Title: Who Will Be Miss Unicorn?
Tagline: Battle of the Beauty Queens…
Summary: You won’t believe it. Just when I thought the Unicorns were through acting silly and competitive with each other, they’ve entered the Sweet Valley Princess Beauty Pageant! Notice I said they. If you ask me, the whole idea is totally stupid. I mean, who cares if some judge likes how you look in an evening gown? The other Unicorns care, that’s who.
And this pageant is definitely bringing out their worst. Lila put soap in everyone’s high heels. Jessica took a few stitches out of Kimberly’s evening gown. And Ellen even tried to cut off Jessica’s hair!
I thought it couldn’t get any worse—until Kimberly got stage fright and begged me to go on in her place!
Hello? Is this thing on?
Hello everyone! Welcome back to Sweet Valley Online! It’s a fresh day, and a shiny new recap is fast approaching.
So! First impressions… it’s a book about a beauty pageant? In which the Unicorns are bitchy to each other? In which the Angels have little to no page time? In which, one presumes, the narrator Mandy Miller wins?
Can we take a bit more time off? … No? … But this book sounds like a crock of cock! … Yeah, I guess most of the books are a crock of cock. Fair point.
*deep sigh of existential dread*
Welcome back, folks!
[Dove: What a book to return with. Everything Raven said above is valid. This does not sound like an epic adventure filled with fun.]
[Wing: Some of you may be surprised to learn that I don’t hate beauty pageants. There are deep, systemic issues with them, yes, and the competition can bring out miserable, terrible actions in competitors and their parents, yes, but there is more to them than that, and I know that many people get a lot of good things out of them.
That being said, the Unicorns have been horrible in their competitiveness for most of the series, and Mandy hasn’t been the character I loved for awhile now. I have low expectations. Probably not low enough.]
[Wing: I commented on this entire recap. I tried to save. It refused. I opened a new tab and tried to edit, saving after every comment. That worked for about the first 1/3 and then both tabs refreshed and lost all my other comments. Fuck everything. I don’t have time to go through and do this all again, but I’ll see what I can quickly add.]
Let’s start with the real deal, straight from the chest…
I don’t need to recap this book.
Why? Because It’s already been recapped, in the summary above.
We take the summaries from the back cover of each book, paragraphs which should stand as a marketing hook for the casual bookshopper. Does the cover look fun? Check! Let’s see what the book’s about by flipping to the back…
So these words should be interesting, and should pique the reader’s interest. These words? They just tell us what happens in the book, from beginning to (almost) end. Let’s see…
- There’s a beauty pageant, that Mandy thinks is silly.
- The other Unicorns become ultra-competitive.
- Lila puts soap on their shoes.
- Jessica unstitches Kimberly’s evening gown.
- Ellen tries to cut Jessica’s hair.
- Kimberly asks Mandy to take her place in the pageant.
That’s it. That’s the whole damn book.
I mean (spoilers!), there’s a shitty sub-plot in which one of the Peters repeatedly puts his foot in his mouth when trying to romance Mandy, but in truth that just one fucking scene re-phrased in five ways. But discounting that, there’s literally nothing else in this thoroughly basic book.
It’s the age-old complaint that all the film’s good bits have been spoiled in the trailer. Aside from the telegraphed denouement in which Mandy inevitably gets the sash and tiara, this “summary” Is a checklist of all the pertinent scenes of interest. If I’d bought this on the strength of the summary, I’d have felt very short-changed with the actual contents.
Ah well. Best get on. Crime won’t crack itself.
The book starts with some boilerplate “let’s meet the players” from Mandy. It’s book thirteen of the series, and Book Fuckton of the Sweet Valley Extended Universe, so why these intros seem so basic at this stage is beyond me. Unfortunately, it’s a precursor of the beige paint that’s yet to come.
… Ellen is a ditz. She’s also President Ditz, thank you very much.
… Kimberly speaks her mind, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. To paraphrase the Dowager Countess of Grantham, “You have to say what you think? Why? Nobody else does.” [Wing: Fuck Kimberly. She returned and all the potential of this series (subseries?) went to hell.]
… Lila is rich, and consequently she knows about “the most obscure organisations”. I mean, the fuck? [Wing: … MURDER SOCIETIES!]
… and that’s it. Nothing of interest for Jessica, just that she can balance a surprising amount of crisps (chips) on her nose.
We get a fleeting mention on Anabel Kemmer, the baby the watched for the previous book. There’s also a passing glance towards the Sweet Valley Child Care Centre, which I thought would be taking a little more front-and-centre time in this subseries, given the auspicious start. It’s a shame these kids have largely faded into Plot McGuffins, as they were a fresh take back in UC#1. Then again, the same can be said for the Angels, who are currently getting the shortest of shrifts from each and every Ghostie. [Dove: Hell, even the Eights aren’t present. You’d think they’d at least show up here. This sounds like their kind of thing. Then it could be Unicorn vs Unicorn until the Eights get involved, then teamwork makes the dream work, friendship is magic and all that jazz.]
Never fear though, we’re soon onto the meat of the tale. Lila reveals the hook: there’s an upcoming competition for middle school girls, called the Sweet Valley Princess Beauty Pageant. But I’ll let our favourite Poor Little Rich Girl set the scene…
“Thank you,” Lila cut in, flipping her brown hair behind her shoulder. “I saw the flyer at the mall today. The Miss Sweet Valley Princess Beauty Pageant, the county beauty contest for teenage—”
“A beauty contest?” I groaned.
“Well, it’s not just a beauty contest,” Lila told me. “You have to have talent and poise too.”
I rolled my eyes. In case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of beauty contests. I think they’re sexist and degrading. I mean, how often do you see a bunch of guys put on skimpy swimming trunks and pose for judges? I rest my case.
So Mandy has ethical concerns over the Beauty Contest industry? Cool. I guess this was the mid-Nineties, so some nod towards a Politically Correct agenda was required. If this book came out at the beginning of the main series, I doubt some of these valid concerns would have found the page.
As a 48-year-old Englishman, my thoughts on the US Pageant scene are entirely moribund. I literally give no shits here. I’ll leave any scathing commentary or glowing praise to those with both passion and agenda.
Predictably, Lila thinks she’s destined to win this shindig. The other Unicorns are all keen to enter the fray and prove her wrong. They babble on about the details of the Pageant, with Mandy weakly offering her protestations. We hear the prize is dece… it’s a gift certificate for a boutique, and the chance to feature in an ad for the store.
Everyone bar Mandy is beguiled by the prospect of winning. She vainly attempts to head off the oncoming Battle Royale in the Uniranks by suggesting that, instead of entering as a many-headed Uni-Hydra and pitching purple horn against purple horn, they choose a single entrant and throw their support behind her. This is a decent and sensible plan, but it’s not a plan that makes a Sweet Valley Twins book. No, it’s every non-Mandy-Unicorn for herself.
We cut to that evening, with dinner at the Miller household. All the Millers are there: Mommy Miller, Archie Miller, Saint Cecilia Miller. Mandy is distracted by the upcoming Pageant, and how it will affect her beloved Unipals. After some rather peculiar dialogue that revolves around salamanders, we get to the crux of Mandy’s story: while she’s full of self-esteem, she doesn’t feel she’s pretty enough to enter the game.
“Of course I’m beautiful,” I said. See? No self-esteem problems here. “But I’m beautiful on the inside. Beauty pageants are all about beauty on the outside. Superficial beauty. Stuff that doesn’t matter.”
Where did this trait come from? Mandy has never ONCE said anything about having issues with her appearance. This stinks of informed attribute through and through.
I suppose that, when they narrowed the scope of the books for the Unicorn Club series, they limited the pool of characters upon which they could hang the narrative. I’m pretty sure that Mandy isn’t the best choice for this story, aside from an obvious characteristic I’ll mention later.
The chapter ends with Mandy examining herself in a full-length mirror, bemoaning her post-chemo appearance and her freckles and her nose and, well, everything. She does her best to shake herself out of this self-absorbed funk, with a line that mirrors my thoughts at the time of reading:
I really wasn’t the sort of person who spent hours in front of the mirror whining about my appearance.
And yet, here we are.
I feel I’m being uncharitable here. The ridiculous pressure for young girls to conform to societal notions of beauty is a real thing, but this feels manipulative and heavy-handed. As an (albeit male) chubster since Day One, I’ve had my own dark teatimes of the soul regarding my appearance, but as I’m now an Old Man with an accustomed comfort to my frame I feel out of my depth to discuss these topics. Would I like to be beautiful? Sure thing, but to quote the wheelchair-bound club owner Brian Potter, when a disgruntled punter asks for a refund: “You want a refund? I want to moonwalk, son, but life’s a shitter.”
[Dove: I have to say, the above scene was so Mary Sue. it’s the first scene of every Baby’s First Fanfic featuring their idealised version of themselves. I’m paraphrasing, but it’s basically, “I stand in front of the mirror and stare hatefully at my glossy hair, OMG, how could I be cursed with such horribly shiny and perfect hair. All my friends say it’s wonderful, but I just don’t see it. Next I take in my sparkling emerald green eyes flecked with gold and I bemoan my ugliness again. How on earth am I so unlucky to be burdened with such foul sparkling eyes that are full of magic and mystery. Next up is my disgusting peaches-and-cream complexion, never marred with a single pimple. I have a light smattering of freckles that my friends say are adorable, but OMG, I’M FUCKING MONSTROUS! My friends say that I’m beautiful, but I know that perfect skin with a light smattering of freckles that bring out the unusual gold flecks in my breathtaking eyes are THE MOST DISGUSTING THING EVER. Oh, and did I mention I’m super slender with gigantic knockers and an ass to die for? Oh WOE IS MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” She briefly taps into the fact that her hair is shorter because she’s regrowing it after chemo – only shorter, not damaged or an ugly colour – but largely she’s hating on her gorgeous reflection for unrelated reasons.]
It’s been a while since we’ve recapped, so maybe I’m feeling unmoored, but this particular narrative feels far away from my comfort zone. I have a huge sense of Not For Me, which is a bit rich since none of the preceding books are For Me either.
Monday. Canteen. Jessica, singing the latest Melody Power song, much to the horror of the listening throng.
I felt a wave of embarrassment for Jessica. She really doesn’t have a bad singing voice, at least not when she stays in her own range. But Melody Power sang “Let Me Be Your Woman” in a soft, soprano voice. Jessica was singing it in a loud, alto voice. It just wasn’t the same.
Excuse me? I thought Melody Power had a sexy, gravelly voice? At least, she did when Jessica was doing her best impression of her as the front-woman of NRG in Jessica the Rock Star. I call vocal shenanigans. Actually, it’s fine, that would be some atomic-level continuity for sure. [Dove: Have higher standards, Raven. Don’t let things like this slide.] [Raven: I am not particularly CONSTANT VIGILANCE in this regard.] [Wing: We have tags about whether the twins can sing or not, singing continuity is a thing around here. Not that I blame Raven for letting it go here. This was not a great book to come back on.]
At the Unicorner, it seems the Pageant-bound girls are sniping and bickering about their “talents” for the Talent section of the show. Jessica will be singing, Ellen is doing something unsavoury with a desert spoon, Kimberly actually has zero talent, and so on.
Mandy attempts to change the subject. Is anyone heading to the Sweet Valley Child Care Centre that evening after school?
That’s a big fat dollop of NOPE.
Lila says she’ll pop to the SVCCC to see Ellie if she gets a chance later in the week, but her Pageant Prep is taking all of her focus.
We skip to a science class, in the hands of Mr Benjamin.
Who in the BLUE FUCK is Mr Benjamin?!
Apparently, Mr Benjamin is a fucking idiot, because his “teaching” today consists of getting some vinegar and mixing it with some baking soda. I mean, talk about winging it. Maybe he wrote the lesson plan after a thirty-hour coke binge.
Lab partners are assigned, because STOP MESSING ABOUT AT THE BACK, and Mandy has the fair fortune of being paired with her sometime crush, Peter DeHaven. I’m right in thinking this is Mandy’s crush from Unicorns in Love, yes? Man, it’s been a while. [Dove: Keeping track of the Peters is the one thing I’m not willing to do. Though according to our tags, Mandy has also dated Peter Jeffries.]
Over some painful small-talk, Peter DeHaven puts his fucking clown shoes in his gaping maw of a mouth. First, he mentions that he’s heard that the Unicorns are entering the Sweet Valley Princess Beauty Pageant. When Mandy tells him that she’s not entering, here’s what the puffin-fuck blurts out:
“Well, I guess that’s probably for the best anyway,” Peter said breezily.
I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye as I measured the vinegar. For some reason I couldn’t really figure out, I suddenly felt cold. “What do you mean?”
Peter shrugged. “It just seems more like Jessica’s or Lila’s kind of thing. I mean, they’ll probably win anyway, you know?”
I mean, what?! Like, I’m assuming that the end of this book has Mandy and Peter having a reconciliation and a cute hand-holding moment of sorts, but that would mean that this exchange would be explained away as being misunderstood or misconstrued or something. But this? It’s just literal low-key mean and thoughtless. What an absolute prick!
Batten down those hatches, because we get a few re-runs of this scene peppered throughout this fucking basic book.
Mandy doesn’t take it well, but she does her best to bite down her burgeoning rage, sticking to sciencing in the science lab with a red face and a peevish tone. Just as well, as I’m pretty sure the Sweet Valley Middle School Nurse would be hard pressed to remove a Bunsen burner from a twelve-year-old’s rectum, especially since it would have been jammed in there sideways.
[Dove: Even season 1 Joey Potter (Dawson’s Creek), the most passive-agressive non-speaky-uppy character ever managed to spit out, “Why? Because I’m such a barking car-chaser I don’t have a chance?” when Dawson said much the same thing to her. When you’re speaking up less than season 1 Joey, you’re really failing at being assertive.]
Flash-bang skip to the Miller Residence that night, where Mandy’s bedtime reading is interrupted by the tremulous phone. It’s Lila, asking for Mandy’s help in the creation of some “self-promotion posters” for the upcoming pageant.
Okay, so this is the first of the “let’s press-gang Mandy into helping out in their individual Pageant efforts”, and thus common sense takes a backseat to the needs of the narrative, but even so.
Lila wouldn’t ask Mandy to make these posters. She’d have paid a design company to do that. And they’d be SPECTACULAR.
Mandy agrees, and also swears herself to secrecy.
As the phone goes down, another call comes in. It’s Kimberly! She asks Mandy to help her find a talent, because Kimberly thinks she doesn’t have a special talent of her very own.
“Do you think maybe you could, well, you know, come over and help me find a talent?” she asked softly.
I could tell she hated asking. I mean, Kimberly Haver never asked anybody for anything. It must have been a major big deal for her to admit she needed help. So how could I say no? “Sure,” I told her. “No problem.”
I mean, BLESS THEIR HEARTS. Mandy’s helping Kimberly find her cutie-mark! I do hate Kimberly, and she can fuck of into either the sea or the sun, but this is uber-sweet.
Again, Mandy is sworn to keep this help to herself.
At the end of the chapter, Mandy is hitched to Lila’s and Kimberly’s wagons. She wonders if there’ll be enough of her to go around. OF COURSE there won’t… we’ve another two Unicorns and their asinine demands to come.
Tuesday morning, by the lockers. Operation Press-Gang Mandy continues in earnest. It’s Ellen’s turn to pile on the pressure. She needs a dress for the pageant, and Mandy needs to help her shop.
Okay, so this one is believable. Mandy’s talent, after all, is fashion. That much is canon. She agrees to help the Ditzy Prez after school that very day. Ellen, of course, demands that Mandy’s help be a secret.
After her first-period class, Mandy completes the set when Jessica asks for her help. Jessica shows Mandy a picture of a bold, new hairstyle, and asks if Mandy thinks it’s a look she could pull off for the pageant.
Mandy does her best to dissuade the Evil Twin from such a drastic action. Like a puppy, a haircut is for life, not just for a pageant. Naturally, Jessica is adamant that THIS IS THE THING SHE WANTS NOW.
Mandy agrees, under pain of secrecy again, to accompany her friend to the stylist at some indeterminate pre-pageant day.
It’s now Lunchtime, and Mandy is sick to the back teeth of Pageant chat. So much so that she decides to sit with the Angels (in the ridiculously-named Angeliner) to eat her fortifying and delicious school provisions (a ham sandwich and a yoghurt). But, no sooner than she makes this decision to hopefully branch the story into wild and unforeseen pastures, the other Unicorns harry her into joining them at the much-more-sensibly named Unicorner.
Once there, of course, Mandy is immediately bombarded with more Pageant chatter. Only this time, the comments are veiled and clandestine, because none of the protagonists wants to leak their plans to their purple competition. There’s also a soupcon of bitchiness, when Lila wishes she’d never told anyone about the bloody pageant.
Eventually, Mandy declares that she can’t stands no more, and decrees that in the ensuing melee, she’s playing the part of Switzerland. Showing much more spine than any of the Angels, she picks up her lunch tray and stomps off to the Angeliner.
Sadly, we don’t get any Angel / Mandy interaction at this time. We’re into Chapter Four, and it’s the end of the school day, at the lockers. Mandy is musing on the difficulties of her upcoming homework, when a wild Ellen appears!
Ellen treads softly around the lunchtime fracas, and Mandy tells her that despite the issues she’d still stand by her proffered help. Ellen can count on her fashion-focussed friend to find her a fabulous dress. Off they fuck to the mall. [Wing: This is not at all Mandy’s strength! You shop with Mandy when you want a funky original outfit from a second-hand store, not the trendy fashion you’d find in a mall.]
As they go, Ellen probes Mandy for information on her competition. She concludes that Kimberly probably needs help finding a talent, as she can’t do anything other than curl her hair. She shares that her talent will be playing the tambourine. Playing the tambourine! What a crock of old shite that would be. Of course, Mandy does her best to big-up the Ditzy Prez, as she’s a good friend. [Dove: So… that comedic talent for mimicry has vanished?] [Raven: Valid! Maybe she’s just mimicking Mr Tambourine Man?]
Suddenly, we’re in a clothes shop called Lisette’s, which I don’t believe has been mentioned before [Dove: Lisette’s is a staple of Sweet Valley High, and I’m pretty sure it’s been mentioned before in Twins.]. Ellen is trying on a variety of dresses. Apparently, Lisette’s ain’t Mandy’s cup of tea, as she much prefers the funky junk you find in Evie Kim’s aunt’s store The Attic. In fact, she starts daydreaming of one dress she spotted in the window last week that would be perfect for the pageant, before she banishes that thought from her ugly, freckled, pug-nosed mind.
Ellen suggests a wholly inappropriate dress for Kimberly, in a petty and back-stabby way. Mandy is unimpressed, and says so. Then someone called Mary Weinberg appears, with her mother. Who the fuck is Mary Weinberg? Dove? [Dove: Mary Weinberg first appeared in Sweet Valley Twins #70: Psychic Sisters, and was one of the uber-fans who completely believed their magic powers. She has long black hair and blue eyes, and had a crush on Steven. I’m lying. I’ve got no fucking clue. I think she’s a new character. You know who would be value here? Veronica Brooks. Or one of the Eights. But sure, ghostie, just make up new names.]
Apparently, Mary is a tall, red-haired child who is also entering the pageant. I mean, why the fuck not? Let’s have new people, the more the merrier.
Ellen spots a perfect black taffeta dress. Before she tries it on, she makes a pointed comment about Lila’s fat arse, and Mandy loses her mind.
That was it! “Ellen! I’m serious! If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
“Fine!” she said huffily. “I won’t say anything at all!” And with that, she stomped silently toward the dressing rooms.
I’m with Mandy here. This version of Ellen can fuck off. I know it’s an extension of the narrative, but I’m bored with the pettiness and catty behaviour. I really miss the Newnicorns. They were value.
Mandy excuses herself from the Weinbergs and head to the dressing rooms to wait. Ellen soon sashays out from her cubicle, a resplendent vision in black… only to gasp in horror when Lila emerges from another cublicle, wearing the exact same dress!
Oh, the humanity!
Before the fur flies or the dust settles, it gets exponentially worse. A third cubicle opens, and Jessica strides out. What’s she wearing, I hear you ask? Only the same dress again!
WHAT ARE THE FUCKING CHANCES I CANT EVEN.
[Wing: YET ANOTHER REASON WHY YOU DON’T SHOP AT A MALL FOR SOMETHING LIKE THIS, YOU GO WITH MANDY TO A SECOND-HAND SHOP. Also, there is no way all three of them want this plain black dress, not for a pageant when pageants are known for long, dramatic, sparkling dresses.]
The three UniPageanteers starts shouting each other down. Each claims the Black Taffeta Dress should be theirs and theirs alone. At first, Mandy tries to insert herself into their midst, holding back the tides like King Canute. Like ze goggles, it does nothing, and eventually she decides to get the fuck out of dodge.
We catch up with her at Casey’s Place, where she contemplates her consoling ice cream order. Feeling sorry for herself, she plumps for a double scoop of fudge ripple, which sounds absolutely divine.
As she orders, up steps ol’ clown shoes Peter DeHaven.
As Mandy hasn’t spoken to him since Science Class, she’s initially aloof, but she soon warms to his myriad charms and mellifluous voice. They exchange ince-cream-based small talk, until Mandy’s double-scoop delight arrives.
“Wow!” Peter stared at my cone with wide eyes. “That’s huge! Boy, it’s a good thing you’re not in the beauty pageant. That way you can eat whatever you want.”
My heart sank. “Excuse me?” I said. What in the world was he talking about?
“Well, I mean, you don’t have to watch your weight,” Peter said matter-of-factly.
STOP TALKING, you fatuous gimp. I presume your ice cream order isn’t arriving with a spoon, because you can scoop it into your mouth with your fucking feet.
Happily, Mandy goes pro-active on his exhausting repetitive ass. She takes her full two-scoops of fudgy filth and rams it into his idiotypic, Petery face. Serves him fucking right.
Shocking waste of some good ice cream, in truth.
Chapter Five! We’re at Kimberly’s house, and it’s time to crusade for her cutie mark.
Mandy has just arrived, and Kimberly is bemoaning the fact that she is, apparently, a duffer at absolutely everything.
Apparently, Kimberly has tried everything. Mandy can believe that, for sure.
Besides the usual pile of schoolbooks, clothes, and makeup, there was an assortment of CDs on her bed, a recorder, an abandoned baton, and several dog-eared songbooks on the floor. And a hula hoop hung over her desk chair.
Fair play, Kimberly. That’s some top notch crusading right there. Although… what quality of the baton would lead it to be described as “abandoned” in this context? Surely it’s just “on the floor” or something? “Abandoned” makes it sound like a derelict building, or a cobwebbed castle ruin.
Weridly, Kimberly is acting like a damn human in this scene. Mandy tries to help, encouraging her to try the things she’s already tried. There’s some bad recorder playing, clattering hula-hooping, and more, with Kimberly doing her best but failing at every turn.
“I told you I was hopeless,” Kimberly said as she stepped out of the hoop once again and plopped face down on her bed. “Maybe I should just drop out of the pageant,” she mumbled into her elbow.
My heart leaped at the possibility. Yes, drop out, I wanted to tell her. We can boycott this stupid pageant together.
Of course, Mandy realises that this isn’t what Kimberly actually wants, so instead of leaping on the chance to persuade her friend to ditch, she instead walks her through some mindfulness exercises in order to help her hone on her hidden strengths.
So, what are Kimberly’s strengths, I hear you ask?
Flirting, and curling her hair.
What the fuck?
Eventually, with a little cajoling from Mandy, Kimberly settles on a comedy routine in which she listens to the new Johnny Buck song while dancing around and curling her hair. Apparently, it’s fucking hilarious.
I guess you had to be there.
On the positive side, Mandy decides that her time with Kimberly had been fun, unlike her shopping trip with Ellen. Kimberly even refuses to badmouth her competition, which is a fresh breeze for sure. Perhaps she’s not such a rampant bellend after all.
So… what the hell does Kimberly’s cutie mark look like, now she’s discovered her talent?
I’m thinking a purple curling iron atop a yellow musical note, on a background of a fetid pile of human faeces to demonstrate the fact that she’s a total shitgibbon.
[Dove: Well, there’s a custom MLP I’m not going to be making.]
The next day, during lunch at school, Mandy randomly hears a gaggle of boys laying bets on who will win the Pageant. Aaron Dallas’s money is on Jessica, whole Jake Hamilton has bet on Lila. This is likely a “stopped-clock-is-right-twice-a-day” moment, but I’ll give the Ghostie the benefit of the doubt and give them kudos for decent boyfriend continuity here.
Mandy is incensed that the boys are being so crass, and is especially furious when it’s intimated that Peter DeHaven is involved with the betting. It’s weird that Mandy thinks this, because he says not one word to confirm his involvment. Instead, he’s mortified when Aaron suggests that Mandy is his girlfriend, before she stomps off in a snitty huff.
The chapter ends with some classic physical self-loathing from Mandy in the girls’ bathroom. She bemoans the classless boys’ betting ring, before positing that the colossal prick DeHaven is likely to be vomiting blood over her myriad imperfections. Oh woe, her olive-green eyes! And her shoulder-length hair! What an absolute munter!
I know, the struggle is real. Sorry, not feeling this book. It’s likely uncaring of me, but Mandy needs to get some damn perspective.
[Dove: I think this doesn’t work because we didn’t know that Mandy was insecure until it was required for the plot. Give this one to Ellen, who’s been established multiple times as feeling she’s not as good as her friends. And if it must be Mandy, then cash in on her unique selling point: she had cancer. Perhaps since chemo her hair has been very fine, and not as beautiful as it once was. Maybe her weight has changed. Or even just the knowledge that she could have died makes her feel like her body betrayed her, it can’t be trusted and means she can’t feel comfortable in it any more. Or she resents that people are beautifying their bodies without worry while she can only think about maintaining her health. There were options here, and instead they went with “I’m demonstrably beautiful but WOE IS ME.”]
Chapter Six begins the following day, after classes, with Kimberly telling Mandy that that afternoon’s four-pm Pageant rehearsal has been changed to seven-pm, and would Mandy kindly spread the word to the other Unicorns. No problem, says Mandy, oblivious to the obvious heel-turn red flags being flown here.
Ellen wanders up, and Mandy tells her about the time change. Standard.
After school Mandy hooks up with Elizabeth for the walk home. For those who don’t know, Elizabeth Wakefield is the identical twin of series stalwart Jessica Wakefield. Before the splitting of the Newnicorns, she had a decent billing in these books, but lately she’s done the square root of diddley-fuck.
On the walk to the Child Care Centre, Elizabeth offers her customary sage advice. She bolsters Mandy’s default belief that the Unicorns can be a competitive coven of bitches when opportunity arises, and is suitably shocked to discover that Kimberly is showcasing the best example of friendship out of all of them. She also offers the following wisdom when asked if she thinks the concept of Beauty Pageants is sexist.
“Hmm…” Elizabeth chewed her lip, looking thoughtful. “Yes and no,” she said finally.
Fuck my hat. Way to sit on the fence there, you mollusc.
Her reasoning? Girls being judged on their appearance and dress sense is likely sexist, but if girls enjoy dressing up and being pretty, is it sexist, really?
I’ll leave this nuanced debate to the fucking philosophers.
On the walk to the SVCCC, Mandy is almost convinced that Pageants aren’t quite the whirling vortices of spite that she previously thought. But either way, it would be nice to mingle with the SVCCC kids and forget about the Pageant for a while.
Cue the absolutely cutest scene in which the kids from the SVCC hold a Beauty Pageant of their very own, in which Mandy is the judge. And as if that’s not bad enough, the kids get into a protracted yelling match when Mandy can’t choose an outright winner (each kid champions their prospective favourite, so Ellie votes for Lila and Oliver for Jessica and so on).
After their shift, Elizabeth and Mandy head to the Wakefield Compound for dinner. At this point, Mandy is still angry that the Pageant appears to be infecting every single corner of her life.
In order to change the subject, Mandy offers up the following.
“So, Elizabeth,” I said, changing the subject. “I’ve been dying to know. Since you and Jessica are twins, are you going to get your hair cut when Jessica gets hers cut?”
Elizabeth looked confused. “What do you mean?” she asked, grabbing a handful of her long beautiful hair.
Uh-oh. “You mean, Jessica hasn’t told you?” I asked. I cringed. Me and my big mouth!
Way to go there, you asshat. “In this scene, the part of Mandy Miller will be played by… Peter DeHaven!”
Mandy apologises immediately, but the damage is done. Elizabeth is low-key upset, as apparently this signifies that Jessica no longer wants to be like her twin, as if the preceding 130+ books don’t fucking count because this was the plot from BOOK FUCKING ONE, and the twins do not have canonically identical hairstyles throughout the series. [Dove: Uh, to be fair, we have seen Elizabeth melt the fuck down so many goddamn times over Jessica doing something different, such as when Jessica joined the Unicorns, when she agreed to sit with Lila on the bus to the Magic Kingdom, and literally every Halloween when Liz wants to do a paired costume and Jessica doesn’t. This is so fucking Elizabeth.] [Raven: Fair.]
The twins’ argument “rages” into the pre-dinner scenes at the Wakefield Compound that make up the start of Chapter Seven, with Mandy mumbling apologies all the while. The Sainted Alice enters, and stumbles through her gin fugue just enough to both feign interest in and bestow blessings to her crotch-fruit’s hair plans. Elizabeth then asks her sister exactly how Jessica plans to have her hair styled, and Jessica is more than happy to supply pictures, advice and follicular blueprints for Liz to OBVIOUSLY crib and copy later down the line. Especially after Jessica straight-up daggers her sister by declaring that Liz would not be able to pull of such a chic look herself.
After an off-screen dinner, Mandy thanks her hosts and makes to leave. Jessica, however, cajoles her into attending the seven-pm Pageant rehearsal at the mall. Y’know, the one that obviously took place at the original time of four-pm? Against her better judgment, Mandy agrees to tag along, with Elizabeth going too.
They get to the mall, and wouldn’t you know it? The Pageant rehearsal has long finished. Lila and Ellen are also there, in the largely empty mall, seething at their friend’s betrayal. Kimberly has stitched them up like kippers!
If the three Unicorns present here did not show up for the Pageant rehearsal, how is it that they still have places in the Pageant proper?
Because the PLOT DEMANDS IT, that’s why!
*cue ominous rumble of the Narrative Volcano*
At first, the three UniPageanteers are united in their bickering against a not-present and likely-laughing Kimberly. But this Purple Pax Romana is short-lived, as the three-headed dog soon starts gnawing at its own neck(s). Again, Mandy proffers peace, but Lila declares outright war on everyone.
It’s on, like a comfortable cardigan, or Donkey Kong.
The chapter ends with more bickering, the following day, when Jessica asks Mandy to commit to her promise of moral support at the hair salon that afternoon. Lila overhears, and demands her pound of flesh too, to run alongside Jessica’s demands.
Mandy first declares that she’ll be helping no one, until both girls point out that she’s already helped Kimberly and Ellen. So Mandy then declares that she’ll help Jessica first, and Lila once she’s done with Jess.
Both opponents agree, and Mandy realises that, in this book, she actually is stuck in the middle. Unlike the time when she was not stuck in the middle in the book Mandy in the Middle.
Chapter Eight! Yay!
Peter DeHaven! Boo!
In this cringe-worthy scene, Mandy gives Peter a icy reception, as he flails and flumps around, looking for the right thing to say to thaw this icy maiden. He fails, of course. Spectacularly. He claims that if she’d entered the Pageant, he’d have wagered all his money on her, then taken her for a fancy dinner with his winnings. Mandy reponds by asking if anyone had ever told him that betting on people was bad, and he’s immediately grounded in confusion.
Fucking hell, mate, give it up. You’re a fucking flan.
Snap-cut to after school, and the mall. Jessica and Mandy are heading to the salon for Jessica’s haircut. Being the inveterate dramatist, Jessica has decided to travel in disguise, positing that it’s not beyond the wit of man for Lila to rock up at the salon and get the exact same haircut in a wanton act of comedic spite. Mandy suggests that everyone should be friendlier, but Jessica reminds her that this is war. As there are very real wars occurring, I shall remain silent on the parallels with current events.
Another snap-cut to the salon, and Jessica is mid-style. Her hair-ologist, Mimi, is pleasantly effusive. As Jess is whisked off for the final flourish, a waiting Mandy spots the inevitable and telegraphed plot point: Elizabeth Wakefield is also in the salon, getting the exact same haircut as her pageant-bound relative!
SHOCK, I say. SHOCK. SHOCK!
Snap-cut to Jessica, post-haircut. She loves her new look. Then she sees Elizabeth, with her new look. Shenanigans are afoot! Or at least they would be, if this was the actual plot of any other book in the series. Instead, here, it seems that Jessica is far more sanguine than the canon would suggest. Everything is smoothed and settled in the tiniest of twinkles.
Snap-cut to Fowler Crest, where Lila is making posters with Mandy. It’s all very sweet, with campaign flyers reading LILA FOWLER FOR SWEET VALLEY PRINCESS. Mandy suggests that the slogan is a little political, which Lila embraces. Mandy is unconvinced.
I guess I just didn’t understand beauty pageants. Or the point of making self-promotion posters for a beauty pageant. I mean, it wasn’t like people would be casting ballots or anything.
She’s got a point, not gonna lie.
After quizzing Mandy on the plans of her opponents, Lila declares that name recognition is the key factor in all contests of this ilk. She tries to get more information, but Mandy remains calm and clam-like. Lila deduces that Jessica must be having her hair cut rather than styled, as she was attending the salon a day early if the latter was the case. Plucky Girl Detectives, eat your hearts out.
Chapter Nine, and we’re finally at the day of the Pageant itself. Whoop Whoop!
First port of call is the school hallways, which are plastered with Lila’s posters. Mandy catches a relentless Jessica vandalising said posters, showing Lila’s beaming photo resplendent with facial hair or horns on most. [Dove: Dicks. Someone would have drawn dicks.]
Mandy is scandalised, which is a mystery as it’s entirely on brand for our chirpy little sociopath. The excuse that “Lila would do the same” doth butter no parsnips with Mandy, but Mandy’s cries of “shaaaame” roll of Jessica’s back as if she were a duck made of Teflon.
We cut to lunch, and Mandy is eating at the Angeliner. Julie Porter asks the collected Team Boring if they are attending the Pageant that evening. Elizabeth says yes, and Mandy mumbles no. The collected Angels (aka Mary Wallace) are surprised, and a short scene involving Mandy’s badmouthing of the Unicorns alongside the Angels suggesting that Mandy needs to lead the Unicorns by example ensues.
Mandy needs to set a good example? Not even Mandy believes that spineless shit.
Wasn’t that what I had been doing? I’d given up my homework every night this week so I could go shopping, help with talents, go to the salon, and make posters. I did whatever any of them asked me to do. But what good did it do? The Unicorns still weren’t speaking. And because of that, I had single-handedly kept the aspirin companies in business all week.
“Why should I set a good example? What’s the point?”
Of course, Elizaberth convinces her that she must be the bigger person. How can Mandy win the Beauty Pageant if she’s not even in the building, after all?
So Mandy heads to the mall to support her bickering friends. All the contestants are gathered in Clausen’s, a closed department store that is no longer in business. I’m not surprised it’s shut up shop, as no one has visited (or even mentioned it) in the past 130+ books. [Dove: This is what happens when you buck the naming convention. I bet Sweet Valley Department Store is doing a roaring trade.]
In the Pageant dressing room, the four UniPageanteers each demand Mandy’s time as soon as she walks through the door. Mandy offers to help all she can, but suggests that things would progress quicker if they all worked together to help each other.
They hesitantly agree.
- Jessica offers to sew Kimberly’s hem.
- Mandy offers to help with Ellen’s pantyhose…
- … then Mandy offers to help with Lila’s ironing.
Hmm… looking at that list, it’s not so much “the girls help each other” than it is “Mandy is a doormat, again.” Interesting.
[Dove: Raven and I have just finished binging every episode of The Great British Sewing Bee (so good) and we would raise doubts that anyone would be able to successfully sew Kimberly’s hem, since the fabric is so light and floaty.] [Raven: Whack it through the overlocker. Bosh! Job done.]
As Mandy helps with Ellen’s pantyhose, President Ditz shares her vulnerability and trepidation. Mandy helps bolster her sagging confidence, claiming there’s all to play for and there’s no reason that Ellen couldn’t win. Ellen is happier, and is also kinder when discussing her competition, giving particular attention to Jessica’s new barnet. Result!
A further result is achieved when Lila is ironing (wit Mandy’s invaluable help). After attempting to iron her clothes without switching the iron on, Lila comments on the gracefulness of Ellen’s shoes (she chose ballet slippers). Mandy suggests that the shoes won’t maketh the Pagenteer, but the impression made with their entrances would definitely make a difference.
Finally, we check back in with Jessica, freshly finished from fixing Kimberly’s dress. She waxes lyrical about Lila’s complexion.
Presented without comment…
“It’s so clear,” Jessica said, staring at Lila. She bit her lip. “I wonder if that’s from her facial. Maybe I should have had a facial too.”
Mandy suggests that a Pageanteer’s complexion is only part of the equation. Fair point, well made.
The chapter ends with Mandy sizing up some of the non-Unicorn competition, which makes a refreshing change. Normally, this county-wide contest would have no-one but recognisable SVMS students taking every podium position of note. I’d love it if some rank outsider from Big Mesa rocked up and won the whole thing. I mean, we all know Mandy’s going to win this, but even so.
Chapter Ten! And we kick Operation Unicorns-Fuck-Over-Other-Unicorns into the highest gear.
First up, we see Kimberly wobbling on new heels. Then Ellen falls flat on her face, slipping on her ballet slippers. This leads to derision from the gathered non-regular contestants. Mandy, however, springs to Ellen’s side to ensure she isn’t hurt.
Initially, Ellen blames the uneven floor, before she realises that the soles of her slippers had been soaped. Kimberly too discovers he footwear is similarly sabotaged, and when Jessica revels the exact same treatment to her own slingbacks then the culprit is revealed. It’s a nefarious plan from Lila Fowler!
Everyone in incensed, except Mandy. She’s simply resigned. Ellen accuses the traitor directly, and Lila responds as Optimus Lila.
“Lila!” Ellen glared at her. “I could’ve broken my neck! Or don’t you even care?”
Lila shrugged. “You have to watch where you’re going. Or at least where you leave your shoes,” she said simply. Then she walked away.
You go, girl! Fuck these basic bitches.
Mandy’s ire shifts into higher gear as she considers Lila’s actions. She internalises this particular shenanigan as the penultimate straw… one more strike, from any UniPageanteer, and she’d be outta there.
Five minutes later, and that strike comes. Ellen picks up a pair of scissors, and sneaks up behind Jessica with malevolence in mind. As Mandy watches, aghast, Ellen attempts to hack of chunk of Jessica’s haircut clear from her neck!
I gasped. “Ellen! No!” I screamed.
Ellen jumped and ended up dropping the scissors on her foot. “Ow!” she cried.
To be honest, Ellen should count herself lucky. If the tables had been turned, Jessica would have jabbed the scissors into Ellen’s fucking neck without blinking an eye.
As her final attempt to salve the tempest, Mandy summons the four UniPageanteers for some harsh words. It’s time to cut the bullshit, girls. It’s time to knuckle down and get busy with the Friendship Lessons.
It’s all serious business, folks. Oscar bait through and through. Stuff like this…
My throat felt tight. “You guys are supposed to be friends,” I whispered, my eyes filling with tears. “Best friends.”
… and this…
The tears were flowing down my cheeks like rivers now.
… and this…
The Unicorns were used to fighting and making up later. They didn’t think anything of it. But after having cancer, I knew that sometimes later never came. So I had learned to make the most of each day.
Trowel it on thick, and gag me with a spoon.
It works, of course. The UniPageanteers are immediately contrite. We learn that Jessica has sabotaged Kimberly’s dress, but it’s nothing a little sewing TLC won’t fix. They all agree that working together was the best way to bear fruit, and they all agree to do their best for each other in the coming Beauty Melee. How very wholesome!
[Wing: This would always be saccharine, but you know what would have made it more poignant? If Mandy’s self-doubt came from her experience with cancer, as Dove talked about earlier.]
So! With the bickering out of the way, all that’s left is for some contrived situation that forces Mandy to enter the Beauty Pageant herself. Three, two, one, CUE SHENANIGANS!
Kimberly made a strange noise—somewhere between a moan and a sigh.
I leaned over so I could see her face. It had a weird greenish tint to it. “Are you OK?” I asked.
“I don’t feel so good,” Kimberly admitted, clutching her stomach.
So that’s it? How very mundane!
Yes folks, Kimberly is ill. And she can’t compete in the Pageant.
Mandy offers to fetch her a sick bag, but Kimberley is convinced that she’ll be fine backstage, but not so much onstage. Sounds like a standard case of Stage Fright. Fair enough, I guess. I’d never have thought Kimberly would suffer that, but I suppose the fact that her talent of hair curling and comic flirting is so patently shit means it’s less a surprise and more an inevitability.
What is strange, however, is the following thought:
Kimberly slid the curtain aside just far enough so she could peer out for a second. Then she tugged it closed and turned back to me. “What I need is… for you to go on in my place,” she whispered.
… … … erm… … Why?
Why the hell does anyone need to replace Kimberley in the Beauty Pageant? It’s not as if it’s a team sport. One fewer competitor isn’t going to make the fabric of society crumble like dried feta.
At this point, Mandy should be all “yeah, but no”. Of course, she’s anything but, in the long run at least. At first, she puts up a token resistance, claiming that she’s not pretty enough and other such transparent bullshit. Kimberly does a sterling job of convincing her otherwise, which is sweet for such a insipid hag. She even claims that Mandy is the most beautiful of all the Unicorns.
Kimberly makes Mandy recite all of her supposed ‘flaws’, before debunking each and every one of them. It’s all standard fare, except this bit…
“I hate green eyes,” I told her.
“Why?” Kimberly stared at me with surprise. “Everyone else has blue or brown eyes. But your eyes are unique. I think boys like unique eyes.”
Yep, because that’s what gets the boys hard… a Cyclops. [Dove: Also, why does a girl’s beauty need to be validated by whether a boy likes it?]
Once the “I’m not pretty enough” defence is shattered, Kimberly then destroys the “Beauty Pageants are shit” argument by using reverse psychology. When Mandy says that Beauty Pageants are super-judgey, she’s being Judgey McJudgerson herself. QED, steamers, champagne, Mexican wave in celebration of Kimberly.
Finally, Mandy throws out the hail mary “but I’ve nooothing to weeeear” gambit, which is a complete sockful of moist bullshit as Kimberly doesn’t need her dress anymore and apparently everyone in Sweet Valley is exactly the same fucking shape. Really, the girls might as well be a bunch of those paper dress-up dolls at this point.
Mandy eventually agrees. Obv. The chapter is rounded by her being presented to the other UniPageanteers, who cluck and coo around her appreciatively. They put all crappy behaviours aside, after a brief interlude of trademark Unicorn dialogue, and power together to help her get into Fighting Shape with lip gloss, eye shadow and curls.
So! Here we are at Chapter Eleven, and the story is set. Mandy is firmly ensconced in the pageant, and the ceremony can finally begin.
First up, the organiser Mrs Harris is informed about the Kimberly / Mandy switch. She couldn’t give less of a fuck, so Mandy is now bonafide, although she’s still full of apparent false modesty.
I was just entering the pageant as a favor to Kimberly. There was no way I was actually going to win.
Come the fuck on, girl. Have a little swagger, show some metaphorical ass. This bullshit is getting tiresome now. And anyway, have you never read a book or seen a film? Do you know nothing of narrative structure? There’s no way in hell that you’re losing this.
To be fair, the very next paragraph has her getting a modicum of self-belief. She bemoans the fact that her mum isn’t present to see her, and then finally admits to herself that she can scrub up pretty well. That’s nice to hear.
Music starts, curtains open. The collected Pageanteers are told were to stand, how to smile, the whole nine fucking yards. From the glowing, appreciative crowd, Mandy picks out the faces of Aaron Dallas and Rick Hunter in their ringside seats.
“Whoa, look at Mandy!” I heard Rick say.
My heart skipped a beat.
Okay, I guess?
I have very little time for the notion that the Sweet Valley Middle School boys would bother to show up to watch a beauty pageant if it wasn’t mandatory. I’m shocked that they give any type of shit, to be honest, although they do have money riding on it so perhaps there is some skin in the game here.
We now cut to Mandy being interviewed by the pageant’s host. Specifically, to the following question, the answer to which reveals conclusively why Mandy was the correct choice for this storyline. Depressingly.
“If you could meet the person you were three years ago, what advice would you give that person?” Mrs. Harris asked me.
The answer, in full?
“Well, three years ago, I was ten,” I began. Duh! Real enlightening, Mandy.
I glanced around the audience. I could see Aaron and Rick whispering to each other. And a group of eighth-grade girls were busy passing food back and forth.
Great, I thought. I’ve lost everyone’s attention already.
I cleared my throat. “Like most ten-year-olds, I couldn’t wait to grow up,” I went on. “I still want to grow up, but well, I guess my reasons are different now.”
I paused. I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell everyone my life story, but I couldn’t really answer the question otherwise. So I plunged on. “You see, I had cancer last year,” I admitted.
A hush fell over the audience when I said that. And everyone stared at me. The word cancer has a way of capturing people’s attention.
“I’m OK now,” I said quickly. The last thing I wanted was for people to feel sorry for me. “But there was a time last year when I thought I’d never see my thirteenth birthday. So I’ve learned to live for the moment. Never think there’s always tomorrow. There may not be a tomorrow. And that’s what I’d tell my ten-year-old self. Make the most of today. You don’t know what tomorrow holds.”
Of COURSE that’s why Mandy was shoehorned into this storyline. She has the classic X Factor Sob Story. Once there’s mention of The Big C, there’s no way in hell that she’s not winning this provincial shitshow.
Predictably, there are tears, applause and ovations as her story concludes. Mandy has crushed it. We all know that, in a competitive scenario like this, Chemo makes the Dreamo. [Dove: *snorts*]
(In Mandy’s defence, she’s not being duplicitous. The quote above is presented straight, with sincerity and not without skill. Mandy herself is not manipulative. But the Ghostie? Manipulation in spades, guys. In spades.)
Backstage, Jessica congratulates Mandy on her stellar answer. As they chat, there’s more applause from the stage, for a non-SVMS girl who also looks thrilled with her answer. How did she top The Big C? Does her dad have SuperAIDS?
Then a problem arises… what the hell is Mandy going to do for her Talent?!
Kimberly suggests she curl her hair while dancing to Johnny Buck, but Mandy isn’t convinced that’s right for her. I mean, beggars can’t be choosers at this point, and she’s already ran through that act when helping Kimberly, but whatever.
For some reason, Mandy flashes back to a heart-warming occasion at the Children’s Hospital last year (continuity!) in which she narrated the story of the Big Bad Wolf along with decorated finger puppets and actions. The twist? The tale was told from the POV of the Big “Bad” Wolf himself, who was obviously upset with his portrayal in the original story, and who thinks that the three little pigs are complete tossers.
Gotta say, I’m completely charmed by this conceit, as were the kids at the Children’s Hospital when Mandy (apparently) first told it. She’s (apparently) told it hundreds of times since, so should be perfect when she tells it tonight.
Lila helps Mandy decorate her fingers like the characters in the story, using her prodigious makeup talents.
The story? It’s off-screen, but it slays. Obviously.
I am legit disappointed that the whole Big Bad Wolf Retold story didn’t make it into this book. Sure, she does start it, and it sounds legitimately funny, but then we snap cut to the end. This could have been some prime comedy gold. Ah well. [Wing: Since it’s a real book, they probably weren’t willing to pay the license fee. It’s a super cute book. I, too, have performed it for people.]
Instead, here’s old-school comic Mick Miller’s famous Noddy routine, which Mandy’s story idea made me recall with fondness.
The chapter ends with a note of admiration from Lila. Nice!
Chapter Twelve starts, and the Pageant in complete. All that remains are the results. While Mrs Harris goes through the preliminaries, there’s time for Mandy to, once again, declare that she’s got no chance in a monkey’s fart of winning this thing, and that it’s the taking part and having fun that counts. Because sure it is. *eyeroll*
For some reason, there three runners up. A podium of four sounds bizarre, but maybe that’s a thing in pageantry?
Mandy has a prescient thought as she waits for the names to be announced…
[W]ouldn’t it be incredible if Jessica, Lila, and Ellen all placed in the pageant?
No, fair reader. No it would not. It’d be cock-out shiny-balls terrible.
Third runner-up? Danielle Weber. Who doesn’t go to SVMS.
Second runner-up? Ariel McCaffey. Who doesn’t go to SVMS.
First runner-up? Meghan Kaye. Who doesn’t go to SVMS.
That’s refreshing. It’s nice to see the Ghostie isn’t pandering to the other characters. The Wakefields don’t always win, after all.
I think that the Ghostie has obviously put the names of their actual friends in this book, as a low-key shout-out to their posse. And why the hell not?
Throughout these announcements, Mandy’s inner monologue stinks of misplaced self-deprecation. She won’t even truck the notion that she has an inkling of a modicum of a soupcon of a chance to place in the Top 4, never mind win the thing. In fact, when her name is read out as the winner in the most inevitable conclusion to the show since the fucking Thanos Snap, she initially passes over reality.
“Mandy Miller!” Mrs. Harris announced.
My heart sank. None of the winners were even from Sweet Valley, much less from the Unicorn Club.
Wait a minute! Mandy Miller? That was… me!
Of course you won, you ginger cleft. The book is about you.
As the end of the book approaches, the brevity of this recap coalesces. So we have the other UniPageanteers gathering round our Beauty Queen with genuine love and happiness for their friend. We have the whole crowd applauding the Champ with genuine gusto. And, inexplicably, we have the whole Miller clan (Mum, Archie, Cecila) randomly in attendance after all, which does lead to some nice sassy dialogue between Archie and Jessica, and Kimberly and the team.
Arrangements are made for Mandy to claim her prize. Mandy then heads to the food court for some peace and quiet, which conveniently allows her to reconcile with Peter DeHaven, who presents her with roses (for smelling) and some ice cream (for thrusting in his face). Sorry, but I don’t care about Peter DeFuckingHaven, and I have no time to trite and tasteless dialogue such as this….
I took the cone. “Of course, you realize that this could turn me into a total blimp,” I teased.
Peter shook his head. “I think you’ll be perfect no matter what.”
The final chapter sees the kids at SVCCC make a token appearance to congratulate Mandy on her win, before we get the foreshadowing for the next instalment. Lila is spending too much, apparently. Interesting. I look forward to it, as Lila books are always value.
When I started this recap, I was pretty sure I hated this book. It seemed simple, and boring, and wholly outside my wheelhouse. While Mandy was charming in places, the whole thing seemed Route One and predictable.
When I recapped it, however, I enjoyed it a little more. I don’t think it’s a good book, but it’s certainly better than I first thought. There’s a measured build to the pageant, which is handled well despite the mawkish reliance of the Sob Story. Mandy’s personal journey was certainly a thing, but I decline to weigh in on that for good or ill as it’s not my position to comment.
One takeaway? I think Kimberly was the nicest Unicorn in this book. Which is a fucking surprise and a half, I can tell you.
Overall, after a substantial break, I’m most grateful that this book was, in fact a book. And that this recap is, in fact, a recap. So there’s that at least. Let’s slalom down the final hill now, towards a new beginning in which strange things are afoot at the Circle K…
[Dove: The book was not my cup of tea at all. Mandy was insufferable with her self-loathing that came out of nowhere. I’m not unsympathetic to people who worry about their flaws (real or perceived), but Mandy has always been so full of confidence that all this self-hatred came out of nowhere just because the plot required it. And, as mentioned above, they could have delved deeper into why, since Mandy may not actually be comfortable in her body and all that confidence we saw was just bluster. Instead, they kept it shallow.
Also, as Raven said, why did Mandy have to step into the pageant? It’s not like Miss America where you need one from each state or whatever. If Kimberly didn’t go on, nothing would be different, except maybe two minutes of runtime for her talent portion. If they were committed to her taking Kimberly’s place, this could have been better if the Unicorns had noticed that Mandy was feeling bad about her appearance, e.g. while talking about hair, Jessica flips her long hair off her neck and makes a comment that blondes have more fun or something, and someone notices that Mandy is examinging the ends of her own hair and looking sad, and they decided to put aside their petty nonsense to get Mandy in the pageant so that she could see how beautiful she was to everyone else. But no, instead Kimberly’s just got stage fright.
Basically, there were options to make this far more interesting, and instead they stuck with the most basic, boring and shallow route possible. This was not good.]
[Wing: I had a whole wrapup about this book and the overall Unicorn Club series, but my issues with getting my comments to save have me annoyed enough I can’t remember all the details. Big picture: I’m still angry that we lost the new Unicorns to this tired trend of Unicorns fight, someone says something poignant, Unicorns make up. Still, didn’t hate this book. Just kind of there.]