The Unicorn Club #3: The Best Friend Game

The Unicorn Club 3: The Best Friend Game
The Unicorn Club 3: The Best Friend Game

Title: The Best Friend Game

Tagline: Winner take all…

Summary: Can you believe there’s a new club at Sweet Valley Middle School? They call themselves the Eight Times Eight Club – and they’re trying to outdo us at everything. Even I thought it was time to retaliate. So we decided to take our act to TV!

Being on the BEST FRIENDS show seemed like the perfect way to prove we’re the better club. We thought we couldn’t lose. Until we found out the Eights are going to be our opponents. Now it’s war. We have to win – or the entire world will think the Unicorns ae Number Two!

Initial Thoughts:

Book three of the thus-far-delightful Unicorn Club subseries, and we’re finally in the mind of the Sainted Elizabeth Wakefield. Oh, what a rollercoaster of beigeness we will ride!

Initial thoughts from the blurb… The Eight Times Eight Club? Who the fuck are these dicks? Also, their name makes them sound like the Borg. And finally, I’m pretty sure most readers have though that the Unicorns are a big fat Number Two on many occasions.

Poo. I’m talking about poo.

[Dove: Ok, you talk about poo. I’m just gonna point out that two of these “best friends” only joined the club a few weeks ago, after loathing 60% of the club for the entire year leading up to that join, and another hadn’t even met any of the Unicorns even more recently. Overall, these are not the people I’d bet on to know each other well.]

[Wing: WHY ARE WE IN ELIZABETH’S HEAD ALREADY. I am already displeased and we’ve not begun.]

To the recap!

Recap:

The very first paragraph from this book makes me want to hoof it into the sea.

My name’s Elizabeth Wakefield. You’ve probably heard a lot about me. And if any of it was from my sister, it’s absolutely not true. Jessica, my identical twin, is the hugest exaggerator in the world, and I’m not exaggerating.

You’re telling me we’ve trawled through almost ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY BOOKS, being told in EACH BOOK that Elizabeth is a great writer, and they chose THIS SENTENCE for her?

Jessica, my identical twin, is the hugest exaggerator in the world, and I’m not exaggerating.

I mean, get to actual fuck. That’s just appalling.

Yeah, I get it, she’s twelve, and I suppose her “amazing talent for writing” should be viewed under this particular microscope, but that’s NOT how she’s been portrayed in the series to date. [Dove: I imagine that Liz is one of those writers who is really precise, but not particularly engaging to read. All dull facts cleanly expressed with no wit. She’s not the type to make up a word.] [Raven: Then she has a future writing rulebooks for European boardgames, that’s for sure.]

We get straight into the usual Twinny Bollocks Comparisons, which I suppose is to be expected as twins and twin-ness seem to be the only things that occupy Elizabeth’s head here. Alongside all the old-style Series Explanator, we get the new-style crap that waffles on about all the changes to the series and new characters we’ll meet. I can’t really snipe hard at this conceit, as reinforcing the changes to the Unicorn Club post-Janet, and mentioning the kids from the newly-relevant Sweet Valley Child Care Center (hereafter known as SVCCC) [Wing: SVC3 has such a fun rhythm.] is relevant for book 3 of 23.

One turd in the trifle this time out? Elizabeth “introduces” the reader to the so-far-absent Steven Wakefield, her particularly prickish brother. And the introduction is not a glowing one, by any stretch. He’s not reveicing a lifetime achievement award here. We’re shown his idiocy through his reaction to the Unicorn Club, which I concede is a cute way of doing things. Apparently, he’s forever commenting about the phoniness of the Unicorns, which is something I’ve not seen in 130+ books. Informed attributes are the best attributes. [Dove: Damn, we were so close to a Steven-free hat-trick.] [Wing: Elizabeth POV and Steven? My enjoyment of the last book was a fluke!]

Eventually, we’re on to the plot, by way of a recap of sorts. This makes this recap a recap of a recap, and when I mention this section of the recap later in this recap, that part of the recap will become a recap of a recap of a recap. Yo Dawg, I hear you like recaps.

Basically, I like saying recap.

So! We learn that the Unicorns are still volunteering at the SVCCC (bless!), and that they recently worked shifts at new-recruit-Evie-Kim’s Grandmother’s thrift store. More pertinently, we’re reminded that the Unicorns are still on the hook for replacing principal Mr Clark’s damaged toupee, which was hair-napped by Jessica and Lila in a ill-conceived prank war in book one of the series.

Apparently, if he doesn’t get the dollah to replace his hair-hat soon, Clark will have no choice but to ban the Unicorns form assemblage once more. Dick move, Clark, it comes over as so petty. Give them individual detentions or something, there’s no need to go all fascist Umbridge on them.

We also learn that the cash required for a replacement is three hundred dollars.

That low? I guess it’s the Nineties. I’d have thought a decent wig would be more costly. And three hundred dollars sounds like chump change to Lila.

As the girls chatter and laugh, which is a pleasant way of meeting them all for the “first” time once more, we shift into the main narrative. Namely, the newly formed Eight by Eight Club, at the hands of a supposed eighth-grade clique of eight girls we’ve never heard of.

Take it away, Elizabeth…

Amanda Harmon was the president of a new club at school called Eight Times Eight—the Eights, for short. The Eights were made up of eight eighth graders, and as far as I could tell, they were all pretty obnoxious. It’s not that we had something against other clubs or thought ours was the only one that should exist or anything. It’s just that it seemed Amanda and her friends were only doing things to compete with us lately. If we had a fund-raiser or a dance, the Eights had one, too—and they always tried to outdo us. It was bugging all of us, even me. And I’m not very competitive by nature.

Erm…

When?

When was this club formed?

When have they been “doing things to compete with [the Unicorns] lately”…?

This is nothing more than revisionist bullshit. [Dove: That brand new tradition we’ve always had!]

Aside:

I’ve often wondered when the “rival club at school” storyline would appear in SVT. It seems an obvious home run.  I guess the subseries that focusses on The Unicorn Club is as good a place as any.

BUT.

I expected the club to emerge in the narrative, likely at the hands of someone obnoxious we’ve already met, like Veronica Brooks. Ideally, I was hoping to see Team Peripheral join forces Voltron-style and make a Uni-Killing Task Force. Hell, I’d even have enjoyed a Sweet Valley Middle School chapter of the Jag-Wahs.

This, though? Is. Not. Good.

Having this new “Eights” group simply “exist”, and have at least RECENT historical beef with our girls that is only mentioned in passing here, is idiotic. Readers will have read previous books, Ghostie. You shouldn’t be pulling this low-rent hack shit. Have some self re-cocking-spect. [Dove: It’s actually more eye-poking in this series than SVT, because that reset all the time, and there was no continuity between books. This series appears to be one that will reference previous books.]

The Eights can fuck off.

End aside.

The Eights, it seems, are holding a super-party this coming weekend, to which the Unicorns are not invited. Such a slight to the Old Unicorns? Completely fine, even a karmic reward for their past dickery. But New Unicorns, who are shiny and bright and Kumbaya? They don’t warrant such oppression.

After some rote kvetching, talk turns to the hot new early afternoon game show (and part-title of this book), Best Friends. Everyone in town can’t get enough of this lightweight preteen-populated Mr and Mrs rip-off, which is frankly ridiculous, but seen through preteen eyes I suppose hyperbole is warranted. And, of course, Brandon Blitzen the host is handsome. It’s the telly, after all.

For those unfamiliar with the Mr and Mrs format, Elizabeth has a cheat sheet.

On Best Friends, groups of up to eight kids try to answer these wacky personal questions about one another. There are two teams who compete against each other, and the winners get prizes like school supplies, clothes, gift certificates to restaurants, even concert tickets sometimes. The show had only been on for a few months, but each one had been so hilarious, it already had a reputation for being a can’t-miss show. The questions were sometimes off-the-wall, and the contestants would look completely stumped until they squeaked out some kind of answer. Sometimes people got into big, serious arguments over little things, like whether they were 5’4 or 5’5.

As the Unicorns watch the latest episode, Lila has the obvious brainwave. They should, as a group, apply to be on Best Friends. If they got on the show, they could prove what a great group of gals they really were, and in doing so they’d have ULTIMATE POWER over the humiliated Eights and could claim their crown as the BEST FUCKING CLUB IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE.

Seems legit.

Helpfully, the show is looking for fresh meat contestants, who should apply by sending a letter that outlines the applicants and the friendships involved. The Unicorns are excited about this plan, with only Elizabeth being slightly reticent. This is to be expected, of course, as they’re press-ganging her into writing the application letter. I mean, have they not read any of her shit? I can see the letter now…

“Dear TV people, please can the Unicorns be on your show? We are amazing and beautiful and clever and we are the massiveist superfans of Brandon Blitzen. Is he actually a reindeer? Love Liz.”

After some good-natured banter, an accord is reached, which is a good thing for the plot. The Unicorns would apply to appear on Best Friends, which they would definitely win once picked to appear, proving once and for all that they are the SUPREME RULERS OF SWEET VALLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL. And Elizabeth would write the letter to facilitate that.

Bosh! Plot done. Next chapter.

We crack straight into Elizabeth’s attempts to write a letter. Apparently, she uses eighteen pages working on the fucking salutation.

Dear Mr. Blitzen… Dear Brandon… Dear Sir or Madam… To Whom It May Concern…

Come on Elizabeth, show a little ass! Start the thing with “Wassup bitches,” that’d make them sit up and eat your cake!

The letter she finally crafts – I’m avoiding quoting it all here – is actually quite sweet, if a little cookie-cutter and uninspiring. She focusses on the friendships within the group, and pens a paragraph for each Unimember with their salient points. It reads a little like a crib sheet, but it’s nice enough.

Here are the highlights:

  • Jessica. Usual twinny bollocks, plus a mention of her Days of Turmoil addiction.
  • Lila. Rich, big house, friends with little Ellie at the SVCCC. Also, a needless dig about selfishness. Low blow, Elizabeth.
  • Mandy. Club president, always upbeat, wacky fashions. Also mentions cancer, because we all know TV likes a sob story.
  • Evie. New recruit, a year younger, Asian, violin-player, stereotype. Standard.
  • Maria. Child actress, very pretty, problematic descriptors for her looks that don’t appear for the non-black girls.
  • Mary. Dependable to the max. Treasurer. Preppie. Foster child that was adopted by her current family, which I’m sure Dove will weigh in about right here: [Dove: Thank you. Raven’s listened to me rant about this. Mary was not a foster kid adopted by her foster family. She was a baby stolen by her mum’s “friend”, who then put her into foster care, where (eventually, several families later) she was invited to be adopted into the family, but she wanted to be reunited with her birth mother, who, it just so happens, was walking down the street and bumped into Elizabeth. She now lives with her birth mother and husband, and has taken their surname of Wallace. But if that’s too much for a chipper letter that somehow wanted to bring up the foster system, why not, “Mary was in foster care, but recently reunited with her birth mother”? Seriously, Ghostie, I have a rule: if there was A WHOLE BOOK ABOUT IT then you don’t get it wrong. How hard is that?] [Raven: *swoons*]
  • Ellen. Gossipy, but not mean, just thoughtless (again with the disses, Liz?). Sometimes incredibly thoughtful, though (fucking hell, Liz, get it together). Funny. No mention of her amazing talent for mimicry that we learnt about last week.
  • Elizabeth. Writer. That’s it. Just “Writer.”

She concludes with the following:

We’d really appreciate it if you’d consider having us on your show as contestants. We know a lot about one another, maybe every—thing there is to know! I’d say the three following characteristics make us perfect for your show: (1) we’re not shy, (2) we can be very entertaining, and (3) we know what it means to be “best friends.” I think friends are one of the most important things in life. My friends are always there for me when I need them, and vice versa. I can rely on them for anything, and sometimes, when I least expect it, one of them does something so nice I can hardly believe it. I’d never make it through junior high if it weren’t for them.

Gotta admit, I’m still confused about the whole “middle school / junior high” thing. Are they still in Middle School at this point? They’re seventh graders, right? Other than that, nice paragraph, I guess. [Dove: Clear out the comment section, I’m fairly sure that JC will go boom. (And I can’t follow it either. They’re not in Jr High, because that’s another book series set after this, where I think the middle school is closed and everything is re-zoned?)] [Wing: They are still in middle school. Per the very first book of SVT, Sweet Valley Middle School is grades 6 through 8. This is not uncommon, though I would not expect there to be a junior high if middle school goes all the way through eighth grade; high school would generally start with ninth grade. Now whether there’s actual continuity all the way back to the first book (and alllllll the way back to the first recap! We’ve been doing this nearly five years now) I can’t say.

Basically, the Sweet Valley public school breakdown seems to be: elementary school is kindergarten through fifth grade, middle school is sixth through eighth grade, and high school is ninth through twelfth grade.]

On completion of the letter, just before bedtime, Elizabeth and Jessica discuss their chances of success. Against all previous evidence., Elizabeth believes there’s a chance they won’t get picked. Lizzie, have the previous 130+ books taught you nothing? Of course, Jessica is her usual ebullient self, fully confident that life will manoeuvre itself around her sheer force of will. She begins her personal onslaught on reality by sending Brandon Blitzen her patented ESP messages. I can’t riff on the content of these likely lascivious missives, as there are children present.

Talking of kids, we skip to the SVCCC, for a flavour scene in which the only point of import is the upcoming plan to take the kids to a football game at school the next week. And by football, we mean Handegg or course.

NEXT!

It’s soon Monday morning, and the gang are by the newly-painted lockers. Ellen is excited, as she has a present for the bald Mr Clark: a videotape about hair loss, with techniques for randomly regrowing his missing barnet. Ellen is legitimately happy about this choice, but Elizabeth pours oil on her happiness waters.

“Don’t you think he’s going to be a little disappointed?”

Fuck off, Liz. At least Ellen is trying. Thankfully, Mandy says exactly that, albeit a little more tactfully than me.

As the gang head to Mr Clark’s office to give him the tape, they pass the Eights. Oooh, first face-to-face meeting of the protags and antags!

Amanda Harmon casts the first stone:

“Well, if it isn’t the Pretty Ponies,” she said, with a phony smile.

Lila retaliates:

“And this must be the Eight Times Zero Club,” Lila said. “Multiply any number by zero and what do you get?”

IT’S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!

[Wing: Point to the 8X8 club. Pretty Ponies is great.]

Amanda simpers about her party the previous weekend, to which the Unicorns hadn’t been invited. She pointedly asks what the Unis did instead, and Jessica immediately bites.

Jessica cleared her throat. “Oh, not much. We only practiced for our upcoming television appearance.”

“Your what?” Julia asked.

“We’re going to be on television,” Jessica said.

(Julia is Julia Abbott, another member of the Eights. Why they didn’t use names that we already know is still beyond me.) [Dove: Because all the seventh graders we met last year were Unicorns? Oh! Wait! What about the harpies that Liz met when she skipped a year for a week?]

Elizabeth balks at this revelation. It’s far from a done deal, but of course she’s not considering the fact that SHE AND HER SISTER ARE THE STARS OF A TEEN BOOK SERIES, AND THIS BOOK IS CALLED THE BEST FRIEND GAME. It’d be a legendary swerve if the Unicorns didn’t get on the show.

Amanda probes for details, and the Best Friends show connection is mentioned, much to the Eights’s chagrin. The bell rings, the chapter ends, and we as readers now know that the Eights will be doing their best to get on the show too… and they’ll succeed in getting on the same edition as the Unicorns. Because that’s how narrative flows.

(Note: Ellen dashes to deposit the videotape in Mr Clark’s mailbox before class. I assume he’ll be livid at this.)

Chapter 3 starts on Tuesday, after school, and Elizabeth entering the Wakefield Compound to a phone call. Of course, it’s Dan Paterson from Vista Vision, calling to let the Unicorns know they’ve been selected as contestants on Best Friends. After screaming with delight, Elizabeth takes the details. They’re scheduled to be on the show the following Thursday, a mere nine days away.

… Is that how mid-afternoon gameshows work in America? Write a letter on Day One, get a response on Day Four, get an appearance on TV on Day Thirteen? And is it going to be shown live?

I’m pretty sure the schedule for game shows in the UK is much slower, especially shows that don’t have any current affairs slant like this one. None of them go out live, and most of them are recorded so far in advance that it’s ridiculous. Christmas episodes are recorded in June, and there’s months between the day of recording and the air date. But hey, it’s Sweet Valley, what the hell does reality have to do with things? [Dove: Also, just like every other media appearance, no mention is made of parental permission for this.]

Everyone is understandably super-stoked when they receive Elizabeth’s follow-up phonecall. Jessica is especially thrilled, spending the night dreaming about the fallout for their upcoming appearance and glorious win. They’d all be spotted by big-time directors, and plucked out for stardom. Jessica, love, you were LITERALLY IN A FILM LAST WEEK, surely that was the prime time to be “discovered”, no?

Elizabeth is still being naysayer on the process, and realistic on their chances of winning, but even she admits to herself that the Unicorns are well positioned to smash the competition. They know everything about each other, and truly are best friends across the board, so it should be a cakewalk… shouldn’t it? [Wing: You mean besides the fact that until very recently you called them the Snob Squad (allegedly) and knew very little actual facts about them? Sure, besides that you’re absolutely ready.]

At school the next day, the Unicorns discuss their next steps. Practice is required, and they debate the best form in which this practice should manifest. As they consider their options…

“Look out—here come the Crazy Eights,” Evie warned in a whisper. Amanda, Julia, and Marcy were headed toward us. They were wearing identical outfits: blue jeans, plaid shirts, and black shoes.

“Nice and original, huh?” Mandy eyed them critically. “That must be one of the club laws, that you have to buy all the same clothes.”

Well, that’s just lovely. The “Crazy” Eights. Sure, Crazy Eights is a card game, but the name isn’t being used to compare the Eights to a jack of fucking clubs.

The Eights are dressed identically, which causes much merriment amongst the Unicorns. Try forming a club like this in the UK, you’ll find everyone is dressed identically. There’s a uniform dress code. [Wing: Mock away, Unicorns, with your purple obsession.]

The Eights probe the Unicorns for more details on their upcoming TV appearance, details which are duly supplied by an oblivious Maria.

“We’re scheduled to appear a week from Thursday,” Maria said. “Live and in person.”

So. Confirmation that the appearance is live. Interesting. Completely unbelievable, but interesting.

The Eights, soured, leave, and the Unicorns are largely gloating. Elizabeth, of course, remains the stoic voice of good sense.

I had no doubt that by the end of the day the word would be all over school that we were going to be on Best Friends. It made me kind of nervous, thinking of all the people who would probably be watching us. I’d never been on live television—or any television, for that matter. But at least I wouldn’t be by myself. In fact, with Lila and Jessica around, I’d be lucky if I got a word in edgewise.

… *spits water* …

NEVER BEEN ON TELEVISION?

Here’s a list of the times I remember: Pea Pong, TV Commercial, two Films, and the cake baking show with Jessica’s Jem cookies. I’m sure Dove, our resident Sweet Valley Statto, will supply further details here.

[Dove: (I typed this earlier in the recap and realised you made this point too, but here) Jessica’s media appearances include: a dance marathon, a Corny-O’s commercial, appearing as a psychic, fucking PEA PONG, The Boyfriend Game and its follow-up episode, and two different movies. I actually forgot about the Jem cookies. And we can probably assume at least one of them was interviewed when the lawsuit against those bloody caves was launched.] [Raven: Great work!]

[Wing: I can’t believe I’m going to halfway defend Elizabeth, but were any of those live? The dance marathon maybe, though I did not interpret it as being aired live based on some things toward the end of the book. The only other thing that might have been live was the Jem cookies.]

It’s English Class! And Ellen has received a response from Mr Clark, re: her well-meaning hair loss tape.

“Dear Ms. Riteman and members of the Unicorn Club,” the letter began. “I do not find your latest effort to replace my property commendable, nor in the least acceptable. This issue is by no means settled. I am still waiting, and you know to what I am referring.” It was signed simply, “Mr. Clark.”

So, Elizabeth was right. It was not taken in the manner it was offered. Clark took it as an affront. What a bellend.

The girls dither and dally over the letter, before concluding that another solution was required.

Action cuts to that evening, at Maria’s house for the first official Best Friends Practice Session. The gang scour the small adds, searching for a cheaper solution to Mr Clark’s toupee dilemma. Everyone agrees that the principal looks much better bald.

Eventually, they stumble upon an ad for spray-on hair “thickener”.

“What is it?” Ellen asked eagerly.

“It’s this hair spray, only instead of being clear, it’s the color of your hair,” Mandy explained. “You spray it on your head and it looks like hair!”

Although not everyone is convinced of the idea, Mandy decides to order some, because eight dollars is not three hundred dollars.

If I’m honest, I think Mandy would have a little more sympathy with Mr Clark’s predicament, as there was an entire book dedicated to the Unicorns buying their cancer-patient friend buy herself a decent hairpiece for her chemo days. In fact, why don’t the Unicorns know how much a toupee should cost? They spent a book shopping for one! [Dove: They all actually pitched in their allowance at the drop of a hat to buy one. I’m sure Lila did the heavy lifting for the purchase, but why not do the same here? I’m not saying she should always pay for everything, but she did 50% of the stealing, and the club will be disbanded and she’ll suffer if they don’t pay it off.]

The rest of the chapter deals with the girls sharing facts about themselves as part of the Best Friends preparation. In particular, favourite foods.

Apparently, Jessica’s favourite food is chocolate mousse. I thought it was Spaghetti and Meatballs. [Wing: You know, Dove could go on this show with pretty much all of Team Boring and the Unicorns and win.]

Thursday morning, one week until showtime. The Wakefield Compound. Jessica and Elizabeth quizzing each other with cards. Steven wades in, with his usual crappy Steven schtick. Get fucked, Steven. We’ve not missed you.

The Elder Wakefields promise to cheer loudly from the studio audience on Thursday. Steven eventually agrees to come too. This whole scene is a waste of paper.

Thursday lunchtime. Canteen. Unicorner. Again, the Unicorns are testing each other on Unicorn General Knowledge. Ellen is a Pisces, Mary’s a Gemini, and so on. [Dove: There was a bit here where someone asked the twins when their birthday was, but someone interrupted, which I thought was either a neat way to avoid the question while lampshading that nobody knows (at the time this was written), or a massive mistake if they actually do have a birthday and it was a great time to tell us. I can never remember the twins’ birthday, but I know they’re Geminis, obviously.]

Their prep is rudely interrupted by Amanda Harmon, who comes bearing Plot News. Apparently, the Eights have also applied to appear on Best Friends… and they too are scheduled to appear next Thursday.

That’s right, folks… in a UNICORN versus EIGHTS game-show face-off fight to the fucking DEATH! [Dove: I thought this was so convenient that it had to be plot-relevant. Like someone in the Eights has a relative on the show, and it would lead to undue favouritism or whatever. Apparently the last two books set my expectations too high. This was just a regular Sweet Valley convenience because the plot says so.] [Raven: That would have made so much sense. More sense than being related to Quakefield fucking Wakefield.]

As Amanda departs with a smug smile, the Unicorns are both gobsmacked and crestfallen. They are incredulous that the Eights should copy their Best Friends idea, bemoaning that they really should find something more original to do with their time.

Elizabeth does her best to chivvy up some Team Gumption.

“Come on, you guys—don’t let her get to you,” I said. “You’re forgetting something. We’re going to win, right?”

But all of a sudden, no one seemed that confident anymore.

After school, Maria and Elizabeth are approached by Rick Hunter and Aaron Dallas. The boys chat about the upcoming Unicorn / Eights Face-Off on Best Friends, and declare that it’d be tricky to beat the ultra-competitive Eights. Amanda and Julia are particularly cut-throat. The boys promise to be in the audience on Thursday, and head on their way.

Maria and Elizabeth are nonplussed by this chat, as the news about the Battle Royale is spreading fast. I mean, this happens EVERY WEEK in EVERY BOOK, but sure, this is new and different. The girls catch up with the other Unicorns at the school steps, and head off to the mall in order to buy clothes for their appearance. Because they have to look spectacular if they have a hope of beating the Eights.

Jessica took my arm and led me toward the bicycle rack. “We’re going to intimidate them. We’re going to look so confident, they won’t be able to answer anything right.”

“Jessica, it’s not a boxing match,” I said, laughing.

“No, I know. It’s bigger than that,” Jessica said in a serious voice as she unlocked her bicycle from the rack. “More like the Olympics.”

First, this is a riff of a quote by legendary Football (not Handegg) Manager Bill Shankley, which is often misquoted in itself:

“Somebody said that football’s a matter of life and death to you, I said ‘listen, it’s more important than that’.”

Second, it’s nice that the boys are making an appearance. I suppose. Nothing of any import, of course, but nevertheless.

At the mall, we discover that the girls can’t decide on a plan. First they suggest all dressing the same, which is divisive. Then Mandy declared they should all wear something purple under their Unicorn jackets, which sounds perfect. [Wing: I’d already forgotten about the jackets. And they were making fun of the 8x8s for dressing the same? Hypocrites.] Ideally, it’d be something new, at least according to rich girl Lila. Evie suggests earrings, but some of the crew don’t have pierced ears.

Wasn’t there a b-plot somewhere about Jessica not being allowed to get pierced ears at some point? I can’t remember the details, hopefully Dove will refresh my memory here. [Dove: Wakefield parents said no hole-punching until high school. Grandparents said “lol! Alice was a rebel at your age!” Jessica translated this as permission, and Elizabeth looked on, horrified, clutching her clip-on pearls. There, I just saved everyone reading The Twins Get Caught.]

Eventually, it’s decided that nothing new and special needs to be done to highlight the Unicorn’s greatness for their appearance on the show. All this trip to the mall has achieved is a) making the gang miss the current showing of Best Friends, and b) padding the word count something chronic.

As they attempt to watch Best Friends via a store window (instead seeing an episode of the Beverley Hillbillies, arf arf), Mary comes up with an idea: the Unicorns need to drum up some publicity for their appearance. Perhaps a newspaper article would do the trick?

At home that evening, the SVCCC check in to cement the plans for the Football Game trip with the kids that coming Saturday. Six kids had expressed an interest. Standard.

Lila calls to tell Elizabeth that her rich and magnanimous father has called in a favour at the local paper Sweet Valley Tribune. They’re going to pen an article on the Unicorns, albeit a grudging one.

Jessica and Elizabeth discuss the chances of publishing an article in Elizabeth’s new rag, the 7 & 8 Gazette. Elizabeth is open to the idea, but states that she’d have to mention the Eights too, in equal measure, because of impartiality or journalistic integrity or some other such bullshit.

Gotta give it to the Ghostie here… that’s totally on brand for Elizabeth.

Jessica pleads with her prissy sis, but it’s to no avail. Mr Bowman wouldn’t stand for it. Elizabeth is happy to write the article, but Jessica tells her it’s not worth the effort.

The next day at school (I want to say Friday?), Mandy reveals that the mail-order spray-on hair has arrived. It’s called Medium Manly Brown. Mandy has made an appointment with Mr Clark at noon, for a demonstration.

There is no possible scenario in which this goes well.

So many possibilities, all of which suck balls.
So many possibilities, all of which suck balls.

Jessica enters, full of piss and vinegar. Apparently, the Eights have been up to a spot of self-publicity. They’ve plastered the gym lockers with Eight-Ball stickers. I admit, that’s a cool club symbol for sure. Although Unicorn stickers shouldn’t be too tricky to obtain. [Wing: Oh no, I’m charmed by the 8x8s.]

Jessica declares she was late to her Gym class as she was removing the offending stickers, at which point she got a detention for tardiness. The cheek! Consequently, she is hellbent on retaliation, like the special little socioflake she is.

Soon, it’s lunchtime, and all eight Unicorns are waiting outside the principal’s office, waiting to perform their Miracle Hair Grow Spray demonstration. As they wait, to put some context to the inevitable shit-show that’s to follow, two unhappy parents are shepherded from Mr Clark’s office before the Unicorns are ushered inside.

At first, things go quite well in this humorous scene. Mandy vamps in her best PT Barnum sales chic, trying to big-up the product that is surely destined to irritate the principal at best and gravely offend him at worst.

Tables turn from mild amusement to thunderous contempt round about the time that Mandy sprays the Manly Manky Brown (or whatever it’s called) onto the purloined-from-the-art-class Styrofoam head, where it immediately flowed and pooled onto Mr Clark’s desk without attempting to look remotely like hair for a single fucking second.

“That’s enough!” Mr. Clark cried, jumping up from his chair and sweeping the Styrofoam head off his desk into the trash can.

Yup.

Mr Clark admonishes them for their stupidity, and sets things out in crystal. He doesn’t want a video, he doesn’t want hair spray, he doesn’t want a crap cut-price toupee. He wants the Unicorns to replace what they destroyed.

Elizabeth manages to calm things, and Mr Clark states plainly that the Unicorns need to repay him the three hundred dollars. Lila offers to pay the full cost via Daddy’s chequebook, but the principal insists that’s not the point.

He decrees the following: A repayment schedule will be set up, and a hairpiece will be ordered. By the time it is ready to collect, the money will have been returned. The schedule? Fifty dollars a week, for six weeks. Which must be paid, or the Unicorns will be disbanded once more.

Is it just me, or does this sound like mob extortion? Get fucked, Clark, you bald ballsack.

[Wing: I’m still mostly on his side with this, even down to letting Mr Fowler pay doesn’t give the girls any responsibility, to be honest. They fucked up, they need to fix it. As you and Dove discussed above, they’ve already done this song and dance to buy a wig once. Stop fucking around and get it done.]

After leaving the petty principal’s office, the distraught girls discuss options. Eventually, Elizabeth decides that the best (and only) course of action is to start a form of odd-job club to raise the cash required.

Like, how much do these kids get in allowance? Is something like ten dollars per kid per week out of the realms of possibility? There’s eight of them, I’m sure they could pony up fifty dollars per week out of their allowances if they couldn’t be arsed oddjobbing for the next month and a half. And even though he claims he’s all about the Teachable Fucking Moment, I’m sure if Lila just rocked up with fifty dollars a week for six weeks and gave it to Clark’s secretary no questions asked, no eyelid would be fucking batted at all. [Dove: All of this. It’s that weird thing where Sweet Valley floats in the 80s, despite being written in the 90s, but also has a 50s vibe to it because that’s Francine’s teen era, you never know how much value money has. All that said, Lila could still afford it.]

Though I suppose oddjobbing is perfect for these New Improved Unicorns (now with extra spike!) in the Brave New World, so I suppose I shouldn’t be churlish.

So it’s dog-waxing, car-watering, flower-walking and baby-tossing for the foreseeable. Cool. Flyers are suggested.

Saturday! It’s the day of publication for the Unicorn article in the Sweet Valley Tribune. And lo, their copy is front and centre of the local section of the paper, with a photo of Lila and no mention of the Eights.

Talk turns to the day’s trip to the Football Game with the six kids from the SVCCC. The Elder Wakefields are part of the taxi service. Jessica mutters about the Eights, and their likely plans for the day.

“Watch the Eights show up with a bunch of kids they’re baby-sitting,” Jessica predicted.

“They won’t,” I said. “I think they’re too selfish to care about anyone else.”

“Elizabeth!” My mother sounded—and looked—shocked. “I’ve never heard you say something like that before, about anyone.”

Elizabeth gives a half-assed and faltering retraction, before doubling down a little and declaring the Eights “horrible.” It’d be so refreshing if she just went “but Mooooom, the Eights are total cunts!” [Dove: Alice clearly doesn’t remember that delightful time, when Liz was the sassiest twin that ever sassed. Or the time she was tripping balls on lies. Or even that one time she turned evil. I’ll admit the first is a Magna, the second is a Special Edition, but the third is a Chiller, and we’ve had confirmation they are canon.]

The ever-wise patriarch that is Ned fucking Wakefield offers sage advice: never sink to their level. Elizabeth promises to concentrate on having fun with the SVCCC kids (Oliver, Allison, Sandy, Arthur, Ellie and Yuky), but Jessica is still plotting ways to kill those Eight pricks as we switch the scene.

Snap-cut to the pre-game kid collection point, and the girls discuss the flyers they’ve made and distributed and the possible jobs they may receive. Maria also bemoans the fact that they could do without the distraction of Operation Toupee Cash this week of all weeks, as she feels their time would be better spent preparing for the Best Friends appearance.

One by one, the SVCCC kids arrive, and there’s some admitted cuteness in Elizabeth’s discourse about their relationships. We then learn that the game is the big local rivalry: Sweet Valley versus Big Mesa Middle School. The bleachers are packed for this Football extravaganza. Is there a Football programme in Middle Schools? Is it touch-football at this age? [Wing: There is football at middle school ages (there’s football at elementary school ages). After some quick research, I am unsurprised to tell you that I think some official youth teams allow tackling younger than ten (and possibly as young as five). Lately, focus has been on making it safer and allowing children to play different types of football based more on their size than age (which makes sense).]

As the gang take their seats, they see a miscellaneous Peter (Burns) handing out the four-page sports issue of the 7 & 8 Gazette… in which it is soon discovered that the Eights have an article about their upcoming appearance on Best Friends. With not an ounce of Elizabeth’s “journalistic integrity” in sight.

The Unicorns are incensed. The brunt of Jessica’s gall is directed towards her sister. Elizabeth, of course, knows nothing about this, and declares that the Eights must “know someone high up on the staff.”

Aside:

For the past 130+ books, Elizabeth has ruled the journalism roost with her pet project, the Sweet Valley Sixers. A paper which is now curiously unmentioned, as if the staff went “fuck it, we’re not carrying on this vanity press now that fucking Wakefield has fucked off.”

As a mere reporter for the 7 & 8 Gazette, she’s doing fuck all of importance. And I am here for that. Glorious stuff. [Dove: There’s something incredibly satisfying about it all, isn’t there?]

End aside.

Mandy reasonably states that the 7 & 8 Gazette is not a patch on the Sweet Valley Tribune, but Jessica counters with the fact that everyone she knows reads the Gazette. Either way, there’s little course for immediate reaction, so the girls settle down to watch the match with their SVCCC charges to enjoy the gridiron entertainment.

At halftime, the gang are gathered at the concession stand for snacks. As they queue, the Eights pass by, in matching outfits, much to the Unicorns’ disgust. Unfortunately, this distraction sees the gang take their eyes off the metaphorical ball, and the six kids they are charged with supervising is reduced to four. Allison and Yuky have disappeared.

I’m positive that this book is not going in that direction, thankfully.

The Unicorns seach for the kids, and ask the announcer to put out a call to the crowd. Eventually, they find Yuky, who’d gone a-wandering with her cousin Joe. Allison was also there, apparently playing hide and seek. So, no harm and no foul (and no point either).

The entire group returned to their seats, just as the announcer called out that Allison and Yuky should report to the concession area. Apparently, Elizabeth thinks this is an embarrassing flag to everyone present that the Unicorns can’t control six unruly kids. I mean, fuck off. No one is going to give two thoughts to that announcement, and no one will conclude that the Unicorns are irresponsible because of it. Get over yourself, Liz, you idiot.

As they settle in for the second half, there’s a further blow. The announcer proclaims that, as a special treat, the Eights have created a new cheer they’ve written for the game!

The Unicorns are mortified. Why the fuck didn’t they think of doing that?

Honestly, I can see their point. The majority of the Unicorns were a part of the Boosters when they were sixth graders, so cheering was in their blood. Then again, out of the current crop of Unicorns, how many of them were actual Boosters? Jessica, Lila, Ellen? Mary and Mandy weren’t, and neither were Maria or Elizabeth, or Evie of course. So a 3/5 split of Boosters to Non-Boosters means that Cheering is probably not front and centre for them this year. [Wing: Why haven’t they continued the Boosters (beyond some of them leaving)? For that matter, where are the actual cheerleading and/or dance squads? They, like football, exist at this age.]

The cheer itself? Workaday. But it goes down well with the bored crowd. Hooray for the Eights, I guess. How this advances their cause towards World Domination is anyone’s guess, but it definitely serves to get under the Unicorns’ collective skins. [Dove: I also find it hard to care about this, because there’s no stakes in which group the Unicorns think is more popular. It doesn’t make any difference to anything. Even if everyone in school voted unanimously that they prefer the Eights to the Unicorns, so what? How is this any worse than when they were loathed for their pranks, spite, and painting of the lockers. And also, what else does it affect except their egos? And why do I care if their egos get a bit flattened?] [Raven: Fair point.]

Sunday, and we’re back in the Wakefield Compound. Jessica is pacing the walls, champing at the bit to get retribution against the Eight by Eight club.

Operation Odd Jobs is in full effect, and the phone – the Wakefield phone, the number on the flyer – is beginning to ring. Jessica takes the first call, declaring their team to be the Unicorn Odds and Ends Service. It’s a job cleaning house for two hours, paying ten dollars total.

Naturally, Jessica declares it as a perfect job for Elizabeth, and positions herself as the team’s Job Co-Ordinator. Never change, darling.

Monday and Tuesday dash by, full of jobs and schoolwork. Suddenly, it’s Wednesday morning before school, and the Unicorns are hoisting banners to proclaim of their TV appearance the following day. Of course, the Eights are there first.

Let’s look at their respective banners. First, the Unicorns…

T.V. HISTORY WILL BE MADE TOMORROW! CHEER THE UNICORNS TO VICTORY! – Not bad. Pretty route one, but it gets the job done. 6/10.

WATCH THE UNICORNS TRAMPLE THE “CRAZY” EIGHTS. – Needlessly personal, and ableist language. If anything shows that the Eights are in the Unicorns’ heads, it’s this. 2/10

And for the Eights…

THE EIGHTS ON TV! TUNE IN AND SEE WHO’S REALLY BEST FRIENDS. – Direct, pithy, and a subtle dig at their opponents. Nice work. 7/10.

The winner of the Banner Battle? The Eight by Eight Club.

As the glowering girls assemble their bannerage in silent reprobation, the vocal ringleaders start bantering. It’s standard faire, but fun to read. Eventually, the back-and-forth escalates into the inevitable side wager.

“There’s no way you’re going to get more points than we are,” Amanda confidently declared.

“Oh, really?” Jessica gave her a critical look.

“Want to bet?”

Uh-oh, I said to myself. Not another one of Jessica’s bets.

The Unicorns huddle together to formulate a sufficiently humiliating forfeit for the loser. Immediately, I go to the “loser leaves town” stipulation, but that’s the wrestling fan in me. And let’s face it, if it were a “you must disband your club if you lose” thing, there’s be no intrigue. There are twenty-something books in the Unicorn Club series. They’re not losing a “loser leaves town” bet in book fucking three.

Eventually, the call is made. For the side bet, the losing club must… sing Puff the Magic Dragon in the packed school cafeteria the day after the show.

… I mean, sure?

An accord is reached by all parties, and we move on.

That evening, at Casey’s, the Unicorns have a last-minute cram session. At first, everyone is tense about the show the following day. They are scheduled to go straight to the studio for the recording as soon as school is over. However, as the evening progresses, it’s clear to see that the girls are as well-prepared as they’ll ever be. They ask and answer questions with aplomb. The only worry? Stage fright under the harsh lighting and the glare of the camera lens.

Thursday! Show day! Here we fucking go!

The school day is tossed off quickly, as befits the narrative getting to the crux of the matter. Before you can say “gigaplex”, we’re at the TV studio, and Jessica is making her introductions to the receptionist.

“Hello. We’re here for Best Friends,” Jessica said proudly.

“Studio audience?” the receptionist asked.

Jessica looked highly insulted. “Contestants!” she said.

Hah. Peak Jessica right there.

The girls are ushered backstage, to a rather grim makeup area. Lila is personally affronted by the cheap tawdry surroundings, and declares she’s going to do her own hair and makeup. They bump into Julia of the Eights, who’s wearing a white t-shirt adorned with a large eight-ball front and back. To be honest, that sounds pretty good.

Julia tells the Unicorns that Amanda is talking with Brandon, the presenter. [Dove: Again, I was expecting a reveal of, “Oh yeah, he’s my cousin.” Sigh.] She then mentions the set, and tells everyone it has a certain retro chic. Elizabeth is dumbfounded, as it’s the first time Julia has said anything even approaching nice to her. She puts it down to nerves, while I’m hoping it’s a nascent face turn.

The closer to the stage the girls get, the more they can hear the assembling throng. They even pick out Steven’s voice cheering their names in preparation. Amanda is there, and she says something shitty. Of course.

Soon, bizarrely, the entire crowd begin chanting for either the Unicorns or the Eight by Eight club. It’s all very Simpsons.

As the teams wait in the wings, Elizabeth meets the insincere Dan Peterson, who lets them (and us) what’s going to happen. The Unicorns will stand here, the Eights will stand there, Brandon will be in the middle, and so on.

We also get this:

“OK, everyone.” Dan clapped his hands together. “We’re on the air in two minutes, so listen up. When I introduce you to the audience, you come running out and take your positions behind your counters here.” He pointed to the long counters on each side of the stage. “And remember what I told you on the phone—you are absolutely not allowed to use any words that wouldn’t get past the censors, and I’m sure you know which ones I mean. Also, remember to look at the camera sometimes, and smile a lot. Please don’t talk among yourselves between questions—it’s too distracting. Got all that?”

Hah! “You’re live from the Big Brother House, please do not swear.” I’d fucking love it if Jessica went all wild woman in the face of defeat, pulled out a shiv and called everybody a cunt on live television.

Dan announces each team in turn, Eights followed by Unicorns (alphabetical order, I suppose [Dove: Or is one of them related to him…? No. No they’re not.]). The teams bounce and smile to their spots, and Brandon Blitzen takes up his position as the applause dies down.

It’s SHOWTIME!

Aside:

Before we get into the game show, I guess I should let the readers know how I think events will play out.

First, I think that the Eights will win. The Unicorns will likely get asked tricky questions that they cannot answer, while the Eights will smash a host of easy questions out of the park.

The Unicorns will have to sing Puff the Magic Dragon in the school cafeteria.

 BUT!

Before they have to do so, the Eights will be found out as cheaters. They’ll have been given the questions in advance, or something, and it’ll be the EIGHTS that are forced to sing the forfeit. [Dove: Possibly because one of them is related to someone on the show…?]

Yep, that sounds very plausible. To the action we go!

End aside.

Brandon, the presenter, sashays his way through a slightly sarcastic introductory section, in which neither the Eights nor the Unicorns cover themselves in tiramisu. There’s even an “am I seeing double” spit-take from the host when he sees the twins, which Elizabeth rightly flags as being a pet peeve of theirs (nice work, Ghostie!). Then, each team of eight is split into two teams of four. We have…

Julia, Marcy, Amanda and Carmen (Team A), paired with whoever the other four Eights may be (Team B), and…

Elizabeth, Lila, Mandy and Maria (Team A), paired with Jessica, Ellen, Mary and Evie (Team B). [Wing: Wouldn’t you want the twins on the same team if you were the show? Seems like they’d have an unfair advantage if they’re on opposite teams. Who knows if the show cares about that, I guess.]

As the show goers to commercial break, both Team B’s are led to the “soundproof room” so they can’t hear the answers to the questions pose to their respective Team A’s. Then the Team B’s are pulled from isolation and have to mirror the answers given from the Team A’s, with each being worth ten sweet points. Then the roles are reversed, and we go again. Eight questions for each squad, with the final question being worth a bonus of twenty-five points total. Easy.

Once we’re back from commercial, the questions start flying. Let’s break them down here.

  • Elizabeth is asked, of Jessica: What is Jessica’s idea of happiness? Elizabeth answers: An all-expenses shopping spree to Beverly Hills. With Johnny Buck.
  • Julia is asked, of Gretchen: If Gretchen could go anyplace in the word, where would it be? Julia answers: The Mall of America. (WTF? I mean, what even is that? Also, Elizabeth agrees that it’s a crap answer) [Wing: The largest mall in North America. Oh, I mean largest “shopping and entertainment complex.” It’s in Minnesota. Elizabeth is damn judgmental considering hers is also a shopping trip, though with better details.]
  • Lila is asked, of Ellen: If Ellen were sent to a desert island and could only bring one thing with her, what would it be? Lila answers: CD player. [Wing: As we learned back in Barnyard Battle, Jessica is far more likely to bring a CD player (or boom box in that case).]
  • Marcy is asked, of Susan: What is Susan’s idea of the perfect date? What would be the defining characteristic? Marcy answers: Susan is hot for basketball players. [Wing: I would always take this question to be asking about the activities in the date itself, not the person.]
  • Mandy is asked the same question, of Mary: What is Mary’s idea of the perfect date? Mandy answers: Someone preppie, like her.
  • Carmen is asked, of Kirsten: What is Kirsten’s most prized possession? Carmen answers: Her autographed picture of Brad Marshall, the actor.
  • Maria is asked the same question, of Evie: What is Evie’s most prized possession? Maria answers: Her violin.
  • Amanda is asked, of Erica: If Erica were going on a trip and she could only bring one piece of luggage, how big would it be? Amanda answers, with a laugh: A huge trunk.

And that concludes the first half of Round One!

I guess my theory of “easy questions for the Eights, tough ones for the Unicorns” hasn’t worked here. The questions all seem of a similar inane standard, with maybe the exception of the oddity of Amanda’s question at the end.

The respective Team B’s are returned from their “isolation booths”, and Elizabeth is quietly confident that they’ll ace the first round. Forty points in the bag, baby!

Things, however, don’t pan out quite the way she hopes…

  • Jessica answers, for her idea of happiness: “Having my family safe and happy. If they’re happy, then I am, too.” Along with a proclamation that she’s not that shallow when she hears Elizabeth’s original answer. Zero points.
  • Gretchen answers, for her dream destination: The Mall of America. Ding! Ten points.
  • Ellen answers, after asking a myriad of supplemental questions, for her desert island item: Non-perishable food items, like canned goods and rice cakes. AMAZING. Zero points. [Dove: Genuine high point. Ellen was written sooo well here. A+ ghostie.] [Wing: I love this Ellen.]
  • Eights: Susan answers, for her perfect date: A basketball player. Ding! Twenty points.
  • Unicorns: Mary answers, for her perfect date: Just someone nice. ZERO POINTS.
  • Eights: Kirsten answers, for her prized possession: Her signed photo of Brad Marshall. DING! Thirty points.
  • Unicorns: Evie answers, for her prized possession: Her grandmother’s thrift store. Which isn’t even hers. Zero points.
  • Eights: Erica answers, for her one piece of luggage: A huge trunk. DING DING DING. Forty points, maximum score.

Predictably, the Unicorns have a mini meltdown. They realise that while they can still mathematically win, it’d only happen if they got all their questions right while the Eights got all their questions wrong. So as likely as any other tale of the Wakefield’s winning: around 90%.

We’re onto round two, and the A Teams are banished to the soundproof room (which turns out to be a basement closet full of noisy equipment. When they return, the Unicorn Team B is smiling.

I figured the questions must have been a little easier, or at least more straightforward, this time around. Maybe it’s astrological signs, I thought hopefully, or favorite foods.

Bless you Elizabeth, but I think your optimism is a little premature.

The Eights get the first question wrong, which gives the Unicorns a chance. A chance they promptly blow when Mandy tells everyone her favourite sport is baseball after Mary told the world it was soccer. Mandy is angry, and lets it show.

The Eights get all their remaining questions right, while the Unicorns implode, bickering with a salty tone throughout. Finally, with the score INFINITE to ZERO in favour of the Eights, it’s left to Elizabeth and Jessica to save face and avoid a total whitewash by nailing the bonus question.

“OK, Elizabeth. Here we go. I still have faith in you Unicorns.” Brandon picked up the next index card. “On a scale from one to ten, with ten being the highest, how did Jessica say you would rate the food at your school cafeteria?”

What does that have to do with friendship? I wanted to ask—no, yell.

She’s got a fair point there. I mean, a friend would be able to hit the right quadrant of the circle, as talk of how yummy or awful the menu is would have occurred, but nailing the difference between a 7/10 and a 6/10 is a little too nuanced for a twelve-year-old on daytime TV. [Dove: Raven and I have been together nearly two decades. I would not be good at guessing what he rates food on a scale of 1-10. It’s a daft question.] [Wing: I couldn’t even tell you how I rate food on a scale of 1-10 if I’m asked at two separate times even on the same day.]

Elizabeth wracks her brain, before realising that good old predictable Jessica is trying signal the answer by tapping her foot like a mathematical horse act, going full on Charles Ingram. Being the prim and proper saint that she is, Elizabeth blocks her ears to all cheaty subterfuge and plucks a number from the either.

Four.

BZZZZ! Incorrect!

The answer is, of course… three.

Jessica is LIVID, and makes her feelings as visible as possible.

With a final score of Eights ninety-five and Unicorns zero, the Eights take the day. The prizes for the winners? Each receives a twenty-five dollar gift certificate to CDs Plus, a new music store in Sweet Valley. [Dove: Did Valley Records go under? Has the tide finally turned on vinyl?] [Wing: Not to worry, Valley Records, the vinyl love shall return.] The losers get some sample packs of shampoo and soap, plus a voucher for dinner for 8 at the kid’s burger restaurant Weird Wally’s.

The Unicorns are not pleased with this childish gift. Why? It sounds like a lovely place to take the kids from SVCCC. Surely that’ll come up later? (Note from Future Raven: This does NOT come up later).

The show ends with a pithy comment from the Eights, plus a reminder that the Unicorns had to perform a rendition of Puff the Magic Dragon in the school cafeteria the following day.

We start Chapter 10 with the journey home from the studio. The Unicorns are still upset with each other, and refuse to communicate. The Elder Wakefields are consoling, but it’s futile. Even Steven isn’t being an arsehole for once.

Elizabeth ruminates on their failures. Maybe the Unicorns just aren‘t the friends that they thought they were. However, with some good old-fashioned soul searching, Elizabeth manages to theorise that the things they’d been working on, like star signs and favourite foods, didn’t mean a hill of beans in the real world. The girls acted like best friends regardless of this superficial knowledge. [Dove: Also, as I mentioned earlier, they’re not all best friends with each other. Liz is BF with Jess, and likes Mary and Mandy and Maria, but doesn’t really know Lila or Ellen. Maria, much the same as Liz, except she doesn’t really know Jess either. Evie only joined a week or so ago. They’re not best friends. They’re a social group of friends.]

Or, at least, they had. But they didn’t act like friends on the Best Friends show. Rather, they acted the opposite, sniping and snarking and backbiting at each step.

So was this the end? Were the Unicorns finished as a group? The remaining twenty books of this subseries tell me otherwise

We’re getting close to the thin edge of the wedge, so it’s time to step things up a notch.

At school the following day, the Unicorns each do their best to blank each other at every step. This culminates in Elizabeth being the only member in the cafeteria come midday, when they were supposed to be singing Puff the Magic Dragon.

In their place, four of the seventh grade boys – Charlie Cashman, Rick Hunter, Aaron Dallas, and Todd Wilkins, stage their own special rendition of the Best Friends show from the previous day, lampooning the Unicorns and their ignoble performance in a hurtful but humorous way.

I mean, NO. NO NO NO.

TODD fucking WILKINS is chosen to be a participant in this ill-conceived theatre of cruelty? Playing up to the cheap seats, and the Eights, who are lapping it up with glee? Also, Ken Matthews, who is assigned as the host, is described as “tall and blonde”. THERE WAS AN ENTIRE BOOK ABOUT HIM BEING A SHORTARSE, FOR FUCK’S SAKE. [Dove: *points* See? There’s a rule, people.]

Elizabeth is mortified, but somehow doesn’t mention that a particular bugbear might be, I dunno, her BOYFRIEND being party to making her look like a complete ass. She makes to leave, before being collared by Amanda Harmon, who’s enquiring about the forfeit song. Elizabeth assures her that the Unicorns will perform it on Monday.

That night, Elizabeth press-gangs Mandy into calling an emergency meeting of the Unicorns. Long story short, they all realise that their friendship transcends the crappy show performance, and that the only reason that the Eights were so good at the quiz is that they are all practically the same person.

“And then there’s the Eights,” I said. “They dress alike, look alike—”

“Act mean alike—”

“They got those answers right because they all like to date basketball players, and they all want to go to the Mall of America,” Jessica declared. “That’s probably what they sit around and talk about!”

“It’s like all eight of them are sharing one brain,” Mary said.

Aside:

So it appears that the Eights won the show, fair and square. Which is fine, I guess.

It’d have been much more fun to have them outed as cheats.

This could even be shown with the above line about them all liking the Mall of America, or Basketball Players. They should have schemed together and come up with a plan: If there’s a question about favourite places, we’ll all answer “The Mall of America.” If there’s a question about turn-ons, we’ll all say “basketball players.” If there’s a question about favourite foods, we’ll all say “pepperoni pizza”, and so on. Bosh! The quiz is won, until sometime later in the book we overhear Julia or someone saying she hates pizza, and the subterfuge is uncovered. [Dove: Or, y’know, they might have been related to someone on the show, and got the answers ahead of time. Ok. I’ll let it go now.]

I guess there’s a friendship lesson in the book as-written. I still feel my way would be more fun.

End aside.

Finally, the Unicorns decide to flip the script on the Puff the Magic Dragon forfeit, by coming up with their own cool hip-hop dance routine that fulfils the rules of the brief if not the spirit. It’s pleasingly done, not dissimilar to Pinkie Pie rapping about the Wonderbolts, below.

Everyone goes wild for the Unicorns’ performance, apart from Amanda, who storms off. Even Julia and Carmen of the Eights give a smile and a clap as they leave. I trust there’ll be more to this Eights vs Unicorns rivalry in books to come, with some defections and friendships made along the way.

There’s one thing left to mention: Operation Toupee.

Mr Clark is presented with seventy-five dollars as payment for Week One of their agreement, and is so impressed by the cash and their conduct in general that he agrees to waive the fee down to a cool one hundred dollars, which will go towards the building of a beach volleyball court. He also decides to forgo the toupee in future, realising that Bald is the New Hairy and that he can always compensate by growing a GREAT BIG BUSHY BEARD. [Dove: *giggles*]

Final Thoughts:

I think I enjoyed this, but it wasn’t a patch on the previous two.

Being positive, I thought it was very well paced. So many books from the earlier series gave too much time to the build up and thus tossed off the supposed important denouement in a couple of paragraphs (I’m talking to you, The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley). This one gave full and proper value to the game show, and the forfeit, and it was appreciated. And the dialogue was light and fun, and certainly maintained a standard set by the two previous books.

But the continuity, and the care? Almost invisible in this one. There were so many instances where the Ghostie fucked up, and each one felt like a slivered paper-cut to the eyeball. Like Popeye, the anger built up until I could not stands no more, and it marred my enjoyment to a fatal degree.

And if I’m honest? I’m over Elizabeth. As the true protagonist of the entire series (I’m sorry, Jessica, but it’s true), it feels like EVERY book has been from her point of view. This one felt a little workaday. Let’s hoping the next, from Lila’s perspective, has a little more junk in the trunk.

[Dove: I also wasn’t madly in love with this one either. I’m kind of over them being on TV all the time, and I think they haven’t really been together long enough to know every member of the group as a BFF. Also, the continuity. I’ve let things slide in the past two books because the story was good, but here I just wasn’t invested enough. I agree with Raven, we’re a bit over the Wakefield POV. Still, that Ellen moment was a delight, so more of that and less of the Wakefields, please.]

[Wing: It’s an Elizabeth book. I didn’t want nor expect an Elizabeth book in the Unicorn Club series, so my disappointment in this book is probably greater than it deserves. It was fun, but flat, and the lack of continuity (especially after a freaking GHOST continuity before) was obnoxious. I hope we get, at most, one Jessica book and then no other twin POVs. I do like the 8×8 quite a bit and want to see more of this rivalry.]