Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The Mind Reader

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

It’s happened. 

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

But it’s finally happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

Her smile faded.

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

“How do you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #17: Mary Anne’s Bad-Luck Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Ghost Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not really. It’s a kite! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I guess Jerri and Terri and dead now?

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just kidding. She was holding a broom. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh?” I gaped at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did he?” I asked.

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

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

I nodded solemnly. “Of course I have.”

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

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

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

“What’s that?” I asked.

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

“But what?” I demanded eagerly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #7: Claudia and Mean Janine

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

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

BSC007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capris and gladiator sandals – fantastic. 

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

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

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

“Jamie!” I shouted. “No!”

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

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

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

“How come?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The New Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Halloween Party

I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday. It’s the one time of year when everyone lives the way I live all year around. It’s the only time I buy decorations for my home (and those decorations are not seasonal, as far as I’m concerned). I even love those Halloween pop-up stores that are usually in an old Circuit City. In Haunted Houses, teenagers jump out at you and it’s fun to see a petite girl in a bloody wedding dress freak out a grown-ass man.

But the one thing about Halloween that doesn’t excite me is the Halloween Party. I’ll always accept an invitation because I usually like the people who pour their time into the party. However, I’m not one to seek out the experience. It’s probably because I’m not a big fan of large gatherings (especially right now, as I write this in early July).

I also don’t dress up. That’s a topic for another time.

A group of teenagers is going to a Halloween Party in the newest entry into my series “Fear Street: Too Many Pranks!”

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What? I just need a ride to the party. You could’ve just said no. Just because I’m a Pumpkin Skull doesn’t mean you have to be rude.

Terry and Niki are staring at tombstones, Niki is partially deaf, there’s a figure that moves toward them, and it turns out to be some guy named Murphy. End of the first chapter.

Then we go back two weeks because that was such a great opening, and we’re introduced to Terry and Niki’s friend Trisha, who “has a weight problem.” Terry also mentions that his girlfriend, Niki, “wasn’t the prettiest girl at Shadyside, or the smartest, but she was definitely the most special.” Slam on Niki. Got her. This start is great! 

The three get invitations to a Halloween Party featuring “special surprises” courtesy of the most popular new girl in school, Justine. Terry says that Justine is “stacked.” This dude is just a big charmer!

We meet Lisa, the school gossip and editor of the newspaper – as if it isn’t just four kids copying articles from a service that supplies articles to school newspapers. I’m kidding, that’s not true. I was on the school newspaper. There were three of us and I actually wrote the horoscopes.

There’s also Ricky, the obnoxious practical joker, the aforementioned Murphy, the school quarterback, Alex, Terry’s rival and Niki’s ex, and some other names, like Angela or something. There are a total of nine invitees to this party, which Justine says will feature a “rad sound system and . . . excellent dance CDs.” And the party is very exclusive – even the boyfriends of names can’t attend. Not even the school’s anachronistic greasers can attend. I can hardly wait! 

Before the party, the invitees split into two groups and start a pranking war. Niki refuses to be on either side. One of the pranks includes the jocks “dissing” “Ricky Schorr with a huge plastic snake that jumped out of his locker.” I don’t think that is what dissing is but maybe things were different in the early ‘90s parlance. Or Stine used a slang term he heard in a rap song once and gleaned the meaning. Either way, pranking wars! This party is heating up!

The big day is finally here and the party is looking off the chain! There are decorations, like fake cobwebs and cutouts of witches, a kettle, a fireplace, an old man, and ten teenagers! The old man is Justine’s uncle, Philip. The party also features pizza and “exotic food” from Greece, Japan, France, and Mexico – it’s not like you can just go to a store and get this stuff! You have to go to the taco stand two blocks away.

Meanwhile, Terry makes some gross observations about the girls at the party, calling Justine’s costume “ghoulish,” and Angela “a tramp.” You are a real winner here, Terry! He does this so he can call Niki the best girl there. And that’s what girls like – being compared to other girls and calling them names. Women and other women should be adversaries, otherwise, we might finally figure out we don’t need annoying men anymore!

Justine stops the music to make an announcement as if there are more than ten people at this party. She promises surprises, and by God, she’s gonna surprise everyone.

“But first I have to tell you a true story. Throughout history people have loved to dance. But in the Middle Ages dancing was sometimes much more than just fun. In fact, some people were said to be taken by evil spirits when they danced. They would dance faster and faster, faster and faster, till they literally danced themselves to death. I don’t know if we have evil spirits here tonight, but anything can happen on Halloween. Is anyone brave enough to try some really fast music?”

This excites her nine guests. She plays a song that repeats the words, “Pump up the jam.” Which, if it’s the late ‘80s song that does exactly that, is not a fast song. Maybe it is for a bunch of upper-middle-class white kids, but it’s no “Sandstorm.” 

Suddenly, the lights go out! And there’s a body! Alex bends down to see who it is! The body is Les! He jumps up! It’s a prank! Oh, man, ten white kids, an old man, cutouts, and a dead body prank! I love this party!

The party gets even better when those aforementioned greasers ride their motorcycles through the window! They wreck up the decorations, complain about the interesting food, and ask for wine coolers. Two of the partygoers get on the bikes and ride them out while Alex and Terry force the greasers out. Justine refuses to call the cops because she doesn’t take their threats seriously. And besides, she has more surprises for everyone!

She began passing out a photocopied list. “This is a list of the items Uncle Philip and I have hidden around the mansion,” she went on. “There are treasures in every room – on both floors and in the attic and basement. Whichever team finds the most treasures by midnight will win a special prize.”

The teenagers split up and Niki goes exploring in Justine’s bedroom. She finds a fake panel in the back of her closet that opens to reveal a secret room. It’s filled with photos of Justine with an old man, racks of expensive clothes, and prescriptions for an “Enid Cameron.” 

Meanwhile, Terry finds Alex hanging, dripping with blood. Terry gets help from David, but the body disappears! They find Trisha and Niki and Justine to tell them what happened, but no one believes them. However, they find a body in Justine’s bed.

It’s another prank! I love death-based pranks! It’s so funny!

Alex says that while they were out trying to find help, the jock team went through the house and collected a bunch of treasures, therefore winning the game. What is the prize? Chocolates from Paris. 

It’s now movie time! What is the perfect movie for a spooky Halloween party in 1990? Why, Bride of Frankenstein, of course! But there’s a thunderclap and the entire house goes dark. Justine suggests they play their next game – if they’re brave enough.

They have to tell everyone the worst thing they’ve done and if the group votes on whether they’re telling the truth or not. If they lie, they are penalized.

Wow, ten kids, an old man, cut-outs, greasers, Chocolates from Paris, and house rules Truth or Dare? I love this party!

Niki disappears so Terry looks for his girlfriend instead of playing Justine’s game. In lieu of a lost girlfriend, he finds Les and a knife sticking out of Les’s chest. David shows up and the two of them cover the body. They think this is still some kind of trick from the jock team. They discover that the phone line has been cut. David leaves to find aid.

David notices that every car’s tires have been slashed. He also gets attacked by the greasers, but they run off while a faceless shape hits him over the head and drags his body away. 

Meanwhile, Terry finds Niki in the basement. Niki fell in a trap door that sent her tumbling into the basement. While looking for an escape, she finds an old newspaper article particularly illuminating:

Edward D. Cameron, 26, and his wife, Cissy, 20, were killed late last night when their car was hit head-on by a car driven by James B. Whittle, 16.

The Camerons’ car, a late-model Ford, was headed south on Old Mill Road when it was hit by Whittle’s car, a Chevrolet station wagon. According to witnesses at the scene, Whittle had been drag racing with another car, a Corvette driven by John McCormick, 16. The Cameron car spun out of control and into a ditch, where it burst into flames.

“I didn’t see anything till it was too late,” Whittle said. “They just showed up in the fog. I feel terrible about it.”

Whittle’s car sustained major damage, while the Corvette was untouched. Neither Whittle nor McCormick, nor any of their passengers, was seriously injured. Those riding with Whittle included Evelyn Sayles, 15, Joanne Trumble, 15, Arlene Coren, 16, and Robert Carter, 14. The passengers in the Corvette were Jim Ryan, 18, Nancy Arlen, 16, and Ed Martiner, 15, all of Shadyside.

The Cameron couple are survived by a daughter, Enid, age 1.

No charges were filed pending police investigation.

Niki and Terry go to confront Justine. Somehow, Justine convinces everyone it’s part of the night’s surprises, and the last one is with Les in the dining room. Everyone piles in there like idiots and Justine locks the door behind him.

Les is in there alright. But Les is slightly less alive than before (I’m surprised Stine didn’t use that one). Justine reveals herself as Enid Cameron, and the parents of each of the party guests were involved in the car crash that killed Justine/Enid’s parents. So, for revenge, Justine is going to lock them in a room and burn them alive while they listen to car accident sounds. 

Everyone panics and screams, but, if you remember, Niki is partially deaf, so she isn’t overwhelmed by the soundtrack. She gets Terry to help her open the dumbwaiter and she climbs in and falls out, again, in the basement. Philips grabs her ankle, but it’s to ask for help.

He gets a crowbar and they pry off the boards on a window to the dining room. All the kids, less Les of course, are saved and Philip drops some denouement knowledge. Philip is Justine/Enid’s father’s brother. She has spent all these years planning her revenge. Finally, at the age of thirty – yes, Justine/Enid is thirty-years-old – Justine/Enid enrolled in the school they all attend and invited them to a party to enact her revenge. Philip thought it was going to be little pranks and stuff, but since he’s in a Fear Street novel, the revenge turned deadly. When he learned what was happening, Justine/Enid attacked him and left him the basement. 

So Justine/Enid is arrested and the rest of the partygoers live happily ever after.

Oh yeah, and David stumbles out of the woods.

If there wasn’t this ridiculous prank war and this attempt at describing music trends and slang, I think I would have enjoyed this more. The revenge angle is a popular and solid set-up for a horror movie. I even liked the “she’s thirty” angle, even though, I’m sorry, but no thirty-year-old would pass for a sixteen-year-old, but I’m willing to suspend some disbelief.

The pranking angle is a problem. It served as a way to pad out the novel. If the kids had used pranking to get themselves out of the situation, then the pranking angle would be well utilized. Niki’s deafness saved the kids, so the book should have focused more on her. She sidelined as Terry’s girlfriend. He doesn’t think much of her and almost cheats on her with Justine/Enid. Frankly, Niki’s a more interesting character than anyone else, and that includes the thirty-year-old taking gym and hitting on underage kids.

Also, Terry is a terry-ble character. That’s been my time! Tip your waitress and have a Happy Halloween, whatever that may look like this year. Stay safe.

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #6: Kristy’s Big Day

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.

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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.

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #5: Dawn and the Impossible Three

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.

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Some books, a shoe, and a dog? What chaos!!!

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.

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #4: Mary Anne Saves the Day

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.

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The true villain of this one is whoever chose that couch.

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.)

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