The SMS students are all starting a new Short Takes class called Project Work. Three days a week for 6 weeks, each one will go out into the community after school and actually work with a business to get a feel for what the "real world" is like. The BSC members all agree to try and get jobs at Washington Mall so they'll be on the same schedule, which is exactly what happens: Kristy will be working with mall security, Jessi will be working at Cinema World, Claudia will be at the Artist's Exchange, Mallory will be at BookCenter, Logan will be at the Casa Grande takeout counter in the food court, Mary Anne will be at Critters, and Stacey will be at Toy Town.
Stacey's excited about her new job; April, the woman who runs the store, is really nice, and the place is full of neat toys. There's just one problem, which April warns Stacey about right off the bat, and that's shoplifting. Toy Town isn't the only store that's been having problems lately; when Stacey meets up with her friends during her break time, she finds out that all of them have been given the same talk by their new bosses. The first week of work isn't even over before it happens to Stacey the first time. She blames herself, but April assures her that it's not her fault. The following week, a display model of a Gamester (the BSC's version of a Game Boy???) disappears. The following day, the replacement model also disappears. Right after it's taken, there's a commotion out in the mall. Stacey sees a bunch of people running by Toy Town, but no one seems to know what's going on Then, she sees the police arresting a bunch of teenagers, one of whom she recgonizes as having been in the store. Stacey runs and tells one of the cops that she saw the kid in the store right before the Gamester disappeared, and sure enough, the kid has it.
With all the arrests that were made, everyone is sure that the shoplifting will stop. Not so; little things, like toothpaste and kids' clothes, are still disappearing. There are also some larger items, like VCRs and camcorders, that have also been found missing, sometimes from locked storerooms. Then, Stacey has a scare when she goes back to Toy Town's stockroom to get something for a customer. She's surprised by a man in a ski mask, who orders her to be quiet before running out the back entrance into the mall. There is also some evidence that someone has been sleeping in the movie theater at night, and using the kitchen at Casa Grande to cook. The BSC thinks it might be three rather grubby-looking kids whom they've all seen around the mall. At least, that would explain the smaller items that have been disappearing, and the the whole living in the mall thing. What it doesn't explain, though, is how and why the larger items are being stolen. The girls think that the new mall manager, Mr. Morton, might be responsible for that. After all, he'd know how to get around security to steal things without being seen, and he'd have access to locked storage areas. They've even seen him talking to the three kids on the security cameras. The girls at first think that the kids might be working for him, but then think it's more likely that they just found out about what Mr. Morton is doing. They figure that the kids might be in danger, and they decide to head to the mall right then to find them.
After arriving at the mall, the girls (and Charlie Thomas) give themselves two hours to find the kids. Just before the time is up, they discover them sleeping on some mats in the back room of an empty store. Their names are Mara (12), Kyle (8), and Brenda (6). The club and Charlie take them to Friendly's for a meal while Stacey goes to call the cops. Apparently, the kids' mother got very sick and had to go to the hospital. An aunt had been asked to take care of them, but she never showed up. Mara kept them in their apartment as long as she could, but when the money ran out, she moved to the mall. They never told their mother what had happened, since she was so sick. The police and social services both arrive to take the kids, who are later reunited with their recovered mother. Also, Mr. Morton is caught and will probably be punished for stealing and selling those big ticket items. He had run the mall into some serious financial trouble, thanks to his inability to say no to anyone, and he was selling things to try and make up for it.
In other mall news, the club is helping some of the store owners open a day care center. Lots of parents just leave their children in places like Toy Town and BookCenter while they do their shopping, and some of the employees themselves want to have a place to leave their children while they're working.
Thoughts and Things
- The Project Work days were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I'm surprised Kristy didn't go to the SMS principal and tell them that PW conflicted with the BSC and that something else would need to be arranged.
- I know that all the BSC members needed to be working at the mall for plot purposes, but I can't help but wonder if there were any non-retail jobs available to the students? There are 26326543 lawyers in Stoneybrook; I bet at least a couple of them would be willing to have a student volunteer in the office a few days a week.
- I do like the idea of Project Work, but I don't buy that they would actually let 13 year olds run cash registers and operate fast food cooking equipment within days of starting. It would have been a little more realistic if this had been more of a job shadow situation.
- Inconsistency #1: Stacey mentions the whole Modern Living/egg baby thing, and says that it was an earlier Short Takes class. Actually, no. This book is the first time Short Takes is mentioned in the series.
- Inconsistency #2: Logan mentions never having had a job interview. So you mean to tell me that he was not only hired to be a busboy at the Rosebud at age 13, but that he was hired without an interview?
- I love that there's a store called the Cheese Outlet in the mall. :)