Despite being 50% softball, this is one of my favorites in the series.
Sammy and Marissa are in the mall arcade. Sammy notices a young female attempting to hide from evil looking guy with a snake eyes tattoo. This woman leaves, and gives Sammy her Sear’s bag in the process. What Sammy finds in this Sear’s bag (a baby) pulls her into a complicated experience with gang actions and rivalries. In other parts of the book we meet Grams neighbor for the rest of the series, and Sammy & Marissa are framed for vandalism as part of Heather’s scheme for softball glory.
More than any other book in the series, Sammy seems too young to be involved in this complicated mess of a mystery. This fits with a theme in the book, however. Many of the side characters introduced as part of Santa Martina’s gang element are too young for the book to not be unsettling. That is a sad fact of the gang life.
There are so many things to love about this book. There’s cleverness all throughout, with Sammy being on the top of her detective work and planning. The escape at the end is especially harrowing! The gang plot, though dark in some parts, is so interesting it’s impossible not to love this book. It gives Sammy and the reader a fresh perspective on their luck in life.
Heather’s frame job, though still signature Heather, is smarter than most of her plans. I loved that an unexpected element revealed her trickery, instead of Sammy sneaking around. Casey quietly unveiling the truth was the perfect conclusion to the softball sub-plot and one of my favorite Casey moments of the series, no matter how brief. And seeing Heather get what’s coming to her is more fulfilling here than in most books.
The series side characters are in a prime development stage. The Borsch and Sammy dynamic hits a new pace, with Borsch being more understanding and reasonably concerned about Sammy, and Sammy being oblivious to his new approach. Mrs. Rothammer is a welcome temporary addition to the Sammy-Marissa-Dot-Holly squad, even if her character is around less in later books.
This book doesn’t have a lot that ties it to the rest of the series, but it smarter and wittier and more polished than the rest. It may not be my favorite, but it is definitely a top 5 book for the series.