I will probably never again succeed in doing two of these in order, so I think we should all pause for a moment to celebrate.
Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School’s annual charity carnival
Recap: The ghostwriter either noticed that there’s no way the Unicorns could “always have the coolest booth” if they’re in sixth grade, or this is a different, more logical, ghostwriter. Because the book starts out by pointing out that now that they’re in sixth grade the Unicorns finally get to participate in the school carnival, which raises money for charity. If this is a school thing, I don’t get why the Unicorns even get to have a booth. They’re hardly a school club or anything.
Anyway, while they’re trying to come up with an idea, Mary shows up late to the meeting with exciting news: Johnny Buck is coming to Sweet Valley. Everyone wants to go, but especially Mary and Jessica because they’re huge fans.
Also going on in the background: someone named Peter Burns has a huge crush on Mary. She likes him as a friend, but because he’s a “geek” and won second place in the science fair the Unicorns make fun of him, and try to convince Mary to be mean to him so he’ll stop talking to her.
It turns out there will be only two thousand tickets for the Johnny Buck concert, so the Tribune is holding a contest. One thousand randomly selected (I presume) winners will get two tickets each. Every entry has to include a form from the paper, so Steven Wakefield buys thirty copies, and Jessica buys six (all she can afford). Elizabeth was awake first, so she just sent in the one entry from the Wakefields’ copy of the paper. (Mary, it turns out, bought seventy-five copies.) Steven and the twins make a bet that whoever doesn’t get to go has to do the others’ Sunday chores for a month.
Jessica starts sucking up to all the other Unicorns so that if one of them wins she’ll get invited along. Nice.
Steven wins two tickets, and plans to take his girlfriend, Cathy Connors. Neither Elizabeth nor Jessica win, but Amy does, and she invites Elizabeth along.
Steven is a dork, so he loses his tickets. After making Jessica swear (in front of their parents) that she didn’t hide them, he agrees to her deal: if she helps him find the tickets, she gets to go with Cathy. I don’t even know who Cathy is, but she’d probably have more fun dating Jess than Steven. No, wait: that’s not what Jessica meant. She just wants to go, and convinces Steven that Cathy will only be even more impressed with him for giving his ticket to his kid sister. Uh, whatever.
Meanwhile Jessica has come up with the perfect idea for the Unicorns’ booth: they can concoct a purple drink and sell tiny bottles of “love potion.” That is actually cute. Nowadays some idiot would sue them because it didn’t work, or the city would shut them down for not having a food service license. Lila’s father pays for four hundred glass bottles to sell the stuff in, and Mary finds a recipe for pineapple punch (they use food colouring to make it purple).
The Unicorns have also convinced Mary to go out with a basketball player named Tim Davis, because he’s cute and on the basketball team. Janet tells Tim that Mary likes him, so he calls Mary and invites her to a picnic, and she agrees. The closer they get to the date the less she likes him, because all he talks about is how well he plays basketball. He’s a conceited blowhard, but she convinces herself he’s just made a bad first impression and deserves a chance, so she still agrees to go to the picnic (the day after the carnival) with him.
Peter, meanwhile, has been being adorable: helping with the stupid special edition of the Sixers (that’s what the Sixers‘ booth is going to do, sell an edition that profiles all the charities that will benefit from the carnival), bringing Mary a not-yet-on-the-shelves edition of a magazine his uncle works at because Johnny Buck is on the cover, and just generally being thoughtful. I am entirely Team Peter.
Steven finds his tickets inside his geometry book, which he hasn’t looked at for a week. So he gets to take Cathy to the concert, but otherwise he’s grounded.
Mr. Bowman, the English teacher, was one of the ticket winners, but in order to raise money for the carnival he holds a raffle. Everyone can only enter once, for fifty cents.
At the carnival Jessica attempts to poison Peter by convincing him to buy a bottle of love potion, only because they’d sold all four hundred bottles of the punch she makes up something hideous with hot sauce and sugar and other crap. He turns pale and then green, and the Unicorns all laugh merrily over what a sucker he is.
Elizabeth, Amy, and Mr. Bowman go into the school alone. Elizabeth draws the ticket stub, and I guess Amy is there as a witness or chaperone or something, and it turns out Peter has won Mr. Bowman’s tickets. This is supposed to be kept secret until the picnic. Liz is an idiot, so when Jessica tries to “read her mind” she actually agrees to write the winner’s name on a napkin to help Jessica “visualize.” Jessica steals the napkin and promptly tells all the Unicorns that Peter won, except she can’t reach Mary because Mary has already left her house to go to that picnic with Tim.
Mary’s date with Tim is a disaster. His father is too selfish to pick her up, so she gets dropped at Tim’s house only to find out they don’t have a ride to the picnic after all. They have to ride bikes, and Tim lends her his mother’s, which is so big Mary has to stand up to ride it. Then it gets a flat tire, and ruins her dress, and she ends up walking. When she gets to the picnic she dumps Tim and apologizes to Peter.
I was actually worried that Peter would have guessed (from the way the Unicorns were fawning over him) that he’d won and people knew, and that he’d reject Mary out of suspicion she was after a ticket. But strangely, even though he shares a town with the sociopathic Jessica and her manipulative friends, he’s a nice, non-suspicious boy. He tells her he was willing to try anything, even the horrible love potion. Then Mr. Bowman announces that Peter has won the tickets, and he walks back to Mary and hands her one and gives the other to Jessica.
I took a bunch of deep breaths at this point, and managed to remind myself to view Jessica as an Id-fulfillment fantasy rather than as a “character” in the normal sense. Because she never learns anything for longer than a chapter, and never grows or changes or develops, yet she gets absolutely everything she wants all the time.
Janet was Lila’s cousin, and an eighth-grader. She was also president of the Unicorn Club, which made her just about the most important person in the middle school. (pp. 2-3)
The Sociopath at Home:
If Steven won the contest and she didn’t…well, there was really only one solution. She’d have to kill him and take the tickets. He left her no other choice. (p. 16)
“Do you still think that?” Jessica asked. “Steven, I’m not that dumb. If I had stolen them, I’d be keeping both of them, not turning one over to you.” (p. 73)
It Runs in the Family:
He knitted his eyebrows thoughtfully. “I guess I could search Cathy’s room when she’s not looking.” (p. 89)
That last bit is Steven. He doesn’t want to call his girlfriend and ask if he left the tickets at her house, because that will make him look dumb, but he’s willing to search her room without permission.