Hey everyone! Here's the summary and my review of Lila's journal, the first book in her series!
Note - I received the Lila Doll and Journal free from American Girl. However, all opinions are my own and no other compensation was provided from American Girl and/or Mattel for this post.
The journal begins when McKenna invites Lila to the competitive gymnastics team she coaches, where there's two levels, Silver and Gold. Lila thought she was going to join the Silver team, but McKenna says that if Lila can get some advanced gymnastics skills in her repertoire, she will be able to join the Gold team. Lila laments starting at a new gym because she'll miss her best friend Katie, who didn't want to join a competitive team and still does gymnastics at her old gym.
Once Lila joins the team, she makes a new friend, named Emilia, and a new enemy, named Avery, who picks on Lila for everything she does and feels the need to "coach" her through gymnastics moves. Her parents and brother Jack pick her up, and Jack talks about how excited he is to go to horse camp with his best friend Marshall. However, the next day, Marshall breaks his arm and can't come to horse camp, and Lila's mom asks her if she'd want to go in Marshall's place. Lila debates going with Katie, but she can't figure anything out. The next day at gymnastics, Lila tries to figure out how to jump from the low bar to the high bar, but she can't figure it out. However, when Lila tells McKenna about horse camp, she tells Lila about the horseback riding center she volunteered at and tells her that riding is good training for gymnastics, so Lila decides to go to camp.
During her first day at camp, Lila meets Hollyhock, who's new to the herd and hasn't been accepted by the other horses there yet. Relating to being the new girl, Lila is drawn to Hollyhock, but rides a different horse, Cinnamon, because Hollyhock isn't ready to ride yet. After riding Cinnamon, Lila falls in love with horseback riding, and she's able to groom Hollyhock and do her hair. Lila asks when she can ride Hollyhock, and counselor Freya tells her that Hollyhock might be able to ride later in the week, but she'd need a confident rider. Lila becomes determined to be the first one to ride Hollyhock. The next day, Lila rides an older horse, Ben, and wants to prove that she can ride any horse so she can ride Hollyhock. After riding the last horse, Joker, the counselors offer riding Hollyhock to Lila the next day. Lila gets excited, but Emilia, who's also at horse camp, asks if she's sure if she wants to be the first one to ride a new horse.
That night at gymnastics, Lila tries to go onto the high bar again, but after trying, she falls onto the floor. She gets sweaty palms and scared to go on to the bar again, and after that, she can't sleep. The next day, her ride on Hollyhock goes well, and Lila rides her again the day after that, but that time, Emilia rides her after, and Hollyhock gets spooked, but that day, Lila finally practices her gymnastics skills at camp, which helps her do a cartwheel on the beam. However, Lila still can't get on the high bar - she's too scared. Avery tells Lila that maybe she should stick with the Silver team, and when Lila talks to Katie after practice, she tells her that she should maybe go back to their old gym.
The next day is Lila's trail ride with Hollyhock, where she goes downhill and uphill, but after Hollyhock gets spooked by a squirrel and a dog, Lila falls off. The counselors tell Lila that Hollyhock isn't ready to be ridden, and Emilia tells her about another horse who kept spooking and had to be sold, and Lila worries that the same fate awaits Hollyhock - and that she won't make it to the Gold team. After that, Katie texts Lila, angry that she didn't tell her about falling off Hollyhock, and when Lila tells her that she feels like Katie doesn't care about her horseback riding and gymnastics, Katie goes radio silent.
At camp the next day, Lila teams up with the camp dog Mighty Mae to train Hollyhock in the art of not being spooked by dogs - and they succeed. When Emilia finds out that Lila is training Hollyhock to not be afraid of dogs, she tells Lila she's brave for trying, but when Lila admits she's still nervous, Emilia tells her to talk about her feelings and not let them get inside. At gymnastics that night, Lila tells Avery how her words make her feel, and Avery understands her fears of the bar. McKenna's right there, too, and reassures her that she'll be ready in time. Lila rides with Hollyhock in the arena the next day, and then Lila learns that she'll be able to ride her at the last day of camp, Parent's Day. Lila worries that Hollyhock will spook again, but works on some less advanced gymnastics skills to build a foundation for the more advanced ones and clear her head about the next day.
At Parent's Day, Lila does Hollyhock's hair in all the sparkly highlights and gems she comes in, and she's able to ride her perfectly - with Katie in the audience, which makes Lila feel better. Katie admits that it's hard to see Lila do new things, but it's fine that their relationship is able to change as long as Lila is happy. The journal leaves off with Lila saying goodbye to Hollyhock - and learning that she is now a full-fledged camp horse.
To be completely honest, I was a little nervous going into the journal. I really liked Kavi's journal, and found a new appreciation for it when I read her full book, but Isabel and Nicki's journal and book didn't really do it for me. I was hoping for a miracle, but still somewhat skeptical because of all the reused elements from previous Girl of the Year stories. But then, I read the journal. And then immediately after, I went back to the beginning and read it all over again. And then, once I finished, I immediately read it again to summarize for this blog post.
Yeah, it's nothing groundbreaking. We've had horse Girl of the Years before, and multi-talent Girl of the Years (even ones written by the same author - hey there, Joss!), and of course, Lila's Coach McKenna as Girl of the Year in 2012. Yeah, it got a little cheesy at parts, especially when Lila and Katie had their Government Mandated Friendship Fight. But what was even in this thing to get me to read it so many times in such short time?
I'll admit it - there's something about Lila as a character that fascinates me. She isn't super-talented in either of her sports, she's in tune to her girly side by doing her horse's hair, she loves her friends and the things that she does. Like Joss before her, she's just a normal girl, and Erin Falligant writes these "normal girl" characters really well, in a way that's just so endearing that you can't help but root for them. Of course, Lila isn't completely normal socioeconomically, but "normal" in the sense of "this is normal to the demographic of 10 year old girls who's parents can afford multiple $100 dolls". I remember doing a bit of gymnastics when I was Lila's age in the far-off year of 2015, when Lila was a year old. I was really bad at it! But I still had fun, and I could sense that fun in Lila's character.
But also, that sense of "fun" embedded into her story - that sense of trying things over again until they work out, no matter how hard or scary it can be at times - I kind of needed that right now. In my life outside of doll blogging every day, I recently started the final draft of my movie script, and I am a little freaked out, to be honest. I've been a filmmaker for a long time, yet so many people have reached out to me about this script at huge movie companies because of social media support, and I've been nervous that it might not work out or that it might not be good enough and I'll get rejected again, like it did a few years ago. While figuring out how to ride a new horse or get on the high bar in gymnastics isn't exactly "Oh My Goodness The Producers Of All Of These Movies Want To Take A Look At My Little Script That Started Out As An American Girl Stopmotion", I could feel that the fears I feel surrounding that is exactly what Lila felt about the things she loves. Despite that, with the support of her friends, she is able to keep trying - just because she believes in it. And it kind of helped me realize that no matter how hard this might be, I will be able to make it go well eventually, which is pretty much what I needed right now.
I'd rate this journal a 7.5/10, and I cannot wait for Lila Goes for Gold to come out in January! I heard it deals with what happens after this journal, so I'm excited - however, if they don't recap it in the book, you guys will probably have to reference this blog post if you don't have the Lila doll.