Finally, the Saturday comes when Jessica wakes up a free woman. She can hardly wait to spend the day with Sam. She meets him at the Dairi Burger and tells him all about how she wants to go shopping together, but she forgot that Sam has a dirt bike race that same day (even though he’s been talking about it for a while). Jessica doesn’t want to stand around watching Sam race, even though that’s what she loved to do a couple of books ago. She flips out on him and storms out of the Dairi Burger. She goes to the mall by herself and sits down in a bench bawling and thinking about how it’s not fair that Liz is so perfect and Jessica is the “bad twin” who messes up all the time. Oh, we’re on THAT again! A kid named Ted comes over and comforts Jessica, and tells her about his group, the Good Friends, and how they always look out for one another. Ted says his life was miserable too until he met the Good Friends and went to live with them. He invites her to come have dinner with them at their group house that night. Jessica drives over there and gets the shudders because the Good Friends house is in the same neighborhood as Tricia Martin’s old house. She’s about to turn around and go home when Ted comes out on his front porch and welcomes her. She goes on inside and is surprised to find that everyone is kind of cool and laid-back, albeit totally plain-looking and un-stylish for her taste. The Good Friends explain that they are run by a man named Adam Marvel who works really hard to help them raise lots of money for charities. Adam’s goal is to help everyone become a “total person.” Jessica is grossed out by the house and the associated chores schedule for the residents, until she runs into Adam as she’s leaving for the night. He’s close to 30, but totally handsome and charming. That’s all it takes with Jessica. She’s won over.
Jessica begins spending all her spare time with the Good Friends. When she’s at their house, she participates in group book studies, helps make dinner, and helps Adam out with organizational and handy chores Jess wouldn’t be caught dead doing around the Wakefield house. Adam compliments and praises Jessica for the littlest things so that she feels special. She makes good friends with a girl who lives at the GF house named Annie (no, not Annie Whitman). Another girl named Susan (no, not Susan Stewart) is another newer member who has some kind of problem with Jessica and is always scowling and glaring at her. Adam lets Jessica think Susan has a crush on Adam and doesn’t like the attention he’s paying to Jess as a new member.
Jessica goes out on door-to-door money-soliciting runs with the rest of the group. They’re supposed to give the money for charities, but on their way back home from Jessica’s first run, Adam surprises her by using some of the money they just raised to buy food. He assures her he has to take a little to support the group house and feed them, but the rest is used for the charities. Jessica accepts this explanation. I have to wonder how she thought the Friends supported themselves otherwise. I mean, they’re a bunch of teenagers living in a house all day playing guitar and talking about great Adam is.
Even though Jessica is always off at the Good Friends house, no one figures it out. They believe her when she says she’s going to the library to study. Sam confronts Jessica after he goes to the library to surprise her and she isn’t there, but Jess just yells at him that she was actually at the Cold Springs library because the Sweet Valley one didn’t have the books she needed. Isn’t Cold Springs two hours away??? Then Todd sees Jessica collecting money at the mall and tells Liz. Liz is sure that couldn’t have been Jessica because she doesn’t do stuff like that, hahaha.
Back at home, Jessica is blowing off Sam and her friends, picking weird fights with Sam, and telling Liz to mind her own business. She’s also started dressing very conservatively, cleaning and organizing her room, and doing her homework and studying on time. Liz figures the changes in Jess aren’t ALL bad, haha. But then Ned mentions to Alice and Liz that he’s learned about a cult called the Good Friends that takes money from people claiming it’s for charity but doesn’t actually hand the money over. The Good Friends are developing groups all over the country and worrying the authorities. Ned the Wonder Lawyer is helping to “investigate” them to bring charges or something. When Liz mentions this news to Jessica, Jessica flips out and defends the group. Liz then sits around trying to figure out what the connection is between Jessica’s recent strange behavior like money-collecting and random disappearances and her defense of this cult. …Is she for real?
Sam starts trying to track where Jessica goes all the time. He trails her to the Good Friends house and freaks out; he tells Todd and Liz, and Liz confronts Jessica. Jessica explains that Adam Marvel is basically the most fantastic human being ever made and their dad doesn’t know what he’s talking about. So Liz crafts a plan to infiltrate the cult and prove that it’s not what Jessica thinks it is. She manages to blackmail Jessica into going on a date with Sam. While Jessica acts like a condescending ass to Sam all night (just like Liz), Liz dresses as New Jessica (so she dresses like herself? Ba ha ha) and heads to the Good Friends house, where Todd waits in a car in case Liz gets in trouble.
At the group house, Elizabeth-as-Jessica joins in a discussion with everyone else, which consists of Adam expressing an idea, asking the group for their thoughts and then standing there and listening while everyone goes around the room to agree with him. Then a kid named Daryl bursts into the room to say that another member named Brian Carotin disappeared while the Friends were collecting money at the mall. Adam orders everyone in the cult to go back to the mall to look for him, except for Susan and “Jessica” who will stay at the house with him. As Adam ushers the group out the door, Susan frantically urges “Jessica” to leave the house NOW. Adam catches them talking and “Jess” lies and says she was just teasing Susan about having a crush on Brian. Adam scolds them because real Good Friends don’t get crushes on people. Why is Jessica in this group again? “Jessica” goes home soon afterwards.
At the Wakefield dinner table, Ned reveals what happened to Brian. He had been working with Brian’s parents and they had kidnapped their son back from the mall and put him in recovery. Eventually, they’ll have Brian testify against the cult. Even though Ned has no idea his daughters have anything to do with this cult, it still strikes me as odd that he would just sit there and spill such sensitive information to them. Come on, Jessica has the biggest mouth in the whole town (for two reasons). Jessica immediately goes and tells Adam that Ned has been working with the Carotins. Adam forms a plan for the group to save Brian back from his parents’ “prison” and recruits Jessica to steal his family’s address from Ned’s desk, which she does. Then she heads to the Good Friends house to run away with them since the police will try to find them after they grab Brian. Susan has also left the group because her grandmother was sick, but Adam doesn’t seem to care about her. As Jessica is about to leave with Ted, Annie, and Adam, a car pulls up with Elizabeth, Sam, and Todd. Elizabeth screams at Adam and Jessica while Sam runs inside the house to … look around? Todd runs off and calls the police. I was looking forward to a Todd-punch, but we didn’t get one. Dammit! Then Sam comes out of the house with Susan in his arms; she was bound and gagged and left for dead inside the house. Adam hurriedly tries to force Jessica into the van but Sam tackles him. The police come and Adam is arrested. Yay. Susan explains she was a reporter infiltrating the cult. Jessica magically recovers from her cult obsession. I don’t think her parents have anything to say about it. In fact, I’m not sure they’re ever even aware of what happened.
I wonder how they came up with the idea for this book. Cults and teens must have been in the news a lot. This book was published over a year before the Branch Davidian raid took place in Texas.
This book was a lot like Runaway, only much crappier.
The no-plot subplot involves Liz and Todd joining a bowling team where Liz meets a kid named Justin Silver. Justin becomes obsessed with her and begins following her around and trying to steal her from Todd. He’s a lot like Nicholas Morrow in Deceptions. And just like in that book, Liz feels obligated to go on a date with Justin just because he won’t back off otherwise. Which is called harassment right? Justin even follows Liz and Enid around Sweet Valley (in his silver Porsche) and interrupts them at the Dairi Burger to give Liz flowers in front of everybody. That’s called stalking right? Liz hides the whole thing from Todd because he’s already mad at her about all the attention Justin is paying her. She goes on a date with him to some cafe at the mall while thinking about how she could never date Justin. Why don’t you just tell him to fuck off then? Seriously? In the end realizes that Todd is better anyway and she doesn’t want Justin which she already KNEW. Todd finds out about their secret “friends only” date and blames himself. He tells Liz he clearly wasn’t flattering her vanity enough. That’s gold. And I have a really hard time imagining Todd not getting upset about that after the way he reacted to his girlfriend’s secret date with Nicholas Morrow in the past.
The cover: Here’s our first glimpse of Sam. Jessica looks at least 15 years younger and her jeans pain me. That’s Ted on the right, judging by the red hair and freckles. Ted has had Botox treatments recently. Oh, and this scene never happened by the way. The title is also a lie. No one was kidnapped by the cult. Brian ALMOST was, but that hardly counts. Where do they come up with these bullshit titles?
WTF? The other kids in the cult are Agnes, China, Sky (a shy boy), Anita, Doug, Brooke, Charles, Mick, David, Mary, and Lilly.
This quote should tell you all you need to know about Adam’s
sheepfollowers. “Mary smiled shyly. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever known a cheerleader before.’ ‘Me, either,’ Sky said. ‘To tell you the truth, I never thought cheerleaders had problems like other people.'”
There doesn’t seem to be any religious aspect to the cult at all, just self-improvement.
Elizabeth panics when she and Enid notice what Liz thinks is Adam’s car following them all around town. (It’s actually Justin.) She’s convinced Adam knows she infiltrated the cult and is coming to get her. She scolds herself: Elizabeth Wakefield, you’re not in a mystery novel, you’re in Sweet Valley, California. Things like that don’t happen here!” Liz has the worst case of retrograde amnesia I’ve ever seen. A few minutes later, the car pulls around the back of the Dairi Burger and a figure comes through the kitchen carrying something behind his back. Before Liz can see that it’s Justin holding flowers, Enid screams that he has a gun and she and Liz dive underneath the table to hide. Two seconds later they’re laughing it off. This scene is so fucked up.
Liz gets called a genius at least twice … for two totally stupid things. First she calls herself a genius for deciding to pose as Jessica when she was sitting there scratching her head about how to find out what the cult is really like. Hello, you’ve done that way too many times in the past to not immediately have that idea this time, Liz. Then Enid calls Liz a genius for suggesting Enid get her mother scented bubble bath as a present. I think Enid would consider Liz a genius for remembering to wipe her ass, honestly.
Jessica gets mad at Sam for ordering popcorn for himself at the movies when he knows she doesn’t like it. She’s the worst girlfriend ever. I don’t know how Sam is still putting up with her. They just got together and already everything is forever going wrong in their dumb relationship. Maybe they’re basing their love on the Todd-Liz model.
In the last book, Jessica was supposed to be grounded until her math grades went up, here it’s a finite three weeks.
Rosa Jameson is called Rose in this book. After all the shit the last book put us through with her name and her decision to drop out of PBA because Lila wouldn’t get her name right, now it’s going to call her ROSE?
Reader of the Month: Jamie here claims that her mother passed down the SVH books to her, or at least, that’s what it sounds like she’s saying. But this series isn’t even a full nine years old at the time of publication, and Jamie looks at least 12. The essay starts out great but then I almost choked on my beer when I read the following: “…But what I’m really trying to say is that Sweet Valley books aren’t just a series of books, they are a legend of reading. They are what gave this era a great series of books. They are the best and surpass all the others, and I hope they grow into infinity.” A … LEGEND of READING????
A … legend of reading.
Coming up next: The legend of reading continues with a mystery trip to London for Cara.