December 27, 2017

SVT #116, Jessica Takes Charge: Even When These Kids Try to Do Nice Things, Disaster Follows

Posted in books tagged , at 4:14 pm by Jenn

This is exactly what working with children is like

Summary: For two weeks, all the sixth-graders at SVMS have to do volunteer work. (Yes, someone does mention that forced volunteer work probably doesn’t really count as volunteering.) Jobs vary from working at a soup kitchen to helping out at the mayor’s office. The tasks are assigned randomly, but no one seems to care if the kids swap with each other. Liz wants to work at the soup kitchen, since she likes actually helping people. Jess and Lila want the job at the mayor’s office, thinking it’ll be glamorous.

When the kids draw their assignments, Jessica gets one at the health trailer, which means she’ll be teaching little kids about health. Lila draws the soup kitchen, while Liz draws the mayor’s office. Lila and Jessica try to get Elizabeth to trade with them, upping the ante until Lila buys the job with $200 in cash and a ride in her limo. Elizabeth doesn’t feel great about taking money for the assignment, but Lila points out that she can donate it to the soup kitchen.

On Elizabeth’s first day of volunteering, she immediately sees what an impact the soup kitchen has on the people it serves. Almost 300 people eat there every day, and the staff is desperate for funds to keep up their work. They’re so busy that Liz forgets to give Andre, the man in charge, Lila’s “anonymous donation,” AKA the $200 she paid for the gig at the mayor’s office.

Jessica has a horrible time at the health trailer, mostly because her supervisor, Nurse Jennings, is awful. Jess has to put together a model of the human heart and lungs, but she has no idea what she’s doing. Nurse Jennings yells at her for snacking on a candy bar, since it’s not healthy. Jess’ partner is Winston, who just makes wisecracks the whole afternoon. She hates every minute of it.

Lila isn’t having a much better time. The office manager, Ashlee, doesn’t want a preteen volunteer, and she definitely doesn’t want one who thinks she should have the red carpet rolled out for her just for showing up. She makes Lila fold brochures all afternoon, like some sort of pauper. Lila doesn’t even get to meet the mayor! The only good thing that happens is the arrival of a cute high-school intern named Paul. Lila quickly falls in luuuuuuv with him and bores Jessica by gushing about him whenever she can.

The next day, a camera crew shows up at the health trailer, and Jessica learns that the mayor will be stopping by for a photo op. She hears the crew talking about the volunteer program; the one for the middle-schoolers is too new for anyone to know if it’s worth it yet, but the one for the high-schoolers is going really well. Specifically, Paul is thriving after being placed in the program as punishment for vandalism and shoplifting. Jess is thrilled to hear that Lila’s new crush is a juvenile delinquent.

Over at the soup kitchen, Liz finally remembers to give Andre the $200. They’re putting on a rummage sale for an Outreach Fair (part of the outreach program that’s arranged all the volunteer work), and things are hectic enough even without Jeff, the young grandson of a worker named Mrs. Tooney, getting in everyone’s way. Mrs. Tooney admires a red cookie jar just like one she owns. Her grandmother used to store money in it during the Depression, and Mrs. Tooney picked up the habit and keeps her money in the same jar now.

A group from the daycare where Mandy’s volunteering comes to the health trailer for the mayor’s photo op. Andre, Paul, and Lila also come over; Paul’s hoping to find some information on nutrition for his grandfather, who’s been having stomach problems. Even though Jess has only been working at the trailer for about a day, she’s expected to give a presentation to the kids. All she has to help her is a pamphlet about the digestive system, but it happens to be in Spanish, so that’s no good.

The presentation goes horribly, to no one’s surprise. Jessica gives a valiant effort, but she keeps forgetting what she’s talking about, and the kids end up thinking that you use both your lungs and your stomach to breathe. Also, the ghostwriter has never spoken with children and has no idea how they talk. The big finale involves a bunch of pamphlets getting knocked over and raining down on Jessica. Thanks to the news crew there for the mayor, the whole disaster ends up on the local news.

That’s not the worse disaster to come out of the presentation, though – in all the chaos, Andre misplaces Lila’s $200. Everyone searches the pamphlets, but they can’t find it. Jessica remembers Paul picking up a pamphlet and looking surprised, so she guesses that Andre tucked the money inside one, and Paul stole it. In Sweet Valley, you’re guilty until proven innocent, so Paul loses the internship that helped turn his life around.

Lila refuses to believe that her crush could do something so horrible, so she goes to his house to get his side of the story. She meets Paul’s grandfather, who only speaks Spanish. Paul swears he’s innocent, and he won’t take any money from Lila to repay the missing $200 and make everything go away. After all, it would just make him look guilty. Lila takes out her anger on Jessica, which is fair, since Jess is the reason Paul became a suspect.

At the Outreach Fair, Jeff tries to argue with his grandmother that your lungs are in your stomach, one of the things Jessica accidentally said in her presentation. He also mentions that he has money in a cookie jar. Elizabeth puts together that Jeff found the $200 and stashed it in the red rummage-sale cookie jar. Liz goes to get the jar from the sale, but someone just bought it.

Elsewhere at the fair, a glimpse of a Spanish brochure about colon health makes Lila piece together what happened with Paul. He wasn’t surprised because he found money in a pamphlet; he was surprised because he found one in Spanish, which means he could give it to his grandfather. Lila and Liz run into each other and go in search of the cookie jar.

The girls finally find the antiques dealer who bought the jar, but he won’t let them take it back. Instead of just telling the man that she needs to look inside (she doesn’t think just having the money turn up will exonerate Paul), Lila tries to buy the jar. The bidding goes up to $600 before the mayor happens to walk by and wonder what’s going on. Finally, Lila explains everything and is allowed to retrieve the money from the jar.

The mayor makes a public apology to Paul and offers him his internship back. Paul gives a shout-out to the outreach program, which ends up getting the funding it needs to continue. The mayor gives Paul some money so he can take Lila and some friends out for ice cream. She picks Mandy and Elizabeth, then extends an olive branch to Jessica. The fair is a big success, Paul’s reputation is restored, and the soup kitchen gets its $200. Happy ending!

Thoughts: Elizabeth mentions a boy at the soup kitchen who asks for a tuna sandwich for his stuffed tiger. 10 begrudging cool points to the ghostwriter for the Calvin and Hobbes reference.

Paul was caught spray-painting “Jazz rules!” Um, what?

“Rich as a toad”? Shut up, Ashlee.

“I’d been looking all over for something in Spanish to give him.” You live in Southern California, Paul. Look harder next time.

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