure out who was this ghost writer and whether they have other books I can read.]
That evening, Lila goes to her father’s study again. He has a stack of bills he’s going through. She asks how everything is going. He asks if there was any particular reason she bought 150 custom t-shirts in a variety of sizes. She explains that they’re souvenirs for the fling, emblazoned with the slogan “I Flung at the Founding Fling” (they had a whole meeting about whether it was “I flung” or “I flinged”). [Wing: Both are terrible, and also that’s a dirty, dirty slogan. I like it.] It’s not as bad as it sounds, she was originally going to get jackets. Even Mr Fowler gets in on the sass and says he’s impressed with her frugality. Lila offers to return them, and he asks what the store is going to do with personalised shirts. She sees how tired her dad looks and says she loves him and everything will be ok. He is surprised and obviously pleased by this unexpected affection from his kid.
The next say, Elizabeth and Melissa return to the shelter and Elizabeth has a plan. She suggests they follow David once he takes his sandwich and see where he goes. They do just that, and end up following him a block or so down and into an alleyway where he feeds his sandwich to a large reddish-brown dog. Elizabeth and Melissa make themselves known, and David tells them that Charlie is his dog, and when they lost the house, his dad was going to put Charlie in a pound, but David said he ran away and had actually tied him up somewhere – I’ll give him a pass, because he’s significantly younger than Jessica was when she pulled this shit, and her reason was “I want to”, and not “I’m really young and really scared, and I just want to keep my dog” – and then snuck off and got him when they moved to the shelter. [Wing: UGH MY HEART DAVID I LOVE YOU.]
Obviously as soon as they get a house, he’ll take Charlie with him. Elizabeth says Charlie can’t stay there, and, sigh, I’m agreeing with her again, but she’s right. Melissa says she can’t foster Charlie because Andy is allergic. Elizabeth says Jessica hates dogs… but now that she comes to think of it, this would be a great way for Jessica to help the shelter without doing anything. [Wing: ELIZABETH I HATE YOU NEVER EVER EVER PUT JESSICA IN CHARGE OF ANY LIVING CREATURE ESPECIALLY A DOG.]
This goes exactly how you think. Jessica acts like she’s never seen a dog before, or she’s forgotten everything she learned about the various dogs she’s interacted with, other than she doesn’t like them. Charlie is besotted with Jessica, and steals her sandwich. [Raven: Dirty.]
Over with Lila, she and Melissa are shopping and Melissa is advising her on how to shop on a budget. You can imagine how this goes. Lila’s definition of “need” is significantly different to Melissa’s. For example, Lila thinks she needs a pair of shoes she already owns but in a darker shade. Melissa says that’s not need, and then orders her to go to the discount store. Lila doesn’t take this well, but is reminded that she bought generic shampoo yesterday and lived to tell the tale. Melissa knows that the best way to deal with Lila’s histrionics is to joke her out of it.
I think that’s sweet because we’ve never actually seen any evidence of Lila having a good sense of humour about things, but we’ve seen plenty of her – for some reason – allowing Melissa to get away with stuff the Unicorns wouldn’t dare even try. Maybe because they had that moment just after Melissa’s mother died. I love this friendship.
As they walk, Lila sadly spots a dress that would be perfect for the Fling and says how much she misses having everything she wants. Melissa tells her she’s going to have to start telling people the truth about the Fling soon, but Lila can’t, because she just imagines their looks of horror, and them hating her. Melissa offers to help throw a bargain Fling. Lila dives under the table. The twins have just walked in and she will simply die if they see her shopping in a discount shop. They’re here to buy a leash for Charlie. Melissa tries to nudge Lila’s purse under the table and ends up kicking Lila, who has to sheepishly climb out. Melissa tries to suggest that Lila tell the truth, but Lila cuts her off, blathers over her and rushes off.
And then we cut to the moment after Melissa has told Jessica and Elizabeth the truth about Lila’s financial state. Melissa feels rotten about breaking a confidence, but Elizabeth is practically frothing with excitement about adding Lila to her Poor Unfortunate Souls list. (You’re welcome for that ear worm. It’s the best villain song Disney have ever written.) Jessica is outraged that Lila thinks they won’t be friends if she’s broke. And here we have one of the many exchanges that makes me want to buy this Jamie Suzanne a cookie.
“That’s crazy!” Jessica cried. “I’ll admit that having a rich best friend does have advantages. But I like Lila for her personality. She’s—” Jessica hesitated.
“—nice?” Melissa offered.
“Well, no, not exactly,” Jessica admitted.
“—funny?” Elizabeth suggested.
Jessica shook her head. “Not usually. Although that stunt under the sale table was pretty hilarious.”
“How about generous?” Melissa ventured.
“Nope. Lila’s really pretty stingy, unless she’s giving a party where she can be the center of attention.”
The three girls sat silently for a moment.
“OK,” Jessica said at last. “So it’s kind of hard to explain why I like Lila. She’s just, well, Lila. And there’s no one else quite like her.”
Also, Jessica continues to be very Jessica, by saying that she’s been really looking forward to the Fling, and Elizabeth is quick to remind her to have empathy. Melissa makes her promise not to tell anyone else. I think we all know how well that’s going to go.
Smash cut to Jessica calling an urgent Unicorn meeting to tell everyone. To their credit, everyone immediately says that Lila’s finances make no difference to their friendship (well, Ellen says that, then pauses to check that’s what the group is doing, because godamnit, this Jamie can write her too). They agree to stop teasing her and launch Operation Fling – wherein they will throw the Fling for her, and show up on the day as a surprise.
On Monday, Lila is freaked out by how nice the Unicorns are being to her. When she reveals her home-made lunch, the entire table immediately says they’ve been thinking of switching over from school meals too (Ellen goes too far, obviously). Then Janet very awkwardly tries to philosophise that not all big lavish things are the best, sometimes something small is perfectly nice. Then everyone offers Lila their desert. Lila asks what’s going on because the Unicorns aren’t known for talking about thoughts. Everyone is very quick to reassure her that the conversation is perfectly normal.
Ellen leaned across the table. “I can promise you, Lila,” she said very seriously, “I haven’t been thinking anything at all. And I never will.”
[Raven: This whole exchange is marvellous. Best section in the book.]
Lila walks home from school with Melissa (BFFs, amiright?) and says that of all the things she’ll miss about her money, it’s the Unicorns she’ll miss the most. They’ve been acting strange all day. Melissa again offers to throw Lila a bargain Fling in exchange for Lila volunteering at the shelter with her, and she’s so depressed by now that she agrees.
Melissa smiled. “It is actually possible to have fun without spending tons of money, Lila.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never tried.”
The next morning, Jessica wakes up cuddling her favourite toy bear, Fuzzy. Then she realises that Fuzzy exploded in the wash, and had been dead for years. What she’s actually cuddling is Charlie. Charlie is delighted when Jessica leaps out of bed, and plays tug of war with her sheets when she decrees they must be burned. Jessica repeats that she and dogs do not get along.
The next day after school, Lila volunteers at the shelter. Elizabeth is amazed. And I’m sorry, I’m quoting again, because this is one of my favourite Lila lines of all time.
“Lila?” Elizabeth said. “Is that really you under there? I mean, blue jeans and a sweatshirt? I didn’t know you owned a sweatshirt!”
“I didn’t want people to think I was showing off,” Lila said guardedly. “So I wore something poor.” She looked at Elizabeth’s outfit. “What’s your excuse?”
Lila continues to be awesome when Connie asks about her skills and she thinks for a moment before offering that she knows how to peel carrots. She ends up cleaning mirrors. When David checks in on Charlie with Elizabeth, Lila tears up thinking about how hard it must have been to lose their house.
Melissa tactfully sends her over to tell the kids a story. The kids can’t agree on what they want to read, so Lila makes up a story about a princess whose father loses his job, and everything they had, and she doesn’t know how it ends, but she’ll tell the kids as soon as she finds out.
At the Wakefield Compound, the Unicorns sans Lila are painting a banner to hang up at the Fling, and organising various committees to get everything done. Grace asks what happens if Lila cancels, and Jessica says Melissa is making sure it all goes ahead. The Unicorns are shocked to find out that Lila can work on a budget and under Melissa’s supervision. Then Charlie comes bounding in, soaking wet from the bath Steven was trying to give him, and leaves paw prints over the banner. Janet calls him a disgusting mutt and tries to kick him. Jessica leaps to his defence. It’s kind of sweet. As long as you forget that time she left a dog to rot so she could go to a 3pm concert.
On Friday afternoon, Lila surveys her progress. They’ve made a “pin the tail on the Unicorn” game, which seems a little young for twelve year olds, but ok; Nora’s grandfather will be doing a magic act; Melissa’s dad will sing (probably that song he wrote for Elizabeth). Lila has cancelled the caterers – they’ve kept their deposits, but it’s still a saving. It’s all going well, but she thinks the Unicorns are freezing her out. Ellen mentioned a meeting she wasn’t invited to and Belinda mentioned a party Lila knows nothing about, and it wasn’t the Fling because Jessica poked her to shut her up right after.
Melissa decides to cheer Lila up with a trip to buy some new balloons – Melissa’s treat – because, she realises, it’s all her fault Lila’s friends are dropping her. She’s the one who told Jessica. Lila says Melissa’s a great poverty advisor, and Melissa thinks she’s a terrible friend.
As they walk to the shop, Melissa says it was really nice of Lila to invite the kids from the shelter to the Fling. Lila says it’s her duty as a poor person. Also, she had no other idea on how to keep them quiet, she was all out of stories. As they reach the story, they see a herd of Unicorns coming out laden down with party gear. Lila and Melissa can only assume they’re having a poor-people-not-invited-party behind Lila’s back.
When Melissa gets home, she curses herself over dinner. She feels awful because she told Jessica, who told the Unicorns and now while Lila’s really hurting, they’re abandoning her because snobbery. Her dad tries to tell her that people would find out eventually, but Melissa won’t be swayed. Dad suggests she calls Lila’s friends and find out what they’re playing at. So she does, and Steven tells her that Jessica is at Janet Howell’s, working on plans for the party.
We smash cut to Lila the day before the Fling, and George walks into the kitchen to see Lila frosting a cupcake, something he never thought he would see. He says he’s had a tough week and couldn’t wait to get home. Then he notices all of Lila’s baking and asks if it’s for the party. Lila says he doesn’t have to keep being brave, she knows everything and they’re in this together. She adds that she bought a blouse that was on sale, and despite being half-polyester, it’s actually quite pretty.
George asks for clarification, and Lila tells him that she knows they’re poor now. She’s adjusted, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
At first he thinks she’s joking, but when he realises that she’s serious he asks for her evidence. Actually, Randall (the chauffeur) had to be let go because he was stealing, and he’d let the cars get into terrible condition. Her credit card was literally just an error, it happens every so often. He was simply too busy to arrange the hot air balloon. And sure, he did lose a bundle of money on that particular deal, but made even more on the next one.
Lila flops on a chair, amazed at all the time and emotion she’s wasted over this. Then she realises that she’s actually made a new friend and learned that she can be as tough as a regular person. You fucking rock, Lila. I love you. [Raven: Lila’s amazing.]
George says he’s very proud of her, and sorry that she’s been so worried. If she wants, he can call back the caterers and entertainment.
Lila says no, there’s no point. She learned something else when she was poor: who her real friends are. (Melissa! It’s Melissa! THIS IS MY OTP BFF COMBO FOR LIFE!)
The next day, as Melissa and Lila are prepping for the Fling, Lila admits she got the wrong end of the stick, and she’s not actually poor. She’s really embarrassed about it, and it’s cute as hell. What’s even cuter is she’s worried Melissa won’t like her as much now that she’s rich again – or still, actually.
“Lila, I like you either way,” Melissa assured her. “I’m not sure why. I mean, you’re a terrible snob, not to mention a lousy bargain shopper.”
At this point, the sass backs off and Melissa confesses that she told Jessica Lila’s secret. She was trying to help and she’s really sorry – Lila cuts her off. It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t need fair-weather friends, and she should be grateful to Melissa for letting the Unicorns show their true colours. (PURPLE IS THE COLOUR OF BETRAYAL!) Lila could be angry, but she realises that Melissa is more important than her anger. It’s… this is just epic character growth for Lila, while still working in the universe. [Wing: I AM SCREAMING OVER THIS. It’s so great, and I really do want a billion books about these BFFs.]
The first people to arrive at the party are the kids from the shelter. David’s dad, Mr Lowell, drove them over. As they arrive, George walks out. He spots Mr Lowell’s car and immediately exclaims about how it brings back memories. Mr Lowell proudly says it’s sixteen years old, but runs like new. Because he’s a mechanic. Well, gosh, that’s lucky, isn’t it? George asks him for advice about his car, and the two men walk off, talking cars.
Later, Lila looks around and sees everyone having fun. Plenty of kids who she never talked to usually have come up to thank her for a great party. Then Elizabeth beckons her over to meet a “short plump man”. Lila has no idea who he is, but is polite until she can’t help but ask who he is. He’s the mayor. She is taken aback and offers him a handful of souvenir shirts. [Raven: I loved the Mayor’s visit. So good.] When he leaves, she says she wishes the Unicorns could have seen that. [Wing: HEH. He heard that Mercandy backyard threat.]
And what do you know, the Unicorns are there for her. Each Unicorn has a tray of food, some flowers, some balloons, and actually it’s all very adorable. Ellen even offers her helium balloons saying they couldn’t afford a real hot air balloon, so they got her these. Lila says she thought they’d abandoned her, and they reassure her that they’re her friends no matter what. The situation made them realise that being a Unicorn is all about friendship. (I’d argue it’s about wearing purple and talking about boys, but this book gets me right in the feels, so never mind.)
Lila actually wells up with tears over this. Again: adorable. Then she confesses that she’s not actually broke.
“You’re telling us we didn’t have to cook all this stupid food?’ Jessica cried. “I made seventy-five bologna sandwiches this morning! Do you realize how much bologna that is?”
Jessica, you’re still awesome too. Melissa says they can donate the extra to the shelter. So that’s nice too. (In the pre-health and safety days, this might actually work, as opposed to being all caught up in red tape and hygeine standards.)
As the sun sets and Mr McCormick is getting ready to sing (something about how Elizabeth is wonderful), Lila spots a purple hot air balloon floating above the house. Her dad appears and says he’d always planned to say yes, but he wanted to surprise her. The banner the Unicorns made is attached to it, they gave it to him when they arrived – so… did they walk past the hot-air balloon? Never mind, I’ll allow it – and Lila spots the dog footprints on there.
Jessica tells David that Charlie is very artistic. Then she tells his dad Charlie asked if David could come visit next week. Mr Lowell says no… because he has a job working for Mr Fowler now, so they’ll have their own house by then. (It is possible to move in a week, I have facilitated it when I worked in lettings, so that’s ok too.) [Raven: I do love the book, but this was a bit too neat for me. Sorry.] [Wing: I have my doubts about a house, but if Mr Fowler covers the first and last month and the pet deposit and any other deposits, they could probably manage to move into a small rental, maybe a house, maybe an apartment.]
Again, Lila gets a bit tearful at the happy ending. She’s just nonstop emotions today, isn’t she? I’m not really complaining, for Lila, there’s been a whole slew of revelations in the past few hours.
On Wednesday afternoon, Jessica fusses with a purple bow on Charlie’s collar, preparing him for David. Melissa and Elizabeth are suitably mocking about it. Jessica says she can’t wait to get rid of Charlie. Elizabeth points out they were sharing a pillow this morning. Jessica keeps complimenting Charlie, then backtracking. It’s a nice side to Jess, it reminds me of Whiskers.
She’s a bit deflated when Charlie goes haring off to greet David. She tries to tell David that Charlie really likes a pillow, and offers to dog-sit any time they need it. (Just don’t ask Mrs Bramble for references.) David says she can visit any time she wants. She tries to be cool.
Elizabeth says that their volunteering maybe did make a difference. Jessica says not her, she didn’t help. Elizabeth says yes she did, just ask Charlie. It’s a bit smug from Elizabeth, but the twins have been so absent in this book, it’s really not a problem for me.
The next week, the Unicorns are at the mall and they’re still talking about the Fling. Lila says her dad worked out how much money Lila saved them, and donated it to the shelter, which is probably a sizeable chunk of pennies, going off what we know about Lila’s parties. She then buys and entire table full of sweaters. The Unicorns are touched by her generosity until she points out the sweaters are for the shelter, not them. [Wing: UGH FOWLERS, KEEP THIS UP AND I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER.]
Then we have our lead-in to the next book.
As they walk through the mall, they see a poster advertising charm school. It’s run by Jacques and Monique Beaumont from Switzerland. Of course, this is precisely the kind of thing the Unicorns love, and they can’t wait to sign up. [Wing: Oh no that sounds horrific why can’t we just live in this book forever.]
Yes, I quoted a lot of the book. Everyone was utterly sassy and it needed to be noted. I love this book. This is my favourite of all of the main series books, and is right next to The Carnival Ghost in my overall favourites list, but for very different reasons.
I love Lila and Melissa’s friendship, and wish there was more of it – I’d read a spin-off featuring those two. The twins were nice and background, and Elizabeth wasn’t the one to save Lila, which makes a lovely change. This book would have been insufferable if it had been Elizabeth.
This is a real high point in the series for me. I know there are more Lila books coming up, but I’ve never read them, so let’s hope they’re as good as this.
[Raven: Yep, excellent book. I don’t love it as much as Dove, and the whole “we have a house now lol” nonsense with Charlie / David wound me up a bit, but the sass is real and the characterisation is top notch throughout. I even forgave Mr McCormick, unlike Dove. Great read, but not quite as good as Jessica the Nerd.]
[Wing: God, this was funny. Smart and snarky and Melissa and Lila were wonderful. I need a billion more books like this.]
I am Dove (she/her). I am: Team Jessica (Sweet Valley); Team Bad Guy (Point Horror); Team Geiger (Making Out); Team Nina/Lucas (Making Out); and I am the voice of a claymation cow named Daisy, and I was in an advert for Fairy Liquid in the 80s.