Estimated Elapsed Time: 4-5 weeks
Jessica believes her life is super unfair because her parents grounded her after she lied about failing a bunch of tests in math class. She feels alienated from her friends, who are having parties and sleepovers without her, and disconnected from Sam, who seems more interested in his motorbike racing than in shopping with her. When she finally is released from her grounding, she goes to the mall, where she meets Ted, who tells her about the Good Friends and invites her to have dinner with them. When Jessica goes to have dinner at the place where all the Good Friends live, she’s freaked out by the neighborhood and then sort of taken in with how earnest and nice all the people in the house are. When she meets Adam Marvel, the leader of the Good Friends, she’s smitten, because he’s gorgeous.
At any rate, Jessica starts spending all her time with the Good Friends, helping around the house, participating in book group discussions, and canvassing houses and asking people for money at the mall. She undergoes a complete physical transformation, wearing conservative clothing, and doing all her homework on time. While her family notices this, they don’t seem bothered by it at all. Sam is, though, because she keeps blowing him off and lying to him about where she is.
It isn’t until Ned conveniently mentions that a new cult has come to town called the Good Friends that Liz starts to worry. Ned says that his law firm has been approached by some charities who worry this cult is using their names to collect donations that are then being used for the cult’s own selfish purposes. When Elizabeth asks Jessica if she’s heard of the cult, she’s shocked at how defensive Jessica is about the whole thing.
Then Liz gets Sam to insist Jessica go out with him one night, and she infiltrates the cult in Jessica’s stead. She’s amazed as she watches these “clear glass marbles” parrot everything Adam says. When some of the members come in to report that Brian, one of the teens, has gone missing, Elizabeth sees how angry Adam is. Turns out that Brian’s parent kidnapped him away from the cult to deprogram him. Ned tells Elizabeth and Jessica that he’ll testify against the Good Friends once he’s healthy again. Um, okay.
Jessica tells Adam this, and the two decide to kidnap Brian back. Then things escalate, and Adam convinces Jessica to leave town with him and the rest of the Good Friends. But Liz, Sam and Todd stage an intervention as Adam is rounding them up into a van. Sam runs into the house and finds Susan, a member of the cult, unconscious, bound and gagged. Guess she was a reporter and Adam found her out. The police show up, Adam is arrested, and Jessica goes home with Elizabeth. Yay?
The B-Plot is all about a new bowling team that’s been started at Sweet Valley High. Liz and Todd join the team, and it isn’t long before Liz has caught the eye of the team’s coach, Justin Silver. He begins to basically beg her to go out with him, and while she politely declines, he eventually wears her down to the point where she feels obligated to go out once with him. She finally gets him to stop after that, but not before making Todd a little jealous.
- Apparently the SVH cheerleaders only hold practice on Tuesday afternoons?
- There’s a new bowling team starting up at school
- Apparently Jessica doesn’t like popcorn? But she’s eaten it in a bunch of books when she watches TV at home. Weird. Also, I hate myself for knowing this.
- She also hates tofu and muesli, both of which she eats in this book.
- The local bowling alley is called The Fast Lane
- “Lila was telling Cara where the best dress shops were in London, and Amy was trying to talk with an English accent.” (7)
- “There was a cafe beside the artificial waterfall at the mall that had always made Jessica think of Paris.” (15)
- “‘This is ridiculous,’ she said out loud. ‘I’m not going to find people who understand me here. I’m going to find people who shop in thrift stores.’” (28)
- “‘People don’t just disappear in shopping malls,’ Adam said evenly.” (117) [Blogger's note: actually, they do. Hasn't Adam ever read The Face on the Milk Carton?]
A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:
I mean, there are tons of things that strain credulity in this one. First of all, Jessica strikes me as someone who would be the least likely to fit the criteria for a good cult member. Second of all, her ridiculous transformation from popular, confident teen to one who is obsessed with service never rings true. This is not a series that prides itself of subtlety, but even by SVH standards, this is ridiculous.
Perhaps my biggest issue with this one is how ill-defined the cult actually is, though. There’s no religious affiliation with this cult, which, fine. Despite the fact that that’s a common trait of these organizations, I’ll let it slide. But there isn’t anything that tells me that Adam Marvel is particularly magnetic (except for his good looks) or has a message that would really resonate with teens. Whatever, I am definitely overthinking this.