The Unicorn Club #18: Rachel’s In, Lila’s Out
Title: Rachel’s In, Lila’s Out
Tagline: Lila’s Rival…
Summary: You won’t believe it—Daddy is selling Fowler Mansion! I’m talking about the house I’ve lived in my whole life! And to make matters worse, Rachel Grant, who has to be the snobbiest, nastiest girl in the world, is moving into my room. In fact, she’s already begun redecorating. (As if her taste could possibly compete with mine.)
Well, Rachel may think she’s the hottest thing to hit Sweet Valley, but I know she’s hiding something. I’m going to get the dirt on her… and prove that she’s no rival for moi.
After all, a Unicorn is good at two things: gossip and revenge.
Um… how many times are we going to have to deal with Lila’s dad doing something that his daughter doesn’t like and being shocked that she doesn’t like it?
Also, this is just what the series needs: more toxic girls hating each other.
Finally: apologies for this being a week late. Everything got very confusing last weekend. Let’s just say my new job is awesome, but by god does it wreck my brain. I asked for a new challenge, and boy did I get it.
[Wing: This book. Oh, this book. I, for one, am glad we had another week of sweet, sweet oblivion before we had to deal with this. HOWEVER, I do get to have a legal moment about a hilarious case, so there’s that.]
[Raven: Oh joy. Just what we needed after 150 books, with only a handful let to go… another new character.]
We open with Lila waking up to a beautifully sunshiney day, filled with riches. The text describes every expensive and exclusive item she passes from her bed to the breakfast table. In case you didn’t know, Lila is rich. Super rich. “Fabulously wealthy” is the phrase, actually.
George Fowler’s new trait in this book is that he can’t remember the names of her friends, which you really think might have manifested when he took them all to Hawaii, but no. He thinks Ellen and Mandy are called Helen and Molly.
When Mr. Fowler was really snowed under with work, Jessica Wakefield became “Jennifer,” Ellen Riteman turned into “Helen,” and Mandy Miller became “Molly,” “Mary,” or even “Melanie.” In fact, most of the time Mr. Fowler called them all “dear.”
No, book, he doesn’t. He literally never has. [Raven: I hate the misnaming bullshit that plagues the first third of this book.]
Also, calling Mandy “Mary” must be awkward. At least he remembers one name, even if that person left the club. Also-also, I bet Wing’s with him. There are to many names that begin “Ma” in this series. [Wing: SO. MANY. MA. NAMES.]
Anyway, George wants to talk about that leading conversation they had over the phone at the end of the last book, the one about “making lifestyle changes”.
Instead of listening, Lila just revels in the fact she has a riding stable in the front yard. No. No, she does not. In the brief period in which Lila owned a horse, he was stabled at Carson Stables, and only came to Fowler Crest once in order to impress, of all people, Elizabeth. [Wing: Why would it be in the front yard even if it did exist? That’s nowhere near where you’d put a stable at a mansion. The last thing you want is the smell of horseshit all day every day. I mean, beyond the horseshit we get from this version of the Unicorns, that is.] [Dove: That is a very valid point.]
She tells her dad she missed part of what he was saying, and he says they’re buying a cottage. Lila is delighted, they have a condo in Vail, an apartment in New York, a villa in Italy, but not a cottage, so this will be a good addition.
George says it’s “only six bedrooms”, but it will be on the lake and they can buy a boat. Lila thinks this sounds amazing until George clarifies that the lake in question is none other than the preferred venue of Johnny Buck’s mid-afternoon rock-a-paloozas, Secca Lake. She asks the question that no Patman has ever asked: why would we buy a lake house in the same town as our actual house?
(I know the readers understand that one, but Wing and Raven: Bruce Patman lives in a mansion in Sweet Valley, but the Patmans also own a beach house. Also in Sweet Valley.) [Wing: …but why?] [Raven: Because rich people are fucking ludicrous?]
George clarifies that they wouldn’t, they’re not Patmans, after all. They’re selling Fowler Crest. Seventy-five rooms is too much for two people.
I can’t comprehend how big that would be, so for context Downton Abbey is 300 rooms, so smaller than that. (Which makes you a bit more sympathetic to Mr Carson when he was moaning about only having two maids and one footman, really.)
Right, so I found this, and I’ve summarised the room list for you.
|Movie screening room||1|
(Seriously, you build a place with 42 full bathrooms plus 7 half baths, and my only thought is: this is where I want to be if I have the misfortune to be in a large group who are simultaneously struck with food poisoning. Otherwise it’s excessive.) [Raven: I mean, this house looks amazing, but why the hell are more than fifty percent of the rooms dedicated to shitting?]
And if the link is dead, here’s an overview shot.
So basically, the Fowlers live there, but lose the nightclub and add an Olympic-sized swimming pool. (This house already has five pools, but none Olympic-sized. That’s very important.)
That is bigger than I expected.
I was expecting something more like John Cena’s house, which has a modest five bedrooms in comparison. You know, swanky, filled with expensive things, but not so large it needs its own zip code.
Hrmm. Can you tell I don’t want to deal with girls being mean to each other? That was an hour of research on a throwaway line.
Lila is devastated, aside from the luxury she demands, this is her home. But George is resolute. The house is too big. It must go. After all, next door are selling up too. The house is already on the market. [Raven: What a coincidence. I SMELL PLOT.]
We cut to later that day. Lila and the fleet of purple harpies are sprawled in the movie room, watching movies and talking about food they hate. Jessica mentions that people who like pineapple on pizza are perfect, and everyone else sucks. Kimberly disagrees. So, pineapple on pizza, where do we stand? Are you perfect, or are you Team Kimberly? I am perfect, and I know that JC is as well. I know that Raven is not perfect. Wing? Readers? Make your stand! [Wing: I’m perfect! And though I prefer the food talk to fighting over boys, it’s also very boring.] [Raven: I refuse to have the obviously correct choice of pineapple-free pizza branded as “Team Kimberly.” That’s just Dole Propaganda. The correct naming convention for the two sides of this eternal debate are “Team Amazeballs” for pineapple-pizza haters, and “Team Savile” for the pinapple perverts.] [Dove: Someone doesn’t like being wrong, do they?]
This talk eventually leads to cottage cheese, and Lila is triggered by the word “cottage”, and even more by the word “sell”. She wants to share her woes with her friends, but they make comments about how she can never leave the Unicorn Club because they love her house too much, to make her think better of it.
So. I guess we’re going to make sure we ignore the lesson she learned in my most beloved book, Poor Lila! where she learned that her friends love her for her, not her money or house. On the one hand, the beginning of the Unicorn Club implied that these vapid idiots were going to learn that friendship is magic, but since Kimberly’s return, they’ve all been too shallow to even paddle in. So yeah, if I was Lila, I’d be panicking, especially because I’d been just as horrific to them of late. Oh yes, Lila, we remember how mean you were to Ellen during the cruise.
On Thursday afternoon, Lila’s chauffeur notes that the mansion next door has sold. Lila wonders how many mansions can be sold, and since there’s been no interest over the past three days, maybe there will be no interest. She decides to treat herself to a relaxing swim.
She finds a “brand new dress” on her bed and thinks it’s a present from her dad. It’s fine that it’s the wrong size. She heads down to the pool and finds a girl lounging on a raft in her pool. The girl is black (her skin is described as “cocoa-colored” because in the 90s, people of colour had to be likened to edible things) and is described as “full-figured”. I’m sure the book means she’s got big boobs, but I’m going to read it as she’s heavy, because Lois can’t be the only girl who isn’t twig-like in the entire town.
I don’t know why, but Lila prefaces her outrage with “like”, making her sound like an idiot. It’s supposedly done to convey uncertainty, but Lila Fowler doesn’t get uncertain. She would demand that this outlander be ousted from her pool, clapped in irons, and banned from California forever, without even wanting an explanation of what they were doing there in the first place.
The girl snaps that she’s Rachel, who the fuck is Lila? Then she tosses her trash in the pool, and refuses to pick it up when Lila asks what she’s going to do about it. After all, she lives here now. [Raven: What the actual fuck? Who does shit like this?]
Lila continues to use “like”, and I can only assume that we’re living in a post-Clueless world and this particular ghostie thinks it sounds relatable to shove that word into every third word of dialogue.
Can you honestly imagine Lila saying “You’re, like, seriously mistaken. Seeing as how I’m the one who lives here. So maybe you should, like, leave.”? Well, she did. Sigh. [Wing: And they were all so down on surfer boy in the last two books. So much for not leaning into the southern California stereotype.]
Warning: when we get to Sweet Valley Confidential, this trend finally hits Francine, and every other word Jessica says is “like”. It’s almost indecipherable. [Raven: Do not like.]
We find out that Rachel is Rachel Grant of the Massachusetts Grants. Or, if that’s not to your liking, she’s a Mass-hole [Raven: Zing!]. Her daddy is buying the house. So she owns it. Also, she’s out of soda, so go fetch. At Lila’s outrage, she clarifies she’s talking to Tina, another girl she’s brought with her, who obediently gets up and fetches soda from the Fowler fridge.
Go on, Lila, drown that entitled brat.
Rachel tells Lila that Tina’s her friend, and sure, the deal isn’t finished, but her dad gets shit done. Unlike Lila’s. This puts Lila in the awkward position of having to defend her dad’s ability to sell a house pronto, while hoping he won’t.
This leads to a brag-off, which Lila loses.
“Whatever. Anyway, Tina and I came down to check the place out.” She wrinkled her nose. “I imagine I’ll be signing off on it,” she added in a bored voice. “The place isn’t exactly what I’d hoped, of course, but it was the only mansion in town with an Olympic-size swimming pool.”
Lila set her jaw. How dare Rachel complain about Lila’s mansion? “What do you mean, it isn’t what you’d hoped?” she demanded. “Like, I’m sure you had your own personal movie theater back in Massachusetts.”
Rachel shrugged. “Oh, sure. Two, actually. Plus my own projectionist. His name’s Don.” She flicked water droplets toward the ladder. “You wouldn’t know him.”
Well, duh, Lila thought, but she dropped the subject. She had to show all her movies herself. “Well, how about the riding stable?” she asked in the snottiest tone she could manage.
Rachel sighed loudly. “Your stable holds only four horses. I have eight. Lipizzaners, all of them.”
“Oh.” Lila wasn’t quite sure what to say. “The beach volleyball court?”
Rachel trailed an arm in the water. “Oh, please. Everyone knows that volleyball’s dead. Do you have a climbing wall?”
Lila tried to ignore the churning sensation in her stomach. “Well, not yet,” she admitted, “but—”
“No?” Rachel raised her shades. “I guess I’ll have to have one installed.”
Well, the ghostie has rudimentary knowledge of horses. I’d assume the default brag is Arab or Thoroughbred. Lipizzaners are the ballet dancers of horses. They’re very prancey. They would be voiced by Flula Borg if they were animated. And then have been. [Raven: Shout out to the “you wouldn’t know him” line about Projectionist Don. Got a proper laugh, that.]
So it turns out that Rachel’s dad is in the den with George, hammering out the details. Rachel got changed to swim in Lila’s room and left her dress there. So it wasn’t brand new, and even if it was when Rachel put it on, there’s a difference between brand new and worn for a few hours. And Lila would know the difference. Rachel puts in digs about getting rid of things in the house she doesn’t like, and Lila naturally bristles.
And I’m just wondering did she even ask if she could go swimming? Did she or her father ask George, or did she just assume she can swim there? Basically, were manners involved or should this be a post on r/EntitledParents? [Raven: I hate the setup of antagonism here. Who the hell goes swimming in this situation?] [Dove: Only in Sweet Valley.]
Lila asks where Rachel’s mother is, and Rachel says she’s heard all about how Lila’s mother just ran off and has nothing to do with her. Rachel’s mother is in Europe shopping with Tina’s mum – who is their interior designer. Lila’s probably never even heard of Europe.
Um, yeah, Lila’s mum is in Europe, you daft cow. Where do you think France is? Wait, why are all missing mothers in Europe? Lila’s mother is in France. And now Rachel’s mother is there (which is a paper-thin disguise for the fact that she’s clearly estranged from her family) and Brooke’s mom moved to Paris… so… Europe: the place you go when you hate your family. [Wing: Is that why all the parents in Point Horror books have fucked off to Europe?]
Lila is bored of this so heads back towards the house, and runs into Tina, who has sodas and snacks from the Fowler kitchen. Lila asks why doesn’t she just put things back, they’re Lila’s not hers or Rachel’s. Tina says Rachel asked her to. Lila makes a comment about how Rachel orders her around because she’s the daughter of their designer, and then asks if Rachel’s mum is as awful as her. Tina is thrown by the question, if their mums are together in Europe, that’s news to her, but she styles it out saying if Rachel says so, it must be true.
Yeah, Rachel’s not broken-hearted about her mum leaving and lying her pants off at all, is she? This book is far from subtle.
She goes in to confront her dad and George and Mr Grant are insufferable assholes throughout. Their vibe is, “lol, we’ve raised such demanding brats who want everything they’re own way (and are really quite annoying), but what can you do?! Lol!”
Um, maybe raise them better so they’re not such horrors? Reward good behaviour, reprimand bad, that sort of thing. Maybe actually be there every once in awhile, so they don’t accidentally imprint on an American Express card and build their entire self-worth on whether they can buy more than the person next to them? Offer guidance instead of dollar bills?
Or failing that, hire a fucking nanny/caretaker to do all that shit for you? [Raven: This Mr Fowler is not my Mr Fowler. Sure, he’s not always present, but the Fowler-centric books have always ended with him firmly in the Lessons Learned camp. This guy? Douchenozzle.]
Talk then turns to Rachel, as Mr Grant has to go on a business trip. That original plan was for her to stay with Ms Riels (Tina’s mum), but now that he’s buying Fowler Crest, that’s all the information he needs to accept George’s offer to let Rachel stay there.
Sure. Nothing bad ever came from an adult man with more money than sense wanting unrelated tweens to sleep over. For the kids or the man, depending on which side you believe.
Seriously. What the fuck is wrong with Mr Grant? If I bought a car from someone, I wouldn’t think that would automatically qualify them to take care of my cats. But I suppose at least he and George have bonded over the fact that they’re terrible parents who have raised spoiled brats, so I guess why would he care? Also, George refers to them both as “little girls” which is just insulting or creepy when they’re thirteen, you prick.
“Sounds good.” Mr. Fowler nudged Lila again. “Hey, kiddo, sounds like fun, huh? I would have killed to have a friend stay over at my place when I was your age.” He and Mr. Grant laughed.
George is apparently completely unaware that Lila has or goes to sleepovers almost weekly. Fucking idiot.
We then drop into Rachel’s head for a quick recap of what’s happened. By the way, the ghosties have finally figured out that first person generally sucks, and it sucks even more when you’re trying to tell an ensemble story, and have graciously returned to third person, which I’m glad for. If only the quality of stories could return to a Grapplegate level, I would be positively delighted.
Basically, she loathes Lila and can’t remember her name, calling her Lulu, Laura, Lola, Lara, etc. in her head. I hate this since my mother can’t get my name right, and this book sort of proves my point. She either doesn’t care she’s got it wrong or is deliberately picking the wrong name to disrespect Lila. I don’t care if you call me my actual name, Dove, or some nickname you made up for me (Wing has spent literal decades calling me “La Bamba”), but get it fucking right. Especially if I correct you. [Raven: This was so shit. I particularly hated the fact thatshe misnamed Lila with a different name each time, sometimes in the same thought.]
Rachel also deliberately drops her towel on the floor so Tina will have to pick it up, even though she actually likes Tina, she just… OH NOES, THE OMINOUS ELLIPSIS OF (NON-SPECIFIC) FORESHADOWING. [Raven: SPOILER – The whole Tina thing just sort of evaporates for no reason. We get a few lines early on, and then poof! Gone.]
I’ll translate those dots for you. She would absolutely stop being such a harpy if she wasn’t mired in woe over some family-related drama, which is absolutely guaranteed to relate to her mother not being here right this second.
But since her woe exists, she is going to share that woe and make everyone miserable.
Cool. Awesome. Can’t wait for that.
Back with Lila, the dads are still having the time of their lives as they list all the entitled shit their kids have pulled, and oh, the fun they’re having. George mentions how often Lila’s friends come over, and this makes Lila worry again that her friends only like her for her fabulous abode.
And then she realises that Mr Grant has been speaking about Mrs Riels as if she’s right here in Sweet Valley, not shopping in Europe with his wife. And Tina has been really weird about it. Then she shrugs it off, because if she doesn’t, the book will end in the next chapter, and we need to drag this thing out for another 25,000 words.
We cut to Lila encountering a billion suitcases in the living room. When is this? Who knows. It appears that not only has Rachel moved in, but she’s moved into Lila’s room and is taking down her posters, while sniping that she hates the colour scheme and how she’s going to change it because she always has the best, which is why she picked this room. Lila says she has no right, and Rachel says that she’s buying the house, so she has every right.
No, kid, not until you’ve paid for it. Until you pay, you’re just a guest with zero manners. [Raven: Another example of forced and idiotic antagonism. Who pulls this crap? Also, why the hell does Lila hear this decree from the obnoxious new girl and basically go “yeah, sounds fair”…?] [Dove: In order for this plot to work, everyone has to be out of character. That’s never a good sign.]
Lila decides to hit back by asking where Rachel’s mom is really. Rachel flinches, and then sticks to her story, that she’s in Europe with Mrs Riels.
Later that afternoon, Jessica shows up randomly. Being Jessica, she announces that she’s bored and Lila’s house is nicer. Lila has to keep her out of the living room because she doesn’t want Jessica to find out Rachel’s here, because then she’ll find out that the house is being sold, and so forth.
What follows is a hilarious chain of events that we’ve read far too often in this series and are too tedious to recount. So let’s just say: Lila acts weird, then has to explain Rachel’s presence anyway because Jessica just wanders around Lila’s house and meets her. Lila says that Rachel is her father’s college roommate’s daughter, and is so “crazy” she’s been kicked out of school and an “asylum”. Her words. Not mine. Urgh.
We cut to Rachel watching Lila and Jessica leave, and wishes she had friends, and she can’t figure out why if Lila’s a spoiled toxic brat, why can’t she, another spoiled toxic brat, have friends too? Only without the self-awareness. And it’s a fair question. Almost everyone in this series is a genuinely horrible person, what makes one horrible person more or less deserving of friends than other equally horrible people?
Another cut to Lila and Rachel having an awkwardly silent dinner together. Rachel breaks the silence by asking if Lila wants to watch TV in her room tonight. Lila goes back and forth (it’s not Rachel’s room, it’s hers vs it was nice to be asked) and settles on telling Rachel not to rub it in that she’s taken her room. [Wing: Do I believe that Lila would have backed down on the room thing? No. I don’t. Not ever, no version of Lila. Why in the world did she back down? She’s supposed to be just as stubborn and spoiled as Rachel.] [Dove: Valid point. Lila would have bulldozed the house, rather than give away what’s hers.] Rachel gets halfway through a conciliatory response before telling Lila to fuck off then.
Once again they have a brag-off, which culminates in Rachel saying her phone can remember 300 numbers, and Lila snaps back that it seems unnecessary, since she’s got no friends.
You would think that means Lila won, but no. Rachel hits back saying that at least she has a mother.
So it’s a tie. At least until Rachel gets a call from her mother. Lila is overcome with jealousy so she listens on an extension. This is a massively well-worn trope, but I remember back in the day that if you picked up the extension, everyone else would hear a painful roaring sound, like a howling abyss containing some Eldritch abomination, so it was impossible to stealth earwig. Your only option was to loudly declare, “Sorry, thought you were done. Let me know when you’re off the phone!” and hang up. The same happened at my friends’ houses too.
Is this the case for everyone else, or did we just have a shitty phone setup?
[Wing: Oooh, that’s interesting, because you could listen in on the phones here, or at least the ones we had. You had to be careful in how you clicked in because of the potential soft noise it made when someone else picked up, but there was no roaring sound.] [Raven: I think I’m with wing here. I remember being able to “stealth earwig” on the phone extension. Also, I’m now picturing insects dressed as ninjas.]
Anyway, she overhears Mrs Grant saying she has Lakers tickets, which Lila finds sus, if she’s in Europe, and since we’re in the pre-internet days, I guess it is, unless she ordered them by phone and paid by credit card? *shrugs* I don’t think it’s completely impossible. But yeah, of course she’s not in Europe.
Over with Rachel, she’s starting to feel better, in fact, for half a second she thinks that she and Lila have a few things in common. But then Lila flings open the door and starts helping herself to her own belongings. Rachel snaps that it’s her room, which makes Lila ask again where her mother is, and keep prodding until Rachel says more than Europe. In a bold move, her mother is not in France, she’s in Rome and will be there for three weeks. Lila keeps pushing, and gleefully makes reference to the Lakers tickets. Lila takes the win and Rachel cries on her bed once Lila leaves.
When I first read this, it wasn’t that bad, but when it comes to recapping it, I’m finding it really hard. I think the problem is that when you read it, you just absorb the story. When you recap it, you realise that each chapter is broken up into eight-paragraph segments, and each of those segments say the same thing: these girls are exactly the same person, and they hate each other for it. And I also know that this book suffers from massive ending fatigue, which isn’t inspiring me to go forwards, when I don’t feel like the book’s really got going yet. [Raven: And here lies my biggest issue with this book. We’re presented with a new girl, who is an obnoxious brat from the start, but who is then presented to have so much in common with one of the series’s much-beloved OGs. And we’re supposed to go “well, these girls are very similar, I will think of them as narrative equals?” Hell to the fuck to the nope, you ghostie bellends. We’ve been with Lila since book fucking one. She’s put in the hard yards, and we love her for it. As for Rachel, there’s not a chance we’ll warm to this fancy-pants ass-puffin in act fucking five.] [Dove: All of this. Plus, Lila has swag. She has style. She has amazingly sassy lines. Rachel is just rich. That’s not the same.]
That afternoon, Jessica comes over to study with Lila and comments that she heard the weird girl from upstairs sobbing. This makes Lila feel something she cannot explain.
I find it terrifying that in a room containing only two people, both aged thirteen, neither of them could understand guilt when they experienced it for the first time, which was within the past twelve months.
The next day, thanks to Jessica’s big mouth, the entire school is rife with rumours about the girl in Lila’s house. Rumours about her include: “crazy” aunt, ax-murderer, manbearpig, and the one Wing will appreciate the most:
“Is it true what I’ve been hearing, Lila?” Kimberly’s eyes were very big, and Lila had a feeling it wasn’t because of the manicotti the cafeteria was serving for lunch.
“What have you been hearing?” Lila asked.
“That there’s this creature that’s half girl and half wolf living in your house. She’s been there for, what, thirty years? And she crawls out of the basement during a full moon.”
Well. For the past five years, Wing has been telling you all that I lied and promised werewolves in Twins, but I didn’t, I promised them in High. I promised ghosts in Twins. However, at least now we have a reference to werewolves.
[Wing: DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH BETTER THIS BOOK WOULD BE IF RACHEL REALLY WAS A WEREWOLF?! (Well, except for that whole thing where one of our few characters of color would then be a slavering beast, and that’s shitty writing. BUT WEREWOLVES.) I’ll admit, I did ride my joy at this bit of gossip for an entire chapter before the book dragged me back down again.] [Raven: I read Wing’s comment as “… IF RACHEL RILEY WAS A WEREWOLF?!” which made me laugh. For those outside the UK, Rachel Riley is one of the presenters of the daytime TV word game Countdown. “Duh-duh, duh-duh, duddle-duh-duh AWOOOOOOOOO.”]
With all this chatter on what creature might be inhabiting Lila’s abode, Kimberly comments that you couldn’t pay her to live there, no matter how many bowling alleys it has. Lila has a lightbulb moment.
She seeks out Jessica, swears her to secrecy, then “confides” that the girl is actually a ghost. But tell nobody.
We cut to Caroline Pearce calling to confirm the story of the haunting of Fowler Crest, which damn, there’s my title for the Ghostbusters fanfic that I accidentally promised in a flurry of discussion about Sweet Valley last week.
“Let’s see… I talked to Jessica Wakefield and Winston Egbert and Bruce Patman. Winston said it had three heads, by the way. Then I talked to Jerry McAllister and Ellen and Kimberly and Mandy and Evie Kim, who said it committed suicide a hundred years ago, and Charlie Cashman and Brian Boyd, only Brian said it was a ghoul and Charlie said it was a wolf with—” There was the rustling of paper. “—dripping fangs. And Sophie Rizzo said it was howling at the moon and rattling chains.”
Well, you seem to have covered most of the sub-genres of horror, Caroline. Lila confirms all of the rumours. That ought to do it.
We cut to Rachel, who is sitting by the pool. She overhears the new next-door neighbours. Which I think is weird. This is a seventy-five room house. You saw the picture above. That is not an estate that implies you’ll be able to overhear the neighbours. Hell, even in John Cena’s house, there seems to be plenty of room between his house and the next. Admittedly, his is in Florida, and perhaps the building trends are different on the opposite coast. [Wing: Nope. Or, they are, but not when it comes to distance from the neighbors for a house that size. And okay, perhaps it’s not quite as sprawling as the one you showed us, though it really should be, that’s very California style to take advantage of the weather, but Lila’s mansion has always sounded more like a giant Victorian than anything else. All that’s beyond the point, and the point is that they should not be able to overhear the neighbors, not from the pool and certainly not from the house itself.]
But sure, let’s just go along with the idea that their estate is gigantic enough to have a seventy-five room building, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, rose gardens and other things like that, but somehow you can be by the pool and so close to next door (an estate of nearly the same size and opulence) that you can overhear them perfectly.
Oh, and also that you can totally buy a house and move in in a matter of days. I mean, I guess since we’re talking about multi-millionaires (maybe even billionaires if the Guardian article is to be believed), sure they could throw money at it to get it done, but even if you have a lot of money, why would you waste so many millions in moving a few weeks early? [Wing: Not to mention wasn’t the husband actually trying to move one of their things? And the wife says she’ll move something else? No way they aren’t using movers and don’t have to worry about moving a damn thing themselves. (No shade on that part; I’ve used movers and will the next time I move, too. My self-hauling days are over.)] [Raven: For our last two moves, Dove and I went the self-haul route. The second involved around fifty five-minute trips in a small car, while the first, a move from a first floor flat to a house on the same street five doors away, saw us move everything in a purloined shopping trolley (I know, we’re classy). Nowadays, I’d hire a moving troupe to shift my dinner plate from the table to the sink.]
The neighbours are Alexander and Amelia Q Witherspoon, and they are just as prissy as those names imply. Amelia is insufferably bossy and lives to complain and Alexander says nothing but an agreeable “yes, dear” or “no, dear”.
Rachel thinks to herself that things might’ve been better if they’d bought the house next door. Lila might’ve been a better neighbour than the girl whose house she was buying. They have a lot in common. But it’s too late now. She’s made an effort and Lila’s slapped her down for it.
Over with Lila, she’s revelling in the way the rumours have grown, and is delighted to see confirmation in the school paper of the haunting.
Later that afternoon, Lila is sunbathing when Rachel appears and asks if the article about the haunting is true. When Lila confirms it is, Rachel is offended. How could they sell a haunted house without disclosing it? She breaks down in tears and says that her mom is terrified of ghosts and will never set foot in a haunted house. Lila starts to feel hopeful the sale will fall through, and she decides to help things along by faking a haunting. She is a great actress to have freaked out Rachel so much.
[Wing: Real quick, here’s a quote from the book I need to reference, though the loud neighbors also talk about the illegality of the sale when there is a haunted house nearby.]
Rachel’s muscles tensed. “You mean your dad sold my dad a haunted house?”
“Well… yeah,” Lila shrugged extravagantly.
“That’s not fair!” Rachel burst out. “That’s got to be illegal, Lila!”
Lila set her jaw. Selling somebody a haunted house was not illegal—she was almost certain of that.
[Wing: The werewolf gossip is my favorite part of the book, but this did send me down a quick rabbithole, because I vaguely remembered there was a case about this very thing. And there is!
Stambovsky v. Ackley from 1991. In it, Ackley publicly talked about how the house was haunted, including in newspapers and Reader’s Digest. During the sale of the house to Stambovsky, Ackley alleged that she told her real estate broker to disclose the haunting, the broker alleged she disclosed the haunting, and Stambovsky alleged he was never told about the haunting, nor was he aware of the publicly known haunting story. Stambovsky sued Ackley to cancel the contract and received damages for fraudulent misrepresentation (basically, intentionally lying about an important detail). The trial court dismissed the case.
Stambovsky appealed, and the APPELLATE COURT, OH THE APPELLATE COURT, the appellate court said that because Ackley reported the haunting in national and local publications, they can’t now deny the existence of the ghosts “AND, AS A MATTER OF LAW, THE HOUSE IS HAUNTED.” (Emphasis mine.) LEGALLY, THE HOUSE IS FUCKING HAUNTED, OH MY GOD APPELLATE COURT. The appellate court agreed with the trial court that there was no fraudulent misrepresentation and therefore no damages because of “buyer beware” doctrine and that the seller had no duty to disclose the haunting to potential buyers. However, the appellate court also held that Ackley took unfair advantage of the fact that Stambovsky (allegedly) didn’t know about the haunting or the national and local press of it, and the haunted reputation impacts the value of the house, so therefore the contract was cancelled. The court, in this majority opinion, also referenced a whole bunch of ghost media, including Ghostbusters and Hamlet, and said things like “[Stambovsky] doesn’t have a ghost of a chance.” THE CONTRACT WAS CANCELLED, THE HOUSE WAS LEGALLY HAUNTED, AND THE COURT USED HAUNTING PUNS. I FUCKING ADORE THIS CASE.
A quick search also confirmed my belief that there is no state law about disclosing a haunting, though some states may require disclosing a violent death.
Note: This is not legal advice and, unlike Ned Wakefield, I am not acting as your lawyer in an area of law I know very little about.] [Dove: I feel like Wing’s been sat on that case for a long time, just in case she accidentally finds herself deep in litigation about ghosts, so she can bust out precedent. Which will be badass.]
Over with Rachel, she’s congratulating herself on an acting job well done, because now she has a reason why Mrs Grant won’t be there when they move into the house. And heck, if there isn’t a haunting now, she can certainly fabricate one.
Lila calls Mrs Riels in an attempt to get more info on Rachel’s mum. She uses a phoney southern belle accent and gets absolutely nowhere.
She tries to call Tina, claiming to be the authorities. Tina says she’s not allowed to talk about Mrs Grant and hangs up.
The obvious conclusion to these two calls is that Mrs Grant is a criminal.
Next Lila calls the police to report Mrs (no first name) Grant for having committed a(n unspecified) crime, no description or location on either the woman or the crime. Naturally, the cop who takes her call is exasperated and hangs up on her. [Raven: I enjoyed the world-weary detective here. I had Murder in Successville vibes.]
On Friday night, Lila is on the upstairs landing dressed in a sheet, dragging a chain, pretending to be a ghost. Rachel is in the attic doing much the same thing.
Somehow, despite the sprawling estate they are in, Lila hears the Unicorns outside the front door discussing how they saw a ghost in the attic. Rachel manages to hear the next door neighbours discussing how they saw a ghost on the landing.
I think Wing broke me. I once got carried away and described the entry-way of a carnival funhouse of having “thousands of teeny lights”, and Wing just gave me one of those looks and asked, “Thousands? Really?” And at that point, I realised you can’t just pluck numbers out of the air because there will be people who point out how ridiculous your description is. And now I’m one of them. You can’t have a house that gigantic and still manage to overhear everything that’s going on. If Raven is on the top floor of our perfectly normal terraced house, I can’t hear him unless he yells to get my attention, I certainly can’t hear his casual conversation with his friends. It’s just not plausible to have such a sprawling building and somehow several floors up you can hear a full conversation clearly.
The next day, Rachel is outside and caught by the neighbours. Amelia gives it to her both barrels for having the audacity to have a haunted house next door to her home. She is very specific, she definitely saw a ghost on the upper landing, not the attic. Rachel is now starting to freak out.
And now Lila has the same conversation with the Unicorns, and likewise freaks out.
You remember when I lost my temper with The Magic Christmas because the twins had the same conversation with each of their prince twins separately, then recapped the conversation to each other? Same kind of thing for this entire book. Yes, the conversations are technically different, but overall they’re the same. Much like the Wakefield twins themselves: there are superficial differences, but when you boil it down, both are spoiled little bastards with superiority complexes the size of Texas.
The next few pages are both girls creeping round the house, trying to avoid the ghost, but somehow constantly being the source of noise that’s creeping out the other girl throughout. Even with seventy-five rooms. Eventually they bump into each other and after a few sentences of tense tolerance, they decide to hang out in the same room.
Lila asks if Rachel’s been hearing stuff, like a haunting. Rachel admits she has and the two share a sheepish grin, like they’re finally on the same page and can see that. [Raven: So they are similar. Big deal. Sorry Rachel, but you do NOT get a fucking Fast Pass to an equal billing today.]
They decide to stay together in the living room, on the couch, overnight with the light on, for safety. Rachel says she’s not used to sharing and might kick Lila off in the night. Lila says she’s the same way, so may the best woman win.
Lila tells Rachel about the Unicorns and Rachel says it must be nice to have friends. She moved around a lot when she was younger because of her dad’s work. Lila says she thought Rachel went to boarding school, and Rachel says no, only since – and stops. She says she’s going to sleep now.
Lila thinks to herself that it must be awful not to have friends. But of course, she only has friends as long as she has a house. EXCEPT, GODDAMNIT, YOU LEARNED THIS LESSON ALREADY IN POOR LILA!
Lila is lounging by the pool on Sunday afternoon when Amelia Q Witherspoon from next door appears. I think she’s meant to be really funny, but she’s not. She’s here to tell Lila to organise ghost exterminators for her house. She knows the girl who lives here is called Rachel Grant and she says she thinks Lila must be her, because she looks like she should have that name. Again, I think it’s supposed to be funny, but because the rest of the book is so blandly written, I can’t muster any emotion other than “oh, ok, sure” to anything that happens, even when the ghostie goes in for wit. [Raven: I actually think this book is pretty witty in places. I just don’t think that outweights the structural liberties taken by the ghostie.] She also hands Lila a letter for Rachel that has been delivered to her house in error.
She hands it to Rachel after Amelia leaves, and Rachel reacts to the letter in shock and runs off.
Then she returns some time later and Lila asks what’s going on. Rachel says she doesn’t want to talk about it. Lila decides to go rummage in Rachel’s room to find the truth while Rachel swims.
She goes upstairs and finds out that the letter contained a prospectus for UCLA and Mrs Grant – Doctor, actually – will be taking a position there. Her bio says that her daughter, Rachel, lives with Mr Grant.
Lila’s response is: wait, the plot twist was that her parents are divorced? Who fucking cares? Lila’s parents are divorced and she knows plenty of people who aren’t all secretive and defensive about their parents’ divorce. Conveniently forgetting that Ellen was fucking terrified of losing her friends over her parents’ divorce. But as a reader, hell yes, I’m with Lila. I’m bored of this plot too. Twice in a nine-book run is excessive. [Raven: AGREED.]
Rachel catches her snooping and is angry, but Lila doesn’t rise to the anger. She apologises and asks why Rachel’s so defensive about it. She has a mum, who’s in her life, so who cares if her parents are divorced? And she’s actually quite sweet and supportive here.
Rachel snaps that Lila wouldn’t understand, her life is perfect. Lila hits back that it’s not. Plenty of people have divorced parents, but almost nobody has a mother they never see.
Rachel tries to explain that it hurts because she can remember when their family worked and it was great. And Lila gets that. If she could remember what it was like to have a mother, she’d miss hers even more. Which is surprisingly mature for how she’s been written lately, but totally on brand with our perceived characterisation of her. Also, she remembers how tough Ellen’s divorce was last year. Dude. It was nine fucking books ago. Or to put it another way: one tug-of-war over Mandy, one feud with the Angels, one baby-sitting job, one beauty contest, one shopping spree, one feud with the Eights, and a cruise ago.
Rachel’s story is that the divorce is really messy, the parents have sent their respective lawyers to war over the property – and nobody’s allowed to talk about the divorce – and Rachel was bundled off to boarding school without even being asked what she wanted. She hates being called a spoiled brat because she’s so miserable, she doesn’t have any friends, and she thinks she drove her mum away because otherwise why doesn’t her mum want Rachel to live with her?
Lila says but she has a mother – one who calls and sends letters, not like Lila’s completely absent mother. And she sometimes feels like her dad only goes away on business because he’s sick of Lila. [Wing: This bit is heartbreaking.] And hey, did Daddy Fowler even ask if Lila wanted to move house before he sold her home? Nope.
Rachel counters that Lila has friends. Lila says probably not once the swanky house is sold.
Rachel says no, from the little she’s seen, Lila’s friends really like her, not her house. (Really? Really? Because the Unicorns have barely been in this book except for before Rachel arrived, and once to spot ghosts. She wasn’t even present for the bit where Lila swore Jessica to secrecy and Jessica immediately blabbed everything. But sure, they’re besties. Urgh.)
And then the doorbell rings.
The Unicorns are here, and their voices “floated up through the window from the sidewalk below”. Once again, the ghostie seems to think this sprawling seventy-five room mansion will be right on the road. Ignoring the fact that apparently they have the space for a riding stable out front. Possibly their voices are coming from the drive, rather than the sidewalk. Even so, they can hear the conversation perfectly.
Yes, this may well be my new “what are the cave’s dimensions?” [Raven: DEFINITELY!]
The Unicorns have gathered because they want to see the ghost. Lila and Rachel simultaneously figure out they’ve been each other’s ghost. Lila has to confess that she told the Unicorns that Rachel is a ghost.
The Unicorns use a plethora of excuses to hunt all over the house, while Lila does her best to bribe them to go somewhere else. “I’ll treat everybody to shoes at Chez Foot!” is my personal favourite. Chez Foot. Fucking breathtaking. Literally my favourite line in the book. Which I think is an indication of how bad this book is. And probably how awful the shop names are in this series that I think Chez Foot is inspired by comparison.
There is a scream from upstairs and they realise that Jessica is not with them. They run to the sound of the scream and find Jessica on the landing, saying the ghost was in Lila’s room, except it’s all different now, with no Johnny Buck posters. The Unicorns are in ghostbusting mode.
Over in Rachel’s head, she’s running around the house, trying to avoid the Unicorns and she’s quite surprised at herself. This is not the kind of thing she does for other people usually. And she realises that Lila is upset that she may lose her friends if their friendship is conditional on owning the house. I don’t know why that’s a revelation, Lila literally told her that exact thing.
Anyway, she finds herself running smack-dab into the Unicorn Club, and decides to come clean. She explains that she’s a real person, and Lila lied, not to scare them, but to hide the fact the house is being sold, and she can’t keep secrets from her friends any longer.
Lila lashes out, saying Rachel doesn’t know anything about friendship, since she doesn’t have any. And much like earlier when Rachel was lashing out and Lila just took it, Rachel ignores the bait and reassures her that everything will be ok.
And so Lila comes clean and the Unicorns say they’re still her friends. It’ll be weird not hanging out at Fowler Crest, but they’ll still be friends forever. Or, you know, until some cute boy or great-looking sweater comes along, if history is anything to go by.
Lila and Rachel apologise to each other for everything leading up to this moment. Rachel offers a truce, but Lila offers friendship instead. And now Rachel wishes she hadn’t lobbied so hard for her dad to buy this house. Sadly, both dads are the type to stick to their guns.
At that point, the Toffington-Smythes (I can’t be bothered to look up their real names) next door start discussing loudly that they need to sell their house if they see one more haunting.
I kind of like this. This is kind of nice. But the lead up to it? Boring as fuck. I’d have much preferred a more parent-trap like plot, where very early on the girls realised that it would benefit no-one for Mr Grant to buy the house, and teamed up to try and convince both dads to make other decisions. You could still have the wacky ghost plot if you wanted, perhaps even keep them appearing to hate each other (though I can’t see the benefit to that), but I would have preferred a more friendship based through-line than just a “and now we’re besties” resolution.
We cut to after the haunting, no real specifics are given, but it involved sheets, screams and tapping, and it was a rousing success. The next-door neighbours are fucking off immediately. [Raven: HOW CONVENIENT.]
Next Rachel has to call her dad and convince him that she wants the house next door, which takes a bit of wheedling, and nets her a response of “I guess I’ll consider it if George pulls out of the deal”.
Miraculously the phone rings and it’s George Fowler himself, calling to say that while he was away, he felt homesick, specifically for their home, and he doesn’t want to sell it. [Raven: HOW CONVENIENT 2 – ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.]
And we cut to the resolve scene, where everyone is happy. Lila has learned (again) that her friends love her for her. Rachel’s moving in next door. Oh, and Lila thinks she’s Unicorn material. The Unicorns vote on it, and she’s in. And when she is accepted, she decides to come clean that her parents are getting divorced. There’s a nice moment where Ellen suggests they talk and compare notes.
And finally, Rachel’s going to ask her dad if she can go to Sweet Valley Middle School, rather than the boarding school.
And finally we have the lead in to the next book. Oooh, isn’t this model pretty. Oooh, but she’s so thin. Tune in next week where the notoriously fat-phobic and happy-to-body-shame Sweet Valley attempts to tackle eating disorders/body positivity and Raven tears them a new one.
Well, that happened. I liked it a bit more when I read it, but it’s very samey. And it’s so bad when you’re recapping. I think this recap is shorter than most of mine, and that’s because not much happened, but we heard about it twice from each point of view.
It was tiresome and repetitive, and “ooh, my parents’ shameful divorce” is fucking tired and played out at this point. In the seventies and eighties, it was more necessary, but this book came out in 1997, which is the point where out of my friend group, maybe two had parents that were still together. Clueless came out in 1995, and Cher, the main character, is completely blasé about the amount of times her dad has divorced. I know it’s a comedy, but it is an indication that times have changed.
I feel like this could have been done better. And I didn’t like all the “brand new traditions we’ve always had”, like George not knowing the names of Lila’s friends, which has been proven otherwise countless times. I didn’t like how he and Mr Grant were so proud of raising brats and their view was “lol wut can u do lol?”
Rachel seems nice, but we’re five books from the end, do we need a new character when we’re already discarded so many? Did the ghosties suddenly realise that by ousting Evie Kim their diversity had shot back down to zero and this is their saving throw? *shrugs*
I’m not engaged. And I’m still bitter that book 1 gave us such high hopes.
[Wing: I read this book in less than 20 minutes because it is literally the same thing over and over and over again. I wish I would have timed exactly how long it took, because it might have been 15, and that’s with me stopping for a moment to bask in my joy over the tiniest of werewolf references. I can’t even hate this book, though. It’s not enough to hate, not enough to like, it’s the mehest book that ever mehed.]
[Raven: If this book a) didn’t take too may liberties with the series canon, b) didn’t make so many frankly idiotic logistical errors with the house, and c) didn’t attmept to pitch Lila and Rachel as two equals cut from the same cloth, I’d have warmed to it a little more. I found it genuinely funny in places, and I wasn’t too bothered with the repetition (other than the fact that it sprang from the ghostie’s need to ram the “Lila and Rachel are the samez0rs” narrative down our throats). Unfortunately, all three points were so annoying that no bushel of pithy witticisms was likely to tip the scales away from Bad. A shame, but expected for the diminishing series as a whole.]
Well, I’m going to admit that Lila wearing a sheet and chains was not the plot I was expecting from this one.