Title: Bon Voyage, Unicorns
Tagline: Making waves…
Summary: The Unicorns are going on a Caribbean cruise! A week of sun, fun, and parties… what could be more perfect? Well, I’ll tell you what: a boyfriend. I’m the only Unicorn who doesn’t have one.
But I’m lucky for two reasons. One, Curtis Bowman—the cutest guy ever—happens to be on board. And two, the Unicorns are giving me the makeover of my life to help me snag him!
Excuse me, but one, Ellen’s Mr. Right is Jared Matthews, not Curtis Bowman, and two, she’s lucky she has a friend like me, who’ll steer her in the right direction.
Excuse me, but one, Ellen belongs with Sam Sloane, and two, she’ll be thanking me when Sam falls overboard for her.
Did I just say I was lucky?
The Unicorns are back and better than ever! [Wing: The last few books show this as the lie it is.]
A crazy clusterfrig of a summary there, with duelling quips between the Unipals. On the face of it, this is an Ellen book, but – surprise and horror – we soon discover it’s not in First Person. This is a refreshing change, bringing the book an old-school Twins vibe. While the First Person approach was great when The Unicorn Club subseries began, it’s waned a fair amount as the series has declined.
Also, it’s the first of a double-header! If history is a judge, this could be middling (like the previous boat-bound double bill with its fabulous start and horrible finish), or it could be appalling (like the entire Nightmare Mansion series). I doubt it’ll be anything so gauche as good.
Let’s batten down our metaphorical hatches, and crack the fuck on.
[Wing: I’m predisposed to like this more than the rest of the Unicorn Club books because I loathe first person and am glad to have a break from it.
Unrelated, does anyone remember why we call Ostrich Ostrich? He brought it up at my dad’s memorial and asked me to explain to a room full of people why my friends call him Ostrich. Did I remember? NOPE.]
[Dove: I was quite excited for this book. It’s an Ellen book and we’re somewhere else. I’m very bored of being at school, there are too many continuity errors in the hallowed halls of SVMS. Perhaps the open sea will be a much better place for things to make sense? Also, I am happy to shuck off first person. It’s not my favourite thing, and this series took a severe nose-dive after the first few books, so let’s hope this is the start of things being better. And if it’s not, at least there’s only a few left.
Also, regarding Ostrich? No. Is it just that he’s really tall, Raven found it funny, and it stuck?] [Raven: Basic but true.]
“Is that awesome or what?” Jessica Wakefield’s blue-green eyes flickered over the enormous white cruise ship.
Boom! We’re not fucking about here for one damp second!
Even though the series has a chunk of story real estate to play with, there’s no preamble today. It’s straight into the action.
The Unicorns are gathered before the Caribbean Queen, the aforementioned enormous white cruise ship from the previous blockquote. We have Jessica, Mandy, Lila, Ellen and Kimberly. Let joy be unconfined! Apparently, they are awaiting egress to the ship to partake in what appears to be an entirely seventh- and eighth-grade cruise.
We’ve just read about one hundred and fifty books about Californian sixth- and seventh-graders… and I wonder who else we’ll see today? Here’s a clue… NO ONE. NOT ONE OTHER SWEET VALLEY MIDDLE SCHOOLER. I’ll get to this in good time.
We Do, however see plenty of new kids. And of course, for Jessica, that means plenty of new boys…
This is a boyfriend book. Probably my least favourite subgenre of the series, and a subgenre which is over-represented.
I much prefer the stories in which the girls have non-boy-driven escapades. I suspect that constant boy-centric plot shenanigans are a blight on nostalgic YA of this style. It must have been so tiring at the time.
Ah well. Let’s hope this has more to offer than it seems at face value.
We learn of this cruise’s provenance. It’s not, as I imagined, some gift from Papa Fowler. Apparently, it’s a sponsored trip from Dream Teen magazine…
TEN DAYS OF SUN AND FUN FOR GRADES SEVEN AND EIGHT, the brochure had said.
The Unicorns apparently pulled out all the stops in the run up to this, leaping through parental hoops (straight A’s, extra chores, no sibling rivalry and so on). Lila just got her way, of course, but that’s canon these days. [Dove: Also, Kimberly is specifically noted as having a sibling, which I find a little odd, since she actually wished for one only days ago when her dad had a heart attack. Or did her wish come true and nobody’s noticed. Aliens or wish granters gave her what she wanted and now it’s always been that way, like in Never Ending Story?]
So the Unicorns are ready to board, and raring to go!
We learn a lot about the girl’s wardr… what’s that?
Fucked if I know.
… … Yeah, I know it’s totally unbelievable that she’s not going on this cruise with her sister.
… … True, you’d think that there’d be more Sweet Valley Middle Schoolers going on the cruise in general.
… … I suppose it is the Unicorn Club series, not the Sweet Valley Twins series, you’re right. Even so, this crap makes no sense at all.
Back to the scheduled programming.
We learn about the various Unicorns’ cruise wardrobes. Lila and her four-piece Italian luggage set, Mandy and her funky retro shabby chic, Jessica and her classic Callie beach look, Kimberly and her hip athletic sportswear.
And Ellen with a binbag full of rags.
First up, when did Kimberly become Belinda Leyton?
Then there’s Ellen… poor Ellen. I guess her parents’ divorce has hit her family hard? Jessica wonders as much.
The girls are checked in by a high-schooler, because god forbid there should be any adults on this death-ship. They go through a little Muskateering and declare they are “All for one and one for all,” which of course means they’ll be at each other’s throats before the ship has raised anchor.
They are assigned two opposite rooms, numbers 507 and 508. [Wing: So which cabin doesn’t have an ocean view? Because one of them is an interior cabin if they’re across from each other.] They immediately argue over who will bunk with whom. There’s some continuity as they flash back to the arguments at the Dude Ranch from Kimberly Rides Again. Lila manages to finagle her way into sharing with the pointy-headed camper she deems the lowest maintenance: Ellen. This leaves the other three to share the remaining room.
Good work Lila. Entirely what we’d expect. Although Ellen’s apparent disinterest went a long way to making it happen.
We snap cut to Lila and Ellen checking out their room. Ellen seems excited, which Lila finds infectious. For some reason, having a socket for her electric toothbrush seems da metaphorical bomb. Sure, the cabin is a far cry from the lap of luxury to which she is accustomed, but it’s nice being with friends.
The bags arrive. That actual bags. This is not a metaphor for the remaining Unicorns. Ellen is disappointed that it’s not, as it seems she’s definitely looking forward to having some quality Pal Time.
Lila spends her time dominating the closet situation, as you’d expect. Ellen is more than happy to acquiesce to her demands.
Next, we cut to the outside deck, as our unicorn pals watch the dwindling queue weave its way toward the gangplank. Only thirty-odd student to go!
The deck is filled with happy, laughing students, exploring their surroundings. [Wing: I like youngins best when they hit preteen and teen stage, but an entire cruise ship of seventh and eighth graders sounds horrifying.] [Dove: It’s only occurring to me now, but where are the adults? Nothing that follows has any kind of supervision that I’ve seen.] Sounds like a good idea, as this groundwork will become invaluable when they have to swim through the upside-down galley in order to get to safety. [Dove: I have never loved you more than right this moment. “In the water, I’m a very skinny lady.”] [Raven: *mwa*] Ellen feels a rumble beneath her feet, which she believes is the engines firing. It’s not. It’s music from the mixer event, organised by the crew.
Ellen heard a rumble.
I presume she is wearing something purple, as it’s the colour of royalty.
Does that mean Ellen felt… a royal rumble?
Try the veal, folks, I’m here all week. [Wing: Damn it, I laughed.]
The Unicorns head to the dining room to join in the mixing fun. Once there, Ellen makes a beeline for the food. As she does so, she gushes over all the cool thinks the girls can do together.
Unfortunately for Ellen, her friends are nowhere to be seen. Ellen is pissing into the wind.
[Dove: … um, are we not mustering? You know, that mandatory safety protocol? No? Are we sure? *shrugs* Don’t know why I’m surprised that we’re ignoring health and safety, but mustering would have given them an opportunity to meet cute boys or pick some mean girls to be their nemeses. Ghostie, you missed your chance there.]
All around her, Ellen can see kids at total ease. Kids laughing and joking, enjoying each other’s company. Hell, she even spots her friends, chatting to a bunch of cute guys, and eventually leaving the room without her.
Ellen felt her heart sinking down into her stomach. She couldn’t believe what an idiot she was. She’d pictured the Unicorns hanging out together as a club, but all her friends seemed to care about was meeting guys.
Poor, poor Ellen. You deserve better friends. But then again, this is entirely On Brand for the Spikeheads, so her surprise is, well, surprising. (Also, Spikeheads! How have I not called them that before?)
She decides to forgo the whole event, and plans to get off the boat and demand a refund. Erm, overreaction much?
Chapter Two skips us to the Unicorns and their sexy apparently boytoys. They are exploring the ship en masse, it seems, in a crowd of twenty or so boy / girl companions. We have “guy with brown hair and big hoop earrings”, “tall guy in Dodgers cap”, “girl in khaki shorts”, and so on.
Eventually, Mandy notices that Ellen isn’t with them. The rest of the Spikeheads are similarly clueless over the whereabouts of Ellen Presidente. A bit late, but I guess they are all super excited. Both Kimberly (boo) and Lila (yay) being particularly cutting about her ditzyness.
They head back to the dining room, as that‘s where they saw her last. On the way, they realise the ship is about to sail, so forget their important recovery mission in order to hang over the rail and wave at the people on the ground.
As they do so, they spot Ellen, near the rail of the deck below. She has her suitcase, and a singular purpose.
As the ship pulls away from the dock, Ellen lurches into action…
She hoists her suitcase over the edge, and climbs over the rail. As her friends watch in horror, Ellen takes a leap into nothingness… and plummets into the cool waters below.
I mean, FUCK OFF.
This is completely ridiculous.
I know she’s keen to quit the ship, but come on! Has the Ghostie ever SEEN how large these cruise ships are? Even if Ellen is on the same level as the gangplank, she’s a fair height from the water in this regard.
Yes, I know Ellen is trying to leap onto dry land, although it’s so badly written that this fact isn’t overtly obvious. And yes, I know that this is the Ghostie’s way of making Ellen “super-interesting” to these faceless newkids watching from the ship, which I suppose is the hinges which opens this plot’s particular doors, but even so. It’s FUCKING RIDICULOUS.
I nearly noped out right here, folks.
Ellen, you’re better than this.
So she lands in the water with a splash, and there’s a Passenger Overboard declaration, with blaring klaxon and much reader eye-rolling. Two shirtless crew members leap in for a rescue attempt. And “attempt” is correct, because, apparently, Ellen tries to fight them off by hitting them with her suitcase. [Wing: All of this is bullshit but I can’t stop laughing at the image of Ellen in the water bashing people’s heads with her suitcase.] [Dove: Ellen should be dead. I echo Raven’s points. Does the ghostie have any idea how tall a cruise ship is? It’s a fucking floating city. And yes, if you must know, I have gotten into a YouTube channel about cruise ships since lockdown started. So what? (Emma Cruises, if you want a recommendation.) Also, when I went on about mustering, I didn’t realise that they were having a party while still docked. It seemed odd.]
I mean… once you’re done fucking off, please come back and then FUCK OFF AGAIN.
As the unicorns watch, horrified, it seems like every single kid on the cruise is lining the rails to watch this absolute shit-show. Never mind, girls. At least there’s no other pupils from Sweet Valley Middle School here to compound the misery.
We snap-cut to the ship’s infirmary, where the nurse is applying comfort to our moist yet feisty heroine. Even now, Ellen is determined to leave the ship. By helicopter, should one become available.
The Spikeheads turn up, declaring to Nurse Jenkins that they are friends of the patient and that they’d like to see her. Ellen pretends to be asleep.
Nobody said a word, but Ellen could feel them tiptoeing around the curtain and gathering around her bedside.
She could feel Kimberly roll her eyes.
She could feel Lila scowl.
She could feel Jessica smother a giggle.
She also feels Mandy tickle her foot, which snaps her out of her “slumber” with a howl. Good work, Mandy!
The gathered gaggle gets to the point immediately. Why the big leap? Ellen is honest: because she wants off the ship. They ask her why.
“Because I realized it wasn’t going to be the kind of trip I imagined,” Ellen answered, a lump rising in her throat. “I thought we’d be spending time together. As a group. You know? But then, like, you all go off with a bunch of guys and leave me standing there like an idiot before the ship’s even left the dock.”
“We’re sorry,” Mandy said immediately. “We just didn’t notice you weren’t with us.”
“Exactly my point!” Ellen cried.
I do feel for her. This is a symptom of her parents’ divorce, albeit a rather heavy-handed one. It’s just such a nuclear scene from the most innocuous of triggers that I’m having a hard time reconciling it with what we know of the Unicorns. Also, I’m pretty sure if someone leapt off a cruise ship as it was initially manoeuvring itself at dockside, and if that same someone, once rescued, still asked to leave the ship… they’d let that person leave the fucking ship.
Lila, being Lila, basically shits on Ellen’s feelings with the following line.
Lila crossed her arms. “What do you expect us to do? Just hang out with girls? We could have stayed home and done that.”
[Wing: You could have stayed home and hung out with the boys, too, ass.]
So Ellen draws back into her shell, and the other Spikeheads leave her to stew in her own self-pitying juices.
Chapter Three! And we discover that the Spikeheads aren’t actually abandoning abandoners, as they discuss their options for Ellen Inclusion once they’re out of earshot.
Kimberly, of course, doesn’t want to do anything that would upset her own thirsty applecart. All agree that guys are The Agenda, and Ellen… Ellen isn’t the girl who gets the guy.
“It’s her own fault,” Kimberly said briskly. “She’s pretty. She’s funny. But she just won’t try. Look at those clothes she brought with her. They make no statement. No statement whatsoever.”
Oh, do fuck off, Kimberly. If you’d have leapt overboard, no one would have bothered saving you.
Mandy asks them to tone their negs down a touch, and they agree.
Eventually, they agree that they should get on to the actual plot of the book, and find a boy for Ellen. Y’know, someone that Ellen would like, someone that would like Ellen.
But where can they find such a boy?
“Exceeeuusee me, man,” said someone behind Jessica. She recognized the accent immediately and cringed. Ughhhh. A surfer dude.
She turned and saw a guy with shoulder-length, white-blond hair, dark brows, long baggy shorts, and a floppy rayon Hawaiian shirt. He was skirting around the knot of girls, frying to get to the infirmary door. He clutched a small bunch of pink flowers that looked suspiciously like the centerpieces in the dining room.
This is him, isn’t it.
OF COURSE it’s him.
This book is a mere three chapters old. Going further, it’s a mere single tome of a two-part series. Yest, obviously, this is the guy. The Guy. Endgame for Ellen. [Dove: Also, why does everyone suddenly hate surfers? When did that loathing surface? They’re all about the hot surfers once they get to Sweet Valley High.] [Raven: SPOILERS!]
The Spikeheads watch him, surreptitiously, as he asks Nurse Jenkins if he can see “the really cool girl who jumped overboard.”
In a remarkably cute seen, we learn he’s Curtis Bowman.
And Ellen DOESN’T say “hey, we’ve got a Mr Bowman at our school!”…? I guess she’s trying to be cool, but even so.
Of course, Ellen is plagued with self-doubt, and even though Curtis is perfectly pleasant, she still downplays her chances of romance. She’s not smart, or glamorous, and she whines too much. Why on earth would Curtis bother with her?
Okay, so I think I’m going to spend a whole lot of this recap typing “poor, poor Ellen.”
It’s getting a bit repetitive, and we’ve barely started.
Ellen has been suffering due to her parents’ divorce. I get that. But this is a bit OTT, accelerating from a grumpy scowl to full-on self-loathing in the blink of an eye.
Ah well. Better crack on.
Also, Ellen is told she must visit Captain Jackson in his office, presumably for a dressing down / ticking off. Fair enough, she reckons. It’ll be another chance to demand her evacuation.
We then watch Curtis exit the scene through the crowd of eavesdropping Unicorns. They are NOT HAPPY with this state of affairs. Three of the four are appalled that Curtis Brown even exists. Surprisingly, the one dissenting voice is Jessica, who thinks that if Ellen’s found her own admirer then Bosh, job done.
Lila uses this time to channel her cousin Janet Howell.
“Jessica,” Lila sighed. “We’re Unicorns. What one of us does reflects on the others. Think. Do we really want Ellen hanging out with that clown? I mean, did you catch that dumb surfer-dude accent? That act is like, so out. Nobody does surfer dude anymore.”
[Wing: Even if they weren’t random newbies who will disappear after this little duo is done, you’d never see most of these people again because that’s what it’s like on a cruise. It doesn’t matter what is reflected on you. Good grief, everyone pretend to be someone else for the length of the trip. Bring back plucky girl detectives. Something.]
The others agree, and soon the plot is settled. The Unicorns will split up and search the ship for a more suitable candidate for Ellen’s affections, meeting back at dinner with their respective captives. Sounds like a plan! Four-way high five for the win.
We start with Lila, on the prowl for the perfect Ellen-bait. At least, that’s where she should be headed. But instead, she’s off to the classier quarter of the ship’s shopping district. She may not find Ellen’s perfect match in amongst the high-end jewellers, but she’ll be able to buy herself a few trinkets instead.
In an elegant perfumiers, she stumbles upon a young guy buying a bottle of the most expensive scent known to man. Not only does he like it large, he pays for it with a gold credit card.
Lila ascertains his name: Jared Matthews. From San Francisco. Chiselled jaw and black hair, not tiny face and little legs like Ken Matthews. Importantly, he also has the patronising sneer of the unfathomably rich, even if he does his best to hide it with politeness.
We’ve been watching a lot of Four in a Bed recently.
No, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s a daytime TV how in which the owners of four Bed and Breakfast establishments each visit the businesses of the other three, rating them “anonymously” and then paying them what they think the owner’s services are worth. Whoever gets paid the most by their peers, based on a percentage of their actual room rates, is declared the winner.
As you can imagine, the show is not about Bed and Breakfasts. It’s about people and their pettiness. It’s so much fun.
One thing we’ve learnt, while watching almost half of the show’s 700 episodes, [Wing: Please tell me this is an exaggerated number.] [Dove: Literally no.] [Raven: In our defence, they are twenty minutes each and are the very definition of “background watching”.] is that the people at the budget end of the market are absolutely lovely. So too are those at the very top of the market, the effortlessly posh, those that are riddled with privilege (which comes something of a shock). It’s those in the middle, the upwardly mobile who are obsessed with their status and the supposed pecking order, that are the absolute worst examples of small-minded back-biting cunts.
So I take Jared Matthews and his horrible better-than-you demeanour with a shake of the head. Sorry mate, but you might have the money but you don’t have the class. And you’re definitely all wrong for Ellen.
Of course, Jared Matthews is entirely Lila’s buttered muffin. They share an impossibly posh meet-cute, culminating in Lila inviting him to meet Ellen, of the “California Ritemans”, at dinner that evening.
Lila smiled to herself with satisfaction. She had found a guy for Ellen and she’d found a winner.
And a snob.
He’s perfect, Lila thought.
And so the crux of this plot is revealed in its naked ambition. Lila, Jessica, Mandy, Kimberly, they’ll all find the “perfect guy for Ellen”, when in reality they’re actually finding the perfect guy for themselves. Sometime in Book 2 everyone will realise that the “perfect guy for Ellen” is actually the surfer dude, Curtis Stigers or whatever his name is. There’ll be a big dance at the end in which all the girls will be kissed by their chosen beau, but until that happens there will be hi-jinks aplenty.
[Wing: But will Jessica get yet another first kiss?]
BAM! We’re straight into Jessica’s meet-cute, with an incredibly bouncy and upbeat Sam Sloane. He’s a cute brown-eyed lad from Oregon, and he literally bumps into Jessica as she makes a move towards another prospect. The unplanned meetups are the best, I suppose. [Dove: Is that name not ringing any bells, Jessica? Hint: he’s one of the twins in The Ghost in the Graveyard. Still nothing, even though we’ve had confirmation that the Super Chiller books do count as canon in the Unicorn Club? Ok then. Cool.]
I’m unsure about Sam, to be honest. He appears to be the fuzziest of the suitors. I mean, Lila is posh, so her guy is posh too. Mandy and Kimberly? We’ll get to them in time, but I can assure you the choices make some semblance of sense (for the canon in this book at least). But Jessica? Having her personality desire defined to be “friendly” makes her seem a bit basic, and we know she’s anything but that. Then again, with her being the changeable demi-star of the series thus far, I guess it’s tough to nail down the perfect boy with a trite phrase or hobby. They drew the line at pairing her with a psychopath, at least. [Wing: Successful serial killer is an easy hobby to match. Much different kind of book, though. I want to read that one.]
After waxing lyrical for an age about how wonderful everything in the whole world just so happens to be, this Alec-Baldwin-on-Friends-alike makes the grade and is invited to meet Ellen at dinner that evening.
Two down, two to go.
Before we get there, we cut to Ellen in conference with Captain Jackson. She is informed that the cruise ship does not have helicoptering facilities. It is, in fact, impossible for Ellen to leave.
“But what if somebody had an emergency?” Ellen persisted. “You’d figure out some way to get them off the ship and back home? Wouldn’t you? I mean, you’d have to. It’s in the Geneva Convention or the Maritime Code of Conduct or something like that. You can’t hold me hostage on this thing. It’s cruel and unusual.”
Gotta say, this book has some great sassy phrasing. At the moment I’m straddling the enjoy / deride line pretty hard.
Captain Jackson curtly informs her that a spat between Spikeheads is hardly an emergency, and that if she persists with this nonsense then discipline will be metered.
Ellen balks, and acquiesces.
Suddenly, it’s dinnertime, and the Jessica is sat at a large round table in the ship’s dining room, awaiting the arrival of the others. Lila sashays in, and declares that all Ellen’s problems are solved. By a Jared Matthews shaped beefcake.
Naturally, Jessica is not one to take such a proclamation at face value.
“No way,” she argued. “I found Ellen’s Mr. Right and his name is Sam Sloane.”
“Sam Sloane!” Lila repeated. “What a totally plebeian name.”
So, it’s going to be like this, is it? The Spikeheads bickering over who has the greatest boyfriend for Ellen? Meh, standard.
Mandy and Kimberly arrive, like spares. They declare that they, too, have found “perfect guys” for Ellen, who are also invited to dinner that evening. At this point, I’m guessing that Mandy’s choice will be bedecked with garish and wacky fashions, while Kimberly’s chosen suitor will be a trashbag bellend that nobody wants to be in the fucking book.
Mandy suggests that the girls introduce everyone to Ellen, and each other, and let nature take its course. Lila isn’t having any of that, mind, as letting the mighty Jared slip through the net would be an act nothing short of criminal.
Ellen arrives, hair still wet, and sporting tatty jeans and a t-shirt. No effort made for the thing she didn’t know was happening. How very dare she?
As the girls chat and glower, Sam is the first to arrive. Jessica is thrilled. She’s less thrilled, however, when she introduces him to the group and he makes a blunder by calling Ellen “Elaine”. Plus one for Jared, I guess.
We skip an hour, and enter Ellen’s head. We learn that Jared has also arrived, and Ellen is embarrassed that Jessica and Lila are foisting their beaus onto her. At least Kimberly and Mandy weren’t trying to fix her up.
Or were they?
Two guys named Jack and Peter had come over to sit with Mandy and Kimberly. Fortunately, the four of them were sitting on the opposite side of the table and were too far away to talk to Ellen over the big band music.
Unfortunately, both Mandy and Kimberly set their wheels in motion, presenting their charges to Ellen before making an excuse to leave the room.
So, Peter and Jack and Ellen. The classic bandit standoff.
We learn the square root of fuck all about these too nubbins, as Ellen simply stares at them until they both melt away. You go, girl. Don’t put up with this controlling bullshit.
There’s a couple of quick scenes in which the pairings of Jessica / Sam and Lila / Jared discuss the various invisible merits of Ellen, with the girls bigging up their friend despite all the available evidence. Of these scenes, the Lila / Jared one is by far the funnier. Sam and Jessica just spot that Ellen looks a bit miserable, but the poshness-riddled Jared is aghast when Ellen takes a bite of food, gags, and spits into a napkin.
Lila vamps spectacularly, and declares that the Riteman clan are so posh that they don’t believe in table manners.
“Yeah,” Lila babbled on, improvising. “They decided that table manners are common. So they just all shovel their food in their mouths and spit it out if they don’t like it.”
“Unusual,” Jared said.
“The Ritemans are unusual,” Lila agreed. “But when you’re that rich, you can be as unusual as you want.”
I’m getting pure Prince Blueblood vibes from Jared. But nice work from Lila!
Back with Ellen, and we find she’s gasping for some junk food. Which I guess is a New Informed Attribute, as she’s never said anything like that before.
After gagging on some form of primordial fishball, she catches the surfer-dude-Endgame Curtis “Stigers” Bowman’s eye at the next table. There follows a ubercute scene in which they bond over their(newfound) love of junk food, and then take to the dancefloor and stomp about in a ridiculous and self-parodying jig involving flapping arms, wiggling hips and poking tongues.
“Having fun?” Curtis shouted.
Much to Ellen’s surprise, she was.
Good on you, Ellen.
Naturally, this actual bout of fun can’t last long. As everyone around the pair are laughing along with the music, the Spikeheads soon spot what’s happening. Ellen is having… a good time! This Must Be Stopped. Mandy and Kimberly despatch themselves to intervene, while Jessica tries to convince Sam that the dancer is not, in fact, Ellen, and that the real Ellen is such a great dancer that if he actually saw her dance he’d have to claw out his own eyes in rapturous penance as a declaration of her beauty.
On the other side, the wildly improvisational Lila explains away Ellen’s gurnings as… the Royal Riteman Tic.
Jared raised his eyebrows. “A tic? You mean like, an involuntary motion?”
“Exactly!” Lila cried. “See, ummm, Ellen is a descendent of the Royal Family of… ummm. Sabolaslavichnia. And you know how those royal families were. They couldn’t just marry anybody. So the same few noble families kept marrying and marrying each other, generation after generation. Now anybody who’s anybody in Sabolaslavichnia has the Royal Riteman tic. You can’t even get a restaurant reservation without it.”
Okay, so THAT’S funny.
Bizarrely, Jared buys it. Because why the fuck not?
Mandy and Kimberly scoop up Ellen and usher her off to a Unicorn meeting. A meeting which starts with every other Unicorn belittling Curtis for being a “total geekoid.” I’m rather surprised than Mandy is piling in with this vitriol, but the other three? Canon, I guess.
Ellen does what she can to stick up for her obvious boy-of-choice, and soon the dialogue descends into more my-guy-(for-Ellen)-is-much-better-than-your-guy-(for-Ellen) nonsense. We do learn a little more about Kimberly’s choice, Peter, who was apparently chosen because of his great tennis serve. Again, why the fuck is Kimberly being Belinda Leyton in this book?
Still no info on Mandy’s choice, Jack, though. I’m sure that will come.
Eventually, Ellen and Lila decamp to their room, and Lila enacts Operation Jared in full force. She declares herself to be Ellen’s fairy godmother, primed and ready to teach Ellen all she needs to bag herself Prince Jared’s affections.
Chapter Five begins with the fruits of that learning, in full effect.
“Now remember. You’re rich. You’re sophisticated. You’ve seen it all and you’ve done it all. Nothing surprises you. Nothing impresses you. It’s nice to be here, but it’s no big deal. Now say it again,” Lila commanded.
“Dahhhhhhling,” Ellen drawled in a bored and languid voice, “isn’t this all just toooooo cute.” She walked across the cabin with an unhurried gait, her head swiveling slowly as she peered at imaginary scenery over the tops of Lila’s expensive sunglasses.
I’m getting the impression that the Ghostie has a rabid hatred of the upper classes.
[Wing: Are we finally seeing some of Ellen’s mimicry talent?] [Dove: Excellent callback. Would have been terrific if the ghostie could have done the same.]
The cruise has arrived at the island of St Simone, which I can’t seem to find on Google. Jared has invited Lila and Ellen for a morning of sightseeing fun, which Lila graciously accepted on Ellen’s behalf. Ellen, to her credit, does not buy into Lila’s insistence that Jared is perfect for her, but she concedes that Lila’s efforts in this arena prove that she’s doing her best to be a fast friend.
As they disembark, Ellen is captivated by steel drum ensemble. She says so, but is yanked back into her bored and languid persona by Lila. No enjoying anything, that’s the golden rule! She even gives out a patent Royal Riteman Tic, but succeeds in nothing more than walloping a steel drum and getting a response that’s borderline racist from the “smiling” drummer.
“Hey, mon, watch what you’re doing,” one of the musicians cautioned in his lilting Caribbean accent.
Jared tries some small talk. It’s splendid.
“So Ellen, which is your favorite island?”
“Oh… you know…”
“Which ones have you visited?”
Ellen searched her mental map of the Caribbean, trying to think of some names. “Greenland,” she said.
Jared raised an eyebrow. “I meant warm-weather islands.”
Greenland’s not warm? Ellen thought wildly. Then how come they call it Greenland and not Iceland. Wait a second. There is an Iceland. But if Greenland’s cold, then Iceland must be… “Iceland,” Ellen said decisively.
Can’t fault that logic. Lovely stuff.
[Wing: DO YOU KNOW HOW OFTEN I QUOTE THIS? AND HERE IS A PERFECT MOMENT FOR IT. THANK YOU, ELLEN. THANK YOU, GHOSTIE.] [Dove: *blinks* I just want to point out that, even though I am a rabid Ducks fan, and have the websites and fanfic to prove it, Raven has seen this movie once. I married well.] [Raven: I’m sorry to burst this lovely bubble, but the credit for the clip is all Wing. I had no idea this was a Mighty Ducks thing until I saw the clip myself when reading her comments.]
Ellen covers the fubar with a Royal Riteman Tic, and in doing so she socks Jared in the jaw.
Ellen continues hamming it up, and Ellen is thrilled. Her plan is working! Apparently. I’ve no idea how Lila categorises clusterfrot this as a success, but here we are. Jessica bears witness to the horror, and manages to pull Lila aside to pour scorn on her friend’s machinations. She also declares that Lila’s meddling has made Ellen into a weirdo, which will impact on the chances of her own choice, Sam Sloane.
Lila and Jessica continue to bicker, each asserting their dominance over the other. It’s as if Ellen doesn’t even matter. It’s all about the competition. OH SNAP!
Jessica vows to put Ellen through some coaching of her own.
We’re not back in the cabin, après-Jared. Ellen is tired, but she actually does believe that Jared is interested in her. Jessica struts in, ready to enact Operation Sam.
First step? Dress Ellen as a cheerleader. Although it’s not a cheerleader outfit. It’s fifties retro chic.
Ellen puts up a token resistance. Thanks, but no thanks. She has Jared. Jessica tells her that Jared is a “pompous moneybag of wind”, which isn’t that wide of the mark. She declares that the key to Sam’s heart is to stop being a total Debbie Downer.
“You’ve got to stop moping and sighing and groaning. We’re on a cruise. We’re in the Caribbean. We’ve got ten days with no parents. So would you please smile and be happy?”
Not the greatest advice I’ve heard, but we can roll with it.
The next chapter begins at a blistering dance. Ellen is bopping with Sam Sloane, who is infectiously grooving on anything and everything. Ellen is copying his ardour, filling the room with gingerbread and glitter. It’s sickening.
It’s also working, I think. Sam is becoming smitten.
It’s not really a great message, this. Want a boyfriend? Just pretend to be someone completely different. That’s the modern way!
We cut to Lila, schmoozing Jared on Ellen’s behalf. For his part, Jared does seem smitten with Ellen too. Why wouldn’t he be? She’s a laconic, gurning dreamboat after all. Lila offers the bon mot that a special day is made by the company you keep, and they eyes meet for a fleeting moment. Good! It’s for first glimpse of the next Plot Waypoint: Lila is falling for Jared in spite of her nefarious matchmaking scheme.
This blissful moment is shattered, of course, when she spies Ellen approaching. Dressed like a cheerleader. Showing super-fun-good-time-energy for everything she sees and does.
“Isn’t this the greatest party?” she gushed enthusiastically. “It’s like a real disco. And the DJ is a total pro. What a great mix of songs.”
After getting the stink-eye from our favourite rich girl, Ellen dials it back and becomes the pseudo-bored socialite that Jared knows and (almost) loves. She throws in a Royal Riteman Tic for good measure, sealing the deal.
As Ellen heads to the dancefloor with a re-smitten Jared, Lila watches on with irritation. Her plan is working, but at what cost? AT WHAT COST?
Sam, meanwhile, has spotted this particular shenanigan. He approaches Jessica to enquire on how he should handle this Jared-shaped intrigue. Should he cut into their dance?
As if Jessica would say ANYTHING but yes. She actually shoves him into the dancing couple. [Dove: Honestly surprised that Jessica hasn’t pushed all the other boys overboard.]
Composing himself, he asks to cut into the dance. Jared is nonplussed, but he’s a gentleman. He melts into the scenery.
Ellen, thoroughly shocked that’s she’s now demonstrably on the flirt-list with two smashing fellas, forgets the role she should play with Sam. When he asks her how she likes sixties music, she responds in a lazy drawl a la Jared.
It’s a disaster. Sam is turned off, and offended. He slinks off, feelings hurt.
Pfft. Men. Such fragile creatures. OH NOES IS MY CHEERLEADER NOT CHEERING?!
Next up, in an increasingly confusing scene? Jessica is telling Mandy and Kimberly how great a matchmaker she is, when Sadsack Sam lopes over to complain over Ellen’s hard slice of apparent cold shoulder. Jessica is incensed, and vows to clear things up. She seeks out either Ellen or Lila, but sees Ellen first, approaching the bathroom line.
Once Ellen is collared, Jessica reasserts the plan. Sam is the greatest. Jared is a loser. How have you spilt punch on my skirt? Arch your back. Stick out your tits. HAPPY HAPPY FUCKING HAPPY.
Gah, never mind, the dance is nearly done. Go the fuck to sleep, but keep fucking smiling while you do.
Back with Sam, after Ellen’s departure for the blessed land of nod. Jessica convinces him that no, Ellen is not over him like a rainbow. She’s still madcap yearning for some hot Sam action. His ego is mollified… for now. Who knows when he’ll snap and become all handsy?
We then skip like a stone to Lila, watching Mandy dance with Jack. We learn a little more about him: he dresses in black, he’s sensitive, and so on. Artistic, like Mandy. Figures.
Jack leaves, Jessica arrives, and the three non-Kimberly Spikeheads discuss the current state of Operation Find-Ellen-A-Boyfriend. Predictably, they all believe they should be left alone to force their chosen boys onto their increasingly confused and fragile friend. Lila and Jessica are the biggest antagonists, both accusing the other of shaping a pliant Ellen into a pale imitation of themselves. Mandy offers pax, and suggests they find Kimberly (probably getting felt up on the poop deck) before they head back to the cabin.
At the cabin, Ellen is washing her face. She’s changed into an SVMS tshirt and jeans, and is feeling much more like her old self. She does think fondly of both Jared and Sam, and the novelty of having two boys fight over her.
There’s a knock at the door. She answers, her face full of suds, expecting a keyless Lila. Instead, It’s Curtis “Sitgers” “Mayfield” Bowman, with junk food snacks. He clocks Ellen’s face, and overreacts.
“Rabies!” he screamed, pointing at her face.
He’s joking, of course, and Ellen is charmed. They share another tiny scene in which It’s as obvious as the stripes on a bee that he’s the guy for Ellen Presidente.
They chat for a while. “How was the dance?” into “I went to a movie instead.” into “sounds fun!” into “it was about fish,” and so on. Ellen feels relaxed, for the first time in a while. This is short-lived, of course, as the gang pile in just as Curtis is about to ask Ellen for a date.
Curtis is ushered out, but takes the banishment good-naturedly. Ellen is appalled at the Unicorns’ attitude to the one boy who’s actually right for her. She dresses them down, in style. How could they talk to her friend in such a manner?
The girls rally round, stating their case. They gather, telling Ellen that Curtis is a prick and totally unsuitable for a wonderful girl like her. They tell her that they know her parents’ divorce has been tough on her, and that she’s totally vulnerable, but that they are here for her, and that they are her friends.
Ellen wipes away her tears, and thanks them for their care.
So I’m torn here.
One: The Unicorns have hearts in the right place. They do actually care about Ellen.
Two: The Unicorns are totally misguided, and they only have their competitive self-interests at heart.
And Ellen is caught in the middle of this Grade A Sharknado-level Shitstorm.
Mandy confirms that they care. Lila declares that she’ll speak to Jared first thing tomorrow, to smooth things out. Jessica mirrors that notion, replacing Jared with Sam of course. And scene!
Chapter Seven! Ellen awakes after a cosy sleep full of confusing dreams about Jared and Sam. Who was who again?
As she clears her sleepy head, and remembers that both Lila and Jessica are out and about, smoothing things with their fellas. While the cats are away, it seems that Mandy the Mouse will play. She arrives and whisks Ellen off to breakfast with her choice, Jack. We learn that Jack is an artist and a poet, and that he’s super sensitive.
Ellen shook her head. Maybe this was some kind of weird seasickness that produced delusions or hallucinations or something. Was that really Mandy standing in Ellen’s cabin waving a tie-dyed dress like a matador’s cape and giving some guy a rave review? Couldn’t be.
Again, another lovely line. This is quite a repetitive book, but the individual quotes are hitting home well. I guess that if there’s space to play, as in this two-book series, we get these symptoms in equal measure.
Mandy, of course, has coaching for Ellen too. She supplies a cool and funky dress, offers herself up as a makeover consultant, and dictates Ellen’s new hobbies (chosen for their peak Jack-Attraction quotient): modern dance and writing poetry.
She even offers up a lipstick to match Ellen’s newly-tortured artistic soul… and it’s black.
[Wing: I’m torn here. Spineless Mandy might push Ellen to become this other person, but the Mandy we normally know and love would not do this! She’s an individual! She appreciates individuality! That’s basically her entire schtick for most of the series!
Also, this was not what I meant when I told them to pretend to be someone else for the cruise. Not to impress a boy! Do it for fun!] [Dove: It’s now been far too many books since I liked Mandy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not fond of anyone but Ellen at the moment. But I’m also very not sorry that Kimberly and Mandy don’t make it to SVH.] [Raven: MORE SPOILERS!]
We cut to breakfast, and Ellen is costumed to the nines. Mandy watches appreciatively, and Ellen wonders how her friend doesn’t see how completely ridiculous things are.
Jack arrives, all black clothes, earring, and ponytail. I know he’s a seventh- or eighth-grader, but I’m totally getting swarthy forty-something paedo here.
His first comment? “Did you see that sunrise this morning?”
I mean, get to fuck you colossal prick. [Dove: You’re only saying that because the only time you’ve ever heard that sentence in real life is from you glassy-eyed wife, speaking in a monotone, and adding, “I did. Yesterday too. I can’t sleep.” It inspires fear in you, not joy. But also, lovely insult there. Made me lol.] [Raven: I am legit scared of waking you for anything. Like, “well, it’s only a small fire and she’s only a bit charred, I’ll give her a few more minutes” scared.]
Sorry Mandy, but I thought you’d pick someone that’s actually cool. I can’t believe that of the three we’ve met so far, my favourite suitor is actually Jared.
The three of them make to take their breakfast to eat in the open air.
Back in the breakfast bar, Sam and Jessica are eating their food with Lila and Jared. The boys pop off to fetch more food, while Jessica and Lila snipe at each other about their men. It’s all more of the fucking same, to be honest, and it makes me hope that Sam eventually ends up with Jared. What a pipe dream, unfortunately.
Kimberly arrives, and points out that Ellen, who is queuing at the buffet table with Mandy and Jack, looks ridiculous. This comes as news to Lila and Jessica, who both assumed that Ellen was still fast asleep.
They all mock her, which is both standard and awful. Kimberly’s mockery gives us an indication of Peter’s qualities, and with that we have all four suitors laid bare for all to see.
“I can’t believe this,” Kimberly said. “I got up really early to play handball with Peter, who, by the way, is the greatest guy in the world. Totally centered. Totally focused. Really into healthy mind, healthy body stuff. I spent forty minutes telling him what a down-to-earth and health-oriented girl Ellen is—and now look at her! I can’t let him see her looking like that. She looks like a vampire.”
So, we have:
Lila, championing Jared Matthews, the privileged and entitled snob. This gives us Rich Ellen.
Jessica, championing Sam Sloane, the gung-ho and overly-upbeat idiot. This gives us Happy Ellen.
Mandy, championing Jack, the gothic artist. This gives us Artist Ellen.
Kimberly, championing peter, the sporty athlete. This gives us Athlete Ellen. [Dove: The same Kimberly that didn’t give a stuff about healthy eating/exercise in any of the previous books. Not shaming her for that, it’s her choice. Just another continuity error. Although she was on the volleyball team, but nobody on the planet but us three recappers ever read the Team Sweet Valley books.]
There’s a brief moment where Artist Ellen, with Jack and Mandy, nearly bumps into both Jared and Sam, but that crisis is averted. As you can see, I’m playing fast and loose with the definition of the word “crisis” here.
As Artist Ellen and her entourage exits to the deck, Kimberly grumbles about her plans to set up a tennis date for Ellen with Peter. It’s going to be tricky, but she’s going to do it anyway. As she leaves, she tells her friends that they all have the worst taste in guys.
Lila and Jessica both claim their suitor is the Real Deal, before concluding that at least everyone agrees that Curtis is a bellend.
Chapter Eight, and we have Athlete Ellen on her tennis date with the perfect Peter. Kimberly has loaned her the equipment and clothing, [Wing: Why is Kimberly traveling with a tennis racket? I don’t care that this is her new informed attribute, even if she had always been an athlete, this is ridiculous.] and she is making a decent fist of the game. She isn’t a bad player, which comes as a surprise in a series in which the Ghosties often use Ellen as low hanging fruit in this regard.
While she isn’t embarrassing herself, she isn’t really enjoying herself either. She makes some dubious shots and terrible calls that gift Peter the points, in order to finish the game much quicker than a true contest would take.
The victorious Peter is magnanimous, and praises Ellen’s form. Then he suggests a drink.
Wow. Yet another example of “letting the man win”. At least this was done more to end the game rather than to placate a fragile ego.
Peter gives Ellen a thorough breakdown of what she should drink. Not lemonade, of course. But something called “thirst quencher”, which I’ve never heard of. Any idea, our US friends? [Wing: It’s Gatorade without using the name brand, I’d guess.]
There’s more chatter, and feigning interest, and Athletic Ellen gets her moment in the sun. She’s definitely not as interesting as Posh Ellen, of the California Ritemans (Ritemen?).
It’s suddenly lunchtime, and the four non-Ellen Spikeheads (as opposed to the four Ellen Spikeheads) are arguing it up a storm. As with great swathes of this book so far, the girls are engaged in a thrilling war of words over which of the suitors is best. While earlier iterations of this conceit at least leant into Ellen’s wellbeing, this time it’s basically a laundry list of why each girl is in love with each suitor.
Oh, and Mandy does a fun impression of Peter. And I thought Ellen was the mimic.
Let’s move on. I’m hoping there’s a main course soon, after this amuse bouche of plottage.
Back with Peter and Athletic Ellen, with Peter waxing lyrical on the Ancient Greeks and their fitness regime. Ellen zones out, and before she knows it she’s been asked to accompany her suitor on a jog and ship-building lecture (courtesy of Captain Jackson) the following day. While she mulls her decision, she becomes acutely aware that other girls were watching her converse with this super-hunk, their eyes clouded by jealousy and rage. It’s a unique sensation for Ellen, rather like a bowling ball in the nuts, and she enjoys it.
Eventually, she decides to accept. Mostly because if she didn’t Kimberly would snap her like a twig.
More intrigue with the non-Ellen Spikeheads, as Lila has opened some of Ellen’s private mail. In particular, she’s opened an invitation from Jared for Posh Ellen to attend a VIP dinner the following evening. Ellen enters, and is informed. As she reels form the offer, a bouquet of flowers arrives, also from Jared, as if to underline his serious offer.
Lila is exultant. She has the best taste in guys.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Next, a second flower arrangement arrives. This one, from Jack, along with an invitation to island-hop with him the following morning. Then a third arrangement, from Peter, and a fourth, from Sam (also requesting a date the following day… dolphin spotting!).
As Ellen basks in her glory, the other four Spikeheads are agog. Four boys, four dates. Who will she choose?
“Who’s the lucky guy?” Jessica said. “Which invitation are you going to accept?”
“All of them,” Ellen answered with a smile. Then, humming, she disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door.
Of course it’s all four. Did we doubt it would be anything less?
The next morning, and the non-Ellens are gathered at breakfast to plan their collective day.
Lila suggests shopping. It’s a “no”.
Mandy suggests art. It’s a second “no”.
Eventually, they agree to just mooch around the island.
As for Lila, she’s feeling a little nonplussed. After all, Ellen is beset with boys while the rest of the clan are doing the Girl Thang. This was not what was expected when the ship set off.
Ellen’s first date of the day is at the Art Gallery, with Jack. Jack does his best to engage Artistic Ellen, and she waffles on about “great uses of color” and “very nice tones”, but it’s all the same stuff. Artistic Ellen is aping Jack, telling him what he wants to hear, in order to keep him keen.
Soon, however, there’s a surfer-dude-sized fly in the ointment. As they stroll around the streets and check out the store windows, Jack and Artistic Ellen are knocked clean off their feet by a galumphing Curtis Bowman.
Apparently, each member of the tangled party was struck dumb and mesmerised by a parrot, resulting in them colliding. Standard.
Curtis tries to make pleasant smalltalk, which Jack sneers at. Artistic Ellen finds this secretly irritating, but does not say so. Finally, Artistic Ellen steers Jack away from a bemused Curtis, in order to save her blushes.
Jack brands Curtis a phony, which is uncharitable at best. He concludes the section with the following:
“People should just be themselves, don’t you think?”
“Oh definitely,” Ellen answered. Unless they happen to be Ellen Riteman.
We’re now back with the non-Ellen Spikeheads, who appear to be trailing behind Jack and Artistic Ellen as they broach the arts on offer.
Lila makes the point that watching Artistic Ellen, dressed as Mandy, was rather like watching Mandy on a date with Jack. Mandy is irritated by this. Eventually, she bursts into tears and runs away.
Looks like the plot is finally unravelling. Mandy has realised, at some level at least, that she should be the one spending time with Jack. It’d be Artistic Mandy and Artistic Jack, loving every second of this Artistic Island.
Let’s hope the other three realise the same thing soon. (SPOILER: They do.)
After their lovely date, Jack gives Artistic Ellen a kiss at her cabin door. She loves it. Jack then invites her to the movies that evening (to watch something impenetrably French), but of course, she has to turn him down. She has another date.
Snap-cut to the ship, where the non-Ellen (and non-Mandy) Spikeheads are sullenly watching the other passengers with jealousy. It appears that everyone has paired off in some form or other. There’s fluttered lashes, hands held, and chaste pecks. It’s all very sickening.
At least the various Unicorns are taking the lead from Mandy. Both Kimberly and Jessica are showing signs of being lovestruck with their chosen beaus. Lila is still holding out, but that won’t last forever.
Next, we’re dolphin spotting with Sam and Happy Ellen. Dolphins are awesome, Sam is Awesome, Happy Ellen is Awesome. There’s a veritable boatload of Awesome everywhere. [Dove: Everything is awesome!]
Again, there’s an undercurrent of sinister intent here, coating things like an oily sheen.
“What do you think?” Sam asked.
“What do you think?” she hedged.
“I think we’re thinking the same thing,” he said with a sly smile.
“I’ll bet you’re right.” Ellen began to sweat under her visor
Sam professes his happiness. Ellen is everything he dreams of, and more. He takes Ellen’s hand, as the rest of the dolphin spotters watch on with envy.
Ellen, it seems, is the most interesting girl in the world. And she’s here for it. As are we, to an extent. Finally, after all this time, our poor Ellen shows a little swagger. She’s in the fucking spotlight, and it FEELS DAMN GOOD. [Dove: Ellen is a god, and I’m so pleased everyone else can see it.]
We’re on the downswing now, and are mirroring the early chapters. Here, we see Lila, alone in her cabin, longingly staring at the perfect red dress for the perfect date on the perfect cruise… the dress that Ellen would be wearing with Jared that night.
Suddenly, a wild Happy Ellen appears! She’s super effective!
As she chats with a sad Lila, she morphs into an Athletic Ellen, priming for her jog / lecture with Peter.
Lila eventually leaves in a fit of pique. She too has realised that the super-snob Jared should be her date, and not Ellen’s. So that’s everyone. Except Ellen.
Because Ellen is still lost in this plot, as she fully believes her friends have set her up with a group of special boys, just for her. She doesn’t want to let her kind friends down, and she doesn’t see that if she would simply step back a scootch then all things would be fine. She’d be with Curtis, the other boys would line up perfectly, and all would be peaches and Tia Maria.
To the jog.
Peter and Athletic Ellen make their way around the top deck. It’s going well. Athletic Ellen isn’t doing anything to embarrass herself. And Peter is obviously warm to Athletic Ellen’s form.
Kimberly is also jogging, full of longing and spite and vitriol. The deck is also populated with other girls, all wild for the superhunk Peter and ready to cut a bitch in order to make him theirs.
This is getting a bit much now, with the main action taking its fine sweet time to get anywhere, so it’s time to bullet-point the remaining action. Why? Because there’s nothing much left to tell. Just more of the same before we end in an obvious spot from which the second book will spring.
- There’s a pile-up in the jogathon. One of the beautiful girls is told she should take notes from Athletic Ellen’s form. Peter is a fucking idiot.
- Ellen thinks Kimberly will be thrilled that Peter is smitten by her acting. Again, clueless.
- Kimberly consciously states that she’s made a huge mistake in setting Peter up with her friend. At least, she tells Mandy and Jessica. [Wing: I suppose we’re lucky that Kimberly hasn’t chucked Ellen overboard now that she’s decided she wants Peter for herself.] [Dove: How has it taken me to here before I noticed: TOO MANY PETERS?]
- Ellen has a dream. That dream involves her performing onstage to initial wild applause, followed by jeers and boos. Curtis does his best to stop her being pelted with rotten fruit.
- She awakens to find that she’s dropped off in Captain Jackson’s lecture!
- All four Non-Ellen Spikeheads have a long off-page cry about their sad state of affairs.
- They finally realise that they made a huge error in setting their friend up with the perfect guys for themselves.
- They decree that they should say FUCK IT and head to the disco, after getting all dolled up.
- At the VIP dinner, with Jared, the Captain is not particularly pleased to see her.
- He does point out that Peter had slept through most of the lecture too.
- At the disco, Jessica attempts to hook up with some of the single guys, but all are scanning the entrances in the hope that the totally cool Ellen arrives soon.
- At the dinner, Ellen has a weird fainting fit, and falls through the posh table. She’s gurneyed to the infirmary.
- The non-Ellen Spikeheads ditch the dace to go feel sorry for themselves in their cabins. They eat junk food.
- Lila reveals that she sabotaged Ellen’s shoes for the evening, in the hope that she’d make a fool of herself and fall on the captain, and that Jared would think her an idiot for doing so.
- Jared arrives and informs them of Ellen’s fainting mishap. He makes it clear that this in no way dampens his ardour for his fine porcelain sweetheart.
- Lila isn’t happy.
- The next day, in the infirmary, the four non-Ellens visit the fallen Ellen. She’s surrounded by bouquets from all her beaus.
- The non-Ellens take time to apologise to Ellen for foisting their boys on her. It’s obviously been too much for her. How will she ever forgive them?
- Internally, Ellen knows there’s nothing to forgive. The girls are her friends, and they’ve given her the great gift of popularity. (I’m pretty sure that being a Unicorn does that, canonically, but whatever. Go Ellen!)
- The non-Ellens ask who she’s going to choose, out of the four suitors. Their naked self-centred ambition is sickening here.
- Ellen, missing the point in spectacular fashion, decides that because her friends have been so wonderful and considerate to her, she can’t in good conscience let them down at this stage of proceedings. Who’s she going to choose? All four of them, thank you very much!
Phew, that was a doozy. Let’s hit the Final Comments and get outta here.
I have mixed feelings about this one.
When I first read it, I think I enjoyed it. I did find it troubling in places, namely the central conceit that the ideal way to snag a man is to parrot back his own opinions to him without regard for self or sanction. I found the dialogue spicy, and the characterisation fun, and I loved that this was an Ellen with a fragile panache that was super engaging. The reading left me wanting more.
When I came to recap, however, a few more flaws reared their heads high. There was so much repetition here. The situations seemed to be lived in fourfold, written by rote, in numbers three miles high. And while the sass was still sassy, I found the pleasure here was in the quotes rather than the motion. It was all “nice wording”, rather than “nice action”. And this is all without saying that there were tangible things that simply pissed me off. Where was Elizabeth, Team Boring, or ANY OTHER SCHOLAR from SVMS? And Ellen leaping from the boat? And not being allowed to disembark under any circumstances? Get away with you.
But I still ended the recap as I ended the read. I do look forward to the next book. Overall it’s a “good” from me, but with an asterisk, as if this achievement is tainted through something unsavoury.
[Wing: So little is happening that I think I should have read both books together rather than this one, Raven’s recap, and then the next one, which I will read next weekend for my own recap. This isn’t really a stand-alone story, and I can only hope there is an actual resolution in the next book.
Still, I liked it more than a lot of the books in the Unicorn Club and a large part of that was because we’re out of first person. The conceit is ridiculous and in a lot of ways terrible, but I did get a kick out of the girls figuring out far too late that they done fucked up. Ellen getting to have some swag is amazing.
I wish she’d end up with some cute girl in the next book, but we already know where this is going.]
[Dove: I read this book and it took ages. I kept dropping out of it. Raven kept pestering me, we like to discuss the books after we’ve read them (read: pick holes in all the nonsense), and I just could not keep on this book. I think I would have liked it as a tween, but tween me had much lower standards. There is a lot of repetition, and while the sass and snark is fun, you have to wade through all the I’ve-read-this-bit-three-times-already parts to get to it.]