the mystery is that claudia's favorite red sweater is missing & her room is kind of messy—but messy in a different way than she usually leaves it. it looks as though someone has been pawing through her make-up. but what burglar would be interested in claudia's make-up?
it actually doesn't take claudia long to solve the basic mystery. janine has been sneaking around in claudia's room, borrowing clothes & sneaking make-up. this becomes obvious when she starts showing up at the breakfast table with an inexpertly applied face—like she used homer simpson's make-up gun & accidentally set it to whore. she finally breaks down & approaches claudia to ask for help with clothes & make-up. claudia is very helpful & chooses some items from her own wardrobe that allow janine to keep her usual preppy style, while looking a little more interesting. claudia understands she needs to keep the makeover simple if it's really going to help janine. but she still wonders why janine wants a makeover in the first place.
meanwhile, in our babysitting B-plot, derek masters is back in town because his TV show is on hiatus. he is having some trouble with the other boys in town because they found out that his TV character is supposed to kiss a girl in the coming season. derek is embarrassed & worried about the kiss, & to cover up his insecurities, he told his friends that he was a kissing expert who has kissed tons of girls. now they want him to prove it by kissing a local girl & showing them all how it's done. it is immediately apparent to claudia that derek is lying about his experience with the ladies, but she decides to keep his secret & let him come clean to his friends in his own time.
derek also thinks he knows a lot about solving mysteries, so claudia recruits him to help solve the mystery of why janine wants a makeover. derek suggests following her one afternoon, so she, derek, derek's little brother todd, & mary anne do just that one day. they tail janine to the high school, where she meets an incredibly good-looking dude, but then the detectives have to go home because mrs. masters is due home soon. another time, claudia follows janine solo & sees her getting into the car of the very good-looking dude. janine is also busted for lying. mrs. braddock spills the beans about seeing her at pizza express one evening when she told her parents that she was at the library studying. she is grounded. on the day that claudia sees her get into the car with the handsome stranger, janine comes home & tells her family that she'd spent the afternoon at the chem lab.
this makes claudia think. she begins to worry that janine is in real trouble—maybe mixed up with drugs or something. i think the more obvious narrative is that handsome dude is janine's secret boyfriend, & obviously she's been trying to dress up & look pretty for his benefit. DUH. this much has been anvil-licious from the very first chapter. but this is claudia we're talking about, so she tells her parents that janine was lying about the chem lab & is mixed up with some strange dude with a car. they confront janine, who explains that handsome dude is her secret boyfriend. like i just said. his name is jerry & they met in one of her advanced college physics classes. he is also a high school student taking college courses. mr. & mrs. kishi ground janine for another two days for lying about the chem lab, but they also invite jerry over for dinner. they understand janine's desire for privacy, but they tell her not to cross the line into dishonesty.
&...that's pretty much it. why did i give this book four stars? i think it's just because i have a bit of a soft spot for janine/claudia storylines. those two crazy kids. why can't they just get along?