Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne!

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

My first boyfriend was in first grade. His name was Michael. We went into the corner of the school and held hands and kissed. After a glorious week, we parted ways amicably. You could call it a “conscious uncoupling.” He married a friend of mine a week later in a beautiful playground ceremony. I was there, and I was happy for them.

Mary Anne’s first boyfriend isn’t as frivolous as mine, but I’m not sure how typical Mary Anne’s first boyfriend experience is to others. I’ve heard horror stories from my fellow women – their first boyfriend treated them like shit, or cheated on them, or myriad other dumb things teenage (and, let’s be honest, adult) boys do to girls. This book and Logan had me in its clutches, right up until the end, when Logan lost me with one cliche.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne! Oh, Logan. Let’s ditch this broad and run away together! I’ll get my hand stuck in a jar. You’ll get it out. It will be our thing!

The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne! starts with a recap, like on X-Men: The Animated Series when Cyclops told that Storm is missing and with the Morlocs. Previously, on The Baby-Sitters Club: Dawn has a secret passage! Kristy’s mom got married! Claudia’s grandmother, Mimi, had a stroke! (Complete with Mary Anne mentioning Mimi’s accent. It’s not that big a deal, Martin. This is coming from someone whose mother has an accent.) Stacey had a crush!

During the last BSC meeting before eighth grade, the girls gush over a Sixteen magazine (a parody of Seventeen magazine) with Cam Geary, Mary Anne’s object of affection, on the cover. Apparently, young Geary is dating a 14-year-old girl with the ridiculous name Corrie Lalique. “She too old for him,” Stacey protested. Yeah, Lalique, get out of here, ya’ old maid, make way for Stacey and the other 12-year-olds.

Mary Anne carefully takes his poster out of the magazine and does something utterly disgusting with it on the first day of eighth grade:

My lunch money was in my purse, the photo of Cam Geary was folded and ready to be displayed in my locker. (That was what the gum was for. You’re not allowed to tape things up in the lockers of Stoneybrook Middle School, so a lot of kids get around that rule by sticking them up with bits of freshly chewed gum.)

That is worse than tape! It’s just tape! I’d rather have tape and tape residue than bits of chewed gum straight from some tween’s maw. Stoneybrook Middle School should reevaluate their tape policy.

At lunch, the BSC sit together, a departure from their disparate seventh-grade arrangement. This is where Mary Anne meets her Romeo.

I saw Trevor Sandbourne, one of Claudia’s old boyfriends from last year. I saw the Shillaber twins, who used to sit with Kristy and Dawn and me. They were sitting with the only set of boy twins in school. (For a moment, I thought I had double vision.) I saw Eric and Shawna from homeroom. And then I saw Cam Geary.

I nearly spit out a mouthful of milk.

“Stacey!” I whispered after I managed to swallow. “Cam Geary goes to our school! Look!”

All my friends turned to look. “Where? Where?”

“That boy?” said Stacey, smiling. “That’s not Cam Geary. That’s Logan Bruno. He’s new this year. He’s in my homeroom and my English class. I talked to him during homeroom. He used to live in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a southern accent.”

I didn’t care what he sounded like. He was the cutest boy I’d ever seen. He looked exactly like Cam Geary. I was in love with him. And because Stacey already knew so much about him, I was jealous of her. What a way to start the year.

Mary Anne falls into infatuation at first sight (love at first sight is a farce – love comes from respect and admiration, but I’ll rant about that some other time) with the new kid at school. Even though Mary Anne is jealous of Stacey at first, the jealousy recedes quickly and there is never a moment of competition over a boy between the friends. I love that. However, I don’t love Stacey’s other ideas in the book, and I don’t love Logan Bruno.

After Kristy advertises during a PTA meeting, the BSC is inundated with too many jobs, and they can’t handle all the new business. Logan offers his services – he has experience in his hometown. During his first meeting with the BSC, one of the girls mentions a bra and the mere mention of an undergarment sends the BSC and Logan into conniptions of ridiculous proportion. It’s just a word, it’s just a bra, and it’s not that big a deal – even if you are in eighth grade. It’s broken up when the BSC sends Logan on a trial run with a new client – Muriel Radowsky and her child Jackie. Mary Anne is sent to supervise Logan’s babysitting prowess.

Jackie is an energetic kid who likes grasshoppers. While he runs to get his grasshopper, Mary Anne and Logan have a moment together.

I gazed at the walls of the Rodowskys’ living room. They were covered with the boys’ artwork, professionally framed. Logan wandered over to one of the pictures – a house formed by a red square with a black triangle sitting on top of it. A green line below indicated grass, a blue line above indicated sky. A yellow sun peeked out of the corner.

“Well, what do you know,” said Logan. “We’ve got a painting just like this at our house. Only it says Logan at the bottom, not Jackie. All these years I thought it was an original.”

Okay, Logan. That was funny. Keep this charm up and I’ll understand why you stick around for the rest of the series. (He kills it in one cliche.)

Jackie tries to do a pull up on the shower curtain rod, which goes as well as expected. Then the kid spills juice. And then he gets his hand stuck in his grasshopper jar. Logan handles all these situations as well as the rest of the BSC. He ends his evaluation by remarking to Mary Anne, “You have a pretty smile.” Logan! You’ve done this before, haven’t you? (I’m telling you, this close to full charm.)

The next chapter is a handwriting chapter starring Claudia sitting for Myriah and Gabby “Gabbers” Perkins. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Gabbers is my favorite nickname. Claudia watches Gabby for a few hours and then has to pick up Myriah at the bus stop. Claudia gets the idea to take Chewy, the Perkins’s huge dog, with them. He gets loose and we get a string of cameos from the BSC regulars. Jamie Newton joins the chase. Mimi tries to catch the dog. Charlotte Johanssen helps out. The dog ends up in the Perkins’s backyard, but not without stealing a traffic cone.

During the next BSC meeting, the group discusses Logan’s potential admission into the club. They force Mary Anne to call him. He won’t join the club, but he does invite Mary Anne to the Remember September Dance. September remembrance is a big issue, and I’m glad that Stoneybrook Middle School wants to raise awareness to September.

Stacey sits for Charlotte and after a reading of Happy Birthday to You by Dr. Seuss, Charlotte encourages Stacey to throw a surprise party for Mary Anne.

“Really, Stacey! A surprise party. You invite all of Mary Anne’s friends to come at one time, and you invite Mary Anne for half an hour later. Then everybody hides in the dark, and when Mary Anne comes over, you switch the lights on,” (Charlotte made a great flourish with her hand), “and everybody jumps out and yells, ‘surpri-ise’!”

I know how surprise parties work, Charlotte. Mary Anne hates surprises, crowds, and attention. Stacey should know that a surprise party is the worst idea – especially since the idea came from an 8-year-old.

The BSC takes Mary Anne to the mall to get a new outfit for the dance, complete with an insane skirt.

Then Claudia handed me a full white skirt with the words Paris, Rome, and London, and sketchy pink and blue pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the Tower Bridge, and other stuff scrawled all over it. She matched it up with a pink shirt and a baggy pink sweater. I would never, ever have tried on that skirt, but with the shirt and sweater it looked really cool.

Her father drops the girls off at the school at “exactly 7:25.”

I joined my friends and we walked to the gym in a noisy bunch. We were all smoothing our hair and picking lint from our clothes and fussing with our jewelry. I thought we made a pretty good-looking group.

We’ll see about that, Mary Anne.

Claudia was wearing short, tight-fitting black pants and a big white shirt that said BE-BOP all over it in between pictures of rock and roll dancers. She had fixed a floppy blue bow in her hair.

Short pants? Like, bicycle shorts?

Stacey was wearing a white T-shirt under a hot pink jumpsuit.

A JUMPSUIT!!! A HOT PINK JUMPSUIT!!!

Dawn and Kristy looked more casual. Dawn was wearing a green and white oversized sweater and stretchy green pants.

Matchy, matchy.

Kristy was wearing a white turtleneck shirt under a pink sweater with jeans. We just couldn’t seem to get her out of her blue jeans.

So she looks like a normal person. If I saw these girls, I’d think they were having a field day from the Institute of the Fashionably Insane and Kristy was their handler.

Logan meets Mary Anne at the dance, they dance, and Mary Anne’s shoe flies off her foot. She runs away, crying and embarrassed. That’s the end of the dance, I suppose.

The next chapter is about Kristy and Dawn watching Karen, Andrew, and David Michael. The other babysitters are busy for various reasons, so Kristy is forced to either hang out with Dawn or spend the night alone. She chooses the former. A fight breaks out over a game of “Memory.” “What is ‘Memory?’” asked no one. Good thing Mary Anne is here to explain it.

I guess I should explain here how Memory is played. It’s very simple. The game consists of a big stack of cards. On each is a picture – and each card has one, and only one, matching card. The cards are laid out facedown. The players take turns turning two cards over. If someone gets a pair, he or she goes again. When all the cards have been matched up, the winner is the one with the most pairs. Simple, right?

I know how Memory works, Mary Anne. I went to public school.

Then there’s some phone tag involving Mary Anne, Stacey, Logan, and Mr. Spier’s ten minutes per call rule. He’d be one of those parents who would let his daughter have a cell phone, but it had to be a feature phone and the only number programmed into it was his.

Mary Anne shows up to Stacey’s party, and our protagonist sees her classmates doing various things, including this one:

Alan Gray had put yellow M&M’s in his eyes and was going around telling the boys he was Little Orphan Annie.

That’s it. I don’t understand the reference. Was Little Orphan Annie known for having yellow eyes? Charlotte Johanssen explained surprise parties, and Mary Anne explained Memory. Why didn’t she explain what yellow eyes have to do with Little Orphan Annie? Googling “Little Orphan Annie” and “yellow eyes” does not garner any information.

Mary Anne is having a pretty okay time, but it all goes down in flames, even for the reader.

First of all, Logan says something misogynist and shitty. I was into him. I understood what Mary Anne saw in him. I thought, “Yeah, this guy deserves to be a consistent side character with his own spin-off books.” Then he ruined it.

“If you could just open up more – I mean, be the way you are right now – people would have a much easier time getting to know you. I almost didn’t ask you to the dance, you know.”

“Why did you ask me?”

“Because you’re different from other girls. More . . . something.”

“More what?” I asked, puzzled. I really wanted to know.

“More serious. Not serious like some old professor, but serious about people. You listen to them and understand them and take them seriously. People like to be taken seriously. It makes them feel worthwhile. But you have a sense of humor, too, which is nice. The only thing is, sometimes you’re too sensitive. I really wasn’t sure things would work out between us.”

“I’ve always been too sensitive,” I told him.

Fuck you, Logan. I thought you were cool. Now you’re just like every other shitty boy. These are the reasons this passage sucked:

  1. He’s trying to tell her how to be more appealing to everyone else. It’s none of his business why she won’t open up to others, and if she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t have to. You need to accept that.
  2. “You’re not like other girls” is misogynistic and pits women against each other. Girls have traits that are different and the same. Girls are human beings, just like boys, and come in a spectrum of personalities.
  3. This also implies that other could never be sensitive, which is just not true.
  4. Don’t otherize a girl, pulling her away from the sisterhood, separating her power. And don’t pull out a desirable trait and convince her that other girls don’t have that trait. What is wrong with you?
  5. Finally, he tries to change her. So what if Mary Anne is too sensitive? It’s who she is.
    He needs to accept her for who she is, good traits, and bad ones. And when did you, teenage boy, become the All-Knowing Eye of What’s Wrong With People? How do you like it when someone criticizes you? You know what’s wrong with you, Logan Bruno? You’re a judgemental, manipulative child who should just grow up. Some girls wear bras – it’s just an article of clothing. Girls are people and come with strengths and weaknesses. Deal with it. Some girls are sensitive and serious – some aren’t. Some girls are sensitive and playful. Did I just blow your mind? Boy, bye.

End of rant.

To make things worse, Stacey brings out a cake and forces everyone to sing “Happy Birthday” at Mary Anne. That preposition is a deliberate choice on my part. No one sings that song with or to someone else – they sing it at someone. Strangers sing that aural abortion at a victim. I don’t blame Mary Anne when she runs away. She has every right to do. Stacey knows that Mary Anne doesn’t like crowds, surprises, and attention, but she still went through with this disastrous plan. You’re being inconsiderate, Stacey.

Mary Anne runs home, and the next day she convinces her father to buy a cat. I’d get her a cat, too, and make Stacey pay for it as reparation for being a bad friend. Of course, Mary Anne apologizes to Stacey for being too sensitive about the party. Mary Anne has nothing to apologize for. “Happy Birthday” sucks. Strangers singing it is worse. Attending your friend’s party is fine, you can fade into the background, but when the party is suddenly about you, it’s terrible.

In the end, the BSC throws her the party they should have thrown, Logan joins the BSC as an associate member (he isn’t required to attend the meetings, but they call him when they need another sitter), and he and Mary Anne find a cat at the shelter and name it “Tigger after the tiger in Winnie-the-Pooh.” Mary Anne could be bothered to explain the reference to Tigger, but not the Little Orphan Annie reference? So kids in the early ‘90s are supposed to know what Little Orphan Annie is, but not Winnie-the-Pooh, because I was a kid in the early ‘90s and I understood one of those, but not the other.

I wanted to enjoy this book, I really did. Mary Anne is my favorite BSC member, and still is, despite this book. I wanted to like Logan, and I liked his humor at the beginning of the book. But just like most men, the second I let him in, he lets me down with some misogynistic comment meant to drive a wedge between me and the sisterhood while insisting it’s a compliment. If that was Martin’s intent, then she did a good job, but Mary Anne should have dumped his ass. However, I don’t think that’s what Martin was trying. Mary Anne doesn’t dump him and he gets two spin-off books of his own. Mary Anne is still my favorite, but I question her taste in boys. Do better Logan. Prove to me you deserve to be with the best babysitter. You have a hundred or so books to do it.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House

Hey! Hey you! I see you there, browsing the internet while 12-year-olds steal income through babysitting. Why would people choose a 12-year-old over a capable adult like yourself? Those 12-year-olds have something you don’t – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook. For today only, its secrets will be revealed and you too can make a dollar an hour babysitting in your neighborhood! Don’t let this financial opportunity slip through your texting fingers!

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

(THESE SPOILERS ARE TOO VALUABLE TO MISS OUT ON)

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook – I wouldn’t call this a complete guide – more like a partial pamphlet that cost too much money even by today’s standards.

The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook by Sonia Black and Pat Brigandi promises you that “everything you always wanted to know about the business of babysitting is right here in this book.” Literally everything you want to know about babysitting is in this 62-page book. It’s so short, it’s more of a pamphlet, and most of the pages require you to fill in the information yourself! You can learn everything about babysitting in about fifteen minutes, then stick it to those 12-year-olds when you steal their babysitting jobs.

The first thing the book instructs you to do is to be prepared. How do you prepare? You read another book, of course! Page two states, “read up on child care and babysitting.” “But you said that this book has everything I wanted to know about babysitting!” you say. Shut-up, stupid! I’m the expert here – I read the book, and the first step is to read another book.

An important step is meeting the children.

“Be friendly but don’t overwhelm the kids with too much friendliness.”

That’s right, keep the relationship friendly and fun, but also professional and cold. Ask them their names and potential business prospects, but no smiling. You are an adult. Don’t smile at children.

Your “Kid Kit” is a special pack of tools to deal with children. You can fill it with anything you like, but playing cards, crayons, musical instruments, and a portable tape recorder are the book’s recommendations. This book has a whole page where you can write your own ideas. Pro tip not in the book: some things to avoid in your Kid Kits are fireworks, knives, meth, and guns. No guns because the house guns should be just fine.

The book also goes over some “Do’s and Don’ts.” “Do arrive on time or even ten to fifteen minutes early for last-minute instructions from the parents.” This one might be difficult for those of you who like to waltz into English 102 twenty minutes into class, but you need to work for that dollar an hour – there’s always a punctual 12-year-old stalking you, waiting for their chance to swoop in when you’re late.

One “Don’t” is “Don’t argue with the kids.” Even if they insist that Hemingway’s contribution to literature is minimal at best, despite popular literary opinion, and you know that Hemingway paved the way for word economy in literature, you shouldn’t stand there and argue with the children. We all know they’re wrong; we just have to hope they grow out of their ignorance and respect Hemingway’s biting, concise prose.

This comprehensive pamphlet that in no way tells you to read another book at the beginning also goes over fun games for the kids! They suggest a wide range of activities including cards, Simon says, red light, green light, and jacks. Add your own! For example, I’ve added, “Just let them play with their phone.”

Are the children bored with their phones? Then tell them a joke! This book suggests some top-notch Knock Knock jokes to get those kids howling. But this special offer will tell you the best ones for the low low cost of nothing!

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Dwayne.

Dwayne, who?

Dwayne the tub, I’m drowning!

Murder and speech impediments are always hilarious. How about this one?

Knock, Knock.

Who’s there?

Shelby.

Shelby, who?

Shelby comin’ ‘round the mountain when she comes!

Hahaha! Vaguely obscene pioneer songs are a great way to relate to modern children.

After the jokes, force the children to do what the book calls a “Creative Play.” The children perform for you using their dolls and toys as characters. Remember to adequately review them in the local newspaper. “Little Timmy’s Big Bad Wolf was pedestrian, but it can hardly compare to the amateur directing of Susie. Her casting choice of a Bratz doll as the second Little Piggy proved to be a wrong move that was amplified by the cartoonish background and bare set design. This reviewer will think twice about attending another performance by the Thompson Family.”

Need something to feed the kids? During this special offer, I will give you two actual recipes from this book.

Peanutty Apple Snack

Carefully cut out the core of an apple.

Fill the center with a mixture of peanut butter and raisins.

Cut the apple into sections and munch away.

And here’s the other recipe, sure to get those kids hopped up on sugar and on their way to helpless addiction by combining two things with no nutritional value:

Chocolate Soda

1 ½ cups of milk

½ cup of chocolate syrup or instant cocoa

½ cup of club soda

4 scoops of chocolate ice cream

Put the milk, syrup and 2 scoops of ice cream into the blender and carefully mix well.

Put 1 scoop of ice cream into each of two glasses.

Pour the mixture into the glasses until they’re ¼ full.

Then pour in the club soda.

This makes two “cool” drinks.

If you are babysitting for more than one child, choose your favorite one and give them the Chocolate Soda. If the other children protest, say, “Maybe next time you won’t flub your lines during the Creative Play.”

After the children are asleep, the book suggests you clean the house. If you’re still going to be paid, you should work.

“Do a little extra, such as straightening out the kitchen.”

After your stellar job, remember to charge for maid services.

Oh no! It’s an emergency! The book goes over nightmares, injuries, visitors, and fights –  in that order. Nightmares are definitely more important than injuries. Just remind the child that nightmares aren’t real! That’ll shut ‘em up so you can go back to your side job cleaning. As for injuries,

“If the child stops crying in a few minutes and goes back to what he was doing before, it’s probably not a serious injury. But if after a while the child is still crying hard or holding the injured area in a peculiar way, call for help.”

That’s right – if a child is injured, wait to see if they eventually stop crying. Even if it looks like their leg is not attached to their torso, wait to see if the kid stops crying and hops back to playing. Everything is fine if the child stops crying. He’ll stop crying. We all stop crying eventually.

Page 29 is an order for the babysitter to keep track of their jobs, pay, and clients. In this handy guide, the last thirty pages are dedicated to record keeping. The forms include important information: Day, Date, Time, and Notes, complete with lines to fill out this information! Can’t make this in a standard word processor.

The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook is in no way a blatant cash grab that explicitly tells you to read a different book for better information. This is 29 pages of information in 20-point font followed by 30 pages of blank lines! You can’t get this great babysitting information anywhere else! (Except every other book longer than 60 pages on babysitting at your local bookstore.) This book is not an attempt to capitalize on a book series that was growing in popularity. This is an opportunity to stick it to 12-year-olds while making some money.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne!

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Bad Dreams

I was apprehensive about doing Fear Street. I have fond memories of the series, and it was included in my attempt to buy back my childhood – scouring thrift stores for books. Long before I decided to write this essay series (“Rereading My Childhood” – in case you forgot), I read Fear Street: The Stepsister. I hated that book. When I say “hate,” I mean I wanted to throw that book into a fire. I loathed every character – the sister main character who is entirely too paranoid, the inconsiderate stepsister, the fake actual sister, the dismissive mother, and the worst character in teen genre fiction history – the misogynistic father who serves no purpose other than to say creepy comments to his step-daughter and harass the mother. He should have been the killer. He should have died. However, he was not. In fact, the “twist” wasn’t really a “twist” but something so obvious I called it on the third page, making it pointless and frustrating. After reading that book (and I won’t do a Rereading of it – the thought of spending my time writing about it makes me want to destroy my computer so I have an excuse not to do it), I wasn’t sure if I could read the rest of the Fear Street series. Are they unreadable to anyone over the age of thirteen?

I still read Bad Dreams and guess what?

I liked it! Like The Stepsister, this one also features a pair of sisters who don’t get along. Unlike The Stepsister, it doesn’t feature a gross stepfather and a dismissive mother. The mother in this book is a good character, and neither sister is outwardly evil. We see our protagonist’s flaws while speaking to her sister, and her sister exhibits some petty behavior. This one also has several twists, some better than others, but the biggest one is so insane I never saw it coming. It’s not a “deus ex machina,” so I wasn’t angry. Overall, this is a solid Fear Street book that centers on some great and flawed female characters.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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My Copy of Fear Street: Bad Dreams by R. L. Stine – First of all, one of these sisters is supposed to be homely, but I see two pretty girls. Secondly, what pair of teenage girls who hate each other have matching sleeping gowns? And lastly, what is up with their hands?

Fear Street: Bad Dreams starts with a prologue in which a nameless character is murdered by her sister in her gorgeous canopy bed. It’s a creepy scene. There’s something in the shadows of the room. It’s her sister! Her sister with a knife! Her sister kills her – like straight-up knifes her. R. L. Stine is not fucking around. At least, not at the beginning.

Now we’re in the first chapter. The chapters are similar to the ones in Goosebumps – short. It seems Stine’s affinity for short chapters didn’t end with Goosebumps. The short chapters are back and shorter than ever!

We meet the Travers sisters – Maggie and Andrea and they do not get along. Maggie believes that their mother holds Andrea to a lower standard than Maggie, despite their close ages, and Andrea is jealous of Maggie’s inherent advantages in the looks department. Maggie is described as an effervescent, red-haired gorgeous teen, while Andrea is listless and dull. However, Andrea is a snob and resents moving to a poorer neighborhood after their father died and their mother was unable to maintain their lifestyle.

They reach their new house on Fear Street and Maggie’s dog, Gus, runs out into traffic, and we have our first cliffhanger. The dog is fine, of course. Stine knows better than to kill off a dog at the beginning of the novel.

The family enters their new house, and in one of the rooms, the one designated to Maggie, is a gorgeous canopy bed.

“Say, Mags,” Andrea began. “Mags, you know how I’ve always wanted an old-fashioned bed like this one, right?” Andrea bit her lip.

Here came the question Maggie had silently predicted.

Sure enough, Andrea demanded, “Can I have it?”

Can I have it? – Andrea’s four favorite words.

Andrea stared at Maggie, pleading with her eyes. Maggie lowers hers to the bed.

What should I tell her? Maggie asked herself. What should I do?

Should I avoid a fight and give it to her?

What should I say?

If Maggie had known the horrors that awaited her in the old canopy bed, her answer might have been different.

But she had no way of knowing why the bed had been left behind.

Ooh, ominous, and a proper cliffhanger ending to a chapter. Mrs. Travers decides that since it came in Maggie’s room, and since Andrea choose the larger room, that Maggie should keep the bed. To which Andrea wails, “But that’s soooo unfair!” Mrs. Travers is completely fair, but I can imagine a girl who has been coddled her entire life thinking that she should get the canopy bed and the bigger room.

Maggie complains to her inconsequential boyfriend Justin about the house, saying it looks like The Addams Family house. (Don’t drag that house – it’s a museum. It says so in the theme song, and I would love to live in a museum.) I say “inconsequential” because he doesn’t do anything. He could be cut from the book and it would have no effect on the plot, and he’s the only dude. I wish Stine cut that sausage out so the book is a pure clambake, but we live in a world in which every story has to have at least one dude. At least he’s relegated to the “girlfriend” character like women in, oh, just about every movie ever. #progress #feminism

That night, Maggie has her first nightmare involving a blonde girl, and she wakes up screaming after a chapter break. Her mother suggests that she is overcome with stress, which is a reasonable reaction, no sarcasm at all. Stress does some crazy things to people, and nightmares are a common symptom.

The next morning, Justin comes over with sponges. How romantic. They make out, and we get a daytime scare.

When the kiss ended, they were both breathless.

Maggie’s heart was thudding in her chest. She gave Justin several quick kisses on the cheek.

Then she glanced past him to the bedroom doorway.

And she saw that they were not alone.

Someone stood in the shadows, staring at them.

The girl from the dream!

No, it’s just Andrea asking for a camera. Whomp-whomp trumpet noise. This makes Andrea seem like a voyeur, like she was going to say, “Don’t let me interrupt you – I like to watch.” That would be creepier than anything in this book.

Just two pages later, Justin can’t breathe! He’s in peril!

Oh, no. He’s just having a little goof at Maggie’s expense. End of Justin’s contribution to the book. Good riddance. Begone! Go back whence you came! A football or something.

Maggie and Andrea are on the swim team and are competing with two other girls, Dawn and Tiffany, for one of two spots on the 200IM. That’s a thing, right, Stine?

Maggie was breathing hard now, and every muscle ached.

But the thought of losing hurt a lot more.

She silently commanded herself: Faster! Faster!

She pushed harder, harder – as she came to the end of the breaststroke. But then she made a poor turn at the wall.

I’ve blown it! She thought.

She had never lost a really big race before.

Could she still win? It was now or never.

Freestyle was her strongest stroke. But she had only two laps to catch up.

She felt as if she was skimming over the water. The shrill cheers and screams in the gym reached an ever higher pitch. Nearing the far wall, Maggie passed Andrea – then Tiffany.

The passage wrapped me up in the excitement. This was actual suspense – not that boring white boy feigning peril. More like this, please.

Maggie comes in first, followed by Dawn and then Tiffany with Andrea bringing up the rear. After the race, Maggie sees Dawn floating facedown in the pool. Danger? No, of course not. She’s just practicing breathing control. Then the girls laugh until the end of the chapter, where Maggie has another nightmare.

Andrea wakes her up and Maggie blames the bed for her nightmares.

Andrea stood up. She ran her finger down one of the bedposts. “See? I told you-you should’ve let me have this bed. It’s bad luck. And it’s giving you nightmares.”

Maggie stared at her as if she hadn’t heard. “The bed . . .” she said. That was it! She reached out and grabbed her sister’s hand. “Andrea, you’re right! The girl in the dream, the girl in trouble? She was sleeping in this bed!”

“That’s spooky,” Andrea admitted. “And she got . . .”

She let the question trail off. Maggie finished it for her. “Stabbed,” she murmured softly. “With a knife. Over and over. Don’t you see? I knew it was too good to be true,” Maggie moaned unhappily.

“What was?”

“The owners just leaving this beautiful bed behind. There had to be something wrong with it.”

Andrea insists the stress is getting to Maggie. Hey, Maggie? There’s a simple way to prove the bed is causing nightmares: give the bed to Andrea and see if she gets the same dreams. This isn’t complicated. Yeah, maybe your sister gets a neat canopy bed, but she might also get nightmares where nothing happens. You pass on the nightmares or you realize it’s stress and can deal with it – either way no more nightmares.

Maggie doesn’t do that. Instead, she implies that Andrea wants Maggie to be less stressed so Andrea can swim in the 200IM. They fight after Maggie’s shitty inference. Up until this exchange, Maggie has been tolerant of Andrea’s pettiness, but in this chapter, we get to see that Maggie isn’t completely innocent. Andrea was showing genuine interest in Maggie’s well-being, but Maggie had to throw in some backhanded comment. Andrea can act immature, but Maggie doesn’t act like an adult either.

The next day, Dawn falls down some stairs and breaks her arm. She thinks Maggie pushed her like Nomi in Showgirls. Maggie goes home and falls asleep on the couch. Then she goes outside and falls asleep there. She wakes up and some weird old man is staring at her.

His name is Milton Avery, and in true deus ex machina form, he and his wife tell them about the murder that happened in the house.

Mr. Avery continued. “There was a girl about your age – named Miranda. Pretty girl with blond hair.”

Miranda!

Maggie knew instantly that Miranda had to be the blond girl in her dream!

“Did Miranda live in my house?” Maggie asked eagerly.

“She and her family lived in your house, yes,” answered Mr. Avery.

“Milton, that’s enough,” Mrs. Avery spoke up.

“No, please tell me,” Maggie pleaded.

“She was killed,” the old woman blurted out. “Murdered.”

“She was stabbed,” Mr. Avery said in a hushed whisper. “Stabbed right in her own bed.”

Yeah, that was pretty obvious from the prologue, but thanks, Old Man Avery, for peeping at seventeen-year-olds, I guess. He’s probably banned from the local mall.

Maggie dreams more and mistakes common household items (a curling iron) for various murdering paraphernalia (a knife). Her mother sends her to a therapist after Maggie yells, “I’ll never calm down!” That’s a totally normal thing to say there, Mags. That’ll work.

During swim practice, Tiffany wins the 200IM. Coach pulls Maggie aside and encourages her to work things out internally, within herself, and externally, with her sister. Maggie leaves Coach’s office and finds Tiffany covered in blood. Tiffany was stabbed! But she doesn’t die so that makes the current death count for this book just one unfortunate sister during the prologue. I understand not killing off Dawn – it’s an early incident in the book and Dawn is Maggie’s best friend. Tiffany, however, is a completely expendable character who we never see again.

The novel culminates in an attic showdown, but it starts during a barbeque with the teen peepers.

I’m tired enough to go to sleep right now, Maggie decided.

I have to get to the end of the dream. I have to put this nightmare behind me.

“I’m going to get some more soda,” she lied, getting up from the table.

Everyone was staring at her. Her mom started to her feet with a worried look.

“I’m just going to the refrigerator, Mom,” Maggie said. “Chill out.”

She smiled at everyone, but she smiled too hard – which only made her feel like a lunatic.

I can imagine this unhinged, wide smiling. It’s unnerving. Maggie goes upstairs to sleep (how she planned to deal with her mother when she didn’t come back after getting a soda, I have no idea), but the canopy bed is, just like, gone. That night, Maggie finds the bed in the attic with a person asleep in the bed.

“But who are you?” Maggie demanded.

“Gena,” the girl replied. “Wasn’t I in the dream?”

“I-I don’t know,” Maggie told her. She edged toward the attic stairs.

“I’m Miranda’s sister,” the girl said angrily. “Why wasn’t I in the dream?”

After Gena murdered her sister Miranda, she lived in the attic! This bitch lived in the attic Hugo from The Simpsons style, listening to everything happening in the house. She was appearing in corners. She was stealing knives. She pushed Dawn down the stairs. She stabbed Tiffany. Why?

“But I’m going it for you, Andrea,” Gena replied, sounding hurt. “She’s mean to you. She’s mean – like Miranda.”

“For me?” Andrea cried. “What did you do for me?”

“I did everything for you,” Gena replied softly.

“I did everything for you, Andrea,” Gena continued, ignoring Maggie’s terrified cries. “I hurt those two girls for you. So you could be on the swim team.”

“You what?” Andrea shrieked.

‘Oh, no,” Maggie gasped. “She’s the one who hurt Dawn and Tiffany. I don’t believe it.”

“And I pushed the knife into your sister’s pillow, Andrea,” Gena confessed proudly. “You know. To give her a little scare. To get her ready for tonight.”

“But I don’t want you to kill her!” Andrea wailed. “Who are you? What is going on? How did you get into our house?”

“Shut up, Andrea,” Gena said softly.

She lowered her gaze to Maggie. “It’s time for mean sisters to die.”

Andrea is forced to save her sister and together they defeat Gena, tying her up and, I’m assuming, handing her over to the local law enforcement. (Does Shadybrook have a police force? They must be busy with all the disproportionate murdering and attempted murdering.) Miranda and Gena are a reflection of Andrea and Maggie. By actually confronting what their relationship could be, they are able to overcome their issues and become better sisters.

Admittedly, the twist came out of nowhere. I conjecture that the prologue was added later, but the addition rendered the teen-peepers-exposition-Averys useless.

The Averys could be cut. The boyfriend is extraneous. Tiffany should have been killed to show how close the danger is to Maggie. Despite this, I still had a great time reading it. I think my opinion is a bit skewed. The last Fear Street I read (The Stepsister) made me livid. Frankly, I was happy with the flawed female characters, and I was even happier there wasn’t a terrible, misogynistic, creepy male character. I was happy with the twist that came out of nowhere, but at least I didn’t predict it on page three. If the rest of the Fear Street books are at least as good as Bad Dreams, we’re in for a glowing series of reviews. I don’t think that will happen, but at least I’m committed, and if I hate the book, you’ll read all about it.

We’re going back to Stoneybrook next week, but the next book in the series isn’t a normal one. I’m reading The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook next time, and that should be a quick one!

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Monster Blood

Most of my teachers had some kind of twenty minute quiet time after lunchtime recess. At around 11:30, my entire class and I piled into the hallway and stood in line (if you wanted hot lunch). We paid the lunch lady our $0.75 each at the front or used one of those punch cards the kids with pre-paid lunch had. We grabbed our food, sat down, and ate as fast as we could so we could get outside and run around like little idiots as quickly as possible. After a full thirty minutes of mindless laughing and cavorting with our fellow classmates, the bell rang and forced us back into the green walls of the school, away from the sun and into tedium. Then our teacher made us read. At least we got to choose the book.

“Read one chapter of a book,” she demanded.

We had a book. We had a popular book. It wasn’t cool to read unless you read R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps.

“Read one chapter of a book.”

I see why these books were popular – there are 128 pages in Monster Blood and 29 chapters. That’s an average of four pages a chapter.

“Read one chapter of a book.”

That was easy and only took a minute.

Of course, I wasn’t that child. I had cold lunch, so I had to sit by myself on the other side of the cafeteria. The school separated “hot lunch” students (those who paid money) and “cold lunch” student (those who brought their lunch from home). All my friends brought money to school (eventually, I started asking my mother for money just so I could sit with my friends), and we had to sit in specific seats that a fifth grader designated for us (it wasn’t a bully situation – the school lunch ladies bestowed onto them that power). I enjoyed the thirty-minute recess because I could read whatever I wanted, instead of what my teacher wanted me to read. When the bell rang, it was more of a relief for me. It was time to get up from the ground, brush off the dirt, and read inside – a minor location change. I didn’t mind a long chapter and I never stopped reading after only one chapter. I read until I was the last one still reading and my teacher had to ask me to come back to the boring real world.

I don’t remember the small chapters of Goosebumps, but I remember the cliffhangers. For a while, I was convinced that every horror book had to have a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter and each book. Some writers haven’t grown out of this, as evidenced by adult novels with knives and guns and scantily clad women victims on the covers. R. L. Stine’s cliffhangers are on full display in Monster Blood. There are some good ones with genuine danger – mostly at the end of the book. However, the most prevalent ones are the frustrating ones where it turns out to be a someone making a sandwich (really) or a dream sequence. I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t going to like this one until I reached the end. Everything goes bonkers. The cliffhangers involve actual danger, and the short chapters are a minor inconvenience, rather than a jarring interruption.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

GB: Monster Blood
My copy of Goosebumps: Monster Blood by R. L. Stine Okay, a couple problems. 1. It’s not a monster blood drive, it’s more like a monster canister. No monsters are giving blood, and there isn’t a monster disaster and they need blood. And 2. It’s more like a ball or Flubber than a runny substance.

We start with Evan Ross and his dismissive mother. Mrs. Ross is dropping off her son at his Great Aunt Kathryn’s spooky house. Aunt Kathryn is a deaf septuagenarian who raised Evan’s father. Evan doesn’t want to stay with her because he thinks she’s “weird.” That’s no reason to not want to stay with someone, but I guess Evan’s apprehension is not unfounded – she does pose a danger to our young protagonist. What this book says about weird people is not particularly hopeful, especially for weirdos like me. (I didn’t call myself a weirdo. I accepted my weirdness. I was proclaimed a weirdo when I wanted to read instead of play tag and enjoyed the quiet time after lunch recess.)

At the end of the first chapter, a mere seven pages later, we have our first cliffhanger:

And as she said this, facing Evan with her back to the house, the front door was pulled open, and Aunt Kathryn, a large woman with starling black hair, filled the doorway.

Staring past his mother, Evan saw the knife in Kathryn’s hand. And he saw that the blade of the knife was dripping with blood.

End of chapter one. Even a child wouldn’t be fooled by this obvious cliffhanger. Stine is not going to kill off the protagonist and his mother in a brutal stabbing at the beginning of page eight. Although, if that did happen, it would be surprising.

“I was slicing beef,” she said in a surprisingly deep voice, waving the blood-stained kitchen knife.

I’m reminded of a slasher flick from the early aughts whose name escapes me in which a yellow-haired lady was spooked by a coat rack. She literally bumps into a coat rack and screams. I don’t remember anything else about the movie, but I remember that coat rack. I think I audibly cried, “Oh, come on!” when it happened. I felt the same way at the end of these fake-outs. As bad as the beef slicing is, there is another one later that made me want to put down the book and go back to the Baby-Sitters Club, where Martin doesn’t try to fake me.

I don’t see as many fake-out scares in horror movies anymore. The fear comes from an actual threat. I just want to take a moment and tell modern horror movies that don’t do bullshit scares that I appreciate their efforts.

While Mrs. Ross speaks with Aunt Kathryn, the old woman grabs Evan’s arm and jerks it around. Evan complains that she hurt him and Mrs. Ross completely dismisses her son’s concerns. I get that Evan is a whiny kid, but if he thinks the woman was rough with him, she should listen to him and admonish Aunt Kathryn. If Aunt Kathryn is worth anything, she’d apologize and promise to try to be softer with her nephew.

Mrs. Ross doesn’t do anything. She’s a terrible mother. There. I said it. She drops her kid off with this woman she barely knows so she and Mr. Ross can look for a house. I think Evan should have some say in the house they choose – after all, Evan is going to live in it also. Of course, if she were a better mother, we wouldn’t have this book.

She leaves and Evan explores his temporary living quarters. He finds a library of science books and assumes Aunt Kathryn was once married (hey, Evan, women can like science, too, buddy). Then a demon attacks him at the end of the chapter. No. Not a demon. No actual danger. It’s a cat – Aunt Kathryn’s cat named Sarabeth. At first, I read that as “Scarabeth.” I wish it was “Scarabeth.”

Evan takes his dog (Trigger) out for a walk and a hand touches his shoulder. End of chapter. The hand belongs to a neighborhood girl named Andrea, but she hates that name and prefers “Andy.” I liked that she went by Andy and liked to joke around. Evan quickly sexualizes her and describes her clothing every time he sees her, but as a character, I found her bravery and sense for adventure interesting.  This stark difference between the two made me wish the book was about her instead of Evan. Intrepid Andy and her new-kid-in-town sidekick Evan.

Andy takes Evan to a toy store run by a misanthrope who seems to especially hate children. Hey, guy, if you hate children, don’t open a toy store. When a child expresses interest in something, he won’t sell it to them. Evan finds a container with the words “Monster Blood” on it. He is willing to buy it, but the owner says it’s “not good” and won’t sell it to the boy. If he knew there was something cursed with the monster blood, that would make sense. It would force Evan into theft or some other plot point. However, the owner acquiesces and sells the container to him without much coaxing. I don’t know why the man didn’t just sell it to the kid. I don’t know why R. L. Stine spent some much time with this man. The store closes later in the book and we never see this guy again. It’s no surprise to me why the store shut down.

Evan takes the monster blood and Andy to Aunt Kathryn’s house. He shows his old Aunt the container. She rolls it around and gives it back to him without any troubles. They pop it open and it falls out like Flubber. It bounces around and they take it outside to play with it some in a charming scene that ends with Trigger swallowing a large chunk of it. They wonder if it’s poison.

The next chapter starts three days later, so I guess Trigger is okay and the monster blood isn’t poison. Evan brushes his hair and thinks obsessively about a phone call he received from his parents sometime between when Trigger swallowed monster blood at the end of chapter eight and nine. I honestly thought his parents weren’t going to return and used “house hunting” as a ruse to lose the kid and start new lives in Europe as jewel thieves.

Later, Evan meets the neighborhood bullies – two hulking twins named Rick and Tony. Andy intervenes before the twins can attack Evan, but they steal her bike. They go back to his house and find Trigger suffocating. He rips off the dog’s collar and the kids notice that Trigger has doubled in size.

Chapter thirteen starts with Trigger running after Rick and Tony as Evan tries to catch up with his dog.

Suddenly, as Evan watched in horror, the dog raised up on his hind legs. He tilted his head to the sky and let out an ear-piercing howl. Not the howl of a dog. A creature howl.

And then Trigger’s features began to transform. His forehead burst forward and enlarged. His eyes grew wide and round before sinking under the protruding forehead. Fangs slid from his gaping mouth, and the uttered another howl to the sky, louder and more chilling than the first.

“He’s a monster! A monster!” Evan cried.

Oh, boy, this is getting good!

And woke up.

Fuck you.

A harmless dream. Except that something still wasn’t right.

The bed. It felt so uncomfortable. So cramped.

Evan sat up, alert, wide awake now.

And stared down at his giant feet. HIs giant hands. And realized how tiny the bed seemed beneath him.

Because he was a giant now.

That makes sense. The monster blood made Trigger larger, so, logically, it would make him bigger. I see wacky giant-child shenanigan afoot.

Because he had grown so huge, so monstrously huge.

And when he saw how big he had become, he opened his mouth wide and began to scream.

Oh man! A cliffhanger! Is Evan now going to wreak havoc on his crazy aunt? Will he get revenge on the bullies? I can’t wait for the next chapter.

His screams woke him up.

This time he really woke up.

Oh, fuck off! Slams book down. Walks out the door. Leaves her life free from dream sequences. Starts a new life book-free in the mountains of Oregon. Is a lumberjack now.

I was livid. Something interesting was finally happening and I was interested to see how Evan deals with his new demon dog. It was all a dream. Fine, whatever. Then I wanted to see how Evan acclimatizes to his new size in what would be a wonderful, yet obvious, allegory for puberty. Maybe he could overcome the neighborhood bullies and stand up to his mother (“how could you leave me with a crazy woman and not ask for my input regarding a house – I live there, too!”) – it’s all part of growing up.

No. I get a dream fake out.

I wanted to give up. I wanted to put the book down and give my review without having read the rest of the book. But I kept going. I kept reading. I recently read the first Goosebumps book Welcome to Dead House (long before I decided to write these, I’ll get around to it). I loved Welcome to Dead House. It was the kind of spooky book that got me into horror as a child. I had to give him a second chance. And, well…

The ending is okay. It’s an improvement over the dream fake outs, but my expectations were pretty low. Let’s get to the ending, but first, we have some quick events to get through.

Evan and Andy take Trigger to the veterinarian. I don’t know who paid for the visit. I can’t imagine the kids footing the bill and there wasn’t a scene where they abscond with the dog – like a vet visit and dash. Aunt Kathryn has nothing but disdain for Trigger, so she’s not paying. The vet says that Trigger is healthy, but he is a little large for the breed. Nothing to worry about.

The monster blood gets bigger and spills out of its container. The twins actually beat up Evan. Andy helps with Evan’s injuries. They knock over the monster blood. Andy goes home. Evan stumbles around the garage. He falls into a bathtub filled with the monster blood. Andy shows up. They haul the monster blood in a garbage bag back to the toy shop. The toy shop is shut down. They drag the monster blood back. Trigger is the size of a pony.

Got it? Now we’re at the end.

The monster blood spills out of the garbage bag and turns into a huge ball. It starts to move like it has a mind of its own and consumes everything it touches. As it bounces around, it swallows the bully twins, and corners Aunt Kathryn. We are treated to this twist:

Andy’s hands tugged at the sides of her hair, her eyes wide with growing fear as the seething green blog made its way steadily closer to Evan’s aunt.

“Get out!” Kathryn repeated shrilly. “Save your lives! I made this thing! Now I must die for it!”

What a twist! Although, if she made it, why didn’t she stop Evan when she rolled the monster blood container in her hands? Evan believes that’s when she cast a spell on the monster blood, but Aunt Kathryn points at Andy and says that the young girl made her do it. End of chapter.

She wasn’t pointing at Andy, but Sarabeth, the cat. Then something batshit happens.

All eyes were on the cat as it rose up, stretched, and grew. And as it grew, it changed its shape.

Became human.

With shadowy arms and legs in the eerie darkness.

And then the shadow stepped away from the darkness.

And Sarabeth was now a young woman with fiery red hair and pale skin and yellow eyes, the same yellow cat eyes that had haunted Evan since he’d arrived. The young woman was dressed in a swirling black gown down to her ankles.

She stood in the doorway, staring accusingly at Kathryn.

“You see? She’s the one,” Kathryn said, quietly now. And the next words were intended only for Sarabeth: “Your spell over me is broken. I will do no more work for you.”

The fucking cat had control of Aunt Kathryn and was trying to kill Evan with her spell on the monster blood. Sarabeth orders the blob to kill the children, but the large and in charge Trigger pushes Sarabeth into the blob. It shrinks, throwing up the twins and the robin it swallowed.

The mother returns. I thought she was going to leave him there. Frankly, with how dismissive she is, Evan might be better off with his new and improved Aunt Kathryn. Then we are treated to this after Evan and Andy vow to keep in touch:

“Could I ask one small favor?” Andy asked.

“Yeah. Sure,” Evan replied, curious.

“Well, it’s going to sound strange,” Andy said reluctantly. “But can I . . . uh . . . can I have the little bit of Monster Blood that’s left? You know. Sort of as a memento or something?”

“Sure. Okay with me,” Evan said.

They both turned their eyes to where it had come to rest on the carpet.

“Hey-” Andy cried in surprise.

It was gone.

There are three more Monster Blood books in the Goosebumps series.

Most of the end of chapter cliffhangers are ridiculous. I understand making smaller chapters to accommodate a child’s attention span, but Stine does this in Fear Street also. I haven’t read his venture into adult novels, but I can’t imagine he’d stray from his unnecessary cliffhangers. Just make longer chapters, dude.

Despite the frustrating cliffhangers, I’m happy I finished the novel. Even though the ending comes out of nowhere, I enjoyed the fast pace and crazy twists. This isn’t as good as Welcome to Dead House, the first in the Goosebumps series. (Again, I promise I’ll get around to that one, which will be a glowing review.) I’m still looking forward to reading all the Goosebumps books, even if some of them aren’t the caliber of children’s literature that I remember.

And speaking of Fear Street, next time will be my first review of my favorite post-Goosebumps horror series. I’m reading Fear Street: Bad Dreams by R. L. Stine.

Next Time On: Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Rereading My Childhood: The Baby-Sitters Club #1: Kristy’s Great Idea

I’ve started a club or two in my lifetime. They started with lofty goals and a generic name. Best Friends Club. Sparks Friends Club. The No Homers Club. We made Membership Cards, usually out of tin foil. We had club bylaws, things like “be kind to each other” and “no one who likes Kimberly can join.” We had a few club meetings, which divulged into the depths of Kimberly’s cruelty. The clubs never lasted more than a week and they certainly never generated income. Unlike Kristy Thomas’s club.

In the inaugural book of The Baby-Sitters Club, Kristy comes up with the idea of the titular club that went on to generate income and adventure for many girls (and maybe some boys) both in Stoneybrook and around the world, both fictional and real. Kristy demonstrates maturity while running and creating the club. She considers feedback from each member and delegates in a professional way. The book also showcases Kristy’s immaturity, particularly when dealing with Stacey, the new girl, and how she deals with her mother’s love interest, Watson, and his family. Kristy has depth, as well as this book. This is a promising start to the greatest book series ever created (come at me, J. K. Rowling).

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

The Baby-Sitters Club #1 - Kristy's Great Idea
Oh, I don’t know, book cover? Going to an amusement park? Reading a good book? Taking a bite out of a good book, like the previous owner?

It starts on a hot day at the end of class. The clock ticks and Kristy loudly and audibly expresses her excitement for the end of class and she can go home to her air-conditioned home. Her teacher punishes her with an essay assignment on the word “decorum.” The first time we see Kristy, she’s shouting before thinking, talking before her brain analyzes what she wants to say. This can bite Kristy in the butt, like almost breaking up the babysitters club just as the club starts or with her teacher, forcing her into a punishment in the form of homework.

Kristy finds her best-friend Mary Anne. The first time we see her, she’s biting her fingernails and talking about her ridiculously strict father. Even for that time, he’s incredibly strict. If the book were written today, I bet he’d be one of those parents who stand outside their kids’ classroom staring at them through the little window in the door. He’d probably give her a cell phone preprogrammed with his phone number (and his phone number only) so he can reach her at any moment. Thank God she stands up to him later in the series – I’m always rooting for Mary Anne.

Kristy and Mary Anne rush home so Kristy can get there before her little brother, David Michael. Kristy watches her little brother while her mother is at work. Ms. Thomas is a single mom/divorcee, which is progressive for an eighties book targeted at children. I remember all the dead mothers on television when I was a kid. Every single parent (usually the father) had to have a dead spouse (usually the wife). They couldn’t utter the word “divorce.” And the television producers certainly wouldn’t have a woman divorcee. To have a working mother in an Apple Paperbacks is revolutionary, at least to childhood me. Ms. Thomas tries, both career-wise and domestically. She isn’t perfect but she still succeeds in giving her children the attention they deserve while (seemingly) conquering the business world in Stanford. All this while providing a secondary influence on Mary Anne next door. I like Ms. Thomas and I think she’s a great mother. I would credit her with the spark that gives Kristy her great idea.

Ms. Thomas needs a babysitter, so she calls every teenager in Stoneybrook. Unfortunately, they are all busy. Kristy comes up with the idea for someone to call one phone number and reach several sitters – the Baby-Sitters Club. After Kristy completes her decorum homework, she contacts Mary Anne via their bedroom windows.

Kristy and Mary Anne decide to discuss the club with their friend, Claudia Kishi. The girls arrive at the Kishis’ house and we have our first outfit description:

“I rang the Kishis’ bell. Claudia came to the door. She was wearing short, very baggy lavender plaid overalls, a white lacy blouse, a black fedora, and red high-top sneakers without socks. Her long black hair was carefully arranged in four braids. I felt extremely blah compared to her.”

Claudia’s clothes are an explosion at a paint factory – just colors and mayhem everywhere. I love her eclectic style, but there are a few problems I have. People need to wear clothes that are an appropriate size for them. They should not wear clothes that turn them into a giant blob. I know this is new thinking, but, truthfully, people look better when clothes fit them. Secondly, under no circumstances should someone wear sneakers with no socks – that is an experiment in foot odor no one wants to undertake. And lastly, no to a fedora. Never. No fedoras ever. For all time.

Claudia introduces Kristy and Mary Anne to Stacey McGill, who denies food – her major personality trait. When our resident artist comes up with the logo for the Baby-Sitters Club, Kristy wants to call Claudia a genius, but Claudia is sensitive about that word. Her older sister, Janine, is an actual genius and the sisters have a strained relationship.

As a group, they decide on officers without incident. They also create a flyer with phone numbers that start with KL-5, which is something I never understood and still don’t understand. Why not just use numbers?

Kristy’s sensitivity to Claudia is a stark contrast to her interactions with Watson, Ms. Thomas’s suitor. He brings over Chinese food in an attempt to get to know his girlfriend’s family better, but Kristy ruins it by refusing the food and establishing open hostility toward him. I get that it’s a huge change, but he’s not so bad. No matter how mature Kristy is with her clients or her friends, she still exhibits immaturity when it comes to Watson. After all, she’s still 12-years-old.

Kristy’s mother is the first call during the inaugural meeting of the Baby-Sitters Club. Stacey takes the job after Kristy mentions her brothers. Then there’s a prank call. I wish prank calling was still the bane of telephone use. If this were written today, the prank calls wouldn’t be a juvenile prank orchestrated by Kristy’s brother, like it is in this book. The annoying calls would be from recordings trying to trick you into buying a cruise or, god forbid, trying to fix a Windows PC that you don’t have.

The first call that is not a prank or a family member is a woman named Mrs. McKeever. She wants a sitter for twins named Buffy and Pinky. Kristy would probably make the best first impression for a first-time customer, so she takes the job. Mary Anne is going to babysit for Watson’s children, Karen and Andrew, and finally, Claudia takes a job for Mrs. Newton.

Chapter 7 starts with a long description of how addresses work.

I walked over to Quentin Court right after I got home from school. I left a little early, just in case I had any trouble finding the McKeevers’ house. Mrs. McKeever had said that address was 52 Quentin Court. So I found the side of the street with the even-numbered addresses on it and started walking. There was 22 Quentin Court, 28 Quentin Court, 34, 40, 46, and sure enough, there was number 52.

I know how addresses work, Kristy. This passage would have been necessary if, at the end of 46 Quentin Court, there was a large opening in the ground. But there isn’t a chasm. Instead, here is a woman who keeps her “children” locked in the laundry room. Oh, and they are not children – they are dogs. Two hulking Saint Bernards. I would rather babysit for dogs than humans, but Kristy doesn’t agree. She reluctantly watches over the dogs but makes it clear that it’s the first and only time she is going to do that. She makes $3.50, which made me think of the Loch Ness Monster for pop-culture-from-the-Paleolithic-era-related reasons.

Claudia babysits for Jamie Newton and his three cousins, one of whom hates girls and is a future gamergater. I like Jamie, but I hate his jerk cousins. Claudia reads to Jamie and that gets the kids to calm the fuck down. She handled the situation well, but fuck those shitty Feldman cousins.

David Michael gets a brand new babysitter in Stacey, but the person Stacey is focused on is Kristy’s older brother Sam. According to Sam himself, Stacey is “a foxy chick.” You’ll have to excuse him, he is a manifestation of Jimi Hendrix. Sam decides to stay behind and play Candyland with Stacey and David Michael.

The final babysitter to tell us how her first babysitting job went is Mary Anne. She introduces us to Karen and Andrew – Watson’s children and future stars of their own book series (I never got into Little Sister, so don’t ask me to write about them). We also meet Boo “mess of a cat” Boo. Watson suggests that Mary Anne just avoid the cat, but when Boo-Boo (the cat, not the Boyz4Now ingenue) gets in Mrs. Porter’s garden, Mary Anne has no choice but to intervene. Karen warns that Mrs. Porter is actually a witch named Morbidda Destiny (I love that name). She calls the cat a “rapscallion” and Karen thinks it’s a curse. Mary Anne has to inform Karen that it’s just a word, not a curse. A ridiculous, archaic word, but a harmless word nonetheless.

Ms. Thomas forces Kristy to wear a dress to dinner, where Ms. Thomas and Watson announce their potential engagement. Not their actual engagement – the fact that they might get engaged. This is a misstep for Ms. Thomas. If she has any hope of ameliorating the relationship between Kristy and Watson, she should have let Kristy wear what she feels comfortable in. She should ask her daughter to wear something nice for the occasion, but shouldn’t force Kristy into a dress. This does not help the situation.

Stacey leaves for New York under mysterious circumstances. Honestly, Kristy can be too nosy. It’s none of her business why Stacey goes to New York periodically – that’s where she’s from. Stacey’s mom shouldn’t have lied on her behalf, but the girl is allowed a little privacy, even from her best friends.

Kristy is forced to babysit for Watson’s children, the previously introduced Karen and Andrew. She finds out they’re nice kids and finds common ground in their divorced parents. She tells them, “Divorced kids are special kids.” As Watson drives Kristy home, we are treated to an especially sweet passage:

Later, as Watson was driving me home, Karen said, “Kristy, I wish you were our big stepsister, right now.”

“Well,” I said, “how about if I be your baby-sitter instead?”

“That’s okay,” said Karen.

“Yeah, that’s okay,” echoed Andrew.

I glanced at Watson. He was sneaking a look at me, too. We smiled at each other.

After all of Ms. Thomas’s forcing Kristy to wear a dress and spend time with Watson, it was babysitting, Kristy’s focus, job, and love, that brought them closer as a potential family.

The book ends with Watson and Ms. Thomas (Edie, I guess – that’s not a name for anyone under seventy) announcing their official engagement and the BSC’s first slumber party. This is where we learn about Stacey’s diabetes. To her surprise, her new friends are completely cool and understanding with her complicated health situation. We end with this:

I felt deliciously scared – and happy. We were friends again. Things were okay with Watson. The Baby-Sitters Club was a success. I, Kristen Amanda Thomas, had made it work, or helped to make it work. I hoped that Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey, and I – the Baby-Sitters Club – would stay together for a long time.

And they certainly stayed together for hundreds of books (all of which I hope to own someday), several years, a tv series (I wanted to watch but couldn’t because I didn’t have cable), a movie (I watched it recently – it’s not great), a CD-ROM game (which I played every day and would still play if I had it), and countless other merchandise (I’m always on the lookout for merch).

This isn’t just the first book in a series. This is the first book in a revelation. When I was a young girl, this was the only book series exclusively about a group of distinct girls. Girls with flaws and strengths and stories. I didn’t have that with any other book series out there – they all had boys mucking up the awesome girl adventures or drippy girls who spent their time nagging boys and not being fun.

Ann M. Martin created my childhood. She created my love of reading. She created my need to write and tell stories. And I don’t think I’m that different. I’m sure millions of women my age feel the same way. This book was fantastic, this series was important, and I am even more excited to read books from my childhood.

After lauding the series, I’m switching it up for next time, but I will get back to the BSC. That the principal series of “Rereading My Childhood.”
Besides Ann M. Martin, one of the many other writers who has influenced me is R. L. Stine and I’m reading R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: Monster Blood. See you next time!

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey

The neighborhood kids once feared me. When I strolled up and down the street with my dark clothes, fortune telling paraphernalia, and a book of spells under my arm, kids made way for me, for they knew they were in the presence of a powerful individual. At any moment, my eyes rolled up and I got a message from “The Other Side.” The place where mere mortals dare not tread. I saw the harbinger ghosts standing behind the other children. I tried to warn them, but they failed to heed my words. Those kids disappeared and the ones who knew to listen to me continued to exist.

At least that was how I perceived myself for a summer when I was a kid. The fortune-telling paraphernalia was a coin and a deck of playing cards. The spellbook was a child’s introduction to fortune telling and the paranormal and I had to return it to the library in four weeks. I didn’t see any ghosts – I pretended to see dead grandparents and people who died under mysterious circumstances in the neighborhood houses. If all the ghosts I claimed to see actually existed, that would mean every house in my neighborhood had at least three mysterious deaths per house. That would make the neighborhood the most dangerous neighborhood in America, but children don’t really think about statistics. The children who mysteriously disappeared just moved away.

I have always been fascinated with the paranormal or the weird. I wanted a secret passage in my house. I wanted to see a ghost. I wanted to be a part of a mystery. I still want a secret passage in my house and if I ever built my own house, I’d request a swinging bookcase. I still want to see a ghost and if something says “haunted,” I’m the first in line (I still haven’t seen a ghost). I still want to be a part of a mystery, preferably on a train.

When the baby-sitters go poking through Dawn’s house attempting to find a mystery, I smiled to myself. If I were them, I’d be the one to instigate the whole thing. The Ghost at Dawn’s House is a fun mystery book with a secret passage and a ghost. I enjoyed it, even if Nicky annoys me.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House – Ghosts are very safety conscious, we all know they require handrails in order to haunt a place.

The Baby-Sitters Club #9 – The Ghost at Dawn’s House starts with the first BSC meeting after Dawn returns from her trip to California and a little casual racism. She regales the other babysitters about her father, referring to him as “Disneyland Dad” because he took her and her younger brother Jeff to the eponymous amusement park while they were there in an attempt to make up for the time he wasn’t spending with his children. Then Dawn describes Claudia (who is Asian) as “exotic-looking.” C’mon, Dawn (actually Ann M. Martin), you’re better than that. Asians aren’t exotic – there are billions of them. There are more Asians than white people. Even more than blonde people, so, really, Dawn, you’re the exotic one.

But I guess it was the 80’s and, apparently, world statistics wasn’t invented yet, so I guess I’ll give them a pass. But seriously, this will be a recurring issue in these books. It’s nice and progressive to have an Asian character, but can we stop calling her “exotic.” If she had purple eyes, blue skin, and a proclivity for eating paste, then I’d call her “exotic.” Until Claudia exhibits something actually “exotic,” I’ll just call her “Asian-American.” But I do love that dragon bracelet!

These girls are dedicated to baby-sitting. Dawn baby-sat her father’s friend’s kids, Claudia baby-sat some kid while she was on vacation to a ski house, Kristy baby-sat her siblings, and we know who Mary Anne and Stacey baby-sat (see #8). A lot of baby-satting (this is intentional) going around.

Now that’s out of the way, we can finally get to the meaty part of the story, which starts with a stormy night at home with Dawn and Jeff. Their mother is on a date, which, for a book that describes Claudia as “exotic,” is pretty progressive. Stoneybrook has been inundated with thunder and rain, which makes Dawn nervous, especially in her home.

“I stood still and listened. I could hear little rustlings. Far away, thunder rumbled. I shivered. I love our old house and the barn, but sometimes they give me the creeps. They were built in 1795, and there’s just something spooky about a place that’s been around that long. So many people have lived here. . . . Some of them have probably died here, too. Right in the house or the barn.

This house sounds dope. I live in the west, so our haunted houses are usually from the Gunsmoke days – nothing that was around when Aaron Burr (Sir) shot Alexander Hamilton. Well, there were things, but white people came in and forced the Natives to leave while the white people tore down perfectly good structures.

The next day, Dawn invites the BSC over to, in Dawn’s exact word, “search for a hidden passage.” That’s something a group of young girls would do, especially since Dawn’s house is so old. Much to their chagrin, the girls find nothing but hijinks where they scare each other.

Now we have our first handwriting chapter. This time, it’s Mary Anne at the Perkinses – the people who purchased Kristy’s old home. Myriah is older than her sister Gabbie, who is nicknamed “The Gabbers.” That is an amazing nickname. I would love to be called “The Gabbers.” My name isn’t Gabby, but I would still love to be called “The Gabbers.”

Mary Anne is apprehensive about the Perkinses. Her best-friend, Kristy, once lived in that house. Mary Anne and Kristy used to be able to talk to each other via their bedroom windows. Now some weird family has taken over the domain that once belonged to Mary Anne’s best-friend, forcing her to use the doorbell like someone who hasn’t considered the place a second home for most of her life. She is understandably upset about this. But, being the nice responsible person that she is, Mary Anne has a good time with the girls, playing games and coloring with them. The Gabbers hands Mary Anne a picture that looks like a “huge, jumbled scribble.” Mary Anne responds in the best way:

“That’s lovely!” Mary Anne exclaimed. She was about to ask, “What is it?” when she remembered something we Baby-Sitters Club members had thought up. Instead of saying “What is it?” when we can’t tell what a picture or an art project is, we say, “Tell me about it.” That way, the kid doesn’t know we can’t tell, so his feelings aren’t hurt, and he tells us what the pictures so we don’t say anything dumb about it, like “I’ve never seen such a big elephant,” when it turns out to be a picture of the kid’s grandmother or something.
“Tell me about it,” Mary Anne said to Gabbie.

That’s some clever shit. It spares the kid embarrassment and it spares the sitter from insulting the kid.

Dawn sits for the Mob family – er, I mean, the Pikes – and learns that Nicky has a new rule where he can leave the house but can only travel as far a two-block radius around the Pike house. Nicky disappears but reappears, dirty but in one piece, after a quick search.

Dawn goes home after her babysitting scare and tries to relax by reading in the barn behind her house. She falls through a trap door and finds an actual secret passage from the barn to her room – just behind the fancy molding. She also finds three mysterious items – a button, a buckle, and a key.

I knew it. I just knew it: Our house was haunted. It was haunted by the ghost of the secret passage. No one was going to believe it, but it was true. I remembered the rapping noises I had heard the night of the storm. Now I knew what had really made them.

That’s a logical conclusion. Trash in a secret passage? It’s a ghost. Although, my first instinct was that it was a rat or some other subterranean rodent moving trash around. The automatic supernatural conclusion is something a twelve-year-old (as well as some adults who watch too many ghost hunting shows) would land on.

The next chapter is a handwriting one in which Kristy baby-sits for Karen, Andrew, and David Michael during a rainy night. Karen wants to tell scary stories, but Kristy wants to tell jokes. She proceeds to tell that stupid knock-knock joke that involves a damn banana. Martin chooses not to paraphrase the joke but to actually write out the whole joke. As if everyone hasn’t already heard that joke a million times before they enter school. I wonder if Martin had to fill a page quota and was short half a page.

Karen tells a scary story about Ben Brewer, the ghost of the third floor. It freaks out Kristy a little. The four of them (plus Boo-Boo the cat and Louie the dog) end up falling asleep together. Kristy’s brothers make fun of her, and Kristy feels silly falling asleep with her siblings, but she’s just being a good older sister, and her brothers should shut the hell up.

Back to Dawn. She tells Jeff about the secret passage from Dawn’s room one night while Dawn’s mom is out on another date (get it, guuurrrll). They find a Buffalo-head nickel and an ice cream cone. They don’t make it to the barn – they hear weird noises and run out. Ms. Schafer comes home with her date. (His name is Trip, which is a ridiculous name for a date let alone a human being.) Ms. Schafer orders her children to stay out of the passage until they can find some way to seal the openings. Her date leaves and she goes to bed.

Dawn can’t sleep, so she rummages through her mother’s things. She finds a book from her grandmother entitled A History of Stoneybrooke. Dawn flips to the conspicuously named “Legends” section of the book. Basically, some guy named Jared Mullray a long ass time ago didn’t want to leave his property and just disappeared. Dawn believes that the property Old Mullray refused to leave is her house. This leads her to another completely rational and not-at-all jumpy conclusion:

There really was a ghost in our secret passage, and that ghost was crazy Jared Mullray!

Of course he is. But he’s not malicious. There’s no record of Ol’ Jared attacking anyone, and it’s not as if he was murdered. He just didn’t want to leave. While he did disappear, there isn’t any indication of foul play or something malicious afoot. Dawn’s house doesn’t have a history of people running away or a string of suspicious accidents. The ghost, if he is haunting Dawn’s secret passage, isn’t a malevolent specter keeping people off his property, but one of those old people who won’t leave their house even though a park needs to be built in an old neighborhood and the city offered them a good sum of money. It’s his house and if he wants to stay in it and annoy everyone, he can because he’s a ghost and there’s not much you can do about a persistent ghost.

Chapter 10 is about Claudia’s baby-sitting adventure with Jamie and Lucy Newton. Lucy goes to sleep immediately, but Jamie attempts to stay up later with kid shenanigans, like asking for more stories and water. He eventually goes to sleep.

Dawn invites Mary Anne over and we have the first mention of “Cam Geary” the “Corey Haim/Feldman” of the BSC universe. That person might be Justin Bieber for a younger person. For my sister, he was Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. It was Jonathan Taylor Thomas for me. For Mary Anne Spier, it’s Cam Geary.

After looking at the teen heartthrob in Tiger Beat or Bop or Tiger Bop, (whatever the kids are reading) Dawn invites Mary Anne into the secret passage. The girls are attacked by a flying book and they run away.

Stacey is babysitting a few of the Pike children. Margo and Vanessa use some crazy shampoo on Claire. Meanwhile, Nicky disappears. Stacey asks Dawn for help finding the second most annoying Pike child (the first is still Claire and her “silly phase” which is just an “annoying phase”). Dawn finds Nicky covered in mud near her house, which at the edge of Nicky’s two-block wandering maximum.

Now to the climax. Mallory and Dawn are watching the Pike boys. Nicky gets into a fight with the triplets during a bizarre lunch that involves pregnant woman food combinations and juvenile attempts at humor. Nicky runs away and Mallory scolds the triplets. Dawn finds Nicky in the secret passage. Nicky was the one who left the food, the buckle, the key, and all the other bric-a-brac in the passage. He also tapped on Dawn’s walls and made her think it was a ghost. They share a tender moment before heading back.

The book ends with the BSC having a slumber party at Dawn’s house where they watch a ghost fellate a man and Anthony Michael Hall rape a woman while a racist Orientalist stereotype terrorizes a small town (they watch Ghostbusters and Sixteen Candles – I love those movies, especially Sixteen Candles, but let’s not overlook the more problematic and unpleasant aspects of those movies). Stacey and Dawn are left out of the junk food buffet and play a prank on the rest of the club.

I enjoyed The Ghost at Dawn’s House. It was a predecessor to the beloved The Baby-Sitters Club Mystery books (I remember loving the Mystery series, we’ll see if they hold up when I get those). Nicky gets on my nerves, but I have a short fuse when it comes to children. I know that’s odd considering I’m rereading a book series about children watching over children. Maybe I’ll learn to love Nicky and Claire and the other Pike children as the series continues. For now, I’m happy with the mysteries that surround Stoneybrooke. And just because Nicky was the ghost this time, doesn’t mean there isn’t a curmudgeon who refused to leave his property a million years ago haunting Dawn’s house, or that any other houses in Stoneybrooke don’t contain a paranormal enigma waiting for the BSC to solve.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

Rereading My Childhood: An Introduction

Two years ago, my father passed away. My mother couldn’t pay all the bills without assistance, so my partner and I moved in with her. It was a good situation for everyone involved – my mother received help and the new arrangement alleviated our bills. At the same time, Jon’s job situation stabilized due to the new, optimistic Obama economy (we were so happy before the Orange Menace).

For the first time in years, we had disposable income. I was also spending time with my mother browsing thrift stores, a hobby I forgot I enjoyed. At a Savers, I found a stack of my missed childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin. The rush of memories from those years I spent with Kristy, Claudia, Stacy, Jessi, Mallory, Dawn, Abby, and, my favorite, Mary Anne grabbed me. Along with my newfound disposable income, I couldn’t resist. I purchased the whole stack. I had done what any adult does when they have extra money – I bought back my childhood – or more accurately, I bought the childhood I wished I had.

I didn’t own every The Baby-Sitters Club book, but I had a significant collection. I was a part of the fan club. I played that CD-ROM game every day. I begged for a new book each month. I kept a The Baby-Sitters Club diary. I even wrote a letter to Ann M. Martin and received a bookmark and a form letter in return. It was my prized possession.

Unfortunately, there came a time when I wanted to eschew every remnant of my childhood in an attempt to mature. I gave away my collection of The Baby-Sitters Club memorabilia to a friend. I donated my Goosebumps books and I started reading Fear Street.

Now, fifteen odd years later, I scour used bookstores and thrift stores looking for The Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street books.

Now, why do I want to review something I once loved? Why do I want to tear apart the series and authors who made up my childhood and shaped who I am today?

Simple. Exercise and nostalgia.

I want to exercise my writing skills. I want to create a portfolio with work I can be proud of and the only way to do that is to write.

And as for nostalgia – it’s something I don’t revere. Nostalgia is looking back with a skewed sense. It ignores the problems and we end up pining for a time that will never return and wasn’t that great in the first place. I’ve read a few of the early The Baby-Sitters Club books and, frankly, some of them are sub-par. It’s important for me to see that. I believe people need to be reminded that the past wasn’t always perfect.

But there is also a lot of good to be lauded and re-appreciated. The babysitters are surprisingly mature for their ages. In The Baby-Sitters Club #6: Kristy’s Big Day, the BSC start a summer day camp that is surprisingly efficient and organized. They also solve problems with thoughtful ways.

I look forward to rediscovering the crying, laughter, fear, unexpected wisdom as well as the problems in the books that shaped my childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, and Fear Street and Goosebumps by R. L. Stine. I’m excited to share my childhood with everyone.