The Unicorn Club #2: Maria’s Movie Comeback

The Unicorn Club 2: Maria's Movie Comeback
The Unicorn Club 2: Maria’s Movie Comeback

Title: Maria’s Movie Comeback

Tagline: Maria to the rescue…

Summary: Pfew! The Unicorn Club was almost finished, but we’re back and better than ever. As long as I don’t let the Unicorns down. You see, the roof caved in on the day-care center where we’d been volunteering. Now the center might close—unless the Unicorns can save it.

That’s where I come in. A movie director has offered me a part in his new movie. He’s going to pay me enough to save the center… but the script calls for a major on-screen kiss with super-hunk movie star Brad Marshall! I want out!

Who ever said being a Unicorn was easy?

Initial Thoughts

Maria might want out but the rest of the Unicorns are going to want in. I don’t have high expectations because I wasn’t well pleased with the last book and I’ve struggled to focus on this damn book.

[Raven: I enjoyed the last book, a lot. I do have high expectations about this one, and the rest of the (mini) series.]

[Dove: I bloody well adored the previous book, so this one has a lot to live up to. I know not every book can have a daring rescue during the worst storm in the past decade of Sweet Valley, so possibly it won’t be the high-octane thrill-ride of the last one. Still, let’s go.]

Recap

Maria opens by reassuring us that the only reason she’s joined the Unicorn Club is that they have changed, really changed, deeply changed. It’s been about thirty seconds of new school year, so, uh, I don’t believe you, but okay, I’ll buy that the changes last book are sticking and are enough to make it appeal to Team Boring.

Maria recaps last book (much more succinctly than we ever do, though not nearly as entertaining) and then goes into an introduction of all the Unicorns which, like last book, reminds me too much of the Baby-Sitters Club books. While I find it mostly charming, though still pretty obnoxious, in the BSC books, that’s mostly because I grew up with them, and I don’t have the same nostalgic tolerance for Sweet Valley. [Raven: I didn’t grow up with either of them, and I enjoy this opening style.]

Mandy: Strange combo of good common sense and incredible creativity. That’s — that’s not such a weird combo. Rocks a thrift store outfit while everyone else is spending their entire allowance on a pair of jeans.

Mary: Preppy and pretty, bighearted, never says anything bad about anyone. I’m pretty sure that’s not true, but I’m not going to go back through all the old recaps to prove it. [Dove: Not so much the preppy stuff (that has only come up in The Unicorn Club), but historically if there was bullying, Mary is not mentioned (generally). And she’s always gotten along well with both twins, so by Sweet Valley standards, that makes her a nice person.]

Ellen: Hard to read, nice enough but ditsy and funny, and she’s apparently a good mimc. Kind of a follower though, which is pretty true. [Raven: The good mimic thing threw me. It’s never come up before, right?] [Dove: Spot on. Brand new talent she’s always had. Although I will say it’s a new addition that makes sense. Ellen has always been a bit dim, and often self-aware about it (The Gossip War springs to mind, where she knew she gets things wrong, so makes notes when she’s talking on the phone), so mimicking others’ behaviour is actually a really smart call as a way for her to blag a situation she’s doesn’t really know how to play out – also, we’ve always had a problem with Ellen being the ringleader of the bullies (whenever she’s around horses) because in all the other books, she’s clearly following Janet and Lila. Back to mimicking, to up it as a comedic talent is a nice upgrade for Ellen. So yeah, it’s not continuity, but I’m ok with it. Also: Mimic.]

Elizabeth: Twin. Down to earth, great student, good problem solver.

Jessica: Twin. Out in the ozone, terrible student, good problem creator, always bailed out by Elizabeth and the rest of her friends. That’s completely untrue, Jessica does sometimes bail out herself or even other people.

Maria: “…up until a couple of years ago, I was known as the Maria Slater.”

Oh my god, Maria, I kind of love you right now.

More recap of last book — Maria says that the Unicorns never volunteered until they were forced into it last book which is, again, not true, there’s at least a little volunteering in the SVT books — and the Unicorns are still dealing with the fallout. Specifically, they haven’t yet repainted the lockers. UH. If they haven’t done that yet, then it really hasn’t been long enough for the changes to the Unicorns to be changing people’s minds, but okay.

And they are going to paint it themselves, which is a terrible idea. Also, the “no-color beige color” they use (per Ellen) is apparently supposed to be pink. Industrial Pink. That’s hilarious.

They try to come up with ideas to raise money so they can pay to replace Mr Clark’s toupee.

Car wash: NOPE. They just opened a new one and it’s really cheap.

Bake sale: Only Elizabeth knows how to bake, which is another damn lie considering Jessica went on television with cookies that one time, didn’t she.

So … two ideas.

Mandy finally comes up with a third, and it is that they should get hired to work at the new thrift shop in town. Two of them. For only two weeks. And only three hours a day.

How much does this toupee cost? Because that seems like very little money. [Raven: I saw this as raising money for the Toupee Fund, not something that made enough money too actually buy the toupee. Although why Lila or George can’t just cough up the money, I don’t know.]

Maria’s nervous that she won’t get a role in the play she just auditioned for. Elizabeth talks her up, and Maria starts again thinking of herself as the Maria Slater. The book is going to play this confidence as a bad thing, as cockiness that will get knocked out of her, and I’m going to be upset if it does.

Elizabeth tells her about an independent film that will shoot in Sweet Valley and we get a reference to the horror movie from The Curse of the Ruby Necklace right down to the fact it was a real live ghost story, per Elizabeth.

So … we acknowledge ghosts in a main series, now? [Dove: I know, right? Doesn’t this call into question everything we know about the series? So does that mean the Magnas are part of the main series canon too? Have the twins aged overnight or gone to a magic world for Christmas? Both Christmas. I’m so confused right now. I’ve even tagged this with our “supernatural ooooh” tag, because now it counts… right?]

Mandy and Maria hit up The Attic, the new thrift store (as opposed to The Clothes Closet, the other big thrift store, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I don’t hate the names) [Raven: Beats Sweet Valley Thrift Store, that’s for sure.] [Dove: Pretty sure The Attic has been mentioned several times before.], and as Mandy describes the owner (Asian, grandmother age, long straight hair down to her waist with a lot of gray, wears total vintage sophistication), which is enough for Maria to be reminded of Clara Kim, a huge movie star.

Oh god, she is going to be Clara Kim, isn’t she? Because that makes total sense.

At least they don’t try to drag it out, we get confirmation within a few paragraphs.

Clara’s also taking a break from acting mostly because “there aren’t many parts for mature women.” Which is a truth about Hollywood and I want this to be a criticism of it, though I’m not sure I trust any Sweet Valley book to pull it off.

Maria finally recognises that a lot of the stuff in the thrift shop are things from Clara’s home. Maria wants to ask about it but can’t think of any tactful way to do so, which is fair!

We meet little Evie, Clara’s granddaughter, who is now in the sixth grade at SVMS.

Clara’s then upfront about how they’re struggling for money. It’s not unheard of for people who come into money, whether through windfall or through a career that pays well, but I’d like to know more about why she’s struggling so much rather than just taking it as a given. Except I also know there’s no real space for it in a book this length nor is it probably important.

Maria and Mandy swear up and down that the Unicorns can be trusted to work there and that one of them will be there at all times. I still have my doubts that they won’t fuck this up.

Elizabeth has started wearing a purple ribbon instead of her trademark blue ribbon. (Is that an Elizabeth trademark?) [Dove: Again, not really, but she does often wear a ponytail, and blue is her favourite colour, so again, I don’t hate it. This series so far reads like fanfic of the existing canon, there aren’t many details in the main series, just big events, so the writer is trying to enlarge the mundane so it’s more relatable. And I’m here for it.] This makes Maria and Elizabeth both laugh. While I like seeing the friendships, I don’t know that this is very funny at all.

HA, YES, I WAS RIGHT. They won’t earn enough to pay for the toupee. It might not even cover the paint for the lockers.

Also, I realise I haven’t said this yet, but they are too young to legally work in retail like this.

The next day we’re back to the Sweet Valley Child Care Center (maybe this is why I like the thrift store names, because they’re compared to this). More recap of the last book and why the Unicorns had to volunteer there.

Maria loves getting to see the kids, especially Oliver Washington, who thinks of Jessica as a big sister.

Maria throws a bunch of names at us, and honestly, I did not expect for this series to have so many interactions with younger children. Is this trying to tap into the BSC market? Because it certainly feels like it. [Raven: I just like that there’s continuity.]

Things are bad at the center, though. The roof caved in from the heavy rains they’ve had (though earlier Maria talked about how the weather in Sweet Valley is only ever perfect). [Dove: to be fair, the storm in the last book was described as the worst storm SV had seen in the past ten years.] Of course, the center can’t really afford a new roof, because why not add yet another money issue in this book.

Understandably, the center being closed is a problem for parents. After all, the kids are there for a reason. This surprises the Unicorns, and I see yet another problem for them to solve.

Mandy and Maria work in the thrift store and have a blast with Mandy putting together outfits for Maria. It’s super cute, actually, though the outfits are — well, here you go.

Maria: Sweatpants cut off at the knee, beaded evening sweater, Lurex stockings (?), and laced-up ankle boots. “It sounds horrible,” Maria says, and it’s true, it’s true. She also says that people at school would die for it.

Mandy: 20s (1920s, but it made me laugh) meets 90s in a cyberpunk flapper look, a straight, short sheath with layers of metallic fabric fringe, an old metal-scrap belt twisted into a headband, seamed stockings, and clogs.

That outfit sounds less terrible than Maria’s, but not that much less terrible.

The Unicorns show up and cheer for them, because clearly they’re not staying away from the thrift shop and not turning into an after-school hangout at all, nope.

Then Tom Sanders rocks up calling them perfect. He’s that movie producer shooting Secondhand Rose, a teen movie. He loves how they’re dressed. [Dove: I couldn’t help but remember that there is a thrift store in Derry, Main called Secondhand Rose, Secondhand Clothes in IT, where adult Bill buys his old bike, Silver. Every damned time the name came up.]

Maria talks up Mandy’s skill, because Maria is both an amazing friend and also not shy at all.

He recognises Maria after a moment. He’s been a fan of her since her first commercial, and he pretty much immediately offers her a role that he hasn’t cast yet. It seems pretty late in the process to be hiring for a role that already exists, but I’m going to roll with it because why not.

Maria haggles him into paying triple scale because even though she wants to turn down the job she realises she can pay for the new roof for the center, because of course she does. I love you, Maria. [Raven: Yay for Maria’s hustle to earn enough for a roof repair. Boo for Maria demanding more from the budget of this low-rent indie film production. They probably laid off a bunch of extras to pay the wages of the Maria Slater.]

She’s not sure how her parents will react to her taking a job, which is a fair point. She starts by telling them about the center and then tells them about the job. Her mom is concerned that this will lead to more work, her wanting to audition more, move back to Hollywood, etc. Her dad backs her up, though, because this isn’t for “any self-promoting career reason” it’s for a worthy cause. Why did you let her start acting in the first place if you didn’t want her to be out of school like that? [Dove: I really liked Maria’s parents in this scene. They acted like people, not just plot devices.]

Elizabeth has no sense of chill — and they call Caroline the gossip — and has already published a story in the 7 and 8 Gazette about how Maria is going to raise money for the center through her acting. [Raven: She’s gotta do what she can to stand out in the cutthroat environment of the 7 and 8 Gazette. Also, has no one replaced her at the Sweet Valley Sixers? Or have we finally got proof that that rag was little more than Liz’s vanity project?] [Dove: To be fair, Evie is the only sixth-grader we’ve met, and so far she has no interest in writing for the class paper.]

Jessica, of course, fails to pick up the paint over the weekend. Maria and Elizabeth tease her about how she’ll never get it done, though Elizabeth is a little more serious than teasing. Maria’s pretty sure that Jessica will pull it off with the rest of the Unicorns.

The next week, Maria invites Evie to sit with the Unicorns at lunch, because apparently now the new Unicorns eat there too and not with their other friends the way they used to, so I guess fuck off, other friends. [Dove: Let’s be fair, Julie Porter was on borrowed time the minute Maria joined the school about 100 books ago. And it’s a hell of a commute for Amy to join them from Connecticut.]

Evie hero worships Maria and some of the others find it entertaining. Poor kid, I hope they don’t make her feel bad over this. I clearly don’t trust the Unicorns still.

As a part of this, she starts sharing details about Maria’s career and apparently none of her friends know anything about it, which I zero percent believe of the Unicorns. At least some of them would have looked into her acting just because she’s an actor they now know.

The Unicorns try to make Evie feel better about her grandmother not having as much work and how poor they are now. They talk about money worries, and that leads Maria to tell us about how the Unicorns are almost all well-off (except for Mandy and Mary), and Lila is flat-out rich, and before they all tried to pretend to be rich like Lila but they’re not like that anymore.

The more you tell us that the Unicorns have changed the less I believe it. [Raven: So cynical… Did you once have your heart broken by something purple, Wing?] [Dove: No, she’s still upset that she’s never found a great-looking sweater.]

They decide to try to help Evie and Clara. Mandy will put together thrift store outfits for them and they will start a trend at SVMS, “get in on the grunge thing.”

You’re … you’re telling me that all the Unicorns are about to start dressing grunge? Whut.

Also, Mandy’s style has never come across as grunge, just thrift store cool. Why not stick with that and not name-check a specific style? [Dove: Again, to be fair, the final 10-20 books of the main series kept name-dropping Jessica (of all people) wearing Doc Marten’s, even citing them as her favourite item of clothing, so there is precedent that they were falling under the fashion influence before now.]

After that article, everyone treats Maria like she’s a star. Her confidence takes a hit when she gets back an English paper that is graded B and not A. The content was good but she made grammatical and spelling errors that brought her grade down. Realistic.

She tries to talk him into raising her grade but fails miserably. She’s embarrassed that she tried, but even worse, she no longer trusts herself to act since she couldn’t move him into doing what she wanted.

Maria. Maria Maria Maria.

Actually, ghostie. Ghostie ghostie ghostie.

I understand that you want her to take a hit in her confidence, but this was not the way to go about it. There are plenty of things that are far more believable than this. Her acting wasn’t going to be what did or did not convince him to change her grade.

That afternoon, the Unicorns rock up to choose outfits. Since Maria already has one (oh god, don’t go with that outfit it was horrifying), she is going to work and helps a couple who are looking for furniture to fill their new house. Maria fails to sell them anything and, of course, she takes this as another hit to her acting. [Dove: Also, what kind of business person sells an antique/movie prop chair for $10? No wonder the owners are broke!]

Honey. Just because you acted in commercials doesn’t mean that you are a salesperson. That’s hard work and a specific skillset that has nothing to do with acting. You filled a role in the commercial, but other people wrote what made it (at least theoretically) compelling so that people would shop.

Tom’s assistant, Phil Silkin, brings Maria the script and the Unicorns are delighted that she has a kiss scene, which, of course, she’s never done before. (They keep calling it a love scene, which is not the name I’d use.)

Worse, she’s going to have to kiss Brad Marshall.

The Brad Marshall.

The Brad Marshall she’s had a crush on for years. [Raven: “Is this a kissing book?]

Maria tries to stop obsessing over the kiss; she focuses on the script, which she loves but for the kissing scene, which doesn’t seem like a good way to put everything out of your mind, but I do love her and her adorable tension here.

She wears a thrift store outfit to school the next day and it is not the outfit we heard about earlier but a different one Mandy put together: t-shirt, bicycle shorts, floppy crushed-velvet hat. That does sound more like an outfit someone would wear to school, and I love the idea of the floppy crushed-velvet hat, though I also think it would be incredibly warm. [Dove: Argh. The Blossom hat phase. I went through that one.]

Ooooh, more clothes. Thrift-store funk, as Maria puts it.

This, too, feels very much like a BSC scene (one of the characters, Claudia Kishi, is known for her wild, artistic fashions), but in this case, I adore outfit descriptions, the more ridiculous the better.

Mary: “done up like a riding instructor from the twenties.” Oh. My. God. Riding boots, a red hunting coat, short hair styled in a spit curl over her forehead, black bowler hat covered in conservation buttons.

I am dying.

Elizabeth: Cashmere pink sweater set, poodle skirt, pearls.

UMMM. This is sounding less thrift store funky and more costume party. [Dove: You are missing the obvious hilarity of the fact that Elizabeth can now literally clutch her pearls when offended. Outstanding.]

So that’s all we get outfit-wise, which makes me sad, but everyone jokes around with Randy, pooling their money so that Mandy will have money to make over Randy with thrift store finds. That money will be nice but even more importantly, a bunch of people come to the thrift store to watch the makeover, because that’s not awkward at all.

(I’m not sure I believe Randy would go along with this so easily, but maybe everyone has changed with the new school year.)

Mandy puts together an outfit that transforms Randy “From a semi-nerdy seventh-grade science fan into a totally hip-looking New Age geekoid. He looked like a cross between Buddy Holly and James Dean, with just a touch of Elvis.”

What is the obsession with 50s style? The BSC has this, too. Is it that thing where the authors default back to their teens and 20s when it comes to things their characters love?

Randy: Thick, blackframed glasses, a cardigan, short-sleeved white shirt, narrow tie, black ribbed dress socks, high-topped red basketball shoes, jeans that hang low on his hips.

Oh fuck, that’d be in style in some groups right now. Fashion circles and circles and circles. [Raven: Randy is Hipstermus Prime. All he needs is a penny farthing.] [Dove: I need to tell this story now. One morning, around 6am on a Sunday morning, Raven and I were driving to a boot sale and we were going through Headingly, which is the student area of town. I commented to Raven, “Headingly’s nice, but I couldn’t live here.” Raven replied, “Why not?” And right then, a student in tux-and-tails rode past on a penny farthing. It was breathtakingly well-timed.]

Everyone loves his clothes and it’s super inexpensive, so other people jump to be made over, too.

Evie rocks up with some of her own people, Jessica lets it slip that they’re trying to help make money for Evie and Clara. Evie’s not upset, she’s really touched by it, and I think that’s sweet.

Evie now loves the Unicorns, the greatest club in the world she calls it, and then says Maria is the greatest person she’s ever known.

Jessica still hasn’t picked up the paint, and now the store is calling the Wakefield house about it. Jessica continues to blow it off. [Dove: This annoyed me and proved yet again that this series would be so much better if it utterly lacked the twins it’s centred on.]

Tuesday night, Nina and Maria sit around talking about Maria’s acting job and her having to do a love scene with Brad Marshall.

IT’S A KISSING SCENE NOT A LOVE SCENE OH MY GOD.

I don’t know why that bothers me so much, but it does.

Nina’s known about her crush for years and teases her about it, of course. It’s pretty cute, actually.

“I was a little kid then. I was playing his little sister or something. It’s different now.”

Nina put her lips together and made obnoxious smacking noises. “It’s different now,” she said in a sappy voice that was supposed to be mine. She batted her eyelashes and laced her fingers under her chin. “I’m all grown up now, Brad. Old enough to kiss you.” Then she made one long-drawn-out squeaking kiss noise.

I stifled a laugh—this was kind of funny—then lifted my chin firmly. “Clearly, it’s very difficult for amateurs to appreciate the difficulty of convincingly conveying affection for another individual in front of four cameras, a crew, and a director,” I joked in a fake, superior voice.

Then Maria’s nerves start building again. At least this time she admits to it. What if her body makes weird noises, what if she forgets her lines because her crush on him makes her too nervous, what if what if what if.

She even admits to the two stories that made her feel like she can’t act anymore and even that she watched an old made-for-TV movie that she’d been in several years ago. At the time, Maria thought she was good, but now she sees herself as a “precocious little kid with a case of the cutes and a bag full of tired old acting tricks.” [Dove: Whereas I look back on my acting career at the same age and see an untapped mine of acting gold. (In truth, I can’t even work out which kid is me – I’m just in the background, any girl with long blonde hair might be me.)]

Good lord, Maria, get yourself together. That’s a horrible thing to think about yourself. I do love that her nerves are completely believable on so many levels. Nerves over being bad at a job at all, nerves over being bad at a job she’s been away from for awhile, nerves about having to kiss the boy she’s had a crush on for years, nerves about whether she’s been a fraud her entire life — it’s believable and sad and I love her.

Though Nina talks her up and Maria starts to believe her a little, but as soon as she’s alone again, she starts practicing her script and keeps thinking that she’s horrible and ugly and stupid.

Again, believable, but with a deeper point to it because she focuses on her nose being too large and her hair being bad. These are criticisms often said to black girls, and I hate it. (I don’t really believe this was an intentional choice, but I’m not entirely sure it’s not.)

Maria tries to keep herself calm the rest of the week, deep breathing, concentrating on the good things, eliminating the negative, etc. One of the good things is that even teachers have started shopping at The Attic, which means lots of money coming in. That is pretty great. [Raven: I’d love to see Mandy give Mr Bowman a makeover.]

We’re given a new Janet now, Janet Nash one of the actors in drama club with Maria, the one who tends to get second lead and basically Maria’s best friend in drama club — but for Mandy, Maria is quick to add.

I do like this friendship between Mandy and Maria.

Janet overheard an update about the play casting. Maria did not get the lead, they’re giving it to Marion Weinstein instead, someone who is good but Maria always thought she herself was better. Except maybe not.

Oh, Maria, sweetheart. My poor girl. [Raven: Since when did Maria actually run out for parts in the Drama Club? I thought she was all about the Backstage shit these days?] [Dove: Valid point.]

Maria really wants to quit the movie but knows she can’t, she needs the money for the center, so she then reassures herself that her scene isn’t essential to the movie, if she’s really awful they’ll just cut it and that’ll be fine. What’s the worst thing that will happen if she makes a fool of herself being awful in the role?

Besides Brad Marshall thinking she’s a geek. And Tom Sanders going back to Hollywood saying she has no talent.

But if the scene is cut, her friends will never see how terrible she is.

And then she’s called to Mr Clark’s office.

Tom Sanders is there. He told Mr Clark about Maria’s plan to donate the money and he wants to follow her around and get pictures of her with other students, in class, doing typical school things, all so he can use it for publicity.

Uh, yeah you’ll need the school’s permission, but was that written into the contract? You’ll need to talk to her parents, too.

Ned Wakefield can take on that legal work, I’m sure. He’s so good at everything lawyerly.

Maria feels guilty over Tom being so excited about what she’s doing, guilty that she’s going to take his money even though she’s terrible, and so she tries to quit by telling him that she’s always been known as a child star, maybe people won’t take her seriously in a teen role. He believes in her, though, and he doesn’t want to play it safe, he doesn’t get anywhere by playing it safe.

Then she talks about how she’s maybe taller than Brad Marshall and that will make the kiss awkward. Nah, he’ll just stand on a box. Tom Sanders is chill as fuck, and I am kind of charmed by this. [Raven: Whatever it takes to get the shot, right?]

He loves everyone’s thrift store outfits, takes a bunch of pictures of them, and then decides he wants to film Mandy’s scene there at the school, right in front of the lockers with the purple stripe, of course, because why not.

And he’ll use the SVMS students as extras. Saw that coming, but it’s pretty cute, and I expected it much sooner. Of course he needs school-age extras.

Mr Clark gives permission for them to film at the school (YOU’LL HAVE TO GET PARENTAL PERMISSION TO FILM THE STUDENTS OH MY GOD WING CHILL THE FUCK OUT), but he wants the lockers painted over before it. I’m shocked that Tom doesn’t stop this. I assumed what he wanted was the lockers with the purple stripe. That’s pretty fitting for the film aesthetic.

Surprise! Brad Marshall turns up because Tom wants to take pictures of him with Maria. Maria who is losing her damn focus over how cute he is, especially when he tells her that he’s glad to see her again and bends down to kiss her on her cheek.

Her thoughts are fuzzy and she’s swoony and she’s fucking adorable.

The pictures go fine, but this has worked Maria into even more stress over how she’s going to fuck this up. She wants to quit, she doesn’t want to make a fool of herself in front of everyone, she wants to quit but she can’t quite because the center needs a new roof but she can’t do the job because she’s terrible but but but but.

Her anxiety over this is heartbreaking. I’ll admit that getting to see more of Maria, learning her personality better, is carrying this story for me even when there are pieces of it I find ridiculous.

She can’t do it, she can’t quite, so what she has to do is get sick. For days. She’s going to pretend to have the flu.

Umm. Sweet girl. You do realise pretending to be sick is acting. If you trust yourself to act your way out of the role maybe you could trust yourself to act your way in the role.

Maria has to take most of the thrift store ship by herself that afternoon because Mandy has a doctor appointment. It’s not very busy at all, so she spends the time practicing her lines. Because this is acting. Because you are a talented actor and should just play the role. [Dove: Also, there’s an adorable scene where she wants to miss work to lay the groundwork for her oncoming flu, but backs down when Mandy says she can cancel her doctor’s appointment to cover for her, because Mandy has beaten cancer and her health is very important. I love the fact that Mandy’s health is brought up a lot. It’s great continuity.]

God I love her.

Evie catches her working through it. Specifically, she catches Maria singing her lines because sometimes that helps, a relaxation technique that actors use to get their posture and voice to sound more relaxed and natural. I’ve never heard that, but I can see how it might work, and that is very cool.

Raven, you’ve been involved with acting, thoughts? [Raven: It’s been a long while since I was involved in the scene, but it doesn’t sound a terrible technique.]

Evie is real damn upset that Maria is going to drop out of the role. Maria wants to admit that she’s afraid she can’t act anymore but she can’t bring herself to tell the truth to Evie because she likes that Evie is a fan of her work and she doesn’t want to ruin that.

So instead she acts snobby and says the part’s not right for her, she’s not the best actor for the part. Which is actually a good reason not to take a role. If only she hadn’t acted so damn rude over it.

Evie is, of course, horrified by this and says that Maria is like everyone else in Hollywood, she only cares about herself, she’s letting down the kids at the center, the kids at school who expect to be in a movie, the Unicorns, everyone.

Evie even snaps and says Maria’s not an actor and never was, she’s “just a spoiled brat with a big toothy smile and a limo.”

Fucking heartbreaking. [Raven: Boom. Headshot.]

Maria tries to convince her mom she’s sick, but she has no fever, no congestion, and then when she pretends to faint and actually convinces her mother, she then refuses to go to the doctor, which is the final thing her mother needs to know that she’s faking.

Maria still won’t tell anyone the truth. Her mother refuses to be the one to tell Tom that Maria’s quitting, though, Maria is a professional and she has to tell him herself. Which is legitimately good parenting. Has everyone in Sweet Valley actually turned a corner now that we’ve moved forward a year? [Dove: No. Pretty sure the Wakefields are still toxic as hell. See my rant in the previous book about Alice claiming to have fundraised for the child care centre when we all know she hasn’t.]

Unfortunately, Maria’s guilt weighs on her the entire day until she decides that she has to run away from Sweet Valley and live somewhere under an assumed name, probably as a street kid, she’ll never finish her education, she’ll spend her entire life flipping hamburgers, and everything will be terrible forever.

Honey.

I do love that even though it would be far, far, far easier to either tell the truth or to just do the job, she’s still so upset that she can’t see that truth. Her anxiety and inability to do what needs to be done rings very true to it.

Evie brings all her friends over after school. Things are super awkward between them, until Evie starts apologising for blowing up at her.

Paint update: Jessica still hasn’t gotten it but Alice is picking it up that evening and they can paint Saturday morning.

Evie then apologises for going behind Maria’s back to talk to her friends, but her friends want to help.

Maria continues to lean into the flu story until Brad shows up. Maria’s got parts of a face mask clinging to her skin, plastic clips in her hair, and a sour taste in her mouth from only eating toast and tea all day. [Raven: Ah, the classic British diet. How fancy!]

She demands that they keep him downstairs and then runs for the bathroom to clean up.

Only for them to reveal that it was all a trick and now they know for sure that she’s not sick. [Raven: Was this the bit where Ellen used her mimicry skills? Because that was pure weaksauce.]

Elizabeth says that even though it’s clear something is going on, they shouldn’t try to make Maria tell them something she doesn’t want to tell them.

Mandy counters that Maria’s decisions don’t just impact her, though, they all promised the center a new roof, the Unicorn Club did.

Ellen backs Elizabeth because they’re a club but they don’t have the right to stick their noses into each other’s business. UMMM. That’s not super believable, but if we read back into that time we wanted her and Amy to get together, maybe this is a result of the Unicorns pressuring her not to date a nerd and she’s learned a lesson from it. Boom, head canon accepted. [Dove: Also, Ellen is too good for Amy. I’ll wait for that one to be proved true, ok?]

Mary backs Mandy, though, and I am reminded we have far too many Ma names in this group.

Maria finally admits that she’s afraid she can’t act anymore. She can’t make them understand, bursts into tears, and then Clara shows up. She just got back from New York and came over because Evie left a note saying where she was and that there is an emergency.

Clara gives good advice, of course. There will always be roles she won’t get, more than she will, that happens to everyone. And taking on new roles, different roles, gives her a chance to learn new things. And her friends will support her even if she bombs.

Maria realises that the Unicorns are a good club now, good people, true friends, a good club bringing out the best in its members and not the worst, as Mandy likes to say, though we haven’t seen her see it in this book. [Dove: They volunteer at the centre, and they’re concerned about it being closed due to the roof, they have thrown themselves into helping out at the shop (admittedly it’s financially beneficial, but they wouldn’t have last year), they’ve adopted Evie as part of their group, even though she’s not a unicorn, and they’re all having an intervention for Maria’s anxiety, and they’re debating the ethics of how far they can intervene, rather than being ruled by Janet. I’d say they’re light-years away from the Unicorns of SVT. Maybe not perfect, but significantly better.]

Maria’s proud to be a Unicorn, proud to have these friends, and though she’s still terrified, she’s going to do it for them.

Of course, Jessica fucks everyone over when it comes to painting. She and Lila took off to some exclusive hair appointments, no one can get the paint, and by the time they were done, the school was closed. So now they’re in the school at 5 a.m. trying to paint them because if they weren’t painted in time for the shoot, every single Unicorn would be on probation (again) [Raven: Double Secret Probation!] and he would never give anyone permission to do anything like this inside the school again no matter how good the cause.

They’re not allowed to be in the school before 7 a.m., so they climbed in through a window. Because I’m sure Mr Clark won’t be upset at all about them breaking into the school.

And, of course, the paint colour is wrong. It’s Imperial Pink instead of Industrial Pink. So they paint the entire bank of lockers. Because Mr Clark isn’t going to be upset about that. [Dove: Is anyone else picturing the lockers Pepto-Bismal pink?]

One final outfit roundup before the shoot.

Mandy: men’s paisley pajama bottoms under a short tartan kilt, ribbed poorboy top, paisley scarf worn like a sash, tam with a big pom-pom. Looks like a punk bagpiper.

I am dying over this outfit.

Mary: 40s vamp outfit, rowing pants, floaty top, spit curls in her fine blond hair, white powder and red, red lipstick as her only make-up.

Lila: white crocheted vest, black body suit, jeans, saddle shoes.

I actually don’t believe Lila would wear used clothing nor that she would think that outfit was good.

Jessica: faded jeans, blue pink and purple floral-patterned vest, white oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up (hot look, shirt with the sleeves rolled up), hat with a big flower pinned to the brim. That sounds very Blossom, especially with the hat.

Elizabeth: 50s-style housedress, colourful jewelry, patterned tights, lace-up boots.

Evie: patterned men’s dress shirt and tie, stretch miniskirt, tights. She’s the prettiest one of them all, Maria thinks.

Mr Clark loses his temper over the pink lockers, not at all a shock, but Tom loves of course. I still think he would have been really into the purple streak, but okay.

Maria continues to freak out all through blocking (deciding where people will stand and move, etc.), sweating under the lights, and almost calls it off when Tom starts the scene — but then she hears the slightest whirring of a camera and everything comes back to her.

Maria Slater slips away from her and she becomes the “shy, ditsy seventh-grader” she’s playing, lets her face fall into a slightly vacant expression of someone you have to explain jokes to but love anyway, bops down the hall as if she’s listening to hip-hop in her head, and then she’s fully into the role. [Raven: Ellen, is that you?!]

We get an entire scene from Becky’s POV, Maria fully into her character, and it’s kind of adorable.

The boy laughed. “I’m the thief.”

I made my eyes bug comically and pressed my back against my locker, as if to protect my belongings. “What do you steal?” I asked in a nervous voice.

“Hearts,” the boy answered, leaning closer. “And kisses,” he added, brushing his lips against mine.

Then he turned and walked away, slowly, down the long length of the hall.

Cheesy as fuck but so adorable and so fitting for this type of story.

Maria starts to wake up out of her acting as they come to the end of the scene. She grins, swoons against the locker, flutters her lashes, and oops, the paint is still wet. Tom rolls with it, though, as she tries to walk with some dignity down the hall even with pink paint along her back. [Dove: Jessica runs into scene, sticks a “WET PAINT” sign to the locker and runs off without a word. And the director loves it. I hate how flaky she’s been, but that’s kind of amusing.]

They, of course, got it in one take, Tom so proud of her for it. I zero percent believe they wouldn’t do a couple more takes just so they have many things to work with.

Brad comes over, tells her she was terrific, kisses her cheek again, and she’s a little star-struck still.

Tom goes on to shoot some crowd scenes and Mandy decides they need jackets like the Secondhand Rose crew has, but for the Unicorns. Adorable.

Tom compliments Maria, compliments Mandy, offers them both work if Maria goes back to Hollywood and Mandy decides to become a costume designer, and it’s all just cute and charming.

They give the money to the center, they get a nice thank you from Nancy Willard, the director, saying that the kids will start being able to come back within the week. They also get a thank you note from Clara for running the shop so well and for all the money they raised, so she decides to pay them double the fee she promised.

It covers the paint but not the toupee and they still struggle to come up with what they can do to handle that.

Mandy has one final surprise: Tom sent them all purple satin jackets with Unicorns written on the back in white script. [Dove: They sound adorable.]

These fucking nerds. I love them. [Raven: Super Cute! Although if anyone else joins after this book, they’re shit out of luck.]

There’s an extra jacket, Mandy prefers even numbers to odd, and shock of all shocks, they invite Evie to join, a surprise that Mandy and Maria have been working on.

Also delightful, especially Evie’s awkward enthusiasm. They’ve got their new youngest member, which is good because the way they’re going, there won’t be any Unicorns after they move on to high school.

Maria talks to Mr Drew about the play casting. He says that he doesn’t thinks he’s a bad actor at all, but SVMS is a school and they are there to learn. The lead role wouldn’t teach Maria anything, but Marion can learn a lot from playing the part. [Dove: You’re really right about the Ma-names.]

Maria feels a lot better about everything, if a little sheepish.

Finally, we get the little stinger for the next book: Evie tells Maria about this Best Friends show on cable which makes her wonder how well the Unicorns know each other and Maria sees a poster for a fundraiser party sponsored by the Eight Times Eight Club, a group of eighth-grade girls. Maria wants to know who they are and decides to find out.

If you don’t know who they are, how do you know they’re eight-grade girls?

Final Thoughts

Y’all, I actually kind of loved this story. Getting to be inside Maria’s thoughts was wonderful, her anxiety and stressors were believable and handle pretty well, and the very real friendships between them all are so much fun.

I was the one who didn’t enjoy the last book very much, so I’m surprised by how much I like this one. I’m normally much harder on the books I recap versus just read, but this was great fun, and I can see the benefit of having different narrators for the books. This time I feel like we did learn a lot more about Maria, and I love her even more than I did before.

[Raven: This was a fun story, and any focus on Team Peripheral is okay with me. While I don’t have a particular thang for Maria, she was rounded and compelling. The whole paint-the-lockers subplot was a bit shit, but it was never really front and centre, and I’m sure if it were in a normal Twins book it’d be the entire fucking plot. So far, I’m two-for-two on the Unicorn Club. That can’t last… can it?]

[Dove: Joining in the with the love-fest. It wasn’t a patch on the epic perfection of the first book, but that was an anomaly, like Poor Lila! or The Carnival Ghost. I’m loving the way the writers are doing their best to give a bit more depth to everyone rather than it just being name soup that SVT was. Aside from a few people, any character could have said any of the lines in the books, but with this series they’re expanding the characterisation and trying to make the books work for and round out the characters, instead of matching random names to a plotline.]