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One of the most deplorable things people can do is convince someone to give up their life savings in exchange for quack medical cures. People will do anything to save their lives, and it’s unconscionable to take advantage of their situations. The American health care system already takes advantage of people (#medicare of all). That might be why people look for cheaper alternatives to proven healthcare.
Stacey’s parents want to cure her diabetes and are willing to drag her around to charlatans to do so. Stacey has to stop them before they drop ten grand on some crystal bullshit. That’s not in the book, but if this were written today, they’d be blaming vaccines and spending their money on crystals and essential oils.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
As usual, the book starts with a BSC meeting where they discuss the impending birth of Mrs. Newton’s second child. They want to make sure that one of them is always available in case the Newtons have to go to the hospital since they’re “such good customers.” Solid plan. Consistent, good customers should receive some special privileges (but the customer shouldn’t expect it – my thoughts on this are complicated). The meeting turns south when Janine enters with a flyer for the brand new company “The Baby-Sitters Agency.”
After some digging (including a pretend baby-sitting inquiry) it turns out that the business owners, Liz and Michelle, have a network of friends they can call, some of them older, and act more like a liaison to the parents. The way it works is that the parents call the phone number, Liz or Michelle calls around to see who is available, and then call the parent back with a sitter. They don’t do any baby-sitting themselves (neither do the baby-sitters they send, really, but we’ll get to that).
Stacey talks about her previous life, including her former best friend, Laine Cummings. They had a falling out after Stacey wet the bed they were sharing because of Stacey’s undiagnosed diabetes. After a series of doctor visits, Laine accused Stacey of faking it for attention. Laine is the type of person who says that people with depression should just exercise and go vegan if they want to “get happier.” After that, Stacey and her family moved to Stoneybrook.
Later, Stacey’s mom wants to speak with her. She tells Stacey that she wants her to see a TV doctor named Dr. Barnes in New York. Apparently, Dr. Barnes has some new treatment that Stacey’s parents think will cure Stacey of her diabetes. Stacey doesn’t want to go because she’ll miss three days of school and she has no desire to see a new doctor, especially one that her Uncle saw on television. Imagine Dr. Phil attempting to cure your lupus. I’m surprised Dr. Barnes doesn’t go by Dr. Brad.
During a special BSC meeting, Kristy proposes the idea of Kid-Kits in order to make themselves more appealing to their babysitting charges and their parents. This is one of the few ideas that Kristy has that actually sticks, and Kid-Kits are a staple of subsequent Baby-Sitters Club books. Kid-Kits are basically toys and games and activities for the children that each babysitter can take with them on jobs. This is a good idea. However, Kristy’s other ideas aren’t so great.
The other ideas Kristy has are rate cuts, free housework, and giving away jobs to their older brothers and sisters. Claudia and Mary Anne refuse. They go forward with the Kid-Kits, but the other ideas are considered last resorts.
Stacey babysits for Charlotte and we are introduced to Dr. Johanssen, Charlotte’s mother and the only doctor in all of Stoneybrook. The city only needs one doctor, but they have competing adolescent baby-sitting agencies. Stacey and Charlotte take a walk downtown. After a quick stop in the candy store from the cover of the book, Charlotte sees some children who call her “teacher’s pet” and tease her. Stacey shares that she was also teased in school before she moved to Stoneybrook. On the way home, Liz gives them a balloon with the Baby-sitters Agency phone number, mistaking Stacey for Charlotte’s older sister.
Suddenly, Mrs. Newton is in labor! Mr. Newton rushes her to the hospital while they leave Jamie with Kristy. They decide to hold a Big Brother Party for Jamie because the kid is apprehensive about having a sibling. A bunch of the usual kids show up and the baby-sitters put on a record and play musical rug. Mr. Newton calls and talks to his son. Jamie reveals that he has a new sister named Lucy Jane and Jamie storms off.
Kristy chases him down and asks him if he’s sad that it’s a girl and not a boy. Jamie says that he’s upset because now Kristy can’t babysit him and his mother is going to switch them to a sitter named Liz because she’s older. Jamie doesn’t seem to like Liz and Kristy vows to do something to help Jamie.
The BSC finds a flier for the Baby-sitters Agency with the words, “Want to earn fast money the easy way?” Well, sign me up! They find Michelle Patterson signing people up. Kristy decides to allow eighth-graders into the BSC.
Stacey’s mother schedules tests for Stacey with Dr. Barnes. Stacey has to be in the hospital for five days sometime near Christmas. Despite Stacey’s protests, her parents think that Dr. Barnes’s “holistic approach” will cure her. While Stacey is babysitting Charlotte, Stacey asks Dr. Johanssen if she’s heard of Dr. Barnes. Dr. Johanssen has and warns Stacey about the man, whom she calls “a faith healer.”
“What he is going to do – I can practially guarantee this – is recommend all sorts of expensive programs and therapies designed to make your life as positive and fulfilling and healthy as possible. He’ll tell your parents that this will enable you to rid your body of the disease…It’s just that – well, it’s my belief that no special program is going to rid your body of diabetes.”
Stacey begs Dr. Johanssen to help her get out of meeting with Dr. Barnes. The doctor promises to figure out a way to help her. Probably without a caper, but let’s hope for a caper. (There isn’t a caper.)
So Kristy gets this idea to put the BSC in sandwich boards to advertise that their club is looking for new members. It goes as well as you’d expect an idea involving cumbersome wood would go. A girl says that she just uses the babysitting time to watch TV. A boy says that he doesn’t want to show up to meetings three times a week. Some guy named Pete Black flirts with Stacey.
Kristy ends up finding two eighth-graders to join the club: Janet Gates and Leslie Howard. They were once friends with Liz, but they had a falling out. Or so they claim. Jeez, Kristy, for someone smart enough to come up with the club and the Kid-Kits, you’re awfully dense when it comes to obvious sabotage tactics. Even Stacey sees through the ruse, but she goes along with it anyway, because if she raised objections or put restrictions on the new members, there wouldn’t be a plot.
The BSC gives presents to Mrs. Newton presumably for the new baby. They also give presents to Jamie, which Mrs. Newton appreciates since Jamie has been jealous of the presents the baby has been receiving. They also ask about babysitting for them again, but Mrs. Newton says that the BSC is too young and when Lucy is older, she hopes they can sit for her again.
At the BSC meeting, they meet the new members and give them jobs. I’m sure the new members will be fine and responsible and not try to sabotage the BSC’s reputation at all. They don’t need to send another more established member to the job as well to make sure everything’s okay. Not at all. This will in no way hurt the BSC and their new clients.
Also, Stacey remarks that she’s impressed by the simple fact that the new members are thirteen and fourteen. Stacey is impressed by the passage of time, instead of how we should all feel, which is dread.
And, as expected, the new girls don’t show up for their babysitting jobs. The BSC confronts them at school and it goes as well as the sandwich board idea. It ends with Kristy crying in the girls’ bathroom. Things really suck when Kristy is crying.
Stacey is at Jamie’s while Mrs. Newton and Lucy are in another room. Jamie’s demeanor is noticeably different. Stacey asks if it’s because of the new baby. Instead, Jamie laments that babysitters used to read and play with him, but his new sitters just watch tv and invite over their boyfriends, and one of them smoked in the living room and burned a cushion. Stacey encourages Jamie to tell his parents about what his sitters are doing. It’s my experience that if someone tells a kid to keep a secret or hide something from their parents, that person sucks and should be shot into the sun.
Later, Stacey babysits for Charlotte and the poor girl explodes at Stacey, saying that babysitters only care about money.
Charlotte looked at me sadly. “Ellie said, ‘Oh, Charlotte, you are the teacher’s pet, teacher’s pet,’ and I said, ‘I am not,’ and she said, ‘Are, too, and you don’t have any friends.’ And I said, ‘I have baby-sitters. They’re my friends.’ And she said, ‘They are not. My sister Cathy doesn’t like you.’ And I said, ‘Then how come she sits for me?’ And she said, ‘Because your parents pay her a lot of money, stupid.'”
Stacey is able to convince Charlotte that she’s different because Stacey actually plays with her and doesn’t ignore her the way Cathy does.
The next day, on their way home from school, the BSC finds Jamie Newton just hanging out in the street. By himself. A three-year-old. Alone in the street. Apparently, his sitter, Cathy Morris, told him it was okay to go play outside. Even Disneyland doesn’t let someone shorter than 54″ drive a car by themselves in Autopia, which is the only place I’ve seen an eight-year-old living his life. The BSC walks him back home and they wonder if they should tell the parents and if that would be interpreted as them trying to sabotage the Agency. Stacey asks her mother for advice, to which her mother says, “I’d say the person who’s going to tell something should risk ‘looking bad,’ if a child really is in danger.” Oh, now Mrs. McGill shows some measured thinking as opposed to when she’s channel surfing to find Stacey’s new doctor.
The girls go to Mrs. Newton’s and tell her how they saw Jamie and how a babysitter burned one of their cushions and asked Jamie not to tell her. She’s pretty horrified and won’t use the agency again (except some seventeen-year-old boy sitter, I guess, that was thrown in).
The BSC confronts Liz and Michelle. This time, it goes a little better. The BSC demonstrates how much they know about their babysitting charges and the behavior of a good babysitter.
Stacey leaves for New York, which includes a reunion between Stacey and her former best-friend. Laine and Stacey fight. The next morning, Stacey has her tests – strangely, without her parents expressly present.
I was examined, poked, and prodded. Blood was drawn. I was fed a specifically prepared lunch and more blood was drawn. Then this woman holding a sheaf of papers asked me to do weird things like draw a picture of my family, make up stories about inkblots, and build towers of bricks. I ran on a treadmill and tried to do sit-ups and push-ups. I rode an exercise bicycle. At last I was given a written test. It might have been an IQ test, but I wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, it looked long.
They let her go back into the custody of her parents. I would be suspicious at the “draw a picture” phase. What does that have to do with diabetes? Blood, food, exercise. Okay, maybe. But, inkblots? Also, her parents should have been there the entire time. She’s twelve and these people are all, “Let us do tests on her without y’all here.” Hey, TV doctor, don’t just touchkids without their parents there. That’s creepy!
Luckily, they let her out in time for her appointment with a real doctor, Dr. Graham. She springs the appointment on her parents, and they are forced to go see this real doctor with Stacey. After all, Dr. Johansson helped Stacey get this appointment with a renowned physican. Frankly, after her parents sprung this weird, IQ testing doctor on Stacey, Stacey has every right to spring a reputable doctor on them.
After the meeting with an accredited doctor who speaks to both Stacey and her parents, Stacey finally stands up to her parents, telling them that it’s not fair for them to switch doctors without her and force her to switch schools. Her parents say that they trust Dr. Graham more than Dr. Barnes, who is suggesting “unusual” treatments with exorbitant costs.
Back with the Cummings’, the two families go to the movies. Laine and Stacey talk while getting snacks. Laine was jealous of Stacey because she was getting all this attention from teachers and school administrators and she was permitted to miss so much school. She apologizes and things are copasetic between the two again.
The next day, the families hang out again, this time while traipsing around New York. They watch Paris Magic, which Stacey calls “the best musical” she’d ever seen. It is not a real musical because I Googled it and found nothing. It was a ridiculous title for anything and it turns out that the only appropriate use for that title is hair care products, which is the only search result I received.
When Stacey goes back to Stoneybrook, she learns that Charlotte and Jaime told their parents everything, and it turns out that there were other unhappy children. The Agency folds.
On a final note, the problem with Charlotte’s bullying is resolved as well – she’s skipping a grade.
I understand Stacey’s parents’ desperation. They just want their daughter to have the best life possible. That’s what makes Barnes, and people of his ilk, so dangerous. People seek radical and expensive treatments because they provide a little bit of hope where there is none. Snake oil salesmen are taking advantage of people in the most blatant way. It’s all about how much can they charge for this thing that probably won’t work but has a cheap cost. It’s monstrous.
I can’t believe I have to say this, but don’t trust miracle cures and panacea. Don’t digest bleach or aquarium agents or shine light into your veins. When I started writing this, I wasn’t worried about people doing anything of those things, but it turns out that there are still salesmen peddling miracle cures to their cult and scared members of the populace. Just, please, be safe out there. Don’t rush things.
And wear a damn mask, please. It shouldn’t be this hard to get people to do something so simple that will help so many.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com. To listen to the official podcast, just visit the website or search for “Rereading My Childhood” in your favorite podcatcher. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.