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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So far, I have written all of these retrospectives before Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club series has aired. Those reviews, even the ones that came out after the show, were written without any knowledge about the new series and how it would change (and, in most cases, improve) on the original material. This review is different. I have crossed the threshold and there is no turning back. I have already seen and written about the new series.
However, I am discussing the book – not the episode of the excellent Netflix series (seriously, if you love the BSC, you’ll love the new series). Maybe I’ll get to that one day, who knows. Until then, it’s time to put on a yellow dress and walk down the aisle, because Kristy’s mom is getting married in this very special episode of The Baby-Sitters Club.
Elizabeth Thomas is getting married to Watson Brewer in September, and she wants Kristy to be her bridesmaid. Kristy is excited to wear a dress and stand by her mother, which surprised me, as I always thought if Kristy was seen in a dress, she would combust. But you know, it’s a special occasion and Kristy is happy for her mother. It’s incredibly mature of her to put aside her clothing preferences for one day to make her mother happy.
However, there’s a snag. Kristy’s mother’s company is sending her on a business trip the week of her wedding, and there’s a new family that wants to buy Kristy’s house and they want to move in next month. The wedding is not postponed – no, it’s moved up. Mrs. Thomas has to pack, move an entire family, and plan a wedding in two and a half weeks. I’d suggest getting the house ready to move, marry at the courthouse if it’s that important, and postpone the wedding. However, I decided to postpone a trip to Disneyland and then Covid-19 hit and who knows when I’m going to see my buddy Hat Box Ghost again. I might not be the best person to ask about long-term planning.
The rest of Watson and Kristy’s relatives are arriving early to help with the wedding, but they’re also bringing a total of 11 kids (plus David Michael, Karen, and Andrew) with them. The kids can’t be left on their own, but the parents are going to be busy with the packing and the planning and the preparation of the aperitifs. Well, the Baby-Sitters Club is to the rescue!
Since they’re on summer vacation, many of their charges are also taking vacations. There’s a big hole in their job calendar, so they step up and create what is essentially a day camp for the Thomas/Watson relatives – a future BSC staple. Watson and future Mrs. Brewer (I’m assuming, I wouldn’t want to be a Mrs., but since it’s the ‘80s, I’m assuming Lizzie will take the title) will pay the BSC a total of $600 to watch over fourteen kids for a week – $125 per BSC member. That is nothing to scoff at in 1987 dollars – today it would be $1300 – or about $260 a piece. But they’re going to have to earn it, and the next few pages showcase just why these girls are worth more than a thousand bucks.
The first thing the girls do (after accepting the job, of course) is to list all the kids and their ages. Mary Anne organizes the list by age. Two of the kids are babies and Mary Anne volunteers to exclusively care for those two. The rest of the kids are split into groups of similar ages and are assigned to a baby-sitter. Then, the girls name each group with a color and a symbol and create name tags. Their corresponding baby-sitter will wear the same name tag and this allows everyone to know which group they’re in. This also helps the babysitter remember the names of the kids. I was reading this book and two sentences after the list of kids, I already forgot all their names – except the regulars David Michael, Karen, and Andrew. Katherine of the Yellow Suns? I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m pretty sure that’s a team on Legends of the Hidden Temple. (“The Shrine of the Silver Monkey,” Olmec echoes in my head forever.)
This level of organization is incredible. Seeing the girls work together is a highlight and an excellent example for girls to emulate.
On Sunday, all the relatives arrive and each kid gets a little introduction. Turns out David Michael and his cousin Berk are friends. Peter is carsick. There’s a shy one who won’t let go of her father’s legs. I don’t remember them all. I can barely remember the names of my favorite K-Pop group, and there’s only five of them. How would I remember the names of fourteen kids whom I’ll never see again?
Monday arrives and it’s T-minus five days to the wedding and the first day of the Brewer/Thomas It’s All Relative Day Camp (it’s not called that, but it should be). Every parent who shows up gives a monologue about all their kids’ various allergies. Poor Mary Anne has to stand there and write down everything. They all have nap times. I don’t remember childhood scheduled nap time. I don’t remember ever taking a nap as a kid. And the only times I’ve ever taken a nap as an adult, I immediately regretted it moments after waking up.
When the parents leave, all the kids start to cry. Some because they’re children and that’s what children do. Maybe some of them are crying just to fit in. Anyway, the baby-sitters start to read to the kids and they all calm the fuck down. The next day, they take the kids to various field trips around Stoneybrook. Just to name a few, Claudia takes her kids to the library, Stacey goes to the brook, and Dawn takes her kids to the school playground. Unfortunately, Dawn’s group is Karen, David Michael, and Berk.
The three tell the other children at the playground about the Martians, who are coming to fight humans with ray guns. The other children run screaming and Dawn ushers her group away from the playground, or else face the horrific wrath of the playground counselor – Fran. The kids were on their best behavior for the rest of the day. Three days left to go and Stacey writes in the BSC Notebook,
“I know you guys think I’m so sophisticated, since I’m from New York and my hair is permed and everything, but no kidding, my favorite movie is Mary Poppins.”
Okay, Stace, like what you like. Mary Poppins is a fine movie to choose as your favorite. And I have no basis to judge you. One of my favorite movies, and the movie I’ve probably seen the most in my life, is Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. (My actual favorite movie is Spirited Away, in case you were wondering, which you weren’t.)
Well, it just so happens that The Embassy, the local movie theater, is showing Mary Poppins. Stacey takes her group to see the movie and it doesn’t go so well. First of all, one of the kids, Emma, forgets her money. Stacey calls Mary Anne and asks if the money is there. Mary Anne can’t find it. Emma discovers her money in her pocket, but this, paired with the children getting snacks, makes them late for the movie. By the end, the kids spill their food and scream and are kicked out of the theater.
On Thursday, the boys of the camp all have to get haircuts. Mary Anne is tired of taking care of two babies, so she joins Kristy in this task. They take the kids after lunch when the kids are, hopefully, tired.
It does not go well.
The barber is overwhelmed, the boys ask for strange haircuts instead of the standard boring stuff appropriate for a wedding, and Kristy chastises David Michael and Luke when they act like brats.
The day before the wedding, it rains all day and the camp is moved inside. There’s going to be a rehearsal dinner later, so the BSC gets the idea to put on a rehearsal for the rehearsal – they’re going to marry off Karen and David Michael. Not really of course – it’s not West Virginia (prove me wrong, West Virginia). The others volunteer for the remaining roles, including Luke as the minister and Berk as the bride’s father (to give her away – my thoughts on the antiquated idea of the father of the bride giving his daughter to another man as if she were a Buick is coming soon). While the ceremony takes place, the BSC takes pictures of the whole thing. Of course, when it comes to the kissing part, David Michael and Karen recoil in horror.
One more thing bad thing has to happen. While the children are getting dressed for the rehearsal dinner, all the clothes are mixed up. Emma moved the clothes around for some reason. Kristy punishes her by making her sit in a room by herself to think about the trouble she caused. That punishment never worked for me. All I thought was, “Oh thank God, I get to have some alone time.” However, it does work for Emma.
At the end of the week, the BSC is paid, including a bonus of ten dollars each. Don’t break the bank there, Watson, you’re only the richest person in Stoneybrook.
The only thing that goes awry during the wedding is Karen screams when she sees Morbidda Destiny. This is addressed fantastically in the Netflix series. In the book, the parents just usher Karen away and pretend she didn’t just scream at the neighbor.
As a wedding present, Kristy gives her mother and Watson a hand-drawn family tree.
I’m not a big fan of weddings, so a wedding episode of The Baby-Sitters Club doesn’t appeal to me, especially when it involves old, rich, white people. What does appeal to me? I appreciated the extensive logistics conversations utilizing each baby-sitter’s specialties. I like the personal drama, but it’s better when the drama doesn’t involve petty fights between the members of the BSC. The conflict should come from outside the club. Also, it should force the club to work together to make the world a better place – even if it’s just teaching a kid to behave better or giving respite to some stressed-out people who have no patience.
Either way, the girls earned that money and it’s positive to display young women as smart and capable. The BSC was thoughtful in how they went about organizing the camp and they were responsible in how they interacted with the children. This book is an early BSC highlight and an excellent example of what made this series so special to millions of young girls (and a few boys) around the world.
Sometimes I wonder how people function. I mean, how specific people function. They always ask you for a pen, as if the idea that they might have to take notes in class was sprung on them that day. When they arrive at the register, they have to dig through a pillow-case sized purse and they pour all the contents on the counter, as if they had no idea the cashier would ask for payment. This goes beyond absent-mindedness as this is a daily occurrence. Simple things that most of us are accustomed to (paying for things, taking notes, a basic level of preparation) in life come as a surprise to them. That might be nice while gliding through life, and they’re probably happy in their little flighty head, but it’s a huge inconvenience to everyone around them.
In Dawn and the Impossible Three, our favorite California Girl meets a person who needs a lot of help and Dawn doesn’t seem up to the task.
The book starts with Dawn sitting at the Pikes’. Dawn goes over how her parents got divorced and her mother moved them across the country. Two little kids from down the street come over to play – Buddy and Suzi Barrett. Dawn connects with them because their mother is also recently divorced. After her job is done, she is heading to the BSC meeting when she sees Mary Anne who yells, “Great news!” And we end the first chapter on a cliffhanger.
Did I accidentally read a Goosebumps book instead?
The cliffhanger is quickly resolved. Mary Anne says that her father is going to ask Dawn’s mother out and he won’t be there for dinner. I guess even Republicans have to date, as much as that idea makes me retch. Who the hell would date a Republican?
At the BSC meeting, the girls hand in their dues and decide to use the money to buy more stuff for the Kid-Kits. The Prezziosos, the Newtons, and the Brewers call. More importantly, there’s a call from a new client! It’s Mrs. Barrett and Dawn takes the job.
Saturday morning, Dawn goes over to Mary Anne’s house primed with stuff for Mary Anne to go through in her endeavor to redecorate her room. Apparently, the Schafers brought a bunch of stuff with them that they were planning on selling. Why they didn’t get rid of the stuff while still in California, instead of packing it all up, paying shipping fees, and unboxing it for the express purposes of a yard sale, I don’t know.
Kristy catches wind of shenanigans in Mary Anne’s room and the two shout at each other through their windows. Kristy comes over and acts hostile and jealous toward Dawn, refusing to speak directly to her and never laughing at her jokes. This behavior continues into lunch the next school day when Mary Anne and Dawn realize that they’ll be sisters if their parents get married.
During Dawn’s initial meeting with the Barretts, Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie, she makes a strict “no guns” rule. Good rule, but this is America, Dawn, and in America, we give guns to every God-fearin’ white person who wants one because 2nd Amendment blah blah blah rights blah protection blah blah. Anyway,
Mrs. Barrett is discombobulated. She doesn’t give Dawn a phone number to reach her in case of emergency (“call the Pikes, okay?”), something called “Pow” is waiting to get inside, and the baby needs stuff.
When she leaves and Dawn is in charge, Dawn learns that Pow is “the meanest dog who ever lived.” He’s a lethargic basset hound. So, a basset hound. Dawn figures out a way to trick the kids into cleaning the living room, the kitchen, and the playroom by turning it into a game where they have to break their previous record time. She bonds with the kids more regarding their mother’s divorce. Suzi gets upset that her father isn’t coming back and then she pees her pants. I don’t think the two events are related, but that’s the order in which they happened.
Mrs. Barrett returns and she calls Dawn the best baby-sitter she’s ever had. Dawn is happy and says that if Mrs. Barrett needs Dawn to come over, she can call on her “any time.” Dawn ends the chapter with the following ominous passage
If I had only known then how often “any time” was going to be, I might not have spoken so quickly.
Meanwhile, Kristy babysits for Karen and Andrew and they all play this game called “Let’s All Come In.” Basically, they pretend to be hotel guests with outlandish personalities. Clearly, this is something Karen invented. It’s not really a “game” if no one wins, but there are definitely losers in “Let’s All Come In.”
Karen’s friend Hannie comes over and the games begin. Hannie pretends to be a woman named Mrs. Nowswimple, who is meeting with her husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor. Strange. Whenever I tell the hotel staff that I’m going to meet my husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor, I’m escorted off the premises.
While they’re playing, the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Porter, a woman whom Karen thinks is a witch named Morbidda Destiny, comes over and asks for some fennel and coriander. You know, for a kid who pretends to be someone named Mrs. Mysterious (not Miss Terious, for some reason) and makes up stories about ghosts, Karen is awfully judgmental of her neighbor.
Later, in a surprise move, Dawn invites Kristy over. In an even more surprising move, Kristy accepts. They hang out in Dawn’s barn and patch things up through swinging on the rope swing and talking about divorce. By the end of the chapter, they’re friends, Dawn becomes the BSC’s Alternate Officer (a person who fills in for any role if a member can’t), and Kristy’s jealousy doesn’t rear its ugly head. Well, at least until the next BSC fight.
Dawn sits for the Barretts again – this time during an all-day affair that starts at 8:30 in the morning. Claudia calls and suggests a lunchtime picnic with the Pikes. Dawn and the Barretts bake some brownies for the event and there are about four pages of baking. At the picnic, Jordan gives Nicky the Bizzer Sign, which is just pointing at someone and buzzing. The Pike kids created it to flip each other off without actually flipping the bird. Usually, you flip off your sibling behind your parents back and the idea is that they don’t see it. The Bizzer Sign, however, is noisy – it’s obvious when you do it. Maybe it’s more akin to saying “Shut up, shitbrains.”
Anyway, when it’s time for brownies, Mallory snatches the brownie from Marnie. Is Mallory just being a jerk? No. Mallory knows that Marnie is allergic to chocolate. This infuriates Dawn. Mrs. Barrett should have told her that Marnie can’t eat chocolate. Dawn fully plans to address the issue with Mrs. Barrett, but when the forgetful mother comes home and notices how immaculate the house is, she gushes over Dawn. Dawn forgets any issues she had.
During another baby-sitting job for the Barretts, Mrs. Barrett warns that if her ex-husband calls, Dawn shouldn’t let him talk to the children or tell him that Mrs. Barrett is out. Mrs. Barrett implies that Mr. Barrett is not holding up his end of the custody deal financially. When Mrs. Barrett sees that Buddy spilled pink water on Suzi, she looks to be on the verge of tears. Dawn insists that Mrs. Barrett get going and Dawn will take care of her moist child.
Dawn baby-sits for the Barretts “an awful lot” over the next couple of weeks and Mrs. Barrett’s disorganization becomes a bigger issue. When Dawn needs to call her to let her know Suzi has a fever, Mrs. Barrett does not leave the phone number for the temp agency she’s working with, but instead the number for “Hurley’s Garage.” This is a problem that wouldn’t happen today, as Mrs. Barrett would just have a cell phone. But knowing Mrs. Barrett, she probably wouldn’t charge her phone.
Dawn also helps Buddy with his homework – a family tree. While Dawn can’t tell him his family tree, she does help him put blanks for him to fill in with his grandparents and his aunts and uncles. When he comes to Dawn to let her know that he got a good grade, Dawn hugs him while thinking that it should be Mrs. Barrett hugging her son.
Meanwhile, Stacey babysits for David Michael, who is nervous about moving. On a tangential issue, Kristy doesn’t know how she’ll be getting to BSC meetings when she lives across town.
Dawn’s mom sets up a picnic for her parents to meet Mr. Spier . . . again. Dawn invites the BSC, but only Mary Anne (obviously) and Kristy’s families can attend. Also, the Barretts show up. There’s some food stuff involving the Schafers driving to the grocery store because they don’t have any red meat to serve people, but that’s fixed relatively quickly. When everyone shows up, Dawn notices some tension between her grandparents and Mr. Spier. I sincerely doubt Mr. Spier was a rebel without a cause in high school, so I don’t know why they have a problem with him. At the end of the picnic, Mrs. Barrett asks Dawn if she can babysit on Tuesday. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Dawn isn’t free, but Mary Anne is there to take the job.
Mrs. Barrett rushes out of the house just as Buddy gives Suzi the Bizzer Sign, causing her to burst into tears. The kids are getting restless, so Mary Anne tells them to put on their bathing suits and “thongs” (the shoes, I’m assuming) and they go outside. There, Suzi and Buddy jump in the fresh puddles. Mary Anne calls this a “puddle walk” and it’s a great way to get worms. She doesn’t even make them shower when they get home – they just have to change their clothes.
While Mary Anne is babysitting, Mr. Barrett calls to ask if he can speak with Suzi or Buddy. Mary Anne remembered Dawn saying something about not letting Mr. Barrett talk to the kids, so she tells them that they’re at a friend’s house. Mr. Barrett gets angry and slams the phone.
When Dawn babysits for the Barretts again, Buddy goes outside and throws a baseball around while Dawn gets Suzi and Marnie dressed. When she finally goes outside, Buddy is nowhere to be found. She calls the Pikes and asks if Buddy is playing with Nicky. No luck. The Pikes rush over, ready to search for Buddy. They try to contact Mrs. Barrett, but she’s shopping and no one can reach her. Finally, Jordan Pike comes back from his piano lesson and says that he saw Buddy get into a strange car. He didn’t say anything because he thought Buddy was going to a lesson of some kind because Jordan was going to his lesson at the same time.
Dawn panics as the Pikes enlist others to help search for Buddy and they call the police. The police interrogate Jordan, seemingly to the point of traumatizing the poor kid. They also go through the Barrett household, looking for clues. Yeah, I wouldn’t trust the cops, but I guess Dawn doesn’t think she has any other options. Dawn bursts into tears and her mother tries to console her. Dawn gets a phone call on the Barrett family phone – it’s Buddy. He’s calling from a gas station. He says he got into his father’s car, but he thinks he’s not supposed to be with his father. Then the connection goes dead.
Mrs. Barrett comes home to find the police and neighbors swarming around the house. Not long after that, Buddy sheepishly enters the house and we get an explanation.
Apparently, earlier in the week Mr. Barrett had become angry when he’d realized that once again, Mrs. Barrett had confused the dates and had forgotten that today was to be Mr. Barrett’s day with Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie. He had decided to teach her a lesson. His plan was to come by on Saturday, simply take the children, and wait for Mrs. Barrett to figure out her mistake. So he drove over to the Barretts’ house. There he found Buddy by himself in the front yard. At that moment, he decided that the easiest course of action would be just to take Buddy without bothering to look for the girls. So he did. He drove Buddy to an amusement park and took him out to lunch, but Buddy didn’t seem to be enjoying himself. When he asked him what was wrong, Buddy said he was worried about me. He didn’t think I knew where he was. That was when Mr. Barrett realized that Mrs. Barrett wasn’t even home. Concerned about what a baby-sitter might do when she discovered that one of her charges was missing, he headed home immediately, stopping briefly at the gas station on the way. He’d tried to call before that, but had gotten only busy signals, and didn’t even know Buddy had phoned until they were on the highway again. (Buddy had called while his father was in the men’s room.)
Good Lord, Mr. Barrett. You think it’s okay to just kidnap kids to teach their mother a lesson? No wonder Mrs. Barrett left you and you lost custody. You should lose unsupervised visitation also. “Hey son, if a bitch pisses you off, scare her into learning.” It is not a husband’s job to “teach her a lesson.” I know she’s scatterbrained, but that’s no reason to treat her like one of the children of whom you lost custody.
After the whole kidnapping debacle, Dawn finally tells Mrs. Barrett that Dawn can’t be a mother to her children and in order for Dawn to be a good babysitter, Mrs. Barrett needs to help her out with things like visitation and allergies and correct phone numbers. Mrs. Barrett promises to do better.
Mrs. Barrett is no angel, but Mr. Barrett’s behavior is inexcusable. Mrs. Barrett is absolutely one of those people who needs a lot of help in life. However, her problem is fixable – she should get into the planner lifestyle. Mr. Barrett should be a lonely divorced man who only sees his children while an actual adult supervises.
I wish the best for Mrs. Barrett and Dawn – I really do.
I’m conflicted when it comes to incredibly strict parents. My parents were pretty hands-off when it came to my sister and me – as long as we got good grades, we were allowed to do almost anything we wanted without too much parental oversight. I firmly believe that this helped my sister and I determine who we are and what our values are because we were able to explore these topics without our parents meddling. On the other hand, this made an environment wherein we (mostly me) made mistakes that were entirely avoidable if we had more guidance besides “it’s your life, you need to decide for yourself.”
As for stricter parents, I had a friend who lived with her grandparents and they were so strict that she wasn’t allowed to watch PG movies and The Simpsons, as if one whiff of Bart Simpson would have her blaspheming the Lord and breaking windows. Despite this, when she became a teenager, and her mother regained custody, she rebelled in a major way that included drugs, drinking, and teenage pregnancy – three things I didn’t do in high school despite my parents letting me watch the wretched Lisa Simpson question authority and any rated-R movie I wanted.
I think it comes down to parents understanding their children – some kids need rules and regulations, whereas others can thrive in a laissez-faire upbringing. Some need their parents to tell them that their school counselor, whom they have met exactly two times, doesn’t know them well enough to suggest dorm life, because if they knew you well enough, they’d know that the dorms are the worst thing for an introvert.
Mary Anne of The Baby-Sitters Club has an incredibly strict father, and frankly, he’s ridiculous. Mary Anne is the one member of the BSC who doesn’t need any restraints, but it takes Mary Anne to exhibit wisdom beyond her years just for her father to treat her like a basic twelve-year-old. Let’s get to it.
The first thing we learn about Mary Anne’s father is that he forces her to wear her hair in braids each day paired with a corduroy skirt and sweater combo set. The thought of my father choosing my outfit when I was in the seventh grade makes me both laugh and fill me with dread. Laugh because my father would hate it. Dread because he could make me wear a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans and a plain t-shirt with a pocket. That was his uniform and there would be no reason for him to alter it for his daughter. Anyway, Mary Anne’s father really should have sent her to Catholic School if he wanted her to have such a constricting wardrobe.
By the end of the first chapter, the BSC is having a fight – a common trope for the BSC. This time, it’s about Kristy accepting a job without asking the others first. They all blow up at each other and storm out of the meeting.
Mary Anne’s father also makes her eat dinner with him every night, including saying grace. My family tended to just eat at the same time because if we didn’t, the food would be cold. The food is made when it’s made and it’s up to you to get to the table in time or heat it up later. During dinner, Mary Anne’s father is a lawyer and he says that the case he’s working on it of the utmost importance:
“This case is interesting because it demonstrates the extreme importance of honesty in business dealings,” he said finally. “Always remember that, Mary Anne. Be scrupulously honest and fair. It will serve you in good stead.”
Yeah, okay, Mr. Spier. Be honest but if you really want to get ahead in business, you should open a bunch of businesses, don’t pay your contractors, declare bankruptcy, create a fake college to swindle well-meaning people out of their money, get loans from Germany, be in the pocket of Russia, and then become president. I’m not talking about any real-world case in particular.
After dinner, Mary Anne sees her room and remarks that it looks like the room of a child. It’s pink and white, she has nursery rhyme pictures on the wall, framed in pink, and pink curtains. Mr. Spier can’t be that smart if he thinks that an appropriate room for Mary Anne, let alone any human being with sight. Actually, even the blind shouldn’t be subjected to that and I would call CPS on behalf of the blind person.
The next day at school, the BSC is still fractured. Each member refuses to talk to the others. Mary Anne attempts to say hello, but they just ignore her. At lunch, Mary Anne is forced to sit by herself, but the new kid asks if she can sit with the braided wallflower. This is the introduction of Dawn Schafer, a future BSC member. Mary Anne is ecstatic to have someone to sit with. Dawn asks where her regular friends are and Mary Anne tells her that they’re all sick. Yep. That’s not suspicious at all. All my friends got sick except me. I didn’t do anything to make them sick, they were like that when I found them, I swear!
Mary Anne tells Dawn about all the weirdos of Stoneybrook Middle School. I mention this because I need everyone to know that there’s a kid named Alexander Kurtzman who wears a three-piece suit to middle school. Let me repeat that. There’s a kid at Stoneybrook Middle School who wears a three-piece suit. In middle school. I’ve been to middle school. It’s a miracle this kid doesn’t get beaten up in Dog Alley every day.
Anyway, Dawn invites Mary Anne over to her house. Dawn has a VCR, so how could Mary Anne say no? Dawn’s parents just got divorced and her mother grew up in Stoneybrook, so she moved her daughter, Dawn, and her son, Jeff, across the country to an old farmhouse in her hometown. That’s a pretty extreme thing to do after a divorce. I hate you so much I’m leaving beautiful California, with its theme parks and culture, for a town that is suspicious of black people when they move in.
The girls watch The Parent Trap. The Hayley Mills version, I’m assuming. The one where they make sure the girls are always standing on opposite sides of the screen. Afterward, Mary Anne has her BSC meeting.
To call it frosty would be an understatement. Kristy doesn’t even show up to her own damn club. She claims she’s sick. Stacey, Claudia, and Mary Anne distribute the jobs, but it’s not in the friendly manner that the club is accustomed to. When Mary Anne leaves, she looks back at Claudia’s window. Mary Anne waves and Claudia “flashed [her] a hopeful smile and waved back.” Mary Anne goes back to Claudia’s house and leaves an apology note for Claudia with Mimi. Claudia calls her and the girls make up, but the peace is only temporary.
Mary Anne goes to talk to Kristy at school. If the club can’t get along, they have to figure out how to run it. Kristy comes up with the idea that one girl goes to the meeting and takes any jobs that she can immediately and calls around to the other members if she can’t.
Dawn comes up and Mary Anne takes the opportunity to invite her over. Kristy is flabbergasted because Mary Anne only invites Kristy over. To get back at her, Kristy announces that she can stay out baby-sitting until ten on weekends and nine-thirty on weeknights, further cementing Mary Anne’s position as the “baby” of the BSC. Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos. There are a few paragraphs about these freaks, including notes that Mrs. Prezzioso wears cocktail dresses wherever she goes and buys monogrammed handkerchiefs and suits for Mr. Prezzioso. She also has a daughter whom she dresses like a porcelain doll. When Jenny says she likes Mary Anne’s skirt, Mrs. Prezzioso says to her daughter, “It’s a very pretty skirt, I’m sure, but not as pretty as my little angel in her brand-new dress!”
Mrs. Prezzioso’s first name must be Karen. (It’s actually Madeleine, but I refuse to call her that. It is clearly Karen.)
Jenny goes through Mary Anne’s Kit-Kit and inspects the Colorforms. She eventually settles on one of those coloring books where you put water over the page and, magically, dull colors appear. It takes the choice out of coloring!
After the babysitting job, Mary Anne asks her father if she could stay out later. Predictably, he says no. Mary Anne continues:
“I’d like to be allowed to choose my own clothes. I’d like to take my hair out of these braids. I’d like to wear nail polish and stockings and lipstick. And if a boy ever asked me to go to the movies or something, I’d like to be able to say yes – without even checking with you first. You know what? Sometimes you don’t seem like my father to me. You seem like my jailer.”
These requests are perfectly reasonable but not to Old Man Spier. It does not go well. You can’t reason with Conservatives – they don’t listen to reason. They only care unless it directly affects them. And even then, they’ll just get the secret abortion for their mistress.
Mary Anne meets with Mimi and asks what to do with her father. She basically tells her to try to find another way. In the process, she calls Mary Anne, “my Mary Anne.” Claudia overhears and says, “But I’m the only one you call yours.” Mary Anne and Claudia’s tentative truce is clearly over.
Mrs. Newton invites the entire BSC to help with Jamie Newton’s fourth birthday party. Mary Anne is also forced to ask Kristy if they want to sit for the Pikes. Kristy doesn’t want to work with Mary Anne, so Mary Anne says she’ll get her new friend Dawn to sit with her. Kristy relents and agrees to the job because the only thing she can’t stand more than her former best friend is a baby-sitting job going to someone outside the BSC babysitting monopoly.
At the Pikes, Kristy and Mary Anne speak through Mallory. Then they play Telephone, followed by a play. The suggestions for what play they should put on include Peter Rabbit, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Chuck Norris. What the hell is “Chuck Norris,” Adam? Huh? Do you just do bad karate while wearing a hat? Or do you just try to sell exercise equipment?
The next day, Dawn invites Mary Anne over. They venture deep into Mr. Spier’s yearbooks, looking for Ms. Schafer (or Ms. Porter, as that’s her maiden name). It seems that their parents knew each other in high school and may have dated. Well, they at least went to prom together.
Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos again. This time, they’re going to a basketball game in a suit and a cocktail dress. These two seriously subscribe to the axiom “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.”
Jenny is quite lethargic all afternoon and falls asleep on the couch. Mary Anne notices that Jenny is hot and mumbles when Mary Anne tries to wake her up. She takes her temperature and it’s 104. She calls Jenny’s doctor and leaves a message. She calls the Pikes. Nothing. Her father. Nope. The next-door neighbors. What? Those nameless no-faces? Do you think some no faces are going to help Mary Anne?
It’s Dawn who comes to assist Mary Anne. She suggests they call 911 and ask them for advice. The operator sends an ambulance. In the meantime, Dawn makes a cold compress and gets Jenny’s coat while Mary Anne calls the gym and leaves a message for the Prezziosos.
When they get to the hospital, it turns out Jenny has strep throat. The Prezziosos arrive. The gym was paging them for a while before they arrived and heard the announcement and they immediately went back to Stoneybrook. Mr. Prezzioso drives Mary Anne and Dawn home and pays them ten dollars each – a fact that Mary Anne is very excited about. Those ten dollars is the spending power of $20 today. That’s pretty good for half a night of baby-sitting.
Mary Anne finally tells Dawn what has been going on with the other members of the BSC. Dawn is upset because Mary Anne originally claimed all her friends were sick, starting the friendship on a lie. Now Dawn is mad at her also. Okay, Dawn, it’s not like Mary Anne said she’s a vegan just to impress Dawn but it turns out she just loves bacon and the taste of death.
Mary Anne tells her father what happened with the Prezziosos after they call later to update Mary Anne. Then he makes a weird analogy:
“But twelve means different things for different people. It’s like clothes. You can put a certain shirt on one person and he looks fabulous. Then you put the shirt on someone else and that person looks awful. It’s the same way with age. It depends on how you wear it or carry it.”
That’s a convoluted way of saying that people are different. All that so that Mary Anne can finally wear the clothes she wants, decorate her room in a way befitting someone over the age of four, and she doesn’t have to wear her hair in braids.
In the BSC Notebook, Stacey remarks that the fight is stupid and has been going on for a month, but that doesn’t stop the BSC from almost ruining Jamie’s birthday party. Mary Anne steps on Kristy’s foot and over pours a drink for the BSC president. Kristy cleans up the mess and throws the napkin in Stacey’s face. Then Stacey smashes the napkin in Claudia’s face. This causes Jamie to cry and the girls realize that they almost ruined Jamie’s party if it wasn’t for Mrs. Newton. The rest of the party goes fine.
The girls have yet another emergency meeting at Claudia’s house after the party and we have the big apology scene where they all recognize their pettiness and makeup.
Mary Anne also makes up with Dawn. And Mary Anne’s father even lets Mary Anne have a BSC party at her house to formally ask Dawn to join the BSC. However, Mr. Spier insists that the girls eat dinner together. With him. During the party. I can think of a million things I’d rather do than have dinner with a group of 12-year-olds, I don’t care what tradition I have. He is a grown-ass man and his daughter deserves a little privacy.
During the dinner, the BSC formally invites Dawn to join the club.
After all that, in order for Mr. Spier to treat his daughter like the responsible person she is, all Mary Anne had to do was save a little girl’s life! I’m not a parent, but that’s a ridiculous lesson. She has to be extraordinary just to be treated as ordinary. No one should be held up to this standard. I mean no one.
Mr. Spier is entirely too strict. My childhood best-friend’s grandparents were also too strict, but her mother wasn’t strict enough. Maybe Mr. Spier should take his own analogy to heart. Making sweeping rules for your child is a good way to ensure your child won’t speak to you when they get older. But not having enough boundaries can create undue stress on a child, either by making avoidable mistakes or detrimental life decisions. The key must be in knowing your child – who they are and their priorities and proclivities – in order to create appropriate boundaries. But that would require parents to actually speak to their child as if they’re equals, and who has time for that? (Nervous laugh.)
One of the most deplorable things people can do is convince someone to give up their life savings in exchange for quack medical cures. People will do anything to save their lives, and it’s unconscionable to take advantage of their situations. The American health care system already takes advantage of people (#medicare of all). That might be why people look for cheaper alternatives to proven healthcare.
Stacey’s parents want to cure her diabetes and are willing to drag her around to charlatans to do so. Stacey has to stop them before they drop ten grand on some crystal bullshit. That’s not in the book, but if this were written today, they’d be blaming vaccines and spending their money on crystals and essential oils.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
As usual, the book starts with a BSC meeting where they discuss the impending birth of Mrs. Newton’s second child. They want to make sure that one of them is always available in case the Newtons have to go to the hospital since they’re “such good customers.” Solid plan. Consistent, good customers should receive some special privileges (but the customer shouldn’t expect it – my thoughts on this are complicated). The meeting turns south when Janine enters with a flyer for the brand new company “The Baby-Sitters Agency.”
After some digging (including a pretend baby-sitting inquiry) it turns out that the business owners, Liz and Michelle, have a network of friends they can call, some of them older, and act more like a liaison to the parents. The way it works is that the parents call the phone number, Liz or Michelle calls around to see who is available, and then call the parent back with a sitter. They don’t do any baby-sitting themselves (neither do the baby-sitters they send, really, but we’ll get to that).
Stacey talks about her previous life, including her former best friend, Laine Cummings. They had a falling out after Stacey wet the bed they were sharing because of Stacey’s undiagnosed diabetes. After a series of doctor visits, Laine accused Stacey of faking it for attention. Laine is the type of person who says that people with depression should just exercise and go vegan if they want to “get happier.” After that, Stacey and her family moved to Stoneybrook.
Later, Stacey’s mom wants to speak with her. She tells Stacey that she wants her to see a TV doctor named Dr. Barnes in New York. Apparently, Dr. Barnes has some new treatment that Stacey’s parents think will cure Stacey of her diabetes. Stacey doesn’t want to go because she’ll miss three days of school and she has no desire to see a new doctor, especially one that her Uncle saw on television. Imagine Dr. Phil attempting to cure your lupus. I’m surprised Dr. Barnes doesn’t go by Dr. Brad.
During a special BSC meeting, Kristy proposes the idea of Kid-Kits in order to make themselves more appealing to their babysitting charges and their parents. This is one of the few ideas that Kristy has that actually sticks, and Kid-Kits are a staple of subsequent Baby-Sitters Club books. Kid-Kits are basically toys and games and activities for the children that each babysitter can take with them on jobs. This is a good idea. However, Kristy’s other ideas aren’t so great.
The other ideas Kristy has are rate cuts, free housework, and giving away jobs to their older brothers and sisters. Claudia and Mary Anne refuse. They go forward with the Kid-Kits, but the other ideas are considered last resorts.
Stacey babysits for Charlotte and we are introduced to Dr. Johanssen, Charlotte’s mother and the only doctor in all of Stoneybrook. The city only needs one doctor, but they have competing adolescent baby-sitting agencies. Stacey and Charlotte take a walk downtown. After a quick stop in the candy store from the cover of the book, Charlotte sees some children who call her “teacher’s pet” and tease her. Stacey shares that she was also teased in school before she moved to Stoneybrook. On the way home, Liz gives them a balloon with the Baby-sitters Agency phone number, mistaking Stacey for Charlotte’s older sister.
Suddenly, Mrs. Newton is in labor! Mr. Newton rushes her to the hospital while they leave Jamie with Kristy. They decide to hold a Big Brother Party for Jamie because the kid is apprehensive about having a sibling. A bunch of the usual kids show up and the baby-sitters put on a record and play musical rug. Mr. Newton calls and talks to his son. Jamie reveals that he has a new sister named Lucy Jane and Jamie storms off.
Kristy chases him down and asks him if he’s sad that it’s a girl and not a boy. Jamie says that he’s upset because now Kristy can’t babysit him and his mother is going to switch them to a sitter named Liz because she’s older. Jamie doesn’t seem to like Liz and Kristy vows to do something to help Jamie.
The BSC finds a flier for the Baby-sitters Agency with the words, “Want to earn fast money the easy way?” Well, sign me up! They find Michelle Patterson signing people up. Kristy decides to allow eighth-graders into the BSC.
Stacey’s mother schedules tests for Stacey with Dr. Barnes. Stacey has to be in the hospital for five days sometime near Christmas. Despite Stacey’s protests, her parents think that Dr. Barnes’s “holistic approach” will cure her. While Stacey is babysitting Charlotte, Stacey asks Dr. Johanssen if she’s heard of Dr. Barnes. Dr. Johanssen has and warns Stacey about the man, whom she calls “a faith healer.”
“What he is going to do – I can practially guarantee this – is recommend all sorts of expensive programs and therapies designed to make your life as positive and fulfilling and healthy as possible. He’ll tell your parents that this will enable you to rid your body of the disease…It’s just that – well, it’s my belief that no special program is going to rid your body of diabetes.”
Stacey begs Dr. Johanssen to help her get out of meeting with Dr. Barnes. The doctor promises to figure out a way to help her. Probably without a caper, but let’s hope for a caper. (There isn’t a caper.)
So Kristy gets this idea to put the BSC in sandwich boards to advertise that their club is looking for new members. It goes as well as you’d expect an idea involving cumbersome wood would go. A girl says that she just uses the babysitting time to watch TV. A boy said that he doesn’t want to show up to meetings three times a week. Some guy named Pete Black flirts with Stacey.
Kristy ends up finding two eighth-graders to join the club: Janet Gates and Leslie Howard. They were once friends with Liz, but they had a falling out. Or so they claim. Jeez, Kristy, for someone smart enough to come up with the club and the Kid-Kits, you’re awfully dense when it comes to obvious sabotage tactics. Even Stacey sees through the ruse, but she goes along with it anyway, because if she raised objections or put restrictions on the new members, there wouldn’t be a plot.
The BSC gives presents to Mrs. Newton presumably for the new baby. They also give presents to Jamie, which Mrs. Newton appreciates since Jamie has been jealous of the presents the baby has been receiving. They also ask about babysitting for them again, but Mrs. Newton says that the BSC is too young and when Lucy is older, she hopes they can sit for her again.
At the BSC meeting, they meet the new members and give them jobs. I’m sure the new members will be fine and responsible and not try to sabotage the BSC’s reputation at all. They don’t need to send another more established member to the job as well to make sure everything’s okay. Not at all. This will in no way hurt the BSC and their new clients.
Also, Stacey remarks that she’s impressed by the simple fact that the new members are thirteen and fourteen. Stacey is impressed by the passage of time, instead of how we should all feel, which is dread.
And, as expected, the new girls don’t show up for their babysitting jobs. The BSC confronts them at school and it goes as well as the sandwich board idea. It ends with Kristy crying in the girls’ bathroom. Things really suck when Kristy is crying.
While Stacey is at Jamie’s while Mrs. Newton and Lucy are in another room. Jamie’s demeanor is noticeably different. Stacey asks if it’s because of the new baby. Instead, Jamie laments that babysitters used to read and play with him, but his new sitters just watch tv and invite over their boyfriends, and one of them smoked in the living room and burned a cushion. Stacey encourages Jamie to tell his parents about what his sitters are doing. It’s my experience that if someone tells a kid to keep a secret or hide something from their parents, that person sucks and should be shot into the sun.
Later, Stacey babysits for Charlotte and the poor girl explodes at Stacey, saying that babysitters only care about money.
Charlotte looked at me sadly. “Ellie said, ‘Oh, Charlotte, you are the teacher’s pet, teacher’s pet,’ and I said, ‘I am not,’ and she said, ‘Are, too, and you don’t have any friends.’ And I said, ‘I have baby-sitters. They’re my friends.’ And she said, ‘They are not. My sister Cathy doesn’t like you.’ And I said, ‘Then how come she sits for me?’ And she said, ‘Because your parents pay her a lot of money, stupid.'”
Stacey is able to convince Charlotte that she’s different because Stacey actually plays with her and doesn’t ignore her the way Cathy does.
The next day, on their way home from school, the BSC finds Jamie Newton just hanging out in the street. By himself. A three-year-old. Alone in the street. Apparently, his sitter, Cathy Morris, told him it was okay to go play outside. Even Disneyland doesn’t let someone shorter than 54″ drive a car by themselves in Autopia, which is the only place I’ve seen an eight-year-old living his life. The BSC walks him back home and they wonder if they should tell the parents and if that would be interpreted as them trying to sabotage the Agency. Stacey asks her mother for advice, to which her mother says, “I’d say the person who’s going to tell something should risk ‘looking bad,’ if a child really is in danger.” Oh, now Mrs. McGill shows some measured thinking as opposed to when she’s channel surfing to find Stacey’s new doctor.
The girls go to Mrs. Newton’s and tell her how they saw Jamie and how a babysitter burned one of their cushions and asked Jamie not to tell her. She’s pretty horrified and won’t use the agency again (except some seventeen-year-old boy sitter, I guess, that was thrown in).
The BSC confronts Liz and Michelle. This time, it goes a little better. The BSC demonstrates how much they know about their babysitting charges and the behavior of a good babysitter.
Stacey leaves for New York, which includes a reunion between Stacey and her former best-friend. Laine and Stacey fight. The next morning, Stacey has her tests – strangely, without her parents expressly present.
I was examined, poked, and prodded. Blood was drawn. I was fed a specifically prepared lunch and more blood was drawn. Then this woman holding a sheaf of papers asked me to do weird things like draw a picture of my family, make up stories about inkblots, and build towers of bricks. I ran on a treadmill and tried to do sit-ups and push-ups. I rode an exercise bicycle. At last I was given a written test. It might have been an IQ test, but I wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, it looked long.
They let her go back into the custody of her parents. I would be suspicious at the “draw a picture” phase. What does that have to do with diabetes? Blood, food, exercise. Okay, maybe. But, inkblots? Also, her parents should have been there the entire time. She’s twelve and these people are all, “Let us do tests on her without y’all here.” Hey, TV doctor, don’t just touchkids without their parents there. That’s creepy!
Luckily, they let her out in time for her appointment with a real doctor, Dr. Graham. She springs the appointment on her parents, and they are forced to go see this real doctor with Stacey. After all, Dr. Johansson helped Stacey get this appointment with a renowned physican. Frankly, after her parents sprung this weird, IQ testing doctor on Stacey, Stacey has every right to spring a reputable doctor on them.
After the meeting with an accredited doctor who speaks to both Stacey and her parents, Stacey finally stands up to her parents, telling them that it’s not fair for them to switch doctors without her and force her to switch schools. Her parents say that they trust Dr. Graham more than Dr. Barnes, who is suggesting “unusual” treatments with exorbitant costs.
Back with the Cummings’, the two families go to the movies. Laine and Stacey talk while getting snacks. Laine was jealous of Stacey because she was getting all this attention from teachers and school administrators and she was permitted to miss so much school. She apologizes and things are copasetic between the two again.
The next day, the families hang out again, this time while traipsing around New York. They watch Paris Magic, which Stacey calls “the best musical” she’d ever seen. It is not a real musical because I Googled it and found nothing. It was a ridiculous title for anything and it turns out that the only appropriate use for that title is hair care products, which is the only search result I received.
When Stacey goes back to Stoneybrook, she learned that Charlotte and Jaime told their parents everything, and it turns out that there were other unhappy children. The Agency folds.
On a final note, the problem with Charlotte’s bullying is resolved as well – she’s skipping a grade.
I understand Stacey’s parents’ desperation. They just want their daughter to have the best life possible. That’s what makes Barnes, and people of his ilk, so dangerous. People seek radical and expensive treatments because they provide a little bit of hope where there is none. Snake oil salesmen are taking advantage of people in the most blatant way. It’s all about how much can they charge for this thing that probably won’t work but has a cheap cost. It’s monstrous.
I can’t believe I have to say this, but don’t trust miracle cures and panacea. Don’t digest bleach or aquarium agents or shine light into your veins. When I started writing this, I wasn’t worried about people doing anything of those things, but it turns out that there are still salesmen peddling miracle cures to their cult and scared members of the populace. Just, please, be safe out there. Don’t rush things.
And wear a damn mask, please. It shouldn’t be this hard to get people to do something so simple that will help so many.
There’s no point in trying to conceal my bias – I think child beauty pageants are creepy and gross. I don’t like the idea of forcing children to compete against one another for really no reason. They’ll have enough competition in their futures. However, I don’t blame the children. I blame the judges who are willing to rank children on an arbitrary scale, and I blame the parents who want to slap ten pounds of make-up on their child to make them look sixteen and, finally, I blame the industry that perpetuates this activity – including the trainers who teach the children how to win over judges, the make-up industry that caters to these parents, and the institution itself.
That being said, this month the BSC gets into a fight over a child beauty pageant, so it’s going to be one of those blog entries.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Like most BSC books, it starts with a BSC meeting. Dawn is announced as the new treasurer and she thinks to herself, “I like Stoneybrook, but I’m a California girl at heart. I like hot weather, not cold, and health food, not junk.” The flex is that stark and it is in the part of the book where each member is given a page-long paragraph detailing everything we need to know about each member. I’m starting to skip these. And as for the remarks about California – the hot weather is on point except for Northern California, Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Mammoth, and every other ski resort. We can say that Dawn is a Southern California girl. And have you seen the junk food at Disneyland? Clearly, Californians love their Mickey-shaped donuts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I don’t think Ann M. Martin had been to California before writing these books.
Anyway, Mallory and Jessi are sworn in as members, and the BSC oath, as introduced in this book, goes like this, “I promise to be a good, reliable, and safe sitter, and to be true to the Baby-sitters Club forevermore.” Sounds like a good oath. Mary Anne cries. Claudia and Dawn roll their eyes, which I think is a little rude. She’s just happy for them, and while I may be an emotionless gargoyle, I think it’s wonderful that Mary Anne feels still things.
Back at home, Jeff is having some problems adjusting to the house. Jeff’s teacher calls and tells Dawn and her mother that he got into a fight. Jeff wants to move back to California and their mother reluctantly agrees to work out a deal with their father and their lawyers, which, frankly, is probably the best solution for everyone. Unfortunately, Dawn does not agree.
“You little twerp!” I said to him hotly. “You are a rotten, spoiled baby.”
“Dawn!” cried my mother.
I ignored her. “Can’t you see what you’re doing?” I yelled at Jeff. “You’re breaking up what’s left of our family.”
“No, I’m not,” Jeff replied quietly. “I’m giving Dad some of his family back. It’s time we evened things up. Besides, I have to try this or I might end up in jail.”
Mom and Jeff and I all began to laugh.
This is the tenth time reading this and I still don’t quite get it. I guess Jeff going to jail is hilarious. Probably because he’s a white boy and if certain rapist swimmers won’t go to jail for being rapist swimmers, then this kid in Connecticut isn’t going to go to jail for fighting. Hell, white men don’t go to jail for stealing billions of dollars from the American people – this kid isn’t going to jail. Now that’s commentary!
At Claudia’s house, Dawn and the young Miss Kishi see the advertisement for the pageant. The girls will be judged on “poise, talent, and looks.” “Looks.” “Looks?” They’re eight, don’t be gross. There is a short discussion on how sexist it is, surprisingly not from our favorite health-food vegan California girl, but from Claudia. In fact, Dawn says she did child beauty pageants and won when she was a child.
The rest of the BSC shows up and there is a quick conversation about how sexist pageants are, which I guess is progressive for when this book was written (1988). Kristy says, “I guess a pageant could be sexist . . . but fun.” Well, Kristy, if it’s fun, then we should keep doing it! Men have a lot of fun slapping flight attendants’ asses, we should just keep doing it! You’re disappointing me, Kristy, but I guess we have to have a central conflict in the book and it can’t be Jeff and Dawn, it has to be the BSC fighting over their separate pageant contestants.
Luckily, Jessi and Mallory refuse to participate on the basis it’s sexist. You stick to your convictions, girls. Thank god you’re here. However, Mallory’s sisters Clare and Margo hear about the pageant. Mallory sticks to her beliefs and refuses to coach the girl, so Mrs. Pike asks Dawn for help, to which Dawn enthusiastically agrees.
The first handwriting chapter we have is for Kristy watching over Karen, Andrew, and David Michael. Karen hears about the pageant (from Kristy) and wants to enter. Her talent will be singing and tap dancing, although she has no training. Then Watson and Kristy’s mother return from their birdbath auction.
Jeff is confirmed to be moving back to California after an effusive week for the kid. They argue again, even though they were laughing just a few days before. This really doesn’t have anything to do with the pageant. Although, Dawn is using the pageant to distract herself from Jeff. It doesn’t matter, as it’s a B storyline.
We have an A storyline! Dawn is at the Pikes’ house, coaching Margo and Clare.
Clare and Margo raced into the bedroom they share. Before I could say a word, they opened their closet and began peeling their clothes off. Margo reached for her bathing suit. On the front was a gigantic alligator, its mouth open in a grin full of big triangular felt teeth.
“This is what I’m wearing,” she announced.
“For what?” I asked
“The pageant,” Margo replied impatiently.
Fuck yeah, she should wear whatever the fuck she wants, but Dawn is playing this ridiculous thing straight and asks that they don’t think about outfits at the moment. They switch to their talents. They don’t play instruments, they can’t dance, and they can’t sing. Margo chooses to recite a poem from memory, but she doesn’t think it’s enough. She wants to recite the poem while peeling a banana with her feet, which grossed me out. Then she took a bite from it while reciting the poem and I retched a little.
Mary Anne babysat for the Perkins’ and, of course, the girls hear about the pageant. It turns out that Myriah can both dance and tap. Myriah has also taken gymnastics and theater. When their mother comes home, the girls ask her if they can participate in the pageant, to which she says,
“In any pageant, or in any game or contest, there are winners and there are losers. You might be a winner, Myriah, and that would be wonderful. Daddy and Gabbie and I and even Laura would be very proud of you. But you might be a loser, too. There are going to be lots more losers than winners. And I want you to know that we’ll be proud of you if you lose. We’ll be proud of you for having the courage to be in the pageant, and for the work and rehearsing you’ll do.”
That is a very good way of putting it. No sarcasm here. It’s the best lesson in the book, besides the final lesson, but we’ll get that soon.
When Claudia sits for Charlotte, they decide to give Stacey a call. These were the days when you had to have a calling card and it cost, like, fifty bucks a minute or something, so this is a big deal. After the call, to distract from separation from their best-friend, Claudia somehow convinces Charlotte to join the pageant as well, even though Charlotte “would rather read” (a girl after my own heart).
Mallory and Jessi sit for the Pike kids and Margo is still rehearing “The House That Jack Built” complete with banana. I’m disgusted just by thinking about it. Tarantino I am not. All the children start to argue as Adam tries to screw up Margo and Claire tries to sing louder to cover up the fighting. Mallory attempts to quiet them down but it doesn’t work and the chapter ends with headaches.
At the next BSC meeting, there’s a bunch of pageant talk, especially about the last question. You know, the one where the contestants either shine with their brilliance or become an internet meme.
It’s obvious that Charlotte really doesn’t want to do it, Margo and Claire are the only interesting girls entering because they’re so wacky, and Myriah is the only one who has the stage presence and talent to win. Claire would make any pageant awesome and I have the receipts.
“Margo,” I said, “What is your greatest wish?”
“Global peace,” she replied immediately.
“Yes, but say it in a nice sentence.”
“My greatest wish,” Margo said, looking rapturous and angelic, “is for global peace. That would be very . . . nice.”
I only hoped the judge wouldn’t ask her to explain what she meant. Margo didn’t have the vaguest idea what global peace was.
“Great,” I told her. “Now Claire, if the house were on fire and you had time to rescue three things, what would they be?”
“I would rescue,” Claire began sweetly, “my family members, global peace, and the first extinguisher.”
Ha! If I were the judge, I’d say she wins.
Jeff leaves for California. Remember when you could just walk all the way to the gate before you had to say goodbye? It’s weird to see on television shows and it’s weird to read in books. It’s certainly more dramatic to say good-bye at the gate, your loved one looking back wistfully over their shoulder as they wave and pass into a long hallway away from you. It’s not the same if you drop them off outside as they fumble with their luggage, all while an attendant is yelling at someone, “Hey! This is the drop-off you can’t wait here! Get to the cell phone lot!”
Finally, the big pageant day arrives. The girls line up, including a girl named Sabrina Bouvier, who, besides being a distant relative of Marge Simpson, does the pageant thing all the time. It starts with the introductions and Claire immediately starts saying hi to everyone she knows in the audience and is promptly cut off, to which I say, “LET HER SPEAK!” and then I would be promptly cut off and kicked out of the pageant.
During the talent portion, Karen sings, that Sabrina girl sings “Moon River” and is bad, Margo does her banana poem, and Charlotte runs off the stage in tears. I blame you, Claudia. Myriah gives a good answer to the interview portion (“I would say to the people who were making the wars, ‘Now you stop that. You settle this problem yourselves like grown-ups. Our children want peace.'”) and Claire says that her greatest hope is that Santa Claus is real. Karen says that if her house were on fire, she would save her stuffed cat, her blanket, as many toys as she could carry, and finally her brother Andrew or her pen that writes in three colors. Sabrina does the “global peace” answer and Margo goes after and freezes up since Sabrina stole her stock answer.
Myriah ends up coming in second with Sabrina first – just like when Lisa Simpson enters the Little Miss Springfield contest. Of course, Sabrina isn’t struck by lightning, causing Myriah to take up her duties.
The girls learn that while Myriah should have won, Sabrina had the look that the judges like and the make-up of a twenty-five-year-old. Claudia realizes that she forced Charlotte to participate. Jeff calls and seems to be in a better place after moving.
I didn’t hate this one as much as I thought I would. Some of the reasoning for the BSC to participate in the pageant is flimsy, but Mallory and Jessi were always there to point out the stupidity and sexism of the whole endeavor. Beauty pageants are a common storyline from many episodic shows (and book series), from Parks and Recreation to the aforementioned The Simpsons. Just like those properties, the beauty pageant participant usually learns that it’s not about the one with the most talent, but the prettiest.
That being said, I would like to leave you with this:
Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #16: Jessi’s Secret Language
Last year, after learning that my partner’s parents took him to Disneyland while he was a baby, my partner and I decided to take a trip to Disneyland. I went when I was eight, but I hadn’t been back since. In the months leading up to the trip, I did what I normally do before a trip: I researched the hell out of the destination. I found myself steeped in Walt Disney history: the man, the park, the opening day problems. I explored the lore behind every attraction: the inspiration behind the Matterhorn and how it may be the first steel rollercoaster in the United States, the opposing ideas for the Haunted Mansion, the various iterations of the submarine adventure. I already knew the layout of the park before we left. I understood the Fast Pass system. I had reservations at what is considered the best restaurant in the park, Cafe Orleans, and the restaurant Walt Disney considered “his” restaurant, The Carnation Cafe. I was on the lookout for the lamp over the Firehouse Station.
This is not a story that leads up to my disappointment when I got to the park. In fact, the park exceeded my expectations and I found a new obsession in the Haunted Mansion. The Disneyland attention to detail is a real thing, the cast members are wonderful, and the park operations are no joke. I also got to see many parents yelling at their kids, and the juxtaposition of parents yelling at their children at “The Happiest Place On Earth” is, frankly, hilarious.
This is leading to my hatred of boats. Let me explain. The first BSC Super Special is split into two parts: the first part on a boat and a second part at Disney World. I realize that Disneyland is different from Disney World. The book features actual Disney World attractions, and while I did exclusively research Disneyland, Disney World is an important part of Disney Parks lore, and the parks aren’t that different, especially in 1989, without Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney-MGM Studios (future Hollywood Studios), both of which had not been built yet.
I love Disneyland, but boy I hate boats. Have I ever been on a luxury cruiser? No. But I haven’t murdered anyone and I hate murder. Did I just compare cruise ships to murder? Yes. I did and I’m proud of it. Pooping over the side of a boat after eating expired shrimp and watching a fifty-year-old couple do a jazz cover of “DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar does not sound like a good time to me.
Anyway, let’s get to the book.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Super Specials are, well, super special. A normal BSC book is about 120-pages of one character’s story in first-person narration. A Super Special is about 220-pages of switching POV. It’s still first-person but now each chapter focuses on a new character. Each babysitter (and a few others) get their own story, that may or may not intersect with another story (and if it does, it’s in such a tangential way to make the paragraph pointless, we’ll get to that). So, as I go through the book beat-by-beat, I will put the POV character in italics. Let’s hope this works:
Baby-Sitters on Board! starts with Kristy explaining how every member of the BSC, plus relevant family members, got a trip on a cruise to Disney World. I should also mention that while the BSC timeline is nebulous, this book seems to take place before Stacey leaves. One clue is that Stacey is still a part of the BSC, hasn’t left, and Mallory, nor Jessi, is a part of the BSC. However, it is the Pikes who start this chain of events.
Basically, Mr. Pike won a naming contest/got off a crime boss at his job as a lawyer for a large company/mob. They invited Mary Anne and Stacey to go with them to watch over the children on the cruise. Watson, who you’ll remember is Kristy’s stepdad, can’t let this mob lawyer have all the fun, so he spends his riches to ensure that his family and the rest of the BSC comes along, minus Jessi, because she has not moved to Stoneybrook yet. This must take place before #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye.
Anyway, the Pikes, the BSC, Watson, Kristy’s Mom (Elizabeth), David Michael, Karen, and Andrew all get on a plane, where there’s some barf bag talk, and arrive in Florida and we switch perspectives as we board The Ocean Princess.
Kristy, Claudia, and Dawn are sharing a cabin. Dawn complains that Kristy doesn’t wear dresses and that’s apparently a problem? I didn’t wear dresses when I was a kid, mostly because of crippling insecurity, but that’s for another entry. Anyway, I don’t think not wearing dresses is some kind of personality disorder.
Kristy and Dawn argue almost immediately because Kristy is a bit of a slob and Dawn is a clean freak – their words, not mine. Surprisingly, Claudia is the voice of reason.
“We’ve almost got the whole corridor to ourselves!” exclaimed Claudia. “Pretty cool!”
“Well, let’s go tidy up our cabin,” I suggested brightly.
“Now?” replied Kristy. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Girls, girls,” Claudia jumped in. “Lighten up. This is our vacation, Dawn. We’re not supposed to spend it cleaning. It’s also only the first day our vacation. I hope you two aren’t going to argue for the rest of the week. It’ll drive me crazy.”
It was a quick fight, but it’s really just the beginning. Dawn and Kristy will be trying to avoid one another for the rest of the book.
Dawn goes exploring on her own and finds a cute boy almost immediately. As I recall, most, if not all, of the BSC Super Specials had some kind of romance plot for at least one of the BSC members. This one has two.
Anyway, Dawn’s mystery boy is evasive in his answers and runs away.
Vanessa, Mallory, and Mary Anne are in one cabin while Stacey, Claire, and Margo share another cabin next door. In a terrible decision by the parents, the triplets and Nicky have their own room. But this chapter is about Mary Anne – the triplets will have their own adventure. For now, Mary Anne asks what the kids want to do.
“Go exploring,” said Nicky.
“Go swimming,” said Claire.
“Go eat,” said Byron, who’s always hungry.
“Play video games,” said Adam
“Look at the ocean,” said Mallory dreamily.
“Find a candy machine,” said Margo.
“Read,” said Vanessa.
“Look for people wearing goofy bathing caps and laugh at them,” said Jordan.
I’m with you, Jordan. Who am I kidding? I would just read at the most stable part of the ship with a motion sickness bag next to me.
Nicky, Vanessa, and Mary Anne explore the ship together, where we get a complete overview of every deck on The Ocean Princess. In the spa, Mary Anne spots an interesting girl.
I was looking at a girl who was standing at the appointment desk, apprently waiting for someone to help her. She had masses of dark, wavy hair that cascaded over her shoulders and partway down her back, and she was wearing one of the skimpiest bikinis I’d ever seen. Even though she looked just a little older than me, she had a figure that filled out the top of the bikini nicely.
Whoa, Mary Anne. Who wrote this about a thirteen-or-fourteen year old? Roy Moore? (He’s running again – I can make jokes at his expense once more. In fact, everyone should make jokes at his expense. That’s your task for the day – make a joke at Roy Moore’s expense.)
Her name is Alexandra Carmody, and as she and Mary Anne have a chat, she is called away as she says that her parents were killed.
As they leave, Nicky and Vanessa spot a boy climbing out of a raft and they immediately think he’s a stowaway.
Mallory does something I did when I was a kid. Something really dumb and embarrassing. After reading Harriet the Spy, Mallory decides to spy on people. Oh, Mallory, I did that shit too after reading that exact book. It amounted to one terrible afternoon where I peeked into a woman’s kitchen three streets over and got chased out of her yard.
For Mallory, she just spies on everyone else and sees Mary Anne talk to Alexandra Carmody, where she learns that she’s an actress, I’m assuming of the Miley Cyrus during Hannah Montana days variety.
She spots Kristy and Claudia talking. Later, a boy named Marc in a wheelchair is very excited to see his room. Finally, she spots a guy with red hair, whom she believes is Spider from her favorite band The Insects. I imagine they are a doo-wop revival group who sings Kingston Trio covers, akin to Shanana. That’s what the kids in the ’80s listened to, right?
Yes, everyone’s favorite precocious child gets her own chapter! I don’t know why she got her own series (one that Ann M. Martin wrote more books of by the way) because she is, to put it nicely since she’s a kid, draining.
This time, she wanders off on her own, sees Alexandra Carmody at the spa, gets her nails done and has it charged to her room, er, Watson’s room that she occupies.
At a cafe, she orders a Coke and has that charged to her room as well. Er. Watson’s room that she occupies. I’m sorry, but a child should not be able to charge anything to any room because they are not adults. This boat is filled with incredibly irresponsible staff.
Karen gets in trouble when she comes back to Kristy, but nothing really comes of it. Karen learns nothing and the ship staff don’t second guess a tiny child wandering around unattended. The lack of consequences will be a recurring theme.
Finally, we have our first Claudia outfit! What are you wearing today, Claud?
I got dressed quickly. This was because while I’d been laying in my bunk the night before I’d planned exactly what I was going to wear. I put on my new blue-and-white bikini and over that, a pink sundress with speghetti straps at the shoulders and big blue buttons down the front. Then I accessorized. I tied a pink-and-blue scarf around my waist, knotting it in the middle, added my snake bracelet and feather earrings, wound my hair on top of my head, and finally put on these white sandals with long laces that you crisscross up your legs and tie in a bow.
I was with you until you put on the unnecessary scarf, Claudia. But you know, I always look forward to reading what outfit you’ve put together, so you do you. Just don’t criticize others.
As Dawn and Kristy argue at breakfast, Claudia gets a secret admirer note. It turns out there will be two romantic plots in this Super Special.
Claudia goes to the mainland and tries to sketch and take pictures, but a “figure” keeps getting in the way. Claudia has a stalker! Of course, this is not taken as a stalker and Claudia thinks that it’s exciting. A person following you around and giving you gifts is not romantic or exciting – it’s cause to go to the police! We went through this in #2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.
Surprisingly, there is no romance in Stacey’s story. There is a young child who looks four but is actually seven. He is in a wheelchair and his name is Marc, the boy Mallory had seen earlier.
Marc and Stacey bond over Stacey’s diabetes, because there are really only two sides to Stacey: boy-craziness and diabetes. And since we already have two stories involving the former in this book, it has to be about the latter.
When Marc’s parents come back, Stacey goes back to her cabin and Margo throws up in a wastebasket. I don’t think the events are related, but you never know.
Kristy and Dawn are still fighting and Kristy is really the antagonist here. Dawn just doesn’t want to live with extra multilegged roommates and here’s Kristy just throwing candy wrappers around. So she goes off on her own.
While at the pool, she strikes up a conversation with an old man reading The Mayor of Casterbridge, which happens to be her “nannie’s” favorite book. His name is Rudy Staples and why Kristy can’t find friends her own age is anybody’s guess. Maybe they heard that if you become friends with that Kristy-girl, you’ll invade your cabin and leave pieces of candy wrappers all over your room, and you’ll have to clean up the wrappers until you go insane! They call her the Candywoman. That’s what that movie was about, right? It’s not an excellent horror film about the legacy of slavery or anything, is it?
Anyway, Kristy teaches Rudy-Rudes how to play video games, specifically Centipede, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. When Kristy returns to the cabin, the room is, to Kristy’s horror, straightened up! Oh no! Dawn has done the basic human chores that Kristy should have done in the first place! That fair-weather bitch! Kristy asks her mom to switch rooms with Karen, but her mom refuses because Karen and Andrew are attached at the hip and Claudia and Dawn probably don’t want to share a room with a six-year-old. She encourages Kristy to work out her differences with Dawn.
That’s right! One of the Pike Triplets gets his own chapter! Honestly, they’re pretty much the same person as far as I’m concerned, so Ann M. Martin could literally switch to one of the others and I wouldn’t know.
The triplets, Nicky, and David Michael see a pirate movie and endeavor to find treasure, especially since they are going to be landing on Treasure Cay and the boys see the name as a sign from the sweet Lord above that they’re going to find treasure.
While on the beach, they find some detritus.
“It’s – it’s a treasure map!” I exclaimed. I held out the small yellowed piece of paper. “Look! There’s a diagram and some funny words. They must be in another language. I wonder what language pirates spoke.”
English, if movies are to be believed. And they should be without question. (I saw a woman and her son murder a bunch of kids at a camp for multiple years and the police did nothing. What is this country coming to?)
The boys decide to look everywhere for the treasure, including the boat and Disney World, regardless of the fact that the pirates did not travel on cruise ships and Disney World opened on October 1, 1971. I bet one of them is probably a senator, making decisions about women’s bodies with bullshit science with that kind of treasure logic.
Aaaannnddd Dawn and Kristy are still fighting.
Dawn finds the “gorgeous guy” and they go for a walk. His name is Parker Harris. (Never trust a Parker, Dawn, haven’t you seen Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?). The next day (it moves that abruptly), they have breakfast together followed by a Ping-Pong tournament, which includes a match against Kristy and “her old man friend.” Miraculously, Parker and Dawn win the whole tournament because why the fuck not? They end the day at the arcade and they get into a photo booth.
At the end of the day, they decide to spend more days together at Disney World. Dawn decides that Parker is her “first true boyfriend” and she is in love.
The triplets had been running around the ship and were sent back to their cabin by the ship staff (or mates?), because kids can buy drinks and get manicures, but they sure as hell can’t explore the ship!
As punishment, Mary Anne has to accompany the triplets, Nicky, and David Michael, so really, Mary Anne is punished. Unless she’s getting paid. The book did not discuss Mary Anne and Stacey’s pay. If she’s being paid, it’s not a punishment – she’s doing her job.
The boys tell her about the treasure map and Mary Anne just plays along. In her words, “I have heard of stranger things, so I held my laugh in.” What “stranger things?” And don’t say the hit Netflix series. I have more pop culture references, and I’m not afraid to use them!
Mary Anne bumps into Alexandra, the thirteen-year-old with the rockin’ bod. The girl says that she’s on the trip with her “guardian” and her parents were killed in a car accident, making her an orphan. If I heard that, I would think that Alex is being trafficked and I would call the police. But this is a BSC book, and while the BSC tackles some heavy issues, human trafficking is just too much for the Scholastic audience.
While Claire and Margo are arguing over what to do, Vanessa is reading a book called Baby Island. Stacey does not go into detail as to what exactly Baby Island is about, but I wish she did. Is it an island of only babies, which sounds loud, poopy, and short-lived, or is it about an island of man-children who harass women online? It could also be about an island made of babies or an island for Baby from Dirty Dancing. The possibilities are endless!
Claire, Margo, and Stacey go to this famous video arcade that seems to be the only form of entertainment on this ship and see Marc, the wheelchair-bound kid that Stacey met the other night. Marc’s father leaves him with Stacey.
“I’m sure you’re responsible.” He was probalby thinking about my diabetes, and my diet, and my insulin shots, which we had talked about the night I met the Kubackis.
Stace, buddy, you don’t need to tell everyone about your insulin. It’s really none of his business. Not every person you meet needs to know about your endocrine system deficiencies. But I guess this allows Marc to have some fun without his father, so it’s okay.
The kids ask Marc about his wheelchair. He says he “has a bad heart,” which can describe many politicians I know. ZOOM! He also says he can’t go on rollercoasters, like Space Mountain, but he can go on “quiet” rides. Hate to break it to you, Marc, but every Disney ride is scary. Also, I did Space Mountain and it was enough. I do not like careening through space, even if Admiral Ackbar is there (I went during the Star Wars overlay). I’ll take my Haunted Mansion and the Matterhorn, thank you very much.
The kids and Stacey go to the ice cream parlor and the see Claudia. They also see Claudia’s stalker paying for her sundae. Then he runs away and Claudia chases after him, and we switch POVs.
Claudia chases down her stalker and instead finds a boy who says he saw someone run by and is definitely not her stalker, even though he was right there where the stalker would have careened right into him. Claudia expresses disappointment in not catching him and the boy who is definitely not her stalker suggests that the stalker is shy. He is definitely, definitely not her stalker. Nope. No chance.
His name is Timothy and he is not Claudia’s stalker.
I found myself studying Timothy’s face. It was framed by curly hair. His eyes were dark, wide-set, and fringed with long lashes that I would have given my eyeteeth for. And he was the perfect height for me . . . Wait a minute! What was I doing? I had a Secret Admirer. I didn’t need Timony, too. On the other hand, the admirer wasn’t showing his face. And Timothy was awfully nice. Plus he wasn’t in hiding.
Ignoring whatever the hell “eyeteeth” are, which sounds like something that triggers someone’s phobia, Claudia, you have a stalker/secret admirer who is definitely not Timothy, but you know what? Timothy is showing his face while your stalker, who is not Timothy, is hiding. They are definitely different people. Timothy and Claudia decide to meet up at Disney World.
The group arrives at their Disney World hotel. Although Martin fails to mention which hotel they are staying at, given the minutiae of details for rides, you’d expect a single mention of the hotel. There’s almost an argument after Claudia, Dawn, and Kristy realize there aren’t three beds, but two king-size beds. Claudia continues to play the part of “Reasonable One.”
“We are going to be here three nights,” she said firmly. “So we’ll switch off. Each of us will have a bed to herself one night. And I don’t want any more contamination wars or clothes battles. There are plenty of drawers and coat hangers. We have enough space to pull all of our stuff away, even mine. So let’s do it. And then you two,” she went on, glaring at Dawn and me, “are going to call a truce.”
It’s strange how sometimes when others are lacking a necessary trait, another person will step up and fill that need. Claudia calls out Kristy when she throws a snack wrapper on the ground in front of Dawn. Finally, Kristy and Dawn call a real truce and the conversation turns to if any of them have seen a rated R movie, to which they admit that none of them have. They’re, like, thirteen or twelve, right? I was eleven when I saw my first rated R movie (I Know What You Did Last Summer at a sleepover, starting a lifelong love of horror movies, but my extensive history with horror is for another review about a YA book that is really just an excuse to write and reflect on my own childhood, and I touched on it a little during my review of Stay Out of the Basement).
They are finally in Disney World – one of my Bucket List places (the others being Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland . . . and I guess Seoul and London and see the Philippines again, but they don’t have a Disney theme park).
Karen, Andrew, Watson, and Elizabeth meet Minnie Mouse. They buy some magic shop trinkets and Karen mentions the enormity of Cinderella’s Castle. If I said that in front of my father, he’d proceed to tell me all about perspective and kill the wonder of an actual castle in front of me.
Karen says that she really wants to ride the Haunted Mansion (which is the best ride at Disneyland, I say as I think about how I made Jon ride the ride five times in a day). At the end of the ride, when the Hitchhiking Ghosts “appear” in her car, Karen freaks out and that’s what she’s thinking about for the rest of her story.
Dawn is going on a Disney date with Parker and she wants to look her best.
This is the outfit Claudia helped me to choose: a white tank top under lavender overalls, lavender push-down socks, lavender high-top sneakers, and a beaded Indian belt, which we looped droopily twice around my middle. In my hair we put lavender-and-white clips that looked like birds. I thought they were just any kind of bird, but Claudia swore up and down that they were birds of paradise. Who knows? (I think she was making that up.)
The matchy-matchy ’80s. And what is the young master wearing?
He was wearing this blue-and-white polo shirt, white tennis shorts, and loafers with no socks.
So Parker is dressed as James Spader telling Andrew McCarthy that he shouldn’t date Molly Ringwald because she’s poor. Cool outfit.
Before they go to the Magic Kingdom, they have to discuss parking. That just comes with the territory when you date someone named “Parker.” Then they go to Tomorrowland and ride Space Mountain. Dawn almost throws up, which is exactly how I felt after getting off that ride.
Dawn finds a unicorn charm in the park and she promptly adds it to her great-aunt’s bracelet that she was wearing. Parker’s parents show up and leave his younger brothers with him and Dawn. They ride Big Thunder Mountain and then they go to Tom Sawyer Island, where Dawn realizes she lost her unicorn/great-aunt bracelet. She cries and Parker gives her a peck on the cheek.
Mallory separates from her family to do some more spying. She’s in the Happiest Place on Earth with the best rides and she still wants to play Harriet the Spy even though she has learned nothing interesting and has just wasted her time. At least my brief foray into spying only wasted two hours. But let’s see what Mallory writes in her spying notebook – the sordid details that are so integral to the plot and not problematic or boring at all.
Two old ladies walk by. They have blue hair.
A family walks by with a kid in a stroller. The kid is crying.
Another family goes by. The little girl drops her ice-cream cone. Cries.
A big group of people goes by. They are wearing matching T-shirts. They are very loud (the people, not the shirts). I think the people are retarded. Having fun. Lots of smiles.
A family goes by. Both kids crying.
Riveting and not pejorative at all, Mallory. I want to like you, I really do, but this doesn’t help. The less said about this the better.
Mallory does find out something. She finds Alexandra and it turns out that she is not an orphan but has parents who seem to be famous to old people.
The BSC holds a meeting where they discuss recent events like a “Previously On” written into a show. Kristy brings up giving Watson, Elizabeth, and the Pikes gifts for the trip. After the meeting, Mary Anne returns to her room and finds Mallory.
Mallory proceeds to tell Mary Anne about Alexandra Carmody. Of course, Mary Anne is upset that Alexandra lied to her about being an orphan. Mary Anne decides to confront Alexandra the next time she sees her.
She sees her at Disney World, yells that she’s a liar, and runs away. Great confrontation, Mary Anne. Confrontations always involve the confronter spouting four words and no response from confrontee. Alexandra spends the day trying to explain to Mary Anne, but our BSC member will have none of it.
So the triplets, Nicky, and David Michael continue their treasure quest, but Stacey has to come along. Stacey says that they can do whatever they want “as long as it was legal.”
They go on some rides. There’s more awkward description of the rides. I wonder if Ann M. Martin didn’t actually go on all these rides and just interviewed children outside the exit, or it’s just awkward because it’s awkward to try to explain the ride experience to someone.
In one place, the pirates set some buildings on fire. The buildings really, really look like they’re on fire, too – all red and yellow and glowing. In another place, you pass under a pirate sitting on a bridge or something and you can see that he has hairy legs! There are drunk pirates, there’s a gunfight between two ships, with the exploding shells splashing the water all around your boat, and there are funny pirates in jail. A dog has the keys to their prison, but he won’t give them up!
I don’t need to go to Disney World and experience Pirates of the Carribean myself! I have this description!
None of these ride descriptions ever come into play. It’s not like that dog had the key to their pirate treasure. The ride descriptions are just added for word count.
After the ride, the boys buy some pirate items. They go to Tom Sawyer Island and they finally find a treasure – an old bracelet with a broken clasp. Stacey tells them that it is Dawn’s lost bracelet.
The boys gift up trying to find treasure, but Byron keeps the map.
Her last day at Disney World starts with a character breakfast. During the breakfast, a cast member asks if anyone is celebrating a birthday. A young boy comes up and the entire restaurant is forced to sing happy birthday to him. Instead of feeling pity for the boy, as I would, Karen is envious, lies and says it’s her birthday, and before her father can stop her, she runs up and really shows off her narcissism.
I beamed. I loved it. I loved being right in the middle of things, with everyone thinking about me. I didn’t care that it wasn’t my birthday. It was probably my only chance ever to have a hundred people sing to me.
This is the kind of early behavior of someone who says something racist and doubles down on it on Twitter because they get hate clicks and attention.
Watson kind of chastises her but chooses not to punish because they’re on vacation. Karen proceeds to blame her hitchhiking ghost, which is clearly precedent for her to refuse responsibility. After she says the racist thing on Twitter and people call her out, she’ll blame Ambien or something. Also, I doubt Gus, Ezra, or Phineas would ever do something so fucking conceited as to force others to pay attention to them. They get all the attention they need at the end of the Haunted Mansion.
When the family goes out to the park, Karen figures out a way to get lost. I don’t care if she’s popular – I find Karen incredibly draining. She judges her neighbor and calls her dangerous witch just because she looks different. She thinks it’s okay to wander off and charge things to her room with money she doesn’t have. She believes it’s acceptable to lie just to get people to pay attention to you. And when she’s called out, she blames another party, regardless of the consequences. Now she’s lost. If Karen were my child, Alexandra Carmody wouldn’t be the only orphan at Disney World.
Of course, Karen isn’t forced to pickpockets for Fagan – she finds Elizabeth a page later. So, really, Karen learned nothing and will continue to learn nothing.
Stacey, Claire, and Margo stumble across Marc and they spend the day with him and his parents. They go on a dinosaur ride and the awkward descriptions continue. They also watched Captain EO, and if you’re not familiar with Michael Jackson’s venture into Disney, there are many YouTube videos all about it. (I recommend Defunctland’s excellent episode.)
While the children eat, Stacey speaks with Marc’s parents.
The Kubackis glanced at each other. There was an embarrassing silence. Then Mr. Kubacki said in a low voice, “Marc is going to have major surgery in a couple of weeks. Heart surgery. It’ll be very risky.”
I figured out what he wasn’t saying: that Marc might not survive the operation. I was stunned. “Does he know?” I managed to ask.
“He knows about the surgery,” replied Mr. Kubacki, “but not the risks. There’s no need for him to know that. We took this vacation together . . . just in case. And we want him to be happy. If . . . anything happens, this is one of the good times Mrs. Kubacki and I will be able to look back on.” Mr. Kubacki reached for his wife’s hand.
That’s heartbreaking. I’m not going to be snarky here.
Claudia gets a letter from her stalker that says she is “as beautiful as ever.” But she can’t pay attention to that! She has a Disney World date with Timothy – the boy who is definitely a separate person from her stalker.
Timothy has a secret! Is it that he’s Claudia’s stalker? No, of course not. Those are two different people! The secret is that his older sister is Alexandra Carmody – the orphan liar with famous parents.
Mary Anne finally lets Alexandra explain why she lied and the answer is reminiscent of another character’s warped logic.
“To get attention,” Alexandra replied matter-of-factly. “And to make life a little more interesting. For the same reasons Timothy spies on people and hides in coiled-up rope and stuff. Makes things interesting. When you’re the children of Viv and Vernon Carmody, you tend to get lost in the shuffle. You have to find ways to . . . to. . .”
And then Mary Anne just accepts that answer and they all laugh about it. This is not a great message for impressionable youth. The way to get attention is to lie about your parents’ deaths or lie about your birthday or makeup lies about your neighbor. Basically, the way to get attention is to lie.
Also, Timothy reveals that he was Claudia’s secret admirer/stalker all along! I never saw that coming! I thought they were different people! Talk about a Shamalayan-level twist!
Then they kiss during fireworks, once again teaching young kids that the way to a girl’s heart is vague stalking.
Kristy calls a final BSC meeting whey they reveal that they are going to take all the pictures they took during the trip and collect them into a proto-scrapbook before the term was really coined by white suburban moms with too much time in the early 2000s.
Dawn and Claudia are saying goodbye to their respective summer romances/stalkers. Mary Anne says goodbye to Alexandra Carmody. Kristy gives Rudy her grandmother’s phone number and address. And on the plane, a man approaches the triplets and Nicky.
“Pardon me,” he said with an accent.
The boys looked up at him.
“You are from Holland, yes?” said the man.
All five boys shook their heads.
“American?” asked the man in surprise.
“Yup,” said Adam.
“Oh. My mistake. I saw the copy machine diagram. With words in Dutch. I think you are from Holland, too. I am Dutch.”
“Copy machine diagram?” repeated Byron. “Dutch?”
“Yes,” said the man. He pointed to the paper. “My company, it manufactures copiers. That is a picture of – how do you say? – the insides of a machine.”
“Oh, brother,” mutter David Michael as the man went on his way.
Cool treasure map, boys.
Two months later, the BSC learns that Marc survived his surgery.
Whew! That was a long one!
The thing about Super Specials is that they feature all the BSC members and have an overarching story that may or may not intersect with the other members’ stories. The overarching story is usually just a way to keep them all together however loose that connection may be. In this book, it makes sense to put them all on a boat together, but the extra part with Disney World seems a little unnecessary and I didn’t like reading the passages about the ride events. They don’t really come factor into the plots and just seem extraneous. It’s like Disney paid for this extended product placement, but not enough to make sure the rides contribute more to the plot.
That being said, some of the stories I liked and others I hated. In order of worst to best, this is how I feel about each member’s story.
Worst – Karen: I never understood the appeal of Karen and I still don’t. Why does this brat get her own series? She’s selfish, she doesn’t think about others, she just wants attention, she doesn’t put effort into anything, and she doesn’t learn anything. She just does whatever she wants and there are no consequences for her.
Claudia: Why is Claudia attracted to her stalkers? First the phantom phone call stalker and now this boat stalker. It would be one thing to have a stalker – that is a scary thing that women deal with. But the problem lies with these stalkers getting rewarded with dates and kisses. I want to like Claudia, I really do. She’s the only Asian-American member (maybe the only Asian-American in all of Connecticut, besides her family), and as an Asian-American woman, I want to like her, but it’s hard when she’s macking on shy boys who engage in questionable behavior.
Byron: They were running around with Dutch copier instructions. How am I supposed to be into that?
Mallory: This story makes me remember my spying days after reading Harriet the Spy – and I’d prefer not to remember that afternoon.
Mary Anne: Her story is interesting enough. I was curious about Alexandra Carmody for most of the book, but her third act reveal wasn’t that satisfying. She was doing it for attention? It would be better if she was trying to hide the fact that her parents are famous because people only want to get close to her parents or something. Anything rather than “I want attention.”
Kristy: Okay, so she starts a fight with Dawn and then hangs out with an old man.
Dawn: Okay, so she starts a fight with Kristy and then hangs out with a young man.
Best – Stacey: Even though it seems like the first thing Stacey says is, “Hello. My name is Stacey McGill and I have diabetes,” this is still the best story in this inaugural Super Special. We have a new sympathetic and likable character in Marc. Stacey does some actual baby-sitting. She gets to facilitate a friendship between Claire, Margo, and Marc. It’s heartbreaking to hear that this kid is going to undergo risky surgery and this Disney World trip is a way for his parents to create good memories in case he doesn’t make it. I was relieved when I read he made it.
I enjoyed my first foray into the Super Specials, but there is room for improvement. I remember the other ones being better, and we will see if that’s the case as I continue this series.
Bring a kid sucks. There. I said it. No “Cult of the Child” Victorian bullshit here. You don’t get to do all the great things that adults get to do: stay up late, eat whatever you want, drive, go shopping, pay bills, get insurance, look at stock options, cut down on your cholesterol. Kids just sit around watching television, loading up on sugar, all while your parents force you to go to school to learn new and interesting things. Wait? What was I going on about?
That’s Mallory’s problem: she wants to be treated more grown-up at the advanced age of eleven. She wants to be older and join the BSC because that’s what you do when you’re a kid: you wish you were older and you try to impress older kids, who are practically adults as far as you were concerned. You try to impress them so much you give them all your money without much coercion. That’s not based on anything true or anything. It’s not like the girl down the street asked me for money and I gave it all to her because she was so cool and tall and as big as a real adult and she could ride her bike with her hands off the handles and she had all these cool friends who said neat stuff like “as if” and I wanted to be just like them. That never happened . . .
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Spectacles. Eyeglasses. Bifocals. Trifocals. No matter what you call them, glasses are glasses and I have to wear them.
Hello. I’m Mallory Pike. I’m eleven.
This is what we are greeted with. Synonyms for glasses. A greeting. A name. An age. Then she talks about her family: all seven younger brothers and sisters and their quirks. There are the triplets who are mean. The brother who wants to be like the mean triplets. The one who wants to be a poet and it annoying. The one who is “silly.” The one who is “etc.” She continues with her parents, who are fascinating.
My mom doesn’t have a job. I mean, a job outside of the house, like being a doctor or an insurance salesperson or something. She says us kids are her job, and that with eight of us it’s a big job.
Yeah, I imagine it would be a big job. However, if she doesn’t have a job, why does she always need a babysitter? Later in the book, Kristy refers to the Pikes as “their best clients.” That means they have enough money to live in suburban Connecticut, hire babysitters, have a house in Beach City, New Jersey, can actually go on vacation, have a woman who comes to clean, and raise this ten person family. How about Dad, Mal?
My dad is a lawyer, but not the kid you see on TV, making wild speeches ina crowded courtroom. He’s what’s called a corporate lawyer. He’s the lawyer for a big company in Stamford, Connecticut. (We live in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, which isn’t far away.) Mostly, he sits at a desk or attends meetings. Once in while, though, he does go to court, but I bet he doesn’t make speeches. I think he just stands up a lot and say, “Objection!” and things like that.
She doesn’t go into detail but a company that can pay a lawyer enough to maintain this level of lifestyle is one of two things: a corrupt company that provides an essential service but is destroying the world, akin to Amazon or BP, or, more likely, a front for the mob. Mallory Pike’s dad works for the mob. Say it with claps between each word. Louder for those in the back. MALLORY PIKE’S DAD WORKS FOR THE MOB.
Anyway, Mallory is excited because the BSC asked her if she was interested in joining the BSC. This an opportunity for growth. She thinks this will be her stepping stone to semi-adulthood as well as an opportunity to learn more about kids and baby-sitting from Stoneybrook’s premier baby-sitters.
Before her first BSC meeting, Mallory wants to look sophisticated, so she chooses to wear her “red jumper that said Mallory across the front, a short sleeved white blouse, and white tights with little red hearts all over them.” To which her little sister, Vanessa, remarks, “You look like a Valentine.” I don’t know if Martin intended this to be hilarious, but Mallory’s outfit is Hilarious, capital H. However, the funniest thing about the outfit is that Mallory has the word “Mallory” on her jumper. As if she was going to forget her name. Or it was just to establish that this red jumper is hers and there is no debate about it. I’m surprised Claudia hasn’t worn a shirt that says “Claudia” on it, but there are still more than a hundred books to go.
But before her first BSC meeting, Mallory has to sit through school. That’s when we meet Jessi (or rather, Jessica) Ramsey – the new girl. She’s tall and has long legs and is awfully composed for a sixth grader. Later, during lunch, Mallory sits near some girls from her class.
“Can you believe that new girl?” Rachel sounded aghast.
“Who, Jessica Ramsey?” I replied.
“What do you mean ‘who’? Of course I mean Jessica Ramsey. Who else?”
I shrugged. “What about her?”
“What about her?” cried Sally, this girl I’ve never really liked. “Are you blind? She’s black.“
I nearly chocked. “So?”
“Well, she doesn’t, you know, belong here.”
“Where?” I challenged them. “She doesn’t belong where?”
Sally shrugged uncomfortably. “Oh, I don’t know . . .”
You get ’em, Mallory. I was lukewarm on the eponymous jumper wearer but she does something that we should all be doing to bullshit racism. She challenges them. She makes them say what they mean to say. She puts horrible men who say nothing when their friend is gross to a waitress to shame and she’s in sixth-fucking-grade.
Also, wow, Stoneybrook. I thought this place was welcoming. Now I see you for what you really are. When I read this passage, I honestly thought they were going to have a problem with Jessi because they think she’s stuck up. I did not expect the blatant racism. Ann M. Martin is not fucking around.
During Mallory’s first BSC meeting, her “grown-up” outfit does not go over well. Also, Kristy sends Mallory on a trial baby-sitting job with Claudia at her Perkins’. Mallory also reveals that the Ramseys moved into Stacey’s old house. On the next meeting day, Mallory tones down the outfit (a sweatshirt that says “I’d rather be writing my novel” – something I would have killed for when I was a kid) and leaves for Claudia’s residence entirely too early. On the way there, she passes by Stacey’s old house to find Jessi and her siblings outside.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Mallory Pike . . . You probably know that. I mean, but I wasn’t sure. You must have met an awful lot of kids yesterday and today.”
“I have. But I remember your name.”
“I remember yours, too. Jessica. Jessica Ramsey.”
“Right.” Jessica grinned. “Call me Jessi, though.”
She has a little sister named Becca and a baby brother named Squirt (his real name is John Philip – they didn’t actually name their kid “Squirt”). Mallory and Jessi hit it off and Jessi tells her a joke:
“A farmer is driving down a highway and he sees a truck by the side of the road. It’s got a flat tire, and the driver, who is holding a penguin, looks really upset, so the farmer pulls up and says, ‘Can I help you?’ And the driver says, ‘Oh yes, please. I’m taking this penguin to the zoo. It’s right down the road. Could you take him there for me while I wait for the tow truck?’ The farmer says, ‘Sure,’ takes the penguin, and drives off. The next day the driver is going down a street and he sees the farmer with the penguin. ‘What are you doing?’ he cries. ‘You were supposed to take that penguin to the zoo!’ The farmer smiles. ‘I did,’ he answers, ‘and he had so much fun that today I’m taking him to the circus!'”
Okay, Jessi. Not a bad goof, especially for a sixth grader. And definitely funnier than Louis C.K. Sorry, it’s true.
Jessi invites Mallory up to her room and they bond over horse books and more jokes. It’s sweet and Jessi is cool. I was always ambivalent about both Mallory and Jessi when I was a kid, but I think I was just forced to be selective in my book buying. I couldn’t get every book, so I clung to specific baby-sitters (Mary Anne, mostly) so I could easily choose which books to get. Now that I’m an adult and I can buy as many as my budget allows, I can see the merit of Mallory and Jessi.
Later Mallory shows up to the next meeting and is greeted with a bit of news: she is going to have to take a test administered by the BSC. You know, totally normal things that all babysitters have to go through with questions like, “At what age does a baby cut its first tooth?” Mallory answers, “Eight months,” but Kristy says she’s wrong. The age when a baby cuts its first tooth is seven months. Because that one month is so different. Also, “What is the difference between creeping and crawling?” What I’m getting at is that the test they administer is unfair, especially when the other babysitters didn’t have to take such a test. Did Dawn take this test when she joined? No. They only administer this test to Mallory. She (rightfully) becomes frustrated with them, but there’s still hope: her trial baby-sitting job with Claudia.
Did you actually think that would go perfectly? There would be no book if everything went well. The first thing Mallory does wrong is ask Perkins’ what they want to eat. Claudia says, “Just give them something – something healthy. That way, there won’t be any arguments.” Which is fine advice but Claudia didn’t have to sound go haughtily about it, Miss I-Hide-Candy-In-A-Bag-Behind-My-Dresser. Then Mallory drops a glass and it breaks. Lastly, Mallory lets the dog in and he causes a raucous. After each minor infraction, Claudia chastises her.
During the next meeting, they agree to let Mallory join the BSC . . . if she goes through yet another test. Mallory refuses to take another test, as she should, and storms out of the club, bringing us to the second act.
Mallory and Jessi bond over more books the next day at school. Then Jessi says that no one at school has talked to her. Her sister is also having trouble making friends. In fact, the whole town isn’t talking to the Ramseys. Jessi can’t even join a ballet troupe in Stoneybrook for fear of making everyone mad.
“I’m even thinking of not taking dancing lessons here. I don’t know if it’s worth it. Can’t you just imagine it? They’d hold auditions for a ballet, but they’d never give me the lead, even if I was as good as Pavlova.”
“This famous ballerina. You know what would happen if they did give me the lead?”
“What?” I asked.
“Everyone would be upset that a black girl got it instead of a white girl.”
That’s absolute bullshit, but it’s absolutely true. Remember when they cast Amandla Stenberg as Rue? And they were great! And that character was actually black! Remember the bullshit when Zazie Beetz was cast as Domino? That was perfect casting, and she was great, also, and people still got pissed that she got the part. Jessi is right. Jessi tells it like it is. Jessi also has horses and jokes. Nowadays, she’d have a popular horse comedy podcast.
But it’s the late ’80s and podcasts haven’t been invented yet and so Mallory and Jessi decide to start their own babysitters’ club because that’s what keeps happening in Stoneybrook.
It’s called Kids Incorporated and the idea is that you get two babysitters for the price of one. They only get one job – for the Pikes. While Dawn is on another babysitting job, she sees Mallory and a girl she doesn’t know (Jessi) babysitting the Pikes and tells Kristy. Kristy calls the Pikes “their best customers” and sees Kids Incorporated as a threat.
Meanwhile, Jessi is accepted into an advanced ballet class in Stamford so that’s nice. What’s not nice is how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook. Mallory remembers that Stacey’s family had people over every day welcoming them into the neighborhood, but not the Ramseys. That’s some stone-cold racism right there.
While Mallory and Jessi babysit Becca, they blow bubbles on their front porch.
Becca made another bubble, and another.
At the house across the street, the door opened and a face looked out.
Becca made a fourth bubble.
A little girl stepped onto the porch.
Becca made a fifth bubble.
The girl tiptoed down her front stoop and halfway across the lawn to watch Becca and her bubbles.
“Look,” I said, nudging Jessi.
“I know,” she whispered.
The girl reached the street, crossed it carefully, and ran to Becca. “How do you do that?” she asked. “Those are the biggest-“
“Amy!’ called a sharp voice. An angry looking woman was standing on the porch across the street.
Amy turned around. “Mom?”
“Come here this instant,” said her mother stiffly. Then she went back in the house, slamming the door behind her.
It’s this simple scene that shows that racism is learned not inherited. It’s a powerful message to kids: you don’t have to share the same prejudices as your parents. And we see the direct result of that woman’s racism when Becca is crestfallen.
She thought she was going to make a new friend in a town that has been nothing but cold to her. Let’s hope that the mother didn’t want young Amy to play with Becca because a bubble killed her father or something. “Don’t play with bubbles! You know what happened to your father and I can’t have that happen to you, too!”
Or we could just face the fact that Stoneybrook has a dark underbelly. We only see glimpses into the city’s connections with the mob, the orgies that all the parents go to that warrant competing babysitting companies, and the racism, but the clues are there – Stoneybrook, the epitome of American suburbia, is a synecdoche that reflects the problems endemic with American culture.
Or I’m reading too much into the book series aimed at the tween set.
Eventually, the BSC realizes that they were being silly and invite Mallory to officially join the BSC – no more tests. To Mallory’s credit, she insists they take all of Kids Incorporated – including Jessi. Like Michael Scott in The Office when Dunder-Mifflin wanted to buy out The Michael Scott Paper Company and he insisted they take Ryan and Pam as well. The BSC accepts a full takeover and Kids Incorporated is dissolved into the BSC. Good thing since Kids Incorporated wasn’t doing very well. Again, just like that Office episode. Before she accepts, Jessi brings up an important concern.
“But a lot of families around here don’t seem, um, they don’t seem to like me. Because I’m black. So I’m wondering – what if your clients don’t want me to sit for them? I mean, that’s not going to help you at all. It might even hurt the club.”
Oh, god, Jessi! My sweet Jessi!
Kristy says that basically, if they don’t want Jessi to sit for them because she’s black, then Kristy doesn’t want to sit for them. The BSC has two new members, Jessi has some new friends, and even Becca becomes friends with Charlotte Johannsen.
As a kid, I was so lukewarm on Mallory while reading these but this introduction to both Jessi and Mallory is a good book. Martin does a good job confronting racism in this kids’ book without sugar coating it or making it too hard for kids to understand. I like how Mallory doesn’t take any shit from her “friends” about Jessi’s skin color and she helps her even when the BSC sound a little ignorant about how Jessi has been treated. (There is a brief scene where Mary Anne can’t believe that Jessi has been treated poorly, but Mallory tells them about the bubble-fearing woman and how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook.) As far as I’m concerned, Mallory is cooler than me when I was eleven and she probably wouldn’t have given random older girls all their money, unlike this other person I know. You don’t know her. She lives in Canada. I mean, it’s just a story I came up with. A story about a girl who lives in Canada. I swear I’m not talking about me. Her name was . . . Blamy.