Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #3: Baby-sitters’ Winter Vacation by Ann M. Martin

I never realized it growing up, but the schools I attended were poor. I had a grounded view of television because my father drilled into me that most things on television are fake. When I saw these elaborate vacation episodes on television, where an entire cast of schoolmates go to Disneyland or some other sponsored locale, I knew that didn’t happen in real life. In real life, field trips were to the local library. Sometimes you piled into a school bus and visited the geology department at the University of Nevada, Reno, but that was only if the class was really good that month. Once in eighth grade, I went on a special field trip for a select few kids from each middle school in the area and we visited a ski resort for one day. The idea was to learn how a ski resort operates. At the end of the day, we left the ski resort. I won’t say which ski resort it was, but it recently changed its name because it had a racial slur in it. It was called that racial slur when I visited, so I had a bumper sticker with the original name proudly displayed in my locker. The early aughts were wild.

All this is to say that I never thought any school had overnight trips. That was a plot device in the TGIF lineup. A few years ago, a friend of mine told me her son was going on a field trip to Disneyland, where they were going to see how the theme park operates. I said something about having to drive that much in one day to get the kids back. She said they were staying in a hotel. I realized I had been lied to. Overnight field trips do exist! Just not for the schools I attended.

The BSC is going on an overnight field trip to a ski lodge that does not contain a racial slur in it. I was jealous! How come these kids get to hang out overnight in a beautiful lodge just because they were born in a more affluent zip code? Then I remembered who I was in the seventh grade and how my classmates acted both toward me and everyone around them. It seems I lucked out.

So far, the Super Specials have shared two things: each chapter has a BSC member it focuses on and they all have a central conceit to facilitate the compiling of the stories. In Baby-sitters’ on Board, Kristy is collecting the stories for a scrapbook. In Baby-sitters’ Summer Vacation, Stacey wants to take some memories back with her to New York. This one is no different. This time, Mary Anne’s boyfriend Logan is not on the school trip. Instead, he is in Aruba with his family. Mary Anne wants to collect stories so he knows what happened on the trip. It’s a lot of work for such a disappointing boyfriend. 

Anyway, this is an annual field trip for Stoneybrook Middle School and is mandatory unless you have a good excuse like your family wants to go to Aruba. For me, mandatory attendance usually meant that the school couldn’t get kids to show up otherwise. You’d think kids would want to get away from their parents and have a fun trip to a ski lodge, so I wonder what happened in the past. Or Stoneybrook Middle School uses this trip as a way to price gouge the rich parents and exploit the poor parents. Or Stoneybrook’s Stepfordian visage is breaking away and the seedy underground is showing again with money laundering.

While the school counts its money, the annual ski trip to Leicester Lodge in Hooksett Crossing, Vermont (that’s a pretty great town name) comes with several activities for the kids. The most important is a contest wherein the kids are divided into two groups – Red and Blue. The school clearly didn’t spend any money on name creation. Also, the kids can’t just have a week at a resort to learn how it works or to expose them to winter sports or the history of Vermont. No. We need the kids to compete against each other. We need to train them so they can get used to arbitrary competition so they’ll buy sports merchandise and have a strange attachment to a location (America) and think that other countries are shitholes (other places). 

Mary Anne

Oh no! The trip might be canceled before it’s even begun! There’s a big storm coming in! Oh, wait. Don’t worry about it. A paragraph later, the vice-principal confirms that the trip is still on.

As the students of Stoneybrook Middle School pile onto several school buses, Kristy and Claudia, who are on the Blue and Red teams respectively, bicker about who is going to win the competition. They received their color assignments two minutes ago and they’re already strangely attached to their color. Kristy is the team leader for Blue, so I kind of understand why she’s so attached. Claudia’s attachment, however, is a mystery.

Mary Anne bids farewell to Connecticut and hello to Vermont as the buses pull away.

Stacey

Unlike Camp Problematic Name, Leicester Lodge is aware of dietary needs, so Stacey is already at ease. Without any special extra credit jobs, Stacey is looking forward to a fun week as she sets up some of the major conflicts in this book.

Dawn, Mal, and I were the only club members without extra-credit roles in the Winter Carnival. Mary Anne was going to be the historian, Kristy was going to run the war, Claud was going to judge the snow sculptures, and Jessi was in charge of Talent Night. That meant organizing a whole talent show, helping the kids with their acts, arranging for rehearsals, and more. This year was the first time the role had been given to a sixth-grader, but we all knew Jessi could handle it.

With that out of the way, Stacey can focus on the ride. The boys are annoying everyone by singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” which is almost quaint. When I was in the seventh grade, the boys would annoy us by telling us they could smell our vaginas and then ask if our boobs hit our faces when we ran. I would have preferred the singing, honestly. 

Then the driver almost hits a deer and everyone screams.

Dawn

They arrive at the lodge and find a whole fleet of buses outside. Stoneybrook Middle isn’t the only school at the lodge.

“Three other groups of kids will be here this week,” she told us. “One is the eighth-graders from a junior high in northern Vermont, another is the seven- and eighth-graders from a middle school in New Hampshire, and we’re still expecting a group of elementary school children from Maine.”

The students’ bunk arrangements are separated by grade, leaving Mallory and Jessi by themselves. Now they’ll have to cultivate their own personalities outside of the other five members of the BSC. Just kidding again. They figure out a way to stay with the rest of the BSC. We’ll get to that.

There’s a bunch of bunk bed talk. Who is sleeping with whom? Who is on the top? Who is on the bottom? Kristy has to bunk with Ashley Wyeth, a girl who keeps popping up even though I thought we were done with her onerous behavior. But soon, none of it will matter. Again, we’ll get to that.

Just as the students gather in the huge common room, two adults stumble into the lodge and they’re DEAD!

Not really, but one does have a fractured arm and the other’s leg is broken. 

Kristy

The two adults are teachers from Conway Cove Elementary School and they were in an accident. They braved the storm to reach the cabin and get help for the students who were left behind on the bus.

While they wait for an ambulance, the school administrators and the hotel proprietors, the Georges, spring into mild action. There are children who need help! Of course, Kristy volunteers the expert services of the BSC. The teachers thank Kristy for her willingness to help, but since it’s an emergency situation, the adults should take the burden to allow the students to relax in a scary situation.

Yeah, no. They accept Kristy’s help, and soon the Georges, a few teachers, and the BSC are piling into an old school bus to rescue some kids. Surprisingly, all sixteen kids are waiting in the school bus. One of the kids insists that the driver is dead. The driver is not dead. 

Each of the BSC members each watch over a few kids as they all drive back to the lodge.

Claudia

The kids arrive at the lodge and they all perk up. Since the nearest hospital is thirty miles away, the lodge doctor will examine each child and any who are seriously injured will be sent to the hospital with the teachers who have broken appendages.

After dinner, the fates of the children who are not seriously injured are in limbo. Mrs. George expresses that she doesn’t want to deprive the children of their ski trip. The school held a readathon to raise money for the trip and those kids were the winners. How a readathon raises money, I have no idea, but it is completely unfair for the kids if they have to go home just because their bus driver was on bath salts while driving. There is no indication that the bus driver was on bath salts, but there’s no explanation for the accident, so I’m going to assume bath salts.

Once again, Kristy volunteers the BSC to watch over the kids. The teachers don’t want to take any responsibility, so they accept. The BSC moves into a dorm with the kids, rendering the scenes where Jessi and Mallory are separated from the rest of the BSC, as well as the bunk arrangement talk, utterly meaningless.

Mary Anne

It’s the first morning since arriving at the lodge. The BSC members help the kids get dressed and then they clamor for breakfast. The Stoneybrook P.E. teacher, Ms. Halliday, makes some announcements that don’t really affect the plot, but she does stuff later so I have to introduce her. Despite the club’s general togetherness, after breakfast, it’s a different story.

By ten o’clock in the morning, I found myself pretty much on my own. Kristy, Claud, Dawn, and Stacey had hit the slopes, Mallory was off doing something with her secret journal project, and Jessi had volunteered to entertain Pinky for the day, since Pinky was under doctor’s orders to stay inside with her foot up. 

Mary Anne visits the lodge’s library. Her assignment: research the history of the lodge. If the school has been doing this tradition for years, you’d think a previous student would have already done this assignment, but here’s Mary Anne, reading about the ghost of Leicester Lodge. The cook saw a hat fly once.

She also writes a letter to Logan even though he’s in Aruba. I love the post office, but they cannot get a letter from Vermont, which, if you remember, is covered in a storm, to Aruba, a country in the Caribbean, all in one week. She starts it with “My dearest Logan,” and continues with, “My thoughts are with you and only you every second of every day.” Someone took a documentary about the Bronte sisters a little too seriously. Then she worries that he’s hanging out on a beach with a pretty girl. She doesn’t do any more work on her extra credit project.

Jessi

Jessi doesn’t want to ski, slip on some ice, and then break her arms and legs, rendering her unable to dance. This seems to bother her, but I think it’s a completely fair worry. Instead, she volunteers to entertain Pinky, a girl with a ridiculous name who sprained her ankle in the bus accident.

Pinky is a jerk. She’s terse and treats Jessi like a personal servant, the optics of which are not great. When Jessi wins a game of Memory against Pinky, the girl accuses Jessi of cheating. That seems to be a common tactic for terrible people when they lose. The winner is cheating, or committing fraud, or switching votes even though to do so would require the magic of Doctor Strange.

Stacey

Stacey assists Ms. Halliday with the elementary school kids on the ski slopes. After a few lessons, Stacey is free to ski on her own and she goes down the bunny hills. Alan Gray, a boy who harassed the girls but it’s portrayed as comedy, is slamming into the other boys. 

Eventually, even Stacey is a victim of someone slamming into her. This time, however, it’s a cute boy named Frenchie d’Croissant, er, excuse me. His name is Pierre D’Amboise. Of course, Stacey is instantly smitten and she refers to this as her “first meaningful crush,” and “any past crushes suddenly [don’t] count.” Yeah, fuck clear off, Toby.

Mallory

And what is the oldest of the Pike children doing with a journal this time? Is she spying on people again, like in Super Special #1? Of course, she is. But that’s not all she’s doing. She is also dealing with a fear of going to a dance. I’m not sure if the dance is mandatory, but it really shouldn’t be. When I was in middle school, no dances were mandatory. They also took place during school hours and if you didn’t go to the dance, you had to go to the library or the cafeteria. The school held a dance just after lunch and afterward, you still had to go to the seventh period. Cool dance.

Anyway, Mallory has another reason for her journal-based project besides spying on her friends and teachers.

I planned to work hard on my writing, since I want to become an author one day.

See? If a publishing house sacrifices privacy at the altar of capitalism, then it’s completely acceptable behavior. The Supreme Court says that we don’t have privacy for the sake of capitalism and keeping a supply of babies for entitled couples, so the students of Stoneybrook Middle School have no reasonable right to expect privacy. (Too soon? Should I leak this and then jack off for two months and release it anyway?)

Mallory discovers Mary Anne missing Logan, Ms. Halliday crying, the other kids not liking Pinky, and Stacey making out with some boy. She says that the contents are too mature for her siblings. There’s a kids’ movie where a bee fucks a grown-ass woman, so I wouldn’t be worried about the triplets reading about consensual kissing between teenagers.

Dawn

Dawn is having some trouble. She screws up during the ice skating relay. Dawn drops the baton. Her team loses and since everyone has such an attachment to whatever team color they’re on (I don’t remember who’s on which side), the whole team is angry at Dawn and they bully her. They pummel her with snowballs. Because that will help the team win the next competition, I think? I’m not sure what they’re going for.

Dawn finds Mary Anne and tries to confide in her, but all Mary Anne can think about is her dopey boyfriend. Dawn fires her as her bunkmate, but Dawn can’t fire Mary Anne because Mary Anne quits!

Mary Anne

Mary Anne speaks with an old lady who has never heard of the Leicester Lodge ghost. Then she talks to the cook who saw the flying pan. Then she talks to another old person who doesn’t know anything about the ghost.

Finally, she talks to Mr. George. In the late 1930s, a visitor was found dead in his bathtub and after that, some guests reported some strange occurrences. And that’s the end of the ghost talk because it’s time for Mary Anne to mope about Logan again. This time, with her teacher Ms. Halliday, who is missing her fiance.

Kristy

Kristy and Claudia set up an impromptu snowman contest for the elementary kids.

But what could we give the Conway Cove winner?

“I know!” Claudia cried suddenly. “But I can’t tell you what it is. It’ll be a surprise.”

“What if we don’t like it?” asked Amber.

Yeah, I thought.

But all Claud would say was, “Trust me. It’s good.”

She has no idea what to give the winner. A “surprise” is code for “gimme some time to scrap something together.”

Claudia snaps a Polaroid of each kid with their snowman creation. The prize is a ribbon under their Poloroid. The kids seem happy. I would have opted for the cash instead, but that’s just me.

Later, it’s finally time for the official snowman-building contest between the Red and Blue Teams. Because it would be a conflict of interest, Claudia sits out- just kidding. Like a Supreme Court Justice, Claudia disregards her obvious conflict of interest and judges the contest in her own team’s favor. 

Kristy is upset. Is it because of the obvious issue of having a member of one team judge both teams in a subjective contest? No. It’s because Claudia is a good skier.

Claudia

Despite Claudia’s skiing prowess, she still takes some lessons from a professional. The professional turns out to be a cute guy named Guy. For the third Super Special in a row, Claudia has a crush. Remind me, who is supposed to be the boy-crazy one?

After a skiing montage, Guy, who looks about twenty-five, calls her a “champion” in an exaggerated accent. Claudia knows that Guy loves her, which would be a felony.

Jessi

Jessi goes over the logistics for the talent show. The teachers want to cannibalize the time, so there are only about thirty-eight minutes for the students in this student talent show. Anyway, it’s time for tryouts.

Some girl sings a song called “Stop Pickin’ on the President.” I have never heard of this song, but it sounds terrible. Regardless of who the president is, everyone should pick on the president. And it’s Biden right now if there’s any doubt, which there shouldn’t be. We should always pick on politicians in power. And the dead ones, too.

Alan Gray does some Vaudeville sketch. Some girls lip-sync to some apple song. Another girl tap dances. Another set of girls puts on a skit about a ghost that was both “funny and scary.” Finally, one kid does “Doe, a Deer” with his armpit. Stop the contest, just send that kid up there for thirty-eight minutes. 

Even the elementary school kids audition. Most of them sing old fifties songs. It’s weird. The only fifties song I remember at a school talent show was when my friend danced to the song “Polka Dot Bikini” in an outfit appropriate for the song title, but not for a first-grader. Most of the songs at the school talent shows that I attended in elementary school were contemporary. The first talent show after “Macarena” featured fifty kids doing the dance onstage at the same time. However, the abundance of fifties nostalgia is not the least realistic thing about the talent show. Stay tuned for that!

The rest of the elementary school kids who aren’t talented enough to sing fifties songs need to do something, so Jessi suggests they put on a skit about their school and teachers. Pinky says that it might be a bad idea because the teachers might get mad. Jessi suspects that Pinky voted for Tru-, ahem, excuse me. Jessi suspects that Pinky is racist.

Dawn

Dawn’s feelings of inadequacy are taking over so Dawn declines to participate in the snowball fight, which is actually just Capture the Flag. Instead, she goes to the library and plays Monopoly with two randos who don’t matter. What matters is that Dawn loses so quickly that the randos are astonished, so I guess that means the game only took seven hours instead of the usual seven days and a phone call.

Then Dawn sees Pinky crying. Pinky says she’s been unpleasant because she’s homesick. That’s supposed to excuse her behavior toward Jessi. I don’t buy it. She was unpleasant to everyone, but the only person she treated like a servant was Jessi. I don’t care what Dawn says, I still think Pinky is racist.

Dawn rewards Pinky’s behavior with hot chocolate.

Mary Anne

And just like that, Dawn and Mary Anne make up.

Then Mary Anne is back to writing letters to Logan that sound like she’s a Victorian ghost whose husband hasn’t come back from his whaling trip. 

My dearest, darling Logan,

How I miss you. How I pine for you. How I yearn and long for you.

After that, she writes a terrible sketch that implies she’s not a feminist, which would be massively disappointing. When she gives the sketch to Jessi, Jessi tells her that they already have a sketch, but thanks for trying.

Then Mary Anne gets a call. It’s from Saturday Night Live! They want to do her terrible sketch instead. Not really. It’s just Logan. They say they miss each other and have a boring conversation and say they love each other. 

Mallory

During her spying, the youngest BSC member mistakes parmesan cheese for poison. Then she blames Pinky’s racism on Jessi. Sort of.

She decided that Pinky’s nasty behavior was a result of being prejudiced. But if Jessi had opened her eyes and looked beyond her own problems, she’d have seen that Pinky was having some trouble being away from home.

Oh, how silly of Jessi, a person who experiences racism every day, think that a girl, who treats Jessi like a servant, may be prejudiced. Yes, the problem is on Jessi, not the girl who acts racist when she’s sad.

First Mary Anne is making fun of feminism and now Mallory is making excuses for the racist kid. This is not a great look.

Later that night, the students gather in the main room and tell ghost stories. They are mostly of the urban legend variety, including the woman whose dog bit off a would-be burglar’s finger (which I think was on an episode of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?), and the escaped maniac/boyfriend scratching at the roof of a car.

The stories spook the kids. When I was thirteen, I knew all those urban legends better than I knew the stories in The Baby-Sitters Club. It probably helped that there was a movie all about those stories called Urban Legend that we all watched and loved. (Looking back, I can’t recommend the movie. The best thing about it is that Jared Leto, who portrayed the main lead, doesn’t think he’s in the movie.)

Jessi

It’s finally Talent Night. The teachers need their fifteen minutes of fame because they didn’t get it when they were young and hot. We have come to the least realistic thing about this story, grinding the book to a halt, reminding us that an adult woman wrote these:

One teacher stepped forward and said, “Welcome to the Do-wop Stop.” Then he stepped back in line. For the next seven or so minutes those teachers sang a medley of fifties hits. That in itself was pretty good because it turned out that these, like, math and social studies teachers could actually harmonize. But the fun part was that they’d changed the words of the songs, so they were singing about things like kids cutting classes, the noise in the cafeteria, the bus ride to Leicester Lodge, and even the Winter War. When they were done, they somehow seemed like real people to me, instead of just teachers. I guess they sounded like that to the rest of the kids, too, because they got a huge round of applause.

What? Absolutely not. I went to talent shows. I went to mandatory pep rallies. I went to school presentations. At all those events, teachers sometimes did things like lip sync, put on little sketches, sing songs, or dress up in what they thought was “hip” clothing. I watched all these attempts to connect with the kids. I saw it all, and I never thought it was fun, interesting, relatable, or whatever it was supposed to instill in me. What it did instill in me was embarrassment. For me, for the teachers, and for everyone involved. I wanted to curl into the tiniest iota of a ball and fly away to a place where I didn’t have to watch whatever the teachers were doing.

Sometimes we didn’t know the old song they were singing and then they tried to get us to sing along. You can’t sing along to a song you don’t know, Mrs. Parker!

Not knowing the old song was better than when they tried to be contemporary. That was worse. That was a nightmare. It was not fun when they changed the lyrics. Hey, that’s not the song I know! Just sing the stupid song like it sounds on the radio. But that wasn’t what made it a nightmare. Sometimes the teachers would dress up. They’d put on puffy pants, backward hats, and those sunglasses that were slit, and then they’d rap. And they’d rap and dance. They’d gesticulate in a way that, for them, meant hip-hop, but to us, it meant they had never listened to anything harder than Vanilla Ice. Only clean rap for them. Looking back, their performance was probably quite racist – like Baby’s First Minstrel Show.

And after it was over, there was no wild applause. There was no admiration. There was polite, if not lackluster, applause and relief that it was over. And then there was the reflection. How do they not know that’s not how you dress or dance? Do they know the actual song? Do they know how “California Love” actually goes?

Finally, the dread set in. “Are we going to be like that?”

Jessi may have had a good experience, but she was written by an adult white woman who forgot about the abject embarrassment intrinsic to teacher performances.

The rest of the talent show features fifties music and a boy redoes a skit from I Love Lucy. Finally, Pinky apologizes to Jessi.

Now the Do-Wop Show should apologize for digging up memories I thought I had banished into the farthest depths of my mind.

Claudia

While fantasizing about her ski instructor as if he were a predator, somehow, Kristy’s team (blue) beats Claudia’s team (red) in the ski race. At lunch, Claudia talks about how Guy likes her. Mary Anne says he is too old, and she would be correct. Claudia remarks that age doesn’t matter. Claudia, age matters a lot. The only dudes who would agree with you are dudes you shouldn’t be talking to. They’re also the ones who know the age of consent in every state.

Then Guy introduces Claudia to his family – a wife and kid and everything. Guy is not a predator, but Claudia is still devastated. I, the reader, am relieved.

Kristy

The first thing Kristy does that morning is scour the cafeteria for cross-country skiers. She finds two victims, both of whom have little to no experience with cross-country skiing. One ends up falling and the other kid breaks his ankle. Kristy’s team loses both the event and the entire war.

Kristy finally realizes she’s been a jerk and she runs to Mary Anne. She says that the point of the game was to have fun. No, Kristy, the point of the game is to get you accustomed to pointless competition so the only way you can feel successful is through the suffering and loss of another person or group of people.

Mary Anne soothes her.

Mallory

Mallory doesn’t want to go to the dance because she can’t dance. I think it’s a valid reason, but the other members of the BSC don’t think so. Plus the elementary school kids are going to the dance also, so it’s more like a school-wide gathering with dimmed lighting. 

Anyway, because people can’t just say no and everyone stops bothering them, Mallory goes to the dance. Some boy from her math class asks her to dance. Mallory wonders what she was worried about. I continue to think dances are stupid.

Stacey

Stacey puts in a fancy hair clip and dances with Pierre. They promise to write to each other. He kisses her hand and she vows to never wash her hand again. Stacey becomes a super spreader. 

Mary Anne

They arrive back in Stoneybrook safely, there are some postcards, and Mary Anne refers to the BSC as the greatest friends in the world.

Once again, it’s time for my arbitrary ranking of the stories, starting from the worst and ending with the best.

Kristy – Who the hell cares about the Winter War?

Dawn – See Kristy.

Claudia – I’m glad Guy wasn’t a predator, but she needs a different storyline besides a crush.

Stacey – Pierre seems fine. There wasn’t much Winter War with her stuff, so that was welcome.

Mallory – Why is she spying on people again? Also, if she doesn’t want to go to a dance, don’t make her. Why are the characters so dedicated to making people do things they don’t want to do?

Jessi – I don’t care what her reasons are, Pinky is a miserable character to read about. I wholeheartedly disagree with Jessi about teachers performing, but I enjoyed the talent show auditions. It would be nice for Jessi to participate in something besides a talent show, though. She needs her own little romance instead of Claudia for the millionth time.

Mary Anne – The archaic prose in her letters made for the funniest moments in the book, but not for the right reasons. I liked the ghost stuff, but Mary Anne’s pining overshadowed what could have been a spooky tale about flying cutlery.

Overall, this book is a rehash of previous Super Specials. Claudia gets a crush, Mallory is spying, Jessi is dealing with a talent show, and Kristy is being a jerk. The only characters who get some variety are Stacey and Dawn. It’s not like they should stop doing these things altogether – I just want some variety. Add a little spice.

Additionally, the stories didn’t connect as much as I would like. Sure, characters had cameos in other characters’ stories, but none of these cameos really affected or changed a potential outcome for another character. Dawn sort of caused her team to lose the war, but when Kristy was scrounging for cross-country participants, I think the fate of the blue team was sealed.

But you know what? There are so many more Super Specials in the future and more opportunities to see the BSC in unusual circumstances. It wasn’t perfect, but I did have an enjoyable time reading it, even if it brought up some memories I would have preferred to keep buried.

So if you’re in a beautiful cabin like the BSC members, at a beach in Aruba, or at home, reading a book, I hope you’re safe and warm. Happy Holidays and I’ll see you next time!

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 podcast app. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com.

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Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The Boy Next Door by R. L. Stine

Men are a menace. To everyone – women, children, and other men. The worst ones are entitled men. Men who think they are owed something. They think they are owed something simply for being a man. Because a woman dates them, they are entitled to her body, her time, her expression, and everything about her. And then they wonder why women don’t want to talk to them. They wonder why other men won’t befriend them. Maybe they’ll get over themselves and learn to make real change. Or maybe they buy a gun and shoot people. (I’m not talking about a specific event because there are too many for me to reference as I live in a hellscape known as America.)

It seems that entitled men are the focus of this week’s review. Since this book’s publication, entitled men haven’t gone away. They’ve just gotten more access to like-minded idiots on the internet and firearms. So buckle up and meet one of the worst antagonists in Fear Street.

Like many Fear Street novels, we start with a first-person killer cam. Actually, get used to this killer cam – we’re going to get a lot of it. There is no mystery here. We know who the killer is and we know about his motivations by the third page.

His name is Scott Collins and he’s at his girlfriend’s funeral. He killed her because she started wearing make-up, saying that it was “No way to behave.” Remember this, because it’s his terrible mantra. 

Then we switch to the third person. Crystal and her best friend Lynne are trying on lipsticks and talking about boys. I know this character type. I’m bored of them already.

They hear some commotion outside. There’s a new family moving in next door and they have a hot son – and he’s in the bedroom right next to Crystal’s! They peep at him changing his shirt and they think he saw them. In the same chapter, it switches back to Scott’s first-person perspective. He knows they were staring at him and he’s very angry they were doing it. Not because it’s a clear invasion of his privacy. No. That’s not the issue. The issue is that they were wearing lipstick and low-cut leotards. Yep. I’m very happy we get to spend time in this dingus’s head. I’m being sarcastic if you couldn’t tell.

The next day before school, Crystal is judging her sister, Melinda.

How could she expect to attract a guy’s attention in those awful brown sweaters and sloppy, wrinkled jeans? It’s as if she were terrified of looking good, Crystal thought.

Well, well, well, if it isn’t my old friend Insecurity. First of all, the notion that one must wear revealing clothes to attract boys must have come from boys themselves, because in my experience, any girl can get a boy without much effort. Boys are everywhere and they’re more desperate. And even if they weren’t, dumb boys are useless anyway, and the good ones don’t care what you wear as long as you’re happy. They don’t care if you wear ugly sweaters or short skirts. What matters to a good dude is your happiness.

Anyway, Melinda is another stereotype – the bookworm who only reads old books. Look, I like Pride & Prejudice also, but most of the books I read are contemporary. I believe this stems from both a male author’s lack of knowledge regarding current female authors and the publishing industry’s relegation of female authors to frivolity. Literary fiction written by women is often referred to as “women’s fiction,” a genre that fails to carry the same weight as “literary fiction.” Since modern fiction for women isn’t regarded as serious enough, the girls in these types of books have to read classic literature like Jane Eyre (another book Melinda mentions). See, Melinda is a serious girl who reads serious books, but nothing new because it’s not serious enough, even though there were authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Eve Ensler, and Toni Morrison in the ‘90s, and those are the ones off the top of my head. 

Although, if Melinda was reading The Vagina Monologues, the Karens would clutch their grocery store plastic pearls in abject terror. A story about a girl’s first menstruation is not appropriate, but you know what is appropriate? The story of a man who keeps his ex-wife in the attic while he tries to pick up the tutor.

Anyway, at school, Scott has been spending his time staring at women with so much tension that his head is trying to compress his skull, or so I imagine. At lunch, Lynne drinks diet iced tea (Which doesn’t exist, just don’t add sugar, there, it’s diet.) and invites everyone over to her house. Scott plays with a knife and no one notices. 

Later, Crystal wonders why Scott hasn’t called her, so she commits mail fraud. Not really. The postman just delivered Scott’s mail to her house. There is a brief explanation of how addresses work, a common theme for this essay series/podcast.

She flipped the magazine over. Studied the mailing label.

MR. MICHAEL COLLINS

3618 FEAR STREET

The mailman had made a mistake. Crystal lived at 3616 Fear Street. She was about to toss the magazine on the side table when-

She stopped cold. She checked the mailing label again. The address.

Yeah, it’s for next door. Why would you just toss it to a table if you didn’t know what it was? If there’s a single piece of strange mail, I inspect it like it’s the clue to solving a decades-old murder that will clear my family name.

Crystal uses this as an opportunity to venture over to Scott’s house. Meanwhile, Scott is murdering a dog. It’s unnecessary. We already know that Scott is a bad person. There’s no need to drag a dog into this.

Crystal makes her way next door and finds the door open. She just walks in and someone grabs her from behind! It’s Jake “The Snake” Roberts and HE POWERBOMBS HER THROUGH THE COUCH! Have you ever seen such brutality, Mean Gene?

Just kidding. It’s Jake Roberts, Scott’s new friend and he just engages in general obnoxiousness. After hanging out for a little bit and talking about the weird magazine, Lynne shows up as Rollerblade Barbie – minus the catching your hair on fire.

She wore hot-pink-and-black skating gear, with black tights. The shiny material clung to her skin, showing off her long legs. She strolled into the room as if she owned the place and dropped her Rollerblades on the floor.

She hates to skate! Crystal thought.

Yeah, that’s the problem. Not the fact that neither of them knows anything about this random boy, and they’re already willing to change everything about themselves. It’s the fact that she’s wearing Rollerblading stuff and she doesn’t Rollerblade. 

When they leave, Scott refers to Crystal as “a disease,” which is a very nice thing to say about a human being. A few days later, Lynne actually kisses Scott. He runs to his bathroom, scrubs his mouth, and vows to kill her.

Crystal and Lynne call him and speak to him playfully in a French accent. Scott’s mom is not happy that girls are calling him with accents. I’m not sure if it’s the girls calling him or the French accents. Either way, they have a terse dinner where they chant things like, “No way to behave,” at each other like they’re trying to summon the ghost of Strom Thurmond. Republicans are wild.

Later, after a conversation with her sister, Crystal hops over to Lynne’s house. She finds Lynne’s suicide note that reads, in part

“I only acted wild to cover up my true feelings.” … “I realize now that this is no way to behave-”

Crystal finds her friend slumped over in the garage with the car running. Lynne is dead.

The next few days are hard for Crystal. While grieving, she renews her relationship with Melinda, which is mostly Crystal attempting to turn Melinda into a replacement for Lynne.

Finally, Scott calls Crystal’s house, but he doesn’t call for Crystal. Instead, he asks for Melinda.

Crystal is surprisingly happy for Melinda. She gives Melinda some new outfits to wear so she can attract Scott as if Scott hadn’t already asked Melinda out. Of course, Scott hates the outfits because he’s a misogynist dumbass. 

Eventually, Melinda admits to Scott that Crystal has been dressing Melinda. Scott determines that in order to keep Melinda docile and the perfect Republican wife, he must kill Crystal. 

Strap in, because we’re finally at the climax. The girls work together and even pull an “I’m Melinda,” “No, I’m Melinda” to save themselves. Scott decides to kill both of them.

Do the girls work together like sisters to take down the man who murdered Crystal’s best friend?

Not really. He falls into a hole, giving the girls an opportunity to call the police, and Scott is hauled away to the mental asylum.

A few days later, a new family moves in and both Crystal and Melinda rush to the window to see if there’s a new boy.

What a disappointing book. There are already too many men in the world with Scott’s perspective. They think they have the right to tell people, especially women, what to do, how to act, and what to wear. They’re basically destroying the world right now. I spent the whole book waiting for his great comeuppance. I wanted the girls to work together to defeat the murderer. I wanted them to use his backward beliefs against him. Instead, he falls in a hole. The girls didn’t use their wits. They didn’t even use the hole. He stumbles into the hole like Justin Bieber at one of his concerts.

Maybe I could forgive this book if the female characters weren’t such stereotypes. Crystal and Lynne are obnoxious and boy-obsessed, so much so that they’re willing to abandon their interests and personalities for a boy they don’t even know. This is a common trope, but man, Stine, give them something. A fun quirk. A starring role as the only girl on the basketball team. Anything.

And the character who is supposed to be different, Melinda, is also a broad stereotype. She only reads books from the 19th century and only wears sweaters. Unlike her sister, she does change – into an obnoxious, boy-obsessed clone of her sister. From one stereotype to another. It’s really more of a lateral move.

I know these characters are supposed to be disposable tropes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have something to latch onto. A couple of the disposable tropes in Halloween Party are a deaf, interesting girlfriend and a thirty-year-old woman who thinks that it’s appropriate to party with teenagers. That book has some other problems, mostly that the other characters are a bunch of forgettable tropes, but it had two interesting characters who carried the book. That proves that these books can be done without relying on one lazy stereotype of a boy attacking some other lazy stereotypes of girls. Here’s to Reva, the sisters from Bad Dreams, and multiple petticoated women of the Sagas series, who keep us from boring tropes. May more of you enter the Fear Street series.

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 podcast app. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Attack of the Jack-o’-Lanterns by R. L. Stine

The difference between a teenager’s Halloween party and a kid’s Halloween party is the Trick-or-Treat. Usually, a Halloween party for teenagers is an excuse to drink and attempt to engage in an awkward courtship ritual that will haunt them forever. The kid’s Halloween party is supervised and at some point, the kids go as a group and become reverse door-to-door salesmen. The night ends with a sleepover.

At least, that has been my experience. 

Parties and trick-or-treating collide in this years’ Halloween special in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: Attack of the Jack-o’-Lanterns. Unlike my Halloweens though, I’m not scared for life – at least not in a physical sense. Some of my costume choices were questionable, though. Like the time I was a “bloodsucker” because I was lacking specific teeth. What is a “bloodsucker”? It is just a vampire without any benefits.

Drew Brockman growls at people. He also has millions of friends that we all meet in the first three pages. I’m kidding. His friends are Walker, Tabby, Lee, Shane, and Shana, and we get them in two pages. Walker is his best friend, Shane and Shana are twins, and Tabby and Lee are the patented Stine not-friends.

Two years prior, Tabby and Lee threw a Halloween party that would have resulted in a lawsuit if there was justice in this world. Basically, two people in ski masks crashed the party through the basement, ordered everyone to the floor, and then forced the party-goers to do push-ups. The result is PTSD for an entire fourth-grade class and a kid who literally growls at people vowing revenge. 

The next year, Drew, Walker, Shane, and Shana have this master plan to scare Tabby and Lee with fake spiders and rubber snakes. However, Tabby and Lee decline their Halloween party invitation, so the kids have to wait another year to enact revenge. 

But this year, they will finally even the score.

Drew, Walker, Tabby, and Lee go trick-or-treating. They go to a house and a kind woman invites them inside. Against their better judgment, the kids enter, only to find a disturbing scene.

The back room was enormous.

And jammed with kids in costumes.

“Whoa!” I cried out, startled. My eyes quickly swept the room.

Most of the kids had taken off their masks. Some of them were crying. Some were red-faced and angry. Several kids sat cross-legged on the floor, their expressions glum.

“Yeah. Let us out of here,” Lee insisted.

The old man smiled. The woman stepped up beside him. “You have to stay,” she said. “We like to look at your costumes.”

“You can’t go,” the man added, leaning heavily on his cane. “We have to look at your costumes.” 

“Huh? What are you saying? How long are you going to keep us here?” Tabby cried.

“Forever,” the old couple replied in unison.

Now Walker and Drew have to work with Tabby and Lee to escape these wild people who collect trick-or-treaters, getting closer together and gaining a mutual understanding of one another-

No. It was a daydream. It was Drew’s daydream. He thought it up in between growls.

Anyway, the actual day is here, but there’s a slight kink in their plan – Mother Growl doesn’t think they should go trick-or-treating. Apparently, there are people missing in town.

I took the paper from Mom and stared at the photos of the four people who had disappeared. Three men and one woman.

“The police are warning people to be very careful,” Mom said softly.

Walker walked over and took the newspaper from my hands. He studied the photos for a moment. “Hey – these people are all fat!” he exclaimed.

Now we all clustered around the paper and stared at the gray photos. Walker was right. All four people were very overweight. The first one, a bald man in a bulging turtleneck swather, had at least six chins!

Well, then I guess they deserve to be kidnapped!

But enough of that grown-up stuff – the kids are ready to go trick-or-treating!

Drew and Walker leave. It’s not long before something bites Drew on the shoulder! It’s Todd, one of the boys that home invaded the party from three years before. This kid bites Drew and so Drew growls at him. The older kids run off to bite other trick-or-treaters. There’s a lot of animalistic behavior going on here. 

Eventually, Tabby and Lee show up. The twins are late and Drew is worried about their plan, but Tabby and Lee want candy, so they start knocking on doors. One of the houses gives them apples and Lee yeets it because you shouldn’t take unwrapped gifts from people you don’t know. Or he doesn’t like fruit, I’m not sure.

As they’re hucking fruit, they see two figures emerge from a grey blur.

Over their heads…

They wore pumpkins!

Large, round pumpkins, perfectly balanced on their shoulders.

As they slowly turned to face us, their jack-’o-lantern faces came into view.

Eerie, jagged grins cut into their pumpkin heads.

Flashing triangle eyes.

Lit by flames!

Walker and Drew scream, but Tabby and Lee are unphased. In fact, they’re so unphased that after the pumpkin heads (not the movie) beckon the kids to follow them, Tabby and Lee trail behind without much of a second thought. Walker and Drew tag along and Drew has a bad feeling about the be-pumpkined individuals, but at least he isn’t growling.

They pass through a forest and it seems like they’ve been walking for hours. Walker fails to live up to his name and struggles with his shoes. Drew speculates that the missing people followed the pumpkins deep into the woods and he expresses his internal anxiety. Finally, they come out of the forest on the other side and they’re suddenly in a neighborhood. It’s a nice neighborhood and every house has great candy. Soon, the children have had their fill.

They attempt to go home, but the pumpkins are furious. They say that the kids can’t stop.

They both appeared to float up, to rise up over us. The fires raged in their triangle eyes. The heads floated up over the dark, caped bodies.

“You can’t quit! You can’t EVER quit!”

Whenever the kids try to run away, the pumpkins block their path. When the kids have run out of space in their bags, the pumpkins order them to eat. The kids are reaching their breaking point, especially Tabby and Lee. The two attempt to grab the pumpkin head off to reveal the person behind the mask. Tabby and Lee are successful until they realize that the pumpkins were their heads. The pumpkins just laugh and put their heads back on. 

It’s almost midnight and the kids’ parents are going to be worried, but the pumpkins are still going house-to-house. The kids try to get help, but none of the adults will help them, calling them crazy. The pumpkins have been disappearing when the kids try to signal for help and then emerge when the kids try to run away. They go to another house and instead of finding a human – they find a pumpkin adult.

More pumpkin adults appear. They surround the children. They bring out four extra pumpkin heads. They slam one of the heads on top of Tabby. She runs away screaming. Lee tries to fight back, but the pumpkin people get him, too. Then they turn their sights on Walker and Drew.

And they all start laughing.

What is going on?

The two creatures set the empty pumpkin heads down on the ground. And then their own pumpkin heads started to change. The flames died out. The heads began to shrink. And change shape.

A few seconds later, Shane and Shana had their own heads back.

“It worked guys!” I exclaimed when we finally stopped celebrating. “It worked! It worked! We really scared Tabby and Lee this time!”

“That was so much fun!” Walker exclaimed. “And so easy!”

I stepped up to Shane and Shana and hugged them both. “Of course,” I exclaimed, “it helps to have two aliens from another planet as friends!”

“What the hell?” I exclaimed.

You’d think I’d be used to these kinds of endings by now, but I’m not. Especially when the narrator spends the book expressing to me, the reader, how scared he is through internal dialogue and how those pumpkin kids aren’t Shane and Shana.

It would be one thing if Drew were saying the pumpkins weren’t the twins to Tabby and Lee to keep up the lie but Drew told me, the reader, about his fear. He told me that the twins were missing. He said to me he needed to get home. In the words of Bob’s Burgers, “A lie is not a twist.”

However, maybe I’m looking at this book wrong. Maybe I’m only looking at it with an artificial lens. At the end of the book, as the kids are getting their sweet revenge, the village of aliens were all willing to help. It’s about a community coming together to aid one of its weaker members.

I suddenly had a serious thought. I stopped laughing. “You know, I’ve never seen you two eat,” I told the two aliens. “What do you eat?”

Shana reached out and pinched my arm. “You’re still really bony, Drew, “ she replied. “You’ll find out what Shane and I eat when you fill out a bit.”

“Yeah,” Shane chimed in. “People from our planet only like to eat very plump adults. So you don’t have to worry for now.”

Well, I guess they’ll deserve it when they get older.

The book is not about Halloween revenge. It’s about animals. At its core, human nature is animalistic. Teenagers bite multiple children. Our main character literally growls. They go from house to house hunting for sustenance. Getting revenge on Tabby and Lee plays into pack dynamics. Tabby and Lee are the alphas of the group, but a new leader wants to take over. It’s not a fight in the traditional physical sense, but a fight of courage.

And in the end, as all this happens, there’s a set of aliens who see humans as another animal to use for food. They are keeping the townspeople in their little neighborhoods, or pens, until it’s time for them to graduate from Bovine University.

Or Stine couldn’t think of an ending and he saw an episode of The X-Files and was all, “I’ll just make it aliens.”

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 podcast app. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-sitters Club Super Special #2: Baby-sitters’ Summer Vacation

My experience with summer camp comes exclusively from friends, horror movies, and that episode of The Simpsons where Lisa and Bart go to Camp Krusty. As far as I’m concerned, summer camp is where your parents leave you to sing Bible songs, camp counselors get naked and stabbed, and then you overthrow the leadership after a string of broken promises.

I doubt that will happen in this book. However, there will be little adventures in this most special of episodes. Just like the previous Super Special, the chapters change narrators, so the essay will be structured in the same way. This narrator switching allows for a range of events to happen — a range of events that may or may not intersect with each other. So pack up that sunscreen, read up on dangerous plants, and get ready to run from murderous killer cams, it’s time to go camping!

Stacey

After some coaxing, Stacey decides to join her friends at Camp Mohawk. We’ll get to the problematic name, don’t you worry. She joins her friends, but there is one condition: everyone has to keep a diary that she will collate together at the end of camp.

Parents are dropping off their kids at the bus in a cacophony, not unlike the first day of school. Some kids are crying and they’re still forced on the bus, I guess. If your kid is crying and they’re not even at camp yet, maybe you should just let them stay home. This is not mandatory. Some kid is yelling about turnips. Another is yelling about her goldfish, which I’m sure will be the same one that she left behind.

Also, there are bags. A lot of bags. The campers are allowed to bring necessities and their own shoes and underwear, but all the campers are required to wear a uniform. Conformity is a necessity of camp, apparently. And just to add to the terribleness of this endeavor, all the clothes, including socks, have the same symbol. Stacey, take it away:

A teepee. Now, I don’t know a lot about Indian culture, but I know this much. The Mohawk Indians are part of this large Iroquois nation. And the Iroquois lived in longhouses, not teepees.

But what can you do? This was camp, not school.

Time to get into it. Don’t say “Indian.” “Indigenous” is good. The actual tribe name is better. What’s best is to not make a mascot out of the people who were systematically murdered by the government. Additionally, who cares if it’s not school? Being empathetic shouldn’t be location specific.

Finally, and most troublingly, Ann M. Martin wrote the book. She could have named the camp anything. Even if Stacey points out the problems, it’s still inappropriate. If it is a terrible name (and it is), and our characters know it (as indicated in the passage), that should be a plot point wherein a group tries to get the camp to change. Why name it something insensitive and have the symbol be something just as offensive if it’s not going to come up as a major plot point? The television changes the camp name to Camp Moosehead. The show is wonderful and perfect, and go watch it if you haven’t. And then cancel your Netflix subscription because there won’t be any new seasons of The Baby-sitters Club.

Kristy

Apparently, the whole camp idea started with Dawn. The California girl had been on a camp movie binge including Meatballs and The Parent Trap. Good thing Sleepaway Camp wasn’t on that camp movie list, otherwise, Dawn might rethink her camp idea.

Like most things in Stoneybrook, the idea spreads like wildfire, and soon, all of the BSC, plus some select kids, are going to Camp Mohawk, bringing the grand total to twenty-three. With all the kids we know, the random kids we don’t know, the BSC and the other CITs (counselors-in-training), and the actual counselors, there’s going to be a lot of names, so brace yourself.

The most surprising kid going to camp is Charlotte Johanssen, who is already crying and yelling, “I don’t want to go away!” For some reason, she still leaves with the bus. At least she has her best-friend Becca Ramsey with her.

On the bus ride, Margo Pike throws up and camp officially begins.

Claudia

Claudia gets to be with her best friend once again and they talk about body waves and perms. Their talk is cut short when they get their room assignments and all the BSC (except Mallory and Jessi) are split up into different cabins. Haley Braddock and Vanessa Pike are in the same cabin as Claudia along with some other girls whose names I never remembered. There are a lot of names thrown around, and you can’t expect me to remember all these girls who don’t contribute much and speak in one line a piece.

Jessi

Unsurprisingly for a camp with an insensitive name, the camp is lacking in melanin, so Jessi is understandably nervous. Luckily, Mallory and Jessi are assigned to the same cabin. Also, they are CITs in training. They were given a special title after they wrote essays about The Baby-Sitters Club in their camp applications. Camp Director Mrs. Means (lovingly referred to as “Old Meanie”), gives them the titles in exchange for creating a show with some of the younger campers for Parents’ Day.

That’s all well and good, but a few of their cabinmates, Maureen, Mandi, and two Marys, laugh at them and call them “Bobbsey Twins.” That’s not so bad, but Mandi adds, “They don’t look like any kind of twins, if you know what I mean.” No, Mandi, what do you mean? You’re either racist, stupid, or both, and I would like to know which one. My money’s on both.

Mary Anne

Fun fact! Mary Anne addresses her postcards to both her father and her cat.

Mary Anne meets her co-CIT — a girl named Randi who dresses like Claudia and, unfortunately, we have to settle for a description of Randi’s accessories instead of an installment of “What’s Claudia Wearing?”

On the first day, she wore parrot earrings, (Claud has a pair of those), a braided string bracelet on one arm, a wistful of bangles on the other arm, and even an ankle bracelet over one teepee sock. The bracelet spelled out her name. In her hair was a headband with a neon green bow attached to the side. It clashed with the green words CAMP MOHAWK on her T-shirt, but who cared?

To make herself sound cooler, she tells the girls that she’s only at camp to be close to her boyfriend, Logan, who’s a CIT at the boys’ camp. How are they closer at a camp where the boys and girls are separated instead of at home where they don’t have arbitrary walls? Either way, the girls don’t believe her, but Mary Anne is determined to prove she’s as cool as the others.

Dawn

The one to blame for all this finally shows her face! And she’s here to tell us all about each camper! In a list. Not unlike this list of events separated by italicized names. Hey, show, don’t tell, leave the room, because we have a list of names and basic descriptions to get through!

I’m not regurgitating all that. The only one you need to remember is Heather, who likes to read quietly and strictly follows word economy. I like her already.

Stacey

There’s a pink eye inflammation at Stacey’s cabin. To attempt to stop the spread, Stacey sends the infected girl to the infirmary. Unfortunately, the girl says that pink eye is a hoax and she should be allowed to rub her eyes on everyone else because stopping her is a HIPAA violation. I’m kidding. This is fiction — not real life! The girl understands and goes to the infirmary.

That night, Stacey discovers that she can’t eat the food that the cook is providing for her. She tells him that she can’t eat the food.

“Listen,” he replied, “you get what you get. I know the food’s not gourmet, but you don’t see anyone else coming back here just because this isn’t like home cooking.”

“But I’m diabetic.” I was trying to explain what that meant when Mrs. Means came in. She and the cook and I had a talk. When I left the kitchen a little while later, I was carrying a plate of meat, carrots, an apple, and a sugar-free whole-wheat muffin — on a clean plate, with no traces of honey.

You’d think the cook would be accustomed to dietary restrictions, but I guess it was the late ’80s and if you had a life-threatening peanut allergy, though shit, kid. I guess you’ll just die.

That night, Mrs. Means gives a talk on various camp diseases, like Lyme disease, and Stacey is freaked out. Then they sing some camp songs and that alleviates some of Stacey’s anxiety.

Mallory

Mallory and Jessi have their first chance to work with the kids. Becca and Charlotte are there, but Charlotte just spends her time crying and having stage fright. Becca is not any better. Unlike her graceful sister, Becca has no rhythm. I know how you feel, Becca. I’m the only Filipina born without a musical sense. There are more of us. We meet every second Wednesday of the month. No music allowed. We wouldn’t understand it anyway.

Kristy

One of Kristy’s co-CITs is named Tansy. There’s also Izzie and Lauren and they are all very cool, as Kristy demonstrates.

Tansy, Lauren, and Izzie were wearing smart-looking white lace-up Adidas on their feet, and I was wearing blue Ponies with Velcro straps. I almost always wear lace-up running shoes, but just before we left for camp, I saw these Ponies in a shoe store and bought them. I thought they looked really cool.

I guess I was wrong.

Ponies are cute. I don’t know about those Velcro straps, though. That’s an odd look for a thirteen-year-old.

Kristy also sees Izzie’s bra strap when her t-shirt falls to one side. Kristy is scandalized. Why? Because Kristy doesn’t wear a bra yet. That’s an issue for some reason.

Claudia

It’s time for some summer romance!

Some CITs from the boys’ camp come over to invite the CITs from the girls’ camp over for a movie night. One of the boys and Claudia meet glances. Bring on the casual racism!

All I could do was look at one of the other boys. He was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous — and incredible and wonderful. I’m sure of it.

And I think he’s Japanese. Anyway, he’s Asian. He has black, black hair and dark, almond-shaped eyes, and creamy skin like mine. His hair is kind of punk. The top part stands straight up. He must have to use mousse or something on it in the morning. That and his black high-top sneakers were about as punk as he could get at Camp Mohawk. The rest of his clothes were teepee variety.

Again with the almond eyes thing. And Asians just believe in skin care — it’s not an inherited trait. Cleanse, moisturize, and sunscreen. And what is so punk about having some mousse in your hair? In high school, I knew a kid who put Elmer’s glue in his hair every morning to make it stick out in every direction as if he were the fifth member of Mudvayne. That’s punk.

Mary Anne

Mary Anne is desperate to prove she has a boyfriend and so she writes a ridiculous letter to Logan asking him to wear aftershave and bring her a yellow flower to match her yellow ribbon. Then she signs it with “Your love bunny, Mary Anne” and leaves it in a conspicuous place for the other girls to find.

They encourage Mary Anne to sneak over to the boys’ side and deliver the letter. Then the girls come up with a way to get around bed check complete with an oddly detailed map. The girls also warn Mary Anne about some insane asylum escapees.

Mary Anne sneaks out, but she’s chased through the woods. She stumbles and her pursuers catch up to her.

I began to scream.

“Go away! Get out! Don’t kill me! I’ve got a kitten at home. He needs me. Oh, yeah. I also got a gun.”

This is America, Mary Anne. If there are kids, there’s a crazy man with a gun.

Luckily, it’s just Mary Anne’s counselor, Connie, Mrs. Means, and two counselors from the boys’ camp. One of the kids who has it out for Mary Anne ratted her out. One of the boys takes her note and Mary Anne returns to her cabin. Mrs. Means punishes her — she can’t swim for three days — but the other campers have a little more respect for Mary Anne.

Logan

Logan writes in all caps. You better get rid of that habit by the time the internet becomes a thing.

Anyway, he gets Mary Anne’s letter, and it’s quite embarrassing for him. His cabin mates make fun of him and call Mary Anne a “feeb,” which stands for “feeble-minded person.” How ableist and gross. It also sounds like something a boomer would come up with in between saying that millennials shouldn’t have children they can’t afford and then yelling at us to give them grandchildren.

The chapter ends with the boys throwing food at each other and laughing.

Dawn

Dawn reminds us about her extensive camp experience, including a stay at “Camp La Brea.” Either that’s a poorly named camp in Death Valley, or it’s a camp at the tar pits. The tar pits are in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. Down the street from the old G4 channel headquarters. I’ve been to La Brea. If you camped there, you would be arrested for vagrancy.

Anyway, Dawn is oddly worried about Heather, the camper who just wants to read and doesn’t want to talk to anyone. Heather is me if my parents forced me to go camping when I was a kid. I think Heather is great and should be left alone, but Dawn doesn’t seem to agree.

Dawn’s counselor, Charlene, is called away while the girls are camping, and the new counselor won’t be there until the next morning. Dawn encourages the girls to have fun, eat junk food, and stay up, but Heather doesn’t want to participate. She just wants to read. Frankly, if Dawn cared about fun, she’d realize that reading quietly is Heather’s form of fun.

Stacey

Stacey is in the infirmary with a nasty rash. Is it Lyme disease, Stacey’s current obsession? Are minuscule bugs eating Stacey alive? No, it’s just poison ivy. But Stacey does have to spend the next few days with her new best-friend Calamine lotion and the camp nurse. Luckily, Stacey can talk to Miko, a fellow camper who broke her leg.

Kristy

Charlotte is afraid of balls. Me too, Charlotte, especially basketballs. And volleyballs. And baseballs. Just keep me away from sports. However, Charlotte enjoys the rehearsals with Mallory and Jessi.

During rehearsals, some girl laughs so hard that she wets her pants, which causes Becca to laugh so hard that she wets her pants. It’s a whole thing I don’t want to unpack.

Then Kristy’s cabin mates put some make-up on Kristy and she likens it to torture. That’s not torture, but fine, I guess it’s torture for a girl who lives in a three-story mansion with a ghost.

Claudia

Claudia’s cabin mates find out the name of the cute boy — and just in time for the movie. His name is Will Yamakawa and he is also mortified by the choice of Meatballs as the camp movie. A bit on the nose, doncha think?

The two of them bond over their grandmothers. Will’s grandmother had the coolest name rivaled only by “The Gabbers” — Tink. Grandmother Tink. Absolutely adorable and I love it.

I wasn’t aware of anything except the crackling fire and the moonlight and Will sitting next to me. After a long time, he reached over and took my hand. A chill went down my back. He didn’t let go until the CIT van pulled up and I reluctantly had to leave him.

Aww, Will is a sweetheart.

Dawn

Debra is here to take over for Charlene, just in time for the camp hike. The girls sing “Monster Mash,” the well-known late-’80s camp song, while the girls look out for cairns to indicate their location. Despite the cairn hunting, Debra gets lost, which means the whole cabin is lost as well.

However, Heather has been reading up on camping and survival and she is integral to the group. She is also the only one who seems to know how to read a map. Eventually, the girls find their camp from the previous night. However, the girls aren’t out of the woods yet, as it’s getting dark and they won’t be able to make it back to Camp Mohawk until late. They camp out for the night.

The next morning, Dawn’s group meets up with the search party, much to Mrs. Means’s relief. That’s one lawsuit avoided. She gives Heather a medal for bravery.

Mary Anne

So, the girls in Mary Anne’s cabin want to pierce her ears. Mary Anne is worried about her father’s reaction and how she would have to have “a nonprofessional job.” Oh no, what kind of life will she lead if she can’t work in a cubicle until her back hunches! And what’s wrong with having an unconventional job? I would love to have an unconventional job.

She still wants to prove that she’s cool, so she agrees to let her co-CIT stab her. It’s either this teenager with a needle or that teenager at Claire’s with a gun, so it’s a lateral move. The girls run around the camp looking for things like ice, a pen, a needle, and alcohol. At least they’re being sterile.

Mary Anne lays her head down and gets ready, but the stabber can’t do it. She’s never done it before and she hates the sight of blood. Just wait for menses, kid, you’ll get used to blood.

Mary Anne doesn’t get her ears pierced. Because Mary Anne was willing to go through with it before the girl stopped herself, she gains some respect from the girls. Then they all laugh for some reason.

Logan

The theme for the CIT dance is Valentine’s Day. It took the camp a whole three seconds to come up with it, so these little kids better enjoy it.

Logan’s cabin mates are terrible and continue to use the pejorative “feeb,” making them not cool at all. For some reason, they “grin” when they see that Mary Anne is not the aforementioned word. She was unable to attend the movie night, so this is the first time that Logan can see her. This is also the first time Mary Anne’s cabin mates see Logan, proving he exists and doesn’t live in Canada, where the girls wouldn’t know him.

They dance. There’s some banter. Then they kiss goodbye. It’s fine.

Claudia

Each chapter starts with a postcard from the narrator to a side character. The postcards and their recipients have not been worth mentioning. So far, Claudia’s postcards have been to Mimi, her parents, and Janine. That is pretty standard. However, this postcard is addressed to Ashley Wyeth, whom I thought we were done with.

Anyway, it’s the dance and Claudia spends the whole time dancing with Will. When Logan tries to cut in, Claudia is not having it. She gets back to Will and they have a pretty heavy talk.

Then, in a quiet moment, Will whispered into my ear, “You know what? I feel like Tink is watching me now, and she’s happy because she knows I’m happy.”

Will’s breath on my hair tickled my neck, but all I said was, “That’s nice. I hope she’s happy for other reasons, too. Do you think that, wherever she is, she’s with your grandfather?”

Will looked very serious for a few moments. At last he said, “I don’t believe in heaven and hell, but I do believe that the spirits of Tink and Big Papa are together somewhere. So I know they’re happy. Both of them.”

Again, Will is a sweetheart.

Unfortunately, the evening has to end and Claudia and Will say tearful good-byes before she boards the bus and cries until she gets to her cabin.

Then the younger campers ask how it was and what Will was like. Then they laugh for some reason. I’m sensing a pattern here.

Kristy

Before the dance, Kristy’s cabin mates gave her a big makeover. Even Kristy thinks she looks good. She dances and hangs out with Mary Anne and Logan. Then she goes back to her cabin. Presumably to laugh for some reason.

Stacey

Stacey may be rashy, but that doesn’t mean she can’t go to the dance!

Usually, that’s exactly what that means, but Stacey is recovered enough that she’s able to go to the dance. She’s even allowed to return to her cabin.

The next morning, she wakes up and it’s Christmas! There’s snow in the window and presents for the cabin!

“During each session of camp,” she explained, “one cabin in each age group surprises the other cabin with Christmas in Summer. It’s a big secret. No one knows what day will be Christmas.”

First Valentine’s Day, now Christmas? This camp is a money laundering scheme for a shady Holiday Village, isn’t it?

And the snow in the window? It’s baby powder. This is clearly a threat. Here. Merry Christmas. You’ll get cancer if you don’t keep your mouth shut about this money laundering scheme.

Jessi

It’s finally Parents’ Day! For an inexplicable reason, Mallory and Jessi made Becca and Charlotte the leads in the dance recital. Those two? The one who can’t dance and the one who cries if two people look at her?

Surprisingly, the show goes off without a problem. And after the show, Mary, Mary, and Mandi all apologize for treating Jessi and Mallory so poorly. However, Maureen doesn’t say anything to the girls. Jessi remarks, “Some people never learn.” No, Jessi, Maureen is just racist. You can find her yelling Conservative talking points at a clinic every day because she doesn’t have a job or a hobby.

And with Parents’ Day, the camp has come to an end. The parents collect their kids and everyone gets into their respective vehicles and then they all laugh.

Stacey

We have some letters that Stacey compiled into the diary. This also serves as an epilogue for the novel. Claudia and Will write to each other. Stacey gets a Christmas card from one of the campers. Kristy sometimes puts on mascara now. Mary Anne writes to the other CITs, but she doesn’t think it will last long. Dawn wants to sign up for survival training and she writes to Heather. Speaking of, Heather will not be attending camp next year. And finally, Mallory and Jessi write to Mandi.

Now it’s time for me to rank each story based on arbitrary criteria from worst to best.

Logan — It was only two chapters and it was filled with terrible boys whom I hated.

Dawn — It’s annoying to watch someone bother another person who seems perfectly happy doing solitary activities.

Kristy — She was a passive participant in her makeover, which does not make for a particularly interesting story.

Stacey — She spent most of her time in the infirmary, but at least she did something.

Mary Anne — I know what it’s like to want to be cool.

Jessi — Jessi and Mallory stuck together and were able to put on a good show, despite their cast. As Little Vickie says, “People go to a children’s dance recital expecting a certain level of professionalism.”

Claudia — Will was sweet. Their relationship was sweet. And what’s a summer vacation without a summer romance that is doomed to end when the leaves change?

The second Super Special was a fun read, however, the stories don’t intersect with one another as much as the first Super Special. That’s fine, I don’t need them all to culminate in a third-act climax, but the interactions between the girls are what make the books enjoyable. The only two who talk to each other are Mallory and Jessi, and there’s a reason why they are ranked high.

This book, on the other hand, features significantly less Karen than the first Super Special, so that’s great.

If you’re interested in seeing the girls at camp, read this, then watch the Netflix show.

Now go have some summer fun, whether that means swimming or staying inside with a good book. I know which one I’ll be doing. And then I’ll laugh for some reason.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: High Tide

To no one’s surprise, I don’t do beaches. It’s not the water – I love water, as well as the concept of water. It is a necessary part of living, so I like water in that sense. And a peaceful wave crashing on sand in the middle of the night is a wonderful thing. I would prefer to live near the water. Despite that, I don’t do beaches. I don’t do bikinis. I don’t do boys flexing at everyone around them. I don’t do the sun. I don’t do lifeguards. I don’t do sunbathing. My ideal waterline situation involves overcast weather in serenity or a busy port with tourist traps. This is no middle ground.

However, it’s time to pack that tote bag with a sarang, pop on some sunglasses, and strap on sandals because R. L. Stine is taking us to the beach – and all I can sea is blood in the water. 

Our protagonist, Adam, crashes into waves on what Stine calls a “scooter.” I thought they were called “Ski-Doos.” My partner told me that they’re called “Sea-Doos” or “Waverunners,” the generic term is “jetski,” and he’d never heard anyone refer to them as “scooters.” Even that delineation is a matter of some debate, mostly whether or not one stands up or sits down on the watercraft. For this review, I’m going to stick with “jetski,” but keep in mind that Stine calls them scooters like they’re Italian vehicles.

Going back to Adam, he’s on a jetski with his girlfriend, the ludicrously named Mitzi. She falls off the jetski pretty quickly and gets cut. Then Adam falls off the jetski and it cuts his leg. They’re just floating in their own blood and he’s trying to save his girlfriend, but it’s no use – the waves take them. 

Adam jolts awake – it was all a dream. Sort of. His roommate, Ian, suggests he switches psychiatrists. Adam has been seeing a TV psychiatrist named Dr. Thrall since the accident a year before and he is still experiencing nightmares and general jump-scare-related hallucinations. What? You’re telling me that a talk show doctor is not the most scrupulous mental health care professional? The devil you say!

Still, Adam thinks his legs are suddenly gone. It’s another hallucination, of course, and he sees Dr. Thrall. To my surprise, the doctor is not an Orc Shaman from Orgrimmar. He’s a doctor who says weird things like the following:

“You have to listen to your subconscious mind.” He tapped his fingers on the desk and glanced at me sharply. “It may be trying to tell you something. I think there’s something inside your brain struggling to get out.”

I thought Freudian psychiatry was dismissed, but here we are. The Id has something to say, I guess. Adam, drop this guy, but right now, it’s time for work.

We meet Leslie, the girl that Adam is currently courting, to use a parlance contemporary to Freud, since that outdated thinking is present in the novel. And speaking of outdated thinking, we also meet the other lifeguard, Sean.

End of part one. Yes. You heard me. End of part one on page twenty. And we’re switching points-0f-view! 

We switch to Sean, who also sucks, but in a different way. Adam is boring and his only personality trait is that he sees his dead girlfriend everywhere. Sean is one cashier telling him that he has to wear his mask away from being a mass shooter. His favorite hobby is assaulting the girls on the beach, particularly a girl named Alyce. 

“Let go of me, Sean! You really are an animal.”

“You love it!” I insisted. I turned her around and kissed her on the mouth. “You know you love it.”

“I do not love it!” she snarled. She shoved me away and scowled at me.

I reached for her, but she hopped backward. “Oh, you want me to chase you?” I asked.

“Hardly.” She made a disgusted face. “Don’t you get it? I don’t like being grabbed like that.”

“Like what?” I asked, grinning. “You want me to grab you some other way? Show me how, babe!”

Oh, gawd. This guy can’t die fast enough.

I hate to break it to you, but this guy does not die. He is just our red herring. But at least we don’t have to follow him for too long.

Uh-oh. More bad news, we have to follow this guy for a while. And he doesn’t get any better. He doesn’t get any worse, though, but the bar is on the ground with this guy. The bar is so low that we would have to call before we dig if we wanted to raise it because we don’t want to hit a gas line.

Sean pretends there’s a shark in the water just to freak Adam out. (On a side note, if Adam panics when there’s a shark, why is he still a lifeguard?) At this point, Sean spins a tale to Adam. A tale of stalking his girlfriend to find out if she was cheating. He followed her and her date to an amusement park. I imagine the girl and her better, newer boyfriend having a great time on Dumbo the Flying Elephant in one car, and in the next car Adam is looking pissed and staring at them. After she said goodbye for the night, Adam cornered the guy in the woods and beat him. When the guy screamed, Sean just beat him more. Why did Sean tell Adam this story? Because he didn’t like the way that Adam looked at Alyce. 

We switch to Adam and he is chatting with Ian. Remember him? The roommate? Well, Ian is going to go to the beach and scope out hot chicks, whom Adam calls “females” like a damn Ferengi. Anyway, Ian wants to borrow Adam’s jeans for his night out. Ian leaves, but Adam finds Ian dead in his bed! Just kidding – it’s another hallucination. The hallucinations are not already annoying, no. Definitely not. And not they’re over. Adam speaks with Leslie, and then a skull talks to him. Nothing fun, like Skeletor. The skull just screams, and then we’re back with Sean.

Stalker Sean looks for Alyce at her apartment but her roommate says that she’s not there. So Sean skulks around the beach and finds Alyce with some guy. Since he keeps calling the mysterious person “him,” we can safely assume that Stine wants us to think it’s Adam, but we know that it’s someone else.

Sean follows Alyce and the guy who is definitely not Adam (*wink*wink*) as they drive to some date night locations. Unfortunately (or fortunately), Sean loses them at the movies. Sean, you need a hobby. Something that will give you an identity outside of “stalker/angry guy.” Have you tried coin collecting? Maybe you should become an expert on old warships. Or plumbing. People always need someone to plumb something. 

Instead of taking up a productive hobby, Sean beats some random guy in an alley. Leslie happens upon Sean and stops him before he kills the guy. Leslie does not go to the police. Although, what are the police going to do to stop a dude who beats up random people and has a history of violence? They would just hire him.

The next day at work, we’re back with Adam, who is chatting it up with two new girls – Joy and Raina. Also, Sean is acting aggressive and stand-offish with Adam. When Adam goes into the water, a jet ski crashes into him, and Sean does nothing! Don’t worry about our bland protagonist – it’s just another hallucination.

Adam has a hot date with both Joy and Raina. Oh, I guess Ian is there, too, but the girls are smitten with Adam. Maybe the bikini girls don’t know that there are two dudes. I know that two boring characters can seem like the same guy. Anyway, Leslie sees Adam cavorting with the girls and we get a red herring.

“You hurt me, Adam!” she declared furiously. “And I’m going to find a way to hurt you back!”

I’m not completely sure about his relationship with Leslie. He doesn’t expressly say that they’re dating, but the implication is there. I think that Adam is leading Leslie on, implying they’re in a relationship while keeping it open in case two bikini girls come by and flirt. Then he can have fun with them while keeping Leslie on a leash. I have a low opinion of Adam. Although, not as low as my opinion of Sean.

And speaking of Sean, during lifeguard duty, Sean is still cool towards Adam. His relationship with Sean seems to bother him more than his relationship with Leslie. But it doesn’t matter, it’s the titular high tide, and Joy and Raina are in the water. Adam doesn’t see them resurface. Bust out the slow-motion because it’s Baywatch time!

There’s a lot of swimming. Pages of swimming. Basically what happens is that Adam finds Joy, but she panics and keeps clinging to him. Then he finds Raina, but she’s unconscious. He can’t swim while towing Raina if Joy keeps clawing at him and screaming. He leaves Joy behind because at least she’s conscious and he promises to come back for her. Unfortunately, when he returns, Joy is nowhere to be found and presumed drowned.

We have come to the end of part two. At least Stine waited for seventy pages this time.

Adam wakes up in his bed. Was it a hallucination? Ian informs him that it really happened and Adam should take the day off. But it’s time for Ian to go! He has a hot date again!

Adam wanders around the apartment, “slips a CD in,” and eats cereal. Then he gets a phone call. Someone with a nondescript voice says,

“Adam, you’re going to pay for what you did to me, I promise you. You’re going to pay soon.”

He goes for a walk, but there is no respite.

Her windbreaker flew up behind her, like a cape. In the dark mist, she looked transparent. As if she were part of the shadows, part of the fog. As if I could see right through her.

“Adam…” she whispered.

I gasped. She knew my name!

“Adam – you let me drown!”

“NOOOO!” I cried.

Joy! It was Joy floating in the shadows, billowing in the fog.

Her windbreaker/cape fluttering in the fog like a gothic ghost! Nothing says romance like a windbreaker. And like a Victorian ghost of a lover who was wasted away, she disappears. Yet another hallucination. Or was it? The “ghost” left a wet footprint behind.

Adam returns home and goes to sleep. He dreams about Mitzi and the jet ski accident again, although something has changed. This time, someone else is driving the jet ski that ran over Mitzi. When he wakes up, someone is in the room!

It’s just Ian.

Finally, Adam talks with Leslie about what’s been going on and the drowning of the bikini girls. She reveals some startling information.

Leslie bit her bottom lip. “I watched the news last night,” she told me. “They didn’t say anything about a drowning.”

She reached down beside her and slapped a newspaper on the table. “And this is today’s paper. Look.”

Leslie flipped the paper around and showed me the main headline: TOURIST BEACH RENTALS A RECORD HIGH.

The next day, Raina admits that she feels bad and she will explain everything that night. Adam agrees to meet up with her at seven. But before they can meet up, Adam has to go back to his apartment. He finds Sean slashing up his bed. However, Sean is confused – he wanted to slash up Ian’s bed. Unsurprisingly, Ian is the one Alyce is dating and Sean has been icy toward Adam because Sean assumed that Adam would cover for his roommate. It doesn’t excuse Sean’s behavior, and the reason for Sean’s inclusion as a first-person protagonist will stay unexplained. But at least that red herring subplot is solved and we can ignore Sean for the rest of our lives.

Adam meets Raina and suddenly Joy shows up! She’s not dead! Also, not surprising. It was all an act. Joy and Raina pretended to be in peril and Joy pretended to drown. In fact, it was all Dr. Thrall’s idea. This is what happens when you look for your next doctor on TV. Stacey McGill’s parents did the same thing and all it got them was a massive medical bill (I’m assuming), the disapproval of their daughter, and criticism from a random woman from the internet on her goofy podcast and essay series.

“He thinks you buried the memory of what happened last summer deep down in your mind,” Joy explained. “And he wanted to try something really radical to get you to bring the memory up.”

Why are these two girls helping Dr. Thrall or Ian? Do they know the bikini girls? Were the bikini girls hired off the internet? WANTED: hot bikini girls for psychotherapy drowning prank.

Adam runs away to his roommate, who was also in on the “radical” treatment. Then Adam remembers that last summer, it wasn’t him and Mitzi on the jet ski. It was Ian and Mitzi on the jet ski. Ian borrowed his jet ski, Mitzi fell off, and Ian hit Mitzi and Adam in the water. Ian was so distraught that he ran away. When Adam came to, he blamed himself so Ian just let him continue thinking Adam killed his girlfriend.

The two of them fight it out on jet skis in a scene rivaling From Justin to Kelly. Adam comes out on top, of course, and Ian is hauled off in a police vehicle. Finally, Adam gets to spend time with Leslie – at least until she gets killed during a synchronized swimming routine or Adam finds a set of bikini girls who weren’t hired through the Facebook Marketplace.

You would think that the beach is a prime location for murder and horror. Bodies washing up on shore. The sheer amount of people breaking rules at night. The overwhelming depth of the ocean. The creatures that lurk below. The mysteries of the ocean are just a few feet away. But this book is more about Adam’s trauma surrounding the death of his girlfriend. And I would be fine with that. A story about a man dealing with hallucinations and triggers is fine. Sounds like Jacob’s Ladder or Slaughterhouse-Five, so we know that it can make for a good horror story.

What I can’t understand is why he would continue to work at the beach where his girlfriend died? Maybe if there was an indication that he just loves the beach or the ocean so much, that the thought of being away from the water is worse than his PTSD. Even that doesn’t make much sense. There’s just no reason for him to stay on the beach. And the beach doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the story – the location could be different. Maybe he can’t move out because he doesn’t have enough money to move. Fine. But he can somehow live in a beach house on a lifeguard’s salary. Why is he still a lifeguard? Get a different job. And while you’re at it, a new shrink.

Finally, Sean’s chapters are a huge waste of time. First-person allows us to get inside a character, and I don’t want to be anywhere near Sean let alone inside his damn head. Just make it third-person if we need to have this guy’s perspective. I think he should red herring over there, far far away from me, and stay away from the narrator’s position.

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 podcast app. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #23: Dawn on the Coast

I love California. I love the coastal cities with museums and attractions and the laid-back energy of the influential surfer culture. I love the areas outside the cities, where perfect rows of crops grow along the highway. I love the deep woods with dense trees and the mountains with snow-covered tops or thick greenery, depending on the time of year and global warming. I even love the colored layers of rock that make the jagged hills in the middle of the desert. California is a diverse place with diverse people, so when I saw that the next book is about Dawn’s return to the left coast, honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Ann M. Martin’s depictions of Californians have been less than stellar. For example, we have yard sales. That’s not exclusive to the east coast.

This book has the dubious distinction of being the first BSC book not written by Ann M. Martin herself. That’s the thing about the BSC — Ann M. Martin may have had her name on the cover, but most of the books were ghostwritten. If there’s one thing Stine has on Martin, it’s that at least he wrote all the Goosebumps and Fear Street books. So, it’s Jan Carr’s turn with the BSC, and this time, we’re taken away from Stoneybrook, and we’re traveling to California.

Dawn’s mother is shipping Dawn back to California for spring break while dreaming about avocados, as if they’re unavailable in Connecticut, apparently.

Before Dawn returns to California (regretfully referred to as “C-Day” — the regret is not on her part — it’s on mine, for reading it) the BSC throws a going-away party at Kristy’s mansion. The whole BSC is invited, of course, as well as Karen and Andrew, because nothing says party like a six-year-old. Meanwhile, Watson says weird stuff.

“Excuse me. Excuse me.” Someone was pushing his way through the crowd. It was Watson Brewer, home from work. “Well,” he said, as he took a look at the chaos that greeted him. “Five more daughters, huh? Where did I get them all? Hello, girls.”

What a dorkass nerd.

The girls eat pizza and watch Fright Night at Spook Lake, a movie that only exists in Scholastic books from the eighties. Then the party is over and it’s time for Dawn to get a good night’s rest for the plane ride the next day.

Dawn’s mother sees her off at the gate, which is still weird for me to read. Then Dawn lets us know how flight attendants work. She talks to an old man, which made me uncomfortable. Hey, Dawn, don’t fall asleep on the plane if you’re sitting next to an old man. Especially if he’s some kind of producer, which this man claimed to be.

When Dawn lands, her brother, Jeff, and her father are waiting for her while singing “California Girls.” Since this is 1989, I’m assuming it’s the Beach Boys song, not the Katy Perry song. This makes the context gross since the Beach Boys had a strange resurgence in the ’90s that displayed sixty-year-old men dancing around eighteen-year-olds in their music videos. Disgusting. I don’t care if Pet Sounds changed your life, Mike Love should not be trying to pick up twenty-year-olds at a Tr*mp ne0-N*zi rally.

One of the first things that Dawn’s father does is take his children to Disneyland. Now, remember, this is 1980s Disneyland, so I guess we have to read a list of every Disneyland area and ride because cultural osmosis hasn’t reached the BSC audience, I guess. It’s an amusement park with Mickey, you don’t need to know the name of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as it has no relevance to the plot. Anyway, Dawn buys ears for each member of the BSC, so she spent the money saved for her first year at a state university. After they watch Captain Eo, Jeff starts moonwalking everywhere, which is hilarious to Dawn. They also go on the Mark Twain Riverboat (they call it the “steamboat”) and Dawn imagines she’s the man himself coming up with stories. That boat is an excuse to sit down for fifteen minutes to get away from the crowds. Finally, they do something that appeals to me.

Haunted Mansion is right up my (spooky, ghost-ridden) alley. On the outside it’s an old New Orleans house. You know the kind. It has those wrought-iron, curlicue trellises bordering all the porches. Inside, though, it’s a real spook house. To go through, you get in a Doom Buggy. Sound creepy? That’s the least of all of it. Ghost Shadows are cast on all the walls, and eerie music plays in the background. Upstairs, in the attic, there’s about an inch of dust on everything. I’m telling you, one trip through Haunted Mansion equals about ten good ghost stories. And I ought to know.

Really, Dawn? You ought to know if The Haunted Mansion is scary? First of all, I’m about to be pedantic, so strap in. Secondly, my love for The Haunted Mansion knows no bounds. Thirdly, it’s The Haunted Mansion. Haunted Mansion with no “The” is the cheap version at the County Fair whose most advanced animatronic is a skeleton on a stick. Fourthly, (it’s definitely “fourthly”), eerie music only plays at the beginning, but when you get to the graveyard scene, you get “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” which slaps. Fifthly and finally, you don’t know horror stories until you’ve got a woman tied to an oven who gets dough stuffed in her mouth until she suffocates. That’s horror. I guess that’s too intense for a kid’s book.

Back to the book, they watch some old black-and-white silent cartoons and Dawn’s father says that those cartoons are better than the current cartoons. I don’t think so, Mr. Schafer. Are you seriously telling me that these thirty-second cartoons that feature a simple story about getting a haircut with an aperitif of racial stereotypes are better than, say, Duck Tales, The Brave Little Toaster, or My Neighbor Totoro, all of which were contemporary to this book? No human not drowning in nostalgia would say that. And how old are you? You’re nostalgic for cartoons from the twenties and you’re a boomer? That’s as if I were nostalgic about Archie, a cartoon that has never been contemporary for me.

After Disneyland, Dawn’s best friend on the west coast, Sunny, invites Dawn to her house for a surprise. The surprise is the capitalist notion of working! I’m not kidding. Turns out Sunny, along with two other girls started their own baby-sitting business — the We ♥ Kids Club. I wouldn’t trust any business in which I had to use the Special Characters menu just to type the name. The club even has Kid-Kits filled with healthy cookbooks for children.

After the call, Sunny wandered off to the kitchen and brought us back a snack — apple slices with natural peanut butter.

It’s true, I thought. I really am back in California. This was a far cry from Claudia’s Ding Dongs.

Did you know that Ding Dongs were outlawed in California after the Great Ding Dong Massacre? What are you talking about, ghostwriter Jan? Californians eat Ding Dongs. Californians can eat sugar and crap, also. And on another note, California is the most diverse state in the union. How are all of Dawn’s friends blonde, white people? What are you implying about California? Or worse, what are you implying about Dawn and her family?

Luckily, the showrunners of the Netflix The Baby-Sitters Club present California Dawn in a more diverse light. I’m convinced that ghostwriter Jan has never been to California.

Maybe I’m being too hard on Jan. Even though the books were ghostwritten, the ghostwriters did use Ann M. Martin’s ideas and notes. I know Martin has never been to California, so maybe she just didn’t realize how diverse and special California was and still is.

Anyway, Dawn can’t take a break, even while on vacation, so she takes a job for the club. Yeah, kids, you understand? Even if you’re on vacation, you can’t escape your job. You can have your silly little hobbies like relaxation, but when the job calls, you can’t turn it down. You need to get used to working forever with no breaks. Gotta make that money so your boss can buy a media outlet and an abortion over state lines for his third mistress.

Back in Stoneybrook, Claudia and Mary Anne babysit for the Newtons and some of their cousins. There are chili shenanigans. Everything goes fine and no one has weird conceptions about California.

Speaking of which, Dawn, her father, the We ♥ Kids Club, Jeff, and Jeff’s friend, go to the beach, and Dawn remarks that they’re all blond, which made them a “stereotypical California group.” Again, I’d like to refer you to a U.S. News & World Report about California’s diversity. You’d find more blonde people in Stoneybrook, Connecticut than on that beach, especially considering the same study found that some of the least diverse states were New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, which are all close to Connecticut. (On another note, my state, Nevada, was ranked as the ninth most diverse state, so that’s nice!)

Lest you think I’m nitpicking on the blonde thing, the next pages are filled with passages about how blond they are. Dawn’s father says they look like the “Swedish delegation.” Dawn calls them by saying, “Blondes over here!” The girls put stuff in their hair to make themselves even blonder. It’s like, geez, I get it. You’re Aryan. No need to dwell on it.

Dawn and her father take some time out to connect since they haven’t gotten an opportunity since Dawn arrived. They talk about school, Jeff, Dawn’s mother, and the secret passage in Dawn’s house. Dawn figures out that her father is lonely, but Jeff throws some animals at them before Dawn could have a full conversation about loneliness. Then Dawn’s father says, “Blonde convention, ho!” which is the signal that it’s time to leave as well as an awkward thing to say.

The next day (or possibly later that day — time is strange in this book), Dawn babysits for two children named Daffodil and Clover, because of course they’re named that. We need to throw in all kinds of California stereotypes, and that includes the hippies, even though they were usually scattered around San Francisco, not Los Angeles. What are we going to have next? Random celebrities? Taco shops? Governor recall elections?

Anyway, Dawn takes them to a carnival. They play some darts and go on rides. There’s a woman dressed in jeans and cowboy boots leading a pony around. Clover thinks of herself as an “Indian brave.” That’s problematic thinking there, hippie kid. But what can we expect from the least diverse group of Californians?

Meanwhile, Jessi babysits for Karen, David Michael, and Andrew. The boys are building a Lego city while Karen wants to play “Let’s All Come In,” which is a terrible game and is also not a game. In case you don’t remember, it’s a non-game where Karen makes people pretend to enter a hotel and they are forced to tell everyone why they are in the hotel. You never tell people where you’re staying or why you’re staying somewhere. It’s a security thing, Karen. You don’t announce yourself in hotels, you don’t announce your room number, and you don’t talk to weirdos hanging out in the lobby. Geez, it’s almost like you’re six or something and you’re not concerned with security while traveling for your corporation.

While looking for outfits to wear during the nongame, Karen has to go to the third floor, which is where Ben Brewer the ghost lives. Karen finds some notes from the ghost himself and she is spooked. Jessi figures out that Kristy’s older brother Sam planted the notes for Karen to find, ensuring that Ben Brewer will forever haunt the third floor of this mansion.

Kristy babysits for the Pikes. We learn that the Pike parents don’t have many rules, in particular, and if the kids want to stay in their pajamas, that’s no problem. Somehow this annoys the narrator. My sister and I had that leniency in my childhood — and it’s turned me into a drug abuser! I’m just kidding, but as an adult, I do stay in pajamas if I’m not going anywhere.

The Pikes eat some ravioli and coleslaw, and then there’s a cookie adventure. Then they start writing secret messages to each other. Nicky runs to his hideout and says that he misses Dawn and writes her a letter. I guess that’s enough to convince Dawn to return to Connecticut. How long is this Spring Break? Dawn can receive correspondence from across the country. What is time in this book?

As a going-away celebration, Dawn’s father takes Dawn and Jeff to a Mexican restaurant, where we see the only people of color in all of California, according to this book. On the way home on the airplane, there isn’t a creepy man, so that’s nice.

When Dawn arrives in Stoneybrook, which has its own airport with direct flights to Los Angeles, but only one movie theater that plays only one movie, the whole club is waiting for her at the gate. They gush over her tan, ask about the other baby-sitting club, and ask about Disneyland. Dawn is confident in her decision to stay in Stoneybrook . . . at least until the California Diaries series (I’m getting there — I’m getting there, this is a hobby).

It’s fun to see the baby-sitters outside of their usual setting of Stoneybrook. New situations bring new adventures and seeing how our favorite characters react to the unknown, feelings of loneliness and homesickness, and reconnecting with the past make for a good story. However, I have some serious problems with this book.

The most obvious and glaring issue is Disneyland. I’m kidding. It’s an issue, but it’s not the issue. The biggest problem with the book is its depiction of California diversity — or lack thereof. Again, California is diverse — it’s not only blonde, white people everywhere. I’d argue that that depiction is more appropriate for Connecticut than California.

The state is more than beaches, Mexican food, hippies, and Disneyland. Not just California as a whole, but Los Angeles itself has more to it than the stereotypical things. This wouldn’t be such an issue if it was only this book (there’s only so much you can fit into 120 pages), but the overreliance on stereotypes is central to Dawn’s character, and this book emphasizes The Dawn Problem. Not all Californians eat healthy food, not all of them are blonde, and not all of them love the beach — and that’s the only depiction of the west coast we have in The Baby-Sitters Club. And that’s how all Californians are portrayed, even while Dawn is physically in California.

I hope that the California Diaries show the true diversity of California. Until then, I’ll try to remember Dawn’s good qualities — she’s capable, nice, independent, and an individual. That’s the true spirit of the west.

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.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #24: Kristy and the Mother’s Day Surprise

In elementary school, every May we would make some silly gift for Mother’s Day. Usually, they were of the construction paper flower variety. I only vividly remember one. It was a small drinking glass with some crepe paper and glue on it, creating a sort of stained glass cup for shots, I’m assuming. Perfect for the Mom who’s a day drinker.

I imagine many mothers fawned over these trinkets of affection. Not my mother, however. It was greeted with a polite “Thank you” followed by, “What do I do with this?” It’s not that my mother doesn’t like gifts — it’s quite the opposite. Honestly, my mother gives out too many gifts and likes to receive too many things. The issue is that my mother believes in useful gifts. If it’s a piece of art, it should do something else, like tell time or provide warmth. The cup was at least useful — it held liquids. It even held liquids that weren’t potent potables. The paper flowers were pure decoration, and they never lasted long in the house.

Mother’s Day gifts are on the brains of the BSC, especially Kristy, who is anticipating the arrival of a new brother or sister to the Watson/Thomas household. So, I hope you’ve wished your mother a Happy Mother’s Day, and let’s follow the BSC as they take the burden of children from the mothers of Stoneybrook, and the fathers are forced to do the bare minimum — care for their spawn.

It’s Dues-day at the BSC! And speaking of money, the BSC is wondering what they should get their mothers for the impending holiday. Mary Anne reveals that it’s a difficult holiday for her, and Kristy remembers times in school when they made cards for their mothers and Mary Anne would sink into her chair. I’d like to think that schools have accommodated children with single parents or same-sex parents now, but there are still parents who don’t want their children to learn about racism, so I don’t have much hope. I bet those parents wouldn’t care about Mary Anne’s family situation. “A family that is different from mine? How dare they exist without shame! I’m ridiculous!”

Later, Kristy has dinner with the whole Thomas/Watson clan — Charlie, Sam, David Michael, Watson, and Mrs. Thomas, as well as Karen and Andrew. It’s chaotic, but Watson and Mrs. Thomas want to have a discussion. (Also, Mrs. Thomas’s name changes to “Elizabeth.” She was named “Edie” in the first book.) They ask for their children’s opinions on adding a baby to the family. The older kids, especially Kristy, are excited for them. The younger ones, especially Andrew, don’t like the idea. Kristy is convinced her mother is pregnant.

During the next BSC meeting, we get a round of “What’s Claudia Wearing?”

She was wearing a pretty tame dress, too — with a red necktie! Then, she had on these new, very cool roll socks. When she pushed them down just right, they fell into three rolls. The top roll was red, the middle one was peacock blue, and the bottom one was purple. She looked as if she were wearing ice-cream cones on her feet. In her hair was a braided band in red, blue, and purple, like her socks. And dangling from her ear were — get this — spiders in webs. Ew. (But they were pretty cool.)

Claudia is bi. This is canon and it’s great. Or she’s a MordeTwi, which would be terrible.

It’s during this meeting when Kristy announces her idea — she wants the BSC to take some of the neighborhood kids for a day. Do the parents pay them to take the gremlins? No, the BSC will be paying for the experience with their treasury money. It’s a Mother’s Day gift for their best clients. The giving away of free services creates Karens who think they’re entitled to free shit, but that’s a rant for another day. The thing that really pisses me off is that the fathers are called in to take care of the babies as if taking care of their own children is a special treat for the mothers. It was their disgusting trouser pencil that created the children, why do terrible dudes think they shouldn’t take care of their ugly kids? If you see a dude who thinks it’s the woman’s job to take care of the children, would you kindly kick them square in the junk for me? Just so we can ensure that they don’t have any children that they won’t take care of?

Anyway, Claudia is baby-sitting for Jamie and Lucy Newton. Jamie is sad because he can’t go to Sudsy’s Carnival, which is coming to Stoneybrook on Mother’s Day weekend. Claudia gets the great idea to take the kids to the parking lot carnival. The idea is expanded on when the club decides to take the kids to the carnival in the morning, go to the adjacent park for lunch, and then return to the Kishi residence for a wind-down.

Now, it’s time for everyone’s favorite part — logistics!

The BSC lists out the kids whom they want to invite. It comes to twenty-nine kids. They’re going to need help. Unfortunately, Logan and Shannon are both busy that weekend. But Stacey is available for a weekend getaway!

In the end, twenty-one kids partake in the carnival day. With Stacey, each sitter is responsible for only three kids, so that’s completely manageable. Since we’re still in the logistics phase, the girls parse out the kids to their respective sitters. Some interesting combinations include Charlotte and Becca with Stacey because that’s the only pairing that makes sense. Matt and Haley Braddock have to stay together and they are assigned to Jessi, so they can sign to each other. Also, Jenny Prezzioso is with Margot and Claire Pike, and Mary Anne. The girls don’t know how Jenny will interact with Margot and Claire, and Mary Anne is the only one willing to deal with the little princess. Finally, Karen and Andrew are with Kristy, but the BSC has no place to put Shea Rodowsky, Jackie Radowsky’s older brother, so he’s with them. He’s one of the oldest kids going and it might be weird to have him with two kids who are so young, but that’s for future Kristy to worry about.

At the next BSC meeting, the other girls show up at exactly 5:25 (because we needed to know the exact times), and Stacey is there! She finally gets to meet Jessi, who lives in Stacey’s old house. The girls gush over Stacey’s new haircut, to which Stacey says, “I went to this really punk place and told the guy not to make it too punk.” If I meet Ann M. Martin, I’m going to ask what, exactly, is punk in the BSC universe? When they say punk in the context of the early-’90s, I think of The Misfits and Rancid.

The adjective “punk” is also used in Super Special #2: Baby-sitters’ Summer Vacation and #21: Mallory and the Trouble with Twins in reference to mildly gelled hair cuts. I have no idea what “punk” is in this universe and my knowledge starts with the Sex Pistols and ends with the Warped Tour.

Anyway, since it’s the big day, Stacey and Claudia are dressed up.

Stacey, however, put on a tight-fitting pink jumpsuit over a white T-shirt, lacy white socks, and those plastic shoes. What are they called — jellies? And Claudia wore a pale blue baggy shirt over black-and-blue leopard-spotted pants that tied in neat knots at her ankles. On her feet she wore purple high-tops. And they both wore all this jewelry and these accessories, like big, big earrings, and headbands with rosettes on them, and nail polish. Claudia even wore her snake bracelet. Honestly, what did they think we were going to do? Enter a fashion show?

Yes. A fashion show.

Jelly sandals and white turn over top ankle socks.

Stacey surprises Charlotte and Charlotte leaps into Stacey’s arms. It’s adorable. Unfortunately, there are some criers, but they calm down soon after. One of the criers is Andrew, and Shea Rodowsky takes a protective role over the young boy. At the same time, Karen develops a little crush on Shea. So Kristy’s group works out, despite the age difference.

Even though the carnival is in a parking lot, it’s a little overwhelming for the kids.

There was a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a whip ride, a train, a funhouse, and a spookhouse. At the midway were a penny pitch, a ring toss, a horserace game, a shooting gallery, and a fish pond for the littlest kids. The sideshow tent was set up at one end of the parking lot, and wandering among the crowds were a man selling oranges with candy straws in them, an organ-grinder with a monkey and — Jamie’s precious clown selling balloons.

One of the first things Karen wants to go on is the spookhouse. I’ve been to a carnival spook house. I know spook houses.

And then Karen wants to get off — she’s too scared. An attendant gets them out. Geez, Karen, you chose to go on this ride. She wanted to go on Disney’s The Haunted Mansion and got spooked on that one, too. At some point, she has to admit she doesn’t like these rides and stops going on them. It only took me one time to figure out that I don’t like rollercoasters.

Meanwhile, Margo goes on a ride and throws up. She’s not good with motion. Same, girl, same. But I know how to recover quickly. Margo hasn’t figured out the formula yet, because she is affected during the whole day. Kristy tells her to eat slowly. So she does. Like, a bite every ten seconds slow. The food is wet mush by the time she finishes a bite. That would make me hurl more, but I guess it works for Margo because she’s not sick at the Kishi residence.

And speaking of the Kishi residence, the kids sing “The Ants Go Marching,” a song I know, and some song that goes, “I’ve got sixpence, jolly, jolly sixpence. I’ve got sixpence to last me all my life,” a song I don’t know. The only sixpence I’m familiar with is none the richer.

The kids also make Mother’s Day cards. Shea makes an acrostic for his mother.

Marvelous

Outstanding

Tops

Honored

Excellent

Renowned

Renowned for mothering, apparently.

The day ends and the children are collected. Later, the BSC talks about presents for each of their respective mothers. Mary Anne has an idea — she’s going to give her father a present since he’s been such a great father and mother. I would not call him a great either, but I’m not Mary Anne. I think she should just ignore the dumb holiday and be done with it and use this opportunity to make a teacher feel bad if they say something ignorant about mothers or the lack thereof. Of course, I was, and still am, a troll.

When Kristy gets home, her mother and Watson have a special announcement.

“Hey, Mom, are you pregnant?” asked Sam for the four-thousandth time.

“No,” she replied, “but we’ve adopted a child.”

Adopted a child! Well, that was a different story!

“You’ve what?” cried Charlie.

“We’ve adopted a little girl,” said Watson. “She’s two years old, she’s Vietnamese, and her name will be Emily Michelle Thomas Brewer.”

And she’s arriving at the household the next day, which just happens to be Mother’s Day.

Adoption is a long process, and I’d like to think that Watson and Mrs. Thomas have been planning on adoption for a long time. However, it seems like they have been going through the process since just the beginning of the book. So, about two weeks. But whatever, they’re happy. Kristy is happy. Sam and Charlie and cool with it. Who cares what the younger ones think, they’re getting a nanny.

The BSC throws a welcoming party for the child, because every occasion needs a party, apparently. Emily Michelle is fast asleep when Watson and Mrs. Thomas bring her home, so the party is exceedingly unnecessary. The book ends with Kristy declaring that her new little sister is the best Mother’s Day gift. Because humans can be exchanged like gifts? I guess? What are they saying here?

I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a traditional Mother’s Day gift. I gave my mother the handmade crafts we made in class, sure. But now that I’m an adult, I’m expected to give her something more substantial. Maybe flowers — the traditional gift. However, my mother would rather have the seeds than the flowers. Maybe I should give her a nice brunch at a fancy place with bottomless mimosas. No. That wouldn’t work either. She just wants Boston Market. My mother is strange, but I know what she likes — Boston Market and gift cards to Lowe’s.

And I don’t think the traditional Mother’s Day gifts work for every Mother out there, nor should they. Every Mother is an individual. The best gifts are ones tailored for the Mother, not some corporate vision of what Mom wants based on products with the most margin.

Also, frankly, there are mothers out there who don’t deserve any presents. Especially ones who adopt children and then want to rehome them when the smallest problem arises — or they can’t post pictures of their child on social media and those YouTube adoption views have dried up. I made a joke earlier about Emily Michelle being a gift — a gift to be exchanged. I was being sarcastic there, but I’m not being sarcastic about the epidemic of rehoming children, though. It’s barbaric and the practice has real victims and real consequences. I’m all about bringing the mood down in the conclusion. So Happy Mother’s Day!

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.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The Wrong Number

Before cell phones, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for a friend to call on the family phone and say to you, “Turn on channel eight.” And then you’d just sit there and watch the X-Games together until your father wants to use the phone and frankly, you’ve been on the phone for long enough, young lady, and there are other members of the house who need to use it.

That is all to say that I didn’t spend my phone time pranking. By the time I was a major phone user, caller ID was too prevalent to engage in phone-based pranks. Eventually, call phones became ubiquitous, but I still didn’t feel the need to prank and, besides, caller id came with the phone, right next to Snake.

Caller ID was clearly not a thing in my latest Fear Street book review. The girls in The Wrong Number spend their night calling their classmates and “pranking” them, although the pranks are more breathy talking than “Is your refrigerator running?” Either way, murder happens because that’s what the cover promises.

Immediately, we get a Fear Street trope: a chapter from the perspective of a nameless murderer. This time, the nameless one is someone who has screwed up in the past, but this time, they’re planning a nasty surprise for another nameless someone. After two pages of that, we finally get to meet our protagonists.

Their names are Deena and Jade and, like many Stine BFFs, they are opposites while somehow still being the same. Deena is shy and blonde. Jade is outgoing and brunette. They are both skinny white girls from the suburbs. How do I know they’re skinny? They make fun of the fact that the two fat kids in school are dating each other. Cool start. Wanna go after the poor kid next?

Anyway, Deena just got a brand new phone with all these buttons and Jade calls the next-door neighbor. Jade tells her that the local mall has selected her as the “worst-dressed shopper of the month.” The neighbor recognizes Jade immediately. 

Then Jade calls a random boy from school and tries to seduce him. He doesn’t fall for it either. Finally, Deena gets in on the fun and calls her crush, Rob Morell. While she’s not as breathy as Jade, she does refer to herself as his secret admirer. This time, he falls for it, but really, Deena isn’t joking around, unlike Jade. She doesn’t reveal her true identity, but she promises to call Rob the next day.

And speaking of the next day, Deena’s half-brother Chuck is arriving at the airport to stay with Deena’s family for a few days. He’s been in some trouble and needs a new location. He is also our red herring. You’d think he’d be the creepy one, but the true creeper is Deena.

Her first glimpse of Chuck was promising. She hadn’t seen him since he was about ten, and he’d grown up since then. He was tall now, and his T-shirt and tight jeans showed off the taut muscles of an athlete. His hair was thick and sandy above startlingly blue eyes.

Ew, Deena, that’s your brother. Also, they’re pretty close in age. Did Deena’s dad bone someone else while Deena’s mom was pregnant? Or did Deena’s dad bone someone else while Chuck’s mom was pregnant? The timeline is unclear.

Suddenly, Deena’s dad slams on the brakes! There’s an accident! A car is on fire! A kid screams for his dog! Chuck runs to the car! There’s an explosion! Chuck emerges with the dog! Exciting times are had by all! Deena calls Chuck crazy for rescuing the dog. Man, Shadyside is a dangerous place for dogs. If they’re rescued, the hero is called crazy and their sister questions their sanity. The nice ones are killed off in an attempt to raise stakes, so the only ones left are demonic hell beasts. 

Then we get a free verse from our murderer. 

Okay, okay.

So he was having a little trouble keeping it together.

Bid deal.

He needs to work on it a little before taking it to the open mic.

The girls are back to pranking, which is just Deena calling Rob and flirting with him. Not a super funny prank, but at least they’re not giving the fat kids a hard time. Chuck walks in on them and he wants in. He calls in a bomb threat to the bowling alley. Then he calls their classmate, Bobby, who lives on Fear Street, refers to himself as “The Phantom of Fear Street,” and then says that he has his “evil eye” on Bobby. At least it’s not a bomb threat, I guess. Finally, Chuck coughs and then falls over. Then there’s a chapter break. After that, he gets up and yells, “Booga, Booga.” 

Despite Chuck’s cringy behavior, Jade, Deena, and Chuck grow closer. They eat burgers. They do math homework. They read the newspaper. You know, kid stuff. After the girls tell Chuck about how scary Fear Street is, he decides to cure them of their phobia. He flips through the phone book and calls the first number whose address is listed on Fear Street. A woman answers screaming.

“Please,” the woman begged. “Whoever you are, you’re my only hope! Any minute now he’ll-” But her voice was cut off by a man’s bellow of rage. While the three teens listened, horrified, the speaker phone amplified terror-stricken screams and then the sound of shattering glass.

“Hello? Hello?” Chuck said into the phone.

And then the woman was back. “Please come!” she begged again. “Please help me! You’re my only-” There was the sound of a slap, and then a new, gruff voice came on the line.

“Who is this?” the voice growled.

“What’s going on here?” countered Chuck.

“It’s none of your business,” growled the man. “You’ve got the wrong number, do you understand?”

Then the man hangs up. The kids don’t call the police. Instead, they choose to go to the address they called. Remember when you could just look up someone’s address and phone number in a giant book? What a privacy invasion. Nowadays, it takes several rounds of clicking to find out someone’s phone number, address, social security number, workplace, kids’ names, kids’ schools, favorite ice cream flavor, and credit score.

So the kids drive over to the house. The back door is open, because of course it is, and they find a dead woman. That’s when they finally call 911, but they’re interrupted. A masked man attacks them! He orders the teens to drop the phone, put down the knife, and we get some general chattiness from the killer. The kids get into their car to escape, but the man gets in his car and the chase is on!

“Turn left!” cried Deena. With a protesting squeal the little car turned onto Canyon Drive. The masked man’s headlights were still behind them. “Turn right!” Deena screamed. “Now left!”

They lose him and Chuck calls 911 a second time, referring to himself once again as “The Phantom of Fear Street.” You know they know which house you call from, right? Like, the 911 people know. But the kids didn’t and they’re surprised when a detective shows up at their door.

Chuck lies and says that they were at home all night and never left. Unfortunately, there’s a witness that places them at the Farberson residence, the scene of the crime, at the time of the murder – Mr. Farberson himself. Of course, that’s not enough to arrest Chuck. However, there is special clay that is only found on Fear Street on Chuck’s vehicle, so this special clay is enough for them to book Chuck. The clay screams with the cursed souls of Fear Street, so it’s very specific. It can be loud, but it’s great for azaleas. 

After Deena and Jade go to the police to tell them the truth, the police refuse to believe the girls, so they have to take matters into their own hands to prove Chuck’s innocence.

Then the girls talk about boys for a few weeks and Bobby, the kid Chuck prank called, threatens Chuck through Deena. Oh, and they also realize that the person in the mask is Mr. Farberson, the husband of the murder victim. Things are moving both slowly and quickly.

The girls go to Mr. Farberson’s office and they dress incognito, which involves a wig and layers. Then they pretend to be from a temp agency and rummage through his office only to find a pamphlet for Buenos Aires. Then they follow him to his old worker’s house and spot a package. Mr. Farberson takes the package and throws it away. The girls go dumpster diving to retrieve the package, hoping it has something to exonerate Chuck, but it contains only a dead cat. Jeez, cats aren’t safe in Shadyside, either.

Meanwhile, Rob winks at Deena from across rooms and speaks in riddles disguised as flirting. I thought Rob and his doublespeak would factor into the plot somehow, but he does not factor at all. I know this because we’re finally at the climax and he hasn’t done anything except showcase his eye problems and Cheshire Cat speech patterns.

The girls break into the Farberson residence, and they find a letter addressed to Mr. Farberson from the late Mrs. Farberson, wherein she tells him that she’s leaving and she’s taking the cat. Sort of.

“‘Dear Stan,’” Deena read. “‘There’s no use arguing anymore. I have made up my mind to leave you, and nothing will change that. I know you can’t make a go of the restaurant. When I gave you the money to buy it I believed that finally you would be successful at something. But once again you are failing.

“‘I refuse to give you any more money. In the last five years you have gone through almost all of my inheritance. I have to save something for myself.

“‘I’ll be by Saturday night to pick up my things. Good-bye, Edna.’”

So he plans to kill her and then run off to Buenos Aires with his secretary. And he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for these meddling kids!

But first, he has to come home, knock out Jade, and then chase Deena through the house while shouting vaguely sexual threats and confessing to the murder of his wife. Eventually, Deena is locked in the same room as Jade. She revives her friend and they jump out the window and into an adjacent tree. Then, Mr. Faberson finds a chainsaw and starts to cut down the tree! Somehow his neighbors just ignore the screaming girls and the sudden lumberjackery, and Mr. Farberson cuts down the tree. It crashes to the ground with the girls in it.

Deena wakes up on the porch surrounded by her family, including Chuck, and the police. Chuck told the police that Deena and Jade are going to break into Mr. Farberson’s house. Also, Detective Frazier says that Mr. Farberson was suspect number one from the beginning, and they kept Chuck in jail so Mr. Farberson wouldn’t think he’s a suspect. But now that Mr. Farberson tried to kill a couple of kids and the police have the evidence they need, Chuck is free to go. 

I feel like there could have been a better way to go about doing this.

Most of the book was about the girls attempting to prove their friend’s innocence, and I liked that specific aspect. However, the fact that it was all a police set-up and the police were already investigating Mr. Farberson makes the girls’ efforts pointless. Compound that on top of Chuck’s incarceration trauma and Deena’s interrogation wherein the police berate her and call her a liar, the police behaved unethically and if there is any justice, the department would have been reprimanded and the family would have grounds for a lawsuit. However, since we live in a semi-police state, this all seems like standard police procedure. Ruin the lives of innocent people in pursuit of a vague idea of justice as administered by the police union.

Are the girls good detectives? Absolutely not. Are the girls competent detectives? It seems they’re more competent than the police department, but those dudes just look for special dirt.

That being said, would I recommend this one? Yeah, sure. It’s entertaining enough if you can look over the fat-shaming that comes out of nowhere and serves no purpose other than to put down some ancillary characters. And if you overlook the police. And if you overlook some plot elements. Basically, other than a few character traits, the treatment of other characters, and the plot, it’s a fine read. 


For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #27: Jessi and the Superbrat

I like k-pop, and because I like k-pop, I am inundated with emails and Tweets about contests to win five minutes with your favorite idol. I get articles about how to conduct yourself during a fan meet. A friend of mine sends me videos of k-pop stars surprising fans. 

And they all fill me with dread. Unlike most people, I have no desire to meet celebrities, especially celebrities I like. I once met Paula Poundstone after one of her shows because my sister wanted to get her CD signed, and I just stood to the side and said nothing with a doofy grin on my face. I do not stay after the concert in hopes of catching a glimpse of the tour bus. When the podcasters say they’re going to a bar down the street, I take it as a sign to go the opposite direction. A convention advertisement featuring the opportunity to meet someone from Star Trek? Absolutely not. The most celebrity interaction I want is a Tweet they never see. 

But why am I like that? Why don’t I want to meet people whose work I appreciate? Is it because I don’t want to make a fool of myself? Maybe a little, but I don’t think I’m going to impress them. The reason I don’t want to meet celebrities is that I enjoy that piece of societal glass that separates us. You stay over there and I’ll stay over here. Thank you for your work, but we don’t have to have a personal interaction. I’m clearly projecting my need to avoid people onto celebrities. 

That’s certainly not the case in Stoneybrook. A TV star is returning home and he happens to live in Stoneybrook and he’s a kid, so you know what that means! The mother gets an au pair. After all, she can afford it because her kid is a television star. I’m kidding. The BSC drove out the Au Pair Club in the brutal Stoneybrook Childcare Wars. 

Becca’s favorite show, P.S. 162, is airing, so the whole family gathers to make fun of Becca’s crush on the black kid on the show, Lamont. The show revolves around a group of young kids in school. I thought the show was some kind of ‘80s Degrassi: The Next Generation (so, Degrassi Junior High), but the existence of a laugh track makes me think it’s more akin to the classroom scenes in Boy Meets World. (Unfortunately, it seems that family sitcoms replaced school sitcoms by the time I was watching TGIF, so I couldn’t think of a single non-drama school television show. Also, Welcome Back, Kotter is way before my time and I don’t know if it was a sitcom or if it has a laugh track. I’m under the impression that every show from the ‘70s is a cop drama.)

While watching the program, our attention is brought to a character named Waldo, who is a nerd with crazy hair. The Minkus of P.S. 162. I hope he has a backup plan because he’s going to disappear after season two. Anyway, it turns out that a Stoneybrook native, Derek Masters, plays Waldo, and he might be coming back.

At the BSC meeting, Jessi introduces us to all the members, and it’s time for this episode’s “What’s Claudia Wearing?”

She had two French braids pulled back and wound into one. She’s also a wild dresser. At the meeting she was wearing a bright pink T-shirt, a short red flouncy skirt, and underneath the skirt she had on black footless tights that she had rolled up to mid-calf. 

It’s not that wild. This is relatively normal by today’s standards. Why she didn’t just get Capri tights, I don’t know. It’s not the craziest outfit I’ve seen her wear, so I’ll give it a 3/10. 

The meeting continues with usual club business until Mrs. Masters calls. Jessi is the only one free, so she eagerly takes the job, excited to meet television’s Waldo and “get involved with show biz.” If Jon Peters can go from hairdresser to megaproducer, babysitter to actress is a reasonable trajectory. The only problem is that Peters was in Los Angeles and Jessi is in a city that, if you remember #26: Claudia and the Sad Good-bye, has never seen a kimono before.

And speaking of cultural insensitivity, Jessi makes fun of her teacher’s French accent during her ballet lessons. C’mon, Jessi, (also, Jan Carr, who wrote this book), you’re better than that. 

Madame Noelle announces that there will be Swan Lake try-outs at the Stoneybrook Civic Center, and the competition will be stiff, as the Stoneybrook Civic Center is “so good it might as well be [in New York City].” Only one movie at a time plays in town. I doubt the Stoneybrook Civic Center rivals the Lincoln Center. It doesn’t matter to Jessi, who is excited to try out. 

Before she can try out, she has to babysit for Derek Masters, who disappoints her the second she walks into his house. He doesn’t have crazy hair or the coke bottle glasses! How dare he not look exactly like the character he plays on tv?

Jessi gets over that quickly and she plays Candyland with him and his little brother, Todd. Derek is just a regular kid – not like the nerd character he plays at all. And there is no such thing as a nerd in real life, anyway. Toward the end of the job, he gives Jessi some pointers for her audition.

In the BSC Notebook, Mallory proposes a television series called Baby-sitter for the Stars. Y’all have a show already. Y’all have several. One has a theme song that is still stuck in my head twenty years later. 

During another babysitting session with Derek, Jessi invites Becca over. Becca is less interested in playing than she is in asking Derek about Lamont who, if you remember, is her crush from P.S. 162. 

Quick aside, P.S. 162 is a terrible name for a television show. Naming your show after the school it’s based around is fine. Degrassi is memorable. I read this whole book and I couldn’t remember the number for the school. “162” is a random set of numbers. How could I memorize that? Maybe if the school was “411” or something. There’s a reason it’s called Room 222. I can remember that even though I have no idea what the show is about except that the mom from Sister, Sister is in it. Also, we don’t name our schools after numbers here on the west coast. When I was a kid, I couldn’t figure out why the show was called that. I thought it referenced text at the end of a letter past the “Sincerely” or “LILAS.” In any case, as I’m writing this, I still have to reference the text to figure out the school’s number.

Anyway, Jessi takes Becca and Derek to the Pikes. Mallory gets a brand new affectation and suddenly she’s speaking as if she were a ‘50s housewife who is secretly a robot trying to emulate human speech.

And you must be Derek. I’m so pleased that you could come visit us in our home today.”

“We are very pleased to extend our hospitality, aren’t we, Nicky? Do come in.”

They go into the backyard and play badminton – the most scandalous of Olympic duo sports. The game turns contentious when the triplets tease him about being on a television show, which is pretty much, “Hey, did they teach you that on set?” and serving the shuttlecock. 

“Is that what they teach you in star school?” Jordan joined in.

Suddenly, Derek’s face turned bright red.

“Forget it,” he said. “Just forget it. Who cares about your crummy old game.” He threw down his racket and turned to face the triplets. “Anvil Head!” he shouted. “Cactus Brain! Pizza Breath!”

Whoa, Derek, language. You don’t want to say something you’ll regret. 

While Derek is back in town, he returns to Stoneybrook Elementary and he doesn’t have a good time. First of all, the girls crowd him and declare their love. A photographer and a reporter accost him in the hallway. Does Derek’s teacher kick them out? Yes, but then the teacher introduces Derek like he is on a late-night talk show and makes him stand in front of the class and answer questions. Additionally, the boys find out he wears make-up while filming and they make fun of him for that and call him a brat.

Derek mentions one specific kid named John. During gym, John ties Derek’s sneakers together and yeets Derek’s lunch out the window. Jessi is so incensed she is speechless, but she does muster the ability to call John the meanest thing she can think of: Superbrat.

Meanwhile, Kristy sits for her siblings. Karen discovers that an actor is from Stoneybrook, so she decides that she is going to use Derek to get on television. Kristy shuts that idea down so Karen wears her “dress-up clothes” and invites Hannie Papadakis and Amanda Delaney over. Then they put on a play designed to convince Kristy to let Karen use a human being to her advantage.

In the play, Karen goes door-to-door begging for an acting job and she’s rejected each time, sending her into furious sobbing. Despite her failure, she doesn’t want to go back home and she knocks on one last door.

She knocked. Amanda answered.

“Who are you?” asked Karen.

“I’m the director,” said Amanda. “We’ve got a show to do here, but my main actress just got sick. I need someone else to step in and be a star.”

“I’m a star!” cried Karen.

“Then you’re hired!” said the director.

So, no starting small. No training. She just needed to knock on one last door.

This is literally the plot of Staying Alive – the sequel to Saturday Night Fever in which a nightmare of a man uses every woman around him and becomes a star by sheer audacity and going off-script, ruining the lives of the people around him.

Back in the world of Stoneybrook show biz, Jessi has her first audition. She reviews her resume (something her mother typed up for her, like, on a typewriter), while her father makes jokes about shaving off all her hair. Then she goes to the Civic Center and encounters a group of snarky girls who criticize all the dancers. In the end, Jessi gets a callback. She calls Mallory to let her know the good news. Mallory relays that Nicky said that Derek got in trouble for throwing food all over someone in the cafeteria. Jessi assumes that John the Superbrat pushed Derek too far.

Jessi isn’t the only one who sits for Derek. Claudia takes the young television star to the playground where Claudia and Derek encounter a group of boys who are in Derek’s class. Then Claudia invites the boys over to Derek’s house, presumably so they can torture him off school hours as well. Why did Claudia do this thing?

Claudia’s idea to invite the boys over was a smart one. She had a hunch that it would be good for them to see where Derek lived. They’d see that he was just a regular kid living in a regular house in Stoneybrook.

Don’t you love it when the book has to tell you that something is a good idea? Well, I guess it was because the boys have a good time. This is more fantastical than Tolkien. In real life, if those kids were really bullies, they’d hang around your house all day waiting for you to leave so they could give you a hard time. In this book, the group has a good time, and afterward, Claudia asks which one is John. Derek says that none of them are friends with John. 

During Jessi’s next audition, Derek and his mother tag along. Jessi gets a callback, and Derek is excited for her, but he has a few notes. Suddenly, he’s Baryshnikov, something he acquired on the set of P.S. 162. Not really. He listened to the snarky girls and took some notes. And then they engage in some light assault. Derek also announces that he is going back to Los Angeles soon and he wants Jessi to come with him. Everyone knows that the home of true ballet is in Los Angeles. Well, he floats the idea of doing commercials and modeling. Jessi is interested in selling sugary drinks and heart medications.

It’s time for the BSC meeting and Jessi proposes an idea to help Derek. She wants to have a party and invite every kid in Derek’s class – including John the Superbrat. Unfortunately, not everyone likes parties so they scrap the idea. No, that’s not right. I don’t like parties. The real problem is they are all busy except for one morning, so they make it a breakfast party. It’s novel to them but I’m more familiar with “breakfast party’s” common parlance: brunch.

While the party planning is going on, Jessi talks to her parents about going to Los Angeles to become a model. They shut down the LA idea, but they say that she can be a model as long as it’s in Stamford. Jessi also has another audition and she says that it isn’t a big deal if she doesn’t get a part because she’s going to be a big commercial star, um, oh, you know, that guy. You know, that guy with the face who’s in all those commercials. Oh! Wait! You know, I think the pretty lady from Birdemic was in an IHOP commercial. Dream big, Jessi.

One page later, it’s time for the breakfast party – the culmination of sentences of planning. The BSC dress up in pajamas and bathrobes, and the kids compete in morning-themed relay races. Ugh. A party with a bunch of people, doing morning activities, and competitive running. I had a nightmare about this once. Derek eats with all the kids and everyone has a good time. Strangely, there is no kid named John. Girls, I know you’re twelve, but c’mon. 

Toward the end of the party, Jessi has to leave early for her final audition. She won’t learn until Wednesday whether or not she’s in the ballet. It doesn’t matter to her – she has to call agents in Stamford! I’m sure they would love to be solicited by an eleven-year-old with no acting experience. 

But that doesn’t matter either! She’s in! She’s one of the swan-maidens! She only had to wait for one page. Jessi admits that she really did want to be in the play and she only said that stuff about commercials because she was worried she wasn’t going to be chosen. She goes over to Derek’s to share the good news and to reject his offer to come with him to Los Angeles as a tutor or whatever.

Derek says he liked the party and Jessi asks about John. Finally, Derek tells us what’s going on.

“See, what happened,” he said, “was that the kids were bothering me so much that I had to get back at them. So whenever they did something mean to me, I started doing mean things back to them.”

“Well, why’d you say it was John?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” Derek shook his head. “When I told you, it was like I had to tell somebody what I’d been doing, but I didn’t really know how to tell. And then once the boys started actually being friends with me, I didn’t have to do those things anymore. So John just kind of disappeared.”

And that’s it, folks! Derek says goodbye as he leaves for Los Angeles. Kids, if you want to make friends, bully some unwitting target. And don’t worry, after the kids befriend you, you don’t have to torment the target anymore – unless you want to stay cool.

I took theater for years and I knew kids who wanted to be on Broadway or movies or commercials. Not me. I barely wanted to act. I was there because it was dangerous and adrenaline-rushing and fulfilled an art credit, but I wasn’t doing anything that could land me in the hospital or required me to learn how to play an instrument. Admittedly, I’m a terrible actress. If there were enough kids in drama, I would have preferred to be on the tech crew, but I’m reliable when it comes to memorizing lines, so I was in a few productions. However, I still think of actors as some untouchable, faraway, beacon. A star, if you will. They are not “just like me.” 

This middle-of-the-road BSC book didn’t make stars more accessible for me. But I also wouldn’t have talked to Derek at all. His life is none of my business and I would like to keep it that way. Truthfully, if I were a TV star, I wouldn’t want everyone up in my shit, so why wouldn’t I want that for the actors and actresses who bring me joy?

But it all worked out for Derek I guess. Break a leg, kid, and make sure you come back for another season.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: A Night in Terror Tower

Vacation activities for me come in three varieties and none of them are particularly relaxing. I don’t go on vacation to be pampered or sit and watch the sunset. I can do that at home. The first variety is the destination. I’m going to a specific place, like Universal Horror Nights or Disneyland, something I can’t experience anywhere else. The second is the shopping trip. I don’t have a k-pop store or an Ikea or a Daiso, so I drive out to Sacramento to shop (and visit relatives, I guess, but they aren’t a store). The final variety is the educational experience. The museums. The historical sites. I’m here to learn something, dammit, and I’m going to learn, consarnit.

In Goosebumps: A Night in Terror Tower, siblings Sue and Eddie are on a tour through an ancient tower while on vacation in England. It’s mildly educational, but the siblings are going to learn more about themselves than about portculli and barbicans. 

Mr. Starkes, the tour guide for Terror Tower, is a goofy man with a sense of humor closer to Benny Hill than The Thick of It. Terror Tower is named after its previous resident, Sir Thomas Cargill Stuffordshire Tearor the IV. I’m kidding. It’s just called Terror Tower for no actual reason. Prisoners spent the remainder of their lives in this dank castle, and that’s pretty terror-inducing, but I guess these British people weren’t very creative. 

Anyway, this tower tour isn’t the purely educational experience that Hawaiian-shirt-and-cargo-shorts-clad tourists expect. 

I heard several gasps of surprise behind me. Turning back, I saw a large hooded man creep out of the entrance and sneak up behind Mr. Starkes. He wore an ancient-looking green tunic and carried an enormous battle-ax.

An executioner!

He raised the battle-ax behind Mr. Starkes.

“Does anyone here need a very fast haircut?” Mr. Starkes asked casually, without turning around. “This is the castle barber!”

We all laughed. The man in the green executioner’s costume took a quick bow, then disappeared back into the building.

And that’s it for him. Did you think the kids would be running away from the dude on the cover? Well, you’d be wrong. Do you think he’s coming back? You’d still be wrong.

Anyway, the kids listen to Mr. Starkes’s castle facts and they hear about two of the tower’s residents: Princess Sussannah and Prince Edward of York. Just as our protagonists learn of the fates of the royals, Sue drops her camera and the kids can’t hear what Mr. Starkes says. 

Unfortunately, before they could ask for Mr. Starkes to repeat what he said, the tour moves on. Sue and Eddie get distracted, leaving the kids alone, separated from the rest of the group. Great crowd control there, Mr. Starkes. Remind me not to suggest you chaperone a class field trip. 

Suddenly, a failed Las Vegas magician shows up, complete with a wide-brimmed hat and cape. He plays with white stones, threatens the kids, and never answers their questions. Questions like, “Who are you?” and “What do you want with us?”

As David Copperfield over here fiddles with his rocks, the kids run away and attempt to trap him. Each time they try something, the man laughs and says things like, “You can’t escape me!” The kids end up in the sewers, where it seems they are cornered. Eddie attacks the man, stealing the special stones, and the kids run outside. They are out of the tower, but it’s night time and the tour group has left them behind.

“Man? What man?” The night guard eyed us suspiciously.

‘The man in the black cape!” I replied. “And the black hat. He chased us. In the Tower.”

“There’s no man in the tower,” the guard replied, shaking his head. “I told you. I’m the only one here after closing!”

“But he’s in there!” I cried. “He chased us! He was going to hurt us! He was going to hurt us! He chased us through the sewer and the rats-”

“Sewer? What were you two doing in the sewer?” the guard demanded. “We have rules here about where tourists are allowed. If you break the rules, we can’t be responsible.”

Well, he is as helpful as every horror stock character.

The kids hail a cab and head back to the hotel. So we’re out of the tower? I guess I’m the silly one for thinking we’d spend the whole book in the tower. Anyway, the cabbie wants his money, so the kids hand him the money their parents gave them. The man looks at the money and is furious. It’s not British money – it’s just some flat metal coins. The kids promise to pay him once they talk to their parents. The cabbie waits outside as the kids go to their hotel room.

Of course, they can’t get into their hotel room. They talk to the front desk, who asks for their last names.

My name is Sue, I told myself. Sue . . . Sue . . . what?

Shaking, tears running down my cheeks, I grabbed Eddie by the shoulders. “Eddie,” I demanded, “what’s our last name?”

“I – I don’t know!” he sobbed.

“Oh, Eddie!” I pulled my brother close and hugged him. “What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with us?”

To compound on that, they can’t remember their parents. It’s not going great for the kids who happen to also have names close to the doomed royalty in the tower that they were in just moments before. Even though they are confused kids, the hotel staff leaves them alone. The kids venture outside and the guy who revealed the magician’s secrets appears and demands that Eddie returns his balls. Like a maniac, Eddie gives him the stones back because he thinks that the magician will let them go. However, to no one’s surprise, the magician grabs them, plays with his balls, and everything goes black for our protagonist.

Sue wakes up in what she assumes is “the old section of the hotel.” Yes, the necessary “old section” of a hotel. Every Best Western I’ve ever stayed at has the old section next to the continental breakfast. Every old section also comes with a rambling old man, and this book is no exception. 

The old man old mans all over the place, rambling and engaging in general weirdness. The kids escape again because while most magicians are familiar with rope tricks, this magician is only into closeup sleight-of-hand prestidigitation and he didn’t tie up the kids or anything. They follow a cacophony of voices and they crash a party where everyone is dressed up in medieval clothes. Then the guests start screaming when they see the siblings. You kids still haven’t figured it out, yet, huh?

They escape outside and there are no buildings – just fields, chickens, and extras straight from the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They try to get help, but through a series of events wherein a random woman betrays them for “the Lord High Executioner,” the kids are back in the tower. Finally, we get an explanation from Morgred, the king’s sorcerer.

“You really are Edward and Susannah,” Morgred replied. “You are the Prince and Princess of York. And you have been ordered to the Tower by your uncle, the king.”

Well, duh. But what’s up with all the time travel?

“I tried to send you as far from the Tower as possible,” Morgred tried to explain again. “I sent you far into the future to start new lives. I wanted you to live there and never return. Never return to face doom in this castle.”

Morgred continued his story in a whisper. “When I cast the spell that sent you into the future, the Executioner must have hidden nearby. I used three white stones to cast the spell. Later, he stole the stones and performed the spell himself. He sent himself to the future to bring you back. And as you both know, he caught you and dragged you back here.”

Well, Morgred is there. Can he help the kids?

No. Because he doesn’t want to be tortured.

Then Eddie steals the stones and does the spell for himself and his sister.

The kids are back in the present day with the tour from the beginning. The kids ask what happened to the Prince and Princess. The tour guide lets them know that royal siblings just disappeared and no one knows what happened to them.

Then they turn to their new uncle – Morgred. They didn’t just leave him to be tortured. The spell took him as well. The kids and their uncle continue their lives, presumably in present-day England, eating crumpets, watching Downton Abbey, and voting for Brexit like proper British people.

There’s not much to say about this middle-of-the-road Goosebumps book. The book kept moving and held my interest. It’s fine. It’s neither a classic nor is it one of the worst.

The only real criticism I have is that the title and cover promise more than what the book delivers. It’s not a night and they don’t even spend most of the night in the tower. Also, the kids weren’t running from the hooded badass with an ax. They were running from David Blaine. And David Blaine is not scary, even if he can hang out in an ice block for a really long time, which is somehow a magic trick?


For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.