Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #19: Claudia and the Bad Joke

Practical jokes are stupid. It’s a way for someone to be mean to another for no reason and then say, “Hey, it’s a practical joke!” as if those few words negate convincing your family is dead or whatever dumb joke they concocted. Granted, not every practical joke is like that. If the real victim is the joker, then I don’t think there’s a problem, besides, maybe, wasting time.

Maybe my thoughts on practical jokes have been skewed by the jokes gone wrong in R. L. Stine novels and terrible jokes on YouTube that are thinly veiled, monetized ways to abuse children or girlfriends. Maybe I’m a sensitive millennial who can’t take a joke. Maybe this next BSC book will show me some great practically-based jokes.

Or maybe not, given the title.

a girl lays in a hospital bed while two children look at her
My leg is broken, kids, I’m not getting a brain transplant. What are you trying to say?

The book starts with the entire town, including the BSC, at a free Slapstick Film Festival at the library. I don’t understand slapstick humor, but there’s no judgment here, given that this is my favorite video on the internet.

See? No practical jokes. Just punching. And it’s only eleven seconds long.

We have the obligatory rundown of every BSC member – including Claudia’s admission that she’s “one of the coolest-looking kids in Stoneybrook Middle School.” After that, Kristy lets us in on her life’s goal.

On the movie screen, a man dressed in a tux was holding out a corsage to a woman in an evening gown. The woman leaned over to smell the flowers and SPLAT! A stream of water got her right in the eye.

But just then, the man got hit in the face with a coconut cream pie.

“Awesome!” whispered Kristy. “That’s my dream!”

That’s a weird dream, Kristy. But my current dream is to read and review every BSC book, so I guess we’re even. It’s all about keeping your dreams practical and attainable. If the past four years have taught me anything, you shouldn’t dream beyond your capacity, or else 200,000 people die (hopefully it’s not as bad by the time this comes out – I’m writing this in September). (I’m editing and uploading this in February – yeah, past Amy, double that. It’s still pretty bad.)

The next chapter is a BSC meeting and Claudia explains club logistics. Then the club receives a call from a new client, Mrs. Sobak, who is looking for a sitter for her daughter Betsy. Claudia takes the job. At the end of the meeting, Kristy sprays ink on Mary Anne’s white blouse. It’s disappearing ink, but I bet Mary Anne’s blouse is still ruined. Also, that’s a stupid joke. Haha, I ruined your shirt. 

During a pleasant dinner and homework session with Mimi, Claudia receives a few calls. One is from Ashley Wyleth, one of the most onerous BSC characters, and the other is the Prince Albert in a can prank call. Because kids love jokes about tobacco. I had to Google what that is. It turns out, to the surprise of no one, most jokes are not timeless.

The next day, Claudia contacts two previous babysitters of Betsy Sobak’s – Diana and Gordon. Betsy is a practical joker and it became so bad, Diana and Gordon both refuse to babysit the child. Still, Claudia agreed to a job, and, dadgummit, Claudia is going to do the job.

She meets Betsy’s mother, Cookie, and we learn Betsy’s father works at Tile Corp. Claudia fails to find out if Tile Corp is a corporation for tiles or a subdivision of the army specifically for tiles. I will update if I find out more.

Betsy starts with the pranks almost immediately with a dribble glass. Then, Betsy tells Claudia where she gets all her pranking supplies.

“From McBuzz’s Mail Order. It’s a catalogue. All McBuzz’s sells is practical jokes. I spent most of my allowance on stuff from McBuzz’s . . . Well, I used to. Then Mom and Dad made me quit. But it doesn’t matter. I already had McBuzz’s best jokes.”

“Oh, good,” I said. “You wouldn’t want to miss out on a single instrument of torture.”

I’m with Claudia – I still think practical jokes are stupid and this book is not changing my mind. Claudia is not having it with the “jokes” and she tries to stop that behavior immediately. However, less than a page later, Betsy gets Claudia with pepper gum. Still, Claudia has a job to finish and she ushers Betsy outside to play. 

They swing on Betsy’s swing set. Just as Claudia starts to get some air, the chain snaps, and Claudia falls on her leg.

My leg certainly was broken. It was a truly disgusting sight. There was no blood or anything, but it twisted in a way that no leg should ever be twisted. I thought I’d see all possible disgusting sights from eating school lunches with Kristy Thomas. But this was much, much worse. I had to look away from my leg.

I turned toward Betsy. She was still swinging, but the expression on her face was one of horror. Then, in a panic, she began to slow herself down. The swing hadn’t even come to a stop when she jumped off it and ran to me.

“Oh! Oh, Claudia!” she exclaimed. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! I knew the chain was broken. That’s why I wanted you to sit down on the swing. I thought when you did, you’d just go – boom – onto the grass. But it didn’t break right away and I forgot and you said let’s have a contest and I still forgot and I didn’t remember until-”

“Betsy, Betsy,” I interrupted her. I had suddenly realized that my leg was numb. I could hardly feel it, which scared me more than anything. “I know you didn’t mean for this to happen. The thing is, I have to get to the hospital. And you’re going to have to help me. Can you follow directions?”

Claudia tells her to do several things: 1) Dial 911 and tell them that her babysitter broke her leg and needs an ambulance; 2) Call Betsy’s parents and tell them what happened; and 3) If she can’t reach her parents, call the Radowskys – Dawn and Mallory are baby-sitting over there. 

Betsy comes back with a pillow and a blanket. She was unable to reach her parents, but Mallory and Dawn are heading over. Sure enough, Mallory, Dawn, Jackie, and a bunch of Pike kids come riding up on their bikes like harbingers of death. That’s right. It’s not Four Horsemen – it’s the Pike kids on bikes come to gawk.

Mallory stays with the kids while Dawn calls Claudia’s parents and rides with Claudia to the hospital. While waiting at the hospital, Claudia remembers Mimi in the hospital and starts to cry. Dawn comforts her, but she doesn’t stop until she’s put under.

Claudia wakes up to her family surrounding her hospital bed. Her mother tells her that the break isn’t critical, but it’s severe enough to warrant a week-long stay. The Kishis must have amazing insurance to get that kind of top-notch care. 

Over the next few days, Claudia receives several visitors. Kristy and Jamie Newton show up, as well as Mary Anne, who sneaks in her cat, and lastly, Mallory, Claire, and Vanessa. Claudia’s roommate, Cathy, doesn’t have as many visitors. Claudia attributes her roommate’s unpopularity to Cathy’s childish behavior. Whenever the nurse shows up to do her damn job, Cathy cries and yells. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be around someone who screamed when I did my job. Also, Claudia is a more tolerant person than me, because I would request to transfer rooms the second Cathy screams when a nurse tries to take her blood pressure.

Even Stacey calls her, but it’s not a happy call. 

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” I told her. “I keep coming back to this one thing. What if I’d ruined my hands or arms when I fell? Baby-sitting can be dangerous, Stace. And there’s a good chance that when I grow up I’ll be an artist, not a sitter. I don’t want to lose that chance. So I’m thinking of dropping out of the Baby-sitters Club. Just to be on the safe side.”

And that’s it! Claudia quits the club and she has no more stories about her.

No, she doesn’t quit the club. But let’s keep going and see how she deals with her trauma.

Meanwhile, Mary Anne and Jessi babysit for the Pikes, who are, of course, going along with the zeitgeist of pranks in Stoneybrook. There’s a fake spider and even faker barf. Mary Anne and Jessi end the day by pretending there’s an elephant outside and that gets the kids. So, got ‘em? I guess?

It’s finally time for Claudia to come home. Her homeroom teacher calls her and has her homeroom class say, “Welcome home, Claudia!” Mary Anne and Kristy orchestrated the whole event and Claudia likes it. After the call, Claudia spends quality time with Mimi.

At the first BSC meeting since her return, Claudia announces that she’s thinking about quitting the club. It doesn’t help that Mrs. Sobak calls the club and asks for a sitter for Betsy. Claudia remarks that “If I were Mrs. Sobak, I wouldn’t have the nerve to call us again.” Honestly, yeah, Claudia, I’m with you there. Her daughter tricks Claudia into sitting in a broken swing and breaks her leg, and Mrs. Sobak thinks, yeah, sure, send another victim into Betsy’s clutches.

Mallory takes the job with the intent to borrow “tricks” from the triplets. Mallory and Betsy start with a prank-free snack and they bond over shared memorization of the poem “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.” However, the peace is short-lived when Betsy disappears, prompting Mallory to search the house for her. Mallory gets her back when she tricks Betsy into rubbing sneezing powder on her face. Then Betsy pretends to sneeze out a tooth. That’s the beginning.

During the rest of the afternoon, Mal scared Betsy with the slug, Betsy scared Mal with a rubber snake. Mal scared Betsy with the rat, Betsy scared Mal with her cockroach. Just as Mal ran out of jokes, she heard Mrs. Sobak’s car pull into the garage.

Betsy and Mal looked at each other. They smiled.

And Mal knew something just from looking at Betsy then. She knew that neither of them would mention the jokes to Betsy’s mother. As a baby-sitter, Mal shouldn’t have been playing them on one of her charges. But Betsy shouldn’t have been playing jokes after what had happened to me.

A battle of the joke war had been fought, but nobody had won and nobody had lost.

It’s not the end of Betsy’s pranking though. Dawn is the next sacrifice at the McBuzz altar. Betsy puts slime in Dawn’s Kit-Kit. Dawn pretends to faint and scares Betsy. And then there’s shaving cream disguised as whipped cream. Honestly, the pranks have become so tired. This book has ensured that any fondness I had for jokes and pranks was eradicated by the end. Just stop sitting for this kid – maybe the total rejection of the entire Stoneybrook baby-sitting community is the only way to get Mrs. Sobak to get control of her daughter.

But there has to be an ending more suited to the BSC, right? Well, none other than our president and pie-throwing enthusiast Kristy Thomas ends the prank war.

Kristy takes Betsy to the movie. Betsy sees some kids she knows and Kristy ushers her to say hi. Betsy admits that the kids don’t like her very much. Can you at home guess why? It doesn’t take Blue and Steve to figure this one out.

Anyway, at the movies, Kristy hides in the theater, forcing Betsy to go up and down the aisle looking for her. After annoying the entire theater, Kristy finally waves and Betsy sits down for the movie. Then, Kristy puts her thumb into the bottom of the popcorn bucket and Betsy thinks it’s a severed thumb. She screams, of course, and the usher comes over to admonish Betsy. All this in front of her classmates. Betsy has been embarrassed and watches the rest of the movie in silence.

On the way home, Kristy tells Betsy that she needs to think about the consequences of her actions. While most of her jokes don’t hurt most people, Claudia was directly hurt by her irresponsible pranking. Also, she makes others feel the way she felt during the movie. 

They take a brief detour to Claudia’s house, where Betsy formally apologizes to Claudia. I still don’t trust this little maniac, but Claudia accepts her apology.

Later, at the BSC meeting, Kristy shows up early to speak with Claudia privately about leaving the club. Of course, Claudia doesn’t quit the club. However, she does have one condition: she doesn’t sit for Betsy. 

I have yet to see a joke shop in my life. I think they all burned down in the Great Joke Shop Fire of 1992 and no one bothered to open them again. Unfortunately, pranks have just found a new medium on the internet and it’s not better. The pranks are still rooted in a disregard for someone else’s feelings or property. They’re either trying to convince children that they’re going to be snatched by a murderous clown or dumping a girlfriend’s bath bomb with dye so you ruin both her skin for days and a bath bomb. All for fake internet cred. 

This book failed to endear me to jokes and Betsy. Sure, she apologized, but her future lies on YouTube, encouraging her children to beat their sibling in the name of a joke and views. If I never see Betsy again, it’ll be too soon.

And stop pranking each other. This is stupid.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, 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: Egg Monsters From Mars

an egg creature and its green shell sits in a carton

Saturday Morning Cartoons were weird. Normal ones, Looney Tunes, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and the like, existed. Properties for children, like G.I. Joe and, my personal favorite, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, were also common. And then there were the shows that had no business being a kids’ cartoon.

Robocop was actually turned into a Saturday Morning Cartoon, as well as Rambo. These were hard-R adult movies that were thrust in a timeslot between Dragonball and Sonic the Hedgehog. My bestest buddy and Super Saiyan, Goku, just beat Piccolo after a ten-episode power-up, and now, before I watch my blue furry buddy, here’s a cartoon about a killer for hire.

It wasn’t just action movies that were turned into inappropriate children’s cartoons. B-level horror movie creature features also had animated versions. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes exposed me to the concept of schlocky horror with strange creatures. It demystified the horror genre. Instead of something to be feared, horror could be goofy and fun. The show may have only lasted a few years, but I still have the theme song stuck in my head. 

The Goosebumps book Egg Monsters From Mars reminds me of any number of goofy creature feature horror movies I’ve seen – and it’s wonderful. There are no ghosts in this one – just a gooey egg and a kid scrambled up in laboratory secrets.

It starts with an egg hunt. Is it Easter? No. It’s a little girl’s birthday party. Our protagonist, Dana, has a younger sister, and “she always gets what she wants.” This time, it’s an egg hunt. However, much to the birthday girl’s dismay, the egg hunt boils into an egg fight.

“Egg fight! Egg fight!” two boys started to chant.

I ducked as an egg went sailing over my head. It landed with a craaack on the driveway.

Eggs were flying everywhere now. I stood there and gasped in amazement.

I heard a shrill shriek. I spun around to see that two of the Hair Sisters had runny yellow egg oozing in their hair. They were shouting and tugging at their hair and trying to pull the yellow gunk off with both hands.

Splat! Another egg hit the garage.

Craaack! Eggs bounced over the driveway.

Dana’s best friend, the next-door neighbor, Annie, prepares an egg to throw at Dana, who picks up his last egg. But there’s something strange about this ultimate egg. It’s veiny and impervious to damage, even when Dana falls on the egg. 

While Dana’s parents are wondering what happened and chastising their daughter for not stopping the egg fight, Dana puts his weird egg in a drawer in his room. In the middle of the night, Dana hears thumping from the drawer and discovers the shell is burning hot. 

Finally, the egg starts to crack, and after some onomatopoeic theater, a gooey, runny mess of yellow and green veins with two black, lumpy eyes hatches. Dana doesn’t know what to do and he goes over his options since his parents have been seemingly poached from the narrative. He decides to go to Annie’s house since she has a dog and is good with animals. He scoops the creature into a box and rolls it next door.

After some breakfast shenanigans involving a dog, the egg creature falls out of its makeshift carton and is almost sent down the garbage disposal. Dana grabs the creature just in time, remarking to the creature, “I just saved your life.”

He shows it to Annie, who suggests he goes to the friendly local lab to have them take a look at it. Dana scrambles away. 

At the lab, Dr. Gray, an old scientist, greets Dana and agrees to look at what he brought – most because Dr. Gray is already egg-sperienced with the creature.

“The eggs fell all over town,” Dr. Gray said, poking the egg creature. “Like a meteor shower. Only on this town.”

“Excuse me?” I cried. “They fell from the sky?” I wanted desperately to understand. But so far, nothing made sense.

Dr. Gray turned to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “We believe the eggs fell all the way from Mars, Dana. There was a big storm on Mars. Two years ago. It set off something like a meteor shower. The storm sent these eggs hurtling through space.”

Dr. Gray has something else to show him. He brings the boy to a window and shows him a mirror. 

A two-way mirror! Dr. Gray turns on a light.

 There are dozens of egg creatures in a refrigerated room. Dr. Gray says they’re relatively harmless and they don’t have mouths so they can’t bite. They also lack appendages so they can’t kick or grab or punch. Dana asks if he can come back and visit the creature. Dr. Gray says that Dana is not coming back because he’s not leaving.

“I have to study you too,” Dr. Gray continued. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “It’s my job, Dana.”

“Study me?” I squeaked. “Why?”

He motioned to my egg creature. “You touched it – didn’t you? You handled it? You picked it up?”

I shrugged. “Well, yeah. I picked it up. So what?”

“Well, we don’t know what kind of dangerous germs it gave you,” he replied. “We don’t know what kind of germs or bacteria or strange diseases these things carried with them from Mars.”

I understand keeping him under quarantine and observation, but Dr. Gray locks him in this freezing room with no food, no bed, and a countless number of egg creatures. When Dana’s father comes looking for his chick, Dr. Gray says that he hasn’t seen the kid.

Dana’s father asks if he could peek around the facility to make sure his son isn’t there. Of course, Dana is trapped behind a two-way mirror. Dana pecks at the window, but to no avail. His father can’t see or hear him. It seems that Dana is trapped there, and his father was so close to rescuing him.

That night, Dana has trouble sleeping. He’s too cold and Dr. Gray didn’t even give him a blanket. The eggs overtake him, but he’s too enervated to fight back. But instead of attacking him, they give him warmth. It’s kind of sweet.

Dr. Gray shakes him awake, enraged that Dana let the egg creatures touch him. What did you expect, Dr. Gray? You didn’t separate them. You didn’t give Dana food and a blanket. It’s your fault you clucked up. 

Luckily, the egg creatures and Dana have formed a bond. Even though the egg creatures lack appendages and mouths, they become a huge mass and attack Dr. Gray as Dana runs away. 

He runs all the way home to his parents. They all return to the lab and find the egg creatures, and Dr. Gray, completely gone. Of course, his parents don’t believe his story. 

Finally, we are left with this final passage:

I crouched down on the grass – and I laid the biggest egg you ever saw!

I enjoyed Egg Monsters From Mars more than I should have. I like creature movies, but I love creature movies where humans are the real villains. Humans like to believe that the threat to their livelihood is external, whether that threat is an immigrant, a gay person, or a woman. The real threat comes from looking within ourselves and recognizing the ugliness inside. Some people can take that reflection and try to alter their thinking to make the world a better place. We should encourage this behavior.

All too often, however, people look within, see that stain on their soul, and create a social pecking order that puts them at the top. They congregate with others who share that ugliness. They search for conspiracy stories to fuel their ignorance. 

The real monsters aren’t the egg creatures. They’re the ones who inflict pain on others under the guise of something noble – like science. Also, a kid lays a giant egg! That’s fucking crazy, dude. This is an eggcellent Goosebumps book.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, 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 #18: Stacey’s Mistake

stacey chastises a kid near a dinosaur

I have never been to New York City. I would like to visit someday, particularly the Natural History Museum because I love dinosaurs. However, I don’t have the same reverence that others have for the home of Central Park. I love the west coast. I’ve been to Los Angeles, which is kind of like New York City, but with better weather, impossibly beautiful waiters, and a sheen of friendliness that may be fake, but it really doesn’t matter for the three minutes you interact with someone. New York City seems cold and unfriendly and another city with skyscrapers — nothing to revere as the pinnacle of American ingenuity. (At least, not while sourdough was invented in San Francisco, which is my favorite city with an unsustainable cost of living.)

stacey chastises a kid near a dinosaur
Now apologize to the dinosaur’s butt for blaming your fart on it. Also, if Ms. Jewett needs the book back, just let me know.

The Baby-Sitters Club, and seemingly Ann M. Martin, disagrees with me. New York City is a treasure. It is a place to be heralded as a new Athens, a new Constantinople, a new Babylon. Many songs have been written about the city — and even whole musicals. And even though all that pop culture, I still think of New York City as a place that seems cool, but no more special than Los Angeles. Maybe our favorite New York Girl Stacey will change my mind about the city. Maybe I’ll come out of this book review with a fresh admiration for the east coast. I mostly want to know why everyone seems so grumpy on the east coast.

Even though Stacey moved back to New York and away from the BSC in #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye, Stacey is still baby-sitting. In fact, she’s the resident babysitter for most of her building.

The community announces a meeting to discuss Judy, a “bag-lady” and other people like her, and every parent needs a baby-sitter on the same night. This meeting is the social event of the year! Come have hors devours! Talk about a homeless woman with an obvious drug addiction! Gentrify the neighborhood and get her arrested!

Stacey comes up with a familiar idea — a day camp with her best-friends from Stoneybrook! And since the meeting is for only one day, Stacey can treat the BSC to a New York Weekend complete with a party.

However, if you read the title of this book, you know it isn’t going to be smooth sailing for the rest of the book. In fact, this book falls under the BSC trope of “infighting.” What are they going to argue about now? Let’s find out.

The second the BSC arrives, they’ve established who they’re going to be in this book. Dawn will be playing the part of “Scared Person,” Kristy will be “Big Mouth,” Claudia will be “Too Much Luggage,” and Mary Anne will be “The Tourist” (not the movie). The girls are excited to see their long lost friend, and after they drop off their luggage at Stacey’s apartment, which the Scared Person Dawn is thankful that Stacey has a doorman, they go to get lunch.

Mary Anne wants to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. Dawn asks if it’s in a safe neighborhood. Stacey remarks that Dawn used to live in Los Angeles, to which Dawn clarifies that it was outside Anaheim, not Los Angeles proper. I’ve been to Anaheim — it’s not exactly Mayberry, but when the biggest building in the city is The Tower of Terror (now the Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!, because Star-Lord is better than Rod Sterling, for some reason I don’t understand) the 100-story skyscrapers of New York that loom over the dark streets are imposing.

The girls are impressed when Stacey says to the host, “‘Five for lunch, please.’” I guess girls in the ’80s didn’t normally go to restaurants by themselves. And I thought Reno was backward. I remember having lunches with my other thirteen-year-old friends at Applebee’s, and we all asked for separate checks. It’s embarrassing, I know. I apologize to every server to whom I’ve ever said, “Can we get separate checks?” It’s a shameful act and I have no excuse other than that I was thirteen and stupid.

During lunch, Kristy orders “fill-it mig-nun.” I ignored the obvious pronunciation error and instead wondered how much Kristy brought with her. Like, I know Watson is rich, but I wouldn’t send my thirteen-year-old to New York with enough to consider filet mignon for lunch.

After lunch, Mary Anne gets everyone to buy T-shirts from the Hard Rock Cafe — even Stacey. Kristy tries to give a homeless person some money, but Stacey tells her to never open her purse on the street because someone could snatch it. That freaks out Scared Person Dawn.

The girls go to Bloomingdale’s and Mary Anne shoplifts some eye shadow. She thought it was a sample. Sure, Mary Anne, a “sample.” I’m kidding. Mary Anne couldn’t shoplift a five-cent Jolly Rancher from 7–11. Kristy does what I usually do in these stores:

Kirsty kept exclaiming things like, “Look how expensive this is! In Stoneybrook it would only cost half as much,” or “Mary Anne, come here. Look at this — a hundred and sixty dollars for one pair of shoes!”

Yeah, that’s me — I’m the one screaming, “Who the hell pays full price at Bed, Bath, & Beyond?” And when they get in the elevator in Stacey’s building, Kristy continues her role of Big Mouth.

“Have you ever gotten stuck in the elevator?” Dawn wanted to know. “It took a long time for the doors to open when we came up to your apartment.”

“Never,” I told her firmly. “I have never been stuck. You aren’t claustrophobic, are you?”

“She’s just a worrywart,” said Kristy. “For heaven’s sake, Dawn, I can think of worse things than getting stuck in an elevator. What if the cable broke and the elevator crashed all the way to the basement?”

“Kristy!” exclaimed Claudia, Mary Anne, and I. (Dawn was speechless with fear.)

I laughed, but I tend to diffuse tense situations with laughter. Elevators used to freak me out, but it’s not the fear of getting stuck or the cable snapping (there are security measures in place in case something catastrophic happens). I mostly hate elevators because I hate the feeling of descending. You won’t find me on those drop rides.

The BSC members meet all the parents of the kids they’ll be babysitting during the meeting. It’s a list of names and parents with various eccentricities. We’re never going to see these kids after this book, so I don’t think it’s necessary to introduce you to each one of them. Let’s just say that there’s more diversity in this building than in the entire history of Stoneybrook.

Now it’s party time! Of course, the first thing the girls do is plan their outfits. Mary Anne insists that they dress as “New York” as they can to fit in.

“Maybe we should wear our Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts,” said Kristy. “They’re as New York as you can get.”

Kristy! I know she’s supposed to be saying the wrong things, but Kristy is giving me life in this book.

In the end, Claudia wears a black outfit, Dawn wears an oversized sweater-dress, and Stacey wears a yellow dress. Kristy ends up in a sweater and jeans. Mary Anne ends up, well, let’s let Stacey tell us.

I had chosen a bright, big-patterned sweater and a pair of black pants for her. She’d looked at them, shaken her head, replaced them in her suitcase, and put on this other outfit — a ruffly white blouse, a long paisley skirt, and these little brown boots. It was very mature and attractive but, well, Mary Anne was the only one of my friends who, when dressed up, actually looked like she came from Connecticut. We could tell, thought, that the clothes were new and that she really wanted to wear them, so no one said anything to her, despite the grief she’d given us earlier.

Does she look like she’s from Connecticut, or does she look like she just came back from line dancing night at the Achy Breaky Canteena? A paisley skirt is the epitome of New York to Mary Anne. Who wrote her travel guide? Foghorn Leghorn?

The girls continue their party preparation. Claudia goes through Stacey’s cool-ass tapes to choose music. Stacey’s Dad (who doesn’t have it going on) buys a bunch of sandwiches and the girls pour out chips and snacks into bowls. Meanwhile, Laine, Stacey’s New York best friend, shows up to help. Claudia and her snipe at each other, a grim portent for the rest of the evening.

The guests start to show up. Mary Anne is apprehensive about “New York boys,” but gets over that pretty quickly when she shows off her New York knowledge to anyone who will listen, including fun facts about the height of the Empire State Building and (I can’t believe I still had a physical reaction) the Twin Towers. This book was published in 1987, in case you were wondering for no particular reason.

Meanwhile, Stacey introduces a boy to Kristy and they hit it off. They share a love of sports and even dance together. For reasons that I’m assuming are purely conflict-related, Claudia cockblocks Kristy and asks to dance with the boy.

By eleven, the kids start to leave, indicating that the invitations clearly did not say, “From six to ???”

Laine was going to spend the night, but after the disaster of a party and Claudia’s obvious jealousy, Laine decides to go home, but not before rightfully calling Claudia a jerk. Kristy joins in and says that Claudia is a jerk for butting in between her and the sports boy. Then Dawn calls Mary Anne a jerk because Dawn heard Mary Anne make fun of Dawn’s belief that there are actual alligators in the sewers. Mary Anne cries and everyone’s a jerk. Then they go to sleep in separate rooms.

Stacey wakes up and goes over the problems with the New York trip. She concludes that the infighting is due to three things: the BSC has been displaced from their usual surroundings, the BSC wants to impress her New York friends, and Claudia and Laine are jealous of each other. Stacey is thankful that none of these problems are with her, so she thinks she can fix this. But first, they have a bunch of New York kids to take care of.

They emulate how they dealt with the kids during their previous venture into daycare by listing each kid. Kristy says that they should make name tags since that was useful last time, and Stacey immediately shuts that idea down. They don’t want strangers to know the kids’ names. This freaks Dawn out a little.

The kids start to arrive at exactly 11:35, a detail I didn’t need. Stacey takes charge, a stark difference from Stoneybrook, where Kristy would usually lead. However, Stacey is the only one who knows the kids and how to get around to the various activities they have planned. Surprisingly, Kristy doesn’t make a fuss, even if she may have been perturbed.

They put the kids in two identical rows a la Madeline and march to the American Museum of Natural History. The dinosaurs excite the kids, a feeling I am well accustomed to (ask my sister about the time we went to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum or ask my partner about the time his company party was in a museum that featured Sue the T-Rex). Everything seems fine, but something has to happen.

When they reach the giant hanging blue whale, the BSC does a headcount and discovers they’re missing a kid. Mary Anne finds the kid with the brontosaurus.

After lunch at the Food Express (the museum restaurant), it’s time for Central Park. After winding through the city, they reach a huge park pond and Dawn expresses relief.

“Did you think we were going to get mugged back there or something?” I said.

“Well, you always hear stories about people getting mugged in Central Park,” she said with a little shiver. “And not just at night,” she was quick to add when she saw me open my mouth. “Plus, homeless people live in the park, don’t they?”

“So?” I replied. “Just because they’re homeless doesn’t mean they’re going to hurt you.”

Yeah, Dawn, you’re supposed to be the progressive one. Also, if Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has taught me anything, it’s that you’re more likely to run into a dead body than get mugged.

The kids experience the Delacorte Clock, some musical animals, and finally the children’s zoo. Dawn helps with a potential barfing situation, and the rest of the BSC relaxes. They even let the kids walk ahead of them as the BSC links arms like an early-2000’s teen movie and it seems the girls are a unit once again.

While on the way back to the apartment, the kids sing to their baby-sitters. The BSC finds this endearing, but the thought of fourteen kids singing “For they’re jolly good sitters” is a recurring nightmare for me.

When the parents come back from their gentrification meeting, they announce they’re going to start a soup kitchen. Unless that soup kitchen gives out cash, job training, and access to mental and physical healthcare, I don’t know if that’s the most efficient way to help, but I’m sure the rich people will feel better about themselves.

Later that night, Laine calls and she has a surprise.

“Well, guess what. You won’t believe this.” She paused dramatically. “I’m not sure whether to tell you about this, but, well, Dad got free tickets — house seats, excellent ones — to Starlight Express. They’re for tonight. He and Mom don’t want to go, but would you and your friends like to go to the play? He could get six seats, all together. And he’d order us the limo. I don’t know about Claudia, but I feel awful about last night, and I’d kind of like to start over.”

Since the BSC is finished fighting, they enthusiastically attend the play. And who wouldn’t want to watch a musical about anthropomorphic trains on roller skates from the same Andrew Lloyd Webber era as Cats?

Laine and Claudia get along. Mary Anne is in her version of Heaven. Dawn is able to tell Laine about California. Kristy was happy to watch tv in a limo, which, admittedly, is the first thing I did when I got into a limo for my senior prom night (the first and only time I’ve ever been in a limo — it was fine — it was a long car).

After the play, the BSC is able to really catch up and have the sleepover they wanted. They recap events like Jeff moving back to California and the pageant. Exactly like one of those sitcom episodes where the show wanted to save money so they show scenes from previous episodes. “Remember when we had to put on that party for Mr. Ramshambuler and you dropped the cake.” And then they’d show the scene of the guy tripping and falling into a huge cake. Then some old lady says, “If he comes with the cake, I’ll have a slice.” Something like that. The book turns into that.

The next morning, Stacey makes them bagels. Kristy is weird about smoked salmon, just like someone from 1987. Then they say their goodbyes at the train station.

Well, I sure didn’t figure out why New Yorkers are so angry, but I appreciated the scenes at the museum. I like most museums, but I especially like museums with dinosaurs. New York City is a place with dinosaurs, so it’s worth the acclaim it has received. Do I think it should be the pinnacle of American ingenuity? I would argue that the presence of Wall Street and a terrible, political-office-stealing mob family stains New York’s reputation, but I’m happy there is a city where rats and pigeons fight each other and there are enough people with cameras to capture it.

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The Mind Reader

A girl looks scared at a ghost that's not in the book.

It’s happened. 

I read a Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, or Fear Street book once a week. I make my notes on each page and I flag any passages that I find particularly quote-worthy. I finally sit down at my computer and start writing a review. I usually have some topic from my childhood that I want to ruminate on using the book I just read.

But it’s finally happened.

I read The Mind Reader a few weeks ago. When I sat down to write this, I realized that the only thing I could remember about this book is that the title is misleading. What happened? How can I equate this to my childhood? Who are the characters? Does anyone get killed?

Maybe my notes in the margins will help me. Clearly, we’re going to rediscover this one together. Why can’t I remember what happened in this one? 

A girl is scared of a ghost that's not the book.
There are at least three things wrong with this cover: the title, the fact there are no ghosts, and that outfit.

Ellie is the new kid in town and has visions of the future – premonitions. Also, she has a best friend named Sarah. And there is a new boy named Brian. This is all in the first few pages. 

It’s important to note that Ellie can’t read minds – she just sees stuff. She can’t jump Professor X-style into anyone’s head. The title is already a problem. 

Anyway, Ellie sees a hand buried in the forest. The police find a hand, but not before Ellie gets the opportunity to freak out a bunch and scream about hands beckoning her while the police search the forest. This is a Fear Street novel, after all, and we need some cliffhanger craziness. 

Sarah shows up at the crime scene. Her father is a policeman and, apparently, that means Sarah can wander wherever she wants. She can poke the bodies and stick her hand in blood and use it for finger painting. She doesn’t do that in the book, but she saunters into an active crime scene with the impunity of a sitting Republican Senator. Ellie finds a red piece of fabric and Sarah faints.

The next day, Sarah isn’t at school and has some locker talk with a few side characters. They tell her that Sarah’s older sister Melinda disappeared. Ellie comes to the conclusion that Melinda was the owner of the bones as well as the red fabric and she brought Ellie to the site. Ellie can talk to ghosts now, but she has yet to read a mind.

At Ellie’s part-time job at the library, Brian appears and we witness their chemistry.

“Yeah? I’m at Waynesbridge.” He followed her down the aisle. “You know. The community college.”

“Oh. I didn’t even know Waynesbridge had a college,” Ellie replied. “My dad and I just moved to Shadyside.”

“I know.”

Her smile faded.

“This is where the book should be,” he said. Reaching past her, Brian pointed to a shelf of books.

“How do you know?”

“Because they all have the same call number,” he replied.

“No,” Ellie said. “I mean, how did you know I was new in Shadyside?”

“Uh-” Doubt flickered in Brian’s eyes. “Because this is the first time I’ve seen you at the library,” he replied. “And you look like the kind of girl who hangs out at the library a lot.”

Ellie’s eyebrows shot up. “Huh? Is that supposed to be a compliment? What kind of girl hangs out at the library?” she demanded.

“Well . . .” He hesitated again. “A girl who likes to read?”

Ellie had to laugh at his embarrassed expression. Maybe Brian Tanner wasn’t quite as smooth as he thought he was. The idea pleased her.

What the fuck is wrong with these two? Why does she think this is charming? I guess that’s what happens when you live in a small town – there are no opportunities for comparison.

Anyway, Ellie gets a vision of a knife after their cool conversation. She also goes to Sarah’s house and sees a skull in Sarah’s window. Then Brian shouts at her from his car as she walks to the diner. There’s a lot of semi-connected scenes interspersed between the cliffhangers featuring things that aren’t really there and Ellis screaming for no reason.

At the diner, Ellie meets up with Brian and they have another not-at-all charming conversation. Then Sarah’s dad, the cop, shows up and Brian runs away. 

Later, Ellie talks to her father, and we learn that a knife-wielding maniac killed Ellie’s mother. During a shower scene, Ellie has another vision with a knife. That’s the problem with having a character who sees things. Everything that can be scary isn’t scary because you know that it’s just a vision. Every time Ellie screams, she seems unnecessarily panicky. You want to shake her and say, “Ellie! Girl! You have visions! Stop screaming!” Any tension is destroyed.

Ellie eventually connects with Sarah. The best-friend character has been reclusive because the body they found was Melinda’s. Do you remember? The missing older sister. Well, enough of that – Ellie’s gotta ditch this downer! She has a date!

Ellie and Brian go to a lake. They almost drown, but they’re saved by a fisherman. Great date. 

He laughed. “Not what I was going to say. In fact, I don’t know what I was going to say.” He gazed at her thoughtfully. “You’re different from the other girls I’ve dated.”

Oh, god. Anyone who has read my review of The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne knows how I feel about that statement.

“Oh?” Ellie’s heart quickened. She didn’t really want to hear about other girls he’d gone out with. 

Brian’s expression turned serious. “Yeah. You’re a lot quieter. Most girls think they have to chatter constantly. And you’re taller.”

“Thanks,” Ellie replied, rolling her eyes. What a compliment.

Yeah, Ellie, what a compliment. Why are you hanging out with him? He should have just said that she’s taller and that’s it. Then I’d think he’s kind of funny. Instead, it’s “Bitches be talking!”

For reasons I don’t understand, they kiss and it’s gross. Not for them, I guess, but for me, the reader.

Meanwhile, in the story that is surely not connected to Brian in any way, the police are looking for Melinda’s boyfriend, Brett. They even have a picture of her boyfriend! In a shocking twist, Brett is Brian!

At this point, Ellie becomes a police psychic. She brings Sarah’s father to a hole in a tree. He tells her to wear gloves if she’s looking for a murder weapon. You heard that right. He does not say, “Hey, sixteen-year-old girl. I’m the cop here. I’ll retrieve a murder weapon from the hole.” Instead, he says, “If you’re gonna stick your whole-ass hand in there, don’t get fingerprints on it.” Police inactivity is the most realistic thing in the book.

After Ellie pulls out the knife, she tells the cop about Brian/Brett. Then Sarah pops out of the bushes like a garden snake. And then she skitters off as quickly as she appeared. 

There’s some red herring behavior from Brian/Brett. He gets arrested, but he escapes the police. Ellie learns that her mother was also a psychic who helped the police. Remember that knife-wielding maniac? She assisted in his capture. 

Sarah keeps freaking out and screaming, not being home, and showing up at crime scenes. Finally, Ellie keeps getting visions including being buried, gold, and more knives, each time sending her into conniptions.

Turns out Melinda was planning to run off with Brett the night she disappeared. Sarah thinks she drove her sister straight into Brett’s arms after an argument between the sisters. Sarah and Ellie go to confront Brett. In the most American moment in the book, Sarah gets her father’s “extra gun.” 

Sarah and Ellie go to the forest and find a gold button. Brett appears and asks to see the button. Sarah’s father is also there. Finally, Sarah shoots someone.

She shoots her dad. She figures out that he’s the one who killed Melinda.

“It was an accident,” Lieutenant Wilkins insisted. “I didn’t want Melinda to leave, to go away with him.” He glared up at Brett, disgust on his face. “We fought. I didn’t mean to shove her. She fell and hit her head. An accident. You have to believe me, Sarah. I loved her. I loved her more than anything!”

Then he attacks Brett. Sarah shoots her father in the shoulder. 

Her father is taken into custody, and since he’s a cop, he’s probably out the next morning and fully acquitted. His daughter was somehow at fault. That’s not in the novel, but that’s what I think happened.

However, in the novel is he’s taken away, Brett stops being Brian, and he and Ellie can live in peace. And Sarah is fine, I guess, even though her sister is still dead and her father is in jail (at least for one night).

Also, Brett has visions. Well, not exactly. He can read minds. And he has some visions. Or Melinda just sent him visions because he’s a mind reader. And the book is over.

I don’t know where to start with this one. I didn’t remember anything that happened in this book except the reveal that the titular mind reader was the annoying guy. And I read this two weeks ago. It’s like Stine’s publisher was all, “Kids these days are into mind reading. Write me a book about mind reading.” And then Stine wrote the whole book and 146 pages in he thought, “Oh shit! I was supposed to have a mind reader! I’ll make it this bland guy and he can be a little weird sometimes.” The books in the middle are the hardest to write about. There’s nothing insane enough to remember, they’re not surprisingly good, or they’re not so bad I can complain about for 3000 words. The Mind Reader is so far the most skippable book in the Fear Street series. Here’s to hoping the next one is better.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, 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 #17: Mary Anne’s Bad-Luck Mystery

t’s easy to ascribe your troubles to an unseen force. Toss your problems to the wind — there’s nothing you can do to change your luck, so you better just suck it up and ride it out!

It’s even easier to say that it’s because of bad luck brought on by something you did and it can be remedied through mystical means. It’s not just a part of life! You did something! You need to rectify it! No need to just ride it out until it ends! Here’s a convoluted placebo!

This week, Mary Anne and the BSC are having a run of bad luck. Guess which route they take? If they take the former, this will be a very short review. Let’s get to it.

Mary Anne helps a young boy who has scraped his leg.
Maybe the antique staircase with uneven steps isn’t the best place for kids to play on.

The BSC (well, the BSC minus Mallory, Jessi, and Shannon) are eating lunch. This group includes Logan who, if you forgot, is Mary Anne’s boyfriend. They don’t waste any time, and Mary Anne dives right into the long descriptions of each member. When she gets to Claudia, we get a great outfit description.

It was her vegetable blouse: an oversized white shirt with a green vegetable print all over it — cabbages and squashes and turnips and stuff. Under the blouse was a very short jean skirt, white stockings, green anklets over the stockings, and lavender sneakers, the kind boys usually wear, with a lot of rubber and big laces and the name of the manufacturer in huge letters on the sides. Wait, I’m not done. Claudia had pulled the hair on one side of her head with a yellow clip that looked like a poodle. The hair on the other side of her head was hanging in her face. Attached to the one ear you could see was a plastic earring about the size of a jar lid.

Oh please, Netflix, let Claudia continue to wear stuff like this. I’ll do anything. Although, I don’t know what kind of shoes Mary Anne is talking about. Vans don’t say “Vans” on the side. Nike has the swoosh, but not the letters. Maybe DC. Was that around in the ‘80s?

Anyway, the girls (plus Logan) are talking about the Halloween Hop, which is the same dance from the second BSC book, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls. At another table, BSC adversaries Cokie Mason and Grace Blume, are snickering at the BSC. I’m sure they’ll have no influence on the plot whatsoever.

Just before the BSC meeting, Mary Anne gets a letter, but there’s no time to open it, so she just takes it with her to the meeting. Turns out, it’s a chain letter that warns Mary Anne of bad luck if she breaks the chain.

It’s weird. I got a chain letter in the mail once, but it promised me postcards from around the world — never bad luck. I didn’t break the chain, but I didn’t get any postcards. Any other chain letters I got were emails from the days when I had an AOL screen name and they granted wishes. I still had to go to P.E., so it clearly didn’t work.

The bad luck starts the next morning when Mary Anne falls out of bed. Then she can’t find her shoes. Then she spills juice on herself. Then she can’t open her locker. Then she can’t find her favorite book, Little Women, in the school library. She comes home to her own copy.

I opened the book to the scene where Beth dies. Maybe I would feel cheered up if I read about someone who was having a worse time than I was.

That’s some serial killer shit, Mary Anne. If I need cheering up, I turn to the happiest song on earth that isn’t saccharine, which is Pentagon’s Shine, thank you very much.

Anyway, Mary Anne is deep in that sweet sweet Beth death when Mrs. Newton calls. Turns out Mary Anne is late to her baby-sitting job! She forgot she had a job that day! Oh no, when will the bad luck end!

Not on page 30, I’ll tell you that much. The bad luck continues and spreads to the rest of the BSC as Dawn sits for Jackie Radowsky, the kid who is referred to as “a happy-go-lucky klutz” and, frankly, one of my favorite Stoneybrook kids. Dawn and Jackie are trying to make him a costume and in the process, Jackie knocks over stuff on every page of the book. Even when he finishes the costume, it collapses. The BSC attributes this not to Jackie’s accident-prone nature, but to the chain letter.

The next day, Mary Anne receives a package in the mail. It is addressed to Mary Anne and the members of the BSC. The group opens it and finds a necklace, a tiny glass ball with a seed inside it, and a note that says that Mary Anne has to wear the “bad-luck charm . . . or else.” Or else what? “Wear this bad luck charm or else you’ll have bad luck?” The sender clearly didn’t think this through. But neither does the BSC because they’re willing to do the note’s bidding.

The BSC talks about their current string of bad luck, including Claudia getting bad grades, Jessi falling during ballet practice, and Kristy losing a watch. Bad luck seeps out of the club and runs rampant through Stoneybrook. Jamie Newton falls down and skins his knee, an event so significant it’s immortalized on the cover but fails to warrant more than one part of a complex sentence, an explosion in the science lab, and a twisted ankle in gym class. While the BSC parses out the occurrences, Cokie and Grace are laughing at them, just in case you forgot they existed. I’m sure they have nothing to do with anything.

Anyway, the girls go to the library to check out witchcraft books.

You might think, “Amy, this is ridiculous! This isn’t the library from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer!” Au contraire! The section is 133.3 in the Dewey Decimal System and the library was my gateway into the Occult and Witchcraft. Some day, I might go into that one. Until then, it does not surprise me that the girls found the witchcraft section of the library.

The thing I don’t buy is how strangely convoluted the spells are. Most of the spells I came across were, “Light a white candle during a waning moon and ask for your bad luck to go away.” The spells the BSC finds involve hard-to-find herbs and chanting. The girls each check out a book and run to their meeting.

Jessi babysits for the Newtons, and Jamie Newton is not enjoying the idea of Halloween. He’s particularly apprehensive regarding trick-or-treaters and he’s worried they might come by at any moment, even though it’s days before October 31st. Jessi tells him about a series of stories about a friendly little ghost. You all know him — he’s quite popular. His name is Georgie. (What do you mean there’s some other friendly ghost you thought I was talking about?) That seems to placate Jamie and he asks to be Georgie the Friendly Ghost for Halloween. (What? Who the fuck is Casper?)

Claudia and Mallory sit for the Pikes. The kids ruin something called “Daddy Stew” (Where the hell is Mr. Pike? Oh my god!), so they are forced to eat something else for dinner. But before they can decide what to eat, they need to drive a bird out of their home. After Nicky suggests a butterfly net and Margot thinks they should throw a pillowcase over it, Mallory says they should just open the windows. Mallory, I’m sorry I didn’t give you enough credit when I was a kid, you’re really growing on me.

For dinner, instead of eating their father, er, I mean, “Daddy Stew,” they eat eighteen tuna fish sandwiches. Then Mr. Pike, the new one who is not eaten, and Mrs. Pike arrive home very late. Apparently, there was a massive traffic jam on the freeway and they were unable to call, a problem that is nonexistent today with the advent of cell phones.

Kristy calls an emergency BSC meeting, also known as hanging out in Claudia’s room outside the usual time. They try to figure out how to counteract the bad luck and Jessi finds a spell that includes a white rose, a book of sorcery, and two months. The discussion is interrupted by a storm, but that doesn’t stop them from reading a spell that involves oxtail hairs and “scrapings from the underside of a sea snake.” They eventually dive into “evil power masters” and a bunch of other author-y made-up nonsense that is not in any spellbook I’ve ever seen at the library. They also wonder who could have sent the charm. Gosh, girls, it’s definitely not the two girls who have a grudge against Mary Anne specifically and keep snickering at the BSC.

The Halloween Hop is finally here and Mary Anne dresses up as a cat from the horror-musical Cats. Specifically, she dresses in a leotard, a pair of slippers, and she paints “black and gray stripes” across her face. She’s either Grizabella or Minkustrap. Logan is also decked out, albeit without the leotard, and instead of black and gray stripes, he’s in tiger stripes. He’s Rum Tum Tugger, it seems.

So Minkustrap and Rum Tum Tugger make their way to the Jellicle Ball to perform for an old cat who determines who gets to die. Or the Halloween Hop. Neither name is great.

Logan and Mary Anne see some of their friends, including Dawn who is dressed as a witch (there’s your spellcaster). They also come across Cokie who comments on Mary Anne’s bad luck charm.

When Mary Anne gets home, there’s another letter for her. It beckons the BSC to go to Old Man Hickory’s headstone at midnight on Halloween. Too spooky!

The BSC has yet another emergency meeting. Jessi asks about Old Hickory. Apparently, he’s an old man who died of “meanness.” (If only that could happen. Then people would stop being so terrible to retail workers — the true deescalating heroes of our time.) They realize that it’s a trap, and we’re at page one hundred and they have to wrap this up. The plant for the night starts with Charlie driving them to the cemetery earlier than the midnight indicated in the letter.

Before the shenanigans can begin, Kristy has to take David Michael, Karen, and Andrew trick-or-treating. In a relic from the past, Kristy has to make sure that Andrew doesn’t want to wear his mask. I remember extensive PSAs warning parents not to let their kids wear masks because they obscure their vision. The ’80s were a different time.

While that’s going on, Mary Anne shows her father the bad luck charm. He says that it’s not a bad luck charm, but some religious thing. It’s a mustard seed that somehow symbolizes faith. Look, this is all beyond me. I was raised secular. The most exposure I ever had to religion was if I spent the night at a friend’s house and the next morning I was forced to wake up and listen to some guy talk for a few hours in a stuffy room. I didn’t learn anything about the Bible or Jesus. What I learned is that I shouldn’t sleepover at that friend’s house on a Saturday.

So the BSC brings various items to the cemetery — a few flashlights, masks, string, sheets. Sounds like they’re going to Klan rally or, as I like to call it, the Policeman’s Ball! Hiyo!

They string the sheets up and when Cokie Mason and her friends arrive, they make the sheets look like ghosts. This freaks out Cokie and the others just in time for Logan to show up and see them. Grace expounds on their brilliant plan.

But Grace spoke up. “Oh, we might as well tell them.” (She said them as if she were referring to a swarm of flies.) “We just wanted to make you — all of you, but especially Mary Anne — look like, well, like jerks. We kind of wanted Logan to get fed up with you . . .” Grace’s voice was fading away. It was hard to tell in the darkness, but I think she was blushing.

Cool plan? As if Logan would be all, “Ah, man, Mary Anne. I really liked you until I saw ya’ get spooked. I can’t be with a girl who has human feelings.” I don’t think very highly of Logan (especially since his “you’re not like other girls comment”) but I don’t think he’d do that.

Cokie and her friends leave with their tails between their legs and the BSC continues their Halloween sleepover. In the end, they realize that their string of bad luck was really a coincidence. Also, while we learn who sent the necklace and the threats, we never find out who sent Mary Anne the chain letter at the beginning. How’s that for a final scare! Take that, R. L. Stine!

I remember being obsessed with luck when I was a kid. Truthfully, I’m still superstitious. Compound that with my tendency toward obsessive-compulsive behaviors and it can be quite debilitating. However, that discussion is for another day and not at the end of a BSC book in which the main character dresses up as a cat and wears a seed around her neck.

The lesson is don’t listen to random letters in the mail and the ones teasing you from another lunch table are probably the ones instigating the events of the plot. And just because you get send jewelry in the mail, doesn’t mean you have to wear it. This is advice for everyone.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, 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: Ghost Beach

A spooky ghost hovers over a graveyard next to a each.

Instant friendship is a childhood art that is lost when we hit puberty. We gain boobs or cracked voices while we lose some fundamental part of us that can make a friend in five minutes. My family traveled during every school vacation and when we arrived at our destination, one of the first things I did was make friends with either some other kids on vacation or, as is the case in Goosebumps: Ghost Beach, some of the locals. However, unlike most of my vacation buddies, they didn’t ask me to trap a ghost. Let’s get to it.

A spooky ghost hovers over a graveyard next to a each.
The Ghost of Christmas Future has a condo there.

Our protagonist, Jerry, and his sister, Terri, are exploring a graveyard at Terri’s behest. 

By the way, “cemetery” and “graveyard” are used interchangeably in this book. I know the difference, so save your emails.

Anyway, that’s one of Terri’s hobbies – exploring graveyards. By the end of page four, Jerry and his sister are grabbed and pulled under!

Don’t worry, it’s just a dream. The siblings are on their way to their cousin Brad and his wife Agatha’s beach house for the last month of summer. When they arrive at the beach house, one of the first things they do is go to the cemetery so Terri can get some gravestone rubbings. They notice that the old gravestones are from the late 17th century and all the gravestones are for people with the last name of “Sadler,” which is also their last name.

They saunter to the beach as Terri collects wildflowers – her other hobby. Terri likes graveyards and collecting wildflowers while her brother follows her around, expositioning all the way. We’re following the wrong horse.

They find a cave entrance just above the shoreline. Of course, they explore it because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have a book. Unfortunately, before they reach the depths of the cave, a bat attacks them. 

Not really. It’s a kite! 

Jerry and Terri meet Sam, Louisa, and Nat Sadler – more Sadlers. They also happen to know Brad and Agatha, as the beach is one of those places where everyone knows each other. The kids suggest that Jerry and Terri avoid the cave because there’s a ghost in there. Sam, the oldest one, gets mad and he ushers his siblings away.

The Sadlers we’re following hang out with Brad and Agatha and play something called “whist,” which, much to my surprise, actually exists. The next day, when the siblings are in the forest looking for more wildflowers, Jerry finds a strange flower sticking out of the ground. Turns out to be a skeleton!

Not a human skeleton, of course. It’s a dog skeleton. Suddenly, the Sadler kids show up. Nat mentions that dogs can see ghosts and the ghost of the cave must have killed the dog from getting found out. 

Jerry and Terri can’t get ghosts out of their heads, so Terri sneaks into Jerry’s room just to talk about ghosts, both the cave and normal variety. Jerry looks out toward the cave and sees an eerie flickering light coming from the cave. He wonders if it’s a ghost.

 Later, Jerry, Terri, and the cousins go fishing and they talk about the ghost cave flickering. There’s a lot of ghost talk interspersed with graveyard rubbings and household, plant-based chores.

During dinner one night, Jerry decides to ask Brad about the flickering light. 

“Last night when I went to look for the beach towel, there was a light flickering inside the cave. Do you know what it was?”

Brad narrowed his eyes at me. “Just an optical illusion,” he said curtly. Then he picked up his corn and began sawing again.

“I don’t understand,” I told him. “What do you mean?”

Brad patiently put down his corn. “Jerry, did you ever hear of the northern lights? Aurora borealis?”

Needless to say, this does not deter the children from spelunking. They should have shown them The Descent – that’s a surefire way to ensure that they avoid all forms of underground activity.

Jerry and Terri enter the cave, find a tunnel, are spooked by bats, and discover the source of the flickering. Turns out, it’s a man and a bunch of candles. The man chases after the children and they get away (not before another cliffhanger, of course). 

The kids and their cousins devise a plan to get rid of the ghost permanently, but not before a final gravestone rubbing. This time, Jerry and Terri find three interesting gravestones – one for Sam, Louisa, and Nat Sadler. They ask Brad and Agatha about why there are so many Sadlers in the cemetery.

In 1641, a whole group of Sadler pilgrims came from England. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst winters in history and many of the Sadlers died, including young children like Sam, Louisa, and Nat. Jerry and Terri’s new friends are named after those kids who died during that terrible winter. See? A logical explanation. It’s just a coincidence that the kids just happen to be the same ages as the kids who died. Also, everyone in town is named after those ancestors, so there are graves for Brad and Agatha, too. Yep – a pilgrim named Brad.

So the plan to get rid of the ghost forever involves some rocks by the entrance. For some reason, ghosts can’t go through rocks, so if Jerry and Terri climb up to the cave and push the rocks over, the candle ghost can’t leave his cave. 

The cousins watch from the beach as Jerri and Terri climb up to the cave. Then they start to flail around before running away. The candle ghost is standing behind the siblings!

The candle ghost yells, “It’s dangerous to get involved with ghosts!” and says that their beach cousins are ghosts. His name is Harrison Sadler and he’s there to study the occult. However, those ghost children are real problems and he wants to trap them in a cave. You see, he was the one who set up the rocks next to the cave entrance and discovered the ghost/rock connection. Yep. Let me remind you that ghosts can’t go through rocks. Don’t question him! He’s old and he studies the occult!

The siblings still have trouble believing him. Finally, there’s a showdown between the candle ghost and the ghost cousins – who’s the real ghost? 

Harrison’s German Shepherd with the answer! He barks at the cousins. The cousins explain that they weren’t able to have a life because they died so early. I felt sorry for them and thought that there might be a way for them to continue to haunt the beach and have fun to make up for the childhood that was stolen from them. Then this happens

And then their skin peeled away, curling up and falling off – until three grinning skulls stared at Terri and me through empty eye sockets.

“Come stay with us, cousins!” Louisa’s skull whispered. Her bony fingers reached out toward us.

“Join usssss!” Sam hissed. His fleshless jaw slid up and down. “We dug such nice graves for you. So close to ours.”

“Play with me,” Nat’s skull pleaded. “Stay and play with me. I don’t want you to go. Ever!”

I was sympathetic until they pulled a Shining Twins and now I’m like, yeah, pass.

Also, that scene was graphic for a Goosebumps title – I was surprised.

So the siblings, with a final sacrifice from Harrison, trap the cousins in the cave and head back to the beach house.

When they get there, Harrison’s dog barks at Brad and Angela and we’re left with these words

Agatha slammed the kitchen door hard and turned back to Brad. “What a pity that dog had to show up,” she said, shaking her head fretfully. “Now what do we do with these two kids, Brad? What do we do with the kids?”

So I guess Jerri and Terri and dead now?

Stine reminded me of the joys of instant friendship as well at the reason we lose this ability as we grow up – people can totally suck. The cousins seemed cool. Even when they had their heel turn, I felt empathy for them. But when they turn murderous, there’s no going back. Instant friendship is something we lose as we grow up, but it’s because we become more selective about whom we befriend. Friendships become more complicated. It’s no longer close age and relative vicinity – it’s similar interests and a lack of murderous tendencies. 

Maybe the lesson is that we should be open to everyone – regardless of outward appearance or some other superficial reason – like children. But the second we realize a friendship would be problematic, either because they only eat gnocchi or they try to murder us, it’s time to cut them out of your life – or trap them in a cave.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, 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 #16: Jessi’s Secret Langauge

I wish I knew about linguistics when I was eighteen. Maybe if I knew about linguistics when I was eighteen, I wouldn’t have entered university as a Computer Science Major, instead of an English major. It took me a college dropout and ten years later to learn about the perfect major for me – linguistics. There is a degree where you just play with grammar and learn languages? Those are the two things I sit around and do all day.

It seems that Jessi Ramsey and I share a common interest – language. Unlike some other people, we put the onus of understanding on ourselves. Do you want to understand someone from a different country? You should learn their language. Some people think the other person should learn English, therefore putting the onus of understanding on the other person. What a ridiculous way to think. You want to know, you do the work.

In the latest book, Jessi is given an opportunity to expand her understanding in what is, so far, one of my favorite BSC books. Let’s get to it.

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The first thing Jessi tells me in her first entry into the BSC canon is that she’s very good at languages. That’s a great skill to have. I do believe that learning a new language is more about effort than innate skill. However, Jessi claims that after a single week in Mexico, she was “practically . . . bilingual.” I don’t want to be a jerk, but I kind of doubt that, unless she understood the intricacies of the subjunctive case, in which case, she would be a WEIRDO. Ask your friends in Spanish 211 about that one, kids.

Jessi is so good with language that she’s been able to equate ballet with language. Language is expression and ballet is expression through body movements. It’s an excellent comparison that really opened my eyes, so thank you for that. If I were trying to communicate with dance, I would sound like a certain president, which is like an illiterate gorilla who stares directly into the sun.

We get a little bit about Jessi’s family life, including her younger sister Becca and her baby brother Squirt. In their basement, her parents built a dance studio for Jessi to practice, which she does every morning. She wakes up before her alarm at five in the morning and gets up immediately to practice. We may share a love of language, but waking up to do physical activity at sunrise is not something we share. I’m usually going to sleep at five in the morning and when I wake up, I check my phone and pull my covers above my head before I even think about waking up.

Then she hits us with this passage.

My family is black.

I know it sounds funny to announce it like that. If we were white, I wouldn’t have to, because you would probably assume we were white. But when you’re a minority, things are different.

Take that, reader, with your preconceived notions on race! I hate you tell you, Jessi, that white is still the default race and it is bullshit. If someone doesn’t expressly say that a character is a different race, it’s assumed they’re white. Just look at when a character that has never been plainly stated as a white person is cast with a black actor. A bunch of man babies get all pissy. Jessi spills the tea right here.

She goes on to lament that in her old neighborhood in New Jersey, black and white families mixed. In Stoneybrook, black families are an anomaly. She talks about how she can’t tell if the people of Stoneybrook don’t like black people (are racist) or are wary of them because they’ve never encountered other black people (are racist). Either way, not a great look, Stoneybrook. I guess it’s not as idyllic as we’re lead to believe.

Anyway, Jessi is trying out for a role in the ballet Coppelia, which is about some doll maker and a dude who wants to marry a doll (there is some light doll cosplay) and is a real thing.

At the BSC meeting, we get to meet all the girls, including long explanations about Claudia’s wild clothing that the other mothers wouldn’t let them wear. I still have no idea why palm tree earrings are so frowned upon by the generation that streaked, dropped acid, and had sex in front of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. If someone could explain that one to me, I’d appreciate it.

A new client calls the BSC – the Braddocks. They are looking for a baby-sitter willing to sit regularly for a deaf child and his sister and they want the baby-sitter to learn Ameslan. Our resident linguist takes the job.

During Jessi’s next dance class, her instructor Mademoiselle Noelle (my first instinct would be to name the ballet instructor Mademoiselle Baguette, but I am a jerk) announces the parts for Coppelia. Jessi earns the role of Swanilda – the lead. Two other girls, Katie Beth and Hilary, implant the idea that Jessi didn’t actually earn the role and Mademoiselle Noelle is just playing favorites. Mrs. Ramsey tries to reassure her that Mademoiselle Jones would not jeopardize the recital just to play favorites.

Jessi has her meeting with the Braddocks. It’s not an official baby-sitting session – it’s just to explain the unusual demands of sitting for Matt, who is deaf. Mrs. Braddock introduces Jessi to American Sign Language and lends her a signing dictionary. It’s a good introduction to any kid who hasn’t heard of ASL and goes over the basics of signing in a frank, informative way. Mrs. Braddock also adds a little bit about the history of ASL.

“One thing you ought to know is that not everyone agrees that the deaf should communicate with sign language. Some people think they should be taught to speak and to read lips. However, in lots of cases, speaking is out of the question. Matt, for instance, is what we call profoundly deaf. That means he has almost total hearing loss. And he was born that way. We’re not sure if he’s ever heard a sound in his life. He doesn’t even wear hearing aids. They wouldn’t do him any good. And since Matt can’t hear any sounds, he can’t hear spoken words, of course, and he can’t imitate them either. So there’s almost no hope for speech from Matt. Nothing that most people could understand anyway.”

This is a problem. Not with Matt, but with the people who want the deaf to lip read. They are the type of people who hear someone speaking a foreign language and say they speak English. Those people think the onus of communication should be on the other person, not themselves. Everyone should cater to their style of communication, even if it’s impossible (like lip-reading) or stupidly complicated (English).

Maybe they’re insecure because they could never learn another language, and instead of directing that energy toward learning another tongue, they take it out on the people they’re jealous of. Or they’re paranoid and so self-centered that they think everyone is talking about them in Vietnamese. Or maybe they feel left out, and since they’re white (the only people who complain about this are white, don’t @ me), they’re not used to being excluded. Or they’re racist – I’m not sure. I’ve never cared what people speak if they’re having a conversation that doesn’t involve me.

I have learned to fingerspell in case I need to communicate with a deaf person because A) I like learning new alphabets and languages, B) it’s easy to learn – took about forty-five minutes, and C) it’s a useful skill to have. We should all learn how to fingerspell. When ASL was invented, it was quite popular, but the assholes of the world said that people who are deaf shouldn’t be learning this “secret language.” ASL was forced into the underground, as the prevailing method for teaching the deaf was “Oralism”, which an idea as stupid as the word itself. “Oralism” is the idea that deaf people should learn how to read lips and speak. A few intrepid teachers taught ASL in secret schools and they kept the language alive until it’s resurgence in the 1950’s. Their dedication is a clear testament to the brilliance of sign language and it’s creators, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc.

Anyway, back to the book. Jessi finally meets Matt and Mrs. Braddock teaches Jessi some basic signs that Jessi will need immediately. The BSC member leaves excited to learn the new language.

Our first handwriting chapter is Mary Anne at Jenny Prezzioso’s house. If you don’t remember, Jenny is the finicky one, and this chapter is no exception. Jenny doesn’t want to do anything, but Mary Anne gets her to take a walk. They come across Jessi, Matt, and Matt’s sister, Haley. Jenny makes a big deal of Matt not hearing her, including screaming at him and calling him weird. Cool kid, Mrs. Prezzioso, yelling at deaf people for no reason. Haley blows up at her brother. She yells that he stinks and he can’t hear her and then she storms off back into the house.

Sometimes we forget about the people around those with a disability. Haley just wants to be normal, but her brother makes that impossible. She shouldn’t take it out on Matt, of course, but her anger is understandable. And Jessi empathizes with her isolation, being the only black family in Stoneybrook.

Jessi finally has her first real baby-sitting job with Matt and Haley Braddock. After their snack and the announcement of Jessi’s signing name (the fingerspelling for “J” combined with the sign for dancing, which is adorable), Jessi takes the kids over to the Pikes’, which seems to be the first thing every new family has to do in Stoneybrook. Turns out the Barretts are also visiting the Pikes’ house. They all seem to get along, including Matt, and Haley teaches them to sign the word for “stupid.”

Later, Mallory and Dawn baby-sit for the Pikes’, which starts with a song that makes Margo Pike throw up (that spaghetti one – it’s really not gross by today’s standards). The kids are sent to a rec room, where they are suspiciously quiet. It turns out they are arguing with each other in their secret, made-up, sign language.

Jessi has rehearsal and afterward, Katie Beth’s sister, Adele, shows up. She’s a Grammy Award-winning singer. Just kidding. She’s Katie Beth’s deaf sister. Jessi gets to show off some of her sign language skills. Katie Beth doesn’t know any ASL and can’t communicate with her sister. Jessi tells her about her “sign language is like dancing” theory and the girls leave on amicable terms.

Claudia sits for David Michael, Karen, and Andrew. Claudia tells them about the “secret language” all the kids are doing. This is so Claudia can distract Karen from making inedible food for ghosts. They call Jessi all night to ask her how to say stuff in ASL. It ends with Karen signing “I love you” to Claudia. I don’t care if you love me, Karen, don’t waste food on ghosts.

We get to hear about Jessi’s routine for a few paragraphs and suddenly months have passed. Jessi and Haley have bonded over sibling resentment, and Jessi encourages her to remember the good times with her sibling. They also talk about accessibility for deaf people, with things like Closed Captioning. Although, I’ve watched TV with CC since I discovered it when I was a weird little kid. “You mean I can read TV? Sign this book nerd who watches anything including infomercials because we don’t have cable right the fuck up!”

There’s this whole clock and dagger part where Jessi talks about her “secret plan” that involves Mademoiselle Noelle, Mrs. Braddock, and Matt’s teacher. Jessi goes to Matt’s school, which is a school for the deaf in Stamford. Jessi speaks to Matt’s class about ballet and how it’s expression using your body, not unlike sign language. She also says that deaf people can feel the music’s vibrations. Because of this, the first performance of Coppelia will be a special one and Matt’s entire class is invited to attend.

Kristy babysits for Becca and Charlotte comes over. Not much happens, but Becca knows what is going on and tells Charlotte, but won’t tell Kristy. The BSC all have tickets to opening night, but Kristy is still impatient.

Opening night finally comes. The special surprise is that before each act, Haley is going to narrate the events of the story and Mrs. Braddock is going to sign what Haley says.

Jessi finally takes the stage as Swanilda, to which Jessi remarks, “When I’m onstage, I am the dance.” Whoa, Jessi, a little intense there.

Since it’s the end of the book, the performance goes off without a hitch and is a big hit. Matt and Adele meet. The BSC gushes over Jessi’s performance. Mallory meets Keisha. Mr. Ramsey takes the whole family and the BSC out for ice cream. All’s well that ends well.

This book is a perfect encapsulation of the things that made The Baby-Sitters Club so good. It didn’t shy away from sensitive topics like race or deafness. It introduced the difficult subject matter with care while still making it accessible to a child or someone who is completely unfamiliar with the topic. The dedication thanks Patsy Jensen for her “sensitive evaluation of the manuscript.” I’m not sure but I would guess that Ms. Jensen is a sensitivity reader for Ann M. Martin. If that is true, I cannot commend Martin enough for her willingness to seek out an outside knowledge source to make sure the material is correct and empathetic.

Rereading this one was a joy. Entries like this one demonstrate the positive influence the BSC had on me and millions of other readers. I cannot say enough good things about this book. Not only is it important, but it also plays to my niche interest in linguistics.

And, if I can make a suggestion, learn to fingerspell. It doesn’t take long and will only make the world a better place.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, 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 Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

A scarecrow with a striking resemblance to a meme in the middle of a cornfield.

I’ve gone my whole life without ever seeing those vast cornfields that Boomer and Gen X writers are obsessed with. Children of the Corn, In the Tall Grass, and countless other examples demonstrate how terrifying cornfields are to them. Now, I have never seen these interminable rows of clustered vegetation because I have never been to the midwest. And when my family traveled, it was into deserts or so far west that we ended up in the east. The closest example to cornfields in my life might be the rice paddies that patterned every roadside in the Philippines. While they are not tall enough to get lost in, they are spread out enough you can lose your way. And while there were no scarecrows, there was the thought that you could fall in and get stuck, or worse, someone who had the misfortune of falling in before would reach up and take you with them. 

While I’ve never seen a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield, there is horror in farms – the large tracts of land and dense crops, and, in the case of this week’s Goosebumps book, something one step from humanity that shouldn’t be human. It’s time for The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight.

A scarecrow with a striking resemblance to a meme in the middle of a cornfield.
These Grumpy Cat licensing deals are getting ridiculous! Do we really need Grumpy Cat Scarecrows?

Our protagonist is Jodie, who is going to visit her grandparents’ farm with her lazy brother Mark. They’re traveling with their grandparents’ farmhand – a man named Stanley. It’s not explicitly said, but Stanley has some kind of mental disability. This is such a trope – the simple-minded farmhand – but I don’t know how common it was by the time this book was published (1994). I don’t know if the stereotype is offensive but I would guess that it’s very offensive.

Anyway, Stanley starts mumbling that “the scarecrow walks at midnight.” The children ignore him and as well as the title of the book they exist in. When they arrive at the farm, Mark opens a corn husk and worms pour out. Stanley says that his book says it’s bad luck and freaks out. And then they stare at scarecrows.

We meet Stanley’s son – an older boy named Sticks. He is some kind of prankster and he doesn’t share his father’s disability.

The kids notice their grandfather is acting strangely because he won’t tell them scary stories. He used to tell the kids scary stories at night, but this time, he doesn’t want to, insisting that he’s tired. 

That night, Jodie looks out the window and sees the scarecrows twitch and pull at their stakes. That’s creepy. Surprisingly, it’s not a dream. I genuinely thought it was going to be a dream. Instead, Jodie covers herself and doesn’t get up until the morning. 

She rushes down to get their grandmother’s beloved pancakes. However, their grandmother gives them cornflakes instead. She says she forgot how to make pancakes. Jodie notices her hand is made of straw!

Just kidding. She was holding a broom. 

For some reason, Stanley keeps hanging out with these kids, seemingly shirking his farm duties. The trio goes to the pond to catch fish and a scarecrow’s hand grabs Jodie. 

It’s just some weeds. Geez, this girl needs to lay off the caffeine.

Then Jodie sees a scarecrow and thinks it’s Sticks playing a prank on her. Then it just disappears. When she tells Stanley about it, he says he has to read his book. This guy is starting to sound like me. If someone asks me a question, I answer, “I have to read my book.” However, something weird is going on with Stanley, whereas when I say, “I have to read my book,” I’m trying to get out of a conversation.

Later, Jodie believes that scarecrow is stalking her. She runs right into Sticks and is that convinced he’s the stalker scarecrow. Since we’re only halfway through the book, that’s clearly not the case.

Meanwhile, her grandparents are still being weird. The grandmother used to make apple pie, but that night, she serves them a cherry pie. Jodie remarks that her grandfather is allergic to cherries. He says he doesn’t mind and neither does Stanley.

After the second night in a row where their grandfather won’t tell them any stories, Jodie wakes up to scratching at her window. It’s her grandfather with clumps of straw for hands!

Yeah, that time it was a dream. But her grandfather is missing. 

The next morning, the siblings ride horses. While Jodie is on a horse, a scarecrow steps out from the cornstalks, scares the horse, and bucks her off.

She hits her head and wakes up moments later. A scarecrow is laying facedown on the trail. Jodie convinces herself that it’s just Sticks pranking them, but she wonders why Sticks wants to hurt them.

Jodie ventures into the barn and finds Stanley’s “scarecrow supplies,” which includes a pile of torches and kerosene. While investigating the materials, Sticks pops out and acts like the red herring he is. 

“I warned you,” he said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “I warned you to get away from here, to go back home.”

“But why?” I demanded. “What’s your problem, Sticks. What did we do to you? Why are you trying to scare us?”

“I’m not,” Sticks replied. He glanced back nervously at the barn doors.

“Huh?” I gaped at him.

“I’m not trying to scare you. Really,” he insisted.

“Liar,” I muttered angrily. “You must really think I’m a moron. I know you threw that scarecrow onto our path this morning. It had to be you, Sticks.”

“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” he insisted coldly. “But I’m warning you-”

And Stanley interrupts them and Sticks goes with him to do tractor business. Man, people in Stine novels are always pranking, or thinking they’re being pranked, or spouting cryptic nonsense. The only time I said weird half things was when I was trying to regain power without any actual plan. “Oh, you’ll be sorry. You’ll see. I totally have a plan. I’m not stalling for time as I back away.” And speaking of continued pranking.

Jodie concocts a plan to put Mark in a scarecrow costume and scare Sticks. She tells him to get into position. While waiting, Mark leaves his, well, mark. But she soon realizes that the moving scarecrow isn’t Mark!

Jodie finds Sticks and, since there are only a few pages left, Sticks finally speaks like a human being, instead of a quest giver in a Sierra game.

“Dad brought the scarecrows to life,” he said softly. “Last week. Before you came. He used the book. He chanted some words – and they all came to life.”

“Oh, no,” I murmured, raising my hands to my face.

“We were all so frightened,” Sticks continued. “Especially your grandparents. They begged Dad to recite the words and put the scarecrows back to sleep.”

“Did he?” I asked.

“Yes,” Sticks replied. “He put them back to sleep. But first he insisted your grandparents make some promises. They had to promise not to laugh at him anymore. And they had to promise to do everything he wanted from now on.”

Sticks took a deep breath. He stared toward the guest house window. “Haven’t you noticed how different things are at the farm? Haven’t you noticed how frightened your grandparents are?”

I nodded solemnly. “Of course I have.”

“They’ve been trying to keep Dad happy,” Sticks continued. “They’ve been doing everything they can to keep him from getting upset or angry. Your grandmother fixes only his favorite food. Your grandfather stopped telling scary stories because Dad doesn’t like them.”

I shook my head. “They’re that afraid of Stanley?”

“They’re afraid he’ll read the chant in the book again and bring the scarecrows back to life,” Sticks said. He swallowed hard. There’s only one problem,” he murmured.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Well, I haven’t told Dad yet. But . . .” His voice trailed off.

“But what?” I demanded eagerly.

“Some of the scarecrows are still alive,” Sticks replied. “Some of them never went back to sleep.”

Ooh, that’s some good cliffhanger horror there, Stine. That would be the hook in the trailer.

The scarecrows corner the family and they hop off their sticks and lumber toward the family, which is terrifying. Fortunately, since Mark is dressed as a scarecrow, they think he’s their leader and does whatever he does. So he pulls off his scarecrow head. The scarecrows imitate him and pull off their heads.

The family expects the scarecrows to fall since they don’t have heads. However, it just makes them headless scarecrows and Mark doesn’t look like them anymore. The headless scarecrows continue encroaching on the family.

So the family sets the scarecrows on fire – the original plan.

Things go back to normal, but now grandpa’s stuffed bear is making noises.

At first, I wasn’t sold on this one. There were too many fakeouts and I was pretty sure that Stanley was an offensive stereotype and it creeped me out that he hung out with twelve-year-olds. Then, if Stanley does have a mental disability, who is the woman whom he knocked up, and wouldn’t that be considered abuse? There are some unpleasant implications in this book. 

And then there’s the part with the broom and I thought our main character was too jumpy for no reason. Oh no, a broom. Oh no, a bear statue. Oh no, some weeds. 

But I never really hated it because I like the scarecrows pulling themselves from their stakes. When the scarecrows take off their heads and lumber toward the family, I was delighted! That’s a good twist. The end of this book really makes up for the beginning. And you know what? I’d rather have a great ending than a great beginning.

Also, stop sending kids into the countryside for the summer. Just let them watch cartoons and eat cereal all day. Farms are terrifying!

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, 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 #7: Claudia and Mean Janine

I have a sister. She’s one of my loyal readers. She’s also younger than me. When we were kids, she was active, popular, artistic, and had an effortlessly cool style. I was always more withdrawn with my nose behind a book, an unwillingness to talk to people, and a style that included ill-fitting pants and even more ill-fitting sweaters and/or windbreakers. Like I was going to hike in the ‘90s at any moment. She’s one of my best friends now, but during my swishy-pants days, we did not get along. 

It’s the same for Claudia and Janine. Claudia is the cool younger sister and Janine is the stuffy older sister. In this book, the sisters have to confront their differences and their strained relationship after a family emergency. Let’s get to it – I’m eager to use this YA book from 1987 to figure out my strained teenage sibling relationship.

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First thing in the morning, Claudia compares herself to Janine. Her older sister is smart, gets good grades, doesn’t give anyone trouble, and studies all the time. Meanwhile, Claudia is outgoing, artistic, and brags about her “two semi-boyfriends,” which I’m assuming means they’re interested, but they’re not steady. I don’t think she means boyfriends who are semis, rolling down the interstate, shipping cargo across this great nation. 

We learn that Claudia’s father is a “partner in an investment business in Stamford,” and her mother is “the head librarian at the local public library.” Claudia says that the only books she likes are Nancy Drew mysteries, which the library doesn’t have and she has to hide them because her parents don’t want her reading them. 

What kind of library doesn’t carry Nancy Drew? Don’t they just come with the library? You say, “Hey, I want a library,” and suddenly, those distinctive yellow spines appear on a shelf. Also, what kind of librarian discourages reading? Every librarian I’ve ever interacted with (and I’ve interacted with a lot – weirdo bookworm, remember) has been happy to give me any book I’ve ever asked for, including the En-suck-lopedia. (Real book, by the way. When I put it on hold at the library, the librarian did a double-take before saying out loud, “It’s really En-suck-lopedia, huh?”)

Back to the book, after breakfast, there’s a BSC meeting. Kristy gets another great idea that sets up the B plot of the book. Since most of the kids are on summer vacation, they should have a “play group” a la the one they just held in Kristy’s Big Day.

“We’d just hold the play group a few mornings a week. It could be outdoors, in somebody’s yard, just like last week at my house. We could tell all our regular customers about it, and they could send their kids over any time they wanted. We could charge, say, three dollars per kid per morning. That’s a bargain for our clients, and even divided five ways, the money should be good for us, since chances are there wouldn’t be enough jobs for every single one of us to be sitting if we weren’t holding the play group.”

The day camp is to be held at Stacey’s house and the next day, the girls go from client to client armed with fliers and the slogan: “Summer Play Group: the unique alternative to baby-sitting.” 

Later that night, Mimi and Claudia are making a special meal of waffles and they talk about the impending play group. Janine joins them for dinner and afterward asks if they all want to play The Trivia Game. Mimi wants to play and Claudia reluctantly joins. Claudia spends the whole game griping, thinks Janine made up Napoleon Bonaparte, and gets mad when Janine, predictably, wins the game. Mimi tells her that Claudia’s behavior wasn’t very nice and Claudia replies, 

“Oh, you just take Janine’s side because she’s smarter than I am. Mom and Dad love her more because she’s smarter, and I bet you do, too!”

Mimi says she’s tired, goes to her room, and shuts her door.

Claudia and Janine snipe at each other for a bit, but it comes to an abrupt end when they hear a thud from Mimi’s room. Mimi has collapsed and is unconscious. Janine instructs Claudia to call 911 while she covers Mimi with a bathrobe. Then she tells Claudia to wait outside for the ambulance and to guide them to Mimi’s room when they arrive.

Mimi had suffered a stroke. She’s in stable, but critical, condition, but it won’t be for twenty-four to forty-eight hours before they know the extent of the damage to her brain. The doctor suggests the Kishi family go home and return later.

Despite Mimi’s emergency, Claudia still goes to the first play group. She lets the other members of the BSC know what’s going on with Mimi (Mary Anne almost cries), and they suggest that the kids make get-well-soon cards for Mimi. 

Ten kids attend the first play group, including David Michael, Jamie Newton, and, to everyone’s surprise, Jenny Prezzioso. The little girl shows up in her usual attire – dressed as if she were a museum exhibit about Victorian Era dolls. And, of course, the girl wants to play with the other kids, but can’t because her dress will get dirty, but she doesn’t want to change into a smock because then she won’t be dressed pretty. I will take the Netflix Original Series character, Bailey, over this frustrating one any day.

When Mimi finally wakes up, the whole Kishi clan goes to see her. For Claudia, it does not go well. Mimi can’t speak – all she can do is a blank stare. Claudia is unable to handle Mimi and rushes out of the room. Eventually, Claudia tries again, this time coming up with a system of blinks – one for yes, two for no. This is more successful and Claudia apologizes for her behavior before Mimi’s collapse. When they get home, Janine retreats to her room. Claudia sees her sister possibly crying while drowning out the sound with the pounding of the keyboard.

During the next play group, Jenny, once again, refuses to wear the smock. Meanwhile, Karen is telling everyone that their next-door neighbor, Morbidda Destiny/Mrs. Porter, put a spell on Andrew and he’s going to become a monster. The kids countdown to Andrew’s transformation. Of course, nothing happens and it was just a goof, but Jenny is convinced that Andrew is a monster. The BSC asks him to tell Jenny to put on the smock to protect herself from him. Jenny throws on the smock without question.

The Kishis visit Mimi again. This time, she’s able to wave and write a little bit. However, she is writing Japanese, but it’s in Romaji. It’s very strange. If she were reverting to her native language, wouldn’t she write in Kanji or Hiragana? She writes “kodomo,” which means “children,” but wouldn’t’ she write “こども?” This is peculiar. Again, the Netflix television series handles this situation beautifully, I highly recommend the show.

There is some good news -Mimi is coming home! Unfortunately, Claudia has to miss the play group because Mimi needs constant care. Claudia takes the opportunity to help Mimi without reservation.

At the play group, Kristy brings Louie and the kids give him a chaotic bubble bath. 

Mimi is having trouble speaking English, to which I say, just let the woman speak in Japanese, geez. While Claudia is sad to leave the play group, Mimi is more important to her and she’s in the best position to help Mimi. 

There is a moment when Claudia baby-sits for the Newtons and has Mary Anne take care of Mimi in her stead. Mary Anne is being pedantic and Mimi blows up at her. Mary Anne is shocked because Mimi has never raised her voice. Mary Anne gives her some space (not too much – she can’t be alone) and they reconcile at the end of the chapter.

In a later event, the Newtons hire the BSC as “hired guests” for Lucy’s Christening and we finally get a Claudia outfit:

I chose a new outfit, one I liked a lot. It was a big, loose white shirt with black splotches all over it, and white pants that came to just below my knees. My shoes (and I might point out that I’d had a fight with Mom over permission to buy them) were dainty gold sandals that laced partway up my legs. Then I put on my pink flamingo earrings and a pink bracelet that said CLAUDIA in heart-shaped beads. Finally, I braided my hair into four long braids, tied a ribbon around the top of each, and fastened the ends with butterfly clips.

Capris and gladiator sandals – fantastic. 

During the Christening, Lucy receives constant attention, and Jamie gets jealous. 

I’m not sure what made me look up to see who was holding Lucy at the moment, but I did – and I couldn’t see anyone holding her. So I scanned the yard and saw that she’d been placed in her bouncy walker chair. She was sitting by one end of the food table, next to a half-empty pitcher of fruit punch that had been left out. As I watched, Jamie spotted both Lucy and the punch. He darted toward her, lifted the pitcher, and – 

I ran across the yard as fast as I could, knowing I’d never reach them in time. I could just picture Lucy’s beautiful gown all stained with red punch.

“Jamie!” I shouted. “No!”

But before the words had actually left my mouth, Jamie was putting the pitcher back on the table. And by the time I got to him, he was tickling Lucy’s bare feet.

“Jamie,” I gasped, “I thought you were going to pour that punch on your sister.”

Jamie looked at me guiltily. “I was,” he said, “but I changed my mind.”

“How come?” I asked.

Jamie shrugged, then frowned. “‘Cause I love her,” he said at last. “She is my sister.”

Claudia equates her relationship to Janine with Jamie and Lucy. Even though he’s upset that Lucy is getting all the attention, he still loves her because they only have each other. 

Finally, Janine and Claudia have a good, long talk. Claudia says everyone likes Janine because she doesn’t cause trouble and does well in school, while Janine says that everyone likes Claudia because she’s popular and charming and Janine can’t connect with people the same way. The sisters realize what every set of siblings has to realize eventually – you only have each other. 

No one else will be able to relate to you in the same way that your sibling will – how to deal with your parents, how to deal with peers, how to deal with a life of inescapable cyclical tragedy – from terrorism, to financial collapse, to the pandemic, to another financial collapse. 

My sister and I had to go through the same growing pains that Claudia and Janine (and Jamie and Lucy) have to experience. When there’s only the two of you, there’s no one else to diffuse familial tension with, so that creates animosity. Combine that with teenage angst, and it can be explosive or, as is the case with my sister and me, passive-aggressive. 

Claudia and Janine will get through this the same way Alyssa and I did – we had to grow the fuck up.

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The New Girl

Being the first in a series is difficult, just like being the new kid in a school. There’s a need to set a precedent, whether it be a cool exterior to protect yourself from peer ridicule or a tone for subsequent books. I have never been the new kid. I have never had to deal with the trauma of moving to a new place and everyone staring at you like a laboratory specimen. On the other hand, I never had an opportunity to reinvent myself. Even if I dramatically changed over the summer, I would still have the stigma of being the weird kid who reads all the time and tells scary stories (both of which were true of me).

I’m reading the first entry in the Fear Street series. R. L. Stine’s publishers didn’t think a teen horror series wouldn’t work. They even thought that there shouldn’t be too many scares, and the early books feature a low body count. Thankfully, the publishers must have figured out that teens love horror and the body counts increased. The first in a series is a difficult thing to be. I don’t care what people say, the pilots of The Office and Parks & Recreation, two shows I adore, are tough to watch. The New Girl has not changed my mind, unfortunately. I’m just happy that this new kid on the block was able to shed the terrible first impression he made when he told everyone, “My name is Jacob, but I go by J Cool Smooth.”

FSTheNewGirl
Making friends is really tough when they’re just half a torso, a ’70s lunch box, and a skirt. Honestly, that would make a better book.

The book starts with a girl saying good-bye to someone named “Anna,” whom she murdered.

As quickly as that happens (a page), a boy named Cory is in love with the titular new girl. Cory is the star of the school gymnastics team and has a childhood best-friend named Lisa, who is apparently funny, but she never says anything funny.

I don’t know if I just went to the poorest school in the United States, but these teams that schools have are just ridiculous. A gymnastics team? A swim team? What are these? My school had a soccer team that won a lot, a football team that lost all the time, and an Academic Olympics team that also lost all the time. I was on that last one.

The new girl is named Anna and for the first twelve pages, I thought she was a ghost. Of course, that’s not it. That would be too obvious. Instead, it’s the second most obvious thing.

But not before we get gross making out between Cory and Anna! Because that’s what we get. Cory is strangely obsessed with making out with her. After they kiss, her little brother, our red herring named Brad, shows up staring at them angrily through windows and yelling that Cory is going to die if he gets close to his sister. He comes from a long line of brothers who are strangely obsessed with their sisters.

Anyway, there’s also a random neighbor with a large dog that provides more red herring shenanigans. His dog provides fake-outs in the form of jumping on Cory from behind.

Unfortunately, the only death in the book is a cat attached to Lisa’s locker. I would have rather seen one of Cory’s friends get killed. Have I not mentioned them? Yeah, their names are David and Arnie and I can’t tell the difference between the two. They’re such stock characters that they’re perfect sacrifices to raise the stakes. Friends of the main character, so it can bother him, and they have no personalities besides generic obnoxiousness, so the audience isn’t too upset at their demises.

But no. Instead, a random cat gets it and the friends are forgotten.

Eventually, Lisa and Cory run around the band room while chasing Brad. I’m sorry I can’t go into too many details about the book – believe me when I say not much happens. It’s mostly Cory trying to make out with Anna followed by a dog attack or Brad staring at them.

There’s a scuffle between Brad and Cory. Our main character subdues Brad and that’s when Anna picks up a knife and tries to stab her brother. Then she pushes Cory out the window, but Cory keeps himself on the ledge with his massive gymnast legs. Brad tells us what happened.

“She isn’t Anna. She’s Willa. She’s Anna’s sister.”

“When Anna fell down the stairs and died, Mom and I suspected that it wasn’t an accident, that Willa pushed her,” Brad said, rubbing the bump on his head. “She was always insanely jealous of Anna. Anna had everything. Anna was beautiful. She had a million friends. She got straight A’s without having to study hard. Willa coun’t compete in any way – and Anna never let her forget it.”

“But I couldn’t prove that Willa had killed Anna. And Mom isn’t well. I knew she couldn’t survive losing both her daughters. So I never did anything about Willa.”

“Shut up, Brad. You’re stupid. You’ve always been stupid!” Willa shrieked, still struggling to free herself from Cory’s grasp.

“Like I said, Willa actually seemed okay once we moved here,” Brad told Cory, ignoring his sister’s outburst. “At least, she acted perfectly normal at home. But when you started coming around, asking for Anna, I began to suspect what Willa was doing. I noticed that she started to dress like Anna. And talk like her. I tried to scare you away, Cory. I did my best to keep you from getting involved with her. I figured out that she was calling herself Anna at school, that she was trying to slip into Anna’s identity.”

“I’m going to kill you!” Willa shrieked, her eyes on the letter opener.

Okay, so Willa killed her sister Anna and started calling herself that when they moved to Shadyside. Instead of talking to Cory like another human being, Brad decides to stare at his sister and her boyfriend and yell hysterically that his sister is dead. That’s not a good idea, Brad. His age is not explicitly said, but I hope it’s not twenty-one. This is the plan of a ten-year-old.

If this were the first Fear Street book I read, I don’t think I would have continued with the series. The characters weren’t interesting enough to continue, the mystery wasn’t intriguing, and there wasn’t any blood. Anyone one of those three things would keep me reading, but the book lacks all three. The constraints on R. L. Stine did not work in his favor, and I’m glad he was able to finally cast off those shackles and write stories full of gore and horror because that’s what I remember about Fear Street.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, 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.