Series Review: 1-800-Where-R-You by Meg Cabot

Series Review: 1-800-Where-R-You by Meg CabotWhen Lightning Strikes by Meg Cabot
Series: 1-800-Where-R-You #1
Published by Simon Pulse on January 1, 2007
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 266
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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two-half-stars

Jess Mastriani has never been what you'd call a typical Midwestern teenager—her extracurricular activities, instead of cheerleading or 4-H, include fist-fights with the football team and month-long stints in detention. A part of Jess would like to be the prom queen her mother has always envisioned her being, but another part is secretly counting the days until she's saved up enough money to buy her own Harley.

Then something happens that guarantees Jess will be one of the in-crowd...at least until her newfound talent ends up getting her dead.

Oh man, this is a blast from the past. I read these back when I was in high school. In fact, I’m pretty sure when I first read these, they had Jenny Carroll on the cover. On a high from the Mediator, I found 1-800-Where-R-You, and initially I was disappointed with it. Rereading now over a decade later, I can see why. When Lightning Strikes is a bit of a hot mess but I mostly liked it because nostalgia is powerful.

Jess ends up having to take shelter from hail under some metal bleachers, which leads to her getting hit by lightning. It’s weird though because there’s a mark where the lightning entered but no exit point. Instead, apparently the lightning is hanging out inside her and has given her the ability to dream the location of missing people. When I was younger, I don’t think this premise was absurd to me as it now is. The attempt at explaining it is way more upsetting than if it was just like a power she had X-Men style. It’s also really fucking hilarious that pay phones are a crucial plot point in this series. Cabot’s books are the truest of all time capsules.

The down side of the time capsule element of Cabot’s books is that they really do capture the language and attitudes of the time. There’s a lot of slut-shaming in here; Cabot’s recent novels in no way do this, but this is what the 2000s were like. People are also constantly fat-shaming Jess’ friend; while I do think Cabot had good intentions there, the rep is iffy at best. Same goes so far for her brother Douglas, back home from college after a suicide attempt caused by his schizophrenia. (Wow, I didn’t remember either character AT ALL.)

The plot is completely off the wall. The government basically immediately finds Jess, which I actually like because she’s hilariously not stealth. She ends up being taken to this military base and asked to find traitors to the nation, which again is a pretty solid plot point. What is not, however, is that she calls her almost boyfriend Rob, who rides up with his motorcycle buddies and busts her out of the military base. And somehow they all get away with it. TROLOLOLOLOLOLOL.

So yeah, I don’t know how this reread is going to go, but When Lightning Strikes was funny, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

Series Review: 1-800-Where-R-You by Meg CabotCode Name Cassandra by Meg Cabot
Series: 1-800-Where-R-You #2
Published by Simon Pulse on January 7, 2004
Genres: Paranormal, Mystery
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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three-stars

"Help me find my little girl."

Jess Mastriani -- dubbed "Lightning Girl" by the press when, after a huge storm, she develops a psychic ability to find missing children -- has lost her miraculous powers. Or has she? She would like the media and the government to think so. All Jess wants is to be left alone, by everyone except sexy Rob Wilkins -- who still hasn't called, by the way....

But it doesn't look like Jess is going to get her wish -- especially not while she's stuck working at a summer camp for musically gifted kids. Then the father of a missing girl shows up to beg Jess to find his daughter. Jess can't say no, but now the feds are on her trail again, as is one ornery stepdad, who'd like to see Lightning Girl...well, dead.

The series improves with Code Name Cassandra, but there are still problems courtesy of its age. Jess is working as a camp counselor at a music camp (dear god, who would ever hire Jess to be responsible for children???). Put in charge of boys due to a dearth of male counselors, Jess spends the weeks being called a lesbian by the campers because she has short hair. She, too, at the end uses “lesbian” as an insult to the female FBI Agent who follows her around. That shit ain’t cool. There’s also an instance or two of the r-word.

Setting that aside, the plot hangs together a bit together than in book one. This series has some conceptual flaws, like how it will forever be impossible to believe that anyone buys Jess’ really shallow pretense of not having her powers anymore, but at least no one breaks into a military facility. The summer camp focus sets the series much more solidly in the realm of the realistically teen. There are two plots here that end up converging in an ending more silly than scary.

These books work a lot better as comedies than as paranormal mysteries, but it’s hard to say sometimes which aspects are tongue-in-cheek and which aren’t. Cabot got a lot better at mysteries later, with Heather Wells.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


Series Review: 1-800-Where-R-You by Meg CabotSafe House by Meg Cabot
Series: 1-800-Where-R-You #3
Published by Simon Pulse on January 9, 2007
Genres: Paranormal, Mystery
Pages: 262
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Amazon
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three-stars

JESS MASTRIANI was on vacation when Amber went missing. Most people blame Jess for Amber's brutal slaying, but how could Jess -- even with her psychic ability to find anyone, anywhere -- have stopped the cheerleader from turning up dead, without having known she was even missing? When yet another cheerleader disappears, Jess has a chance to redeem herself. If she can just find the girl before it's too late, maybe Jess will finally have a chance to be part of the in crowd. Except that it's starting to look like being in might just get you -- not to mention your loved ones -- killed. So much for popularity.

This series continues to improve though with the benefit of having read so much more than I had at 16 or whenever I read this originally, I see the flaws. With every year, there’s less content that at the time was considered okay but we’ve now learned is a shit thing to say. There were a couple of moments, mostly related to Douglas’ schizophrenia, that weren’t well-handled according to today’s standards, but it’s a world better than book one in these regards.

I enjoyed the serial killer-y murder mystery component to Safe House. Unlike the prior two, there’s a clear and succinct plot to this one, though admittedly the title is a total misnomer. The blurb slightly mis-represents the content of the book. Jess does decide to go into school with a makeover (mini-skirts, which certainly weren’t allowed at my high school at about that exact same time, cute tops, heels), but she’s actually not doing it out of a desire to make a bunch of new friends and become popular. Jess is merely trying to reboot her image so that she’ll maybe get less detention, and she figured she might also fight less if her clothing was less comfortable for fighting. Jess very much isn’t a person who cares whether everyone likes her. The only reason she’s upset at everyone turning against her after Amber’s murder is that they’re being illogical, not because her feelings are seriously hurt.

A note on the series as a whole thus far, it would have been so much better with more romance. Rob’s a really great guy from what I can tell, but he just shows up to help and kiss or not kiss Jess once or twice a book. His reason for not being with her (that he’s 18 and on probation while she’s just 16) actually doesn’t make sense. They live in Indiana, where, according to Google, the legal age of consent is 16 currently, and I doubt it was higher in the early 2000s. Plus, they’re close enough in age that it would be legal even if the age of consent was 18, from what I understand. To be fair, I didn’t know any of this until I researched this a while back when my ex-boyfriend’s 25-year-old friend was dating a 17-year-old girl. But yeah. Just let Rob be in the damn book, Meg.

Safe House is fun and it’s got less unfortunate moments to throw me out of the book, but it still needs work.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

Series Review: 1-800-Where-R-You by Meg CabotSanctuary by Meg Cabot
Series: 1-800-Where-R-You #4
Published by Simon Pulse on January 9, 2007
Genres: Paranormal, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 231
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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one-half-stars

Jess Mastriani knew she wasn't going to be able to hide her psychic powers from the U.S. government forever. But she never thought that she and Dr. Krantz, the special agent brought in to convince Jess to join his elite team of "specially gifted" crime solvers, would have something in common.

When a local boy's disappearance is attributed to a backwoods militia group, it turns out that Jess and Dr. Krantz have the same goal. Suddenly Jess finds herself collaborating with one enemy in order to stop a far worse one. In an atmosphere of hate and fear, Jess and Dr. Krantz must work together to unite a community and save a life...without losing their own.

This hurts me more than it hurts you. Meg Cabot has been one of my favorite authors for about fifteen years. But hey sometimes even your faves mess up. Rereading childhood faves is weird because sometimes it really highlights how much you didn’t know and how much you have changed and how much the world has not.

Sanctuary is basically 2017 in a novel, only with the slang of the aughts. The villains of the novel are a white supremacist group. Setting aside the fact that clearly Cabot understood how fucked up certain American communities remain with an insight that might have helped us not get to 2017, in theory I’m all about books where white supremacists (True Americans is the group name) get destroyed, the execution here does not stand up. For one thing, the mystery of the book begins with the murder of a Black boy, the son of the very first Black family to move to their small Indiana town. Then a Jewish temple is burned down and a Jewish boy kidnapped.

The “hijinks” involve Jess and Rob going undercover as white supremacists, and it’s massively cringe-inducing when Jess declares her hatred of Black people, Jewish people, and immigrants (which is mostly used to mean specifically Asians in this book which I found deeply weird as well as uncomfortable). The intentions here are good I believe, but it doesn’t change the fact that Sanctuary uses the white savior trope and diminishes the seriousness of the circumstances because the series is comical.

Absolutely nothing about Sanctuary worked for me through the lens of today. It’s this book specifically that made me decide to get rid of this series and never reread it again.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

Series Review: 1-800-Where-R-You by Meg CabotMissing You by Meg Cabot
Series: 1-800-Where-R-You #5
Published by HarperTeen on December 6, 2006
Genres: Paranormal, Romance, Mystery
Pages: 268
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Goodreads
three-stars

Good-bye, Lightning Girl

Ever since a walk home on a particularly stormy day, Jessica Mastriani has had an ability like no other. She became known worldwide as Lightning Girl--a psychic who could find the location of anyone, dead or alive. Jess finally had no choice but to embrace her newfound talent, and ended up lending her skills to the U.S. government.

But her work for them has taken a terrible toll, and Jess resurfaces months later a shadow of her former self, her powers gone, Lightning Girl no more. Her only hope is starting over in a new place, a big city where nobody knows her.

It's only when Rob Wilkins unexpectedly shows up on her doorstep that she's forced to face her past. Rob, all the way from back home, needs her help. But how can Jess, her powers gone, find anyone, let alone the sister of a man she once loved . . . when she can't even find herself?

My reread-a-thon comes to an end. I’m sad to say this series hasn’t held up, but hey no author hits it out of the park every time. As I’ve said, Meg Cabot books are time capsules, and sometimes you don’t like what you find; that snack you wanted to save molded in the intervening years. Missing You came out four years after Sanctuary and it’s easily the best of these, but it’s still a bit odd.

Cabot made some interesting choices coming into Missing You. Years have also passed for Jess and co. She spent some of that time working for Dr. Krantz and finding terrorists with the Marines in war zones, and due to PTSD she lost her powers. The book picks up with her attending Juilliard, being all good at the flute and stuff. She shares an apartment with Ruth, and both Mike (Jess’ middle brother) and Skip (Ruth’s brother) are crashing. Rob and Jess are broken up because when she got back from the war, she found a busty blonde kissing him; he maintains that she was a grateful client who kisses everyone, but Jess didn’t believe him. Now Jess is going on dates with Skip for the free food.

Pretty much none of that is what a reader who had been waiting for a conclusion to the series would have been wanting. The PTSD stuff could be a really hard-hitting plot but it really doesn’t fit in a series that swings more to the comedic. Part of the reason these books really don’t hold up is that it really would have worked better as an overt comedy, but instead it deals with heavy topics in ways that diminish what’s going on. The subject matter and the tone are pretty much consistently off. Admittedly, Cabot does do a better job with the actual mystery in this installment and does manage to hit a suitably dark/somber enough tone for the plot regarding teen girls who have been statutory raped by an older man who is filming them without their knowledge and selling the videos.

This series also would have worked better with more romance throughout. Rob seems like a really great guy, unbelievably so in fact, since he really only ever shows up to help Jess. In Missing You, he has waited for her for years now, faithful and un-judgmental. He’s got his own business, works long hours, and has been fixing up his house so that Jess’ family will respect him if he ever gets her back. It’s weird that his excuse to interact with her again (as well as the instigation for the book’s plot) is a half-sister who appeared between books. Cabot’s so good at romance and she mostly skipped it in this series, yet somehow it ends with View Spoiler ».

Much as I liked this series when I was younger, this is one I will not be revisiting again, and it’s not one I’ll be recommending anymore. It’s still mostly enjoyable, but it’s got a weak premise, a lot of unfortunate rep, and a host of weird characterization choices.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

One response to “Series Review: 1-800-Where-R-You by Meg Cabot”

  1. I love seeing bloggers revisiting Meg’s old work since her publishing history is so vast! I’m sorry this one didn’t hold up for you- the problematic rep is really unfortunate. I had the first book in this series and I believe I read it at one point, but it was hard to find the rest of the series (I think they may be out of print) so I never continued on. I do love her Mediator and Princess Diaries series though!

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