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.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #26: Claudia and the Sad Good-bye

I never knew my grandfathers, but I knew both of my grandmothers. They lived with my family at different times and helped raise my sister and me. My maternal grandmother watched Star Trek: The Next Generation every Saturday at five, and that was my first exposure to science fiction, sparking a lifelong devotion to space ships and androids. My paternal grandmother ran off to Arizona with her boyfriend, showing me that even at the ripe old age of 80, life can still be a romantic adventure.

They have both died now, and they have been dead for more than ten years at the time of this essay. The pain has lessened, but I still think about them whenever I watch Geordi La Forge spout some jargon just science-y enough to sound correct without any actual science involved, or whenever I wonder if there’s still enough time in my life to travel around the world.

It’s time for Claudia to say goodbye to Mimi in The Baby-Sitters Club #26: Claudia and the Sad Good-bye, and if that’s too much of a spoiler, then you should be angry at the title, not me, and, frankly, death is easier when you’re prepared, which is something I learned with the death of my father, which is for another essay. For now, the inevitable death of our favorite Stoneybrook grandmother is our focus. And, if it’s not obvious, this one is a little sad.

Claudia starts the novel firmly cementing Mimi has a positive influence in Claudia’s life. Mimi is still dealing with the effects of the stroke she suffered in #7: Claudia and Mean Janine. Claudia has been helping her, but it seems like Mimi is getting worse. During the first BSC meeting of the book, Mallory remarks that Mimi yelled at her for taking Mimi shopping at a place that makes Mimi wait to use the dressing rooms. The problem is that Mallory has never taken Mimi shopping. It’s not looking great for the matriarch of the Kishi household.

Anyway, the BSC gets a phone call from the Addisons, who have two children: Sean and Corrie. They’re not looking for baby-sitting services, exactly, but they are looking for an art teacher for Corrie. Of course, Claudia jumps at the opportunity. Claudia has a great idea, even though those are usually reserved for Kristy:

“Maybe I could start a little art class. Like on Saturdays in our basement. Gabbie and Myriah Perkins love art projects. So does Jamie Newton. That would be fun. And good experience for me, in case I ever want to be an art teacher.”

“And,” said Kristy slowly, “it would show people that our club can do more than just baby-sit. I think it would be good for business.”

“I’d need some help, though,” I said slowly. “I don’t know if I could manage a class alone.”

“If you hold the class on Saturdays, I could help you,” spoke up Mary Anne. “We’ll split the money sixty-forty, since you’ll be in charge.”

I’m surprised Mary Anne didn’t say that slowly.

Later, during the Kishis’ dinner (after Janine’s college class entitled “Advances and Trends in Computerized Biopsychiatry,” which is nothing), Mimi passes out and the family rushes her to the hospital. 

After a long series of tests, the doctors send her home, but it doesn’t seem like Mimi has recovered. Claudia becomes frustrated with Mimi and they have a brief argument. Claudia leaves in tears. 

At the next art class, the kids mess around with watercolors as Marilyn and Carolyn mess with Jamie Newton. After all the kids have been picked up, Corrie’s parents are very late. So late that Corrie is the only one whose painting is dry when her parents finally arrive.

There’s another art class, but this one doesn’t go smoothly. Mimi comes downstairs during the lesson and collapses in front of the children. Claudia retrieves her parents while Mary Anne and Corrie distract the children and get them ready to go home early. Unfortunately, Corrie sees Mimi on the stretcher and cries, and her mother is forty-five minutes late.

Once again, the hospital is not great. They can’t get painkillers for Mimi. That is strange because every time I’ve been to the hospital, they are quick with the pain meds even if I wasn’t in any pain – just general throwing up and dizziness. Luckily, Mimi seems to get better as Claudia stays with her in the hospital. Eventually, the doctors discharge her.

After a few days, Claudia wakes up in the middle of the night and hears her parents talking. Mimi passed away while Claudia was asleep. Everything becomes hectic. Calling the relatives falls to Claudia’s parents, and people come over all day to offer their condolences. Claudia and Janine have a heart-to-heart. Claudia calls Stacey, who cries. Then Claudia calls Kristy, who doesn’t cry, thankfully, and Kristy offers to cancel the meeting. Claudia insists that they don’t cancel the meeting. They sit in silence. Janine even sits in on the meeting because she doesn’t want to be alone.

Claudia still wants to participate in club activities, even though Kristy let her opt out. The girls get pizza and share memories about Mimi, including the first time Mimi had pizza. The family had dressed up to eat at a Japanese restaurant and Mimi wore a traditional kimono. When they arrived at the restaurant, it was closed, so they ended up at a pizza joint.

“And everyone stared,” I said, “because Mimi looked like she was on her way to a costume party, but we ordered two pies anyway, and Mimi ate one slice very bravely.” 

“And,” said Kristy, “as we were finally leaving that awful place where everyone had been staring at us, Mimi turned around, faced the people in the restaurant, and announced, “[sic]Best Japanese food I have ever eaten!”[sic]

Us club members were hysterical. Jessi even dropped a whole slice of pizza on the floor.

I don’t get it. Claudia calls an important garment a costume and Stoneybrook is racist? Like, people in Connecticut have never seen a kimono? I saw one in a store right next to the My Hero Academia enamel pins – it’s not that uncommon. And I’m sure pizza exists in Tokyo. If I was able to get pizza in a little mall in a village in the Philippines in 1996, I’m certain there’s some pizza joint in Akihabara in 1989. I don’t get why it’s funny that Stoneybrook is so devoid of culture that a kimono is perplexing to the locals. Or maybe Martin has some strange ideas about Japanese culture. Either way, the optics here are not great.

And speaking of strange cultural gymnastics, Mimi’s funeral is the next day and she’s buried. Not cremated, which is the custom for Japanese people. The whole funeral is, dare I say, white. White church. White customs. White people. There’s nothing remotely Japanese in the whole ceremony. It could be that Mimi converted, but I’m just not sure and this is not addressed in the text.

For the next few days, the kids at school don’t talk to Claudia, because everyone is up in everyone else’s business and the whole town seems to know about Mimi’s passing. Ashley Wyeth makes an appearance and she’s just as pleasant and warm as ever. That was sarcasm. 

Claudia is thankful when the weekend comes and it’s time for her art lesson. The kids are making puppets and Corrie is making Nancy Drew. She wants to give it to her mother. Marilyn and Carolyn tell a dumb joke about twins named Trouble and Shut Up and that one is so old it went to college for fifty bucks a semester and now thinks everyone younger than it is entitled. After class, Claudia gets a call from Corrie’s mother.

“Well, the thing is, I’ve been held up doing my errands.” (She did sound like she was calling from a pay phone on the street.) “My bracelet won’t be ready at the jewelry store for another half an hour, and the man at the laundry is running late, too.” (What a tragedy, I thought.) “So, I was wondering if you’d keep Corrie for another hour or so, dear. I’ll pay you whatever the rate is for an unexpected call like this.”

Charge her an exorbitant fee like the landlord of a modestly-sized apartment! You got bracelet money, you got peak pricing money, lady!

Claudia and Corrie make sandwiches and talk to Janine. When Corrie’s mother finally shows up, Corrie gives the Nancy Drew puppet to Claudia.

The Kishis go through Mimi’s things. It turns out that Mimi wrote her obituary before she passed. Claudia talks about her anger toward Mimi for dying, the doctors for not doing enough to save Mimi, and herself for fighting with Mimi toward the end. 

In art class, the students learn about collages and make their own. After class, Mrs. Addison is on time! Holy crap, drop the balloons! Cue the “Macarena!” Release the Al Gore!

“Hi,” replied Mrs. Addison. “I’m sorry I’m so early. My husband’s waiting in the car.” (She turned and gave a little wave toward a blue Camaro parked crookedly in our driveway, as if the Addisons were in a big hurry.) “I forgot to tell Corrie this morning that we have tickets to the ice show in Stamford. I mean, tickets for Sean and Corrie. They’ll meet a baby-sitter there, and then Mr. Addison and I can enjoy an afternoon to ourselves.”

Finally, it’s time for Claudia to confront Mrs. Addison.

“Did you know that Corrie is always the last one to leave my house after class is over? And that she’s always the first to arrive?”

Mrs. Addison checked her watch impatiently and glanced over her shoulder at the car waiting in our driveway.

“I love having Corrie around,” I went on. “She’s a terrific kid. But, well, she feels pretty bad about being left here . . . left here longer than any of the other children, I mean.”

“Did you notice,” I started to ask,  “that Corrie hasn’t brought home any of her art projects?”

“I think,” I began (and oh, my lord, I hoped I wasn’t butting in where I didn’t belong), “that Corrie is a little bit mad at you and Mr. Addison.” (What an understatement.) “She wants to please you, but she gets angry and scared when she feels like,” (I tried to think of a nice way to say that Corrie felt her parents didn’t care about her), “like . . . sometimes other things are more important to you and Mr. Addison than she is.”

Mrs. Addison cries and says she’ll do better. I doubt it. Boomers will show contrition and the second it inconveniences them or they forget, things go back to the way they were before. Or they get mad at the possibility of being wrong and take it out on the teenager at Jack in the Box.

I hope the Addisons are saving some of that ice show money because Sean and Corrie are going to need a lot of therapy when they grow up. Honestly, these people shouldn’t have had kids. Not every couple is equipped, prepared, or ready for a tiny dependent human and the sooner people realize that the sooner we can focus on something more important like devastating climate change or Christmas toy shortages because apparently, those two things are equivalent in the eyes of capitalism. I’m just kidding. Capitalism only cares about consumerism and not the very ground we live on. Unless that ground has resources for consumption. But I digress.

Claudia is finally ready to confront her feelings about Mimi, and she does it in the best way for herself. She makes a collage featuring cut-outs from magazines that signify Mimi in some way or another – teacups for their “special tea,” needlework, a Japanese woman holding a Japanese baby. I’m assuming they are holding Goku figurines, sushi, and a flag, otherwise, how would Claudia know they’re Japanese.

Meanwhile, the kids in the art class have a special project they’ve been working on – another collage for Mimi. With all these collages, the Kishi house is overrun with them, and they display them in Mimi’s old room.

Losing a loved one is hard and I think Martin made the concept accessible to a younger audience. Mimi knew she was dying, and it’s implied that she just “let go.” That adds an undertone that death isn’t something sudden, even if it may seem like that to the loved ones. Death is something to be confronted.

Claudia’s human response of anger and a need to return to normal is true to the character and a different narrative. It contrasts with Mary Anne and Stacey, both of whom have the expected emotional response of sadness. It shows that there are several possible emotions surrounding death besides despair and that each reaction is valid.

However, I think there’s a real lack of cultural sensitivity in this book. Why wasn’t Mimi cremated? What was so funny about the restaurant scene? I saw a bunch of racists. Also, I don’t see much of Mimi within the funeral or the stories about her. They felt like stories that could be told about anyone – not just Mimi.

Maybe that was on purpose. Death is universal. Losing a loved one is universal. This last year, we’ve all had to confront loss and death in an unprecedented way. Maybe my criticisms that the book lacks specificity are shrouded in my recent contemplation of death, funeral rites, and if a memorial should be made for the dead, or should be made for the living. These are personal questions with no definite answers that are dependent on societal norms, cultural backgrounds, and personal tastes. They probably shouldn’t be explored in a silly essay that has a joke about the 1996 Democratic Convention in it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       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: The Blob That At Everyone

In eighth grade, every student had to take an English test at the end of the year to determine which English track we were going to take in high school. I’m not here to talk about my thoughts on tracking students (short version: it’s stupid), but I am here to talk about the practice test, and we sure practiced for this test. We practiced the shit out of that test. And it was not a situation wherein the teacher was given materials for the school year at the beginning and we studied them in a fun and engaging environment that cultivated a love for the English language and literature. No, we did not do that. We had “Test Prep Day” about every week. How the questions are structured. Test rules. Proper pencil use. How to take notes on a story without putting marks in the test book. And finally, the dreaded fiction prompt. We will have to write a short story based on the prompt given, and we were given a rating from one to five.

And it was the same prompt. Every year. Without fail.

“I knew today wouldn’t be like any other day.”

My English teacher (a woman I actually liked) showed us examples of one-rated stories: short, incoherent, and plagued with grammatical errors. Threes had a coherent story but contained interesting spelling choices. Fives were flawless. Then she showed us the end of a few random stories. “It was all a dream.” Another. “I woke up.” Next one. “It turned out to be a dream.” Story after story of some variation of “all that stuff you just read? Yeah, it was a dream. What a twist!” She expressly told us: “Don’t make it all a dream. You’ll lose a point automatically.”

But I had conjured the best ending twist. I was brilliant. I was a goddamn prodigy. An original. An archetype of perfect eighth-grade English fiction prompts.

Turns out, R. L. Stine had already done the same ending in 1997. 

Zackie and his best friend and neighbor, Alex, are having a pleasant conversation when they are suddenly attacked by a monster! But not really because it’s only page five and we’re in a Goosebumps novel. He just wrote a story and is reading it aloud to Alex, the aforementioned friend, and Adam, a boy they keep around so Adam can insult them. Zackie is going to be a famous horror writer when he grows up and he needs to practice his cliffhangers five pages into the story.

On the way home, Zackie and Alex stop by a shop that has been destroyed by lightning. Did I say stop by? That implies they were allowed in. No, that’s not right. Zackie barges in and intends to take a typewriter, because, apparently, if a store is destroyed, its inventory belongs to the public. However, blue lighting shocks him as he touches the typewriter because the Lord was all, “Hey, dude, that’s not yours. I don’t care what the laws are in Theftville, Stealiana.” 

But the owner shows up! The kids are going to get it now!

As in they’re going to get the typewriter. The owner lets them take the thing. Zackie goes home while remarking:

I didn’t know that carrying the old typewriter home would totally ruin my life.

Yeah, the owner just let you take it, Zackie. What did you expect?

At school the next day, we get some new characters, a set of twins who are just as mean as Adam. Zackie freaks out because there’s a monster on him, but Adam pulls it off him and it turns out it’s just a mouse. Adam, whom Zackie keeps referring to as a “friend,” laughs with the twins because Zackie did “a funny dance” when he thought he was covered with vermin. For some reason, Zackie is called into the principal’s office. 

Later that night, while talking to Alex, Zackie declares his intent to make the monster story even scarier and the friends go to the typewriter. The first thing Zackie types is “IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT” in all caps like an old person who doesn’t realize he’s shouting on the internet. (My dad did this on the early days of the internet and my sister and I had to tell him that all caps lock was considered rude unless you’re Billy Mays.) To no one’s surprise except our main characters, a storm starts outside.

Then he types “THE WIND BEGAN TO HOWL” and the wind hits the house. 

“You’re not getting very far with the story,” Alex said.

Alex, honey, he’s only written two sentences. Sure, R. L. Stine can have a cliffhanger after two sentences, but what if after “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-” Poe’s cousin-wife came in and said he hasn’t gotten very far. And where the hell is the titular raven? 

The third sentence is “ALEX AND ZACKIE WERE ALONE IN THE DARK HOUSE, LISTENING TO THE STORM.” So this is Friend Fiction. I am intimately aware of using your friends in your stories. Remind me to tell you about my eighth-grade horror novella/Friday the 13th rip-off.

Anyway, after the third sentence, Zackie wills his father into nonexistence and they finally figure out that whatever Zackie writes is what happens. Zackie is still incredulous, so he writes in a mysterious door knock. That’s a great idea. You should have just written in a slice of delicious strawberry cream cake or universal healthcare in America – something that harms no one. But no, go ahead, mysterious knocking.

And no one is there. So they add that Adam is standing there drenched in rain. Of course, Adam shows up. 

Finally, Zackie writes that the storm suddenly stops. Adam doesn’t believe what is going on, so he steals the typewriter and writes that a blob monster is in the basement. They hear thuds from the basement.

Don’t worry, it’s just Zackie’s father, back from his trip in oblivion.

The next day as Zackie is at the store buying tuna, Adam and the twins play a prank on him by moaning “Fresh meat” at him. Zackie, honey, cut this toxic boy out of your life. You already have a great friend in Alex. Stop involving this future co-ed predator.

Zackie goes home angry and heads straight to his magic typewriter and writes that a blob is eating everyone. There’s no way this could backfire!

But it does backfire! Zackie goes outside and there’s a blob that’s eating everyone! How could Zackie have seen this coming?

The blob eats some cops, which is fine, but then the blob follows Zackie home, which is not fine. The blob eats Adam, which is fine because he’s a terrible friend, but then the blob is coming for Zackie and Alex, which is not fine. Zackie gets a hold of his typewriter, which is fine, but then the blob eats the typewriter, which is not fine.

Zackie gets an idea.

“Alex – remember when Adam typed something on my story? And it didn’t come true?”

She nodded, keeping her eyes on the gurgling Blob Monster. “Yes, I remember. But so what?”

“Well,” I continued, “Maybe that’s because it’s me that has the power. Maybe the power isn’t in the typewriter or the pen. Maybe I got the power that night in that antique shop when I was zapped by that electrical shock.”

So, Zackie has the power and he thinks the monster away. And then they laugh. And laugh. And laugh. Half the town is eaten, but they’re alive, so they laugh and laugh and laugh some more.

You think it’s the end? Well, you’d be wrong. We get a brand new chapter after all that laughing. And finally, we’ve circled back to my original eighth-grade ending. The ending I thought was so brilliant.

“Well? Did you like my story?”

The pink Blob Monster neated the pages he had just read and set them down on the desk. He turned to his friend, a green-skinned Blob Monster.

“Did you just write that?” the green monster asked.

“I did,” his friend replied. “Thank you for reading it to me. It’s very exciting. Very well written. What do you call it?”

“I call it ‘Attack of the Humans’,” the Blob Monster replied.

“But I have just one problem with your story.”

The pink Blob Monster bobbed up and down. The veins on the top of his head turned a darker purple. “A problem with my story? What is it?”

“Well…” his green friend replied. “Why did you give it such an unhappy ending? I hated it when the human shut his eyes, and the Blob Monster disappeared. That was so sad.”

The Blob Monster changes the ending and instead the blob eats everyone.

See? Twist ending! It was actually a story written by a Blob Monster! And my story from eighth grade? Well, the main character, who has been hounded by aliens, wakes up and says they had the craziest dream that they were humans! Twist! Get it! Twist! It was a dream, but it was a dream from an alien! Thirteen-year-old me thought she was a genius. She would have loved this twist. Thirty-year-old me feels differently.

Zackie had the power within him the whole time. That’s a fine twist for this book. I wish there was a little more to the end than Zackie thinking really hard, but that’s basically every scene with Professor Xavier in X-Men, and I seem to love those comic books. Clearly, I have no business criticizing focused thought. However, the whole story being the manifestation of a Blob Monster writing about humans is a little too much. A twist recontextualizes the rest of the story. There’s no recontextualization with a Blob Monster writer. 

Unless R. L. Stine is trying to tell us something. Hey, does anyone know if Stine sometimes gets up from a chair and there’s just goo on the seat? I should get in touch with some conspiracy theory idiots, I’m sure they can figure out some convoluted non-logic that proves that R. L. Stine is actually a Blob Monster.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Silent Night

Every year when I enter a store and see that first inkling of the holidays, whether it be a single tree, a splotch of red, or a display that houses snowman ornaments, a sense of dread settles over me like a peppermint-flavored miasma. It’s that time of year when there are songs about casual sexual coercion veiled as “Christmas music” on the radio and boomers are telling me I should be jolly. No other holiday elicits such nosiness and intrusion. “Why don’t you put a smile on your face? It’s Christmas!” No, Karen, I will not. I’m just trying to buy some laundry detergent and a slice of cake before I go back out into the blistering cold to drive home in a freezing car that will finally warm up as I pull into my driveway. Or, it’s not cold enough and there’s no snow, and I know that when summer comes around, it won’t be just irresponsible hunters and gender reveal parties that will cause wildfires. And then there’s the gross consumerism driven by the capitalist quagmire we are all entrenched in.

It’s fitting that Fear Street: Silent Night takes place in a department store. A multi-story temple to excess from the ’80s is a perfect symbol of Christmas. So, get under a blanket and read this cozy tale of murder with me.

our protagonist is looking through a mirror or an ornament or something. none of that happens in this book

Our protagonist, Reva Dalby, is, to put it mildly, a bitch. She works in her father’s department store at the perfume counter and spends her time making fun of the customers. This isn’t what makes her bitch. I have no problem with Reva’s animosity toward customers. I understand it. As someone who has worked in retail, the job would be great except for the customers, especially today when every terrible person thinks they should be allowed to wander in and abuse the hourly workers. What makes her terrible is her laziness and rich-girl entitlement. Her boss asks her to stock something and she refuses to do it, invoking her father’s name. She’s as bad as the customer who says, “You need to give me this whole thing for free because I have an expired coupon and the customer is always right.” 

Anyway, while she’s not working and making fun of customers, she puts on her lipstick. She puts the color to her lips and she starts bleeding. Someone has slipped a needle into her lipstick!

We go back two weeks and Reva is breaking up with her terrible boyfriend, Hank. 

Once, he’d punched his fist through a screen door because she refused to go to a dumb Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with him.

That’s not great. When she breaks up with him, he flips out and demands to know why she is breaking up with him. She says that there’s someone more interesting and he doesn’t like that. He says, “You’ll be sorry about this, Reva.” He grabs her and yanks her around. For some reason, she’s the bad guy in this scene! What? Hank is the one yelling and grabbing at her, but she is cold so she’s portrayed as the bad guy. We’re entirely too casual about domestic abuse now, and I think things have gotten better. Think about how bad things were back then. How’s that for your ‘90s nostalgia?

Anyway, after Reva breaks up with Hank, she goes to visit her father at the department store. There, in the dark, someone touches her from behind! She spins around and comes face to face with a man!

A man-nnequin, that is. Prepare yourself, this is not the last of the mannequin-based scares.

As she heads to her father’s office, the previous security guard, Mr. Wakely, rushes past her. Her father just fired him because Mr. Wakely was drinking on the job. Also, Mr. Dalby needs some cheap labor, er, kids to work during the holidays. They can make extra spending money! And Mr. Dalby can add another story to his mansion.

Reva offers a job to Mitch, the boy she’s currently smitten with. Then his girlfriend, Lissa-with-two-esses, asks for a job. Reva tells her to dress nice and show up for work at the perfume counter. 

Reva’s cousin, Pam, also asks for a job and Reva tells her that there aren’t any positions, which is a lie, and Pam knows it’s a lie. Pam is so upset she calls her boyfriend, Foxy. We’ll get to him later. Then she hangs out with her two friends, Chad and Mickey, the latter of which is Mr. Wakely’s son. Remember? The guy who was fired? Anyway, Pam, Chad, and Mickey (whom Stine just has to tell us has a bad complexion because of the chocolate he eats) go to 7-11. At the counter, the cashier (whom Stine just has to tell us is chubby) tells Chad to empty his pockets. Chad insists that there’s nothing in them and then cops show up. The Three Amigos jump into Pam’s car and there’s a police chase. They lose the cops, and then Chad reveals that he had some jalapeno dip in his pocket. They are almost arrested over jalapeno dip. Some fucking Kraft shit from 7-11. Kids, do crimes better.

At school the next day, the last person to ask Reva for a job is Robb – a big guy whom Reva thinks is perfect for Santa. She tells him it’s a public relations job and he seems excited.

She couldn’t wait till Saturday morning. Robb would show up in a suit and tie, no doubt, ready to begin his important public relations job – only to be handed a bright red Santa costume, complete with beard, wig, and stupid pointy hat. And Lissa would be standing there in her glitziest dress and be sent to the stockroom to unload boxes and stock shelves.

They’ll be mortified, Reva thought, grinning from ear to ear. Mortified!

Congratulating herself on her cleverness, she pulled into her driveway, heading along the row of tall hedges to the four-car garage in back.

I don’t think she knows what “clever” means. 

While Reva is at home, Hank comes over to ask for a job. She refuses and then he gets angry. Once again, she is written as the bad guy while we’re supposed to be sympathetic to a man who yells that she’ll be sorry for not giving him a job. There’s a passing mention that he can be nice, but the only times we see Hank are when he’s dressed like a background dancer in Grease and grabbing at women. 

The big day arrives and Lissa shows up in a nice outfit only to be told that she should go home to change because she’s in the stockroom. Frankly, I’d rather be in the stockroom because customers are terrible and I’d rather wear comfortable clothes, but Lissa is all, “The extra ‘s’ is not for ‘stockroom!’” and is upset that she has to take inventory. Also, Robb is upset that he has to be Santa Claus, but he is open to enjoying the job.

The store opens up and Reva is pulled from behind! It’s Hank and he grabbed her to inform her that he got a security job at the department store. So he’s grabbing people from behind now, and, still, somehow Reva is the bad guy. Yeah, Reva is a jerk, but Hank is a muscular guy yelling at her and leaving marks on her arm.

Meanwhile, Pam is talking to Clay and Mickey. She says that Foxy got a job at Dalby’s and that prompts Clay to reveal a way for Pam and Mickey to get revenge and have a nice Christmas.

“I’ve already worked it out with the night security guard at Dalby’s,” Clay whispered excitedly, leaning close to Pam and Mickey. “I’m going to rob the store.”

Oh shit! A traditional Christmas heist! What’s the plan, Clay?

“Maywood said he’d open a back door and let me in. Then he said he’d let me take whatever I wanted. No problem. He’ll even stand guard for me.”

Is . . . that the whole plan? And it took two of you to figure this out? Maybe I shouldn’t have such high expectations for heists in these books. Pam is apprehensive, but all she has to do is drive the getaway car. It seems that all three of them are in, and Pam thinks that since Clay has everything planned out, what could go wrong? She’s right. What could go wrong with a plan concocted by a teenager and a department store night guard that can be summed up in two sentences?

Two weeks pass. Reva has been dropping not-so-subtle hints to Mitch. Finally, Reva walks up and kisses Mitch – just a mild case of assault. Unfortunately for Mitch, Lissa sees their embrace and she all, “The extra ‘S’ is for ‘stay away from me.’” Mitch chases after Lissa, and Reva calls him “a wimp.” Then she remarks, “But at least he’ll be my wimp soon.” Okay, Reva, cool line.

Reva goes back to her counter and there is a present for her. It’s a bottle of cologne. She picks it up and sprays it on herself. It’s blood and now her cashmere sweater is ruined. Is she worried about whose blood it is? No. Just the sweater thing. She thinks that Hank sent the bottle of blood, so she rushes over to his security station and starts yelling the second she gets there. Of course, Hank says he didn’t send her anything, but Reva still vows to get him fired. As she’s waiting for her father, the sudden sound of machine-gun fire echoes through the department store.

Don’t worry! It’s just some Christmas lights popping. The thought of machine-gun fire in a department store reads differently now, and the scene is the most unsettling thing that happens in this book – even if it wasn’t actually gunfire. It has not aged well. 

Reva ends up not getting Hank fired, but her father does tell her that she should go home and change. Well, first he says that she should get something from the store that, you know, they’re currently in. She says she would never wear clothes from a store as tacky as Dalby’s. But she’ll definitely have the same name and work there, though.

She heads home and a white Ford Taurus starts following her. It even speeds up when Reva speeds up. It makes the same wild turns as Reva. It follows her all the way home and traps her in her driveway. Then a man gets out of the Taurus and runs after her. 

“I accidentally smashed into your taillight. I’m really sorry,” the man said, taking off his cap and wiping the perspiration off his broad forehead.

“I hate it when people bump your car and then just drive off,” the man explained, replacing his cap. “So I followed you. I was trying to signal you. Didn’t you see me?”

Dude, I think that’s noble, but if the person is flying around corners like they’re about to talk about the importance of family, you should just let them go. 

Over in the poor side of town, it’s finally time for Pam and company to execute their brilliant heist plan. Pam drives the Sea’s Eleventy to the department store without any trouble, and she parks in the designated loading dock. This is when Clay reveals that he has a gun just in case. This is America – I’d expect them all to have guns, but Pam is noticeably worried. Also, the night guard who was supposed to be their lookout is nowhere to be seen. In fact, no one is in the department store. The trio proceeds to the electronics section to get a ‘90s stereo that costs the downpayment on a house and can record off the radio. 

It’s not all smooth sailing. Suddenly, they hear another voice. It’s a different security guard and he’s threatening to shoot them over one of those wavy CD racks. This is what America is about – the murder of underprivileged teens over petty merchandise that will be tacky in ten years. 

The kids run away as the guard sounds the alarm. Then Pam hears a gunshot.

“Clay – no!” Mickey shrieked from right beside her.

Pam watched the guard go down, clutching his bloodied chest, falling like a heavy sack of flour. 

And now Clay, still holding the pistol, his face twisted in horror, was running, running to catch up with Pam and Mickey.

They run out to the loading dock, but Pam’s car is missing!

Oh, they were at the wrong dock. Their car is in the next loading dock. Pam drives everyone home in silence.

The next day, Pam checks the newspaper. 

The guard was killed and $25,000 was stolen. 

But they hadn’t opened a safe or anything. Pam calls Clay and asks him if he took the money. He has some questions about the robbery himself.

“My gun wasn’t loaded,” Clay repeated. “I just carried it for show.”

“You didn’t shoot him?”

“No way,” Clay said, sighing loudly. “No way.”

“That means-” Pam started, closing her eyes trying to think.

“That means someone else killed the guard,” Clay finished her sentence for her. “And someone else took the money.”

Back at the store, Mr. Dalby talks to Reva about the robbery. She is only half-listening but she does hear that the security guard was shot in the back. Mr. Dalby wonders why the security guard would turn his back on the thieves. 

While Reva is working, Mitch says that Lissa broke up with him, leaving him free to date Reva. Reva responds by rejecting him and he yells that she “can’t do this to people.” Well, technically, Mitch, she didn’t do it to people, she did it to a person. It’s a dick move on Reva’s part, but I’ve never seen two individuals make out accidentally and I think that is just a plot contrivance that only exists in teen comedies.

He leaves and Reva gets a call from Pam, which she rejects, and a big present, which she opens despite every gift in the book being a horrible prank. This time, it’s a body! Er, a mannequin that Reva insists looks real.

This is the top result for “realistic mannequin.”

While all that mannequin stuff happens, Pam gets a call from someone with a rough voice that says that they saw what Pam did and they want their share of ten thousand dollars. She tells Foxy what’s going on – robbery, blackmail, everything. She also tells Clay, who threatens to kill the voice on the phone.

Reva goes to confront Hank about his present-based pranks. He continues to insist that he’s not the one sending her gifts.

“I feel sorry for you.”

His words stung like a slap in the face. She uttered a low cry. “You feel sorry for me?” She felt like laughing and crying at the same time. “I don’t understand,” she managed to say, confused by her strong feelings.

Anyone could have sent you those things,” Hank explained. “You don’t have a friend in the world, Reva. Everyone hates you. Everyone. I can think of ten people who hate you enough to put a needle in your lipstick.”

“I feel sorry for you,” Hank repeated, not backing off, not letting her off the hook. “You don’t have a friend in the world.”

Reva bursts into tears and talks about how hard she became when her mother died. Hank comforts her. Sure, he’s nice now, but what will he do when you don’t want to watch the latest offering from Paul W. S. Anderson? Dent your car? 

Pam needs to talk to Reva, but first, she has to be kidnapped. The voice on the phone is physically behind her and he demands ten thousand dollars. She turns around and discovers who has been blackmailing her. Does she let us, the audience, know who it is? No. But she does tell Foxy.

The next day, Reva is proud of herself for showing up to work ten minutes early – a virtue only a boomer would think is a good thing. Hey, I used to show up to work fifteen minutes early every day. Was I treated better than the co-worker who showed up ten minutes late every day while holding a Starbucks cup? No. The same customers yelled at us and we were paid the same shitty wage with no benefits and if your grandmother was in the hospital, you still have to go to work. Don’t put in the extra effort. The ones above you don’t. No, I’m not bitter at all.

Anyway, she comes to work and Robb and Mitch are fighting in the stockroom. The stockroom manager tells them to solve it after work. Later, Reva takes her little brother to see Robb/Santa, and Reva figures out that it’s not Robb in the Santa suit after Michael says that Santa is wearing a pillow. At work, Reva gets another big present. This time, it’s not a mannequin disguised as a dead body – it’s an actual dead person. Mitch has been murdered and Reva knows who did it.

She pins the murder on Robb. He must have slipped away to murder Mitch instead of going to work. The police show up and arrest Santa. Merry Christmas, kids, Santa is in handcuffs. And his lawyer is an elf, and not one of the smart ones, so Christmas is canceled. 

Pam shows up and is all, “He didn’t kill Mitch! He snuck away so we could awkwardly do some over-the-clothes petting behind the women’s shoes!” See, Foxy and Robb are the same person.

“Foxy told me that he had been doing mean things to frighten you. Playing cruel jokes. He said he put a needle in your lipstick. And he sent you things. A cologne bottle. A mannequin in a box. I told him it was silly. But he was so angry at the way you treated me, at how awful you were to me. And at how you tricked him into being Santa Claus, how you humiliated him in front of everyone.”

Reva avoided Pam’s eyes.

“But that’s all he did,” Pam continued. “You’ve got to believe me. He didn’t kill Mitch. I know he didn’t. I know he couldn’t.”

Okay, the cologne bottle and the mannequin are whatever, but the needle in the lipstick is an actual assault. Is there a single dude in this book that isn’t a murderer, a blackmailer, a thief, a wall puncher, a casual assaulter, or a capitalist? And Reva is the bad guy? 

Well, sort of. Like a modern Disney villain, the real killer shows up in the third act.

It’s Mr. Wakely.

Who? Exactly. Mr. Wakely is Mickey’s dad. You know? The one who was laid off at the beginning of the book and spends his time drinking. That one.

What happened was that Maywood, the security guard who was supposed to help the kids, was helping Mr. Wakely, who was going to rob the store’s safe. However, the other security guard showed up and Mr. Wakely saw the guard raise his gun at Mickey. Mr. Wakely shot the guard to protect his son. And then he killed Mitch because he was blackmailing Mickey. Finally, he stashed the body in a nearby container that Reva just happened to open. Now, Mr. Wakely has to kill Reva because she knows too much.

He lunges at her, she ducks, and he falls over a railing.

Reva is a dynamic character and I kind of liked her. It’s novel to get a Stine protagonist with a clear character arc. He usually employs static slasher archetypes. Reva herself is a slasher archetype – the spoiled rich bitch who usually gets killed somewhere toward the beginning of the second act. In this one, she realizes how she has been treating people and vows to change. However, Mr. Wakely’s death is vertically dependent. Instead, a situation should arise that would force Reva to sacrifice herself to save her cousin from Mr. Wakely. Or, even better, because Reva turned over a new leaf and reconciled with her cousin, Pam should have aided in Reva’s escape.

As for the other characters, Pam and Robb are the most sympathetic ones. Pam is given a lot to do, and I liked the Foxy/Robb connection. However, Robb’s pranks would be acceptable if it weren’t for the needle one. It’s a good scare, but Robb literally drew blood with that one.

My patience for the slasher tropes of unlikable men and fake-outs was exacerbated in this novel. Also, Christmas isn’t necessarily a major factor. And nothing is “silent” nor does silence affect the plot in any way, as the title of the book would suggest.

Overall though, this is one of the better Fear Street books. We have actual character growth, twists that make sense, and a coherent plot. Reva has an actual arc, and the side characters are distinct and interesting. The plot twists make sense and there are indications of the twists throughout the book. And finally, the way everything comes together in the third act and all the plotlines are wrapped up with a neat bow was satisfying. 

This book is for those of us who wish October was an extra two months. So, from me, I hope you’re warm and safe, you are vaccinated, and you have a very Happy Holiday 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 – The Baby-Sitters Club #25: Mary Anne and the Search for Tigger

Mary Anne and a random girl hold our their hands while a boy stands around and Logan puts up a sign on a telephone post.

Logan Bruno and I have been off to a rocky start. He started out okay, but then he compared Mary Anne to other girls and generally disappoints me with his ambivalence toward Mary Anne. On top of all that, he’s barely a driving factor in her life. And that’s when he’s around, which is never. If every book didn’t start with a long description of each member, adding that Mary Anne’s boyfriend is named Logan, then I wouldn’t have any idea that Mary Anne is in a relationship. However, maybe it’s better if Logan isn’t an integral part of the series, considering his track record.

And it’s strange. I don’t remember having any disdain for Logan when I was a kid. He wasn’t my favorite of the BSC boyfriends, but I didn’t hate him. Maybe when I was a kid, the bar for men was so low that Satan himself could use it for pull-ups. Since then, the bar has been raised. Now it’s on the ground, but it’s still impossible for some men to hop the inch it takes to clear it.

Logan plays a significant role in The Baby-Sitters Club #25: Mary Anne and the Search for Tigger. That means he has another chance to justify himself to adult me and be the boy I remember from my childhood. Let’s hope Logan can climb his way out of hell and use that southern charm to get himself one inch into the air to get over that bar. 

Mary Anne starts the novel at the pet store with Dawn. She is buying presents for her cat, Tigger. See, Tigger keeps losing toys behind the refrigerator, so the logical thing to do is buy the cat more toys. You know. To replace the ones behind the refrigerator? I think?

But it’s almost time for a BSC meeting, so the girls pay for their purchases and rush back to Mary Anne’s house before heading to Claudia’s house, where Mary Anne can tell us a little about the young artist.

Claud mixes and matches the weirdest stuff and comes up with the coolest outfits. Like a loose blouse with a fake coat of arms on it worn over a very short black skirt. Around her waist, a scarf. On her feet, short black boots. Dangling from her ears, dinosaurs. And her hair might be piled on top of her head and held in place with hairpins that look like seahorses. She combines all this stuff – and she looks fantastic.

Then Mary Anne calls Claudia’s room “a rat hole.” That’s needlessly harsh, Mary Anne. Maybe that “rat hole” has all the accessories she looks “fantastic” in. 

Mary Anne doesn’t say it out loud, so this isn’t one of the books wherein the girls fight. That’s a firm check in the “plus” column. Instead, Logan calls! He needs a babysitter. See, he has engineered clones in his free time and they need a sitter while he’s speaking at the United Nations on the ethics of cloning. I’m kidding. He needs a sitter for his siblings, Hunter and Kerry because he joined the baseball team and can’t watch them. Mary Anne takes the job.

The next day, Logan and Mary Anne are outside of her house playing with Tigger and going over what Mary Anne needs to know about Logan’s siblings. Hunter is allergic to everything, which would make him a terrible hunter. Kerry is trying to prove she’s independent, which Logan thinks would end if she had more friends. Suddenly, Jamie appears to play with the cat. And then Myriah and Gabbie. And finally, we have Charlotte. And they all play with the cat, and Mary Anne tells us that Logan is good with kids and gorgeous.

You know what I still can’t figure out, though? I can’t figure out why Logan likes me. Why would any boy like shy me better than sophisticated, outgoing Claudia? Or self-assured Dawn?

Boys don’t like sophistication, otherwise, there wouldn’t be thirty-five-year-old men dating nineteen-year-olds. Boys also don’t like confidence, otherwise, again, there wouldn’t be thirty-five-year-old men dating nineteen-year-olds. And Logan shouldn’t make Mary Anne feel that way. What is he telling her? A boyfriend should give you the confidence to fight God and time like a JRPG character. They shouldn’t make you question your worthiness.

Before leaving for another BSC meeting, Mary Anne lets Tigger stay outside since he’s having so much fun. However, later that night, Tigger doesn’t appear for dinner – not even when Mary Anne calls for him, and he usually shows up when she calls him. Her father tells her that sometimes cats just disappear or take long naps outside and Tigger will be back the next day. Unfortunately, Mr. Spier is wrong. But there’s still hope and Mary Anne has to get to her baby-sitting job at the Brunos’.

Hunter is full of allergies and his room is an exercise in dander control. His room is so barren that his toys are kept in another room. The Brunos have made a rule that no one is to open Logan’s room because it’s so messy and could contaminate Hunter’s room. The Brunos doomed their kid when they named him “Hunter.” The only thing this kid is hunting for is an EpiPen.

Mary Anne plays “Vet’s Office” with the kids and later Kerry prepares a snack for all of them since she knows all of Hunter’s various allergies. When Mary Anne goes home, she hopes to see Tigger, safe and sound. But he’s not. It’s official – Tigger is missing.

Kristy calls for a patented BSC Emergency Meeting because Kristy won’t help unless she can do it with a gavel and Claudia’s room. The club is going to distribute posters around Stoneybrook. Kristy suggests they offer a reward. The girls pool their money together and, with the added funds from the club treasury, they can offer a thirty-dollar reward. That translates to $66 in today’s money. That’s a lot for a cat, especially when every person I know who has a cat says they just started feeding it one day when it snuck into the yard and they said to their roommate, “Hey, guess what? We have a cat now. His name is Quesalupa!” 

Claudia designs the posters, including a life-like drawing of Tigger. The drawing is so good because Claudia asks Mary Anne to get every photo of Tigger she can find. Why they didn’t just use the photos, I have no idea. Claudia wants to draw something, so Claudia gets to draw something.

Meanwhile, Jessi is babysitting for her siblings, Becca and Squirt. They play some games and talk about how much Charlotte, Becca’s best friend, likes Tigger. Then they read that weird Baby Island book. Apparently, it’s the hottest book in Stoneybrook. Move over, Stephen King – this one-hundred-year-old book that doesn’t have a movie adaptation is coming for you! 

The next day, Kristy has made copies of the posters and the entire BSC, including Logan, is ready to help Mary Anne.

“Now,” she began, “the idea is to paper the neighborhood. By tonight, there shouldn’t be a single person in this area who doesn’t know that Tigger is missing. I’ve got boxes of thumbtacks, and I want you to make sure you put a poster on every phone pole. Maybe two posters – front and back. Then stuff mailboxes. There are plenty of streets around here.”

I know how to litter, Kristy. 

The girls split up. Logan says that Mary Anne is being dramatic and while a lost kitten is sad, she’s overreacting. Mary Anne doesn’t say anything back. Dump him, Mary Anne, and we’ll go get Baskin-Robbins. They have 31 flavors and Logan’s flavor is the insensitive Disney Channel antagonist. 

As they’re putting up the posters, a ten-year-old boy walks up to Mary Anne.

“Is there really a reward?”

“Yup.”

“Well then, okay. Yester- um, no, let’s see. The day before yesterday I saw a – a gray kitten with tiger stripes.”

“That’s just like Tigger!” I cried.

Hey, Mary Anne, tell this boy to go back to the treehouse with the misspelled “No Girls Allowed” sign and get back to work.

“And he had short hair – I’m sure it was a he, not a she – and he was, oh, about fifteen inches long – I mean, including his tail. And, um, he answered to the name of Tigger.”

I wouldn’t know a female cat from a male cat, but Alfalfa here checked that cat’s genitals.

I looked suspiciously at the poster I’d just put up. “How did you know to call him Tigger?” I asked the boy.

“Because his name was on his collar?” he suggested.

I shook my head. “Sorry. He doesn’t wear a collar.”

The boy didn’t look a bit uncomfortable about having told a whopping lie. “What’s the reward for?” he wanted to know. “For information leading to finding this cat or something?”

“No,” I said crossly. “For finding him. For putting him in my hands.”

Now stop talking to wandering children and get to breaking up with Logan, er, looking for Tigger.

The next day, Mary Anne rushes to her mailbox and it contains a letter for her! But there’s no return address. People keep sending her troubling things in the mail. You’d think she would stop checking. Anyway, the letter contains a handwritten note. 

If you want to see your cat alive again, leave $100 in an envelope on the big rock in Brenner Field at 4:00 tomorrow afternoon.

She takes the letter to the BSC, which springs into action with a plan. Only Claudia and Mallory entertain the idea that it’s fake. Logan says that Mary Anne is acting like “a girl” and Mary Anne finally says that it’s okay to be sensitive and she is a girl. Claudia lives on the second floor, Mary Anne should defenestrate Logan. (Let me just check that word off my “Words To Use” list.)

But we can’t throw him out yet – he comes up with a brilliant plan! What is this plan? They’re going to put Monopoly money in an envelope, leave it on the “big rock,” and then watch the rock to see who retrieves the money. Huh. It took seven of you to come up with this plan? 

Before the BSC can enact their plan, Dawn has a baby-sitting job at the Barretts’. Buddy is worried about their basset hound and vows to protect the dog from would-be thieves. Eventually, the kids need to go to sleep. Buddy stays up watching a show called Dragon Warriors, which is not real. There is a real show called Dragon Warrior: Legend of the Hero Abel, but unless Buddy is exceptionally worldly, there’s no way he watches a Japanese show wherein only thirteen out of forty-three episodes were dubbed and released in America. Eventually, he goes to sleep and there is no more television talk.

It’s finally time for that great caper that Logan concocted. Everything goes according to plan. Soon, a figure arrives, takes the envelope, and books it. The BSC chases the figure down. It’s a kid. In fact, it’s that Alfalfa punk who thinks about animal genitals from before. And, to no one’s surprise, he doesn’t have Tigger – he just wanted money. Logan makes up some stuff about felonies and that the kid could go to jail for twenty-five to fifty years. Sure, but if the kid is white, he’ll get probation and a swimming scholarship. Anyway, the kid runs away but Mary Anne is still missing one cat.

Claudia babysits for the Perkins girls, and they are going to look for Tigger themselves. But first, they have to sing Christmas carols and “Blue Suede Shoes” by Elvis. There are some great late ‘80s songs, but these kids are going to sing Elvis – a man who died in 1977. Then the girls play “Hawaiian detective” and Tom Selleck all over the neighborhood while Claudia contemplates death. 

Once again, Mary Anne is baby-sitting the Brunos. She makes a shocking discovery in Kerry’s room. In Kerry’s closet, in a box, is none other than Tigger! What is going on?

“I – I just found him,” replied Kerry. “And I didn’t know he was Tigger then. Honest. I was riding my bike home last Friday and it was getting dark. Remember? The weather wasn’t very nice that day. And I was a few houses away from Mary Anne’s and I thought I saw something shiny on the side of the road. So I stopped. And it was this kitten. Its eyes were shining. I thought, Poor kitty, no one’s taking care of you. So I just put him in my bike basket and rode him home. I wanted to have a friend. And I wanted to show you and Daddy that I could care for a pet. I really am responsible enough to do that. Look how well I cared for Tigger.” 

And then she kept it to prove that she can have a pet if it stays in her room, away from Hunter and his allergies. Mary Anne takes her cat and goes home.

Logan and Mary Anne have a chat later. He’s been testy because he’s about to be kicked off the baseball team. His coach doesn’t like him and Logan is trying to improve, but it’s failing and Logan isn’t getting any better. Mary Anne gives him snacks and stays with him, which is annoying.

If Logan can’t step over a bar on the ground, then it’s no wonder he’s a terrible baseball player. He demeans Mary Anne’s anguish over losing her cat. He says that acting like a girl is a bad thing. When it turns out his little sister has stolen his girlfriend’s cat, he’s pretty damn nonchalant, and he doesn’t give Mary Anne the confidence she clearly needs. 

I have only watched the first season of the excellent Netflix show at the time of writing this, so I hope the showrunners redeem this boy, because I’m losing my patience for Logan. He’s a terrible boyfriend and Mary Anne should dump him. She should go out with Kristy. At least Kristy can play baseball. 

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.