Title: Lila on the Loose
Tagline: Total freedom…
Summary: Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Lila Fowler has it all. [Wing: Honestly, for a second I didn’t catch that I was reading the summary and not Dove talking about Lila considering how much Lila love lives
locally around here.] And I admit, I am the most beautiful and popular person I know. (Ignore my friends in the Unicorn Club when they say the same thing about themselves. They are so competitive.) And I’m the daughter of George Fowler, the richest man in Sweet Valley. Daddy gives me absolutely everything I want.
Well, almost everything. Sometimes I think I could buy a whole department store of clothes with Daddy’s credit card or throw the craziest party in town, and he would be too busy to care. In fact, my father probably wouldn’t even notice. Maybe it’s time I test him to see just how far I can go…
We have a Lila book. And I’m not going to lie, I begged Wing for this book. Why? Because I enjoyed it.
Let’s expand: this is the book we’ve been waiting for. The one where our poor little rich girl actually admits that she’s lacking in parental love. And all of the band-aids we’ve previously plastered on haven’t stuck.
[Raven: Ooh, Lila! We all love Lila. Then again, we all loved Mandy a few books ago, and look where THAT got us. Here’s hoping this one is a doozy.]
We open with Lila Fowler bragging to Jessica about her A in maths while she is getting her hair cut, because when you’re Lila Fowler, you have to be fabulous in multiple ways at once.
Lila is getting dolled up because tonight (Sunday night) she’s going out with her father for dinner at a fancy restaurant to celebrate her A.
(I’ll let slide that the math teacher is now Mrs Larson instead of Ms Wyler, because perhaps there is more than one math teacher in that school. Why not?) [Wing: Maybe she married and took her wife’s name.] [Raven: They went up a grade, so I can believe they changed Maths Teachers.]
Lila is just bubbling over with excitement because when dear old dad heard about that A, he’d said he was “tremendously proud” and offered to take her to dinner at Chez François. [Wing: Raises the question: Does he do this for every good grade? Is it that rare for her to get an A? Is he just randomly in town and wants to shower her with money=love and this is an excuse? Why would he need an excuse in the first place, doesn’t he already take her out whenever he’s in town?] Even though Jessica has heard about this damned A all day and is letting her boredom with the topic show, Lila is in such a good mood she offers to pay for a facial treatment (“Mississippi mud packs wrapped around steel wool”) for Jessica. She declines.
Lila thinks to herself that sometimes she’s jealous of her friends who get to hang out with their fathers, even Ellen, whose parents are “divorced”. Damn, that’s a hella quick divorce. They only separated five books ago. I guess Ned’s half-assing paperwork again. Which I suppose is better than overcharging clients when you bill by the hour. Or is it?
Fun fact, when I worked in family law (not sure if the law has changed since), the UK didn’t have no-fault divorce, so in order to divorce without fault, each party would have to accuse the other side of “unreasonable behaviour”. We advised one client to accuse her soon-to-be-ex-husband of having an “unreasonable” attachment to his hobby. He played ping-pong once a month on a work team. It was accepted as a good enough reason to divorce. Sometimes the law is fucking weird. [Wing: I don’t know, once-a-month ping-pong might be an unreasonable attachment. (I say as someone who grew up with a ping-pong table in the basement.)][Raven: Wiff Waff!]
Anyway, back to Lila, who is jealous of the attention her friends get from their fathers – see! I’ve been saying this since book one! – but understands that since they’re so fabulously wealthy, her father has to work harder to keep them in the lap of luxury. That said, she’s going to enjoy having some quality time with her dad. Some grownup time. When she was a kid they used to dance around the ballroom to something called the “Salty Dog Rag” (I’m sure Raven has a rude comment on that), but she’s beyond that. Now in the past. [Wing: Ugh, this is too cute despite any rude comment that Raven might or might not make.] [Raven: Oh, if I must… *ahem*… Salty Dog Rag is the finest name for Steven’s wank sock that we’ll ever hear.] [Wing, from a few minutes later: HOLY SHIT IT’S A REAL DANCE. I had a sudden inkling that I might have heard of it when it came to line dancing, and I’m glad I followed that hunch.]
[Wing: Yet another example of ghosties in this series leaning back to 1950s US culture, as we’ve discussed before when it comes to outdate references even back when the book was published, and it is not at all a dance I would expect from the Fowlers, but it does exist.]
I guess all those times George learned that throwing money at his daughter wasn’t the same as parenting haven’t stuck very well. [Raven: I have a foreboding sense of dread that this will be a retelling of a story we’ve heard many times before. Poor Lila, she’s suffering a little from Superman Syndrome… every story is about Kryptonite and Lex Luthor.]
Lila is still going on about her A and reliving every moment as they exit the hair salon and cross the mall. In desperation, Jessica suggests they go to Casey’s. She manages to get her way, but Lila manages to keep talking about the test to the point where Jessica asks what’s the big deal. She occasionally gets A’s and eats with her dad, why is Lila going on about it? Why does it necessitate a haircut?
Which is tactless as fuck. You’d have to be a complete idiot – or spectacularly self-involved, which: true – to miss the fact that Lila is crying out for familial attention. [Wing: Eh, they’re what, thirteen? I can see that not being clear to someone who hasn’t ever had to deal with such things, and I mean that beyond her being self-involved (or the general way teenagers can be self-involved). If you don’t know what it looks like, you don’t know what to look for.] [Raven: We’ve read this story multiple times, and Jessica HAS seen this at first hand from her best friend on countless occurences. I mean, I know we’re not meant to join these particular dots, but sometimes you gotta look at it and say it’s a fucking horse.] [Dove: In particular, I linked to Happy Mother’s Day, Lila! in which Jessica delighted in humiliating Lila over her need for parents in her life. And also, when they were in Hawaii, it was very clear that Lila was not ready to share what little she saw of her dad with another woman. And since we’ve never seen Bambi since, she got her way.]
Lila thinks that of course Jessica can’t understand, first of all, her dad’s a lawyer, so he doesn’t have to work as hard as her dad. Ouch, but accurate – Ned is a terrible lawyer, although Lila seems to think that the hours worked is directly proportional to how much money you earn. Oh, sweet summer child, if only. Also Jessica has a twin and a brother and a mother.
At best, Lila has Mrs Pervis, the housekeeper, and Richard, the chauffeur. And since they’re paid to take care of her, it’s not the same at all.
Lila says that tonight is one of the biggest nights of her life, and it will be absolutely perfect.
Basically, Lila getting an A signifies to her father that she’s a grownup now, and they’re going to have more interaction. And him taking her to dinner signifies that he agrees. So I think we can all see where this is going. [Raven: Seems a tenuous leap from Lila – I have an A in maths, now I am a WOMAN – but this entire book is about Lila having a breakdown, so I’m fine with accepting this as a burgeoning symptom.] [Dove: The twins were allowed to go to San Diego because they started their periods. They didn’t even have to work for that. It just happened to them. So… sure, an A = adulthood. Why not?]
Lila gets a low-fat vanilla shake, while Jessica gets a double fudge sundae, and while Lila is ogling Jessica’s dessert and hoping Jessica will share, Jessica spots Jimmy Lancer, who even I forgot exists. Thankfully Lila reminds us that he’s the guy she told the Unicorns she went on a date with. He’s a high schooler, totally cute and plays on the soccer team. Also, they did not go on a date. Lila introduced herself to him, that was all. But she exaggerated things to impress the Unicorns. [Raven: Wait, he’s an actual returning guy from continuity? Wow. No clue.]
Of course, that has backfired, since Jessica wants to know why Lila won’t go say hi to him, since they’re dating an all. [Wing: I could have sworn Lila had a different guy she was dating since then, but who actually knows. (Well, Dove probably knows.)] [Dove: Dove does not know. Dove has kind of lost it at this point.] Lila remembers that when she first told this teeny exaggeration, Jessica backed her up, saying Lila didn’t have the imagination to lie, which is not the greatest compliment ever. So I guess from that, Jessica isn’t being a troll, and is just wanting to talk to the cute boys.
When Jessica threatens to go introduce herself to Jimmy, Lila is forced into action.
The boys are talking soccer and reliving their greatest plays of the day and they do not notice Lila at all. She manages to get their attention, but it’s clear Jimmy has no clue who she is, but he’s polite and tries to style it out. To make conversation, Lila asks if practice is over, and one of Jimmy’s friend makes a sarcastic comment in response. Lila is mortified, but Jimmy tells his friends to cut it out.
Lila gets swept up by the moment, thinking there is magical chemistry between them and any moment now Jimmy is going to snog her senseless. What actually happens is that Lila puts her hand in his banana split. [Raven: So THAT’S what it’s called nowadays.] [Dove:
Naturally his friends find this hilarious and Lila prepares for a swift exit to have a good old cry in the loos, when Jimmy starts cleaning her hand with his napkin, and then brings up all the daft shit his friends have done. Gotta say, Jimmy seems like a nice kid, but his friends are gobshites.
He introduces her to his friends as “Lila, the prettiest girl at Sweet Valley Middle School” and Lila swoons so hard she lands in Big Mesa.
We cut to Lila waiting at the restaurant for her father. She’s been waiting for nearly an hour, looking absolutely fantastic and feeling the opposite. She feels like everyone is staring at her, and wondering why she’s all by herself. She briefly imagines how sweet it would be if Jimmy were here with her, but her mind quickly returns to her dad standing her up.
The waiter keeps bugging her and she feels like he’s laughing at her when she says she’s waiting for someone, and we get this delightfully Lila thought process.
I wondered which of my forks it would be most polite to stab him with if he came back.
A+ (Raven: Agreed. Also, gotta be the Oyster Fork.]
Then Lila begins to worry that something bad has happened to her dad. Weirdly, she doesn’t remember that time that he was late because he got into an accident. When the maître d’ approaches she demands to know if her father is ok. He’s taken aback by her worry, but says that he’s received a message from Mr Fowler saying he’s in a business meeting that’s running late, and will not be coming to dinner, so get what you like.
Lila sits by herself for awhile before ordering one of everything on the menu. To go.
We cut to Fowler Crest, where Lila has set up the food on the dining table, with all the fancy china, because surely her dad will be home now?
She drifts off to sleep, imagining that he will come home and compliment her for being so thoughtful and grown up.
[Wing: I first thought she was being petty (as she should be!) when she ordered all the food but the truth is heartbreaking. (Enough so that I’m going to ignore how weird I find it that he left her to wait at the restaurant and not at home in the first place, no matter how much logic ghostie tries to throw at it.)] [Raven: I find huge swathes of this book profoundly sad.]
She is awoken by Mrs Pervis who tells her that good old George has flown to New York for business at one am.
Suddenly I felt totally ridiculous in my fancy dress and my new hairdo. You should have known, I scolded myself. Of course he wasn’t coming. Probably never planned to come in the first place. My eyes filled with tears.
Mrs Pervis offers to wrap up the food, but Lila tells her to let it rot and heads off to bed in tears.
The next day at school, the Unicorns want to know how the dinner went, since Chez François is super chic and way out of their budget. Lila was hoping they wouldn’t bring it up, but since she’d been bragging about it all day, that really wasn’t going to happen. So she feels obligated to lie. She says that her dad thought she looked fantastic and acted so mature (“You?” Kimberly curled her lip in disgust. – do fuck off, Kimberly, everyone hates you), and the food was divine, including a special cake he ordered in the shape of an A with “congratulations Lila” piped on to it.
Kimberly, ever the charmer, says that sounds nothing like Lila’s dad. How the fuck would you know? He’s had about four pages of screen time in the whole 130+ book run. [Wing: She didn’t even go to Hawaii with them which is one of the places we got the most personality from him, and based on that, he would do something cheesy like that cake.] [Raven: Excellent point!] [Dove: I feel we are completely united in slapping Kimberly down with harsh facts. And I love it.]
Jessica, Ellen and Mandy chime in with times their dads made baked with them, and Lila shuts them down. She’s having a wonderful time with her imaginary dad here. Although it’s pretty cool to have a super-rich dad who lets her do anything… Lila decides it’s time to throw a party. Not just a soft-drinks-in-the-basement party, but a roof raiser.
At this point, Caroline Pearce, who we haven’t seen for bloody ages, appears and shares the reality of Lila’s fabulous evening. She and her family were at the restaurant too, and no matter how many times Lila tries to shut her down, she cannot be stopped. She tells the Unicorns that Lila spent the entire time by herself, and the Pearce family felt quite sorry for her. Ouch. [Wing: What the ever loving fuck is wrong with you, Caroline Pearce? Lila can be a shit sometimes, sure, but this is pretty damn bad as a retaliation, not that it comes across as retaliation.]
Kimberly’s eyes narrowed. “What about the cake your dad had them make for you?” she asked me.
“In the shape of an A,” Jessica chimed in.
Caroline arched her eyebrows. “I didn’t see any cake.”
I couldn’t believe this. I was being absolutely humiliated in front of my friends. “Um,” I said helplessly.
“Nice try, Lila,” Ellen snickered. “Where was your dad anyway—in Timbuktu?”
“Albania,” Mandy supplied.
My god, you people are assholes. Sure, Kimberly is a rancid monster who will happily tear down her “closest friends” without thinking about it, and Jessica’s definitely got form in humiliating her “best friend” when it comes to family members, but Mandy (the non-beige paint version) is supposed to be a good and decent person, and you’d also think that Ellen might have a bit of empathy, given how upset she was about her parents splitting up.
Lila tries to tell them that Caroline must have left before her dad arrived, but her “friends” cruelly mock her.
Honestly, you’d think after the whole Ellen situation earlier, might’ve taught them a lesson, and made them band together and say, “Yeah, Caroline, you were there at the wrong time. The cake was amazing. Lila brought in the leftovers and they were delicious!”
I mean, even if it wasn’t for friendship reasons, it would reflect badly on the Unicorns (RIP Janet) to have the ginger gossip making Lila look a fool.
[Wing: Fuckity fuck, the entire Unicorn Club bar Lila needs to fuck off into the sea.] [Raven: I hate the Unicorns in this book, which is pretty devastating considering we’re in the Unicorn Club subseries. I know it’s canon that they’re bellends to each other, but fucking hell. They’ve been through far too much to be still pulling this bullshit.]
We cut to Lila at the Childcare Centre, where Ellie is bragging about going to the Dairi Burger with her mum and stepdad. Wow, so her mum already got married? Jeez, things have moved along quickly in Sweet Valley. You’d have thought the wedding might have been a plot point though. Or at least mentioned in the background of one of the other stories. [Raven: The Ritemans divorce, the McMillans marry. One in, one out.]
Ellie’s obvious delight at spending time with her fam again upsets Lila. And she can’t help but notice that all around her the kids and their minders are all talking about their family members, and when Mrs McMillan (oh, so she kept her surname after marriage?) arrives early and hugs her daughter, Lila is a bit overcome.
She decides she needs to see how other families function, and sets her sights on the most perfect family of all time ever: The Wakefield Clan.
She asks what the twins are up to, and it turns out they’re gearing up for a fantastic night of playing Pictionary, which I feel certain in any other book Jessica would have denied to the hilt because it would be perceived as being childish. Lila points out that mathematically, this doesn’t balance, there are five Wakefields, so what do they do about the extra person?
“I mean, five’s an odd number,” I explained. Hey, no wonder I aced that math test. “Unless your dad has to work late or something?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Dad? He’d never miss a family game of Pictionary.”
“He’d never miss a family game of anything,” Jessica put in. “He’d even play a family game of Sit-Around-the-Living-Room-and-Look-at-Each-Other. He’d love it. As long as there were rules and we kept score.”
Really? Because Ned is copiously absent from most books, usually because he’s working on “a big case”, or he’s sharing private details about his clients, or he’s telling the kids to deal with their problems on their own. I have never seen Ned play a game with the kids. Or Alice, for that matter. Or Steven.
But sure, let’s pretend that the Wakefields play games together to the point where they actually schedule such fun. [Raven: All I remember is MonopolyGate.]
We cut to dinner at the Wakefield Compound, where Lila is shocked to find out that it’s a noisy affair, in contrast to the silence and gentle rustle of the newspaper found at the Fowler dining table. *headtilt* Has Lila never stayed for dinner at the Wakefields’ before? I can’t off the top of my head remember reading such a scene, but surely she must have stayed for dinner at some point. [Raven: I had complete deja vu in this whole scene. I’m sure I’ve read it in another book, point for point.]
Steven is his usual disgusting and uncouth self, chewing with his mouth open, elbows on table and demanding more food. As always, this is supposed to be funny, but it’s not.
However, Lila’s having a lovely time. She imagines her and dad gabbing away, interrupting each other, and connecting over each meal.
After the meal, there’s a fierce fight over whose turn it is to clear the table, which Lila stops by offering to do it. Seriously, Ned and Alice, you’ve met your kids, they argue over everything, either make Elizabeth do everything (because she’s a saint), or assign them days.
After dinner they have a banter-filled game of Pictionary. And by banter, I mean that Steven’s annoying, but again Lila finds it charming and imagines how nice it would be to have a big brother who protected her. Obviously she’s never met Steven.
Then she imagines that Jimmy turns up and wants to kiss her, and she completely spaces out, leading Steven to make fun of her. She realises that actually, this isn’t her family, and it’s time to go home.
Yeah, Steven has that effect on almost everyone.
The next morning, Lila comes down to breakfast to find Mr Fowler reading his newspaper. He flew in last night and got home at 3am. Lila asks – in a joking tone – whether he looked in on her when he got back, and he replies that she needed her rest.
She waits for him to apologise for standing her up at dinner, and he doesn’t. She makes a mess with her breakfast and – bafflingly – drags her fork across the bottom of her cereal bowl until she gets his attention. He asks what’s wrong, and she says nothing. He immediately goes back to his paper, so she reminds him about their dinner.
My lower lip quivered. Rats! I wanted to sound angry. but I was more sad than mad. “It’s just that you were going to take me to dinner at Chez François because of my A,” I said in a very small voice.
“Oh, that.” Dad waved his hand in the air. “Didn’t you get my message?”
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
Dad sat back and smiled. “Then it was all right, wasn’t it?” he said cheerfully. “I’m sure you had a very nice meal. It isn’t every girl who gets to eat at Chez François, you know.”
I licked my lips and twisted my napkin forlornly in my lap, remembering Caroline Pearce and her family. “But—” I began. Tears stung my eyes, and I wished he would understand.
Dad sighed. “I’m really, really proud of that A you got in science. I want you to know that.”
“In math,” I corrected him, staring at my overflowing bowl.
“Sure, math.” Dad’s eyes flicked disapprovingly to the milk dripping onto the tablecloth. “And I know you wanted me there Saturday night.”
Sunday, I thought, not even bothering to say it out loud.
Dad coughed. “But sweetie, you know how it is.”
I nodded again. I knew how it was. Business would always come first, and I would be way back in second place.
He then hands her $100 in twenties. Parenting done. Where is the guy who flew home in the first Unicorn Club book to chastise his kid for her bad behaviour? Or the one that bonded with her when she kept Ellie hidden? This guy is a tool. [Raven: Total Character Reset between each book is getting tiresome, to be honest. Not that there’s anything we can do about it. No Hugging No Learning.]
She decides to tell him how disappointed she is. She doesn’t need an ATM, she needs her dad. So she speaks again, only to be told, “Not now, sweetheart. I’m busy.” George Fowler is back to Father of the Year.
We cut to lunch at the Unicorner (hey, anyone else remember all that hoo-har about off-campus lunch? No? It’s ok, none of the ghosties do either), where the topic is PAR-TAY.
The conversation is not productive, but the short version is: Jessica is obsessed with booking a band; Kimberly is on decorations; Mandy thinks they need to publicise the party; and Ellen is just there. Of course, they need a venue. At this point, Lila offers to host.
… huh. I thought that was why she brought up the party in the first place. *re-reads* Oh, no, she didn’t say anything about hosting earlier. However, if one of my friend group had said “We should have a party” it would be implied that they would be hosting. Otherwise it’s a bit obnoxious to say “I want a party. I’m not hosting.”
Feeling peevish towards her father, Lila says that if they don’t have the funds, she’ll also bankroll the party.
[Wing: Honey, bankroll your way into some better friends.]
After school, Lila wants to hit the mall, but nobody can join her as they all have family-related activities to attend to. Mandy even makes a dig that the club has moved beyond shopping.
Jesus, why is everyone in an asshole in this book? [Raven: It’s weird. I did like this book, but there’s literally nothing of note occurring with anyone else other than Lila. I guess that’s not that uncommon, but it feels really jarring here.]
Lila even asks Evie and Mary to shop with her, but both decline for family reasons, and Lila huffs off to the mall by herself.
I walked into Totally Hip, the music store that’s so hip its name doesn’t even tell you what it sells, and started flipping through the racks of CDs.
Fantastic. And I’m very proud of Totally Hip for daring to break out of the Sweet Valley naming conventions. Then again, Valley Records and Valley Discs have already been taken, so what’s left? Sweet Valley Music? [Raven: I hope that Totally Hip comes under new management in later books, and changes its name to Hip Replacement.]
Then she spots him! The dreamy Jimmy Lancer. She sidles over and feigns interest in the CD he’s looking at – The Mangy Muttheads, apparently Jimmy thinks they are amazing and he’s delighted that Lila is into metal too. The downside is that because the band is from England, their CDs cost a lot.
Lila immediately offers to buy it for him, and he laughs it off – $25 is a lot from a near-stranger, but Lila insists, saying that she loves the music too, and she’s just excited to have found another fan. She ends up buying him quite a few and he’s very grateful, and throws a casual arm around her shoulders.
[Wing: Oh no, I did not mean this. Oh sweetie.]
Just to clarify, he was not testing to see if she’d pay. From their conversations, I’m pretty sure he has no clue that she’s the richest girl in town, and he is taken aback by her generosity. And he’s genuinely surprised and grateful by her gifts. [Raven: Yeah, I’m not convinced. Random thirteen-year-ols spends a fuckton of cash on you for no reason? It’s scummy to accept under any circumstances. Sure, he “protests”, but his refusal and acceptance sentences are seperated by a comma rather than a full stop / period. He’s a twat.]
At dinner that night, in the silence, Lila thinks to herself that she should tell her dad about Jimmy since they’re “practically dating” now. George, as ever, is reading his newspaper and pretending he has no children.
In an attempt to connect, she asks him about his business. I’m sure we’re all keen to find out exactly what the fuck Fowler Enterprises does, aren’t we? Well, here you go…
“Fowler Enterprises?” he asked. He cleared his throat. “Well, dear, I do importing and exporting. And a whole lot more.” He turned back to his papers.
I tried again. “Do you use, you know, computers?”
Dad looked up, a smile frozen on his face. “Computers, honey?” he asked. “Tons. We’re a leader in systems technology, especially where the new modem port start-ups are concerned. The terminals all interface with one another using the BBB triple-megabyte system log.” His pen moved quickly across the page in front of him. “Clear?”
“New modem port start-ups”? Now, for all I know, in the 90s, that was a very “now” thing to be into. But reading it in 2022, it just looks like scribble. [Wing: I’m pretty sure it was just scribble then, too, just no one expected readers to see it (or care).] [Raven: “He’s a transponster!“]
Also, apparently Lila doesn’t remember visiting her father’s work and using the computer there.
Then George cuts Lila off and makes a call on his cellphone.
Lila makes one last try. She tells him she met a boy. And she likes him. And she thinks he’s likes her.
George’s response? “That’s nice, dear.” And he takes another call.
After that call, Lila says she wants her dad to meet him. He says he trusts her judgment and takes another call.
Lila tries to translate this as trust and not indifference. And she vows to get his attention.
[Wing: Burn. Something. Down.] [Dove: Let us all take a moment to be grateful that Wing’s parents did not attend the George Fowler School of Parenting, as only they can stop Wing fires.]
At lunch the next day, Lila again exaggerates her time spent with Jimmy, saying they went to Casey’s, to the zoo, and then they sat on a bench for hours. Presumably talking. Possibly snogging. Lila doesn’t specify.
The other Unicorns are sceptical. Jessica even goes so far as to say that since Lila lied about dinner with her dad, why should they believe her now?
Maybe you shouldn’t, maybe she is showing herself to be a liar, but maybe have a smidge of empathy and realise that the only child in a single parent family, whose dad frequently works abroad, might have told a few porkies to save face when her idiot parent let her down?
They demand proof, and Lila says that she has a date with Jimmy on Friday at Chez François. Queen of Support, Kimberly says that she’s seen Jimmy hanging out at the Dairi Burger with Hilary Smithwick, a popular high schooler. Lila shakes this off. Surely not. Not after all that eye-contact they shared.
The Unicorns say no way her dad would let her date a high schooler – and Jessica would know about this personally, although what about that time they all dated high schoolers and it was creepy as fuck? [Wing: But it’s an entire new school year, Dove, they’re far more mature now!] – but Lila says he doesn’t care. And deep down she thinks that’s probably not how it should be. [Raven: Poor Lila! She’s hurting so much, even if it’s just opening up old wounds.]
That evening, Lila psyches herself up to call Jimmy and invite him for dinner. She keeps hoping her dad will come tearing out of his office and yell something dadly like, “NO DAUGHTER OF MINE IS DATING A HIGH SCHOOLER!” but he does not, and she eventually runs out of reasons not to call Jimmy.
He’s blasting his heavy metal (and Lila’s internal reaction is that she’d rather have soft pebbles instead [Raven: Cute!]), and it takes awhile for him to turn it down. Eventually he figures out Lila’s calling and calls her “kiddo” and thanks her for the albums – one of which is playing now.
When she has his full attention, she asks him out for dinner, saying her dad has offered it to her as a treat for her and a friend and she’s picked Jimmy, and she can pick him up. When he ask who is “we” and she clarifies she has a chauffeur, he laughs and says that she’s “something else”. But sure, thanks for the invite.
While Lila is inflating the romance of the situation, let’s just give her kudos for having the nerve to ask someone out. Good for you, Lila. Though I would advise you pick someone more age-appropriate.
And on that note, fellow recappers, if you have any dark speculations on how this story could have gone, let’s get to the end of the recap before expanding on them, because I will be bringing it up later. [Raven: Will do!]
The next day, Lila hangs out with the Unicorns, and Kimberly can’t help but jab at Lila.
Urgh. Remember the first couple of books in the Unicorn Club? Where instead of vapid competitiveness, spite and the burning need to destroy each other, these pretty weirdos actually learned to be kind? Remember when Lila did her dare and Jessica gave her an admiring high-five instead of wanting to kill her for succeeding? Remember when Mandy put forward the idea that a good club brings out the best in its members? Well fuck you, if you do, because the ghosties do not care. Instead of putting out books that show tweens that supporting your friends and helping them through their problems, isn’t it better to make girls compete over looks, boys and even families? Let’s promote a message like “I’m not a girl’s girl, I hang out with boys because girls are silly and back-stabby” or “I’m not like other girls”.
Whoever came up with these horrible plot lines, fuck you. And if the ghostie had free rein, but couldn’t somehow pull off “Lila starts to spiral and ignores her friends’ concerns because if she does it means admitting her dad doesn’t care”, then fuck the ghostie too. [Raven: YASSSS.]
The other Unicorns are envious, their parents would hit the roof if they dated someone so much older. Jessica says she can imagine her dad’s reaction. Which is weird, because she’s actually experienced it. With Josh Angler, he was furious. With Ben Oliver, he was fine.
Talk turns to the upcoming party – it’s Thursday now, and the party is on Saturday – and Lila starts to panic. What if her dad finds out and gets mad? What if the party gets out of control? The thing is, I don’t recall George being at any of Lila’s parties before – except the one they threw for the kids at the centre – so it’s hard to invest in this, because it’s kind of the status quo. I guess she plans to get rid of Mrs Pervis and/or whoever they hire to chaperone, but since it’s not particularly clear either now or previously that there was a chaperone. I’m pretty sure she could say to her dad, “Dad, I’m throwing the biggest party Sweet Valley has ever seen. I’m even inviting those skanks from Big Mesa. People are going to be banging in the ballroom, vomiting in the Olympic-size swimming pool and burning the pool house to the ground!” and he’d just reply, “That’s nice, dear.”
Well, fuck me, Lila has almost exactly the same thought. This is her imagined conversation:
DAD (hiding behind stock reports): What is it, Lila?
ME: Um, could I, you know, marry an ax murderer?
DAD (vaguely): I trust your judgment, Lila.
ME: Oh. Um, thanks. And while I’m at it, can I tear down the house and move into the Statue of Liberty?
DAD (tapping in a number on his cell phone): Sure. Nothing’s too good for my little girl.
[Wing: Lila, go find yourself a good ax murderer and have fun.]
On Friday morning, Lila’s starting to have serious worries. Her dad has no idea that she’s throwing a rager or that she’s going on a date with an older boy, and she asks if her dad will go with her to the mall that afternoon. Then she adds that if he’s not cool with the mall they could – but no, George cuts her off. He has a golf date. She asks if he can cancel and the man is scandalised. Of course not. These golfers have flown in from the Midwest to talk business with him. But here, take these credit cards. And stop asking for affection, because all you’re getting is cash, kid. So here, take everything.
Lila is furious, and the fury only builds as George leaves without any further discussion. [Raven: And so her meltdown continues.]
“I have a date tonight!” I called loudly as Dad got into his Lexus. My hands clenched and unclenched.
“That’s nice,” Dad said. He didn’t even look at me. He reached for the door.
I took a deep breath. I was so angry now, I didn’t care what I said. “He’s older than me!” I shouted. “Like, lots older! He’s in high school!”
And if you think George screeches to a halt and immediately grounds her and tells her that she’s never interacting with another boy as long as she lives… you’ve been reading a very different book. He leaves without even acknowledging her.
Lila seethes and glares at the credit cards until an idea occurs to her. Dear old dad told her to buy a treat. Well, by jove, she’s gonna.
You go, girl! You bankrupt that asshat. Watch Brewster’s Millions for inspiration.
Cut to Lila buying everything she encounters, while the rest of the Unicorns are dubious about her spend rate. Even they think it’s excessive, and they’ve seen her shop like a demon before.
Lila is currently buying four designer swimsuits, none in her size, and two so skimpy she’d never wear them. The sales clerk says there’s a warning on the card saying that the spending today is too high – it’s not near the limit, it’s just flagged as having spent too much today. Lila forces her to override the warning because she’s Lila. Fucking. Fowler.
If I couldn’t get my dad’s attention any other way, I’d run up his bills until he noticed.
“Lovely,” I said a few minutes later. “Just what I’ve always wanted. A hand-painted tea-leaf box.”
Behind me, Jessica groaned.
I’m loving that she’s basically doing Brewster’s Millions here. Only she’s running on pure teen angst. I’m here for it. I think George Fowler is long overdue a massive bill for his absent-parent act.
There are many snippets similar to the above. And then Ellen spots Unicorn pendants in the window of a jewellery store. She can’t see a price, which Lila takes as inspiration. If it’s not tagged, it’s too expensive for most. So she’ll buy five, one for each Unicorn. And a load of other stuff.
Well, she tries. She’s hit the credit limit. And for once, we have a number. This credit card maxes out at $75,000.
So Lila pulls out another card.
Epic. *chef’s kiss*
[Wing: … that is not a high max at all. I thought the Fowlers were rich rich. Where’s the unlimited card? Where’s the $500k+ card at least?] [Raven: I took it as a daily max? Also, maybe the Black Amex card is somewhere lese in the pile. Also? Fucking hell, that escalated quickly.] [Dove: I too thought it was a daily max, which would have been even more impressive in the early 90s. But Wing’s right, if that’s the absolute max, it should have a few more zeroes.]
We cut to Lila and Jimmy at Chez François and it’s actually a bit awkward. Jimmy is not used to the finer things in life, and makes awkward jokes, which Lila doesn’t register as jokes. They try to talk, and it’s not awful, but it’s not the swoony romance Lila was dreaming of. Also, Jimmy makes a point to ask her to thank her father for his generosity, which makes Lila feel odd.
She covers the silence with another gift for him. Somehow, even though she had no clue what he liked, she’s managed to buy him something he really wants: a diving watch. The best money can buy. As before, he says he can’t accept such a gift, but Lila insists. He makes a joke that all he needs now is a powerboat.
Lila seriously considers buying one.
[Wing: Somehow when the ghostie is writing Mr Fowler, it feels like a caricature of a disconnected rich parent even with what we’ve seen before, but Lila’s response seems completely realistic and heartbreaking. Of course she’d consider buying a powerboat. Of course she would.] [Raven: Don’t take the fucking watch, Jimmy, you absolute cleft.]
After dinner, they walk along the beach, and after much fumbling, Lila manages to invite him to the party on Saturday night. He takes her hand and asks if he can bring his friends, and Lila says yes, taking that to mean he must like her if he wants her to hang out with his friends too.
Also, it has the added bonus that her dad would freak if he knew she was inviting high school boys over while he was away.
Back at home, Lila is stuck on a homework assignment titled “What my family means to me”. Wing, is this a normal subject? I’m wondering if it’s a UK/USA thing or just shoddy writing, because I don’t think I’ve ever been assigned homework relating to my family structure in my life. [Wing: I never had to write anything like that. I suppose there might be twee end-of-summer essays that would cover it, but I can’t even imagine what class that would be for? English? Family and consumer sciences? (Well, if it’s that, there’s a reason I never ran into it. Those classes didn’t fit into the college-prep class track, as I’ve complained about here before. Who took college-prep classes? Wing. Who was much more prepared for things like cooking and homemaking? Ostrich.)]
She’s interrupted by Jimmy calling to thank her for the watch and “a wonderful evening”. Earlier, Lila was inflating the romance of just standing in the same room as Jimmy, but I can see how phrases like that give her hope that they’re heading towards romance now.
Jimmy says he also wants to thank her dad for his generosity, and that gives her an idea. She puts Jimmy on mute and takes the phone into her dad’s study. She tells George that her boyfriend is on the phone. Her older boyfriend. In high school. To thank him for the expensive dinner he paid for.
George says, “That’s nice,” without even looking up from his computer.
I stared in astonishment at my father. Jessica’s father would have gone ballistic. So would Mandy’s. So would any real father. “Didn’t you hear me?” I asked, feeling my chest constrict. “My high-school boyfriend’s on the phone, and he wants to thank you personally.”
Dad peered at the screen. “No problem,” he said absently. “Tell him I said hello.”
George, very rarely does someone fail as hard at parenting as this. This level is usually reserved exclusively for the Wakefields, but damnit, man, PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR CHILD.
Lila is livid. And I think here is a really good place to talk about how this story could get far darker.
Jimmy seems like a nice guy. I don’t think he’s romancing Lila, but he seems to genuinely like her, and that’s cool. In fact, that’s healthy, given the age gap. And he’s flattered and pleased by the gifts, but I don’t think they’re the reason he’s accepting her friendship. But this could so easily be so much worse.
First of all, best case scenario of a darker version of this: Lila over-attaches to some douchebag who realises that the poor little rich girl needs a few minutes of validation each week, and in return she bankrolls his every dream. He introduces her to his friends, and they realise the same thing. Cue Lila convincing herself she’s in a love triangle (or other shape), as older boys vie for her “attention” and run through her trust fund without a thought to her emotions.
Or worse. One or more older douchebags realise that if you tell this vulnerable minor that you love her, she will do anything for you. You separate her from her friends with a few well-placed manipulations like: “they don’t understand our love, how could they? They’re just kids, and you’re so mature”. And boom. You have a child who will do anything for you. A rich pretty one to boot. Just keep saying that she’s pretty, mature and you love her, and she will do anything to retain that.
Fuck you, George.
[Raven: *blinks* Damn, that’s grim. Fuck you, George. #bleakvalley]
On Saturday morning, Lila gets Jessica to call Mrs Pervis, pretending to be George’s secretary, to tell her she’s got the weekend off because he’s in Rome, Greece, and is having Lila fly out to join him. Oh, Rome’s in Italy, you say? Um… somehow she manages to style it out by saying that she’s actually his secretary’s secretary, which Lila thinks is unbelievable. George is the managing director/COO/whatever of an international firm. I would be shocked if there was any less than four levels of administration below him. Anyway, Jessica manages to style it out and Mrs Pervis is delighted to be able to leave for the weekend to visit her daughter in Sunshine Falls. These place names are just cloyingly sweet. They really gave up after Big Mesa. Which I’ve only just googled and found out that it’s a flat-topped hill. Wow. So there’s a sweet valley and a big hill. Amazing.
Sudden thought: do you think that all the shops in Big Mesa follow the Sweet Valley naming convention? Big Mesa Records. Mesa Fashions. Big Mesa Ballet, etc? [Raven: Oh, for sure.]
Now Lila has to fake going to the airport, so she gets the chauffeur to drive her there, forces him to leave her to her own devices, and then hops in a cab and heads back home.
Only to find the house heaving with strangers. The house is full, the pool is full, I can only imagine the pool house is full, if it still exists in this ghostie’s mind. There is no sign of the Unicorns, just asshole high schoolers.
She encounters one of Jimmy’s friends – the one that made fun of her when she put her hand in ice cream – and he tell her that she shouldn’t be here, the party shouldn’t be admitting kids from middle school. Nobody believes it’s her house.
“Cowabunga!” The voice echoed from the swimming pool. A stack of people three high rose out of the water. At the top was a high-school girl in an incredibly skimpy bikini—skimpier than the designer suits I’d bought earlier that week. The kid at the bottom lurched while the girl at the top shrieked and tried to keep her balance. It looked incredibly dangerous.
Nothing dates a book harder than the word “cowabunga”. Except maybe when in Making Out #1, Zoey dreams of marrying Marky Mark. Both things had, looking back, a rather narrow shelf-life of being on the cutting-edge of cool. And somehow both have been immortalised in books. Breath-taking. [Ravem: See also: “Wasssaaaaaap!”]
The stack of humans topples, falling towards the diving board, just as someone leaps from the board. Nobody is injured. In fact, nobody but Lila even realises that it could have been rather bad.
Then people start leaping off the roof of the house into the pool. Actually, they’re not leaping, they’re throwing each other off.
I know this sounds unlikely, but when I was in the sixth form, two muppets in the upper sixth were suspended for trying to throw each other off the balcony on to the concrete below. Never underestimate the combined power of stupidity and toxic masculinity. (One went over the railing, but grabbed the metal rails and dropped to the ground without injury.)
[Wing: It absolutely does not sound unlikely. Hell, I’d probably leap from a roof into a pool at this age, much less when I was in high school.]
The house is completely out of control and Lila feels very small, very young, and very powerless.
(And just remember, as mentioned above: this is best case scenario of her acting out to get attention.)
She finds Jessica and Lila, and they report that they’ve tried to throw out the high schoolers, but they got nowhere. And the cars keep rolling in with more and more arriving. Lila says she’ll deal with it. She reasons that if she can just speak to Jimmy, he’ll be able to rein them in.
She tracks him down and just being around him calms her down a little. He puts an arm around her and calls her “kid”. And then another pair of female arms wrap around Jimmy.
He greets this new girl with a kiss, and introduces her to Lila as Hilary. Hilary is thrilled to meet her, saying that Jimmy can’t stop talking about his new little sister. Jimmy has an arm around them both and says this has been the best week ever. He’s got a great girlfriend and the younger sister he always wanted. [Wing: MY HEART HURTS FOR LILA.] [Raven: Our poor girl. Also, “the sister I always wanted”…? What, the sister who buys you diving watches? Have a word with yourself.]
Lila starts to flail internally, even acknowledging that she’d done her best to buy Jimmy’s love, and it hasn’t panned out how she hoped. She bursts into tears and runs for her bedroom.
Ouch. To be honest, there were signs. He has called her “kid” or “kiddo” in their conversations, but it’s easy for Lila to ignore that when he takes her hand or puts an arm around her. And maybe he should have been clearer on the boundaries – usually you can tell when someone has a crush. I’m not really blaming anyone here, because Jimmy’s only fourteen and, if Steven’s anything to go by, fourteen year old boys in this universe are basically really tall toddlers, so really, for his peers, he’s ahead of the curve.
So, for all my jabs about inconsistencies, and the Unicorns being complete assholes, I will say that this portion was pretty well-written. Lila wasn’t deluding herself the way Jessica can, for example. Jessica will make eye-contact with someone and then tell the world they’re getting married. And Jimmy wasn’t really leading her on. These are young people who got their wires crossed. And even his girlfriend is nice, she seems genuinely happy to meet Lila, not possessive – though that might validate Lila as a romantic rival, so sensible to avoid – or condescending, since y’know, we’re in a fandom where girls hate girls for any reason. So while everything else doesn’t work, I can’t really fault execution of this part. [Raven: Yeah, it’s heartbreaking.]
That said, dude, how many people did you invite to this fucking party and why are they throwing stone planters into the pool? Why do you know so many assholes? If your friends are nice, why aren’t you rounding up your good friends and trying to get them to deal with the rowdy ones? Or at least, why aren’t the rowdy ones the outliers, and maybe inside there are the nice people who aren’t actively trying to destroy everything they encounter?
The twins arrive to console Lila. And given that her actual friends have been such bastards of late, I’m delighted to see Saint Elizabeth rock up. Me. Delighted. For Elizabeth. Elizabeth hands out some tissues from her pocket – of course Elizabeth carries tissues. Of course she does. I bet, even though we’re not seeing it, she’s still picking up new best friends every week and solving their problems.
They don’t actually do much consoling though, because someone starts playing The Mangy Muttheads at a hell of a volume and Lila is now pissed off. She is going to shut this party down. She doesn’t care that she’s all blotchy from crying and looks a mess. These people will fuck the fuck off.
Lila runs through the house yelling at people that the party is over and it’s time to go home. The general response is “Fine, go home, kid, but I’m partying”. And I’ve got to say, that must be bloody terrifying to have your house full of strangers who have no clue it’s your house and won’t leave it. Call the police, kiddo. Scare the shit out of these little hooligans.
At this point, people start grabbing clods of earth and throwing them at each other. This is started by Jimmy’s friend, by the way. And for all the nice things I’ve said about how Jimmy is with Lila, his friends are complete assholes, and I think we have to judge him pretty hard on that. If you hang out with assholes and let them be assholes unchecked, then even if you’re not doing the asshole thing yourself, you are still an asshole.
Elizabeth shows up and is just wondering if maybe they could play a recording throughout the house saying the party’s over or something when good old George shows up. In a gold Lexus. Urgh. [Raven: Fowler Ex Machina.]
At my last law firm, they had a client who did not have a driving licence, but drove around in a platinum-coated supercar. He said he had an international pardon from the president of his home country, basically giving him carte blanche to break any laws without repercussions. (He did not.) But god was that car garish. Even in the English drizzle it fucking glowed. The faintest hint of light would make it sparkle like a fucking unicorn covered in pixie dust. [Wing: My eyes are filled with stars right now, and I want one.] [Dove: You would hate it. It had a pearlescent sheen. It was a pinkish-shiny-glow-in-the-dark car.] And he was the kind of jackass who parked diagonally, taking up more than one parking space.
He was an asshole. I assume that anyone who owns a sparkly car (particularly if they don’t have a driving licence) is an asshole. Or if they drive a white Audi. I’m sorry, but you’re an asshole. Every terrifying moment of my driving life has been the result of a white Audi.
Lila is delighted to see him. She needs her dad right now. But George’s main port of call is to empty his house of assholes, then fly to Hong Kong at midnight. Cool.
“Out,” Dad said between clenched teeth, dragging the kid onto the pool’s edge. “Out, all of you,” he said. “Beat it!”
“Hey, man, don’t have a cow!” The kid stood up and took a couple of steps backward.
Don’t have a cow. Thank you, Bart Simpson.
Maybe pop-culture references shouldn’t be in Sweet Valley. This book has taught me that these books work better only referencing Gone With the Wind and all other pop-culture is made up.
George strides through the house announcing that he’s checking for damage, and by the time he gets back, everyone should have left. Lila stares after him wondering what about her? All he seems to care about is his property, and she doesn’t even count as that.
I may have to paste a lot, because it’s bloody gratifying when Lila calls him out. Yes, she has behaved badly, but to be honest, she tried several times to get his attention the right way and failed. I’m not saying this was the way to get his attention, but I can certainly see how we got here.
“Well, what about the damage to your daughter?” I screamed after him, knowing he couldn’t possibly hear me.
And then, despite my best efforts, the tears started to flow again, and this time they seemed to well up from deeper than before. Through my tears I realized that I wasn’t crying over some stupid crush. That was all I’d had with Jimmy, I realized now: No. These tears were about something much more serious.
I was crying for my father. My father, who was never there for me. My father, who ignored me when I needed him. My father, who—
The doors to the patio opened and he, stepped out, a scowl on his face. Before I could think about what I was doing, I ran forward. “Forget the house!” I cried, my body shaking with sobs so strong I could barely get the words out. “You can always get another stupid house! But you can never get another daughter!”
There. I’d said it.
Dad sighed in a patronizing kind of way. “I’ll get to you in due time, Lila,” he said. His eyes flashed. “For starters, you’re grounded. For a month, maybe two.”
“You can’t ground me!” I shot back. “You’re leaving, and you won’t be home again for who knows how long, and when you are home you don’t notice what I do or who I do it with! So you can’t ground me. It won’t work!” I stared at Dad, eyes blazing.
“Lila—” Dad said warningly.
But I was too far gone to stop. “And a lot you care anyway!” I shouted. “You’ll be off in Hong Kong making six gazillion more dollars! Well, who needs it?”
Dad rolled his eyes. “I’d love to stay and talk,” he said, checking his watch, “but my flight leaves in only—”
Flights! Money! I was sick of it. “You think money equals love!” I screamed in a voice that probably could have been heard on Mars. I knew now that money didn’t equal love. Money hadn’t bought me Jimmy’s love, had it? “Well, all I have to say to you is this. You’re not a father at all!” I dug deep for the worst insult I could think of. “You’re an automatic teller machine!”
And with that, she runs off. She climbs a tree and settles in the branches and cries her heart out, thinking that it doesn’t matter if she never sees her father ever again.
She wakes up to find herself still in the tree as a thunder storm is starting, and her dad’s arms are around her, saying that he was so worried when he couldn’t find her. He’s so glad she didn’t run away.
Lila asks what time it is, and he says it’s around two in the morning. She realises that he missed his flight to Hong Kong. He says he cancelled it because he realised that he has to take care of her, not business. Someone will cover for him at work. He has been very selfish and he would like her to give him one last chance, he promises it’s the start of something new. And Lila agrees.
The next morning when she gets up, she finds her father in the kitchen burning muffins. He thought it would be a surprise, but it turns out he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He added several spoonfuls of oil when the instructions said to grease the tin.
George says that he has a very important meeting with a very special client today. Lila’s heart falls into her toes for half a second before he clarifies that this very important client is her. She decides to test him, saying that she has plans with the Unicorns, but he tells her to cancel, they are spending quality time together, whether she likes it or not. And also she’s grounded for two weeks. [Wing: Er, the telling her to cancel so they can spend time together after all the times he shot her down is shit. Her actually being grounded from seeing her friends is fair. Still want you to fuck off into the sea, George, though apparently Lila still wants a relationship with you, so I guess you can stay. For now.] She protests, but realises that it’s a fair punishment and maybe other parents would have gone longer. She agrees on the condition that he’s grounded too. No business trips while she’s grounded. That’s actually a really good point. Good for you, Lila.
She apologises for the party – though no mention is made of the spending spree, so I kind of hope that pops up in the next book when his bill comes in. And they do their goofy dance to the Salty Dog Rag.
And with that, there’s absolutely no lead-in to the next book.
Well, about bloody time. If you’ve been on this site for awhile, you will know that we recappers have been speculating on just how lonely Lila is since the very early books. And we’ve had the odd confirmation, mostly centred on her mother’s absence, but this time we have her levelling that angst and fury at her father – and rightly so. George was awful in this book, but it was in character. He’s always on business trips, and whether all the previous ghosties have meant to or not, her comments about his absence have certainly seeded this kind of meltdown being on the horizon.
I feel certain that the plot point will be dropped by the next book, because Unicorn Club seems to be going the same way as Twins, where nothing relates to anything, and I know for certain in High there is another “Lila has a meltdown over her abandonment issues” book, but still, I liked this book.
It wasn’t as fabulous as Poor Lila!, and it certainly didn’t get as dark as it could have – it’s a tween book, that was the right call – but it was very enjoyable and feels like a very reasonable payoff to something that has actually been building for a very long time.
[Wing: I still think George came across as a caricature even after what we’ve seen in earlier books, but Lila was legitimately heartbreaking. It could have gone very dark, but I think it actually works better that it didn’t. Jimmy was at least an okay guy, he didn’t seem to be using her and did seem to like her company as a little sister, his girlfriend seems to like what she’s heard of her as well and is friendly, Lila built it all up for herself, and it painful to watch. So too is how the Unicorns treat her. Fuck all of that noise.]
[Raven: I too think that George was a little cartoon villain in the early parts of this book, but I did enjoy his face turn. Except we’ve had this exact finish before, with George and Lila bonding over both being awful in the kitchen after arguing about George’s lack of parental acumen. I also think that the ending was far too rushed. It needed another chapter after the party, with Lila and George actually bonding on more than a superfucial level. Finally, I was peeved that George didn’t even mention the huge overspending from Lila, as that felt like a legitimately gobsmacking moment as I read it. Although I concede that he may be so rich that he didn’t notice. Overall, I liked this book. Because I like Lila.]