stacey & the mystery at the mall is TERRIBLE. but it’s so terrible that it became amazing. that seems to be the case with a lot of the mystery books.
picture it, lawrence, kansas, 2011: i have a cold, i feel like crap, i’m laying in bed & reading this book to pass the time while a blizzard rages outside. i’m muddling my way through the basic plot: it’s another short takes class. this one is called “project work”. all the students at stoneybrook middle school are going to be spending three days a week at after-school jobs. this is a flagrant violation of child labor laws, as no student at stoneybrook middle school is over the age if 14. but maybe this is irrelevant because the students will be laboring without pay. which also seems illegal. it also raises a lot of questions about unemployment levels in the stoneybrook area. it seems that the local businesses have a LOT of openings for unpaid barely-teenage part-time employees.
kristy acknowledges that the project work thing is going to take a bite out of the time that club members have for babysitting. which brings up another question: is it legal for a school to require its students to commit to a project that involves this much after-school time? then again, this is the same school that hosts a mandatory ski weekend in vermont. i think stoneybrook may be a law unto itself.
anyway, kristy suggests that all the sitters take jobs at the washington mall so their schedules will coordinate. doesn’t this plan seem like it would make the “time to babysit” issue even worse? if they had staggered schedules, they could take more afternoon jobs, right? but then we wouldn’t have a handy plot contrivance that allows every member of the babysitters club to be at the mall everyday. so let’s move on.
mary anne takes a job at critters, which sells pet toys & such forth. logan decides to work at casa grande, a mexican place in the food court. mallory gets a job at bookcentre…a bookstore. jessi is an usher at the movie theatre. claudia is working at the art supply store. kristy, hilariously, has signed up to work on mall security. & stacey signed up to work at toy town, a toy store. zingy’s, the cool boutique where dawn bought her famous crinoline skirt that went over so badly with logan’s cousin lewis, was her first choice, but they aren’t participating in the project work program. so she goes with toy town because she buys stuff for her kid-kit there a lot.
her boss is a nice woman named april, who often bring her two-year-old son, sandy, to work with her. which again seems like a violation of some kind of law. as an aside, i rent from a company that owns a few different historic residences in lawrence, & my landlord employs a secretary to handle calls during business hours. she brings her kid to work with her. so when you go in to sign a lease or something, there’s a toddler running around, ripping up leases & smearing mcnugget grease all over people’s rent checks. i know affordable child care is just a pipe dream for a lot of people, but there comes a point when having a kid underfoot is not safe for customers, kids, or business priorities.
stacey’s first order of business is to basically babysit sandy for free & therefore learn nothing about how to run a business, which is ostensibly the point of the project work class. she does learn that there has been more shoplifting than usual going on at the mall. she gets REALLY, REALLY concerned about this. she panics constantly over what might happen if she catches a shoplifter who then ends up being armed. because i know that when i’m packing heat, my first stop is always the toy store so i can shoplift a superball & a barbie outfit. she also freaks out constantly over what might happen if a shoplifter–armed to the teeth, as all shoplifters are–developed some sort of beef with little sandy. april is pretty much oblivious to all of this. she’s just like, “try to keep an eye out for shoplifters, & here’s how to discreetly call for security if you see something suspicious.” meanwhile, stacey is having nightmares about getting riddled with bullets after seeing someone pocket a mr. potato head.
but a week or two into the job, mall security arranges a “sting operation” & manages to arrest a gang of teenagers that had been doing most of the shoplifting. mary anne is all like, “gang? do they have guns?” yes, & they’re drinking their juice in the hood in washington mall. kristy clarifies that they are not a gang-gang. they’re a gang, as in a group, & now the shoplifting should be less of an issue. & it is. but some weird stuff is going missing–toothpaste from the drugstore. towels & children’s size jeans from the department store. & some big things are disappearing too, at night. things like TVs & treadmills.
when mallory arranges a story hour at the bookstore, she notices a few grubby-looking blond kids. she mentions them to the other sitters for no real reason other than that she saw one of the kids sneak some cookies from another story hour attendee & wolf them down. for this reason, she thinks the kids might be stealing. & somehow this motivates jessi to announce that it looks like someone has been sleeping in the movie theatre overnight. can i just say that i have worked at several retail establishments in my day & if it ever looked like anyone was sleeping in them overnight, it would have warranted a lot more than a, “by the way, feel free to disregard, but maybe someone’s been sleeping in here. carry on!” somehow the babysitters decide that the three grubby blond kids are living in the mall.
now, when i got to this part, i literally jumped up & thought to myself, “YES! THIS IS AWESOME! THIS IS THAT BATSHIT CRAZY BOOK WHERE THE KIDS ARE LIVING IN THE MALL!” i had kind of forgotten that that was ever a plot in a babysitters club book. & then i noted that the very next line was, “but what about the thefts–TVs, treadmills? that was serious. far more serious than some kids living in the mall.”
hold the phone. WHAT COULD BE MORE SERIOUS THAN KIDS LIVING IN THE MOTHERFUCKING MALL? well-adjusted, healthy kids with stable, happy home lives do not just go live at the mall. where are the kids’ parents? why aren’t they going to school? THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SOME DUMB TREADMILL.
but first, we need a dumb babysitting subplot. i guess stacey has tired of her role as part-time unpaid sandy-sitter, & she suggests that the mall get a day care center–both for the mall employees, & for mall patrons that have heretofore just been dumping their kids off at the toy store or story hour & letting them hang out unsupervised while they shop. the sitters pitch the idea to the mall manager, mr. morton, & he goes for it. he lets them have an empty storefront for half-price, & a bunch of other store owners pitch in to contribute funds & supplies. okay, boring, let’s move on.
one day at work, stacey goes into the back room to look for a doll & finds a man wearing a ski mask back there. he runs away, but stacey is freaked. & convinced he is involved somehow with the missing electronics & whatnot.
another day everyone is at work & the fire alarm goes off. everyone has to vacate the mall. afterward, kristy notices that she never sees the three blond kids on the security tapes anymore. she becomes very concerned about them. this somehow causes stacey to have her deus ex machina moment: the blond kids are living at the mall. which means they are there when the big ticket items are being stolen. they find out who is behind it. in fact, they find out that mr. morton is behind it. stacey deduces this from the fact that mall is struggling financially but mr. morton is so nice & wants to say yes to everyone–to the day care, to benefit concerts, to discount programs. his generosity destroyed the mall’s bottom line & now he has to steal treadmills & sell them on the black market to keep the mall afloat. the kids know about it, so he threatened them to keep them quiet. they pulled the fire alarm to buy time to find better hidey-holes at the mall.
the sitters decide to go to the mall & look for the kids. they find them taking a nap in the yet-to-be-opened day care center. the kids confirm stacey’s theory & explain that their mom got really sick & had to go to the hospital. their aunt was supposed to come take care of them, but she never showed. they ran out of money, the utilities were shut off, & the landlord was going to evict them. so they moved into the mall. they just recently moved to the area, so they haven’t been enrolled in school yet. every now & again, they would take coins from the fountain to pay for bus fare to visit their mom in the hospital. they never told her what happened because they didn’t want to worry her.
THIS MAKES NO SENSE. i wish i had a bigger caps lock because, guys, THIS MAKES NO SENSE! why didn’t the aunt show up? why didn’t the mom know that the aunt hadn’t shown up? didn’t the kids have another relative or adult friend to call upon? don’t you have to get several months behind on your utility bills before they are turned off? isn’t eviction a complicated, drawn out process involving numerous court dates? if the mom was actually in the hospital for this long–for months–how were the kids feeding themselves while they were still living in the apartment? i could go on, but seriously. when i think about everything i know as an adult that makes this scenario so incredibly unlikely, my brain starts to melt. but i guess it’s a nice fantasy for little kids.
kristy decides they have to call the police. which they do. mr. morton is arrested for the big thefts, & the police learn that the grubby kids’ mom is almost better & ready to be discharged from the hospital. they will receive some help from social service agencies to get a new apartment & get back on their feet. apparently no one is going to be prosecuted for child neglect or endangerment. “it’s a happy ending for everyone,” the babysitters chortle, “except mr. morton!” who was just stealing because he was nice! not that i see how a few benefit concerts & a child care are going to break the bank of a healthy retail establishment, or how the sale of a few black market microwaves is going to fill the gap. not that it matters because this book is so wacktacular. it’s the standard against which all other wack must be measured.