I don’t remember the exact resolution to this mystery, but it’s one of those books where one scene stands out vividly in my memory. In this case, it’s when Matt Braddock tries to “talk” to some gorillas in sign language. The BSC had hoped the gorillas would be able to report the culprit (who’s guilty of letting animals out of cages). I know that Matt asks them and the gorillas give a weird answer that doesn’t seem to be remotely useful. But then at the end, someone points out that whatever word the gorillas were signing could have been a clue. However, I don’t think they really know this for sure since no one could really ask the gorilla for clarification.
The eighth-graders at SMS have a new science project where groups of three students observe animals and create a report about them….with no additional research allowed. They set up some kind of partnership with the nearby zoo, so kids can have access to animals. (They can also observe their pets, but most students seem to pick going to the zoo). There are two gorillas from the San Diego Zoo on loan to the zoo, so they get a lot of attention from the students (and the regular zoo customers).
Claudia, Dawn, and Logan are in one group, while poor Mary Anne’s stuck with Alan Gray and Howie Johnson (a friend of Alan’s). Kristy ends up with Stacey, but she’s unhappy about it because this is during the time Stacey had left the club. Because she’s so mature, Kristy decides that she and their other group member should just watch their own dogs and write about them separately. She makes the other group member tell Stacey she needs to find someone else’s dog to observe. Nice.
This leaves us with Claudia, Dawn, Logan, and Mary Anne at the zoo all the time. Alan and Howie are there too, but don’t get as much screen time as the others. The boys are getting competitive, because the group members with the “best” project get extra credit and passes to some water park. Mary Anne feels in the middle and is upset about it, but waits until the book’s almost over to tell Logan. But when she does he’s sensitive about it and says he’ll tone down the competitive stuff. But neither group ends up winning.
But to get to the actual “mystery”……One day, an animal gets let out of its cage. This doesn’t seem like a real mystery, but it’s probably more realistic than when the BSC’s battling counterfeiters. After additional animals are set loose, they girls try to figure out who’s letting them go, but don’t get very far. The suspects are a group of protesters (who think zoos are cruel) and some “weird” couple that wears matching sweatsuits and hangs out at the zoo a lot.
The SMS students all have fake keys to the zoo, that open information kiosks by each animal. Supposedly these look just like the real keys that zoo staff uses on the animal cages, and Mary Anne realizes that her key has been switched with a real one. She thinks Alan had something to do with it, but it turns out it was actually Howie. He admits that he found the real zoo key and accidentally let one of the animals out. However, he didn’t let out the others, so there’s still a culprit to catch. Then Mary Ann and Logan realize that the assistant to the zoo director lied about where he was when one of the animals was released. They tell the zoo director, who sets up a sting operation…and with the help of the BSC the guy gets caught.
The subplot’s about how some shopping center in Stamford has a baby elephant living in a little cage, to promote the place. Animal rights groups are raising money to buy the animal and send him to a habitat where it has more space. The BSC gets their charges involved by making and selling buttons and t-shirts, plus having a walk-a-thon. And of course, by the end they raise a bunch of money and save the elephant.
- Mary Anne gets screwed in all these group projects. There’s another book where she ends up with Logan (while they are broken up) and Cokie Mason.
- I knew there was a book where this happened, but I wasn’t sure which one. Kristy sees Stacey baby-sitting for Charlotte and is all, “but you’re not in the BSC. How can you baby sit?” I remember being a bit annoyed at her attitude because it was so ridiculous.
- SMS always seems to be giving fun/interesting projects to their students, but I kind of wonder about the effectiveness of this one. The kids are supposed to do reports based only on observation, but how much can they really observe by going to the zoo after school and on weekends?
- Mallory and Jessi seem a bit more forgiving towards Stacey than the other girls, which I guess makes sense. They weren’t quite as involved with the drama as the others, and they sometimes were impressed with the older girls, just for being 13.
- The girls realize at the last minute they don’t have a way to play music for the elephant walk-a-thon. Jessi’s relieved when someone says Stacey has a good boom box, until Claud reminds her that they’re not speaking to Stacey. So, Jessi calls Becca, then Becca calls Charlotte, than Charlotte calls Stacey to ask about borrowing it. This sounds ridiculous, yet realistic.
- Stacey lets them use her boom box, but insists on coming to the walk-a-thon and pulling the wagon holding the box. Kristy’s all annoyed, but I think it’s actually nice of Stacey to be willing to help. Of course, I don’t know if she did it because she really cared about the elephant or wanted to annoy Kristy.
- There’s a scene where Mary Anne accuses Alan of letting the animals out of the cage, and he’s just like, “What the hell are you talking about?” These girls are always trying to be all serious about their detective skills, so it made me laugh that Alan seemed clueless that an investigation was even happening.
- Alan really needs extra credit in Science, so he gets a book from the library on the Emu (on of the animals they’re observing) to add to his observation. But Mary Anne finds out and at the last minute they switch to another animal so they can do the assignment fairly. It’s so last minute that they can’t pick a zoo animal and have to follow Tigger around for a weekend.
- I’m not sure why Mary Anne was surprised to find out Alan had used a book for his research. He’s “observing” an Emu, and writes down the bird’s weight, how much food it eats, how it swallows food, and the fact that it uses dirt to get rid of parasites on its body. He CLEARLY didn’t get that from looking at an animal in a cage.
- Shawna Riverson’s in the group that gets the “best project” prize. The BSC thinks they cheated (because the girls didn’t see how someone could write a 50-page report on observation alone). But no one bothers mentioning that Shawna has cheated before.
- Of course, the BSC decides to bring their sitting charges along with them to the zoo so they can still baby-sit.
- The gorilla’s at the zoo know sign language, so Jessi brings Matt Braddock to the zoo to “talk” to them. She has him ask the gorilla who let the animals out of their cages. But a) Isn’t Jessi really good at sign language too? Why didn’t she just sign to them herself? And b) Isn’t it kind of mean to invite Matt to go to the zoo just because you want him to translate for you? I’m sure he enjoyed it, but still.
- Alan complains about the price of soda at the zoo being one dollar, but that doesn’t seem too expensive to me. It’s not cheap, but it’s not horrible. Alan only had a quarter with him, and he seems surprised that he couldn’t afford one. I can’t imagine a place where that was enough for a soda (even in 1995).
- There are actually quite a few scenes where people complain about prices of things inside the zoo. I’m not sure if there’s any hidden meaning to that.
- When Mary Anne sees a picture of the gorillas and says they’re cute, Dawn tells her that she thinks all four-legged creatures are cute. Which may be true, but it’s a bit irrelevant in this context, since gorillas actually have two legs.
- There’s an exhibit at the zoo where elephants paint “pictures” with their trunks. I don’t know if it’s realistic but it sounds like it would be kind of fun to watch.
- Of course there are protestors at the zoo (they don’t think animals should be locked up) and of course the girls suspect them of letting the animals go. What’s up with the BSC always suspecting protestors?
- Oh, and the weird couple with the matching sweats? They are trying to figure how much it would cost some crazy rich guy to build a zoo on his estate in New Hampshire.
- The director’s assistant’s reason for committing these horrible crimes? He wanted his boss’s job, so he was trying to make her look bad.
- During the “sting” security people actually dress as gorillas. That seems a bit extreme.
- Also during this sting, the zoo director wants to make sure someone with a camera’s around to get pictures of the assistant in the act. So, she asks Claudia. Because that’s an appropriate thing for a thirteen-year-old to do.
- In the backstory chapter, Mary Anne’s talking about the Schafers moving to Connecticut and says “my ten-year-old brother never adjusted….” I know technically he’s her step-brother, but I think this was supposed to be Dawn’s line. Do you think the ghostwriters actually have a template where they just go in and switch who’s saying I?
- I don’t have much to say about the subplot, but it seems a bit weak. A shopping mall bought an elephant for publicity? How does an elephant promote a shopping mall?
- How much money would it take to buy an elephant (from the mall) and send it to a habitat? They raise enough with the kids’ efforts plus a donation from a “wealthy benefactor,” but I’m guessing the benefactor paid for the majority of it.