Title: Jessica the Thief
Tagline: Guilty until proven innocent? [Wing: So Ned is the lawyer involved in this, I see.]
Is there a thief at Sweet Valley Middle School? Things have started disappearing, and the whole school is searching for the culprit. But everyone is shocked when some of the stolen goods turn up in Jessica Wakefield’s locker!
Jessica insists that she’s been framed, but the only one who believes her is her twin sister. Elizabeth. When Jessica and Elizabeth team up to find the real thief, they can hardly believe what they find out!
I kind of hate stories about people being falsely accused, so I can’t see this going well for me.
[Dove: I remember getting into a conversation with someone on Twitter (I think it was@_sunshinebooks) about how tiny Jessica looks in comparison to the rest of the girls on the cover. There’s something not quite right about the proportions there. Also, who is the girl in the peach dress? Is that Veronica?
Also, when I first read this, Watchmans (handheld TVs) hadn’t hit the UK, mostly, I think, because they were completely expensive and rarely worked. I misread the branding and spent the entire book wondering why Lila was so braggy about a Walkman, which pretty much everyone I knew owned.]
We open with Elizabeth demanding to know whether Jessica stole her new turquoise (great-looking) sweater; Jessica, of course, says that she prefers the term “borrow.” Oh, Jessica, you’ve really put yourself into the perfect spot to be framed for theft, haven’t you? (She stole the shoes off Elizabeth’s feet one time, in case you have forgotten. I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN.)
The twins are the same but different (and apparently the Unicorns hold meetings once a week; I definitely thought they happened more often than that). None of Jessica’s friends are named outright, but for Elizabeth, we get her good friends Amy Sutton, Julie Porter, and Maria Slater. Maria! You’ve made the intro paragraph! (We also get her “sort-of boyfriend” Todd. Oh, Todd. I really did not expect you to be such a part of the series until SVH.)
The girls argue over how much Jessica has borrowed things that have then disappeared, including Elizabeth’s silver bracelet, denim skirt, and white blouse. So … that was one outfit, right? Because that’s what it sounds like. [Dove: Pretty sure we recappers could compile a more accurate and detailed list. Let’s start with Alice’s birthday earrings and Liz’s new outfit in book 5, shall we?]
Elizabeth makes Jessica promise not to steal anything else (because that promise ever lasts), and immediately Jessica asks to borrow Elizabeth’s new yellow miniskirt.
Jump forward to the next day, and Veronica Brooks compliments the skirt. Both Elizabeth and Jessica thank her, and we get a quick recap of how they spoiled Veronica’s plans to steal Todd from Elizabeth (because people are totally objects that can be stolen) and how Veronica then apologised a few days later and has now been so nice to them they’ve stopped being as mad at her. [Raven: This off-screen setup for the action is awful. At the end of the last book, Veronica vowed a great and powerful revenge. The start of this book? “LOL oops soz, besties?” Nope.]
Jessica, I expect this sort of spineless forgiveness from Elizabeth, but you really should know better, as twisty and manipulative as your plans can be.
Veronica talks to them about whether they share their clothes a lot and then lets Jessica know that Lila invited her to eat at the Unicorner. Best watch out, Jessica. (Well, really, best watch out, Veronica, there’s still room in the Mercandy backyard.)
Elizabeth is skeptical of this, but Jessica says that Lila and Veronica have been getting closer since they live next to each other, and Veronica has been hanging out with the Unicorns more. Clearly Jessica’s true weakness is her ego, because as long as Veronica is feeding that belief that the Unicorns are the most important, most popular girls in school, Jessica is going to roll right over.
Despite me rolling my eyes at Jessica falling for Veronica’s treachery, I’m also rolling my eyes at Elizabeth not being taken in by it, because it’s just so stereotypical of this series. Jessica is Wrong, Elizabeth is Right, Wing is Bored.
(Not that bored, though, because I am curious to see what all Veronica does.)
Lila shows off her new Watchman, a gift Mr Fowler brought back to her from NYC. It’s a miniature tv; Lila’s excited to be able to watch Days of Turmoil during class. Mandy thinks this is hilarious, because there’s no way Lila will get away watching soap operas in math class. Oh, Mandy, I love you. [Dove: See above. I initially misread Watchman as Walkman, and I guess I interpreted this as listening to the radio? I don’t really know my tween thought process, but I wasn’t impressed that Lila had what I took to be a portable tape/radio player.]
Jessica tries to talk her way into Lila letting her borrow the Watchman, but Lila shoots that down immediately, because she’d never let Jessica borrow something so expensive. Huh, I wonder what’s going to disappear.
Lila calls Jessica unreliable, which, of course, infuriates Jessica; it’s bad enough to hear it from Elizabeth and much worse to hear it from Lila. Oh, Jessica, perhaps if you stopped borrowing and losing things or borrowing and damaging them or lying about things or … well, you see where this is going.
Brief aside over Ellen, not Jessica, being the one to borrow and lose Lila’s raspberry-banana lip gloss, which sounds like a terrible flavor — and then Ellen tells Lila that it actually tasted like banana barf, which made me laugh. I love you, Ellen.
This leads to Ellen talking about how forgetful she is, how often she loses things, and how she’s worried about wearing her mom’s silver earrings, which she is, because if she loses them, she’ll be grounded until she’s eighteen. She promptly takes them off and sets them on the table because they’re heavy to wear. Jessica talks about wanting a pair, but Ellen’s mom got them in Mexico, so Jessica knows she won’t find them nearby. They’re silver hoops, Jessica. I’m sure you can find them! Also: hello thing that will disappear soon.
They all get distracted by a fresh batch of peanut butter cookies and rush up to get them. (Mandy apparently has cookie radar. I love her.) (Peanut butter cookies are gross; Ostrich loves them, though.) [Dove: I’ve never had them. Our school provided chocolate donuts. They were… um, not unlike concrete dipped in cheap chocolate.]
Jessica and Veronica are the last to get in line, and they don’t end up with any cookies. All that’s left are fruit cups and brownies, which Jessica warns Veronica are brownie bricks that have been there since the school opened twenty years ago. [Dove: Ellen cheerfully eats the brownies in the next book. Not sure if this is a reflection on Jessica’s personal taste, or Ellen’s constant cheer.]
Shockingly, back at the Unicorner, Ellen is frantically searching for her mom’s earrings. Veronica suggests that someone stole them, but Jessica shoots that down and reassures Ellen that when she loses stuff, it always turns up eventually. “Well, almost always.”
Super reassuring there, Wakefield.
Ellen wants to know what she’s supposed to tell her mom, and Lila suggests that she say she’s irresponsible and that Ellen should ask if her mom has seen any lip gloss in the washing machine. LOLOLOLOLOL Never change, Lila.
Mandy talks about how it’s weird that the earrings just disappeared and maybe Veronica’s right and someone stole them. Jessica promises everyone that there are no thieves at SVMS literally as she steals half of Lila’s peanut butter cookie.
Jessica, you are putting yourself in a terrible situation. No wonder people are going to believe you’re a thief.
Joe and Steven are hanging out together when the twins get home. I’m enjoying their ongoing friendship and glad to see it pop up consistently. [Dove: Except for that one time when he was called Sam instead of Joe by the ghostie!] It looks like they’re doing their homework, but in reality, they are taking a timed test to see if they can join the Mentally Gifted Association, an association only for geniuses. Steven bet Joe that he could ace the test, because they’re always competing with each other and this is just the latest way.
Jessica promises that if Steven turns out to be a genius, she’ll never tease him again as long as she lives. Oh god. This b plot is not going to be much fun, is it? [Raven: Spoiler… on the contrary!]
Friday, there’s a Boosters practice; they’re struggling to learn a new baton routine and embarrassed because the boys’ basketball team is on the other side of the gym watching them fail and teasing them for it. The bleachers are also pretty full of the girlfriends of the guys on the basketball team. [Raven: Having seen the ins and outs of a Booster practice in Booster Boycott, I’m not surprised by the teasing.]
Ellen’s missing because she’s been grounded for a week. Jessica talks about how surprised she is that the earrings still haven’t shown up; she really thought that the janitor would find them in the cafeteria.
Lila jokes about someone eating them, and then they get back to practice. Not for long, though, because Jessica and Tamara Chase cartwheel into each other. Ha! Of course, some of the boys tease them, too; Charlie Cashman calls her the Black-and-Blue-sters and Rick Hunter asks if they will repeat the move in slow motion. (Rick is cute and popular but doesn’t seem to like Jessica much, apparently, because he always teases her. Is this going to lead to one of those boys tease because they like girls story? Because I hate those.)
Janet grumpily ends practice, and when Jessica asks to borrow her hairbrush, Janet realises it’s missing. It’s her favourite because it has natural bristles and her scalp is very sensitive. While they’re talking about this, Lila demands to know where her new copy of Teenage magazine has gone, because it was right under her book bag. Jessica mourns the fact that she didn’t get to read about Jake Sommers’ engagement.
Lila is now certain there is a thief in SVMS; Grace Oliver tries to convince them it’s a coincidence, but too many things have gone missing in too short a time (and also, it’s mostly been Unicorns).
Veronica saunters over to join them talking about the missing stuff and again suggests that someone stole it all. Veronica, you are not being nearly subtle enough. You already put the idea into their heads, now you let them be the ones who bring it up every time.
The next week, the Unicorns can’t stop gossiping about the “Sweet Valley Swiper.”
Lila decides that they need to investigate the thefts by remembering what was going on each time the things were stolen. Jessica teases her that she sounds like Elizabeth (after too many Amanda Howard mysteries), conveniently forgetting the times she herself has been the (wonderful) detective.
Mandy has a fancy new wide-brimmed felt hat that, of course, Jessica (and everyone else) loves; she got it at Granny’s Attic, an antique store downtown. When Veronica says that Mandy has the greatest taste, Jessica frowns, because that’s the exact same thing Veronica said to her last week. It’s not that specific of a compliment, Jessica. (Though clearly she’s sucking up to everyone. I mean, come on, Jessica. You are more devious than this!)
Veronica is the one who lingers in the bathroom, which gives the Unicorns time to talk about whether they should invite Veronica to join the Unicorns. (Ellen’s reason for it: dating Bruce Patman is good for their image. Mandy chides her that they don’t choose Unicorns based on their boyfriends. Maybe not when you started, Mandy, but you’re pretty much there, alas.)
It is at this point that Mandy realises that she left her hat in the bathroom. Of course, when they rush back into the bathroom, the hat is gone. Elizabeth, however, is conveniently there to answers questions about whether she saw anything suspicious. Also, I assume, to be a part of the eventual sleuthing. (Question: how exactly do they think Jessica got the hat out of the bathroom without them noticing? Using Elizabeth?)
Veronica saves Mandy’s hat-hair bad day by giving her a black velvet baseball cap. [Raven: Hat-hair for Cancer Girl… and then giving her a baseball cap? Nice.]
Elizabeth points out that now they know the thief must be a girl because they would have noticed a guy in the girls’ bathroom. Just the kind of gender essentialism this series is based on. (I do not expect anything better from it.)
Sure enough, Elizabeth is now hooked on solving the mystery of the Sweet Valley Swiper. Why? Why have you named it that? Why have you named it at all? [Dove: Argh. Liz on a mystery is quite insufferable.]
Elizabeth goes down mystery lane for a bit, thinking about the Snoopers Club back in second grade. Anyone know if this was a real thing in the Sweet Valley Kids books (or whatever that series we skipped is called)? [Dove: This is definitely a thing.] She then points out that she solved the charm-school mystery, so even if Jessica thinks sleuthing is boring now (even though she’s done it herself), Elizabeth is still great at it. Oh, Elizabeth, you’re great at everything, remember?
(Jessica has not yet found Elizabeth’s missing sweater.)
Steven and Joe race to the Wakefield house to check out the MEGA test scores. Joe’s was just average and now he claims to be humiliated. Steven, however, scored in the 99.99th percentile which put him in the genius “Intelligence Quoshent.” Elizabeth points out that they misspelled quotient, because this subplot needed some obvious clues, considering the main plot allegedly has zero clues.
Joe calls it a clerical error (both the mistake and the score) and teases Steven that they mixed up the boys’ scores and Joe is really the genius.
This, of course, means that Jessica will never tease him again as long as she lives. Steven must be pretty pleased with himself to have put a stop to all sorts of teasing from her.
Steven then comes down wearing Jessica’s old glasses and talking in a stilted way, because discovering he’s a genius has made him want to tap into his real potential. He proposes they talk about torts after dinner; not the dessert, to Jessica’s confusion, but the legal term. Well, Steven’s probably just as capable a lawyer as Ned, really. And you don’t have to have a law degree to sit the bar in California, actually, so — you go, Steven.
Later in the week, Jessica accuses Lila of cheating at volleyball because she spikes the ball over the net too hard. That’s just good playing, Jessica. This is really setup for Jessica to have been missing since the end of class because she had to get a band-aid for her new blister. While she was missing, Mandy’s jean jacket was stolen. Damn, Mandy, the Swiper seems to have it out for you. No one else has lost multiple things.
Unsurprisingly, Jessica was just telling Mandy that morning how much she liked the embroidery on the jacket. [Dove: Wing, are you picturing Marko’s jacket here?]
Oh, wait, no, now Ellen has been hit twice. Someone stole her deodorant. That seems like a weird thing to be included in this rash of thefts. Though it is the baby powder scented spray she always borrows. Baby powder deodorant was a huge thing (and may still be), but I think it smells horrible. Why do people want to smell like baby powder? [Dove: Yeah, that was never a thing over here. The over-here equivalent would be Dewberry body spray from The Body Shop – if you add in in Coffee Shimmer or Heather Shimmer lipstick by Rimmel, that’s how to be a girl in the 90s in England.]
Elizabeth is on the case. Her first clue is that the Swiper is targeting the Unicorns.
Mandy wants to report all the thefts to Mr Clark; Elizabeth agrees, because if he tells all the teachers, maybe they’ll catch the thief. That would make them actually competent, so doubtful.
Veronica, though, keeps saying that she doesn’t see what good it will do and doesn’t think they should do it. Real subtle. (Though it works.)
The Swiper hits Veronica that afternoon, taking her very favourite notebook in the world, which has a picture of Jake Sommers on the cover. Jessica was, of course, admiring it in class. This means the Swiper isn’t hitting only Unicorns, but Jessica calls her an almost Unicorn. Veronica’s response to this is so sugar sweet that Elizabeth rolls her eyes. For once, I’m with Elizabeth here. She’s really going over the top with all of this.
Also, ugh, Bruce Patman shows up to cuddle with her some. Go away, Patman. Veronica, you can do better. [Raven: Can she, though? She’s a proper wrongun.]
Veronica decides that they should now go to Mr Clark’s office and tell him about the Swiper; when Elizabeth points out she just shot that idea down earlier, Veronica gives the delightfully hypocritical response that now that the Swiper hit her, it’s time to get it done.
Mr Clark firsts suggests that they check the lost and found, but Ellen already did and none of their stuff was there. He then tells them to give Mrs Knight (office worker) a list of all the missing items while he goes and warns the faculty.
Joe shows up at the Wakefield house that afternoon; just when he asks the twins if they’ve noticed anything weird about Steven lately, a plaintive wail comes from Steven’s room. He’s listening to opera. When they go up to check on him, they find him playing a game of chess with himself. He also calls competitive sports “a mindless display of the baser animal instincts.” Oh, Steven, I hope you are playing this up as a prank, because this is epic trolling. It will just be sad if you are honestly acting this way.
Jessica wants to do something to get Steven back to his old self, because he’s become an even more annoying kind of obnoxious. Does that mean he’s stopped salivating over you and you miss the attention? [Dove: No, he still sniffs her knickers, but now he refers to it as “sampling the bouquet of the undergarments”.] [Raven: Proper lol’ed at that one.]
He overhears them talking about the Swiper and tells them that the first thing to do is establish motive. I’m sure Elizabeth has no idea about that even with all her detective reading.
At school, Elizabeth and Amy decide to revive the Snoopers just long enough to solve the Mystery of the Sweet Valley Swiper. Oh, this is going to be good. Or terrible. Or both.
Jessica and Lila fight over the Watchman after Lila lets on that she’s watching Jake Sommers on Good Morning, Sweet Valley; he’s appearing with his fiancee. Mr Davis catches them at it, and he makes Lila give it to him to put in his drawer during class. Veronica assures her it will be fine.
At the end of class, the Watchman is, of course, missing from Mr Davis’ desk. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? Shocked, I say.
Lila blames Jessica, though not for stealing it, just for getting them in trouble over it in the first place. Lila decides to call her dad so he can either bring in the police or hire a private investigator. I would love for the Fowler PI to go head to head with the Snoopers. Hijinks would surely ensue. [Dove: I’m imagining the entire school on lockdown while fleets of men all wearing sunglasses and ear-pieces systematically sweep the school for Fowler property.] [Raven: I’m also imagining Papa Fowler going “meh, whatevs,” before reaching into a box of forty identical Watchmans.]
Lila attacks Jessica in the hall later and accuses her of stealing the Watchman — and then finds it in her locker. Jessica tries to defend herself, but Mrs Arnette turns up, hears the story, and takes Jessica off to Mr Clark’s office. Uh oh.
Elizabeth wants to go in and defend her, because Jessica is many things but she’s not a thief. Except for all those times she stole your clothes. And money. And earrings. And … do I really need to continue?
Jessica reluctantly agrees to show them the contents of her locker because they want to look for the rest of the things the Swiper stole. The thing is, they don’t generally need agreement from a student. While students in the USA do have the Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure, it’s relaxed in school environments due to security risks, and in the mid-80s, a Supreme Court case allowed school officials to do searches based on reasonable suspicion. That would certainly apply here.
They don’t find any of the other items in her locker, which actually surprised me; during the search, even Elizabeth has a moment of doubt over Jessica’s innocence. You should probably be having more than a moment of doubt considering how many things she’s stolen just from you. [Raven: Reminds me of this, somehow…
After school, Jessica goes off to call the Unicorns to find out what’s happened to her reputation and Elizabeth goes up to change clothes. Her new blue sweatshirt is missing; she wonders, almost guiltily, whether Jessica might really be a thief. [Dove: If I was Elizabeth, I would anticipate half my wardrobe missing at any point in the proceedings. Regardless of theft at school.]
The Unicorn verdict is split — Mandy, Mary, and Belinda aren’t sure, but most of the rest think she’s guilty. Jessica tells Elizabeth that she’s the only one who truly believes Jessica, but Elizabeth shoots this straight down. She wishes she could truly believe Jessica, but she can’t.
Jessica does not blow up at this, that’s how despondent she is over everything. She does bring up the idea that someone must have planted it, but has no answer to how they got access to her locker, since no one has the combination. Hmmm, I wonder if it is possible a school janitor would open a locker for a student if the student sweet-talked them into it by saying they’d forgotten their combination. [Dove: Genuine question, do lockers retain the same comination over the years, or is there a way to re-set them (in the 80s-90s)? Because our school lockers had the same keys. In fact, some keys would open multiple lockers. That’s how I wound up without a locker in fourth year. Claire was assigned a duplicate of my key and tossed my stuff out. I didn’t notice at the time, and by the time I did, my PE kit was in the bin (detention for the whole year as I couldn’t afford to replace it) and I didn’t have a locker because there were none left.]
Eventually, she does defend herself about “borrowing” Elizabeth’s clothes and points out that she wore the sweatshirt before she promised to ask first after the whole sweater thing. Except that you’ve made the same promise in multiple books. Come the fuck on.
During all this, Elizabeth finally makes up her mind that Jessica must be innocent. Elizabeth’s heart tells her so. Oh lord.
She also thinks that the evidence might be a little too perfect; she’s learned from the Amanda Howard mysteries that when a crime seems too easy to solve, there’s usually something wrong. That goes against occam’s razor, but I’m sure Amanda Howard mysteries are more believable. [Dove: If Amanda Howard is like Nancy Drew, I bet they get massively unbelievable towards the end of the series!]
Amy joins Elizabeth and Jessica to help them solve the mystery, but first they sit down and watch Q&A with Steven, because they certainly have time for that. (This is the Jeopardy knock off; contestants have to say the answers in the form of a question. Random Wing Fact: I’ve had multiple friends qualify for and compete on Jeopardy. It’s so much fun watching them.) [Dove: Further random fact. UK Netflix has a Best of Jeopardy episode. Why on earth they think people want to watch the best bits of a show that never aired over here, I do not know.] [Raven: “What is a waste of time?”]
Steven gets a number of answers correct, even though no one else in the room can manage it and even the contestants struggle. Steven truly is a genius. Or he recorded the episode and is watching it from that, not a live show. HUH. That would never be possible.
(I swear I’ve read another book with this same premise, I just can’t think of the title.) [Raven: Again, can’t get past this…
The girls go off to brainstorm. Here are the facts:
- Since all the thefts took place in semi-public spaces, the Swiper must be able to blend in. Just like Jessica.
- All the items were stolen from Unicorns or almost Unicorns, all of whom are Jessica’s friends. Which means Jessica has access to them and their possessions.
- Jessica coveted every single item that was stolen.
- The Watchman, the only item to be found, was in Jessica’s locker.
Amy states the obvious, which is that Jessica did it. She’s not wrong, based on those clues. Elizabeth says that what Jessica is missing, though, is a motive. UMM. Jessica coveting those items is a motive, Snooper.
Elizabeth and Amy think back on Lila rushing past them to accusee Jessica of being a thief; she was already angry when she did, and Amy thinks she was carrying a piece of paper. Amy calls Lila, and Lila actually tells her the truth, that she received a note that said she should check Jessica’s locker. It was typed and unsigned, so no one knows where it came from. [Dove: It’s Mary Wallace! She’s the only Unicorn who can type!] [Raven: I’d love it if it was actually Elizabeth.]
Elizabeth wants to see it, but Lila also told Amy she threw it away in the lobby trash can. I’m not sure I believe Lila would even talk to Amy, but I especially don’t believe that Lila paid attention enough to remember where she threw it away. Elizabeth thinks that it will still be in the trash the next morning, which is also unlikely.
It’s not in the big trash can and the little one has already been emptied. Elizabeth is hardcore about this sleuthing and actually goes out to check the dumpster. Amy goes with her, which is a sign of true friendship. They don’t find it, though.
At lunch, Ellen brings Jessica a bill for the cost of her mother’s earrings plus $10 for pain and suffering. Ellen, I love you!
Jessica is furious after that, but Aaron comes along and makes things better. Not only does he know she’s not the Swiper, but he wants her to eat with him since she’s not sitting with the Unicorns. Awww, okay, this is kind of adorable.
At dinner that night, Jessica asks Ned about what happens to a person who is accused of stealing things. A repeat offender would be dealt with more harshly than a first offense. The story comes out that someone at school is framing Jessica as the Sweet Valley Swiper. Ned promises that they are not going to send her to reform school and makes a plan to call the principal first thing Monday morning. Alice tells the girls they should have come to them right away. Which is true. And a lesson that allegedly the twins have learned at least half a dozen times before this but it never sticks. Lack of continuity? Egotism that they can deal with things themselves? Realistic portrayal of preteens? Thoughts? [Dove: If my (imaginary) kid was accused of theft, I would be fucking furious that the school hadn’t had the decency to contact me about it, and I had to learn it through my kid. What the actual fuck goes on at SVMS? This is one of those things that is too big to just lie with the school and the kid. The parents would have to be involved.] [Raven: Yeah, Mr Clark should have called them once the Watchman was found. This school is a joke.]
Later the twins eavesdrop on Joe and Steven arguing about Steven’s change of personality. Joe wants them to go on a double date with Cathy and Jenna (…I think he means that the two couples would be boy/girl, but that’s not actually clear), but Cathy’s baby-sitting and Steven has no interest in seeing an alien invasion movie. Instead, they’re going to watch Porcupine Love: The Untold Story. Steven, your wooing tactics leave much to be desired.
Elizabeth and Amy go to the mall with Jessica, where they see some Unicorns and Veronica leaving a store. This is enough to clue Elizabeth in to what she thinks is actually going on, but she also knows it is going to be hard to prove.
They come up with a plan for Jessica to fake being sick and stay home so Elizabeth can go to school dressed as Jessica. Alice sees right through it, but lets her stay home anyway. Elizabeth pulls off being Jessica pretty well and lays out the trap in a fairly slick way, at least for these books. She talks to Veronica about how the Unicorns are coming around and she has Mandy on her side, because thrift store things aren’t the end of the world, but it would devastate her if she lost the rhinestone heart pin she always wears.
Sure enough, after lunch Mandy accuses Elizabeth-Jessica of stealing Mandy’s pin. Mandy, too, got a note. (Lila is pure Lila: HDU steal from Mandy! Lila’s rich, she can replace the stuff Jessica stole, but Mandy’s poor, don’t you know. Mandy rolls her eyes at this and tells Lila she can take care of herself, because they are both perfectly them, and I love them.) [Dove: This is very awesome from both of them here. Also, I feel like that knowledge is a holdover from Lila’s stint with poverty – she never did pick up any tact from Melissa at the time though.]
Elizabeth tells them she’s not Jessica, she’s Elizabeth; Lila doesn’t believe her, though. Elizabeth did not expect that response. Elizabeth, you are a bit of an idiot here. [Dove: FFS, whip up your sleeve/move your neckline and show off that mole on your left shoulder. Jessica doesn’t have that mole. Pool parties happen every three minutes here. Their friends would know that was their difference.] [Raven: She could roll up her sleeve and show her lack of prison tats. Definitely not Jessica without those.] She tells Mandy to call the Wakefield house to see if Jessica’s there, and Alice confirms she is. Mandy and Lila are still skeptical, so they give the twins a test. They ask the first name of Jake Sommers’ fiancee. Elizabeth doesn’t know. Jessica does. Jessica can’t spell thief (she spells it theif), and that, of course, convinces Mandy of the truth. Which makes me laugh. I love you, Mandy.
Jessica gives them her locker combo and, sure enough, they find the pin in Jessica’s locker. Elizabeth tells them about her talk with Veronica and that she thinks Veronica’s motive is to take Jessica’s place in the Unicorns. Elizabeth gets Mandy to help her with the next stage of the plan (and Lila plays along, though she really has no idea of what they’re doing. Never change, Lila). Veronica slips up and talks about the missing pin, even though none of them have said that’s what happened.
Amy brings Mr Clark into it, and he wants to look in Veronica’s locker. Again, she relents and opens it, but again, he doesn’t need for her to relent. The school has access to the lockers and the right to search if there’s reasonable suspicion. Again, this falls under that.
Oh, look, there are stolen items in Veronica’s locker. Mandy wants to know how they could have been so wrong about Veronica, and Lila wants to know how they’ve been so wrong about Jessica. Now, in this situation, yes, Jessica was innocent. SHE DOES STEAL THINGS FROM PEOPLE THOUGH WHAT THE HELL.
Alice and Jessica watch Days of Turmoil together to celebrate Jessica’s name being cleared, but then Jessica has to help her with the household chores. She vacuums Steven’s room and finds some clues herself — Wagners’ Greatest Hits CD from the public library and notes about the Q&A answers. This makes her do some more sleuthing of her own.
After school, she confronts Steven about how he’s not really a genius. She found the Q&A tape and the black tape he put over the play button to hide it. She found the Chess for Idiots in his room. The volume of the encyclopedia that has the entry about Abraham Lincoln.
Steven finally admits that he’s been trolling Joe because he knows Joe was trying to troll him with the MEGA results. This also means that Jessica can tease him again. [Dove: I absolutely love this. I was waiting for the reveal, but it’s awesome that he was messing with Joe over this.] [Raven: I too totally love Genius Steven.]
Jessica loops Elizabeth in on the prank Steven’s playing, just in time to watch him tell Joe about it. While they’re waiting for Joe to turn up, the Unicorns show up with an I’m Sorry balloon to apologise to Jessica.
One final thing is cleared up, too: Veronica got Jessica’s locker combo from where she’d written it on the inside of her math book which she then leant to Veronica. That’s a great place to put your combo, Jessica.
Ellen tells Jessica that Rick Hunter defended her, too (though he did say she was too klutzy to be the Swiper), and then the Unicorns tell her about the marriage project that’s coming up soon. The whole school will learn what it’s really like to be married. For two whole entire weeks. I’m (probably stupidly) excited about that book now.
Janet takes Jessica aside and tells her that the genius thing is a practical joke Joe is playing on Steven. Jessica plays along with this, because she’s wonderful. When Joe shows up, Steven tells him that he’s going to quit school to pursue the things he truly loves now, and maybe he can be accepted into Harvard at fourteen, but a lawyer by the time he’s seventeen. That — that is not going to work even if you were a genius.
Joe gives Steven a letter from MEGA saying that he’s not really a genius; instead, some guy name Steven Wokefield is really a genius. Oh. My. God. Steven plays along with this for a second, all sad — and then he points out that this time, there are three misspelled words in the letter. He’s known all along that Joe faked everything and he’s been reverse trolling him. I love it, and their friendship. [Raven: I also love the fact that once he lets Joe in on the joke, he still wants to teach his friend how to play chess. Yay for development!]
Also, Jessica found Elizabeth’s sweater and sweatshirt under Elizabeth dresser. Apparently Alice found them in the dirty clothes (after Jessica “borrowed” them without permission, which is stealing, Wakefield), washed them, and then put them on top of the dresser, but they fell down at one point. Elizabeth apologises to Jessica, Jessica borrows her white jeans (and it is actually borrowing), and they briefly talk about the reading Elizabeth is already doing for the marriage unit.
Guess we’ll see what happens in the next book, when SVMS gets married. Good times.
This was not terrible, and I ended up really enjoying the side plot, but it felt very — contrived, maybe? Like all the beats of the story were visible a mile away. Like things were so over the top most of the time it is impossible to believe that at least one person didn’t pick up on things sooner. Like every other falsely accused preteen story from its time period.
Still, it by far wasn’t the worst book I’ve read, and it was entertaining enough.
[Dove: Raven and I always talk about the books once he’s done reading them, and we both agree that this would have worked so much better if there had been a book between this one and The Great Boyfriend Switch, where Veronica read the Wakefield situation, and used Elizabeth’s desperate need to save people as a way to come back from her bad behaviour. Having her transition into good girl through Elizabeth’s saintliness (as a b-plot) would have made this a bit less obvious. Not hugely, but it would also make her sudden inclusion in the group, after several books of snide comments, a bit easier to understand. Otherwise, fine. Quite enjoyed bits of it, and this is the least obnoxious version of Elizabeth solving a mystery. Most of the time she’s too into it and I want to shake her.]
[Raven: Yeah, I liked this one, but the fact that Veronica was clerly the bad girl was telegarphed in the previous book. As Dove mentions, it really needed a book in between this one and the last. Or even five books, or ten books, so we’d forget about Veronica and could still be surprised. I tried reading it like an episode of Columbo, where all the joy is in seeing how the pre-known villain is caught, which did help a little. Also, HOW GOOD was the B Plot?! Totally loved all of Genius Steven, from the first dearest sibling to the last.]
Elizabeth’s book-long soulmate: Amy Sutton
Characters: Aaron Dallas, Alice Wakefield, Amy Sutton, Bruce Patman, Elizabeth Wakefield, Ellen Riteman, Janet Howell, Jessica Wakefield, Joe (aka "Sam") Howell, Lila Fowler, Mandy Miller, Mrs Arnette, Ned Wakefield, Steven Wakefield, Veronica Brooks