I was so jealous of Mallory when I read this book. I know, that sounds crazy. But this was another book where one of the girls discovered some secret in their attic/basement/house. I think technically, Mallory discovered the secret in Stacey’s attic, but it still seemed cool. I don’t really remember what the specific mystery was, just that they resolved it by finding a painting in the attic that was painted over another painting.
Also, this book is where I learned what a séance is. Clearly, the schools just were not doing their job with that.
Mallory and Claudia are helping Stacey unpack after moving back to Stoneybrook, and they find an old trunk in the attic. Stacey and her mom don’t want it, so Mal brings it home with her. Now, the trunk is locked and Mal refuses to let anyone break the lock off, because it is so pretty. But when Vanessa threatens to talk all in rhyme until she finds out what’s inside, Mal gives in.
The trunk is mostly full of old clothes, as well as a diary. It was written by a twelve-year-old girl named Sophie in 1894. In the second half of the year, Sophie’s mother died giving birth to a little boy. Soon after, Sophie’s “Grandfather Hickman” accuses Sophie’s father (Jared) of stealing a portrait of the mother (his only daughter). Grandfather Hickman never approved of Jared and uses the missing painting as an excuse to write the whole family out of his will. In her final entry, Sophie vows that she will find the real thief, and writes that if she doesn’t, she’ll come back and haunt her house (that Stacey is now living in).
Mallory believes this, because not only does she believe in ghosts, but she thinks that some one would still care about something they wrote as a twelve-year-old when they die years later. She asks Stacey if she has seen signs of ghosts, but Stacey has only heard a few noises that she attributes to the “country.” So, the BSC tries to solve the mystery the old fashioned way. But they really have no way to go about this, so then they try having a séance. Shockingly, that doesn’t work either.
Meanwhile, there’s a subplot involving Buddy Barrett, who’s having trouble reading. Because they can’t see a problem and not get involved, the BSC offers to tutor him, and Mal gets the job. It starts off bad, but Mal gets him to improve by letting him read comics and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries (which makes me all nostalgic). This gets Buddy excited about reading, which makes him better at it, etc., etc. But more importantly, this leads to Buddy wanting to see the diary. He also asks to search the trunk, and finds some more papers at the bottom. Amazingly, this includes a “confession” where Grandfather Hickman confesses that the portrait was never stolen; he just had it painted over because looking at it depressed him. And he was too embarrassed to tell anyone, so he said it was stolen. Grandfather Hickman was a bit of a jackass.
Mallory guesses that the confession and the diary ended up in the same trunk because Grandfather Hickman owned both houses, and someone in the family must have been throwing different things from different places into the trunk for storage. So, they guess that maybe that same person moved paintings to Stacey’s. They search Stacey’s attic again to see if they can find the missing portrait, and of course, they do. Even though the damn thing’s painted over. They are able to figure out what it is, due to a chip in the paint. It’s all pretty most contrived. I mean, what are the chances that a) the diary and the confession, which were written years apart, by different people, and in different places, end up in the same trunk; b) That the trunk itself ends up in the same place as the painting, which had been hanging somewhere else; and c) That the painting they are looking for is not only chipped, but chipped in a spot that makes it clear what is painted underneath? It’s so ridiculous it is distracting.
- Mal writes in her journal that she feels like she has been eleven for a decade. Imagine how she’ll feel after another 100 books or so?
- The title is kind of a stretch because the book isn’t really a mystery, and the girls certainly don’t solve anything. They read the resolution on piece of paper that tells them everything they needed to know. And they need Buddy to do that, because Mal was apparently incapable of looking at the bottom of the trunk herself.
- Buddy has trouble reading Green Eggs and Ham. Now…I know people read at different levels, but when I was eight, I was reading BSC books. So, if Buddy’s still struggling with Dr. Suess, shouldn’t someone have noticed the problem a lot sooner?
- Kristy gets inspired to explore her own attic after Mal’s discovery. We’re told that Watson’s mansion has an entire 3rd floor that isn’t being used, and THEN an attic/fourth floor that runs the entire length of the house. That means the place really must be huge. If all the people in Kristy’s house have their own bedroom, it has got to be at least ten rooms, plus more on the third floor and fourth floors?
- Is it my imagination or are there always more outfits than usual described in Mallory books? She does a run through of the whole club (except Kristy, who was in jeans and a turtleneck – shocking stuff).
- Jessi: “A long, heart-covered sweat shirt over her dance leotard and a pair of pink pants that…were held up at the waist with a drawstring.”
- Mallory: “Boring old jeans, but a top that I liked a lot – a big white long-sleeved T-shirt that said I (heart) KIDS across the front.”
- Mary Anne: “She was wearing a very cool short printed jumper over a striped shirt…the jumper was white with a small red print, and the shirt was white with narrow, widely spaced stripes.”
- Claudia: “Jeans, a plain white blouse, a pink sweater, white socks and loafers. She said she’d gone back to the fifties for the day.” She should do that more often.
- Stacey: “A short-sleeved blue-and-white jumpsuit with cuffed pants. Parts of it were striped, parts were solid. On her feet were high-topped sneakers laved only halfway up so that she could roll the tongue down of the shoe.”
- Dawn: “Her outfit was fairly normal – pants and a baggy sweat shirt – but on her head was a small straw hat.” A straw hat? WTF?
- It is ridiculous how much of a difference Mallory supposedly makes with Buddy in a couple weeks.
- How come everyone in BSC land has an attic that you get to by going up a flight of stairs? I always had the kind that pulled down from the ceiling.
- Buddy Barrett’s teacher is a bit of a jerk. He sends a note home to Mrs. Barrett explaining that Buddy’s having trouble reading. In it, he suggests that Mrs. Barrett spend “quality time” with Buddy reading. Because it can’t be his fault for not being a good teacher. And he’s completely justified in critiquing how a single, working mother spends her time.
- Kristy only agrees to have a séance if she can be the “channeler.” Mal wanted to do it, since it was her idea, but goes along with Kristy because, “that’s the sort of thing that happens when your friends are older than you.” I think it is just the sort of thing that happens when your friends are bossy and controlling. And when you let them walk all over you.
- Kristy gets all dressed up with clothes Karen found in their attic to play the channeeor. And she gets all into it, pretending to have spoken with Sophie. Which seems really out of character for her.
- Poor Mal is disappointed because she thought a séance would really work. When my friends and I played with a Ouiji board, none of us thought it was actually going to work, we just thought it would be fun.
- Stacey’s worried about going in her attic, and Claud asks if she’s afraid of the “boogeyman.” And Stacey says yes, because “they didn’t have the boogeymen in New York.” Which seems like an odd answer. I would think being from New York made her too “sophisticated” to believe in the boogeyman.
- Mallory tells Stacey that if her house isn’t haunted, it must mean Sophie cleared her father’s name. Kristy’s actually the voice of reason and tells Mal it might also mean there’s no such things as ghosts. But then she turns around and asks to be the channeler/leader of the séance.
- It is kind of sad that even though this is a Mallory book, the mystery is really about Stacey’s house.
- Dawn’s apparently jealous of someone else having a ghost, because she tries to tie the Sophie mystery to Jared Mullray, the ghost that supposedly haunts her secret passage. Her reasoning is that Sophie’s father’s name is Jared, but that really shouldn’t mean anything since that Jared lived in her house, not Stacey’s.
- It turns out that “Grandfather Hickman” is actually Old Hickory, who is some famous ghost in Stoneybrook, and his grave is the site where Cokie and Co. tried to scare BSC once. Which is kind of a ridiculous coincidence. I mean, what are the chances that the diary Mal reads is connected to a semi-famous person?
- I don’t think they actually tell us the story of Old Hickory in that book. It turns out he was some rich guy who left all his money to a long-lost nephew, but demanded that no fancy tombstone be set up (because it was a waste of money). But the nephew had one made anyway, and so Old Hickory haunts the cemetery. It seems like a lame reason to haunt somewhere.
- Mary Anne and Dawn are all excited at the end because their parents go out to celebrate their “25th date” as adults. Which I guess is foreshadowing to the next book when they get married. However, isn’t 25 dates a kind of lame thing to celebrate? It also doesn’t seem like a long enough time to be on the verge of marriage.
- It’s really kind of unbelievable that these girls believe in ghosts. They’re always being described as super mature, but then they go and freak out about ghosts.