Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Unicorn Club #2 - Maria's Movie Comeback

I must apologize for recapping out of order here, but I did not plan on doing a UC book. I just couldn't resist when I saw this on the shelf at the used book store, especially since I haven't read a Unicorn Club book in ages. I know I read most of them, but this was one of the first ones that I read, so I don't remember much of it. Sorry to all you OCD readers out there, I couldn't locate book #1 first!!!!

From left to right we have some random Asian girl (Jade Wu?), Jessica (wearing a very stupid hat), Maria (oooh, she's THAT Maria, I can never keep my Marias straight!!!), and some girl rocking some jeggings. Mystery girl looks like Lindsay Lohan, so I will assume that is who she is until I am told otherwise.

The back cover of this fine novel is the most confusing thing I have ever read. It begins, oddly, with "Pfew!" Whatever that means. Maria is narrating this one, and it appears to be autographed by her!!! WOW, remind me to E-Bay this copy!!! Maria goes onto tell us that the UC is trying to raise money for a new hairpiece for their principal, Mr. Clark. Jess stole his old one, I guess. To accomplish this, they got jobs, but then the roof caved in at this daycare center where they volunteer. Maria confuses the hell out of me by saying, "Mr. Clark's roof was one thing..." (I now begin to mourn the loss of the daycare center's hairpiece!!!) so now Maria is going to be in some movie to raise the money for the roof and the hairpiece (wait, I thought they got jobs to cover that? What the hell? I am SO confused right now.) and she's all worked up over having to kiss some "super-hunk" on camera.

The back cover also (helpfully) lists the entire Unicorn Club for me: Lila, Mary, Jessica, Ellen, Maria, Elizabeth, Mandy, and Evie. (Oh, now I know who the Asian girl on the cover is!!! I always liked Evie!!!)

This book was published in February of 1994, and the author is listed as Alice Nicole Johansson. I cheer inwardly because of my intense hatred of Jamie Suzanne.

We begin with a Unicorn Club (UC, as I like to call it) meeting at Mandy's house. Maria, one of the newest Unicorns wastes no time launching into a description of the UC. Janet Howell has gone onto high school (NOOOO!!!!), and Mandy Miller appears to have taken over. But, since Mandy is in charge, the Unicorns are all nice and shit. Mandy's philosophy: "A good club brings out the best in its' members, not the worst". The UC is no longer all snobby and boy-crazed. They've even let ELIZABETH join, and now they ALL do charity work. Apparently, this charity work is a new thing.

You see, in book #1, the UC got into a DARE WAR to see who was fit to replace Janet. Things spiraled out of control, and Jess and Lila ended up stealing the principal's toupee. Jess also painted a purple stripe down an entire hallway of lockers, so now Jess has to repaint in addition to replacing the toupee. Mr. Clark was so pissed that he sentenced the entire UC to 30 hours of community service and placed them on probation. They ended up working at the daycare center, and they are actually enjoying it.

Next, Maria describes each member of the club. I'll keep it simple:
Mandy: President, full of sensible solutions and common sense (wait- are we talking about LIZ?!?!), free spirit, and a thrifty fashionista who can put together amazing outfits for dirt cheap.
Mary: Sweet, preppy, blonde.
Lila: Lives like a Beverly Hills movie star, has a rich dad. Lila is secretly very sweet and charitable. She likes to give money to poor people.
Ellen: Hard-to-read, ditsy and funny, but kind of a follower. (Ouch, Maria is a bit MEAN if you ask me.)
Jess and Liz: Twins (duh!), Liz is down to earth and brilliant; Jess is spaced out and basically stupid when it come to school. Jess always causes trouble and expects to be bailed out by Liz. Liz has vowed not to let Jess drag her into so much shit this year...yeah, right!!! Liz is also Maria's BFF.
Maria: Former child star, was once on the cover of "FOLKS" magazine (obvious rip-off!!!) with her dazzling smile. Star of macaroni and toilet paper commercials, TV, and a few movies. She hit an awkward age and the parts stopped coming, so her parents moved her to Sweet Valley with her older sister Nina. Maria's dad is a financial analyst for a big accounting firm, so you know he didn't screw her out of any of her Hollywood $$$. Apparently, Maria's parents are straight stupid, however, they believe SVMS is one of the finest middle schools in the country. Okay then...keep believing that.

Anyways, back to our recap-within-a-recap, book #1 ends with the kids from the daycare center going to Mr. Clark and protesting his banishment of the Unicorn Club. They made signs and protested, and it seems more appropriate for a BSC book. Luckily, Mr. Clark agreed not to banish the UC. Instead, the girls must pay for the damages and do their community service...

Back to the present, the UC is brainstorming to raise money. Mandy looks down at her outfit and inspiration strikes. (Her outfit- baggy canvas pants, a ribbed T-shirt, a string vest, and a hat like a Smurf would wear...yes, Maria tells us that.) Mandy shops at thrift stores (duh), and there's a new one in Sweet Valley called the Attic. The owner is looking for somebody to work the closing shift while she is out of town for 2 weeks. It's from 3:30 to 6:30, so it works out perfectly for the Unicorns. And I seriously question the sanity of anyone who would even consider hiring a crew of 13 years olds to operate a business...

Maria leaves the meeting with Liz. She tells Liz that she auditioned for the lead in the upcoming SVMS play. Maria is positive that she will get it (wow, cocky much?), and Liz reassures her that nobody is more talented than THE Maria Slater, child STAR!!! Maria agrees, of course. Liz also shows Maria an article she found in some random paper. It seems that a director by the name of Tom Sanders is coming to Sweet Valley to shoot an indie/teen flick!!!!

Liz and Maria speculate that this is happening because a movie was filmed in SV the previous year. Yes, it was that damn RUBY NECKLACE movie!!! Maria mentioned that the director (who is now a MALE...what happened to Becka? Sex change, I imagine) had a REAL monster in the movie- Shawn Brockaway. My heart aches when I realize that this means that, even a year later, no one has noticed that Shawn obviously needs either a break from acting, or psychiatric help and a good emancipation lawyer... That poor, poor child. I hope she isn't in this movie, because watching her inward turmoil is truly heart-wrenching.

The following day, Mandy and Maria go to the Attic to apply for the positions. The store's inventory looks familiar to Maria, and she soon learns why. The owner, Clara Kim, is also a former actress. She met Maria while they were filming a diaper commercial, and they filmed a TV movie together a few summers prior. Clara has moved to SV with her granddaughter, Evie. (Wait, they're just meeting Evie NOW? But she's listed as a UC member on the back of the book. Way to spoil this one!!!) Evie is a year younger than Maria, but they used to be great friends. Evie obviously lives with Clara because she was on set everyday, and Maria visited Evie at Clara's every weekend while filming. Maria wonders why Clara is selling all of her furniture...

Evie shows up just then, carrying a violin case and acting shy. Maria does not remember her being shy at all, so she is suspicious of the situation. Clara explains that, as she aged, work became harder and harder to get and she began to go broke. She sold her huge Beverly Hills estate and moved to SV where living is cheaper. Clara is desperate for money, so she's going to NYC to meet with people who can get her jobs. Evie will be staying home, and working a few hours. Clara says that Evie is super talented, and that her violin will have to always be her #1 priority, and I begin to wonder if Clara is a stage grandmother. She's obviously trying to make Evie famous, and I question her motives. Maria is thrilled to have Evie back in her life. Evie used to follow Maria everywhere like a shadow, and Maria loved being worshiped. Clara hires them on the spot, and Maria runs to tell Liz the good news.

At Casa Wakefield, Liz and Maria decide to make it a point to befriend Evie ASAP. Because, you know, they LOVE a good excuse to make someone a charity case. And Evie is a perfect victim for this. That poor girl obviously had low self-esteem from the moment she met Maria, and throw in a broke grandmother (PLUS, no parent)... Interrupting this, the rest of the UC returns home from buying locker paint. Well, they ordered the paint and will have to pick it up later. In the meantime, they've outfitted themselves in cute painting clothes. Jess imagines it will only take an hour to paint the lockers (not likely, trust me!!!), so she begins a long string of putting off going back to get the paint. It continues for most of the book, and I won't bother to mention it each time. The Unicorns also brought home like a million pieces of paper with paint colors on them. I like to do that when I go to hardward stores, even if I'm not painting anything. I just like to explore my options.

Maria goes home and tells her family all about Clara. Her mom promises to invite Clara and Evie over for dinner as soon as Clara returns. Maria is pleased, and she -bitchily- thinks how it's about damn time that somebody did something nice for Clara and Evie. Since, you know, they're all broke and shit.

The following day, the UC goes to service the community by going to the daycare center. Maria explains how it's a non-profit place, and most of the families are poor and disadvantaged. The families rely on the center to watch their children while they look for work (or sit at the welfare office, as Maria probably assumes). The Unicorns have bonded with the children that frequent the place, and we get a description of some of them.

Sadly, the UC arrives to find the center's roof has caved in!!! Nobody was hurt, but the law prohibits having kids in such conditions, so the center is forced to shut down. Since they're non-profit, they have zero money to fix the damages, and all of the parents whine about this to the Unicorns as they collect their kids. The mother of a little Asian boy named Arthur Foo (he has like 20 brothers and sisters) is particularly upset. She cannot miss work, so her oldest son will have to stop going to college so somebody can watch Arthur. She actually ASKS if school attendance is mandatory for children under 16, and she seems to be disappointed by the fact that it is. I think somebody should really be calling CPS right about now... Ellie (Lila's favorite child at the shelter, she even got her mother a job working for Mr. F.!!!) is very upset, and her mother is devastated that she will have to miss work to watch her. She believes she may get fired. (So she can dump her problems on 13 year olds, but she stops shy of ASKING Lila to explain this to her father? Knowing Lila gets whatever she wants? Wow, Mrs. Ellie is none-too-smart.) QUICK, CALL THE BSC!!!! I bet Kristy Thomas would already have shown up with emergency babysitting reinforcements had this happened in Stoneybrook...

Maria and Mandy start working that afternoon. Since this is SV, they spend much of their shift trying on clothes. (I work retail and you can get FIRED for doing that if it isn't your scheduled break... This is exactly why you do NOT hire 13 year olds!!!) The rest of the UC shows up to keep them company, and Maria gets her Derek Zoolander on by giving them an impromptu fashion show with outfits created by Mandy. Suddenly, Tom Sanders (indie director mentioned earlier) strolls in and declares that their style is perfect for his movie, "Secondhand Rose". He recognizes Maria right away, and -creepily- tells her that he's been a fan since her first commercial (wait...she did DIAPER commercials, dude!!!) and she'll be perfect for a small part in his newest teen movie. It's low-budget and indie, but all of his movies have been successful. Tommy boy is the mastermind behind such winners as "Teen Magic" and "Prom Secret", and all of the Unicorns are fans. He offers Maria double scale for her work, and she holds out for triple because she is in desperate need of some serious cash flow. He agrees without so much as a second thought. Because Maria is just THAT great.

Maria's parents agree to let her do the movie even though they wanted her to be a normal girl. They think she's being unselfish by donating her earnings, so the daycare center is saved!!!! Yay!!!

At school, Maria continues Project Evie. She invites her little minion to sit with the UC at lunch, and Evie immediately raves about how famous Maria was and how great she is. The UC is hurt that Maria never told them exactly how successful her career was, so they quickly change the subject to Evie. Evie readily tells them how broke her grandmother is before leaving to practice her violin. As soon as she's gone, the UC agrees to make Project Evie a team effort. They decide to start a thrift store clothing trend so Clara will make lots of money and not be so broke.

Maria's day goes from bad to worse when she gets an essay back and sees a "B" instead of the "A" she wanted. She tries to talk the teacher into changing it with one of her famous smiles, but he doesn't fall for it. Maria is beginning to think she's lost her mojo. It gets even worse when Maria goes to work and is unable to sell some furniture to some snobby rich people. They don't even recognize her!!!! Oh, the HORROR!!!! NOT!!!! Deal with it, bitch.

Things progress even further when Maria's script is delivered. She learns that she has a KISSING SCENE. She's never done one before because she was too young, but now she has to kiss a super-hottie named Brad Marshall. He's like the hottest teen star ever. Like, hotter than Zac Efron and Justin Bieber combined!!! Maria's worked with him before, and she has a HUGE secret crush on him. (The book says she's "in crush" with him, whatever that means...) Oh shit!!! Nobody knows about this, but I imagine they soon will.

The UC debuts their thrift store getups the next day at school. Liz wears a pink cashmere sweater set with a poodle skirt and pearls, and nobody is surprised at all. But, as for the rest of the UC, they look SMASHING!!!! Everybody is shocked by how awesome they look, and nobody believes that their outfits were each less than $15. Randy Mason (super-nerd) "volunteers" to be made over, and the UC turns him into the "Prince of Trendy" by combining elements of Buddy Holly, Elvis, and James Dean. All sexy men, but not exactly "trendy", even in 1994. Everybody from SVMS shows up at the store to watch the makeover, and to buy outfits styled by Mandy. Evie is in awe of the boom in business, and Jess chooses that moment to inform Evie that they're doing it so she won't be so broke anymore. Maria expects Evie to get pissed, but Evie merely thanks them and hugs them because she appreciates it. What a nice girl!!!!

As the day of the shoot draws near, Maria begins to doubt herself and she starts to have panic attacks. She talks about this to her sister, and Nina tells her that she'll be just fine. Maria only thinks she sucks, but it's actually just her style that's changed. She's like, more mature now. Maria is doubtful of this, and she also begins to feel super ugly and even more awkward than before. None of this is helped by the fact that Maria is informed that she will NOT be the lead in the school play.

Maria holds it all inside and goes to school like she always does. Tom randomly shows up one day and wants to shoot some photos of Maria at school. He thinks it will be great publicity for the movie, and the principal agrees to it. Tom follows Maria around and notices how fashion-y everybody is dressed. He loves it, and instantly decides to film Maria's scene at SVMS, in front of the lockers that Jess STILL hasn't painted. So now Maria has to kiss Brad in front of EVERYBODY. Tom even wants to use SVMS students as extras, as long as everybody wears clothing chosen by Mandy. The principal agrees to it, but he insists that Jess paint the lockers before filming. Brad appears just then and kisses Maria on the cheek. Maria is now even more freaked because Brad = super gorgeous.

Maris thinks things over, and she raises a moral question. All of the Unicorns feel responsible for saving the center and replacing the toupee, even if Jess caused most of the chaos. Maria wonders if it is truly HER sole responsibility to buy the center a new roof. (I think they should have INSURANCE, but don't tell Maria because I want that insufferable bitch to SUFFER!!!!!!!) Maria proves just how insufferable by faking sick and getting sympathy from MANDY MILLER. Dude, she had CANCER, you bitch!!! Maria so generously agrees to cover Mandy's shift at the Attic so that Mandy can go to the doctor and make sure she hasn't gotten cancer again. Maria practices lying to Tom in the emptiness of the store, desperate to back out of the film. Evie comes home early and hears her.

This time, Evie doesn't hold back. She lets loose and yells at Maria for letting everybody down. She's disgusted by how easily Maria is giving up, and she lets her know this. She calls Maria a fake actress and basically tells her she sucks as a human being. See, I knew there was a reason why I liked Evie!!! Maris goes home and cries about it.

Maria's mom knows something's up with Maria, but even she thinks Maria is a terrible person for wanting to back out of her promise. She tells Maria that, ultimately, the decision is hers alone, so Maria will need to call Tom herself if she plans on backing out. Maria doesn't want to let the kids down, so she thinks about it for two days. Her mom LETS her skip school to mope around in her pajamas, and she writes down all of Maria's ignored calls for her. (Mommy = enabler. Maria will never stop being such an intolerable brat if she is allowed to behave this way. If she was my kid, this would NOT be happening!!!)

Finally, the UC has had enough of Maria's little tantrum. They all join forces and show up randomly at Maria's. Evie is with them and she tells Maria that this intervention was her idea. She feels bad about the things she said, and she started to worry about Maria's selfish ass after 2 days of nobody being able to contact her. Tom has also called her friends, desperate to reach her. Maria continues to play sick, but the UC knows it's BS. They pretend that Brad is with them, and after Maria jumps up in a frantic rush to get pretty-looking, they call her on her shit. Obviously, Maria is SO not sick!!! Everybody talks about how everybody is allowed to have their own private problems, but this has become a group problem now that Maria promised the center their new roof. Maria finally cracks and admits that she sucks at acting and doesn't want anybody to see her fail. Everybody is super-understanding, and they promise to be her friends no matter what happens. (This type of shit would NEVER go down under Janet Howell's command...Maria would have been blacklisted for even thinking she was cut out to be a Unicorn. Dammit, Janet, why did you have to go to high school?!?!) Amazingly, Clara picks this moment to return from NY. Evie left a note saying there was an emergency at Maria's, and Clara ran over as soon as she got home. Clara sets Maria straight about her acting skills, and Maria agrees to try because it's obvious everybody loves her so much.

Remember the Jessica subplot? She's put off painting the lockers as long as humanly possible (2 entire weeks!!!), so the UC is forced to sneak into the school and paint the ruined lockers on the day of the movie shoot. They break in and open the paint cans, only to realize that the paint guys messed up on the color. Instead of the ugly Industrial Pink, they ended up with IMPERIAL Pink. It's like, bubblegum pink!!! Electric pink, candy-heart pink... Awesome!!! I love pink!!! With no time to waste, they quickly slap the paint onto the lockers and run off to change for the shoot. Evie wears the outfit she has on in the cover photo, but nobody else wears anything even remotely close, and Maria thinks that Evie just may be the prettiest girl in the group. (Oh, the blasphemy!!!! NOBODY is prettier than a Wakefield. Nobody!!!!)

Mr. Clark sees the lockers and is pretty pissed about the color, but Tom loves it so the shooting begins... Maria gets totally into character and just lets her acting juices flow. The kiss goes flawlessly, and Maria realizes that she doesn't suck after all. She gets her scene shot in ONE take (take that, Shawn Brockaway!!!! And not one of the extras messed up this time!!!!), but disaster strikes as she does a reaction shot. She swoons into the freshly painted lockers, and Jess jumps into the scene with a WET PAINT sign. Maria stays in character and goes with it. Tom, of course, LOVES it and decides to leave it exactly like it is, Jess and all. With shooting complete, Tom writes Maria a check. The UC stands beside her and admires the production crew's matching jackets. They talk about getting their own UC jackets as soon as they get out of debt. (They still have to pay Mr. Clark for his hairpiece, I guess. Another thing that would never happen under Janet... Remember Mandy's cancer? The UC got her a wig like 1 page into her illness!!!) With the check in hand, they quickly run to the daycare center. (Wait- they didn't have to go to CLASS?!?! Was school canceled for the day? So much for SVMS being one of the finest schools in the country...)

The story wraps up one week later at the next UC meeting. Mandy has 2 letter to share. One is from the daycare center director, thanking them for their hard work, and the other is from Clara, thanking them for watching the store. Clara paid them DOUBLE for the increase in business (wait, I thought she was BROKE?!?!), but that still isn't enough to cover the correct paint for the lockers and Mr. C's toupee. Sigh, maybe they shouldn't have gotten him that roof they mentioned on the back cover!!!! Mandy also has another surprise. Tom sent her a mysterious box!!! (No, no Justin Timberlake reference will be made here, because I like Mandy, and I would probably have sent her a gift simply for the fact that she has to put up with this Maria bitch on a daily basis!!!!) Inside the box are purple satin jackets for everyone!!! The even say UNICORNS on the back, and each girl has her name on the front. Also, each jacket is tailored differently for each girl. Ellen's fits perfectly, Liz's is on the snug side (why?), Jess's has a funky baginess to it, Lila's has an elegant flair in the back, and Mandy's is HUGE, with she loves. Weird, I know.

At the bottom of the box is another jacket. It doesn't have a name, just a patch sewn over where the name would go. Mandy suggests giving it to Evie and letting her join the club. Maria seconds that, and Evie (who has been waiting outside) runs in to thank them, Mandy pulls a loose thread on the patch and reveals Evie's name. Awww... And thus, the UC is complete (for now...)

Oh wait, we still have one more matter to discuss, as much as it pains me. Remember Maria being passed up for the lead in the school play? She meets with the drama coach and demands to know why. The teacher inflates Maria's (already bloated) ego by saying that the role would not have been a challenge for THE Maria Slater. School is a place of learning, and Maria already knew what the teacher was trying to teach. The girl who got the part is less experienced, and she will stand to gain much more experience than Maria would have. Maria accepts this, and I feel cheated because I thought this would be the end, but it ISN'T...

Maria leaves the drama room and Evie is waiting for her. Evie wants to ask Maria some questions about herself because she (Evie) has been watching a cable show called "The Best Friend Game". It's a trivia show where groups of friends test the knowledge about one another, and Evie is curious to see how well the Unicorns know each other. (I wonder why...) Maria assures her that the UC is likethis, and that they know EVERYTHING about each other. But she secretly doubts this, and a poster for a fund raiser being held by a club know as the Eight Times Eight catches her eye. She begins to wonder who these bitches are...

****The SarahLynn Perspective****
*Maria is a BITCH. First-class style!!!! Seriously, her thoughts are always so self-righteous and condescending. And the way she treats Evie like her own personal charity case is sickening. Just because somebody doesn't have millions of movie dollars like you do, it doesn't mean they're not happy!!!! And Maria has a SUPER EGO, for real.
*What are the odds of there being TWO charitable good-girls' clubs at one middle school?!?! I think those Eight Times Eight hos are in for a beatdown, Unicorn-style!!! (Well, if JANET was in charge, they would be...)

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