Title: Mandy in the Middle
Tagline: Tough Choices…
Summary: Help! Ever since the war broke out between the Unicorns and the Angels, I’ve been hanging out with both groups. But now the Unicorns are saying that I have to choose one club once and for all.
How am I supposed to choose? The Angels are totally great—they believe in the same stuff I do, like helping out people in trouble. The Unicorns, on the other hand—well, let’s just say they care more about hairstyles than they do about helping people. But we do go back a long way… and no-one has more fun than the Unicorns!
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with Mandy.
Some of our number have turned their back on Sweet Valley’s resident quirky-dressing cancer girl, labelling her recent appearances as “beige paint,” but I still have a soft spot for her. So a book that focusses on her current Angels-or-Unicorns conundrum sounds intriguing. But with the series as a whole wobbling vaguely towards a cliff edge of mediocrity, the portents are not boding well.
Will Mandy’s plight be enough to raise the standard of this dwindling subseries?
[Dove: I feel like that’s a pointed comment.]
[Wing: As it should be, ha. The first thought I had when I read the summary was that you would eviscerate this Mandy when it came time for your comments.]
This book is mis-sold.
Form the title, and the back cover blurb, you’d believe it was a book delivered from Mandy’s perspective. That’s a half truth. Interestingly, the Ghostie plays Duelling Banjos with the viewpoint, tag-teaming between Mandy on one side and Lila on the other. The story touches on the Unicorns’ misguided attempts to lure Mandy from the bosom of the Angels and back into the Eye of the Purple Storm.
Can you see the issue?
We have Mandy, apparently stuck in the middle of the Angels and the Unicorns. And we have Lila, coming at the problem from the Unicorner. But the Angelic choir is strangely silent on this. There’s no viewpoint for Elizabeth, or Maria, or Mary, or Evie. It’s just Unicorns, all the way down.
I do like the chapter-swapping conceit. It’s a bit like the Game of Thrones each-chapter-a-different-character thing, if you’re prepared to do some mental calisthenics.
As for the recap itself? It’s compartmentalised for ease of creation and consumption, which makes a change. Hopefully I can streamline it for once. Unlike others in this project, who seem equipped to piss out a fully-formed recap in twenty minutes or less, I find my creative clay a touch less pliable than I’d like. I always go in with a mind to tap out at eight thousand words, hoping to channel some hidden avatar of brevity along the way, but I invariably write four thousand words on Chapter One and the plan is yeeted into space. [Dove: Literally every time Raven is facing a recap, he gives me a quick outline as to how this one is going to be the one that’s going to be quick and easy to recap and how it’s obviously going to be so much shorter than his previous recaps. Annnnndddd… *gestures to Raven’s recaps which average 8-10k* So, obviously, I’m cheering him on, but won’t be surprised to see Raven go off on tangents.]
[Wing: I find myself writing far too many words for chapter one as well, every time, which is ridiculous because very little of use ever actually happens and I know it.
I love POV switching with chapters, but I don’t think this series is the place for it, considering what we’ve had from narrators before, and I agree with Raven that if this book is going to have multiple narrators, it should have one from each side plus Mandy herself.]
So how short can I make this? As the chapters lean towards a segmented narrative, let’s try something different. There are eleven chapters in all, with six for Mandy and five for Lila, falling thusly:
1 – Lila [Wing: MANDY’S BOOK STARTS WITH A LILA CHAPTER WHAT THE HELL.]
2 – Mandy
3 – Lila
4 – Mandy
5 – Lila
6 – Lila
7 – Mandy
8 – Lila
9 – Mandy
10 – Lila
11 – Mandy
Can we bring in a coherent recap with a single sentence per chapter? I reckon so. Let’s go for it.
1 – Lila vows to make Mandy rejoin the Unicorns.
2 – Mandy volunteers at the Hospital, helping a lonely seven-year-old cancer patient called Randall.
3 – Lila’s plan to buy Mandy’s love with gifted jewellery massively backfires.
4 – Mandy volunteers with Randall, where they discuss the Unicorns and friendship.
5 – Lila tails Mandy to the hospital and learns about Randall, thus deducing that fundraising is the key to Both Randall’s problems and Mandy’s wavering loyalty.
6 – Lila forces her father to purchase one thousand boxes of cookie futures, then buys Randall’s mother a house.
7 – Mandy is insulted by Lila’s misplaced generosity, vowing to sever all ties with the Unicorns.
8 – Lila goes to the hospital to apologise to Mandy, but instead she bonds with Randall, who’s alone on the eve of his operation.
9 – Mandy is desperate to visit Randall in his hour of need, but is forced to attend a family party instead.
10 – Lila uses her money for good, by offering use of the Fowler Jet to ferry Randall’s mother to and from work while Randall is in surgery.
11 – Mandy discovers everything and dedicates herself to the Unicorns, and Randall’s operation is a success.
Boom! There we go. A full recap of the pertinent action, in one-hundred-and-ninety-five words. Including the numbers that begin each sentence.
Thanks, all. Goodnight!
I guess you need a little more, huh? Fair. So did I, when reading. Notice there’s no mention of anything Angelic in this overview?
Let’s tackle each chapter as they come, starting with the first. As this is an uncommon format, we can take things in a more methodical manner. I’ve nominated 8000 words to tackle the eleven chapters, which gives me 728 words for each.
Chapter 1 – Lila Vows To Make Mandy Rejoin The Unicorns
The chapter starts with the Unicorns – that’s Kimberley Haver, Jessica Wakefield, Lila Fowler and the club president Ellen Riteman – trying on costumes for the upcoming Earth Day celebrations. The theme is hippy garb, or Save the Planet, and Lila’s attempt sounds ridiculous.
Love beads? Nah. It’s pearls, of course. And tie-die? Nope. It’s purple polka dots.
Naturally, after the usual bout of Unicorn cattiness, the other club members are far more successful with their ensembles.
Ellen, who at first suggests that everyone should dress as trees by wearing branches in their hair, and then offers the idea that they all dress as actual Unicorns because they are an endangered species [Dove: solid gold.], decides to dress in blue in honour of the sky.
Kimberley, whose original suggestion was that they all wear matching suede fringe vests made by the Fowler Tailor, goes with all yellow, as she is the sun around which the rest of the school revolves.
Jessica, who climbed on Kimberley’s suede bandwagon and suggested suede miniskirts with knee-high boots and bolero jackets, runs with a green ensemble that both represents plant life and makes the green in her always-canonically-blue eyes pop. [Dove: I think you’ll find that they’re “blue-green, the exact shade of the Pacific Ocean”.] [Raven: Oh yeah. *grumblegrumble*] [Wing: *looks at a wall of pictures of the grey waters of the Pacific Ocean.*]
All of these clothes come from one place: Lila’s voluminous closets. She’s generous to share, but honestly, she doesn’t have much choice, as the Unicorns are voracious in their demands. They ride roughshod over her feelings, cutting tags off new clothes and grabbing items that are specifically flagged as out-of-bounds. They even ignore her when she puts out the call for help in deciding her own costume. [Dove: I always thought that Lila had been kind of stingy with her clothes and money – as evidenced by her behaviour in The Wakefields Strike it Rich.]
“So what am I supposed to dress in?” I asked. “Brown for the dirt?”
“Are these flattering?” Jessica asked the mirror.
I cleared my throat. “You guys are all wearing my stuff. Can’t you at least help me out in return?”
“Oh, you’ll think of something,” Ellen said flippantly.
Poor Lila! Even if I have an issue with the uneven structure of this book, I can’t deny that anything from Lila’s point of view will always be welcomed by me.
Jessica soon decides that instead of being plant life, she’s more suited to being an actual rainbow. This should leave Lila fair space to don green herself for the plants, but instead she’s more focussed on her friends’ lack of attention. She suggests that she doesn’t bother dressing up at all, more as a test than an actual idea, but her friends predictably ignore her as they are far too busy being self-centred.
The non-Lilas gabble on about their clothes, and even mention a set of gold earrings that Mandy has been fawning over for months, which we all know is foreshadowing as we’ve read the eleven-step recap programme above. This talk of Mandy inevitably turns to the girls reminiscing about Mandy and her uncanny knack to dress perfectly with only the barest minimum of inventory.
“I wish Mandy were here,” I sighed softly. “I wish she were still a Unicorn.”
Ellen bit her lip. “Yeah,” she said wistfully.
“It’s just too hard to believe that she could actually bail on us,” Kimberly commented. “Who wouldn’t want to be part of the coolest club in school?”
“Apparently Mandy,” Ellen responded.
“Well, the Unicorn Club just doesn’t feel the same without her,” Jessica admitted.
Erm… hang the fuck on here. Who the hell is this Kimberley? Where’s the “burn the bridges, fuck all y’all” Kimberley from the earlier books? Weak. Even if I hate that Kimberley, there’s something to be said for continuity. [Wing: Continuity especially for a hated character. If you want to give her a redemption arc, give her one, don’t just suddenly soften her.]
Once the non-Lila Unicorns have breezed out of the room, claiming that they have to split to Caseys in order to meet Aaron, Rick and Bruce, Lila surveys the carnage. Naturally, they’ve decimated her bedroom sanctuary, but more insidiously they’ve punched our girl right in the friendship glands.
“Wait a second,” I protested. “Why did you guys come over if you had something else to do?”
“Because we needed something to wear tomorrow,” Jessica said matter-of-factly, shoving a bunch of ribbons into her lavender backpack.
I mean, how shitty of them to accept her invitation without mentioning they had to leave mega-early due to a prior commitment? Arseholes to the fucking core. [Dove: Lila, just have your father hire some hitmen.]
Look, I know that this is setting the scene for the “bad” Unicorns before we get to the “good” Unicorns, but man, I really wish the Angels were a part of this. I really enjoyed the earlier books when the Newnicorns were the focus. I don’t enjoy these books now they have split the team.
Ah well, hopefully things will improve down the line.
In order to restore harmony to her private haven, Lila does what Lila does best: she delegates. A swift call to Mrs Pervis sees the housekeeper dealing with the teenage detritus on display.
The rest of the chapter is a Lila internal monologue, in which she waxes lyrical on her high-and-low-impact life (I’m rich! Yay! … I’m lonely! Boo!). She also covers the Unicorns, and what they mean to her, before telling the reader all about her feelings for Mandy, and how much she misses her. [Wing: I ship it.] Standard, expected, and as it’s the subject of this book it gets a pass today. How the other recappers feel about Beige Paint Miller remains to be seen. [Dove: I feel like (at this point, at least), the ghosties have been told to schill Mandy hard, because they made her such a waste of page space in books she should have done something in. Because it really feels like recently barely any Unicorn meeting can go by without someone blurting out how much they love Mandy.]
The chapter ends with Lila’s pledge: to recruit Mandy Miller back into the Unicorn Club, toot sweet!
[Chapter 1 Word Count: 902. Already a good 180 over budget.]
Chapter 2 – Mandy Volunteers At The Hospital, Helping A Lonely Seven-Year-Old Cancer Patient Called Randall
“Randall” is Randall Everett Boyer III, and it’s safe to say he’s probably the best thing in this book.
The issue I have with other books in the wider series that showcase younger kids and toddlers is that they invariably involve cutesy baby-talk and twee playfulness that grates on my teeth something chronic. Happily, as with the kids at the Day Care Centre that I’d expected to have played a more prominent role in this miniseries, Randal is written with sass, verve and style. He’s no sadsack Eeyore, but he’s no sugar-addled Tigger. He’s pitched well, and is believable on both his dark days and lighter times.
We start with Randall and Mandy playing I Spy. Mandy’s clue is W, for wallpaper, which is pretty cool. Randall counters with M-M, for Mandy Miller. This is also decent, but as soon as you go for a two-initial answer you’re adding far too much specificity to proceedings. I mean, with a clue like M-M, what the hell else could it be other than Mandy Miller? [Wing: Candy.]
During the game, we get a recap of Mandy’s personal history with cancer (see Mandy Miller Fights Back for more information), as well as a spotlight on Randall’s wretched circumstances that surround his unfortunate diagnosis. Apparently, Randall is separated from his mom during the week, as they both live in northern California but the best facilities for his treatment are in Sweet Valley (I mean, what the fuck?!). Couple this with the fact that Randall’s mom’s boss seems to be some sort of Dickensian villain that won’t let his mother take one cold second of time off to tend to her cancer-riddled seven-year-old son [Dove: Stop thinking about this from a British point of view.] [Raven: Not until I relocate to the Galapagos.], and the fact that there’s no mention of dad or gran or second mom or significant parental unit #2, and we have a state of affairs which puts Mandy Miller front and centre in the Superhero role for this book. [Wing: Sad thing is, this is completely believable on all counts.]
This chapter also mentions Candy Stripers. Until I Googled, I had no idea what Candy Stripers were. Apparently, they’re voluntary medical staff that work for no pay, under the supervision of nurses. Wow. That sounds like a bunch of lawsuits waiting to happen. I don’t question the intentions of the volunteers, but it boggles the mind that the cash-driven medical sector in the US can’t fund actual paying staff in such positions. [Dove: Fun fact. Elizabeth is a Candy Striper in Sweet Valley High. She does not make friends with the Littlest Cancer Patient.] [Wing: Raven, Raven, Raven, when you are profit-driven healthcare, you don’t want to have enough staff that you must actually pay.]
Mandy and Randall play until one of these Candy Stripers announces that visiting time is over. After making promises to return in the face of sassy pleading and cajoling, Mandy leaves with tears in her eyes. As she does, we learn that Randall’s dad died a few years ago, meaning mom was pretty much Randall’s only family. Even though his prospects are positive and his mood is good, Randall’s life is anything but rosy.
[Chapter 2 Word Count – 463. To be fair, it’s a short one.]
Chapter 3 – Lila’s Plan To Buy Mandy’s Love With Gifted Jewellery Massively Backfires
We’re now back in Sweet Valley Middle School, and Earth Day activities are happening all over. We have mention of the Angels, who are selling homemade organic sweets for the benefit of the Rain Forest Foundation. At their head? Mandy Miller, dressed in a suede miniskirt (which is this book’s third mention of the fabric). [Wing: Good enough place as any to say that I’m surprised suede gets so many mentions in a book where this background plot is Save the Earth what with it being from an animal and all. Not that you cannot both want to fight climate change and wear leather, as I do, but that sort of nuance is unusual to see in books like this.]
The other Unicorns (well, Kimberley) is all about chatting up the cute Booth-Boys, but Lila only has eyes for Mandy. Insert your own subtext here. [Wing: Still ship it.]
Lila plants herself in front of the Angels’ table and declares her passion for their cause. That’s the Rain Forests, not the general Angels cause of “lalala lets just support anything in a vague and noncommittal way”.
A sceptical Mandy is definitely a supporter of the Rain Forests, and she spouts a lot of disturbing facts about their destruction. Lila decides that a contribution to the Angels’ fund will be just the ticket to win Mandy’s heart and mind. She ponies up fifteen dollars to buy every single one of their Sugar-Free Granola Cakes (ten for the cakes, an extra five as a tip). Even the Angels doubt Lila’s sincerity when she tells them her mouth is watering just looking at them. [Dove: I like the fact that Evie cautions her about eating them all as it may… disturb her digestion. Even the Angels are like, “Yeah, these are fucking horrible. And they’ll probably lock you in the loo for days if you eat more than one.”]
With their inventory depleted, most of the Angels depart to check out the other booths, leaving Mandy and a volunteering (or scheming) Lila to help tidy up.
As they do so, Mandy asks Lila why she didn’t dress up (she’s wearing a mostly black ensemble). Lila vamps and says she had trouble thinking of something suitable. [Wing: Death of the planet if we don’t change things, Lila. Death of the planet. It was right there.] Mandy, being Mandy, tells Lila she should have called, as the Miller Family Attic contains a metric fuckton of suitable clothes for occasions such as these.
Feeling nostalgic for the Before Times, Lila pushes her plan into the next phase. She invites Mandy to join the Unicorns at Casey’s after school. Mandy is reluctant, as she’s promised Randall she would visit. She doesn’t tell Lila this, of course, and is eventually cajoled into joining the Purple Bitches at the ice-cold community hub, after some good-natured complaining about her cheap-ass earrings (PLOTPLOTPLOTPLOT).
Lila’s plan is going swimmingly, she feels. She exits, stage left, with a Machiavellian laugh.
“Lila?” Mandy called after me.
I turned around.
She held up the brown bag. “You forgot your granola cakes.”
“Oh, right. Thanks,” I said, running back and reaching for the unwanted sack.
She takes the bag as Mandy slips her crappy earrings into a pouch in her backpack…
Next thing we know, Lila is at The Gold Rush. The Gold Rush is a high-end jewellery store in the Sweet Valley Mall. I’m surprised it’s not called Sweet Valley Jewels. Or Sweet Valley Sparkly Shit. After a nice exchange with an initially snooty sales assistant, she buys the pair of gold earrings that Mandy has been fawning over for months. Operation Buy Mandy’s Loyalty is go!
Lila clues the other Unicorns into her scheme as they wait for Mandy’s arrival at Casey’s Place that afternoon. In doing so, she stresses how important it is that they say and do the right things when courting their red-headed friend. Ellen suggests she should take the lead, as she is the Unicorn President and figurehead, but, once Lila offers to let Ellen pay for the alluring daisy earrings, our presidential ditz backs off and lets Lila take the lead.
Mandy arrives, and is her usual convivial self. The Unicorns? They fuck it up royally, as is to be expected.
After some pleasantries about Mandy’s hair, and some slightly off-kilter banter about clothes, Kimberley, Ellen and Jessica throw considerable shade on the series’ perennial punchbag, Lois Waller.
Can we not point the finger elsewhere for once? I mean, come the fuck on.
“Actually I thought Lois Waller did,” Kimberly said with a smirk.
Lois Waller is the fattest girl in our school and the butt of many jokes.
“She’s such a major porker,” Jessica scoffed. “Wouldn’t you just die to know exactly what she eats every day?”
“Probably ten gallons of ice cream.” Ellen puffed up her cheeks. “And that’s just breakfast.”
We learn that, for Earth Day, Lois dressed as a whale. Gotta say, that’s next level sass from Lois there. Mandy sticks up for her, for both the self-diss-good-natured-awareness and for highlighting the actual plight of the whales. [Dove: Go Lois, that’s proper nerve that I’d never have. But fuck off, Unicorns. Also, have they never noticed that they’re usually slagging her off for over-eating while they’re chowing down on ice cream or fast food outside of their normal meal times?] [Wing: But they’re slender and pretty, it doesn’t matter what they eat.]
Kimberley doubles down and starts disparaging the ideas behind the Earth Day celebrations. The other non-Lila Unicorns follow suit. Again, this does not vibe with Mandy, as she’s a dyed-in-the-wool activist in this regard. Feels like an informed attribute, but I can roll with it as burgeoning interests are common at Mandy’s age. [Dove: This didn’t ping with me at all. If it’s never been mentioned before, it feels like exactly the type of thing she cares about.] Lila recognises that Mandy isn’t swaying to the charms of the Unicorns, and does her best to limit the damage by changing the subject.
The waitress approaches, and ice cream orders are made (in a laborious but humorous way). When it comes to Mandy’s order, Lila offers to pay for a triple fudge brownie explosion with whipped cream. To be honest, that sounds amazing.
After the ice cream, and a modicum of light-hearted joshing, Lila pulls out her trump card…
I reached into my backpack, pulled out the little velvet box, and handed it to her.
Mandy looked confused.
“It’s a little present. For you,” I said, placing it in front of her.
Her face flushed. “Me?”
After clocking the totally cool daisy earrings, Mandy falls silent. While Lila and the others gush over her and her new accoutrements, Mandy turns them down.
The Unicorns are nonplussed. Why not?
Mandy looked down. “My mom put a pair on layaway. She’s been saving to buy them for me for my birthday.”
“But that’s not for months,” I argued. “Do you want to keep on wearing cheapo earrings that make your lobes all gross?”
Of course, this response scandalises Mandy. Incidentally, her reason for not accepting the gift? Totally legitimate, totally cute. [Dove: And to over-theorise on something the ghostie probably didn’t consider: of course Lila didn’t understand why getting the earrings from her mom was so important. Lila doesn’t have a mom in her life, so why would a gift from a mom be so important?] [Raven: Great point.] [Wing: Oooh, that’s beautifully done, Dove.]
Lila doubles down. Mandy’s mom can buy Mandy something else. No? Alright, Mandy can exchange the earrings for a different pair, and so on. Eventually, Mandy can’t stands no more. She declares her intention to leave, and then she leaves, despite the protestations of the bellowing Unidicks.
Most of the Unicorns reel from this apparent setback. Not Lila, of course.
“We’ll get her back,” I told my friends confidently. “I’ll think of something.”
Attagirl, Lila. You surely, surely will.
[Chapter 3 Word Count – 1074. Oh bugger. For the three chapters thus far, that’s 2439, or a chapter average of 813. Too flabby, it’s time to start slimming.]
Chapter 4 – Mandy Volunteers With Randall, Where They Discuss The Unicorns And Friendship
We start with a Mandy Monologue as she makes her way to the hospital. She bemoans the fact that she’s wasted an hour with the Unicorns rather than at Randall’s bedside, before turning her thoughts to both the Unicorns and the Angels.
She declares the Unicorns to be snobby asshats, referencing both their comments about Lois and their attitudes regarding Environmental issues. She deduces that it’s over with the Spiky Twats.
But the Angels? She’s not sold on them either. They’re earnest, and accepting, and dull as a fucking cactus. Whenever Mandy suggests something fun, they shake their heads and walk away. They’re not the droids Mandy is looking for either.
The truth is that I feel like I don’t have anyone to have fun with anymore. There are over a thousand students at Sweet Valley Middle School, and I feel totally alone. I don’t know who to call a real friend.
Wait a second… there’s over a THOUSAND STUDENTS at Sweet Valley Middle School?!?!
Get to ACTUAL fuck. That’s LUDICROUS.
My primary school (ages 7-11 in the UK) had no more than two hundred kids. Can our US contingent wade in with similar stats? Is this book’s figure a realistic number? Enquiring minds want to know!
[Dove: We don’t know how many different classes there are, but we know that the twins’ homeroom contains 22 children. Let’s say there are four different classes in each year, that’s 88, and there are three years (sixth, seventh, and eighth grade), which comes to 264. Even if there are six classes in each year, that gives us 132 per year, and 396 in the school. Rounding for variables, let’s say 270 or 400 students. Not even close.
Let’s up the class size to one roughly equal to my own school classes: 30 students per class, 6 classes per year. This still only gives us 540 students total.
Ok, let’s reverse it then.
Let’s say there are 1,000 students in the school. There are still three years, that’s non-negotiable, so that gives us 333 students per year. If there are 22 students in each class, that gives 15 classes in each year, or if we decide that there are a a more manageable 6 classes per year, then that gives us 55 students in each class. Ok, let’s move up to 30 students per class. That’s 11 classes per year.
I’m going with this is not feasible at all for such a village-feel school.
Maths, bitch. *does DX chop*]
[Raven: *flailgasm* Wonderful!]
[Wing: Except it’s absolutely believable for a school like this. My graduating class in a small town school was over 300 students, and Sweet Valley itself is much bigger just by dint of all the various places and activities they have. High school here contained three grades at the time (we had both a middle school and a junior high, so freshmen weren’t in the high school), and it had more than 1000 students because the two classes behind mine were larger. There were generally around 25 to 30 students per class within the same graduating class, though many schools have much higher teacher to student ratios, and some much lower. (I went and checked and currently my old middle school has around a 20:1 ratio with just under 1000 students across three grades, so pretty close to SVMS.)
If we assume each grade has the same number of students (unlikely, but fine for this) and students split nearly equally, as Dove said, we have 333 per grade. Seventh grade would therefore need 15 different teachers per year if each teacher only has 22 students in their classroom at a time. That’s believable, if on the low end of what I’d expect to see in a classroom in the 90s. I checked teachers at my old middle school, and there are around 60 teachers, which include both general and specialists (e.g., speech therapy, band, choir), which fits.]
As she reaches the hospital, she puts her own issues out of mind. Randall is more important than Mandy’s hill of particular beans.
The scene with Randall is another one of cookie cutter joy. This time, he’s drawn a cute picture of Mandy and himself, labelled BEST FRENDS.
Okay, so I know I hate the baby speak, but this is believable. It’s hardly “psgetti”.
All the talk about friendship makes Mandy well up, and Randall notices. He manages to cheer her up with his chat. Then, he gets serious.
“Were you really scared?” He clutched his sheet. “You know, when you had cancer?”
I looked at him sympathetically. Even though his prognosis was good, I knew exactly how he felt. Randall could see for himself that a lot of kids didn’t make it. I was glad to be an example of one who had.
“I was scared, all right,” I confessed. “I cried a lot.”
Mandy goes on to tell him that boys should cry too, doing her bit to combat toxic masculinity. They also talk about baldness, specifically the crude curly wig that Mary’s mom bought her. And then talk turns to the Unicorns, and their role in Mandy’s rehabilitation. For those not as close to the series as us, I’ll let Mandy do the recapping.
“Anyway, I was really afraid to go back to school in a curly mop of fizz,” I went on. “I thought I was going to get teased by everyone. Especially the boys. And then one day all my friends came over to my house. They had pitched in and bought me a gorgeous wig that looked just like my hair.”
“Your friends did that for you?” He sounded impressed.
“Well, yeah,” I said slowly. “That’s what friends do. Right?”
While things could descend into schmaltz pretty quickly here, Randall happily undercuts it with humour and realism. He also compliments the Unicorns, and suggests that Mandy bring them in to visit the following day.
I felt my chest tighten. I know how the Unicorns feel about volunteering their “precious” time. They don’t even show up at the daycare center much anymore. If I asked them to come, Lila would probably have some grand excuse about an appointment with her manicurist or something. And Kimberly would say she had to go shopping and make a dozen phone calls before she could even think about spending time in the cancer ward.
One hundred percent agree with this viewpoint, and the added confirmation that the Unicorns haven’t been stepping up to the daycare centre is simply more grist to the mill.
You know what really pisses me off here?
The Lila that bonded with Ellie, and covered for her when she ran away? That Lila has been swept away by the simple return of Kimberley fucking Haver and her “lolz Unicorns r grate letz b bitches agin” narrative.
I miss the Newnicorns. Please nail Kimberley into a fucking barrel and hoof her over Niagara Falls.
[Dove: This. This a billion times.]
[Chapter 4 Word Count – 721. Treading water.]
Chapter 5 – Lila Tails Mandy To The Hospital And Learns About Randall, Thus Deducing That Fundraising Is the Key To Both Randall’s Problems And Mandy’s Wavering Loyalty
We’re suddenly back at Casey’s, in the aftermath of Mandy’s exit. It seems that none of them, even Lila, have the emotional intelligence to worth through the reasonings of their fleeing “friend”.
Ellen suggests that perhaps Mandy rushed off for a teacher conference. Kimberley presumes Mandy left to hook up with the Angels. Lila is dumbfounded.
“But how could she pick them over us?” I shook my head in disbelief. “It just doesn’t make sense. That’s like picking carnations over roses.”
“Or carob over chocolate,” Kimberly added.
“Or Randy Mason over Aaron Dallas,” Jessica said dreamily.
“Or spaghetti over pasta,” Ellen went along.
“Spaghetti is pasta, Ellen,” I snapped.
I mean, I know we like Ellen’s ditsyness, but that’s ridiculous. [Dove: Also, clearly pasta is better. Better texture.] [Wing: Carnations are much nicer than roses.]
In order to understand the issue, Jessica calls a passing Elizabeth to the Unicorner, and quizzes her on Mandy’s whereabouts. Not specific whereabouts… general whereabouts.
For some unfathomable reason, Elizabeth is more than willing to spill the tea on Mandy’s allegiance. Or rather, her lack of allegiance to, well, anyone at all.
“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Elizabeth answered. “It doesn’t look like Mandy’s into being an Angel at all.”
“It doesn’t?” we all said in unison.
“We wish she would be. The bake sale today was the first time she’s worked with us in weeks.”
The Unicorns are confused. If Mandy hasn’t been hanging with the Choir Invisibule, where the fuck has she been?
The following day, Lila puts the next part of her plan into action. Mandy would not remain an enigma for long… it’s time for Lila to tail Mandy as she leaves school!
Telling herself that she’s hoping to catch Mandy in her new Secret Hobby Location, at which point they can bond, she follows Mandy past the local dance studio (Fuck You, Madame Andre), past the shopping district, and past the local retirement home (Valley View).
Eventually, Mandy arrives at Sweet Valley Children’s Hospital.
Following, fearful that her friend’s cancer has returned, Lila darts into the building after her. When she enters, Mandy is already nowhere to be seen. Luckily for Lila, she gets all the goss and tattle from the marvelously (and aptly) named Nurse Talkington.
Nurse Talkington? Really? Might as well call her Sister Plot-Expositioner. [Dove: My primary school teacher was called Miss Talkington. I was one of her bridesmaids at her wedding. I broke my finger when I fell over on the patio in my bridesmaid dress (thankfully after the photos had been taken). Also, Sweet Valley means never having to think about privacy laws. Ever.] [Wing: You were a bridesmaid in a teacher’s wedding? I need to know more about this oddness.]
In a fun scene, Lila learns that Mandy is not sick. She learns that Mandy has been visiting Randall, a cancer patient. And, after concluding that Mandy had actually fallen head over heels for this bald dreamboat, she learns that Randall is actually seven years old.
Finally, Lila learns that poor Randall is largely alone, as his mother lives six hours away, and not financially secure enough to make constant trips or abandon her job.
Did this mean that a little bit of money could solve the entire crisis?
Lila, honey, I’m sure most crises can be solved with a little bit of money. [Wing: Hasn’t Lila allegedly learned this lesson before? Maybe even a few times? Good lord.]
Now armed with the truth, and access to her father’s bank account, Lila calls an emergency Unicorn meeting at Fowler Crest that very evening. She tells the grumbling gaggle all she’s learnt from Nurse Chattybollocks, embellishing the bleaker details for dramatic effect. She also reveals her plan: fix everything for Randall and his mom, as that way Mandy will realise how great the Unicorns can be, and instantly request that she resumes as a member.
These next two Ellen quotes sum her up perfectly. The first shows that she is capable of drilling to the oil of the issue with surprising clarity…
“But we don’t even know him,” Ellen pointed out.
“Who cares,” I said impatiently. “We’re just going to do it to make Mandy happy. Don’t you want her back?”
The second quote? Not so much…
“Maybe we can find a cure for his cancer,” Ellen suggested.
I couldn’t help grinning. You’ve got to admire Ellen’s imaginative spirit.
Go for it, Ellen. You didn’t even make it into SOAR.
The gang soon conclude that money is the object, so thoughts turn immediately to Lila’s great wealth. Surprisingly, likely to pad out the word count, Lila is reticent, at first, to evoke the Fowler Fortune. Instead, she suggests they do some fundraising to make the money required to make all Randall’s problems disappear.
Sorry Lila, but I think Ellen’s idea is probably more plausible.
They go through some ideas. There’s a sponsored car wash thing (too messy), or tutoring (too nerdy? Or too difficult?).
Finally, Lila strikes gold…
I cleared my throat to get everyone’s attention. “Here’s the way I see it,” I began. “Not everybody needs their car washed. Not everybody needs a math tutor. But everybody needs cookies.”
She’s right, of course. EVERYBODY needs cookies.
The plan? Bake cookies and sell them door-to-door to the rich folk that live near Fowler Crest. As far as plans go, it’s decent. And of course, I expect that they could even whip up a few batches of the Unicorn specialty Jem Cookies, perfected over many long and arduous hours, as seen on TV?
I expect that.
I expect it.
Doesn’t fucking happen, though. [Dove: *sighs deeply and pointedly*]
[Chapter 5 Word Count – 869. I am losing the Battle of Brevity]
Chapter 6 – Lila Forces Her Father To Purchase One Thousand Boxes Of Cookie Futures, Then Buys Randall’s Mother A House
This chapter starts with the word “Snickerdoodles,” which is, I’m sure you’ll agree, excellent. While I know what a snickerdoodle is, contextually, I’m at a loss as to what one is in reality, so I’m thankful for the Ghostie’s help here: they’re sugar cookies. [Wing: OH NO THEY’RE NOT. Snickerdoodles have some weird mix of cinnamon and sugar involved that makes their taste, and often texture, significantly different than the delicious, delicious sugar cookie. I apparently have very strong feelings about this, in part because I love sugar cookies and despite them having pretty much only ingredients I like, I loathe snickerdoodles.]
Snickerdoodles are what Ellen suggests they make for their gre4at door-to-door adventure. I believe the JEM cookies were also sugar cookies, so here’s the perfecttime to- ah no, they’ve not bothered.
Lila naysays the “doodlydoos” for not being upscale enough (prime Lila right there), and as they are cooking in her fabulous kitchen then it’s only fair she has the final word. But in reality, she has far too many final words here.
Almond cookies? Some folk have allergies. This negates all nut-based treats.
Chocolate fudge drops? Too rich.
Butter cookies? Too bland.
Eventually, they settle on everyone’s go-to treat, good ol’ Chocolate Chip Cookies, from a recipe supplied by one of Fowler Crest’s vacationing chef’s cookbook.
Being The Unicorns, of course, the cookies don’t go well. They fudge the recipe in a host of minimal ways, they forget about them while they are baking, instead choosing to ignore the buzzer while watching the Johnny Buck surf movie Miami Madness. Sounds riveting, for sure. [Dove: Weirdly throughout this book, Johnny Buck is an actor they crush on. Way to go, ghostie.] [Raven: I didn’t clock that. I just thought he was branching out. Seemed plausible. Elvis was in films.]
The first batch burn to a crisp while the girls watch a movie. The second batch are incinerated while the girls take in some rays by the pool. After much discourse, Lila offers to send her chauffeur to buy cookies for them to sell. Everyone agrees, but I think this does not bode well for their sales. I mean, I wouldn’t buy a box of shop-bought cookies / biscuits from some random pre-teens who turned up at my door. Then again, we don’t have the whole Girl Scout Cookie tradition here (do we?), and I’m naturally suspicious of pre-teen girls thanks to J-Horror.
As predicted, the door-to-door shenanigans are wholly a bust. They lay on the whole “poor kid with the Big C” schtick, which I think is a bit more edgy than I’d have believed going in, but for all their bluff and bluster they only manage to raise twelve dollars and seventy-five cents. One rich neighbour ponies up a check for one dollar fifty.
This is obviously some sort of commentary on the miserly attitude of rich folk, a commentary that I can wholly support. Unless I somehow become one of the rich folk one day, of course, and then y’all can fuck off out of my mansion. [Dove: … even me? I’m the mother of your cats!] [Raven: You’re no “Y’all” … you’re “Folks”.]
Not to be put off, Lila deduces that all she need do is find a more generous customer… and of course she suggests her cash-cow pappy as the perfect mark.
Giving us a rather horrific glimpse into her life, she interrupts her father’s meeting with a phonecall. She’s saccharine-sweet when stating her business, and uses all her guile and gumption to manoeuvre her dad into position. Eventually, to chivvy the conversation along, he says that she should put him down for as many boxes as she wants.
Music to this rich girl’s ears.
My dad’s offer of “as many boxes as you want” gave me a lot of leeway. “He’s in for a thousand boxes,” I announced.
Ellen gasped. “A thousand?”
I smiled triumphantly. “Only let’s not actually buy the cookies, ‘cause he’d just have to pay for those, too.”
BAM. A double-hit of Lila goodness there. [Dove: I will grudgingly admit that the sass is good in this series generally, even if the plots and characterisation, not to mention the continuity, are all over the place.]
The following day, we see the Unicorns in the Fowler Limo, on the way to the hospital with an envelope containing three thousand dollars (plus their cookie drive cash, eleven dollars and seventy-five cents). The girls chatter excitedly, but Lila is aware that three thousand dollars is hardly a life-changing sum.
While the other Unicorns discuss just how much their lives would change if they had three thousand dollars, Lila considers that the figure is likely not enough.
“Forget it, Lila,” Kimberly said forcefully. “It’s the thought that counts.”
But a thought is one thing. Really impacting someone’s life is something else. I just wished there was something else I could do to make a difference. A real difference. A way to show Mandy how extraordinary the Unicorns can be.
First up, gotta mention that this “real difference” is not a difference to Randall or him mom. It’s a difference to Mandy, and a difference to her attitude towards the Unicorns. This is prime to backfire.
But secondly, this “real difference” is about to bring us the most Lila thing in this entire book and series so far.
While the limo bisects the suburbs surrounding the hospital, Lila spots a quaint little house with two signs in the garden… FOR SALE and OPEN HOUSE.
Lila stops the car, tells her friends to wait, and dashes inside the Open House. Luckily (or PLOTPLOTPLOTily), the realtor at the Open House was one Danielle Tribolet, the agent that handles all the Fowler’s residential properties.
After a little sales pitch, in which Lila ascertains that the house would be perfect for Randall and his mom… Lila buys it.
She BUYS A HOUSE.
For a STRANGER.
In order to CONVINCE A FRIEND TO REJOIN THE UNICORNS.
[Wing: H O W. Of all the myriad ways I’ve suspended my disbelief with this series — this may be the step too far.]
Bizarrely, even when Danielle is told the house is to be a pre-teen’s gift to a friend, all it takes for the deal to go through is Lila saying “don’t worry, daddy will pay.” She hardly even fucking pauses for breath. She must really need that commission this month.
Back in the limo, the Unicorns are dumbfounded.
“That house?” Ellen was incredulous. “You just bought that house?”
“I know it’s nothing to brag about, but this is really an up-and-coming neighborhood. Did you see all those little kids playing in the street? It was so adorable.”
I know we bandy the phrase “Peak Lila” around this page with gay abandon, but buying a house on a whim? You can’t get more Lila than that. (Incidentally, Gay Abandon are an LGBT+ Choir based in Leeds. Shiny!) [Wing: Love that.]
The chapter ends with the Unicorns reeling, and with Lila imagining just how impressed Mandy will be.
[Chapter 6 Word Count – 1030. Slaloming toward oblivion. For the six chapters so far, that’s 5059, for an average of 843 words per chapter. Christ almighty, it’s getting worse.] [Dove: *smiles fondly*]
Chapter 7 – Mandy Is Insulted By Lila’s Misplaced Generosity, Vowing To Sever All Ties With The Unicorns
Back with Randall at the hospital, we see he and Mandy drawing together with crayons. Randal suggests they could invent a “super-fast jet” that could help him mom visit every night. As Wing might say, OH MY HEART.
They brainstorm ideas for the super-fast jet. It morphs into a mobile home with a pool on its wings, with pinball, trampoline, ping-pong. [Dove: When I was a small child, I wanted a house made out of a multi-storey car park because I really liked the curved ramps on each end. I thought they would make excellent slides. Kids’ ideas are weird and awesome.]
“Think we could have it done by Tuesday?” he asked hopefully.
Tuesday was the day Randall had been dreading for weeks. It was the day he went in for surgery.
Mandy lets him down gently, of course, and he’s a little trooper about everything. We also learn that Randall’s mom won’t even be able to make her kid’s surgery, probably due to her draconian boss being an utter cleft.
Mandy continues her reassuring routine, and eventually convinces a visibly-tired Randall that he needs a nap at three-forty-five. She promises him she’ll stay as her sleeps, and that they can plan again when he wakes up.
While he naps, we have a small cameo with Nurse Gabbygums, in which Mandy asks if Randall’s surgery can be brought forward to Saturday or Sunday, days in which Randall’s mom can be present. That’s a no go due to the doctor’s schedule, and pushing the operation later would not be beneficial to Randall at all. Mandy feels powerless here. Poor kids, I feel for everyone in this situation.
As Randall naps and Mandy studies, our red-headed heroine hears familiar voices. Familiar Unicorn voices. She’d hardly interacted with them since Casey’s. How the hell had they found her?!
The Unicorns do their best to interact with a visibly confused Mandy. As you’d expect, it’s not smooth.
“Look, Mandy, we know all about sweet little Kendall,” Jessica told me.
Lila glared at Jessica. “She means Randall.”
Kendall! What a charming little mint cake.
Lila begins boasting immediately. She’s done some research, see, and she’s sorted everything. The Unicorns all know the importance of Mandy’s plight, she says, as it must be something epic to drive Mandy to skip spending time in the Purple Congregation.
Lila eventually reveals all.
“Your worries are over.” Lila smiled proudly.
“They are?” I asked.
She nodded. “From now on, Randall’s mom will be able to be here every single day. We bought her this adorable house right around the corner. Actually, I bought it, but you can consider it a gift from the Unicorns.”
“It is, in spirit,” Kimberly added, smiling angelically.
Fuck off, Kimberley, you utter gobshite.
To her credit, Mandy does not take this offer well. After all, while it may be generous, it’s also batshit ridiculous.
“You… you think you can just go throwing your dad’s fortune around?”
“Sure.” Lila beamed. “Isn’t it wonderful that I’m in a position to help the less fortunate?”
I felt a hot flash overwhelm my body.
Mandy explodes. She declares that a new house won’t make Randall get any better, and that Lila’s offer is nothing but patronising, and that Lila should do everything in her power ro rewind the purchase and cancel her offer.
Lila exhaled. “What is this deal with you not accepting gifts, Mandy? I mean, you should he touched by how much the Unicorns care about you. Can’t you see that we just want you to be happy?”
“Wait a second,” I said slowly. “You want me to be happy?”
And there we have the nub of the problem. None of Lila’s generosity is for Randall or his mom. It’s for Mandy. And like a trooper, Mandy sees right through it. Here’s a whole section that needs quoting, word count bedamned.
“So this has nothing to do with Randall.” My voice was shaking. “You guys couldn’t care less about what happens to him. This is some weird conniving way to get me back into the club!”
Lila put her hands on her hips. “So what if it is? We’re just showing you that we’d do anything for you. I mean, do you think the Angels would go as far as buying you a house?”
“Of course they wouldn’t!” I shouted. “Nobody with a normal sense of values would even consider it.”
“But who ever wanted to be normal? We’re the Unicorns. We’re the best friends you could ever have,” Lila pressed.
I stared at her, feeling my eyes fill with tears. “No, you’re not. Just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you’re nice people or good friends. So just leave me and Randall and his mom alone,” I said hotly. “Maybe there are a lot of things that your daddy can buy you, Lila, but I’m not one of them!”
Lila reached for my arm. “Mandy, don’t be—”
“Don’t even try,” I told her, jerking my arm away. “I don’t want to have anything to do with you. You’re shallow and spoiled and totally clueless!”
WAY TO GO, MANDY! Lovely stuff. [Dove: Agree, love Lila’s cluelessness and Mandy’s integrity, but I hope Randall wasn’t in earshot, because he’d be like, “Wait, I get a new house… wait, no, I don’t get a new house?”] [Wing: Honestly, better he have the house taken away from him by these weirdos than for his mother to have to tell him later that it doesn’t change anything because of lack of work in Sweet Valley.]
To their credit, the non-Lila Unicorns begin to see that Lila is fighting a losing battle here. Jessica and Ellen are uncomfortable with how things have panned out. Mandy ends the scene by sending her so-called “friends” packing, and they shuffle away with their heads bowed.
The rest of the chapter is a comedown after such fireworks. It involves Mandy eating dinner with her family. We are reintroduced to her older sister (Saint) Cecilia and her weirdly horndogging-for-Jessica younger brother Archie, and of course her mother.
Mandy’s not eating her food, and eventually confesses as to why. She’s no longer friends with the Unicorns. Trouble is, she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Angels either. But at her core, she knows she wants to belong to a club or society on some primal level.
Her family offer scant consolation, and just witter around the periphery of things. There’s also mention of an upcoming family event, a fiftieth-anniversary dinner for a great aunt and uncle that is planned by Mama Miller for a few days in the future (PLOTPLOTPLOT).
Eventually, frustrated at her plight, Mandy excuses herself from the table and the chapter ends.
[Chapter 7 Word Count – 1025. What the fuck is wrong with me?]
Chapter 8 – Lila Goes To The Hospital To Apologise To Mandy, But Instead She Bonds With Randal, Who’s Alone On The Eve Of His Operation
We start the eighth chapter with Lila reviewing Mandy’s “hurtful” comments. Conniving, clueless, shallow, and worse. Not even a Unicorn-arranged shopping trip was enough to drag her away from her thoughts.
Happily, it seems that Lila has enough self-awareness to recognise her own issues. She admits to herself that she had expected her father’s riches to be the key to drawing Mandy back into the fold. She also recognises that while the bank balance does open doors, the rooms beyond are often empty and cold. Consequently, it’s only a few sentences before Lila has a face turn.
What Mandy said was true. Money buys property, not people. Possessions, not love. Houses with picket fences, not friendships with Mandy Miller. I guess I’d always known this in the back of my mind. I had certainly heard the saying “money can’t buy happiness,” but until now, I hadn’t really believed it.
But even with this newfound vein of emotional intelligence, Lila acknowledges that she needs more than this insight to gain a real foothold into Mandy’s life. Cash just isn’t going to cut it.
The next day – Monday, the day before Randall’s operations PLOTPLOTPLOT – Lila is still distraught over the Mandy situation. The Unicorns try to persuade her to visit Casey’s with them as school ends, but the lure of cute boys and frozen deserts are not enough. Instead, Lila chooses to visit the hospital, hoping to see Mandy and apologise for her appalling behaviour thus far.
Of course, when she gets there Mandy is nowhere to be found. Instead, she runs into a lonely yet playful Randall, which gives her ample opportunity to forge an actual connection with Mandy’s ward (in the hospital ward… BOOM!).
Randall is his usual charming self. When our little rich girl introduces herself as Lila Fowler, Randall declares that she is to be called Lily Flower from now on. [Dove: Love this!] He introduces himself as Randall, and says that some kids at school call him Randy, but his mother doesn’t like that. Actual guffaw there, which builds to a full laugh when he suggests that because Randy is short for Randall, maybe Mandy is actually called Mandall.
The entire scene is charming beyond belief. Randall is a total joy. He and Lila (Lily) play checkers, games which Lila throws to let the seven-year-old win. They talk about friendship, and basketball, and more. Randall even opens up about his fears for the surgery scheduled for the following morning, and Lila does her level best to hold back the tears and reassure him in his time of need.
This is the Lila I’m missing. In this single scene, she’s much more like the Lila that fell in love with Ellie at the Daycare Centre. I want to read about this Lila. Not a Lila that’s under the thrall of Kimberley fucking Haver and her Anti-Angel rhetoric. [Dove: I love this too. Lila is great in this scene.]
Randall also big-ups Mandy and her role in his life and rehabilitation. He also offers the one exchange that winds me up a little, when talking about his crayon pictures of the plane design dreamt up with Mandy.
“Did you draw that?” I asked, pointing to the colorful picture.
He looked at it. “Mandy helped. Those are our bloop rints.”
I grinned. “You mean your blueprints?”
It’s a nice exchange, but how the hell does Randall pronounce the words “Bloop Rints” without it explicitly sounding exactly like “Blueprints”…? I know, I know, it’s a little thing, but it did wind me up a fair amount.
As the evening draws on, Lila decides to stay with Randall until his mother arrives. Mama Randall is making a five-mile trip for a one-hour visit, before another five-hour trip back home for work the following day. So Lila plays checkers and cards with the anxious cancer patient as the scene fades to black.
[Chapter 8 Word Count – 660. Now we’re cookin’ with gas!]
Chapter 9 – Mandy Is Desperate To Visit Randall In His Hour Of Need, But Is Forced To Attend A Family Party Instead
I’m going to use this chapter as a chance to address the rolling word count. Because, honestly? This chapter serves no real purpose. It’s the one chapter in the book that I feel could have been covered with a single sentence.
I mean, I’ll flesh it out a little, but in all honesty this is the weakest chapter of the book. It’s a single plot point writ large. It’s padding in the crotch, a courgette wrapped in tinfoil that sets off an airport beeper. In the Sunday Roast of this book, it’s a foam reduction.
So I’m going to gloss over it quickly, in the hope that my word count will pick up as we reach the story’s vinegar strokes.
Of course, if I’d simply not mentioned this instead of writing one-hundred-and-sixty-one extra words in this italicised aside, I’d have achieved my goal that much earlier.
Isn’t that ironic? Don’t you think?
IT’S LIKE RAY-AY-AAAAAAIII-
Chapter Nine is entirely concerned with Mandy’s attempts to escape her Great Aunt and Uncles’ fiftieth anniversary party, hosted by Mama Miller. The whole family pitches in with the preparation, and the party goes on far longer than Mandy anticipated.
It’s the night before Randall’s operation, and Mandy is super-keep to be with him. Mandy’s mother is the catalyst for her daughter’s enforced attendance. Mandy begs and pleads to be given a chance to skip out early, to make the last hour of visiting time, but apparently eating lamb and peas with her Great Aunt and Uncle is more important than a seven-year-old with cancer facing surgery all on his lonesome. [Dove: This is absolutely fucking ridiculous. You would think that as a mother who watched her own eleven year old face surgery and chemo about six months ago, she would understand that supporting another child in the same position is a hundred and thirty-seven billion times more important than two happy people congratulating themselves on continuing to be happy. Fucking bullshit. Add to that Mrs Miller is a single parent, just like Randall’s mom. There is so much overlap here, and she feels nothing? Either Mrs Miller has a fucking short memory, or the empathy of rotten milk.]
I get it, I guess. Apparently, family is all important. Then again, my family have never been one to care about such bullshit. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t name all my aunts and uncles, and I sure as shit wasn’t invited to any of their weddings, never mind their anniversaries. And that’s fine! They weren’t invited to mine either.
What I’m saying is that immediate family is important to me, but step away one onion layer, and you can get in the fucking sea.
Once the party and cleanup is over, and Mandy has no chance to visit Randall, she dashes to her bedroom to ruminate on the nature of her friendship with the Unicorns. [Dove: There were so many opportunities for Mrs Miller to say, “Good job, kid, you showed willing. Now get a taxi over to the hospital and keep that kid company as long as it takes.” But no, she insists that Mandy has to set up for the party, welcome everyone, be there at dinner, hang around for the endless toasts, make smalltalk with all the extended Millers, and then clean up! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?]
She thinks back to her own cancer journey, and how much she depended on her mother’s support. She also questions who she could now talk to, in her time of turmoil regarding Randall. Traditionally, that call would have been to Lila or Jessica, but now? Nothing doing there.
She goes through some other possible names…
Evie Kim? I hadn’t really talked to her in weeks. Mary Wallace? I wouldn’t feel comfortable opening up to her. Maria Slater? We hadn’t spoken on the phone in such a long time that if I said it was Mandy calling, she’d probably ask, “Mandy who?” Aaron Dallas? Compassion from a boy who laughs at news footage of fires and floods? I don’t think so.
Gotta say, I’m laughing at the thought of Aaron laughing at news footage of a fire. That probably reflects badly on me. [Dove: I know who Aaron ends up spending forever with. And this tickles me. Also, only a few books back, Evie said that Mandy was her best friend. Not saying that tweens aren’t fickle about their BFFs, but since the Angels haven’t been seen for quite a few books, it’s new information to us.]
Anyway. Fuck this shitty chapter.
[Chapter 9 Word Count – 555. The dial code for all of LA, if movies are to be believed.]
CHAPTER 10 – Lila Uses Her Money For Good, By Offering Use Of The Fowler Jet To Ferry Randall’s Mother To And From Work While Randall Is In Surgery
We’re back in the cancer ward, with Randall and Lily Flower shooting the shit. Happily, Lily Flower persuaded Nurse Wafflestrumpet to let her stay past the end of visiting hours. The pair spend the time talking about Johnny Buck, and Teen Talk hygiene tips… and, eventually, Mandy.
As talk turns to Mandy, Lila begins to feel sad again. Randall tries to chivvy her out of her ennui with inimitable cuteness.
“What’s the matter, Lily Flower?” Randall asked, leaning toward me.
I cleared my throat. “Nothing. Nothing. Really.”
Randall studied me. “It’s ‘cause you’re a girl, huh? I’ve seen it happen to Mandy and my mom, too. You just get upset for no reason.”
Hah! Nice work, Randall!
Zits become the topic of conversation for a few lines, until Randall’s mom finally enters the picture.
To her credit, she’s suitably lovely. She thanks Lila for keeping Randall company.
Randal begins to plead with his mom, begging her for a little leeway in her punishing schedule. Alas, it is for naught, as her boss is still being a gaping fanny.
“If only Mandy and I could have had our plane ready,” Randall said, staring at his drawing on the wall.
Plane? I thought suddenly. Would a plane really solve their problems?
In case you are wondering, Lila does not buy Randall’s mother an aeroplane at this time.
Finally, happily, Lila finds a way to help Randall and his mom with her fabulous wealth. And this time, it comes from a genuine concern for the pair of them, and not from a misguided need to impress Mandy Miller.
She offers Mama Randall use of the Fowler Family Jet. She can stay the night at Fowler Crest, and hold Randall’s hand as he goes into surgery the following morning. Then she can jet off back to North California, do an honest day’s graft down the Gaping Fanny’s Salt Mine, before jetting back after her shift to be back in time for Randall’s glorious recovery.
Naturally, Randall’s mom turns this down, initially. It’s too generous, and Lily Flower is a mere child. However, as it’s near the end of the book, she soon changes her mind and accepts with good grace. The chapter ends with Lila dashing to the phone, to set things up with her father…
In business, my dad knows how to say no. But he’s never been able to say it to me. And he wouldn’t make tonight a first. Especially when I knew that the three-hour time difference made it past midnight in New York, and I would be catching him in a groggy, but agreeable, mood.
“A groggy, but agreeable, mood.” So, Daddy Fowler’s a boozer. Nice to know. [Dove: Lila is a badass.]
[Chapter 10 Word Count – 482. Amazing! Will I hit the average of 728? Enquiring minds want to know!]
Chapter 11 – Mandy Discovers Everything And Dedicates Herself To The Unicorns, And Randall’s Operation Is A Success
It’s a flailing dash for the finish line, folks! We’re chasing the cheese down a threatening hill, all systems go!
It’s Tuesday, and the school day is about to end. Mandy is counting down the seconds before she can rush to Randall’s side. Unfortunately, PLOTPLOTPLOT dictates that today is the day that Mandy had organised a make-up test for History class, a fact which Mrs Morrison (who the fuck?) is more than happy to remind her.
Mandy rushes the test, and finishes by three-fifteen. She still has time to dash to Randall, and hopefully be there when he wakes from his surgery.
After a headlong rush to the hospital ward, Mandy slaloms into the room to find…
… A naked Mr Nydick!
No, she actually finds Randall’s mom, which makes her manner of confused. She also finds out that Randall’s operation was a success, so there’s a fat yay front and centre.
The exposition gods are on Mandy’s side, as Mrs Boyer fills her in on Lila’s gracious generosity. I won’t bore you with her conversation, as we’ve literally just lived through it in the previous two chapters.
Suffice to say, Mandy is torn with this news. Could Lila really have changed? Could she have done something selfless, just to help Randall and his mom?
Randall’s mom helps bring it home.
“What a wonderful friend you have,” Mrs. Boyer said tearfully. “When times get rough, there’s nothing more important than having a good friend to lean on.”
I nodded slowly. Suddenly my mind flashed back in time. To times when Lila and the other Unicorns had been just that—good friends to lean on.
In a fine display of compassion and continuity, Mandy harks back to the wonderful times when the Unicorns, and especially Lila pulled out all the stops to make people (including her) feel appreciated and loved. These times include, but are not limited to:
- The group painting furniture for the Millers, to give their home a facelift.
- Lila helping Ellie and her mom at the Daycare Centre. [Dove: No mention of the fact that Ellie probably cries herself to sleep after Lila dropped her.] [Raven: I so hope they reconcile soon, although I guess Ellie’s not in High so that’s a kick in the tits for everyone.]
- Lila funding a trip to the Zoo for the kids.
- The Unicorns pitching in to buy Mandy a fine new wig during her chemo treatment.
Armed with this fresh new epiphany, Mandy dashes to Casey’s Place, in order to speak to the Unicorns and rekindle their friendships and connections. In doing this, she positions herself in an adjacent booth and eavesdrops on their conversation, in a fun way rather than a creepy way. Happily, Lila is regaling the purple throng about how wonderful young Randall is, and laughing about her Lily Flower nickname, and discussing Randall’s need for recouperation in the hospital for a few more weeks, and suggesting that they all visit him while he’s there, and more. It’s all tres wholesome.
Mandy finally reveals herself, and the inevitable denouement occurs. Everyone is palpably giddy, especially when Mandy finally chooses a side and pledges her allegiance to the Purple Flag.
Mandy is buzzing.
After all the turmoil that had started at the beginning of the year, the Unicorn Club was finally back in full force.
Really? What about Mary, still in the Angels? She was a fucking Unicorn too.
Anyway, the book finishes with Mandy suggesting the Unicorns do something with the Angels, as an olive branch of sorts. Jessica is sceptical, as Angels and Unicorns don’t mix. AND THUS WE HAVE FORESHADOWING, SO MOTE IT BE. [Dove: Will this actually come off, or will it be bitching and sniping?]
[Chapter 11 Word Count – 585. I’m genuinely giddy!]
I liked this book. Mostly.
The double-edged narrative was handled well, and the pairing of Mandy and Lila telling the story showcased two of the characters I enjoy the most. The dialogue was sassy and fun, and contained a couple of proper laugh-out-loud moments. And we’re also introduced to Randall, who was excellent value throughout.
There were problems, of course. Chapter 9 felt like a waste of time, Ellen’s ditzyness was trowelled on thick in places, and the fact that the Angels had no input at all meant the title of Mandy in the Middle made no sense. Middle of what, exactly?
Overall, it has progressed the PLOTPLOTPLOT a little, and the foreshadowing is promising. Onward to the next!
But let’s get to the brass bollocks of the matter. The running word count!
Chapter Word Count Total – 8366 words
Average Chapter Word Count (Target) – 728
Average Chapter Word Count (Actual) – 761
… … … … Well, that’s bullshit.
[Dove: I second Raven’s comment that Mandy wasn’t in the middle. She was just drifting aimlessly between no groups. But this book did kind of redeem her for me. I think I’ll probably hold a beige paint grudge for awhile, but she’s been more interesting lately, so she’s on the way back to being enjoyable.
However, I think this series is not what the first couple of books implied. I wanted to see Team Unibore stick together despite the Kimberly thing, and the different personalities would give us interesting stories to keep things fresh. I appreciated the lack of Liz at the start, but I’m getting bored of the endless Unicorn drama. This was a good book, and I love Ellen’s family secret, but anything Kimberly-centric is a turn-off… so let’s just see where this goes.]
[Wing: This was fine, but I third the idea that Mandy wasn’t actually in the middle, and I would be far more interested in seeing her make a new place for herself socially rather than being dragged into either group, but particularly rather than going back to the Unicorns. I realize that was an impossible want in a series about the damn Unicorns, but the Unicorns we have now are not the Unicorns grouping that interested me in earlier books, and I am tired of this boring split.]