. . .
So, those random grunge guys at the mall, to whom sweet-but-totally-ditzy Chloe gave Lila’s address? They show up with giant kegs and start acting like loud, drunk, 90s movie party crashers and they’re SUPER offended when Lila and her friends throw them out and they’re all gonna regret it big time, losers! Just You Wait.
But it’s fine, they’re gone, or at least they’re out of the house and it’s fine. They’ll get bored loitering menacingly at the end of the driveway and just head for some other party.
And that’s when the lights go out.
And the crank caller rings again.
And people start disappearing.
. . .
So, while everyone waits…and waits…and waits…for Liz’s old boyfriend Todd and the other guys to fix the power outage (yeah, even on the edge of 2000, the Sweet Valley books were still a bit facepalmy with their assumptions re: men’s and women’s respective talents), Lila and the other Thetas try to strategize.
Hilariously, Jessica brainstorms things they could use as weapons, and Lila suddenly goes full October Daye, saying, “Knives. Yes. Knives are good. We like knives . . . and blunt objects” (pg. 142).
This is how you know this series is next level. The SVH gang would’ve been scandalized if someone so casually and gleefully talked about stabbing a person, even in self defense. Even in a thriller edition, I’m sure! (fellow SV fans, am I right? I haven’t technically read any of the SVH thrillers, and the two reviewed by svhpodcast were relatively tame in the self-defense department).
They also try to brainstorm suspects. The party crashers seem the most obvious, but there were only five of them and twenty-seven people have disappeared so far, without the other half noticing anything.
At this point, we’ve gotten a few scenes from other characters’ p.o.v. — Todd, Chloe, Jessica’s best guy friend Neil and Elizabeth’s semi-secret crush/frenemy Sam — as they get snatched and dragged through the woods behind Fowler Crest. There’s also some mysterious person hiding in the bushes at the edge of the woods, thinking menacing thoughts about Lila.
Meanwhile, Liz also reasons that whoever cut the lights and music left the landline phones working.
Pause to laugh as she comically whips out a floor plan she somehow found the time and materials to draw in the dark, making her case in defense of the crashers like a srs bsns attorney.
Anyway, what about the mysterious caller? That shrill, screechy voice is somehow vaguely familiar to Lila. And the person said something about Lila being in Big Trouble at the stroke of midnight. Is that an actual threat? Is it one of the non-invited Thetas? Or some other SVU student who thought they were too big a deal to be left out?
By this point, only thirteen people are left, and the hysteria and paranoia are rising fast. Is it important that it’s thirteen people? Does it have something to do with those strange cyberpatterns that were dancing on the walls? Did the nerds who brought the machines in program some kind of subliminal hypnotic messaging into the lights, convincing the missing guests to go somewhere against their will?
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEEEEEEANNNNN?
Of course, then, the remaining thirteen start vanishing one by one, which is totally impossible because all they did was keep going off alone or in micro-groups to get their phones from the ballroom or to use the bathroom. It’s not like all thirteen girls could’ve gone together, as though there’s strength in bigger numbers or something!
Soon, it’s only Liz and Lila left as we see Jess get snatched through the back doors and dragged through the woods.
They try futilely to brainstorm escape options. Up to now, Lila had thought locking all the doors and windows was the best plan, but people still disappeared, so at least some of the predators are already inside.
And the landline phones have finally been cut, eliminating the possibility of calling the police (who, everyone had reasoned until now, were too busy with other NYE chaos to deal with some alleged plot at Fowler Crest. They still don’t have any concrete evidence of foul play), and with the power gone, they can’t even open the garage door to floor it out of there in one of Lila’s fancy cars.
Even just walking out the front or back doors is a non-option by now.
Which is, of course, the perfect cue for the caller to ring Lila’s cell phone again (wait, why doesn’t she just use that to call the cops?), laughing that it’s almost midnight and Lila’s totally gonna–
The call cuts off and Lila, finally past the end of her gold-threaded rope, passes out.
Leaving Liz to stay calm. It’s going to be fine. She just has to find a place to hide as the sound of a door clicking open and footsteps approaching makes it clear there’s definitely no escaping now.
Leaving poor Lila sprawled on the ballroom floor (maybe the predator won’t notice her?), Liz crawls behind the bar counter and tries to open one of the cabinets to huddle inside, but the door squeaks too loudly and the villain heads straight for her.
Shivering with terror, she stares helplessly as the person flips a fluorescent flashlight under their chin, revealing a ghoulish, grinning mask, “straight from hell itself” (pg. 205). Another pair of hands grabs her from behind and drags her out of the house.
. . .
. . .
. . .
Lila wakes up to find herself completely alone. And then…
The caller. Strikes. Again.
“Lila,” the nasally, high-pitched voice says solemnly, “it’s Marnie.”
. . .
Who the hell…
“Look, I’m really sorry, okay?” the oddly young-sounding voice continues. “I was only kidding, but I’m sorry, and my Mom caught me making the last call and said I had to call to apologize.”
Marnie. The twelve-year-old girl from down the street, whom Lila sometimes babysat. Calling to admit she was the prank caller, just playing a New Year’s Eve trick.
What. The. Fois gras.
If Marnie was the caller, then the caller wasn’t the one cutting the power and kidnapping everyone. THEN WHO WAS???
Cue maniacal laughter.
Coming for her.
There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Except…
Somehow, Lila manages to sneak out of the ballroom and down the hall, into a large sitting room with a plush, noise-proof carpet. She makes her way in the dark, to a painting on the wall, which she removes, revealing a switch that opens a secret room — her father’s extra-private study.
She makes it inside, closes the bookcase (of course it’s a bookcase) again, and sinks into her father’s leather armchair. Her nerves slowly settling, she thinks longingly about her parents, so inconveniently vacationing in Greece. If only they were here. If only…
Maybe the timing is actually convenient — for the predators. They’re clearly not the crank caller, and maybe they’re not the party crashers either. Maybe, she muses in a sudden flash of meta, those were just red herrings distracting her from the real plot.
Maybe it has nothing to do with the party, and everything to do with her parents being out of town. Maybe it has to do with her father, with his company. Maybe he’s offended one of his underlings or some competitor, who’s now seeking revenge by kidnapping Fowler’s only child.
Which means, on the other hand, that Lila is safe. No one outside of her family and closest friends knows about the secret room. She just has to sit quietly and wait for them to give up. Wait for them to stop (gulp!) searching the sitting room. Wait for them to ignore…the painting…still on the floor where Lila had left it, forgetting to put it back on the wall to cover the switch.
The bookcase swings open. The villain laughs.
. . .
Dragged blindfolded through the woods, Lila knows she’s been defeated. She feels all hope draining as the attacker pushes her toward the next estate (which she can somehow tell). Toward…the Patman estate.
Holy criminal conspiracy! Maybe the plot is against both the Fowlers and the Patmans! Or maybe it’s against the entire neighborhood! A criminal network attacking the richest members of Sweet Valley while the residents are distracted with New Year’s plans!
Thank goodness Bruce is still in Europe! His thoughtlessness was actually a blessing in disguise! She might never see him again, but at least he’s safe!
[at this point, Nerija has been needled several times by a sneaking suspicion of her own. She really, really hopes it isn’t true. Because that would just be way too…]
Lila and the attacker enter the Patmans’ living room and the blindfold is removed.
Everyone from Lila’s party.
Who all yell, “Surprise!”
And Lila is surprised most of all — flabbergasted, totally, sickeningly mindblown — when she turns around to face her attacker, who is, in fact…
Dazed AF, hearing only the blood boiling in her ears, Lila tries to comprehend the psychobabble coming out of Bruce’s mouth as he brags about his amazing, perfectly-executed prank and how it took a ton of planning and cooperation from his rowing team buddies (who captured the characters we saw being dragged through the woods) and from most of the party guests (who left of their own accord), and doesn’t Lila see that she totally deserved to be pranked after being so mean to Bruce that morning (HE DID NOT LIKE THIS!) and bugging him all semester about being in Europe, and–and–and–
And Lila, total badass queen that she is, does the most satisfying thing since that spontaneous kiss by the poolside in SVH 71, and slugs Bruce in the face.
And as she sits quietly sipping a Coke with Liz and Jess, who both agree that Bruce is a bottom-feeding, pig-headed, termite-brained, low-life jerkwad, Lila vows that she’ll be the murderer if Bruce ever comes within a hundred feet of her again.
. . .
. . .
. . .
Bookwyrms, if you want to retain the badassery and satisfaction of that moment, you should probably stop reading here. Go curl up with a copy of BUST while you have another glass of New Year’s champagne and raise a toast to kickass women who don’t take that kind of sh*t from any man!
. . .
. . .
. . .
Oh. You’re still here? Alright, then, here’s the rest of the story.
After recovering a bit of her sanity, toasting the new year, and ignoring Bruce’s continued puppy-dog pleading (which is probably not so endearing anyway, what with the black eye), Lila follows Liz and Jess out to their Jeep, planning to end the night with a hot bath and a “hundred-year sleep.”
But just as they’re about to leave, Bruce comes racing up the driveway, begging for forgiveness and promising he’ll never, ever, in a million years never — he swears! — do something so stupid and hurtful again and please, baby, please come back to me, please?
And as Lila stays in the passenger seat, fuming and swearing to herself she’ll never give in to such a spoiled, selfish, senseless, stupid guy, a few of his words slip past her mental firewall…and a few good memories rise up from the depths…and she starts to think that…well…he really does sound sorry, doesn’t he? And they have had some really nice times, haven’t they? And she was really miserable all day after breaking up with him.
And, as I do a massive facepalm, Lila throws herself out of the car and into Bruce’s waiting arms, kissing him passionately (while still assuring him she’ll flatten his a** if he ever pulls such a horrible stunt again), and the Wakefield Twins drive off in only semi-skeptical bemusement after a certainly memorable New Year’s Eve.
Oh, and Chloe’s stuck in an abandoned treehouse in the middle of the woods, where the grungy party crashers dragged her (surprise! they were involved in one of the kidnappings) for sending them to a totally bummer party, taking the ladder away with them.
So. What do you think, Bookwyrms? Am I crazy for thinking this is one of the greatest Sweet Valley books ever? For retconning the tone of the whole thing from terrifying and traumatizing to hilarious and (mostly) harmless? For still shipping Lila and Bruce and their future online canned goods empire?
And would you rather go to a giant NYE bash with fancy clothes, fancy food, and endless dance numbers, or a quieter home party with full-sized quesadillas and so-bad-it’s-good movie marathons, pausing only to watch the giant disco ball drop?
I wouldn’t mind dressing up for a short time in some sparkly (easy to move in) ball gown and taking a few spins on the masquerade floor while David Bowie shouts, “Let’s dance!” But I also love a good pizza night, watching zombie comedies and 80s muppet fantasies in my stretch jeans and seal hoodie.
Or, y’know. Contentedly scrolling through Instagram until I realize it’s midnight already and I should pause for a bit of champagne.
Neverending Story 3 screenshot from twitter.
October Daye image from the cover of Once Broken Faith, by Seanan McGuire.
Hypnotic rainbow GIF from Primo Gif.
Charlie the Unicorn GIF from tenor.
Undertale GIF from gfycat.
Spongebob GIF from tenor.
Frozen GIF from tenor.
Friday Night GIF from tenor.