That Girl Next Door! (1986)

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Appeared: Mandy Picture Library #105

Published: 1986

Artist: Unknown

 Plot

Twelve-year-old Jennifer Jack is the most popular girl in the neighbourhood because she has a sunny personality and is well known for her helpfulness, kindness and cheeriness. She also bears a lot of responsibility for her age because her mother is an invalid and there is no father (his absence is not explained). She has to collect her younger sister Cindy from school, do the shopping, cook the tea, manage the house, and do a paper round, and it is all on a limited income for the Jacks. But she does not complain; she is always positive and brings a smile to everyone else. She also does a lot of favours for people and participates in plenty of community work.

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Yes, Jennifer Jack is hardly the type of girl to make an enemy. But things begin to change when the antithesis to Jennifer moves in next door…

Her name is Freda Lindsay. Everyone says the Lindsays are lucky to have the Jacks for neighbours and Freda and Jennifer are sure to be great friends. Mrs Lindsay is impressed at how nice and helpful Jennifer is – she even welcomes the Lindsays with some freshly made tea.

But what nobody realises is that Freda is the opposite of Jennifer. She is surly, unpleasant and selfish. She has no thought for others, never helps anyone and loathes the very idea of helping. She doesn’t even help around the house. Freda is snobby too; she wants to go to the posh-sounding Woodgrove Academy, not the “common” Billenhall Comprehensive. But once Mum and Dad hear about Billenhall being Jennifer’s school and its community service scheme, they settle on Billenhall for Freda, with Freda in Jennifer’s form. Freda does not intend to stay for long, though; she means to find a way to transfer to Woodgrove.

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Freda can’t stand Jennifer being such a goody-two shoes, and how everyone keeps putting her on a pedestal and praising her virtues. Worse, she hates how her mother keeps comparing her unfavourably to Jennifer – “Why can’t you be more like Jennifer Jack?” – and nagging her about being more helpful and considerate like Jennifer. But of course it is having the opposite effect – causing Freda to react against Jennifer and downright hate her. However, Freda does not express her hatred openly. Instead she keeps her hatred of Jennifer to herself while pretending to be friendly with her.

At first Freda pretty much strings Jennifer along with her phoney friendship, hoping to take advantage of her. It looks promising, because once the other pupils think she is Jennifer’s friend, they go to extra lengths to be nice and friendly to her too. And Jennifer is a good friend – she even helps Freda against some boys who start picking on her once they realise what a snob Freda is: “You Billenhall scruff!” But Jennifer doesn’t know Freda had deliberately provoked the scrap in the hopes her parents would remove her from Billenhall, and now she hates Jennifer even more for ruining it.

Then, once Freda has had enough of the high praises for Jennifer, she sets out to undermine Jennifer’s popularity and takes advantage of their ‘friendship’ to secretly cause trouble for her. Even before this, Freda had made an early start by manipulating Jennifer into keeping her company while shopping, although Jennifer protests she has an appointment to pick apples for Mr Benson. As a result, Jennifer runs late and Mr Benson breaks his leg while trying to pick the apples himself.

Now Freda starts in earnest by tagging along while Jennifer helps out a pensioner (a drag for Freda, who can’t stand participating in charity or helping other people), and makes sure Jennifer ‘loses’ the pension – which Freda will ‘find’ later and steal the credit. Later, when they take a toddler for a walk, Freda arranges a near ‘accident’ for the child that Jennifer gets the blame for. Sure enough, Jennifer’s reputation begins to suffer. She finds herself reduced to reserve on the school community service rota, while her sister Cindy finds nobody wants to play with her all of a sudden.

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But Mum is still comparing Freda unfavourably to Jennifer and rubbing her nose into how helpful Jennifer is, while Freda is selfish and won’t help anyone. Resenting this, Freda decides to work harder on Jennifer, and plots to have Jennifer mess up her mother’s birthday. She talks Mrs Jack into letting Jennifer go to the disco that is scheduled for the same night, while making an enormous fuss over her own mother for her birthday. As planned, this has Mrs Lindsay thinking badly of Jennifer for apparently neglecting her mother’s birthday, and she spreads the word around.

However, Freda finds that Jennifer’s helpfulness is still making her popular at school and decides she needs to work on that. She vandalises scenery and puts the blame on Jennifer, which gets her into trouble with the headmaster. However, the pupils are still friendly with Jennifer, so Freda finds sneaky ways to turn them against her. These include spreading gossip that Jennifer is blamed for, and causing her to hold up the swimming class so there is not enough time for long distance swimming tests. These and other tricks achieve Freda’s design: Jennifer is sent to Coventry, and thinking that Freda is a good friend who sticks by her in all the trouble. Freda’s tricks have her pinching all of Jennifer’s friends as well. To ingratiate herself with them further, she invites them to a party.

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Despite everything, Mrs Lindsay still compares Freda unfavourably with Jennifer. When Mrs Lindsay does it again, Freda pulls out her big guns to destroy Jennifer completely. She pilfers some of her classmates’ belongings to convey the impression there is a thief around. Once that is established, she sets out to pin the blame on Jennifer by stealing money from a school charity collection box and planting the box in Jennifer’s desk.

Following this, Freda carelessly bumps into two boys. This causes their mouse cage to burst open, and the mice get away. The boys are further outraged when selfish Freda refuses to help them catch the mice that she is responsible for being loose. Little does she know what the consequences of this will be…

Next day, Freda’s plan works: Jennifer is blamed for stealing the money when the charity box is found in her desk, and she is suspended from school. The pupils think Jennifer stole the other items as well. Freda is confident her parents will stop comparing her with Jennifer and send her to Woodgrove.

But there is one thing Freda overlooked…

And it comes to light when the mice boys take revenge by planting spiders in Freda’s schoolbag. In class, Freda gets such a fright at the spiders that she drops her schoolbag on the floor and the items spill out – including the items that Freda had pilfered from her classmates. She had forgotten to dispose of that evidence and carelessly left it in her schoolbag! Seeing this, the pupils realise Freda is the thief. In the headmaster’s office, Freda confesses to all the thefts and is expelled.

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Jennifer is back in favour with everyone and now knows the reason for the trouble she has been having. She is relieved that soon she won’t be living next door to her enemy – the Lindsays are moving out. So Freda never gets her party or sets foot in Woodgrove Academy.

Thoughts

Girls who secretly cause trouble for another (out of jealousy, spite, personal gain or revenge) are one of the most frequent formulas in DCT titles. Stories with the theme appeared constantly in DCT. Mandy herself didn’t go past many weeks without running such a story. But no matter how many times the theme would appear, what would hook the reader into the story was to see how the troublemaker would be caught out. Would someone get suspicious and set a trap for her? Would she make a mistake that would catch her out, as was the case with Freda? Or would she repent? All these things have happened with this type of story.

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Both Freda and Jennifer are more rounded characters for this type of story than most (the victim is nice but naïve and the villain just plain spiteful). No doubt this is because they are deliberately set up as polar opposites to each other, and we even see the psychology and background that goes into it. Freda’s background clearly plays a huge role in making her the selfish person she is. Her parents are wealthy and it looks like they have spoiled her. They don’t seem to have encouraged her to help around the home; it’s only after Mrs Lindsay sees Jennifer’s example that she starts making suggestions to Freda about helping out more. Pushing Freda towards Jennifer in the hope it will make Freda a better person must have also played a huge role in the parents’ decision to send Freda to Billenhall.

But Mrs Lindsay’s constant nagging to Freda about Jennifer and comparing Freda with her all the time was a bad mistake. Anyone who knows about human psychology can tell you it is more likely to have the opposite effect and cause the person to build up feelings of resentment towards the person they are being compared to. This is precisely what happens with Freda. So Mrs Lindsay must take some of the blame for Freda’s spiteful campaign to destroy Jennifer.

It is more likely that the shock and shame of being caught and expelled would change Freda, but we don’t know for sure. We are shown a panel of her in tears (for the first and only time in the story) in the headmaster’s office, but no thought bubbles of what is going through her mind. And this is the last panel in which she appears. But it shows her crying, not arrogant or defiant, so we are left with a hint that she will never be the same selfish girl again.

Even the appearances of the two girls emphasise how different they are. Freda is blond and has a long, beaky nose that also hints at what a toffee-nose she is. Jennifer is dark-haired and has a short nose. The artist who brings their differences to life is not known, but was a mainstay on the Mandy team for pretty much all Mandy’s life. His/her style lent itself well to science fiction, humour, school and family stories. He or she drew “Slave to the Space Princess”, “Copy Kate!”, and “The Sorrows of Laughing Anne” among others. “Glenda the Guide” marked the end of his or her run.

Although this is never explicitly stated, jealousy must have also played a part in Freda’s hatred of Jennifer. It is quite likely that Freda was jealous of Jennifer for being so popular with everyone – something Freda is not likely to have ever been.

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Jennifer not only arouses admiration but sympathy as well, and not just because of Freda’s campaign against her. It is because Jennifer has to bear a lot of responsibility at home as her invalid mother is incapable of doing housework. We see Jennifer doing all the housework, the cooking, collecting her sister, shopping – and she is only twelve! Sure, Jennifer’s personality enables her to take it all cheerfully, but it would be fairer to Jennifer for the household to get some home help in looking after her mother. Plus, there are all the favours she does, the paper round (hmm, shouldn’t she be 14 before she can have a paper round?), and the community work. They must eat up a lot of her time, though she loves doing it and everyone (well, nearly everyone) loves her for it. At least we are given a hint that eventually Mrs Jack will return to health and take over from Jennifer again; the doctor said that all she needed was rest.

But like so many good-natured people, Jennifer tends to be naïve, over-trusting, and easy to be taken advantage of. These are the qualities that Freda uses to lure her into several of her traps that are so cunningly and insidiously crafted that it is difficult for anyone to even realise that it is a trick. One example is where Freda makes Jennifer late for her apple-picking appointment with Mr Benson by pleading with her to come along: “Please, Jenny! I’m so bored here all on my own. Looking around the town wouldn’t take long and I could help you with the apples afterwards.” But of course Freda has no intention of helping Jennifer with the apples, and no doubt she found sly ways to keep Jennifer in town past the appointed time.

Just two things mar the story. The first is Jennifer being twelve years old. Legally, that is too young for her to have a job, so how can she have a paper round at all? Adding a couple of years to her age (or not stating her age) would have made more sense, and also made it more reasonable for her to have such responsibility at her age. Second, the day Freda takes the charity collection box is “on Friday morning”. This cannot be correct because two more school days follow (the first for Jennifer’s suspension and the second for Freda’s expulsion). It would have been more logical for Freda to take the box on, say “Wednesday morning” or not state the day at all. Otherwise, this is an engaging story, which extends beyond the average formula of a spiteful girl causing trouble for an unsuspecting innocent one to convey a stark lesson not to rub someone’s nose in it by comparing them with another person all the time.

 

 

 

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