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Literature / 1-800-Where-R-U

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1-800-Where-R-U is a Young Adult science fiction thriller series by Meg Cabot. It's been reiussed as the series Vanished.

Jess Mastriani's biggest problems are wearing her mother's homemade clothes and her bad temper. That changes when lightning strikes her, and she gains the ability to find missing people by looking at their photographs. Suddenly the FBI is interested, and some people don't want to be found.

Inspired the TV series 1-800-Missing.

The books consist of:

  • #1: When Lightning Strikes (February 2001)
  • #2: Code Name Cassandra (August 2001)
  • #3: Safe House (March 2002)
  • #4: Sanctuary (September 2002)
  • #5: Missing You (December 2006)

This series includes examples of:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Played With. Although Rob is on probation and drives a motorcycle, he is much nicer than the other guys that Jess dates. Including one that only went on a date with her to get an alibi, and then set her dad's restaurant on fire.
  • Alpha Bitch: Karen Sue. As if competing with Jess over the first chair for flute isn't enough, she claims that Douglas's illness is a punishment from God. No wonder Jess decks her for that.
  • Big Brother Instinct: More like Younger Sister Instinct. Jess is very protective of her older siblings Douglas and Mike, and Douglas even fondly recalls how she knocked out a boy's tooth for calling Douglas a "spazz".
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Shane, the kid in Jess's cabin who bullies Lionel and causes trouble.
  • Brick Joke: In Code Name Cassandra Shane asks Jess if she's a lesbian. At the end when they've bonded, he starts laughing hard when she asks the FBI Agent Jill the same thing.
  • Can't Stay Normal: Jess tries, even when she loses her powers due to PTSD, but ultimately her Chronic Hero Syndrome wins out over the need to keep a low profile.
  • Character Overlap: Jess is referenced in one of the books in The Princess Diaries series.
  • Coordinated Clothes: Jess's mother has a habit of making two copies of the same dress, and insisting she and Jess wear them at the same time. Jess doesn't like them and considers them embarrassing, but puts up with it because her father's promised her that if she does so without complaining, he'll buy her a motorcycle when she turns eighteen (a promise he's carried out by the time of book 5).
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Jess bitterly regrets walking home with Ruth the day of the lightning storm, and during the series it's a Running Gag that she visualizes how she could have stayed normal.
  • Cursed with Awesome:
    • Jess seriously detests her powers, mainly because of the unwanted attention they bring. She still does a lot of good with them, reuniting lost children with their parents, preventing murder and rescuing hostages from violent racists.
    • Shane, the Bratty Half-Pint in Jess's cabin, is extraordinarily gifted with the flute but he hates it and would rather go to football camp.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Skip suggests that Jess could use her powers for profit, as does Jess's dad. Jess begs to differ because she doesn't want her powers, and she'd rather help people if she's stuck with ESP.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Jess before she gets her license. Cyrus Krantz even mentions she's a terrible driver (to be fair, this was after an emergency in which she was driving on icy roads):
    "You," he rasped, "are the worst driver I have ever seen."
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Dr. Cyrus Krantz is namedropped in the "Internal Memorandum" at the end of book 1, well before appearing in person at the end of book 3 and having important roles in books 4 and 5.
  • Face on a Milk Carton: Jess discovers her powers when she dreams about the locations of kids whose pictures she's seen on milk cartons, and puts this ability to good use. By book 2, she's mostly switched to having someone in the "Missing Persons" department send her pictures of kids who are genuinely in need of help (as opposed to those who were taken away from an abusive parent who wants them back for selfish reasons).
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Rob Wilkins is on probation for the first four books, and won't say why, leading Jess to think it's something serious. Book 5 finally reveals that he and some friends were arrested for trespassing — they were swimming in a public pool after hours.
  • Flipping the Bird: Jess does this to Karen Sue Hankey and her cronies when they laugh at her in the mall in book 4. Her mother gets really mad at her for it, but her great-aunt Rose doesn't seem to realize it's meant to be an insult, correcting Jess by saying "The peace sign is with two fingers, not one. Don't they teach you children anything in schools these days?"
  • Framing Device: The first 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU book is supposed to be the statement that Jessica is giving to the authorities following her experience. The sequels drop this.
  • Friend to All Children: Jess. She's easily the best summer camp counselor because of it, though it's also because she doesn't take nonsense from her charges.
  • Freudian Excuse: Shane is a Jerkass to everyone at music camp because he wanted to go to football camp. As Jess notes, he's Cursed with Awesome in having excellent flute playing. When he manages to get himself kicked out by "playing badly," as Jess suggests, he's much happier.
  • Girlfriend in Canada: A variant; Rob is real, but he isn't Jess's boyfriend yet. Jess makes him the hero of her first scary story to the kids. Shane is gratified that Rob turns out to be real, and proud when Rob tells him with his swing, he should go out for baseball.
  • Heroic Bystander: Shane ends up being this in book 2; when a man corners him and Jess in a cave, Jess distracts him and gives Shane a chance to run. Instead, Shane finds a fallen stalactite and whacks the man in the back of the head, saving Jess's life.
  • Horrible Judge of Character:
    • Karen Sue Hanky can't seem to get it through her head that Jess can't stand her. Though by the end of book 5, Jess is apparently willing to work past this and potentially become Karen's friend.
    • Similarly, Jess's mother is sure Jess and Karen Sue will be good friends if Jess just gives Karen Sue a chance. Jess thinks this is just because Karen Sue acts like Mrs. Mastriani wishes Jess would.
  • Improvised Weapon: In book 2, Shane uses a broken-off stalactite to knock out a guy trying to kill Jess.
  • Ivy League for Everyone:
    • Subverted with Mike. Although he ends up accepted into Harvard, he returns to his hometown when Claire Lippman is nearly murdered.
    • Also subverted with Jess, who gets accepted into Juilliard but finds herself miserable there and transfers to the state University of Illinois.
  • Jail Bait Wait: The main obstacle in Jess and Rob's relationship. He's eighteen, she's sixteen, and in Indiana, it's illegal for an eighteen-year-old to be physically involved with anyone younger than eighteen.
  • Jeopardy! Intelligence Test: In the fifth book, Jess, Ruth and their brothers Mike and Skip are sharing an apartment in New York City, and tend to watch Jeopardy! every evening, with Mike and Skip yelling the answers at the television. Mike, who's been previously established as a genius, gets most of them right, while Skip gets most of them wrong.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Beneath his tough exterior, the 'bad boy' Rob isn't that bad.
    • Jess hates Cyrus Krantz at first, not wanting anything to do with him because she just wants the government to leave her alone and he won't back off (and transferred the two agents she'd gotten used to off her case). She warms up to him after he helps take down the True Americans, and in book 5, mentions that she got to know him a lot better when they were working together, revealing that "he's just a huge nerd with a secret liking for peanut M&Ms".
  • Keep the Reward: Jess believes that it's awful to accept money to find missing people, since she believes she's only doing what a decent person should so. The one time she does get a reward, she gives it away to someone else who needs the money to start a new life. Her parents are less than thrilled at first, since they'd rather put it towards Jess's college fund.
  • The Kindnapper: In book 1, it comes out that when Sean Patrick O'Hanahan was six, his mother abducted him and ran away from his abusive father after said father broke Sean's arm because he hadn't put away all his toys one night; Sean also says his dad only had custody because he had friends who "put the squeeze" on the judge. The government agents who've been charged with recovering him claim that none of this is true, saying Sean's mother brainwashed him into believing his dad was a bad man, but Jess is convinced that Sean's version is the right one, and arranges to reunite him with his mom.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Jess becomes this after spending several years fighting in the war abroad, as opposed to punching her way out of any problem.
  • Missing Child: The series runs on this trope, given it starts with missing children.
    • Some of the missing children like Keeley are involved in Domestic Abuse, or they don't want to be found.
  • My Beloved Smother: Jess's mother, especially to her brother Douglas.
  • Mythology Gag: The last book was written after 1-800-Missing began airing, and comments on it by way of an in-universe TV show inspired by Jess's experiences. Jess comments on the TV show and talks about how it has virtually no basis in truth, and many characters mention that they've watched it.
  • Naughty Birdwatching: Both of Jess's brothers have a tendency to spy on their neighbor Claire Lipman, who spends much of her time sunbathing, through binoculars.
  • Never Learned to Read: One of Jess's biggest secrets, and a great shame, is that while she can play a piece after hearing it once, she never learned to read sheet music. For an aspiring musician, this is a serious handicap, and she takes steps to remedy it when she's found out in book 2.
  • 90% of Your Brain: The basis used to explain how Jess gets her ability after being struck by lightning.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: This is how Jess bonds with Shane after tracking him down in a cave. She suggests that if he doesn't want to be forced to stay at music camp then he can say, "I had a gift and I lost it" and play badly the way she "lost" her gift of finding people.
  • One Head Taller: Rob is a full head taller than Jess.
  • One-Word Title: The fourth book, Sanctuary.
  • Parental Fashion Veto: Jess's mother tries to enforce this in the first book when Jess wants to go to school in a pair of jeans that expose her knees (she'd originally planned to wear a top that would expose the upper part of her chest, but decided against it since she's acquired a star-shaped scar right there and doesn't want anyone seeing it), calling them "slut jeans". Her father, on the other hand, sees nothing wrong with them and lets her go out without any issue.
  • Police Psychic: After being struck by lightning, Jess Mastriani gains the ability to discover the whereabouts of missing people by looking at their photographs and ends up becoming a consultant to the FBI.
  • Saw "Star Wars" Twenty-Seven Times: Tamer example in the first book, which mentions that Jess and Ruth have seen Point Of No Return nine times. Apparently it's the only movie they know that meets both their taste in movies — Ruth prefers films with beauty makeovers, and Jess (at the time) likes films with explosions.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Jess's great-aunt Rose tends to speak her mind, no matter how rude her remarks are. It's one of the reasons her own kids don't invite her over.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jess after using her powers to find terrorists following 9/11. It gets bad enough that she loses her powers due to being unable to sleep.
  • Shipper on Deck:
    • Jess ships Special Agents Johnson/Smith. They immediately sink her idea though when they point out that Johnson is married and they are simply work partners.
    • Mrs. Mastriani ships Jess and Skip. Jess shoots this one down.
  • Signs of Disrepair: Played for laughs in book 1. Shortly after Jess gets struck by lightning (and about causes her friend Ruth to have a panic attack), she tries to calm Ruth by making snarky remarks all the way home. One such remark, which actually does help calm Ruth, involves her pointing out a Kroger sign that's been damaged by the hailstorm, disabling the first half:
    "Hey, Ruth, look," I said. "Ger is open, but Kro is closed."
    Even Ruth had to laugh at that.
  • Skeleton Key Card: In book 5, while breaking into the apartment where Rob's little sister Hannah had been staying, Jess initially asks Rob for a credit card she can use to slip the lock (he refuses, since he knows it'd be destroyed in doing so), but winds up using her Juilliard ID card instead.
  • Spoiled Brat: Most of the kids at the camp, most notably Shane (who hates his talent with music and would rather play football). Lionel is the only exception.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Jess tells Shane that if he doesn't want to use his gift for music, to just play badly and claim he lost his talent. He takes it to heart, especially after he knocks out a guy trying to kill her with a stalactite.
  • Tears of Fear: Shane cries these after he saves Jess's life by knocking out the guy trying to kill her. Jess notes that for all his brattiness, he does care.
  • Time Skip: The last book, Missing You, takes place about four years after book four, when Jess is now 19 and attending Juilliard after helping find terrorists in the war.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Skip is sort of friends with Jess, but she's made it clear she'll never like him romantically. Despite her mother's best efforts.