The Unicorn Club #22: Jessica’s Dream Date

The Unicorn Club #22: Jessica’s Dream Date

Title: Jessica’s Dream Date

Tagline: Is he a dream… or a nightmare?

Summary: The most amazing thing has happened to Jessica! She won a contest and now she gets to hang with Johnny Buck, the coolest, most gorgeous singer in the world! Of course, all the other Unicorns are jealous. Who can blame them?

But Johnny’s not exactly as awesome as Jessica had thought he’d be. In fact, he’s nothing like his glamorous rock-star image. He’s a klutz, he can’t sing that well, and he doesn’t play any instruments! He’s a big disappointment!

But Jessica has to keep Johnny’s real identity a secret… doesn’t she?

Initial Thoughts:

We’re into the subseries’ vinegar strokes at this point, and it shows. Roll on the season break, and (*shudder*) Sweet Valley High.

In this book, Jessica has a date with the series’ stalwart pop sensation, Johnny Buck. Look at the cover… that’s Johnny Buck right there.

That’s Johnny Buck?!

Bloody hell, have I been imagining him incorrectly.

I can’t really articulate what I pictured, to be fair. I just saw JB as someone with a little more edge than the gurning sponge before us today.

[Dove: I always pictured him as someone like Jason Donovan. Not really a rockstar, more a pop star who can also play the guitar and has the straightforward good looks that doesn’t make parents scream, “YOU’RE NOT BUYING THAT! IT’S NOT APPROPRIATE!” I’m sure there is a more recent example, but since I picked up these books in the early 90s, and even then I thought he was meant to be an innoffensive pop star, so Jason Donovan is who I went with. Oh, for everyone who isn’t a Brit or Aussie, this is exactly how I picture his look and what his “rock” music sounds like:


[Wing: I don’t usually picture people when reading, so I have no opinion on that Johnny Buck, but the proportions seem to be off with the cover image itself.]

I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate this book.


Before we start, let’s discuss Jumping the Shark.

For those not in the know (doesn’t everyone know about this?), Jumping the Shark is the phrase used to signify when a beloved series has crested the wave of goodwill, believability and quality to begin its descent into the bland quagmire of turgid shit. When a series does something so fucking ridiculous that it causes vast swathes of the fans to Hard Nope outta the fandom faster than you can say “J K Rowling”.

The classic example of this trope is the introduction of the much-hated Scrappy Doo into the Scooby Doo franchise. What a complete shitnugget that little coiled spring of spite turned out to be.

The phrase itself comes from the sitcom Happy Days, which had one episode that showcased the perennial cool guy Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli literally jumping a shark on a set of waterskis. [Wing: I cannot help but love that he literally jumped the shark. I don’t think I’ve seen more than five minutes of Happy Days, but come on, he jumped a shark. That should have been amazing.]

I’m wondering when, or if, Sweet Valley Twins has Jumped the Shark.

I’m pretty sure it has. And even if it hasn’t, having one of the titular twins finagling a date with the series’ main off-screen named celebrity is prime JtS territory, albeit in the penultimate book of a subseries that happens at the end of a 120+ book main series.

So, when do you think that the Twins series Jumped the Shark? I believe there’ll be as many unique answers as we have readers. So, four unique answers! Please do sound off in the comments with your own opinions, to promote a heated debate!

(For the record, my choice? Quakefield fucking Wakefield.)

[Dove: This one is hard to figure out for me. Everyone knows I love the Grapplegate era and have done so, even before we found out that my favourite YA writers were responsible for it. High points are The Middle School Gets Married and Poor Lila!, but it takes a pretty steep nosedive thereafter. I think mine is The Christmas without Elizabeth, for the simple fact that not only would Sarah Thomas have died from a broken leg over the course of two nights without Elizabeth, but the Unicorns would be a chain-smoking pack of thieves reminiscent of Fagin’s gang, and Sweet Valley would be a scrotty war-torn area, filled with graffiti and broken glass, and the one thing that prevents this is the existence of Saint Elizabeth. That was the moment where I figuratively flung the book across the room and said, “Oh, fuck off.”]

[Wing: I’m not sure it has jumped the shark rather than simply declined in quality. I can’t name a specific moment that feels like the shark-jumping moment, only the regular rise and fall fall fall of the quality. The Unicorn Club books have been, on the whole, awful and boring, a bad combination, and the quality really hasn’t risen much over the past few … months? I don’t know, awhile now.]

Right! Let’s get to it.

The scene opens with Jessica committing Marketing Material Larceny, using her fingernails to pry down a Johnny Buck poster from the wall outside a local bakery called, I dunno, Sweet Valley Macaroons or something. Actually, it’s called Sweet Valley Bakery, I just checked. Kimberly Haver is keeping watch. [Dove: WHAT HAPPENED TO SOME CRUMB BAKERY?????] [Wing: Owners run out of town for daring to name it something halfway clever.]

I can’t really condemn this, as once, as a teen, I stole a huge poster from a bus stop to adorn my bedroom wall. It was a poster of Hale and Pace, one of my favourite comedy double acts at the time, and if I’m honest it was more a crime of opportunity than design as I was reacting to the fact that the housing which should have clamped the poster in place had been left unsecured by the poster fitter. I had the six-foot-by-three-foot poster on my wall for years, even taking it to University to adorn the wall in my halls of residence before it became too tatty to stomach and I binned it.

But I digress. Back to Jessica and Kimberly.

After some intrigue, she manages to extract her prize, and the girls scarper immediately. Where do they go, I hear you ask?

They go to…


*puts the book down and walks away*

I’m done.

Can I start bullet-pointing this book now?


I don’t even blame the Ghostie here. I blame the Editor. Casey’s Place has been a stalwart of the series since the earliest of books. It’s almost as if they went with Johnny Cluck instead of Johnny Buck.


[Dove: *fans self* I love my angry nerdy husband.] [Raven: GRRROOAAAARRR!]

“Casey’s Soda Shop” is packed to the rafters with the Sweet Valley Middle School Elite, who are gathered to watch the upcoming edition of Sweet Talk, “the hip teen talk and video show”. Apparently, the coming episode would be announcing the winner of the recent “Meet Johnny Buck” contest. A contest in which everyone relevant to the series has likely entered.

At Casey’s *shudder* Soda Shop, all life is there! We see the Unicorns, of course. There’s also a rare sighting of the Angels, with Elizabeth, Maria, Evie and Mary. Some of the boys are there too, with Aaron and Rick mentioned by name. The Angels! They still exist! [Wing: They must have escaped the basement where the ghosties had them locked up.]

We learn about the contest: The Buckster was putting on a benefit concert for the Sweet Valley Children’s Hospital, a prime facility for pediatric cancer. I suppose this is continuity, as Cancer, with its constant presence in this series, appears to have become the hidden extra Unicorn. I suppose it is the royalty of illnesses, after all. Sweet Talk, as part of the promotion, has invited the great unwashed of Sweet Valley to send in their name, address and postcode for a prize draw in which the winner gets to meet the Buckster and show him the sights, sounds and smells that Sweet Valley has to offer.

No age limit on this? So, like, Mr Nydick could enter and win? Seems sketchy at best. [Dove: Also, how does this inane competition help the hospital? At the very least, they should have had to buy special postcards to enter, the proceeds of which went to charity. But *shrugs* who cares, we’re nearly done with this awful tailsection of meh, so why now do I want things to make sense, when we’ve been denied that since the fucking Nightmare Mansion mini-series?!] [Wing: Probably illegal to force a purchase to enter, though I don’t know for certain at the time this book was published. It’s pretty common, though. I suppose it drives awareness of the concert, but the people who would enter are already aware, I’m sure.]

The Unicorns have a cute conversation in which Jessica shows off her purloined poster and the girls all do their usual passive bitchery, mostly centred on who will win the Johnny Buck contest. Lila is on particular form, bragging about her father’s pull with the hospital and the fact that she’d wangled her palls full VIP pass treatment at the upcoming concert. Standard.

Sweet Talk comes on, and the Unicorns toast. May the best Unicorn win, and all that shit.

After some adverts and some horrendous timewasting mugging from the Ghostie, we get to the show. After hearing a couple of his songs – “Meet Me In The Front Yard” and “Messenger of Love” – the host introduces the Buckster himself. Sorry, but those song titles are terrible. I prefer ours, with their Johnny Buck puns.

  • Beginner’s Buck
  • Buck in the Middle with You
  • Don’t Give a Buck
  • My Love For You is Like a Buck, Berserker
  • Buck Me (Up The Shitter)

[Dove: Don’t forget Lois’ favourite, his unplugged album, simply titled “Buck: Naked”.] [Wing: Dove makes me laugh with this every time.]

And so on.

The video for Messenger of Love has some important content that needs addressing. In it, Johnny rides into town on a big black motorcycle, to meet a mystery blonde. Next, he’s shirtless and diving into the see from the top of a cliff. Finally, he’s riding a horse bareback, which is not to be confused with riding the mystery blonde bareback, as that would be a wholly different film. [Wing: …you know what this reminds me of? COOL AS ICE. Ghostie, I see you.]

Once Johnny arrives in all his glory, he waxes lyrical about the benefit gig and the charitable cause. As the crowd remain agog, a tombola is brought onstage.


I am a parish vicar, a twisted parish vicar!

Things happen, a postcard is pulled. And the name is, of course… Jessica Wakefield.

I guess I should be telling you about how much that pisses me off, but if I’m honest it’s par for the course. Plot be plottin’, y0.

The Unicrowd go wild. Everyone is thrilled that the honour has befallen a spiky-headed one. Everyone, that is, except Lila Fowler.

She looked at Lila’s face. Lila was smiling, but Jessica could tell it was a forced smile.

The chapter ends with Jessica preening that, finally, she can get the upper hand over her best friend. Y’know, like she does every fucking week in every fucking book.

Chapter Two begins with… Steven! If I’m honest, I’ve kinda missed him. I’m sure that feeling won’t last. All he has to do is open his bloody mouth and I’m sure that goodwill will fade away.

[Wing: He’s still alive? Wow.]

Apparently, Jessica thinks that she is in with a chance of wooing the older Johnny Buck when they go on their “date”. Bizarrely, Elizabeth agrees, sort of. The only voice of reason is Steven, [Wing: HA!] who is most vocal about how ridiculous his sister is being.

Talk turns to how Jessica thinks that Sweet Talk and Johnny Buck would contact her, officially. Obviously, Jessica believes it’ll be a very romantic occurrence, with limousines and balloons and CDs and shit.

“You are planning to share, I hope,” Elizabeth said with a smile.

“Only the balloons and CDs,” Jessica answered flirtatiously. “But Johnny is all mine.”

“Jessica!” Mrs. Wakefield scolded, coming into the kitchen just in time to hear the last part of the conversation. “You’re going to have to cool it or we’re not going to let you meet this boy at all.”

“Ha!” Steven blurted.


I’m actually enjoying the family interactions. I’ve missed this.

Man, this Unicorn Club series is terrible. Roll on Sweet Valley High.

End aside.

Elizabeth suggests they may do a leaflet drop from a hot air balloon, which is the singularly most stupid thing I’ve ever heard. Jessica thinks they’ll send a photographer to capture her radiant expression when she “discovers” that she’s won the contest.

Good old Jess, manipulating the media like the canny little influencer she’s destined to become. [Wing: I would pay good money to see Jessica the influencer and the mess of the Unicorns on social media.]

Jessica decides that she should look her best for the upcoming school day, in case the official notification comes while she’s there. While dressing, she muses over her chances on wooing the Buckster, deciding they would be best of friends and singing partners until the age difference didn’t matter. [Dove: Well, it was the 90s, and nobody raised an eyebrow at 13 year old Eddie Furlong “dating” his 29 year old teacher. So sure. Bring on the felonies.] [Raven: Eww. *squicked*]

Her feelings for him were so strong, it was just impossible that he wouldn’t feel the same way about her. It would be love at first sight.

Sure there was a slight age difference, but in a few years, it wouldn’t matter at all. And in the meantime, they could be the closest of friends—maybe even singing partners.


I mean, that’s some creepy-ass shit, right? I’m not misreading this?

She daydreams, she emerges, she heads to school. Standard.

At school, she banters with Mandy about the day’s upcoming official contact. They head to the Unicorner, where Jessica wants to “watch Lila eat her heart out.” [Wing: I really, really need to read more closely and stop skipping words.]


Damn, these kids are savage.

I may actually be over the Unicorns, period. Such a shame, as they were the best thing in the series as a whole. [Dove: It’s the ongoing bitchiness and backstabbing. I’m so tired of girls hating girls. No wonder women are dubbed things like “shrill”, “emotional”, “catty” and so forth when even other women have put out books, showing girls that this is just how all girls and women behave. Thank god things are getting better for tween and YA reads.] [Wing: I have little hope that SVH will be any better about female friendship.]

Lila immediately belittles Jessica, claiming she looks tired. Then the Unicorns declare that… well, I’ll let Lila spill the beans.

“We’d like to meet Johnny Buck too,” Lila explained sweetly. “As a fellow Unicorn, we think you have a responsibility to include us in your day with him.”

“No way!” Jessica squeaked.

“Why not?” Ellen asked.

“Because Johnny and I have something special,” Jessica answered.

I mean, what the fuck?

First, in what world do the Unicorns think they can muscle into Jessica’s contest win here? Sorry Lila, and the rest of you harridans. You can collectively get in the sea.

Second… Jessica? That’s not the way to answer that question. Your answer makes you sound unhinged. The correct answer is a simple “I won, you didn’t, so fuck the fuck off.” [Dove: Also, now would be a prime opportunity for someone to snidely say, “Oh, like that time he threw his signed baseball cap to you and you alone… and 50 other girls have an identical cap?”]

Lila continues, claiming that this is a historic event, and that Jessica owes it to the “Unicorns of the future” to share her good fortune. And she almost convinces Jessica with the line “Don’t you want your friends to see you and Johnny together?”

Eventually, Lila offers to follow Jessica around with her camcorder, acting as a documentarian for the whole process. The other Unicorns offer their help as sound / lighting or props people. Jessica thinks the documentary is a good idea, but demands that, rather than Lila and the gang, it’s actually Mandy who should take up the camera and record the meet cute for posterity.

After some soul searching, Mandy agrees. She likes that Johnny Buck is doing his thing for the cancer hospital, and vows to make her “docudate” the very best film she can. [Dove: Also, nice to see Mandy do something other than be beige paint, but I swear to god before this series started, she was one of the few girls who had more than one personality trait. And while her history included cancer, it wasn’t her entire personality.]

The rest of the Unicorns are banished from tagging along.

Jessica and Mandy start filming that same day, expecting the overblown official contact announcement discussed above. We skip to after school (probably). Mandy and Jessica are waiting outside the Wakefield Compound, ostensibly in preparation for the official contact announcement. Mandy is trying for film some candid shots and interviews, while Jessica is more interested in setting the scene for most dramatic impact.

[Dove: Why? This is so fucking stupid. I can’t believe that after the show aired nobody called the Wakefield Compound and hammered out the details with one of the adults. Why does everyone assume that the announcement of the win will be a big deal? It was already on TV. That was the big deal. Now comes the admin. And don’t give me “they’re kids with big imaginations”, because fuck off. Even Liz hasn’t weighed in with a hint of reality here. Also, remember when Jessica won a FUCKING WEEK IN HAWAII? That was announced in the small print of a magazine with no follow-up.] [Raven: Yup, that’s a fine point.]

Suddenly, a white limo pulls up!

It’s not The Buckster, nor is it anyone that is Buckster-adjacent. But that doesn’t stop the plot continuing.

Suddenly, Lila and the Unicorns appear from behind a nearby hedge. They are carrying a banner that reads “Sweet Valley Loves Johnny Buck!”, which they drape over the limo, screaming all the while.

Mandy films the entire furore, including Lila’s embarrassment when she realises that this white limo is, in fact, her own. [Wing: Your dry recap of this made me laugh when the book didn’t.]

There’s a pointless scene of exposition in which we discover that Shaw, the Fowler’s back-up chauffeur, is driving the limo back from being serviced, and chose to drive the neighbourhood route to avoid roadworks. Tell me why we should care again?

Mandy keeps filming as the girls argue. Lila thinks they’ll look like dorks, which Jessica agrees with, and in fact is happy about as they are acting like entitled little pricks. Jessica wants them to fuck off home, so she can be the centre of attention once more, but Mandy convinces her that Johnny Buck is unlikely to arrive that evening, and that having some colour pieces with her friends will only benefit the finished documentary.

“You’re right,” Jessica said. “I want the generations of Unicorns to come to see that Jessica Wakefield was a popular girl with lots of friends who were very jealous of her.”

Sigh… hating the Unicorns, hating Jessica. Only tolerating Mandy here. And we’ve not even got to Johnny Fucking Buck yet. [Dove: Every single opportunity for friendship, they choose the toxic competitive option instead. I hate this. I hate this series.]

So the Unicorns stay, and the rest of the chapter involves them all waiting for the official contact announcement, whatever form it may take. I’m praying for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Naturally, nothing happens and the Unicorns eventually fuck off home. Jessica is disappointed, but convinced that her romantic and impressive official contact announcement is just around the corner.

Chapter Four! School! Still no contact from The House of Buck!

Apparently, it’s been two days since the contest result had been published live on air, and with the concert happening this coming Saturday it’s clear why there’s a collective feeling of consternation blanketing the entire school.

The Unicorns, sans Jessica, are discussing the contest in a typically snide and backhanded fashion. Lila is convinced that the whole thing is, in fact, a scam, and that nothing will come of it. Talk about sour grapes. Damn, this subseries has declined so fast. I really enjoyed the early books, but this bullshit is everything that’s bad about this infernal club.

Mandy tries to chivvy everyone along, offering reasons as to why there’s been a delay, to which Lila offers this shit-nugget.

“Maybe he just doesn’t care about meeting Jessica,” Lila said. “I mean, after all, who are the Wakefields? If Rachel or I had won, those contest officials would have been here by now with a big brass band.”


This isn’t Lila’s style. At all.

This is just nasty.

Jessica, overhearing, is rightfully angry. She declares that she’s sick of Lila’s attitude (as are we all at this stage), and bans the entire Unicorn Club from participating in her docudate. Lila is more than fine to comply with that demand.

Back at the Wakefield Compound that afternoon, the official contact announcement is made. Predictably, it is perfunctory and impersonal, coming as a form letter from a nameless company. Addressed to “Wakefield, J.”, it reads thusly.

Dear Contest Winner,

Please call the number below for details.

Not quite the fucking party cannon that Jessica was expecting.

Dutifully, she makes the call, hoping against hope that this call will trigger the balloons, limo and photo spread of her dreams. What follows is a fine lesson in reality, and the soul-crushing despair of the corporate machine.

Instead of Johnny Buck, Jessica gets through to Operator 346 of Digital Net, a subcontracted service provider for American Games, Sweepstakes, and Contests, Incorporated, based in Minnesota. After supplying her thirteen-digit contestant number, Jessica is transferred to Amalgamated National Telephone Response Corporation. a telecommunications company in Nevada, who inform her of the following plan:

“According to the advertised terms of the contest, Johnny Buck will come to your home at 10:30 A.M. next Saturday for a photo session.”

Jessica is a little nonplussed and confused about the whole thing, but does her best to clarify things.

Jessica closed her eyes and groaned. “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. But are you sure Johnny Buck is going to be coming to my house Saturday morning?”

“According to Section 409 of the Games and Sweepstakes Code, all prizes must be awarded in accordance with the advertised terms of the contest.”

“Is that a yes?” Jessica inquired feebly.

Brill. Now we’re cooking.

Later that evening, we skip into Mandy’s head as she arrives at the Wakefield Compound to record more docudate preparation. Jessica, however has different ideas. When Mandy clocks Jessica’s dazed face, concluding that the news must have finally arrived, Jessica waves her away with a “I can’t possibly comment” vibe. She tells Mandy that something stupendous will happen the following day at school, and ushers her away with a hand-wave and a smile.

Mandy is intrigued, but takes the subterfuge at face value. The next day is going to be epic, apparently, and we can all wait until then.

Back inside the Wakefield Compound, we find Jessica trying to persuade Steven to help her with her face-saving plan. After bartering for chores (standard), we are clued into the plan.

Jessica, worried that the Unicorns would mock her if she wasn’t notified in an overblown and outlandish way. So, in pure Jessica Wakefield style, her plan involves fabricating a note from Johnny Buck and hiring someone to deliver it, along with balloons and romance and shit, from the back of a motorcycle in full view of everyone.

To facilitate this, Steven takes Jessica to the Sweet Valley Musicians Hall (lolwut?), as musicians are cool and there’s bound to be a suitably cool-looking Johnny Buckalike that would fit the bill. Steven can transport his sister, because for this book he owns a bright red moped.

That’s right. The kid that can’t handle a ride-on lawnmower now has a fucking moped. [Dove: I have nothing but smugness that Raven typed this sentence. Steven will forever be remembered as the guy who can’t figure out a lawnmower.]

So, the pair mope on up to the Musicians Hall, which is predictably full of unsuitable geriatrics. But eventually they find the perfect candidate: young, cool, carrying a motorcycle helmet. Apparently, this cool cat has been jamming with the old musos (retired jazz musicians). He’s a jazz guitarist himself.

The chapter ends with him ready to listen to (and presumably accept) the plan / offer from this random thirteen-year-old and her sketchy mopedal brother.

FIVE! And it’s school again. We’re back in Mandy’s mind, as she pesters Jessica for more details on the day’s promised festivities. Jessica is tight lipped, for probably only the second time in this whole fucking series. She does tell Mandy where to be, and when, for prime documentary action: On the front steps, after last period.

Mandy speaks to the Unicorns, to ensure they’ll be in the right place at the allotted time. She does so surreptitiously, as a result of the latest fabricated falling-out. There’s a tense moment in which Lila declares she’s not playing because Mandy has commandeered the Fowler Camcorder, to which universally-hated New Girl Rachel Grant offers the use of the newly-acquired Grant Camcorder. Lila gets back in her fucking box, and there is much rejoicing. [Dove: Even this cannot be fully enjoyed. I cannot cheer for one snide cow putting down another snide cow. Everyone loses here.] [Raven: It’s turtles all the way down.]

Soon, it’s After Last Period. Everyone and his mate are present on the front steps, and Jessica is getting angsty. Where is this musical bellend?

I know this won’t be the case, but it’d be great if he simply didn’t turn up. I presume he was paid to take on this ridiculous charade, and likely paid to purchase flowers or balloons or something. I’d have so much respect if he just took the money and ran.

Of course, just as everyone else is tiring, and threatening to leave the scene, there’s an encouraging roar in the distance. It’s a motorcycle! That’s right, flaky teenage jazz muso is here to save the day!

The bike arrives in style, with an apparent three-figure number of helium balloons attached to the handlebars. The crowd are agog, and some think it could actually be The Buckster himself.

“Is it Johnny Buck?” Aaron Dallas asked, his mouth falling open.

“No, I’m afraid not.” The guy lifted his visor to reveal his handsome face and smile. “I’m the ‘Messenger of Love’ and I’m looking for Jessica Wakefield.”

His eyes searched the crowd and rested on Jessica. “You must be the one. Johnny told me to look for a beautiful blonde with an outgoing, bold personality.”

Jessica vamps it up to for the camera, even though it’s painfully obvious that she wrote this complete bullshit. The crowd lap up her simpering, declaring the whole thing to be totally and utterly cool once the Messenger of Love has dramatically and romantically fucked off.

Jessica, unwisely, tries to turn the knife with Lila.

“Still think Johnny’s not interested in meeting me?” Jessica couldn’t help asking Lila.

Lila frowned and shrugged. “If he was so interested, how come he didn’t come by and notify you himself?”

Jessica is flummoxed by this, at a loss for words, and suddenly the cord is turning. The murmurs start. Why yes, it IS a dick move that Johnny Buck didn’t hand-deliver this notification.

Jessica is in turmoil. How can she save face?

“Actually,” Jessica said, “I wasn’t supposed to tell anybody, but Johnny did call me himself.”

Ellen gasped. “Johnny Buck called you? On the telephone?”

“He did not,” Lila snapped.

“Yes, he did. Didn’t he, Mandy?”

Good ol’ Jessica. Always ready to double, triple, quadruple down. Burn the bridges, forge ahead, to the hilt.

After a brief pause to weigh up her options, Mandy decides to back up her docudate pal with a white lie. She confirms Jessica’s story, and all is right with the world again. The chapter ends with Jessica clueing Mandy in about the real story and explaining her motivations to put Lila in her place. Mandy asks Jessica not to put her in such a position in the future.

We’re on Chapter Six, pretty much halfway through this thing, and we’re not even at the “date” yet. Talk about a slow burn! For fuck’s sake, Ghostie, get a bloody wriggle on. I’ve things to do.

Things begin with Mandy filming Jessica getting ready on Saturday morning. She’s determined to look her best, and she’s also unearthing lost treasures from the famous Jessica Wakefield junk pile. Namely, a school report on the pyramids from the fifth grade.


I think I’ve discovered my issue with this book.

The Ghostie appears to be writing stories about CHARACITURES of the characters we all know and love. Thus, this Jessica is running through scenes in which her “Jessicaness” is displayed in a variety of hilarious and madcap ways. The Unicorns are displaying their bitchiness and back-biting attitude at a banal and surface level. Mandy is a little less basic, I guess, but she’s hardly setting the metaverse alight.

Maybe I’m expecting too much. Or maybe this one is being completely phoned-in. Or, maaaybe, I’m just a little jaded at this point and we all need to move on.

I’m thinking Option 3.

End aside.

Mandy is filming the proceedings, naturally. Also naturally, it’s not long before the sound of approaching Unicorns fill the room. Yeah, they’ve been banned from attending, but when has anything like that ever stopped them?

Jessica tries to kick them out, to no avail. Kimberly can’t believe Jessica isn’t ready yet. Ellen wonders what’s keeping The Buckster, as it’s nearly eleven and a full twenty minutes over his allotted appearance time. And Lila, for some reason, is continuing to kick Jessica squarely in the fanny by pooh-poohing the whole affair, claiming that Johnnie’s not coming because he just can’t be arsed.

“For your information, he can’t blow it off,” Jessica told her. “It’s against the law.”


“According to Section 409 of the Games and Sweepstakes Code, all prizes must be awarded in accordance with the advertised terms of the contest,” Jessica said, repeating what the Amalgamated National Telephone Response Corporation operator had told her.

Nice work, Jessica! Or is it? Lila is immediately suspicious that Jessica would know something so prosaic and arcane. Thankfully, Jessica has the perfect answer to the question of how she knows such a thing.

“My father’s a lawyer,” she said in a haughty tone.

Okay, so that works for me. Nice! [Dove: And there’s a long history of Ned doing whatever discipline is required for the plot, so cool beans. Something is right here.] [Wing: Never have I been more amused by someone claiming a lawyer as a family member, and that includes my own family doing so.]

Eventually, while being watched by the non-banished Unicorns, Jessica is dressed to perfection. The Unicorns tell her so, which makes Jessica suspicious. She still vows to kick them out before Johnny arrives, but in the end she relents after Mandy suggests the Unicorns should watch the proceedings from the bedroom window.

After spotting a limo approaching in the distance, Jessica and Mandy head out kerbside. Breathless, they watch as it glides to a stop. Suddenly, a gaggle of business-suited sycophants swarm from the interior, headed by a large ponytailed man in a dark suit who is barking commands into a mobile phone.

He introduces himself as Stan Keno, Johnny’s manager, and he immediately mistakes Mandy for the contest winner. The girls set him right immediately, and he switches lanes without missing too many beats.

“Okay. Okay. I get it. You’re Jessica Wakefield. And. you’re…” He looked at Mandy.

“I’m the documentarian,” Mandy explained.

Stan hand-waves the confusion away, and tells Jessica to be ready to meet the one and only Johnny Buck. All before the professional gaze of the entourage’s official photographer, naturally.

Jessica is excited, of course, but the reality of this meet cute is far below her overblown expectation.

Johnny Buck steps out of the limo.

Jessica holds her breath.

Johnny Buck strides towards her.

Jessica is agog.

Johnny Buck takes Jessica’s hand. He whips off his shades. He smiles.

Cameras click and whir.

Jessica says “Johnny-“

Johnny Buck turns away, and climbs back into the limo.

The meet cute is over.

As far as contest prizes go, it’s safe to say that this is the shittiest of the shit. It’s so shit, the folks at Conglomerated Shittiness have voted it the shittiest thing they’ve ever seen, and they’ve been in the shit business for over thirty shitty years.

Basically, I’m saying that if shittiness were people, this prize would be China.

The cast of characters begin to disperse. Stan Keno declares that the girls should look out for the photo in tomorrow’s paper, and makes to depart.

Jessica is having none of it.

Jessica clutched at the door handle. “But you can’t leave. I’m supposed to meet Johnny Buck.”

Mr. Keno paused as if he were losing patience. “You did meet him.”

“No, I didn’t. Not really. He didn’t even say anything to me,” she protested.

Mr. Keno turned and addressed Johnny over the back of the seat. “Johnny, say something to her.”

“It was nice to meet you,” a slightly squeaky voice in the back responded.

With the eyes of the Unicorns casting silent judgment, Jessica continues her campaign. Sweet Talk promised that she’d spend time with the Buckster. Stan Keno is having none of it. It’s all business, and everyone is busy. Sorry kid, but you’re shit out of luck.

Thankfully, while Jessica is failing, Mandy steps up to the plate.

“According to Section 409 of the Games and Sweepstakes Code, all prizes must be awarded in accordance with the advertised terms of the contest,” Mandy said.

Mr. Keno blinked. “What did you say?”

“I said, according to Section 409 of the Games and Sweepstakes Code, all prizes must be awarded in accordance with the advertised terms of the contest. Bobby Carroway said the winner would get to show Johnny around Sweet Valley. Did Jessica mention her dad is a lawyer, and if she doesn’t get to show Johnny Buck around town, she’s going to feel a lot of pain and suffer big time?”


Motherfucking HEADSHOT. [Dove: Go, Mandy.] [Wing: I am amazed that we got a decent Mandy moment, and glad for it. Also, Ned has never been so popular as an attorney.]

Stan Keno is on the back foot immediately. He winds up the window to confer with his ever-present legal team.

As the girls wait, they discuss their situation. Jessica believes that Johnny is faultless in this situation, as he’s likely under the thumb of his scheming and controlling management. At least, that’s what Days of Turmoil has taught her.

Mr Keno eventually returns to the conversation, plastered with a shrewd smile. Turns out that Section 409 of the Games and Sweepstakes Code is legally binding. He orders Johnny out of the limo, to spend the day with Jessica.

Jessica nearly blows it by demanding that she go INTO the limo with Johnny, but Mr Keno pshaws that as it was not specifically mentioned in the contest contract.

Eventually, the Buckster emerges from the back seat, but it’s abundantly clear that he’s in no way happy with the current state of affairs. The limo pulls away, at which time Johnny makes it patently clear that he hates hospitals and would avoid them like the plague. Mandy questions why he’s agreed to do the benefit concert for the Cancer Kids, and his answer (“I don’t like hospitals, they just freak me out”) is vague and non-committal enough to placate her… for now.

Suddenly, there’s a creak. The Unicorns, ensconced in Jessica’s bedroom, have opened the window in order to facilitate the dropping of eaves. Johnnu spots them and is confused about the amount of sisters that Jessica had., She ushers him into the Wakefield Compound garage, to figure out transport for Janice and Joey’s Day of Fun.

Jessica immediately suggests they steal Steven’s moped, which Johnny Buck thinks is totally small beer. He straddles it and fires it up, and it promptly pilots it into a wall through a stack of empty paint cans.

[Dove: Cool. This hilarious thing again. It didn’t at all get old in Nightmare Mansion.] [Wing: Let me get this straight. Johnny Buck is worse with a moped that Steven Wakefield can drive. Steven Wakefield who, as Raven so aptly reminded us, can’t even operate a lawn mower. Johnny, if Steven Wakefield is better than you, it’s time to rethink your life choices.]


This is the rest of the book. Just Johnny Buck being a total Johnny Klutz.

It gets boring real damn quick. Nevertheless, I shall persevere as best as I can, before I succumb to the crippling ennui that’s nibbling at my frayed edge like a grey squirrel with a chocolate Hobnob.

I can’t promise total immersion from my side, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

 End aside.

As the two girls help their dazed and clumsy charge back to his feet, in comes Steven. He’s pissed that his moped has been used without his permission… and used to make a Johnny Buck shaped hole in the garage wall.

Johnny Buck is angry about the whole thing, and Jessica backs him up as he shouts at a surprisingly mature Steven. When he tells everyone that the likely-broken ‘ped is his prized possession is likely buggered, the Buckster tries to throw cash at the issue. Steven refuses to take it, showing a semblance of what, maybe pride? Whatever it is, it’s certainly out of character. The real Steven would have taken a few hundred dollars and probably fixed his moped rather cheaply. [Dove: Sudden thought: do you think Jill Hale is interested in him now? Or must it be a motorbike, not a moped?] [Raven: Hah! Jill bloody Hale.] [Wing: A moped is no replacement for a motorbike, and I am aghast that you even suggested it would suffice.]

Anyway, Jessica hollers that Steven is an ass, Johnny Buck takes a phone call as Steven leaves in a snit, and Mandy films everything for the upcoming docudate film.

As everyone is distracted, Jessica sees the Unicorns edging their way towards the garage. She tries to head them off, but they “want to meet him”, and that trumps any promises made to their friends or any sense of propriety and decorum. Fuck this series, and fuck the Unicorns. I’m sick of them.

Jessica convinces the Unicorns to fuck off, while Mandy films Johnny acting like a diva and demanding all manner of clichéd rock star diva things for his dressing room, via his roadie cousin. His eyes bulge wide when Jessica declares that the next step of her planned day will be conducted… on the bus.

On the bus! How the devil will the entitled brat(s) cope?

As Johnny takes another call, Jessica surreptitiously asks Mandy if she could edit out the Buckster Moped Pratfall, lest it make him looks like and idiot and thus blame their town for being ungrateful for the Cancer Concert. Mandy agrees. In post, natch. Not on the fly.

As the trio head for the bus stop / station, Johnny pauses to take yet another infernal phone call, prompting Mandy to “accidentally” jostle his phone from his hand to the floor, where it shatters in a fit of cellular pique.

Erm… what the fuck, Mandy? That’s not cool. I know mobile phones are a narrative blight on “period” fiction such as this, but I’m sure the Ghostie could have come up with something far slicker to get the phone away from the phoney. [Dove: Also, this took place in the Nokia era. We’re not quite at the 3310 yet, but we’re nearly there (the 8810). I call bullshit on the breakage.] [Raven: I dunno. I remember seeing a bloke tossing his phone up and down while walking towards his train platfrom, when he finger-tipped the catch and it span to the floor. It shattered into what looked like dust, and he dropped to his knees with a “noooooo!”. Gotta say, it was most edifying.] [Wing: I once threw a Nokia off a balcony and it still worked after. A different model several years later did not. I’m with Dove’s bullshit here.]

Before he can complain, the girls grab him and force him to run for the bus, which they catch in the nick of time.

They sit, and Mandy daydreams about winning awards with her finished docudate film. Standard. While she muses, she overhears another busgoer whisper to her friend…

“You know who that guy up there looks like?” Mandy heard someone ask in a whisper.

Mandy’s daydream faded as she listened to the quiet conversation of the two girls sitting behind her.

“He looks like Johnny Buck, only shorter and not as cute,” the girl continued.

Heh. A good trope, well referenced. It’s claimed that Elvis Presley once entered an Elvis Presley Lookalike Contest, but only placed third. Looks like ol’ JB has the same problem.

Mandy tells them that actually, the person in front of them is the real Johnny Buck, but of course they’re having none of it.

Jessica then begins to loudly pepper her “date” with questions, questions designed less to elicit answers and more to inform any other bus patrons that Jessica Wakefield was with Johnny Fucking Buck. Perhaps the only things she learns about JB, other that his isn’t quite as good looking in the flesh, is that he sort of just fell into his career through accident and provenance. [Wing: Shocking.]

Then, in the pregnant silences that a stilted early teen conversation creates, The Buckster nods off. Bellend. Though I guess the smooth ride of the bus might have lulled him to slumber.

The other bus passengers began laughing at the whole situation, making snide comments about how Jessica’s friend must have “had a late night.” Okay, so I don’t know about busses in America, but in England you could literally drop trow on a crowded bus and curl out a Cumberland without the other passangers so much as rolling an eye. You could vomit down the stars and masturbate out of the window, and you’d be roundly ignored. Of course, do so much as take a cigarette out of your packet, and you’ll get “Mate, it’s No Smoking, if you light that I’m telling the driver.” That’s the English for you.

After much titterage, the trio get off the bus at Sweet Valley Stables. As they do, Johnny is clumsy once more. He goes arse-over-tit onto the pavement / sidewalk. There is much laughing, and one boy sarcastically asks “Johnny” for an autograph. JB’s response is full or arrogance and entitlement, which actually convinces the onlookers that yes, perhaps this is the real Johnny Buck after all. Much to Jessica’s delight.

And of course, Mandy is filming it all, like an onlooker at the Hindenburg Disaster. In her role of observer, she reflects that JB is a complete jerk, but he’s still doing nice things for “Charidee” so slack should be cut. Okay then.

Jessica tells JB that their next activity is… horse riding. Unfortunately, that’s a Hard Nope from Johnny. In fact he declares that he’s had enough of Real Life and that this “date” is now officially over. Jessica is crestfallen as JB heads to a nearby payphone to summon his limo away from this debacle. [Dove: How many times has Jessica failed to ride a horse? I swear there was so much “rearing” involved that I went off on a long and involved rant on why that’s such a bad thing and it doesn’t just happen for the lolz because one non-horsey person tries to ride a horse. But sure, she’s suddenly into it. I guess that dude ranch fixed everything.]

Mandy, filming, moved by Jessica’s disappointment, uses her trump card. This is not to be confused with a Trump Card.

We have the best hand. You have fake aces. STOP THE STEAL!

Basically, she blackmails Johnny with the footage of him driving a moped into a wall and falling face-first off a bus. She asks whether he thinks the world is ready to discover that Johnny Buck is clumsy draconequus. [Dove: You passed the test.] This enrages him, and he impotently chases her in order to take away her camcorder and her power. Look at Mandy go, full on paparazzi mode!

Eventually, the out-of-shape and accident-prone Buckster falls face first into the dust. Once there, he grumbles, but acquiesces to Jessica’s demands.

Chapter Eight sees the Sweet Valley Stables groom fetch Johnny a horse. I wonder if the groom is Elizabeth’s friend from Taking the Reins? In fact, is this even the same place? Doubtful. After some pointless horse swapping, a white one (Snowflake) is delivered for maximum romantitiude. [Dove: *sigh* Nope. That was Carson’s Stables. And it wasn’t her friend from Lucy Takes the Reins, it was her friend from First Place (Ted). And the white horse we knew was Ellen’s horse, Snow White. Which she has never ridden before or since that one book where Ginny-Lu Culpepper existed.]

Jessica declares that She and Johnny will be riding together, to fulfil her music video fantasy dreams. The groom is fine with that. Is that something that would happen? Two people on the one horse, in the stables? Dove, over to you. [Dove: Nope. That’s not how it happens. Two people = two horses, and I don’t know anyone that would tolerate it. It’s about the comfort of the horse, not the instagramability of the moment. The saddle is designed for one butt, not two. It’s designed to distribute the weight evenly for comfort and stability, and it’s not really the right shape to accommodate two. Even if these are perfectly slender human beings, it’s still about 200lbs of weight badly distributed. Every owner would say no. And even if you found someone who gave zero shits about horse’s comfort, it’s not as safe. If one falls, both fall. And they’re more likely to because a saddle is not designed for two, and most horses are not used to carrying more than one human being. It’s asking for trouble. Big. Fat. No. Once at my stables, two of the smaller kids rode a pony “double-back” up the field together (they were very slender, so the weight wasn’t so much a problem), which we’d always been told not to do. They got bucked off, and our riding instructor, a woman of about the same age and authority of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, very coldly said, “And now you know why I said never to do that. You deserved that. Now get up and catch the pony before he breaks his neck on the lead rope.” She was icily furious and her only concern was the pony, not the kids. She was awesome.] [Raven: Excellent work!] [Wing: I’m pretty sure this stable is an English style one, so Dove is probably right, but I do have to say that riding double is not nearly as forbidden in Western style. I’ve done it myself. I don’t believe that a commercial stable would allow this, though, if only for liability reasons. I’m surprised they let Jessica ride without a signed parental waiver.]

As Mandy films, Johnny attempts to mount Snowflake (is that the right word… alcoves? Sorry… mount?). He’s utter dogshit at this, naturally, and roundly catapults himself over the now-laughing horse into a crumpled heap on the floor. [Dove: More horse stuff written by a non-horse person. If you fail at mounting, you end up hopping impotently next to a horse that won’t stand still. You do not get yeeted into another galaxy.] [Wing: For once I’ll go with it just for Johnny Buck getting yeeted into another galaxy.]

Next up, for NO FUCKING REASON AT ALL AS FAR AS I CAN SEE, the other Unicorns arrive on their bikes. I mean, FUCK OFF you meddling harpies. [Wing: I call shenanigans that Lila doesn’t have a driver taking them around.]

Mandy heads them off and discovers they came just because they waaant to meet hiiiim, and yes you can hear the entitled whine in that phrase. Ellen does raise a laugh with the following line, admittedly:

“We can’t help it,” Ellen whined. “We’re in the grip of a power beyond our ability to control.”

Mandy puts her foot down, and fields some tricky questions as to why the Buckster is currently face-down-ass-up underneath a horse. Apparently, the Buckster had just saved Jessica’s life by taming a runaway horse, which is total crap but exactly what Jessica would have said so fair play.

We then learn that the Unicorns, albeit placated for now, will definitely be in attendance at the upcoming press conference at the Sweet Valley Museum, courtesy of tickets from Rachel’s dad. So no avoiding these arseholes for long.

Back with JB and JW, Johnny is steely in the face of Jessica’s apologies. The Date Is Over. That’s That. He suggests that the groom point him to the phone (in the office), whereupon he calls a faceless employee and demands someone come pick up and take him to the press conference.

Jessica, for her part, seems genuinely upset and mortified that Johnny isn’t having fun. After all, she’d planned activities that she thought he’d like. All based upon his public image and music videos, sure, but her heart is in the right place. [Dove: That’s both kind of sweet, and a good observation on parasocial relationships.]

Mandy then decides to continue the Blackmail Buck offensive (Buckmail!). She re-states her position, adding that now there’s more footage, namely and

Gotta respect footage.


After declaring that he doesn’t negotiate with terrorists (“We’re not terrorists, we’re fans”). Johnny Buck gives in to their demands, proving that he does, in fact, negotiate with terrorists.

Snap-cut to the press junket, and presumably the inspiration for this book’s ridiculous cover. JB is hand-in-hand with Jessica, declaring to all the reporters present that he’s met a very special girl today. Jessica purrs and returns the phoney complements in kind, as the cameras flash. [Dove: Much as I hated the not-my-twins illustrations, I hate the photos more. They’ve just utterly given up on the covers, haven’t they? It’s not as bad as the geocities covers, but still, it sucks.]

Burly bouncers usher them through the throng towards the velvet rope of the press conference proper. At the barrier, the Unicorns primp and preen, waiting to be introduced.

Jessica obliges, and Johnny, true to his word, flashes them a killer smile and offers a non-Hollywood Handshake to each in turn. The girls are ecstatic, but they appear more interested in how the other Unicorns are reacting to their individual Buck time. For fuck’s sake, girls, not everything is a competition. Live in the fucking moment!

After some boring teen banter that’s dipped in honey and infused with saccharine, Johnny is asked to say a few words to the crowd and assembled press. It is a press conference, after all. First, he spout some frankly cringey bullshit about Jessica being beautiful and special, before delivering the following bon mot:

“I’m not going to talk long, because I want to save my voice for the concert. But I just want to make sure that everybody here knows that Johnny Buck’s gonna rock tonight. So come out and support the cause.” He lifted his fist in his trademark gesture.

Boilerplate press schtick. But… trademark gesture? When was that a thing? And what exactly is it? Black Power strength? Metal horns? V for Victory? Nazi salute? Enquiring minds want to know!

Everyone cheers, and the couplet of JBW run hand in hand through the crowd. They leap into the limo as the faces of the crown press against the glass, and drive off with a flourish.

Suddenly, it’s back to business. Johnny asks if they are done. This is a fair question, and one I’ve been asking about this book and recap for some time now. But alas, things are not done. Jessica wants to go swimming, a la prime Davidoff commercial.

JB is not pleased with this suggestion, and weasels away. He hasn’t got his costume (Jessica is wearing hers under her clothes), his jeans are dry-clean only, etc. He eventually suggests they drive by his hotel and collect the costume, but Mandy smells a rat. She tells Jessica that she thinks Buck is a cheat and a phoney, but Jessica is more trusting (as she has buck-tinted glasses).

Eventually, they go collect the trunks, with JB doing his best to escape his (what is fast becoming a) kidnap ordeal. We learn that Stan, his manager, is at the auditorium doing a soundcheck, which might be relevant later so I thought it best I mention it, I dunno.

Chapter Ten! And we’re at (presumably) Secca Lake. Johnny sneezes, and Mandy offers this bullshit.

“Stop sneezing,” Mandy begged. “It makes you look so uncool.”


Well, FUCK YOU Mandy Miller.

Full disclosure: I have mild allergies to dust, pollen and cats (although the cats one has lessened after almost twenty years of feline cohabitation). These allergies show themselves in fits of sneezing, of which I can have multiple in a day (or none for weeks). I’m totally used to them, but they can go on for a while… I’d say they average around ten sneezes (and full, big sneezes at that) per bout, with my record being twenty-seven full-faced blasts (after which I had a cigarette and a lie down).

My wife, friends and colleagues know to “ride out the wave” when I begin to sneeze, and simply let me get on with it. I particularly hate sneezing in front of people I’ve just met, as they invariably say “bless you” after the first and thus feel obliged to do the same after the second, and third, and so on. They are massively embarrassed when saying “bless you” for sneezes eight or nine, with no end in sight, and I’m in no position to tell them they’re okay to stop as, well, my face is exploding every couple of seconds.

What I’m saying is that I KNOW SNEEZING.

Sneezes are like bow ties. And bow ties are cool.

[Dove: Caveat: His best friend’s first wife never remembered that Raven sneezes a billion times in a row. She would bless him every. single. time. We are all convinced this was the number one reason they divorced. Said friend now has a wonderful wife now. She remembers.]

End Achoo.

Apparently, Secca Lake is full of ragweed, to which Johnny Buck is allergic. Ha declares the place a dump, and Mandy takes umbrage. How much umbrage? I’d say about 75% Dolores. [Dove: It didn’t bother him during that 3pm concert last year?]

Mandy directs the swimming pair, but JB declares that in reality he’s not a particularly strong swimmer. At this point, Jessica is incredulous. She saw him dive off a cliff in his latest video, after all.

In response, Johnny does a big sneeze and splashes about in the water like a flailing octopus. [Wing: How dare you insult an octopus.]

It’s round about now that this book abandons any remaining shred of integrity, instead opting for FULL ON BATSHIT NONSENSE. Because as JB is in mid-sneeze, the girls spot another figure diving from a cliff into the cool waters below. A familiar figure. It’s the cool musician from Sweet Valley Musicians Hall, the guy who helped Jessica have her perfect official content announcement. The Messenger of Love.

Eventually, Jessica leaps to JB’s aid, preventing him from drowning (boo) by asking him to put his fucking feet on the floor and stand up straight, as the water is only four feet deep. He manages it, but not before some casual bystanders mark him out as “Johnny Buck, but a much less cool and unattractive version.” These bystanders even point to the Messenger of Love, diving and swimming in the distance, and say, bold as brass, that he is the real Johnny Buck. Because we all know that someone has to be Johnny fucking Buck at any given time in any given place. [Dove: Slash isn’t real. He was just our parents.] [Raven: Lol!]

The Messenger of Love approaches, and Jessica swims to greet him. When he gets there, wouldn’t you know it… he turns out to be Johnny Buck’s cousin.



I mean, why WOULDN’T he be Johnny Buck’s fucking cousin?


Johnny, still spluttering from his Near Death Experience (well, it’s wasn’t so much Near Death, more Nearly an Experience), eventually calms enough for the story to come out. The Messenger of Love is in fact Johnny Buck’s cousin, Chad Bucklateski (fucking BUCKLATESKI? Come the fuck on now.).

With Jonny spitting vitriol towards Jessica, Mandy, and Chad, we learn that Chad is in the employ of Johnny, as a tour manager of sorts, in charge of supplying the contents of JB’s ludicrous riders and the like. HE’s also… wait for it… the stunt double for Johnny Buck’s music videos, as the real JB can’t swim or ride a motorbike or mount a horse, etc. Mandy suggests that Chad could even be the voice behind Johnny Buck, but Jessica shouts that down immediately.

In the face of Johnny’s protestations, Mandy declares that both she and Jessica will sing with Johnny when they all head back to JB’s hotel. Johnny pulls the old “Not in a Million Years” schtick, so OF COURSE we skip to the hotel room and everyone singing together.

Chad has set up a lot of professional equipment to make everyone sound great. Happily, all JB needs is a hefty dose of reverb in order for it to be come abundantly clear that The Buckster is indeed the owner of his own voice. In fact, when Mandy and Jessica sing the backing through similar reverb and echo, they too sound amazing.

Johnny, Mandy and Jessica power through a professional-sounding version of JB’s latest song. As Jessica hit the high note at the end, there’s a round of applause from the shadows. Apparently, manager Stan Keno was listening in, and it seems he’s impressed.


For fuck’s sake.

Once Johnny hears His Manager’s Voice, he reverts to type once more. He screams that the girls have tortured him, that they have a tape of him acting like a complete wassock (falling asleep, crashing a moped etc), and that if Stan doesn’t fix this immediately, he will be fired.

Oh! Also, he completely shits on the Free Concert for Cancer idea…

“If you ever get me involved in something like this again, you are fired. Is that clear?” Johnny said with a snarl. “I told you doing a free concert was a bad idea. I just didn’t know how bad.”

“It’s a good cause and one of the leading children’s research facilities in the country,” Stan said, rubbing his tired eyes.

“You mean, you don’t want to do the concert?” Jessica gasped.

Johnny looked at her as though she were the biggest idiot in the world. “Would you want to do a free concert in a hick town like this?”

[Dove: I dunno. Maybe because YOU’VE DONE A FUCKING CONCERT HERE BEFORE?] [Wing: Wait, the concert is free? How are you raising money, Buck?]

The girls are crushed. Stan, too, seems nonplussed, mainly due to the revelation that Mandy possesses a tape that could legitimately ruin his client’s career. [Wing: That’s okay, Mandy’s found her own career.]

Once Johnny has stomped off to his metaphorical trailer, Stan tasks Chad with taking the girls for a hamburger. Chad does so, and as they eat we learn that Stan is not, in fact, the clichéd Hollywood manager that’s a corrupted force of evil who’s taking advantage of his client. He’s actually a good guy. In fact, the whole Free Concert for Cancer was his idea. His son had cancer a few years ago, and he was happy to help – and underfund – the cause.

Stan rocks up, and asks the girls about their demands to make the Johnny Buck Mishap Tape disappear. It seems he’s more than happy to negotiate with terrorists on behalf of his client.

Jessica leads with a set of backstage passes for all her friends and siblings. Mandy doesn’t get a look-in at this point, apparently.

But it seems that Jessica’s demands haven’t quite finished yet…

Chapter Eleven, downhill all the way!

The chapter starts at a frenetic pace, and we see Jessica back at the Stables and the Lake, going through some re-shoot filming with Mandy and Chad. There’s not a single Buckster in sight. Instead, it’s Buckster 2.0.

Next we hit the editing suite, where Mandy and Chad work with the film editor to turn her footage into something special, with loads of special effects. I don’t know about you, but I’m picturing loads of sweep transitions and Eighties You’ve Been Framed screen overlays and the like. All very cheesy. [Dove: Wing and I were present for fanvids arriving in fandom. We’re well aware of every single bad transition set to awful pop music.] [Wing: Much respect to fanvidders, especially those who did it off VHS tapes. I can’t even manage it with all the tech we have now, much less back then.]

The video is shots of Jessica and Johnny singing interspersed with clips of Jessica and Chad-pretending-to-be-Johnny on horseback and cliff-diving. At the end, it’s labelled “Directed by: Mandy Miller”, which is nice for her. [Wing: Okay, Mandy’s discovered two new careers: Mandy Miller. Blackmailer. Director. Cancer Survivor.]

At the same time, Jessica wrangles Steven into rounding up the gang for that evening’s concert and backstage extravaganza. We also learn the plan for the evening: the video would be shown at the opening of the act, and Jessica would run onstage after to introduce the Main Man. All sounds good.

So, off they go to the auditorium, armed with the new tape and the original tape, to the promise that makeup and wardrobe would make them both look amazing. Chad drives them, with police escort through difficult traffic. When they arrive, they head through the stage door and meet up with Steven, Elizabeth, and the Unicorns.

Jessica is peppered with questions by her eager friends, which she bats them away with aplomb. An assistant (Connie) appears with passes for everyone, before Jessica and Mandy are ushered off to makeup.

The girls are learning lots about the music and concert business, when Chad appears in makeup. He’s white as a sheet. He hands the promo video back to Jessica, and announces that Johnny is back at the hotel with a “sore throat”, and that he can’t perform tonight.

The Unicorns are aghast, and all feel sorry for the “ill” Johnny. Jessica takes it very badly, as she blames herself for Johnny’s condition. She did force him into the inclement water of Secca Lake after all.

Thankfully, Chad sets her straight on that score.

“You didn’t do anything,” Chad insisted. He looked around as though he were afraid of being overheard. “Listen. I can’t let you blame yourself. Johnny’s not sick. He’s just in a snit and this is his way of throwing a tantrum.”



Jessica finally sees Johnny Buck for what he is: a complete prick. And she’s determined not to let him ruin everything for the Cancer Kids.

She breaks into a sprint, and heads back to the hotel on foot (it’s only a few minutes away).

Chapter Twelve sees her arrive at Johnny’s room, where he thinks she’s room service before he actually sees her. He tries to keep her from entering the room, but he’s a pasty little rudeboy who’s not in shape. Jessica wins, and we get to the conversation that leads to the Buckster’s Damascene Conversion.

Summing it up…

First, Jessica tries to send away Johnny’s rich dinner from room service, claiming the ill singer need naught but a comforting broth to ease his pain.

Next, Jessica tells him she doesn’t care that he’s fake, or that he can’t swim or ride bikes or horses. She does care that he’s actually a bellend.

Then Jessica declares that although she thinks he’s a creep, he’s actually a lot like her. She describes herself as selfish, and an asshole to her friends. I mean, that’s true, but it’s her friends that have been assholes today.

She then offers Johnny both tapes: the polished promo tape AND the raw footage tape. HE can have them both, as long as he does the concert.

Johnny is abashed. Is Jessica saying she’ll give up her moment of glory, just to get the concert going? Jessica confirms this.

Jessica tells Johnny that the hospital is the real focus, and that Cancer survivors like Mandy and Stan’s son are the true heroes.

Johnny has no idea that either Mandy or Stan’s son are Cancer survivors, and is suitably upset by the thought.

Johnny is now converted. This produces a frankly ludicrous change of character for the Buckster, who now becomes almost comically perfect. This is first established at the end of this section, when Jessica refers to herself as a nobody only to have JB respond thus:

Johnny lifted his face and reached out for her hand. “You’re not a nobody. You’re a real important somebody. Meeting you has been an experience I will never forget.”

I mean, get to fuck, you gaping sphincter.

So now we slide toward the wet spot, and Johnny rushes to the concert with Jessica. They arrive just in time. The concert is an hour-long orgy of rock and roll finery, Sweet Valley and Johnny Buck style, at the end of which we see JB declare the final song to his “favourite Sweet Valley gal pal: Jessica Wakefield.”

The crowd go wild, the video package plays, and Jessica, then Mandy, then the whole gang of Unicorns (because WHY THE FUCK NOT), then STEVEN and ELIZABETH (WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK) all join him on stage. Jessica and Mandy get to sing with him before the others just appear for no fucking reason, and THEY get to sing too. This book has now lost all sense of what it actually believable.

Finally the band hit the last note. Some of the singers hit it and some of them didn’t. But it didn’t matter. It was the most beautiful music Mandy had ever heard in her whole life.

Well, I’d wager Mandy has never heard any Cattle Decapitation.

The final chapter has everyone partying with JB after the concert. Johnny is now a well-rounded guy, and he hires Chad as his personal trainer before thanking Jessica for her guidance with a peck on the cheek. Then we end with some guff about Kimberly demanding that the other Unicorns acknowledge her as if she was Roman motherfucking Reigns. [Wing: How dare you insult Roman Reigns.]

Final Thoughts:

This book got on my nerves. I hated the Unicorns, with their shitty scheming and disregard for the requests of their friend. I hated Johnny Buck in this, at least before his conversion to the Sweet Valley Cult, but I guess he was funny in places. I really hated the whole “Messenger of Love is actually related to Johnny Buck” bollocks, but most of all, I hated the whole “JB becoming instantly nice” pat ending to this whole sorry affair.

Johnny, it seems, became a decent human being immediately upon hearing his manager’s son had cancer a few years previous. It was almost as if a flip was switched in his head, and his humanity was restored with a factory reset. At least when Scrooge had his face turn, Dickens had the sense to have the vast majority of his book demonstrating to the protagonist the error of his ways. This took the Christmas Carol mould, but had 95% of the book show Ebeneezer terrorising the town and being a prick before someone mentioned that Tiny Tim was ill on the first page of the final chapter, triggering an immediate and dissatisfying hunt for a fuck-off big goose.

I’m sorry, but this is not a book for the ages. I’ll be happy to head over to Sweet Valley High.

[Dove: Everything Raven said is valid. I loathe this book. It’s stupid, it’s really bloated, and I literally didn’t care. I didn’t care that Jessica won, that the Unicorns were muscling in, that JB was a prick, that anyone had cancer (I’m bored of fictional people with cancer, ok?). I just didn’t care. This book was a chore. It was a punishment. It wasn’t properly bad, like the Nightmare Mansion, which was hard going because it was bad (and had potential). This was bad because over the course of the last 15 or so books, maybe more, this series has completely destroyed any fondness I had for the Unicorn Club. If I were to ever re-read this, I’d stop after the first book. Anything after that isn’t as good, and drops off sharply.]

[Wing: Johnny not thinking of cancer patients as real until he learns it touched someone in his life is believable. Literally everything else in this book is not. Even though I’m glad I wasn’t as much a fan of the Unicorn Club books as Dove and Raven were in the beginning, I’m sad that this fall into boredom has to feel even worse for them because they saw something enjoyable at first.]