Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Silent Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next day, Pam checks the newspaper. 

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

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

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

“You didn’t shoot him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the top result for “realistic mannequin.”

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

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

“I feel sorry for you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reva avoided Pam’s eyes.

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

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

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

It’s Mr. Wakely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book is for those of us who wish October was an extra two months. So, from me, I hope you’re warm and safe, you are vaccinated, and you have a very Happy Holiday Season.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #25: Mary Anne and the Search for Tigger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know how to litter, Kristy. 

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

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

“Is there really a reward?”

“Yup.”

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

“That’s just like Tigger!” I cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #22: Jessi Ramsey, Pet-Sitter

I like dogs. I’ve always liked dogs. They’re sweet and caring and I take them as proof that if God exists, she’s a benevolent goddess and wants us to be happy because she put dogs on this earth. However, we do not deserve them. We do stupid shit, like elect leaders the same way we choose our favorite football team. It’s not who has the best ideas that will help the most people – it’s which side they are on. They would rather stick it to the liberals even though the liberals have better policies to help their families and themselves. Also, liberals are open to using they/them pronouns, and apparently, that’s a problem for some inconceivable reason.

Dogs and elections collide in The Baby-Sitters Club #22: Jessi Ramsey, Pet-Sitter. While our favorite ballerina is tackling a sitting job more akin to the National Zoo than the office daycare center, the BSC is engaging in the democratic process. Because they’re fighting. Again. Oh boy, here we go.

The Mancusis call the BSC hoping to book a sitter for a full week. The catch is that they don’t need a sitter for children – they need a sitter for a house full of animals! They reject the job because Kristy had a bad experience with animals in the first BSC book and the book is over! 

I’m kidding, of course. Jessi takes the job, just like the title says. The Braddocks, her usual baby-sitting charges, are on vacation and Jessi doesn’t have ballet practice all this week, so she’s free and needs a job. However, Kristy almost rejects the job because of her bad experience, leading the club to question if Kristy’s bossiness is a detriment to the club.

The next day, Jessi arrives at the Mancusis’ house to meet all the animals. She does not describe the smell, but I imagine it is powerful. The Mancusis have three dogs (Cheryl, Pooh Bear, and Jacques), five cats (Crosby, Powder, Ling-Ling, Tom, and Rosie), a bunch of birds that are usually allowed to just fly around the house (but they won’t for that week, much to Jessi’s relief), a parrot named Frank who repeats commercials, hamsters, two guinea pigs (Lucy and Ricky), some fish and rabbits, and the pièce de résistance – Barney the snake. No shenanigans will happen with the snake, I’m sure. Not surprisingly, Jessi takes on the challenge with aplomb and her signature grace.

The next day, as Jessi starts her new job, Claudia brings Jamie Newton and Nina Marshall over to gawk at the animals in the world’s cheapest zoo. I know the National Zoo is free, but they charge you five dollars for a map whereas the Zoo Mancusi has an eleven-year-old. This does not stop Jamie Newton from freaking out when he sees the guinea pigs, claiming they are from space. Jessi suggests they all walk the dogs together to distract Jamie from the space creatures from Quizno’s.

While walking the dogs, they encounter Chewy, the Perkinses’ dog. He had gotten loose while the Perkinses were gone, so he joins the walk and they chase squirrels. Luckily, by the time they circle around back to the Perkins residence, the Perkinses are home and relieved to see Chewy.

When they get back to the Mancusi residence, Jessi sees that one of the hamsters is curled up in the corner, refusing to move.  I’m sure this will have no effect on the plot.

During the next BSC meeting, Kristy barks orders at everyone, and everyone is arguing yet again. This time, it’s about Kristy being very Kristy and how complicated everyone’s individual job is. Kristy thinks this is a great time to roll out her new idea:

“To make sure that each of you is reading the notebook once a week, I’m going to draw up a checklist. Every Monday, in order to show me you’ve been keeping up with the notebook, you’ll initial a box on the chart.”

And then they argue about the checklist. The arguing changes a bit when Claudia complains about taking calls during non-BSC meeting hours. Mary Anne is tired of scheduling and Dawn doesn’t like collecting dues. Jessi and Mallory refuse to take sides and later they worry about the future of the club. Since there are one hundred more books in the mainline series, I don’t think you’ll have to worry, girls, but now I’m meta-reading.

During Mary Anne’s baby-sitting job at the Perkinses, they go over to Zoo Mancusi, because why not? Finally, Chekov’s gun has gone off – Barney is missing from his cage! Myriah took the top of his cage off while the others pondered the fat, immobile hamster. They figure that he went outside since he’s cold-blooded. They trap him in an extra aquarium, slip some cardboard under, and plop him back into his home. Crisis averted, metals all around.

It’s Wednesday, so it’s time for another BSC meeting! And I can finally announce the long-awaited comeback of “What’s Claudia Wearing???”

Claudia was wearing another of her great outfits. This one consisted of an oversized, short-sleeved cotton shirt with gigantic leaves painted all over it, green leggings – the same green as the leaves on her shirt  – bright yellow push-down socks, her purple high-tops, and in her hair a headband with a gigantic purple bow attached to one side.

I’m not a big fan of the green/purple color combination (mostly because of its internet meme connection), but an oversized shirt, leggings, and high-tops is still a good look. 

When Kristy arrives at the meeting, she puts her checklist over Claudia’s pictures of Stacey. Claudia snatches the checklist off, Kristy snatches it back and puts it up again. This goes on until the checklist rips in half. Kristy reminds everyone that she’s the president which prompts Claudia to call for an election.

Jessi and Mallory try to stay quiet, and after the meeting, they once again express their concerns about the stability of the club.

The next day at the Mancusi’s, Becca and Mallory come with Jessi. Becca wants to play with the animals and Mallory wants to discuss the elections. They feed the animals, walk the dogs, and Mallory says that the election makes her uncomfortable. There are no problems and we are moving on.

Meanwhile, Kristy sits for Jackie Radowsky. Since everyone in Stoneybrook is psychically linked, Jackie’s class is holding elections for various classroom duties, including “blackboard-washer, messenger, roll-taker.” The most coveted role is taking care of the class pet Snowball, which is what Jackie is running for. However, he doesn’t think he’s going to win because he’s up against Adrienne Garvey.

“Well, she never erased holes into her workbook pages, and she never gets dirty, even in art class. And she always finishes her work on time. And she never forgets her lunch or trips or spills or anything!”

Oh, Jackie, if competency was a requirement for winning an election, we wouldn’t have had a crime-family run carte blanche with our sacred institutions. What you need is a cult that will believe everything you say with some propaganda help from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Anyway, Kristy instructs him to prove his responsibility and campaign for the role. She tells him to put on a nice shirt and write speeches. Later, while he is trying to prove that responsibility, he spills some dog food and wants to clean it up, but Kristy doesn’t let him. He tells Kristy that she’s a “bossy baby-sitter.” 

“You buttoned my shirt when I wanted to do it myself, you wouldn’t let me vacuum up the mess I made, and now you’re going to plan my campaign for-”

Jackie is distracted and forgets what he was talking about, but it sticks with Kristy. She wonders if she’s really as bossy as everyone insists. Well, yeah, Kristy. It’s your whole personality. Bossy and sporty. It’s like you don’t even read the beginning.

The next meeting is grim. The club goes over the rules for the upcoming election with the level of precision usually reserved for fighter pilot safety checks. Mary Anne cries. Jessi and Mallory worry about the club again.

On the day of the elections, one of the hamsters is acting weird. Jessi calls her mom and they take it to the vet. While waiting for the vet, Jessi realizes that she won’t be able to make the elections. Luckily, this issue is no big deal because Kristy offers to move the elections to the next day. We almost had a conflict there! See, it really didn’t have any effect on the plot.

Turns out the hamster is pregnant. Jessi is quite excited about the new little hamsters. The book conveniently glosses over the fact that the hamster will probably eat most of them later in the dead of the night, so Jessi shouldn’t be quick to pick out her favorite one. Maybe give it a few days.

Before the BSC conducts elections, they talk about the hamsters. But it’s no time for frivolity – we have an election to hold! Who will be the new president? Will Claudia, the worst at math, be the treasurer in honor of Stacey? 

None of that. Nothing changes. Everyone votes for the same people to have the same position as before. The club thinks this is hilarious. I am ambivalent because I am more focused on the pregnant hamsters and problematic cat names.

Everything goes back to normal, but Becca gets to keep one of the surviving hamsters – her first pet! The Mancusis were quite pleased with Jessi’s baby-sitting performance, which is no surprise given that Jessi is one of the most competent characters in this series.

I still have a problem with the books that revolve around the BSC’s infighting – it’s a tired trope perpetuated by terrible men who want to see us women tear each other apart. That being said, I can’t hate this one. It has a lot going for it: 1) it has cute animals, 2) Jessi and Mallory don’t argue, and 3) it’s about Jessi. And let’s face it: Jessi is the most pleasant one.

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Sagas #3: Forbidden Secrets

For what I’m sure are racist reasons, the narrative surrounding the Civil War has been moving a retelling in which the Confederacy was a group of well-meaning people trying to fight for their land and states rights. When I was a kid, school taught us that narrative. It wasn’t about slavery. It was about states’ rights! Yeah, states rights to have the right to own human beings, but sure, “states’ rights.” 

Unfortunately, this deviation from the plain truth that the people who fought for the Confederacy were fighting to own humans, pervaded my young adult fiction. I briefly discussed the Civil War in my review of Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers, wherein the topic of the Civil War is more of a brief mention. However, in the next book in the Fear Street Sagas series, #3: Forbidden Secrets, the topic of slavery and the interactions between slaves and slaveowners is an important plot point. And all this is done with any actual black people (well, except for one coded one – we’ll get to that). 

So join me as I read this book that was the product of an attempt to make the Civil War less about blatant racism and more about some vague idea of “states rights.” A book about using black culture without any black people. A book devoid of shame.

a white lady hangs out with a bleeding rose and broken doll - she doesn't have many friends
She has trouble finding a gardener who is okay with the nightly rose bleeding and won’t track the blood into the manor.

We start in Blackrose Manor with an old woman telling her story, not unlike the beginning of Titanic. Unlike the movie, the woman in this story is not telling the story to her son so he can grave rob. The woman in the book is telling her story to no one in particular and refers to all the events in the third person. Oh good. She’s a crazy lady.

The story shifts to 1861 in Whispering Oaks, Georgia. Savannah Gentry is looking over her father’s plantation and she tells us that it’s a special day – her birthday. And because it’s her birthday, her father has given all the slaves the day off. Great. He owns people as if they are sofas, but at least he gives them his daughter’s birthday off. That makes up for the whippings, I’m sure. (This article contains sarcasm, in case you’re a Texas politician who doesn’t understand satire.)

Anyway, Savannah has an older sister named Victoria, and Victoria has been picking up some “strange habits” from the slaves. Do we learn the names of any of these slaves who have been teaching Victoria these “strange habits?” The ones who get a day off to help celebrate Savannah’s birthday? No, of course not! Do we get any black people? Maybe – we’ll get to that.

Anyway, Savannah finds Victoria in the middle of one of her “rituals.” The narrator never explicitly says what Victoria’s doing, but I think we all know what she’s doing.

After Savannah gets her sister’s attention, Victoria asks her where Tyler Fier, their brother Zacariah’s new friend, is hiding.

“At the party. I came here because I wanted to talk to you.”

Victoria narrowed her brown eyes. “I don’t trust Tyler.”

“Did you think you could hurt him by killing little pigs?” Savannah asked.

“I thought I could learn something about him through performing this ritual.” Victoria smiled triumphantly. “And I did.”

Savannah fumed. “You have no right-”

“I have every right,” Victoria insisted in a rush. “I’m older than you are. I have to protect you.”

“I don’t need you to protect me from Tyler.” Savannah spun on her heel and began to walk away.

“You’re wrong!” Victoria cried. “Tyler Fier comes from a cursed family.”

“I’m worried about you. You must stay away from Tyler Fier!”

So Savannah agrees to marry Tyler.

But there’s a problem! War has broken out! A guy literally rides by on a horse and yells, “War has broken out!”

Tyler says he’s going to fight for the north. Savannah is irate because she loves owning people. Well, she’s not explicit about it, but we all know why a lily-white delicate slave owner’s daughter doesn’t want to “turn her back on the south.”

So Tyler leaves, but not before shouting, “You will regret choosing the South over me!” Great northern representation there, Stine.

Anyway, the war drags on and Victoria and Savannah find themselves eating worms because their slaves ran away. My empathy meter ends for people who own other people who were kidnapped and forced to work on land stolen from another group of people. The most I can muster for them is, “You had to eat worms, huh?”

In the middle of the night, Savannah hears some strange sounds in the doorway of the plantation they still own and live in.

Savannah’s eyes widened with recognition. “Zachariah!”

Gunpowder covered her brother’s tattered gray uniform, his face, his hair. The odor burned Savannah’s nostrils.

Zachariah’s ashen face was grim. His once-vibrant green eyes were dark and vacant. His blonde hair matted with sweat and dirt.

And blood!

He opened his mouth, opened his mouth to speak.

And deep red blood spilled from his lips.

Then she wakes up! Oh, it was all a dream! Or was it? There’s blood where he was standing! There is only one explanation: bleeding dream ghost come to provide a scare in between worm-eating and not repairing the house. But what happened to Zachariah?

Well, Tyler sends them a letter.

Dear Savannah,

Zachariah is dead. I am so sorry. We were both fighting in Gettysburg. I saw him fall. Later I learned of his death.

As I watched the soldiers bury your brother, I imagined myself in the grave beside him – dead. Never seeing you again. Never holding you again.

Forgive me, Savannah. All the deaths in the war made me realize people are more important than North or South.

Wait for me. I will come back for you.

I promise.

Tyler

I don’t know if we need that stinger after “in the grave beside him.” What else would you be in a grave? “I imagined myself in the grave beside him – doing the Charleston and exploring the wreckage of the Merrimack.”

Also, I’d say that not treating people like objects is more important than geographic location, but that’s just me. I am not letting up on this. This book is a tone-deaf encapsulation of the Boomer rewriting of history to make it more palatable for white people. 

Speaking of white people, Savannah asks Victoria to use her “dark arts” (just say “voodoo,” Stine, we know what voodoo is) to see if Tyler is okay. So, Victoria scrounges up some chicken feet and dark liquid to start the ritual. Savannah squirms when Victoria asks her to kiss the chicken feet.

How about this, girls – instead of smothering the dilapidated house in “dark liquid” and eating worms, you eat the chicken feet, pick up a hammer, and do some home repairs. Also, Savannah, you ate worms and you’re squirming at the thought of kissing chicken feet? Better yet, use magic to help their station in life? A spell for food perhaps? These idiots deserve no sympathy.

Well, instead of using magic for something practical, Victoria discovers that Tyler Fier is evil and bad luck follows his family. Cool “discovery.” Are you also going to “discover” that water is wet? I wish you would “discover” that black people are humans.

Anyway, Savannah wrestles a sheet and just like that, the war is over. I’m not sure if the sheet wrestling and the war are related, but that’s what it seems like.

And then Tyler shows up! He’s all, “Hey, I know you were on the other side, but I still want to marry you and I have a big house in the north that has a pretty cool name and I’m sure it’s better than living in this house that you don’t have the skills to maintain.”

Savannah agrees but only if Victoria comes with, to which Victoria acquiesces but not before saying

“If we go to Blackrose Manor, one of us will be buried there before the year is out!”

And we’re at the manor and we meet Mrs. Mooreland, who is weird, and a random thirteen-year-old girl named Lucy, who is not only weird but she thinks flames are pretty and she likes how they “dance.” There’s also a woman named Hattie who has a cat. She’s pleasant enough and the only black person, even if the depiction is coded. The cat is a cat and is no weirder than other cats.

Savannah doesn’t like how dark the house is and so she spends her time trying to add color to the decorations. She also spends time with Lucy, who collects weird dolls, like a proper girl in a horror novel.

Savannah spotted a doll lying on its side on top of the dresser bureau. Its profile was perfect: a small nose, a ruddy cheek, thin lips, a large, shining black eye.

I’ll pick this doll, Savannah decided. She lifted it up and gasped.

The other side of the doll’s face was smashed in. Tiny bits of jagged china formed a gaping hole where the eye had been.

“What happened to this doll?” Savannah asked Lucy.

“I killed her.”

That’s pretty good and creepy. I’ll give it up to Stine for that one.

Meanwhile, Victoria is spending her time yelling and giving Savannah hawk’s eyes and pouches full of grave dirt. Y’all, this is getting wacky. In addition to her usual spouting about evil, she reveals that Lucy may look thirteen, but she’s actually seventeen. Lucy is super weird.

The cat gets attacked and we think it’s dead, but it’s not really. Unfortunately, a horse bashes Hattie’s skull in. The only pleasant character – a helper – is killed off. She was the only character of color in a book featuring slaves and voodoo. Fantastic. 

Then Mrs. Moreland dies. Savannah finds her crumpled up in the oven. Then Savannah hears Tyler and Victoria arguing. Victoria is doing her usual ranting about evil. Tyler reveals that Victoria made the horse freak out with jimson weed, set fire to Savannah’s curtains, and poisoned the cat, and then Victoria tries to stab Tyler. Instead, Victoria falls on her own knife and dies. Despite dying, she has to let out one last uttering about evil.

“You have let the evil live.”

At Victoria’s funeral, the ropes snap as they’re lowering her coffin and she falls out. At this point, it’s all so wacky it belongs in a British comedy sketch show. I’m sure a scantily clad nurse and a policeman chased each other around the gravestones and Cyprus trees.

Anyway, it turns out Lucy killed her parents in a fire and while she’s off red-herring-ing all over the house, Tyler pushes her down some stairs and we’re finally at the big finale.

Tyler is already dead. He’s been dead since Gettysburg and he killed Savannah’s brother. You see, Victoria isn’t the only one appropriating culture – Tyler is also dabbling in voodoo! Well, he doesn’t expressly say the word “voodoo;” like Victoria, he says “the dark arts.” 

For Tyler to continue living, he has to kill humans and feed on them – a sort of zombie/vampire hybrid. A Zombire. He wanted Savannah to be the last, but she doesn’t let him consume her and throws grave dust and other magical bric-a-brac to stop him. Eventually, he just rots away, leaving Savannah to tell her story to Tyler’s skeleton, who is sitting next to her.

You can’t set a story in the 1860’s south without addressing the Civil War. You also can’t have a likable protagonist who owns people. At least, I can’t like someone like that. Maybe times have changed since this book was published (1996). However, that would mean that as recently as the ‘90s, people could read a book and forgive slavery. Unfortunately, as I wrote that sentence, I thought, “Yeah, I don’t think much has changed after all.”

There’s an interview with Octavia Butler (one of my favorite writers) regarding a trip she took to a plantation. The tour guide referred to the slaves as “helpers.” This blatant attempt to relieve white people of their sin pervades the writing of this book. Even though Savannah’s family owns slaves, it’s okay because Victoria hangs out with them? What is that? That’s not better. The ramifications of slavery still affect the black community to this day and we can’t fix the institutional racism against their community unless we teach the cruelty and dehumanization of the practice. They weren’t “helpers” – they were slaves. And it doesn’t matter if a slave owner was kind or spent time with the slaves – they still owned people and all slaveownersdeserve condemnation even to the discomfort of white people. No matter how much discomfort a white person feels, I guarantee, slaves felt worse. And slaves were people, deserving of dignity, freedom, and their own narratives.

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 #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins

Mallory watches over the Arnold twins at their brithday

My sister and I are only separated by a year and because we are so close in age, sometimes relatives gave us matching gifts, particularly for Christmas. One year we each received a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers stuffed doll, and in a different year, we received matching baskets of goodies. We even had matching furry white coats that made us look like Frosty the Snowman’s illegitimate children with a She-bear. 

However, not all the gifts were so innocuous. One year, my grandmother paid someone in her retirement community to paint our faces on sweatshirts – and she gave him our school pictures. And not just any school picture – the school picture in which I braided my hair into tight curls and wore a cowboy-style shirt with fringe. Utterly mortifying. If only I had the sense of humor I have now. I’d save the sweatshirt and eventually turn it into a throw pillow. 

I imagine this problem would be worse for twins. Not the horrifying picture of my own painted, curled visage smiling awkwardly from my chest – but the identical gifts. It seems to imply that you’re not two separate people but one duplex of a person.

In The Baby-Sitters Club #21: Mallory and the Trouble With Twins, the BSC has a new client who is aggravating the club, but Mallory is up to the challenge. Or is she? (Of course, she is, but let’s pretend to have some suspense, huh? It’s a kids’ book from 1989, calm down, dude. Sheesh.)

Mallory watches over an identical set of twins at their birthday party
What if the secret is that they’re not even twins, but Mrs. Arnold told them they were twins so she could have matching kids?

Mallory Pike, the ginger-est, blindest, and braces-ist of the Baby-Sitters Club, wants to get her ears pierced. This seemed to be a common plot point of late-’80s to early-’90s culture. The sheer act of getting your ears pierced seemed to signal some serious maturing for parents. There’s an episode of Full House wherein Danny Tanner doesn’t want her daughter, Stephanie Tanner, to get her ears pierced, so she lets Kimmy Gibbler do it and it gets infected. And there’s an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer gets angry after Bart gets an earring. Now, as I am doing a rewatch of every Degrassi episode, Ellie comes in with holes all over her body and Sean has both his ears pierced. I remember getting my ears pierced when I was, like, five at the Claire’s. It seems that ear piercing is not the direct stripper pole straight to hell after all.

But I digress. Mallory wants pierced ears and her parents think she’s too young. Or, she assumes her parents won’t allow pierced ears – she hasn’t asked them.

After the obligatory pages describing each babysitter (including referring to Claudia as “exotic” with “almond-shaped eyes” – oof), and pages explaining how the club works, we have a meeting. And surprise! Logan is there. It makes the girls nervous as if they’ve never seen Logan before. I feel like he’s been around enough that they should be used to having him there. I remember the boys I was friends with in middle school – at some point, they’re barely visible.

During the meeting, Mrs. Arnold, the mother of twin girls, Carolyn and Marilyn, needs a steady sitter while she works on a fundraising campaign for Stoneybrook Elementary. Of course, our favorite redhead takes the job.

Mallory arrives at the Arnold household and the twins are dressed in identical outfits – down to the haircuts. They are wearing bracelets with their names on them, but the bracelets match (except the name printed on them). Mrs. Arnold herself is quite a fussy woman, wearing matching bows in her hair, shirt, belt, and shoes. There will be no pattern mixing in her house!

When Mrs. Arnold leaves, Mallory offers the girls her Kid-Kit. Carolyn chooses to play with some puzzles while Marilyn chooses some books, including a book called Baby Island, which is real and not just a bad sitcom with one season from the ‘90s.

Mallory remarks that the twins are cute and “look like bookends.” This prompts the twins to speak to each other in their “twin language,” which is just nonsense and they try to trick Mallory by removing their name bracelets. However, it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano and Mallory is finally able to tell which one is Marilyn until the end of her job.

It’s another day and Mallory is back at the Arnold residence. This time, Mallory plays hide-and-seek with the girls. When Mallory finds one, she asks for a snack. Mallory obliges and goes to search for the other one. She finds one and Marilyn-or-Carolyn asks for a snack. Mallory obliges again and asks where the other one is. It seems she either hid again or is still hiding. Mallory finds another one and they ask for a snack. Mallory declines.

“There are two of you and I gave out two snacks. That’s it. No more.”

“No more? No fair!”

“It’s very fair. Two twins, two snacks. I think you guys just fooled yourselves.”

Then they go into their twin language. When it’s time for Marilyn to practice the piano, Carolyn reads a Paddington book and they both ignore Mallory until their mother comes home.

Now it’s time for a different sitter to confront the Arnold twins – Claudia. This time, Mrs. Arnold has some special instructions.

“Marilyn’s piano lesson is at eleven-thirty,” Mrs. Arnold told Claud. “Her carpool will arrive at eleven o’clock. She’s going to be in a recital next week, and today is a special rehearsal and lesson. It’ll last an hour and a half. She’ll be dropped off here around one-thirty. While Mariyln’s gone, Carolyn should work on her project for the science fair. Carolyn just loves science, don’t you, dear?”

Claudia can’t tell the difference between the twins, but one of them leaves with the carpool. A few moments later, Claudia gets a phone call. It’s the music teacher and she has “a very tone-deaf Arnold twin” and asks if Claudia can get the other one there. Claudia can’t drive, so Carolyn just has to stay there until the carpool can bring her back.

When Mrs. Arnold comes back, she scolds the girls for playing a prank on their sitter, but she also scolds Claudia and Claudia has to go without pay. Okay, Mrs. Arnold, it was your horrid twins who played a prank – it wasn’t Claudia’s fault. You should have to pay her double. 

The BSC has a meeting, but before they can discuss the twins, Mallory obsesses over everyone’s clothes. Claudia dressed surprisingly toned down – a t-shirt she painted herself and come capris. Dawn is wearing an oversized blue shirt and if a girl from the ‘80s thinks it’s oversized, it must be able to house a small family and guinea pig. Mary Anne is the one whose outfit is, well, quote-worthy.

Mary Anne was wearing a short plum-colored skirt over a plum-and-white-striped body suit. The legs of the body suit stopped just above her ankles, and she’d tucked the bottoms into her socks. I don’t know where her shoes were. She’d taken them off. The neat thing about her outfit was that she was wearing white suspenders with her skirt. 

So a mime, basically. 

After that, they talk about the Arnolds, but nothing that we didn’t already know. They speak in a twin language. They look identical. But Carolyn likes science and Marilyn plays the piano, so they’re not completely the same.

Another day, another adventure with the Arnold twins. This time, whenever the twins speak in their twin language, Mallory responds with Pig Latin, which confounds the twins. Their minds are blown. Mallory promises to teach them if they stop speaking their twin language around her and put their name bracelets on – properly. They strike a deal.

In a moment of verisimilitude, the twins lament that no one can tell them apart. They show Mallory their one key difference: Carolyn has a mole under her left eye. Marilyn’s mole under her right eye. 

At the end of the sitting job, Mrs. Arnold asks if the BSC would be willing to watch over the twins’ birthday party. Mallory promises to bring it up at the next meeting. As she’s leaving, the girls call “Ood-gay eye-bay!” instead of their twin language, and Mallory is pleased with herself.

We switch to Kristy watching over her siblings Karen, David Michael, and Andrew. The chapter starts with a long explanation of what an estate sale is because we couldn’t leave it at “Mrs. Thomas and Watson are gone.” They’re going to an estate sale! Promise! Just a plain ol’ estate sale. What is an estate sale? Let me tell you in excruciating detail. I know all about those sales because I’m going to one. I’m not going to a secret island where we hunt the poors for sport! I’m going to an estate sale, which is something I know all about.

Karen and David Michael invite the Papadakis kids over. Meanwhile, Andrew needs to learn lines for a school play about a circus. However, Andrew doesn’t want to be in this play.

“But I don’t want to be in it,” replied Andrew, and his lower lip began to quiver. “I don’t want everyone looking at me and listening to me.”

“But you know what they’ll probably be thinking while you’re doing that?”

“What?”

“They’ll probably be thinking, What a good bear that Andrew makes. He knows his lines so well. I bet he worked very hard.”

“What if I forget my lines? Then what will they be thinking?”

“They’ll be thinking, Oh, too bad. He forgot his lines. Well, that happens sometimes. He still looks like a very nice, smart boy.”

Sure, Kristy. That’s what they’ll be saying. If you wanted to motivate him, you should have told him the truth: if he remembers his lines and just says them, the second he’s done, they’ll pay attention to the next kid; if he forgets his lines, they’ll remember him and use him as an example of why you should learn your damn lines.

While Andrew works on learning his lines, David Michael reads “Basho-Man” comics with Linny Papadakis. I think it’s lovely that the kids are getting into a comic book series about an Edo period Japanese haiku poet. Instead of reading poetry, which I’m assuming these comics are about, Karen and Hannie dress up identically and say they’re twins because the kids in this town are suspiciously in tune with the A storyline. 

As for the party, of course, the BSC helps with the Arnold twins’ birthday. Although, I guess it’s just Mary Anne, Dawn, and Mallory. When Mallory discovered the mole difference, she started noticing other differences between the twins. Marilyn’s nose is rounder and Carolyn’s cheeks are fuller. She also noticed the personality differences between the two. 

After the games, they open presents and every gift the twins receive comes in a pair. A pair of Raggedy Ann dolls. A pair of stuffed elephants. A pair of the complete second season of Designing Women on DVD. The girls are not particularly happy. That is until they get to Mallory’s gifts.

They were not the same size or shape. They were wrapped in different paper. The twins looked intrigued.

“Is this a mistake?” asked Carolyn.

“Who are they from?” asked Marilyn.

“Me,” I replied. “Go on. Open them.”

So they did. I’d picked out a tiny pin in the shape of a piano for Marilyn, and a book of simple science experiments for Carolyn.

“Boy, thanks!” cried the girls enthusiastically. They absolutely beamed at me.

But the twins are only allowed to be individuals momentarily because the cake has their identical faces on it and they blow out the identical candles at the same time. 

The next time Mallory sits for the twins, they show her some of the other gifts they received. Despite their sets of identical dollhouses, socks, and jumping sticks (I didn’t make up that last one), their favorite gifts were the ones from Mallory because they were different.

Mallory tells them about her triplet brothers. She says that they don’t dress the same, they act differently, and they don’t get three copies of everything. Mallory apologizes for calling the twins cute bookends when they met. The twins apologize for antagonizing Mallory and the other sitters. 

The twins, with the support of Mallory, speak to their mother when she gets home.

“Different,” spoke up Marilyn. “But we look alike and dress alike, so everyone treats us like one person – the same person.”

“And we aren’t one person, Mommy!” said Carolyn desperately. “We’re two. Only no one knows it. At school, the kids call both of us ‘Marilyn-or-Carolyn.”

I cringed, remembering that that was how I used to think of the girls.

“We hate it!” added Marilyn.

“The girls do look sweet in their matching outfits,” I said, “but,” I added quickly as Carolyn poked me in the ribs, “they’ve told me they think they’re old enough to choose their own clothes. They have different tastes.”

“If we went to school looking different,” said Marilyn, “maybe the kids would get to know who we are.”

Their mother agrees to let them use their birthday money to get new clothes and haircuts. Before we get to the shopping montage, bolstered by the twins’ success, Mallory has to speak with her parents.

After a lengthy explanation of negotiation, Mallory asks for a new wardrobe, her ears pierced, a new haircut, and contact lenses. They say she’s not old enough for contacts and they don’t have enough money for a new wardrobe (she didn’t really want those two – they were tokens for negotiation). She can get her ears pierced as long as she pays for it herself and she does the aftercare so they don’t get infected. She can get her hair cut as long as she doesn’t get a “green mohawk” and she has to go to a “salon downtown.” A green mohawk can be adorable, but I guess I’m biased as a member of the blue hair club.

We finally get our shopping montage with the twins and Mallory. They talk about how expensive clothes are and I wondered why they didn’t go to an outlet mall. Too good to be a Maxxinista?

Mallory buys matching book earrings for her and Jessi. I guess we’re not done with the identical gift motif. In the end, the girls show off their new looks to their mother, who is surprised but open-minded.

A few days later, Mallory is back at the mall with the rest of the BSC. Not only is Mallory going to get her ears pierced, but Jessi is going to get pierced ears also, Claudia is getting a third hole, and Dawn is getting a second hole. The lady at Claire’s just puts them on a lazy Susan and shoots their ears as they spin around in a circle. Just kidding. She does it normally. And the book doesn’t explicitly say it’s a Claire’s, but we all know it’s a Claire’s.  So in the end, both the Arnold twins and Mallory get to show off more of their individuality. Every kid has to go through this – when you have to convince your parents to give up some of their autonomy so you can pick out what you want. Even though every kid can relate on some level, being twins exacerbates the situation. If every Christmas my sister and I got the same gifts, I’d go insane also. Especially since her gifts were more of the Barbie variety and all I wanted were books about hostage-level parental negotiations and estate sales.

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: A Shocker on Shock Street

a giant grasshopper on a suburban street

I love a good dark ride. Strap me into that little car and guide me through that pretzel-shaped track, thank you very much. And it doesn’t have to be the level of Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Give me that State Fair cheese ride – either a tunnel of love or a haunted ride featuring copyrighted characters with modified names so no one gets sued. 

Speaking of haunted rides, in A Shocker on Shock Street, two kids go on a prototype horror movie ride with all their favorite horror movie monsters. This sounds right up my alley – rides and horror movies. But by the end of the book, I was annoyed. It’s going to be one of those reviews. 

Burt I. Gordon is suing…

Erin and her best friend Marty are watching the sixth installment from the Shocker on Shock Street (minus the “A” from the book’s title) cinematic universe. Erin’s father owns the theater and has worked on the Fantasy Films Studio Tour making animatronics. Unfortunately, when the kids go to see him, he has some bad news.

Not really. It was a gag! He has some good news! However, there is some bad news – the whole book is going to be like this.

Anyway, Erin’s father says that he’s been working on the new Shocker Studio Tour and he wants the kids to test out the ride before they open to the public. I’m sure nothing crazy will happen and the book will just end with their pointed yet helpful criticism.

On the way to the ride, Marty pretends to bite Erin. Totally normal. Yep. There’s nothing weird or off-putting about that.

They arrive and see a row of tramcars and a tour guide named Linda. The kids ride in the front and Linda explains one of the features of the ride: the Shocker Stun Ray Blaster, which can “freeze a monster in its tracks from twenty feet.” Marty aims the gun at Linda and fires – and she freezes.

“Linda! Linda!” I screamed.

Marty’s mouth dropped open. He let out a choked gurgle.

I turned to Dad. To my surprise, he was laughing.

“Dad – she’s – she’s frozen!” I cried. But when I turned back to Linda, she had a big smile on her face, too.

It took us both a while, but we soon realized the whole thing was a joke.

“That’s the first shock on the Shocker tour,” Linda announced, lowering the red blaster. She put a hand on Marty’s shoulder. “I think I really shocked you, Marty!”

“No way!” Marty insisted.

Cool shock. 

Anyway, the tram moves on its own and Linda doesn’t go with them, so she’s gone forever and inconsequential to the plot. This isn’t a joke. She’s gone now. No more Linda. She was there to explain something that the Dad could have and do that stupid freezing thing. 

The first stop is a Haunted House. The tram barrels into the house and there are some spooky house shenanigans. Erin looks around and Marty is gone!

Not really – it’s just really dark. Seriously. She couldn’t see him in the dark. 

A skeleton talks to them as the tram takes off. Erin equates the ride to a rollercoaster, which makes me wonder if they’re wearing seat belts and if this ride should have shoulder harnesses. 

Then some monsters climb on top of the tram, but they’re just characters from the Shocker movies and this is the photo op part of the ride. This is a strange thing to put in the ride. I don’t mean that it’s weird to have a photo op on the ride – this sort of thing would be great at the end. I mean it’s weird to do it in the middle of a ride. It hurts the momentum and will destroy the ride capacity. Already there are clear problems with this ride. And I should know – I was voted Miss Ride Capacity and Safety Expert by a panel of me.

The tram takes off as the kids wonder why they didn’t see any zippers or seams on the costumes of the monsters during the photo op. 

Later, worms crawl on them and they go through a spiderweb. How Erin’s father thought this would be great for a ride, I have no idea. The kids are convinced they are robots, which makes even less sense. The cost associated with robotic worms and spiders crawling over people would be astronomical. And not just with development – people would take these things or accidentally destroy them. I should know – I was voted Miss Ride Development and Maintenance Cost Expert by a panel of my sister’s dog.

Anyway, Marty disappears again during the cave sequence.

Not really, of course, but he does get out of the tram. Before every ride I’ve been on, they tell you in at least three different languages to stay inside the car and keep your hands, legs, and feet inside the car. In fact, because of the safety measures like seat belts and harnesses, you can’t even get out. Somehow, this tram allows people to get out. In fact, it’s encouraged! Because the kids get out, confront a giant grasshopper (the one on the cover, I’m assuming), shoot it with the blaster, and continue on the ride on foot.

Marty pretends to be caught by something and yells, “APRIL FOOLS!” I didn’t know it was April Fools Day and the kids just continue to a creepy street that is home to the Mad Mangler. They don’t encounter the Mad Mangler, but they do end up in a cemetery and fall into some graves. 

Again, how would this ride work with actual riders? You can’t have them falling into holes – you have to account for people in wheelchairs and people who have limited mobility. And this ride is days from opening? The ride designers are either blatantly neglecting the ADA or are bad at their jobs. And I should know – I was voted Miss Accessibility by a panel of imaginary experts.

Just when you think the ride couldn’t be even more of a logistical nightmare, Something pulls the kids out of the graves. Unfortunately, they are not there to help the kids. Erin and Marty narrowly escape their captors. Again, if this were a ride, there is no way you can allow people to be touched by actors.

Or maybe there’s another explanation. Marty suggests that the animatronics have gone haywire, not unlike what happened to the Simpsons at Itchy & Scratchy Land.

The kids end up in quicksand, an issue I thought would be a bigger problem in my adult life. Luckily, Wolf Girl shows up and saves them. However, she growls at the children, even as the children ask for help.

“That’s enough!” I shrieked. “Stop the act! Stop it! Stop it!”

I was so angry, so furious – I reached up with both hands. I grabbed the fur on the sides of Wolf Girl’s mask.

And I tugged the mask with all my strength.

Tugged. Tugged with both hands as hard as I could.

And felt real fur. And warm skin.

It wasn’t a mask.

The kids run away and climb up a wall. If the ride has come to life, that would explain all the weird things happening. It’s not that the designers are negligent – it’s that the ride has come to life and they can’t get the kids out.

They run away and see the tram zoom past them, but Erin and Marty jump on it. The kids aren’t in the clear yet, however. They don’t know where the tram is taking them. They jump off the tram just before it careens into the wall, and they are surrounded by gray faces that are closing in on them.

And then I heard a man’s voice, shouting over the wind: “Cut! Print that one! Good scene, everyone!”

It was just a movie, huh? They were filming the kids’ reactions, huh? And now it’s time to wrap up. And the kids have to just find Erin’s dad, who’s behind this door, huh?

Well, Marty runs through the door.

And falls while Erin has a meltdown.

Jared Curtis, one of the studio engineers, came running into The House of Shocks. “Mr. Wright, what happened to your two kid robots?” he demanded.

Mr. Wright sighed again. “Programming problems,” he muttered.

He pointed to the Erin robot, frozen in place on her knees beside the Marty robot. “It had to shut the girl off. Her memory chip must be bad. The Erin robot was supposed to think of me as her father. But just now, she didn’t recognize me.”

“And what about the Marty robot?” Jared asked.

“It’s totally down,” Mr. Wright replied. “I think the electrical system shorted out.”

“What a shame,” Jared said, bending to roll the Marty robot over. He pulled up the T-shirt and fiddled with some dials on the back. “Hey, Mr. Wright, it was a great idea to make robot kids to test the park. I think we can fix them.”

Jared opened up a panel on Marty’s back and squinted at the red and green wires. “All the other creatures, and monsters, and robots worked perfectly. Not a single bug.”

Are you kidding me? The kids were robots? And the Dad character didn’t just program both of them his kids and just made one some kind of electric orphan? What would be the benefit?

And, even worse, this is how the ride is supposed to go? It completely disregards the ADA, it’s dangerous, there’s no clear path, the ride capacity is shit, there’s no flow. Imagineers they are not. 

Honestly, I was fine with the ride going haywire and the kids being trapped, but I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to think that a studio would pour hundreds of millions of dollars into realistic animatronics that go with the movies and take photos for a ride with such a low ride capacity that is bound to be the subject of a lawsuit. 

And remember – this ride was days away from opening. There was no oversight? No lawyers running in yelling, “You can’t open this ride!” After years of development and $150 million, no one thought everything about this was a terrible idea? I’ve done school projects with more planning. This book should be up my alley – horror movies, dark rides, and haunted houses – but it’s just too stupid. Universal Monsters, the obvious real-world allusion to the Shock Street movies, can be scary and work as an attraction. The problem lies in the overreliance on the twist ending, especially when it comes at the expense of a coherent story.

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 Haunted Mask

The year 2020 was tough on everyone for many different reasons. One of the biggest casualties for me was Halloween. Sure, the pop-up stores in vacant K-Marts still managed to appear without warning, but their merchandise was lacking. The costumes and the pop culture apparel were dusty. The decorations were from last year. The displays were noticeably absent. And who could blame them? 2020’s Halloween was nonexistent for those of us who wanted to be responsible and keep others safe. Sure, we knew people who still went to Halloween parties because their kids were whining only to catch Covid. (I say “knew” because I’m not going back to my waxer who did exactly that. She told me after I said I was afraid of getting Covid and that’s why I was basically Robin Williams in Jumanji.) Most of us didn’t buy candy, we didn’t decorate our lawns, and we kept our porch lights off. We lost something.

This year’s Halloween might not be the same as our halcyon days before the pandemic, especially if those anti-vaxxers keep holding us back, but there might be some sense of normalcy for the spooky time of year. At least, that’s what I hope. Trick-or-treating has been on the decline, but maybe I can fall into a nostalgia trip with a rereading of a classic Goosebumps book: The Haunted Mask. So let’s remember a time when kids wandered around on the night of October 31st without parents. A time when you wore a terrible mask that obstructed your view and neighbors gave out homemade cookies that may or may not have meth in them.

Let’s be honest: you’d be scared if some kid with this mask growled at you. Don’t lie.

Our protagonist, Carly Beth, is a real scaredy-cat. For some reason, that seems to bother her friends, Chuck, Steve, and Sabrina. They put a worm in her sandwich. She gets scared, which is understandable, both for her and the worm, and her “friends” make fun of her. For not wanting to eat a worm. How unreasonable of her not to want to eat a worm in her PB&J. Right away we have a Goosebumps trope – terrible non-friends. Our schools are overcrowded. You’d think kids could find friends who are actually nice, but I digress.

Carly Beth goes home humiliated and she’s greeted with a plaster-of-Paris bust of herself, which also scares her.

“It’s just creepy, that’s all,” Carly Beth said. She forced herself to look away from the replica of herself, and saw that her mother’s smile had faded.

Mrs. Caldwell looked hurt. “Don’t you like it?”

“Yeah. Sure. It’s really good, Mom,” Carly Beth answered quickly. “But, I mean, why on earth did you make it?”

“Because I love you,” Mrs. Caldwell replied curtly. “Why else? Honestly, Carly Beth, you have the strangest reactions to things. I worked really hard on this sculpture. I thought-”

“I’m sorry, Mom. I like it. Really, I do,” Carly Beth insisted. “It was just a surprise, that’s all. It’s great. It looks just like me. I-I had a bad day, that’s all.”

Carly Beth took another long look at the sculpture. Its brown eyes – her brown eyes – stared back at her. The brown hair shimmered in the afternoon sunlight through the window.

It smiled at me! Carly Beth thought, her mouth dropped open. I saw it! I just saw it smile!

No. It had to be a trick of the light.

Guilt trip much, Mom? Also, weird thing to do, Mom. But it is sweet that she thought of her daughter. It’s like British candy – weird and sweet.

Carly Beth goes up to her room to inspect her duck costume for Halloween, but it springs into motion! It’s alive! 

But don’t worry. It’s just her little brother, Noah, who also reminds her that she’s a scaredy-cat and then asks for her costume. Cool family, Carly Beth. Do you also have a father who likes to pretend to murder you every night? An uncle who leaves threatening notes in your mailbox?

The next day is the school’s Science Fair and everyone is buzzing about Martin Goodman’s project since he’s the school genius. He built a computer from scratch, which is, apparently, impressive. I’ve built a computer or two in my lifetime. It’s really a matter of buying the parts online and making sure to wear shoes so you don’t fry the motherboard with static electricity. And using the thermal paste properly. And not pressing down too hard on the CPU. Maybe it’s more complicated than I originally thought, but a Science Fair is for science and experiments. What is the variable for building a computer? “I tested building a computer and my variable was not building a computer. Building a computer allowed me to play The 7th Guest, and not building a computer made me play Candyland with my little brother. I came to the conclusion that I should build a computer and lock my little brother in the closet.”

Carly Beth and Sabrina built a model of the solar system. What is with these Science Fair projects? I thought they had to follow the Scientific Method? Which step in the Scientific Method is “go to Michaels and buy balls and paint?”

Anyway, Steve yells, “Where is my tarantula?” and sends the auditorium into a panic. Guess who thinks a tarantula is on them? Additionally, guess who pinched the aforementioned person to make them think that a tarantula is on them? Did you answer “Carly Beth” and “Carly Beth’s terrible friends?” Then you’ve won the book.

Not only do Carly Beth’s terrible friends laugh, but the other kids as well as the teachers laugh at her. What is with this town? Carly Beth should pack her bags and move away the second she graduates and never look back. This is why I have no sympathy when people lament about how small towns are dying. Small towns are filled with teachers who will willingly laugh at their students, homophobes, people afraid of minorities, men who keep women in their basements, and cults. I guess some of those are worse than others.

Carly Beth finally decides to give them a “good scare” and she needs a scarier costume than a duck. 

What’s really scary are her ideas on transgender people and how she doesn’t consider them people. Also, stop giving that man money.

She decides to go to the Halloween store that is open late on Halloween. To her surprise, they are not open! Did they advertise that they’re open late on Halloween and then close at six? It doesn’t matter, because this is a Goosebumps book, and she’s going to get into that store to further the plot no matter what.

The shop owner allows her in, but somehow he gets distracted and Carly Beth wanders into the back room, where she finds the perfect mask.

It had a bulging, bald head. Its skin was a putrid yellow-green. Its enormous, sunken eyes were an eerie orange and seemed to glow. It had a broad, flat nose, smashed in like a skeleton’s nose. The dark-lipped mouth gaped wide, revealing jagged animal fangs.

The shopkeeper returns and says that those masks aren’t for sale. However, Carly Beth promises to promote his shop on her internet TV show, so the shop owner gives her the mask and she rushes home to scare her brother Spencer, er, her little brother, who is named Noah. Excuse me. I think I’m getting some properties mixed up.

Carly Beth is finally ready for Halloween. She dons on her new mask and takes the bust her mother made and secures it to a broomstick. As she is heading over to her friend/bully-enabler Sabrina’s house, she spots Chuck and Steve. It’s time for revenge! She hides behind a bush and jumps out to scare them!

But it’s not Chuck and Steve. It’s just some random kids. Their mother runs over and says that Carly Beth should be ashamed of herself for scaring children on a holiday centered around scaring people. Carly Beth growls at the mother in a deep voice that is certainly not Carly Beth’s, prompting the mother to go full Karen and ask for Carly Beth’s manager/parents.

I’ll chew her to bits! I’ll tear her skin off of her bones! Furious thoughts raged through Carly Beth’s mind.

She sensed her muscles, crouched low, and prepared to pounce.

“Let’s go, Mom.”

“Yeah. Let’s go. She’s crazy!”

Yeah. I’m crazy. Crazy, crazy, CRAZY. The word repeated, roaring through Carly Beth’s mind. The mask grew hotter, tighter.

The woman gave Carly Beth one last cold stare. Then she turned and led the two boys down the driveway.

Carly Beth started after them, panting loudly. She had a strong urge to chase after them – to really scare them!

But a loud cry made her stop and spin around.

Sabrina stood on the front stoop, leaning on the storm door, her mouth open in a wide O of surprise. “Who’s there?” she cried, squinting into the darkness.

Carly Beth says that it’s her and she and Sabrina gush over the scariness of the mask before leaving to trick-or-treat. As they’re walking down the street, Sabrina asks how the mask is so warm and if Carly Beth is sweating underneath it. Carly Beth freaks out, yells at Sabrina, and wraps her hands around her friend’s throat.

Carly Beth quickly pulls away and pretends that it’s a joke. Again, Stine and his “great” jokes that involve assault. Don’t go to a stand-up show if this guy is the host. 

It’s not long until Carly Beth unleashes her inner demon again. However, this time, she runs away from Sabrina and goes full feral animal on the neighborhood. She scares kids and steals their candy. She runs around while waving the bust of her head around. Finally, she sees the actual Chuck and Steve and decides to mix it up a bit.

Carly Beth waved the broomstick. She pointed up to the head. “That’s Carly Beth’s head,” she told them. Her voice was a deep, throaty rasp.

“Huh?” Both boys gazed up at it uncertainly.

“That’s Carly Beth’s head,” she repeated slowly, waving it toward them. The painted eyes of the sculpted face appeared to glare down at them. “Poor Carly Beth didn’t want to give up her head tonight. But I took it anyway.”

And all three of them saw the lips move. And heard the dry, crackling sound.

All three of them saw the dark lips squeeze together, then part.

All three of them saw the bobbing head form the silent words: “Help me. Help me.”

Carly Beth hurls the bust to the ground. I would too! However, unlike me, Carly Beth runs off to continue her night of unleashed Halloween chaos and candy thievery.

Eventually, Sabrina finds her and the girls go back to Sabrina’s house. Carly Beth scared Chuck and Steve and she got to wreak havoc on this town. It’s time to take off the mask and settle in for the night.

But Carly Beth can’t get the mask off. There is no line where the mask starts. The mask has become Carly Beth’s face! Instead of running around town, Carly Beth runs to the store where she bought the mask. To her surprise, it’s closed! The store that was closed earlier that day is still closed! The audacity of some places!

Once again, the owner is there anyway. But he can’t take off the mask! The only way to remove the mask is through “a symbol of love.” 

Carly Beth figures out that the bust her mother made is a true act of love, but she threw the bust on the ground when it started talking. Luckily, the bust is still near the place she threw it, but not before we have pages of Carly Beth running. 

The mask comes off and Carly Beth goes home. Our protagonist spends the whole book wishing she was someone else and literally puts on a mask to become this new person. When that new person is a monster who causes distress and chaos, she finally learns that she doesn’t need to be a new person. What she needs is what she already has – the love of a parent who does nice things like turn you into art.

Then her brother puts on the mask and it’s like, great, now the mother has to make another bust.

The Haunted Mask is a classic for a good reason. The R. L. Stine formula works well here. We have a troubled kid with terrible friends and a way for them to overcome the defect that society (or their terrible friends) has placed on them. The kid has a little adventure. They finally learn that just because society says that a personality trait a defect, doesn’t mean that it is actually a defect or that is the only facet of life. And then a silly twist at the end.

While The Haunted Mask is a great Goosebumps book, it does have some problems. Carly Beth doesn’t embrace her timid nature, and her timid nature doesn’t help her in any way, and Sabrina, Chuck, and Steve aren’t admonished for treating their friend poorly. It’s also a bit repetitive. There are pages and pages of running. There’s a lot of running. Running to scare kids. Running to get candy. Running to find talking plaster-of-Paris busts. Clearly, the Stine formula isn’t the only reason why this book is a classic.

The other reason is the striking artwork on the cover by Tim Jacobus. The book covers are usually fantastic, but The Haunted Mask is something special. It’s memorable and scary. There are little details like the stream of saliva and the way the skin sits on the bones in the forehead that makes the mask look alive. It’s an unforgettable image, especially for a child wandering through the Scholastic Book Fair. This is truly one of my favorite Goosebumps book covers and it works in concert with the story to create something iconic.

I don’t know what Halloween will look like this year, but I hope it’s better than last year’s. Those of us who tried to look out for others and love spooky stuff deserve an outlet, whether that be a costume party or a good old Haunted House. Whatever you do, get the vaccine, stay safe, and have a Happy Halloween!

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #20: Kristy and the Walking Disaster

I do not come from a sports family. I had no interest and actively hated (and still hate) physical activity. My mother climbed our cherry trees to get the best fruits, but that’s about it. My father, the stereotypical member of the family to love sports, had even less interest than myself. My sister was the closest to a sports fan. And by sports, I mean sports entertainment. She even wanted to be a wrestler when she grew up. She’s a stand-up comedian, so she just made a lateral move. Luckily for me, because my family doesn’t care much for sports or forcing children into activities, I never joined a Little League team. My parents never made my sister or me join anything, and for that, I am grateful.

Kristy starts a Little League team in Kristy and the Walking Disaster, and this book dives into a world I never experienced. It also affirms why I don’t like sports, so this book is both an exploration and an affirmation! It’s like a self-help book for people who don’t like sports, but like Scholastic Book Fairs.

If you have a cursory knowledge of the kids of Stoneybrook, you know who the walking disaster is. However, I would be surprised if the walking disaster turned out to be the friends we made along the way.

The book starts a BSC meeting and the usual description of each and every BSC member. Kristy even tells the reader, “I am the president and I must look like I mean business.” After four years of the indignity of the Tr*mp Crime Family, I don’t think that’s true anymore. 

We get our lengthy explanation on club procedures, Kid-Kits, and the BSC notebook. All standard opening chapter stuff. Finally, the BSC starts their meeting and they get a call from the Radowsky family. Kristy takes the job while calling Jackie a “walking disaster.” Honestly, it’s a bit harsh, and even if the kid is accident-prone, he’s still one of the more interesting kids in Stoneybrook.

That Saturday, Kristy is watching a few of the neighborhood kids play softball. 

Hannie really couldn’t hit. She never connected with the ball. Max dropped or missed every ball he tried to catch. David Michael was simply a klutz. He tripped over his feet, the bat, even the ball, and no matter how he concentrated, he somehow never did anything right, except pitch. Karen wasn’t a bad hitter. And Andrew might have been a good catcher if he weren’t so little, but he’s only four, so balls went sailing over him right and left, even when he stretched for him. Amanda and Linnie were no better than the others.

Yeah, how dare these kids play softball if they’re so terrible! Who cares if they’re four, when Joe DiMaggio was four, he had two World Series wins and had married and divorced Marilyn Monroe!

She gathers up the kids and gives them some pointers because these kids will never get to Koshien if they don’t get their shit together. Some of the kids express an interest in joining a team and David Michael informs Kristy of a kid in the neighborhood named Bart Taylor who coaches Bart’s Bashers. For those of you familiar with the BSC, that name should ring a bell. 

Anyway, Kristy goes to talk to Bart Taylor and she freaks.

Why did I feel so nervous? I’ve talked to boys before. I’ve been to dances with boys. I’ve been to parties with boys. But none of them looked at me the way Bart was looking at me just then – as if standing on the sidewalk was a glamorous movie star instead of plain old me, Kristy Thomas. And, to be honest, none of them had been quite as cute as Bart. They didn’t have his crooked smile or his deep, deep brown eyes, or his even, straight perfect nose, or his hair that looked like it might have been styled at one of those hair places for guys – or not. I think it’s a good sign if you can’t tell.

Do you mean a “barbershop,” Kristy? Since this is the eighth grade, I’m assuming she means “Fantastic Sams.”

Anyway, she tries to get six kids on Bart’s team, but he won’t because he can’t handle that many kids. It will become apparent that he can’t even handle the kids he currently has, but for right now, Kristy walks away having made two decisions – she’s going to start a softball team and she has a crush on Bart Taylor. 

So Mary Anne babysits for the Perkins’s and Jamie Newton and Nina Marshall show up. Gabbers sells Jamie four-hundred dollar water. They also end up playing softball outside, because the kids in Stoneybrook are psychically linked, and Myriah knows a lot about playing. Mary Anne tells her about Kristy’s softball team, making Myriah the first competent player on the team. 

Kristy sits for the Radowskys. Jackie drops pink lemonade while they are preparing a birthday party for the dog. Jackie’s older brothers are in Little League and that prompts them to play softball. His older brothers chastise Jackie for not playing perfectly. Even Kristy thinks about how Jackie is a worse player than David Michael. However, even though she’s awfully judgmental about a seven-year-old’s sports capabilities, Kristy still invites him to join her softball team, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have a title.

Later that night, Kristy receives a bunch of phone calls about her team, mostly kids asking to join. Kristy ends with a list of twenty kids, their ages, and their problems, which range from “Gabbie Perkins – 2½ – doesn’t understand the game yet” to “Myriah Perkins – 5 – ?(probably just needs work)” and “David Michael Thomas – 7 – a klutz.” There are even a few kids Kristy hasn’t met yet – the Kuhns. That’s the suburbs for you – just kids and softball teams sprouting like Spirit Halloween Stores in abandoned Circuit Citys in October. 

Watson and Kristy determine that the team is meant “to coach kids who wanted to improve their playing skills, but more importantly, just to have fun.” Kristy also wonders if Bart thinks she’s cute. In fact, she writes it down on her list of considerations for the team. 

On the first day of practice, all twenty kids show up. Kristy is going to coach them for a while and then they’ll play a short game. She also reminds everyone that Matt Braddock is a fantastic player but he’s deaf so the kids can’t just yell stuff at him. 

Before they finally play a game, Mallory, who is there with Dawn and some other parents for moral support, suggests they come up with a name, and Jackie yells, “How about Kristy’s Crushers?”

“And we could spell ‘Crushers’ with a ‘K’,” added Margo Pike. “You know, to go with Kristy. Kristy’s Krushers.”

“No!” cried Karen. “That’s wrong. That’s not how you spell ‘crushers.’ You spell ‘crushers’ with a ‘C’!” (Karen takes her spelling very seriously.)

But she was voted down. Every other kid liked “Kristy’s Krushers-with-a’ K.’”

Dammit, Karen, lighten up. It’s a softball team not a United Nations Treaty. As long as it’s not “Kristy’s Kool Krushers,” I’m sure it will be fine. 

Also, Google thinks it should be “Kristy’s Krushers” also.

At the end of their first game, Linny calls Kristy, “Coach,” giving Kristy a confidence boost, and she declares the practice a complete success. 

While Claudia and Mallory are sitting for the Pikes, the triplets, who are in Little League, propose a game between the Little Leaguers and the Krushers. Matt Braddock is also there, so he is on the Krusher’s side. Matt is very good, as expected, and Nicky has a surprisingly sweet moment with his little sister wherein he encourages her like a proper teammate. In the end, the triplets win, of course, but the Krushers never give up and the triplets congratulate them on the game graciously. 

At the next practice, there’s a bunch of baseball stuff. Claire sings “I’m a Little Teapot.” Jackie trips over his feet. David Michael signs “monkey” to Matt, and he is confused. 

Finally, Buddy Barrett pitches to Jackie and the ball goes right into Jackie’s mouth. Claudia pulls out a tooth and Jackie exclaims, “I just love losing teeth.” Kristy calls for the end of practice.

After dinner, Kristy goes to walk Shannon (the dog, not the sitter) and finds Bart and his rottweiler. They walk their dogs together and we have our main conflict of the book.

“Hey,” said Bart. “I’ve got an idea. Just to show you that I think your team is as good as mine, even if the kids are younger, how about a game? Bart’s Bashers challenge Kristy’s Krushers.”

A game? A real game? Against Bart’s team? I didn’t know if the Krushers were ready for something like that, but I wasn’t about to say no. I couldn’t let Bart think I was afraid of his team. Besides, if we set up a game, I’d be sure to see him again – soon.

“Sure,” I replied. “How about two weeks from Saturday? Is that enough time for the Bashers to get ready?”

“Of course! But what about the Krushers?”

“Oh, they’ll be ready.”

I grinned at Bart and he grinned back.

How do these teams always find time to challenge other random teams? I never want to hear another parent say their kid is too busy with sports again. If they have enough time to challenge five-year-olds to games, they have enough time to finish their one-page report on Taft.

At the next practice, the team shows up in “Kristy’s Krushers” jerseys. Everyone except Karen, of course, who is the wettest of wet blankets and her jersey says, “Kristy’s Crushers.” We get it, Karen, you’re not fun.

The team gets excited when Kristy tells them about the impending game with the Bashers. Haley and Vanessa volunteer for cheerleading duty (with Charlotte coordinating), and the team plans to sell refreshments at the game. But before they play the game, they have to practice. This time, Kristy keeps the kids in one position, instead of having them switch around. 

The practice is going pretty good until Jackie hits a ball through Stoneybrook Elementary School’s window. The practice is over and the Radowsky’s have to pay for a new window.

Bart and a few of the Bashers show up to their next practice to scope out the competition. The Bashers make fun of the Krushers. The little jerks fat-shame Jake Kuhn, call Gabbie a baby, and call Jackie “Pig-Pen from Peanuts.” The absolute worst thing they do is call Matt dumb because he’s deaf. Kristy says she doesn’t think Bart can hear his team’s derogatory comments. 

What the hell, Bart? Get control of your team. What kind of environment are you cultivating wherein your team thinks it’s acceptable to say these toxic things? I don’t care if Bart couldn’t hear them, David Michael wouldn’t make fun of a kid in a wheelchair even if Kristy couldn’t hear him.

Luckily, if Bart wasn’t there to get control, Haley was not putting up with bullshit.

Haley charged over to the Basher who had just insulted her brother. She stood inside the catcher’s cage, nose-to-nose with the boy on the other side of the wire fence.

“That ‘dummy,’” she said with clenched teeth, “is my brother, and if you call him a dummy one more time, I will personally rearrange your face.”

The kid just stared at Haley, but she stared back until she had stared him down.

Well, I’m glad someone has some sense of decency. 

On the day of the big game, Kristy runs into a snag. Their best player and pitcher, Nicky, is sick and can’t play. David Michael will be taking over pitching duties.

The game is pretty chaotic. Matt hits a homerun. The Bashers cheerleaders chant “Strikeout!” as Margo Pike steps up. Vanessa and Haley cheer louder for Margo, and in a surprise move, the Pike triplets, who showed up dressed in their Little League uniforms, join Vanessa and Haley to drown out the Basher cheerleaders. Jackie accidentally throws his bat, “twists” his ankle, and Kristy calls a time out.

“Jackie,” I said, “I’m putting you back in the game.”

Jackie snapped to attention. “But-but I can’t play, Coach!” he exclaimed. “I hurt my ankle.” He began rubbing his right ankle.

“When you fell, you hurt your other ankle,” I pointed out.

“Oops.”

“Jackie, I know you’re embarrassed. I also know you’re a good player. And right now, we need you at first base. It’s either you or Jamie Newton, and you know what’ll happen if a ball comes toward Jamie.”

Whoa, slam on Jamie – a four-year-old. 

Jackie gets back in the game. Matt hits a home run. Charlotte Johanssen cheers even though she is incredibly shy. Hannie Papadakis hits a home run. Everyone is taking off their hats under the blistering sun.

In the end, the Bashers win, because they’re eleven-year-olds playing against four-year-olds, but the score is 16-11, which seems like a high-scoring game. 

We still have one more side-plot to resolve – Bart and Kristy. Does he apologize for his team’s behavior? No. He does not. It does pull Kristy out of the way of a zooming car, so that’s something. And for reasons I don’t understand, Kristy asks for a rematch. 

This is the introduction of Bart as Kristy’s primary love interest to the series, and just like Logan, I was thoroughly disappointed. Bart is passive while his team demeans younger children, and he doesn’t apologize for their behavior after the game. But I guess Kristy is only twelve – she hasn’t experienced how trash dudes can be. While this book did show me (in interminable detail) a few play-by-plays of several softball practices and one game, I still lack interest in sports and its appeal is still inconceivable to me. The extreme competition and hostility for no reason paired with the pep talks and time commitment have just reiterated why I have no interest in sports or group activities. My sister is correct when it comes to sport: at least professional wrestling has storylines and plot twists.

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 Sagas #2: House of Whispers

If you asked ten-year-old Amy what her favorite book was, she would say Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers. What was it about this specific Fear Street book that appealed to me? Was it the Civil War setting? Was it the rivalry between young sisters Hannah and Julia? The presence of three boys who exist for only a short scene and are never seen again? And speaking of boys, was it the love interest with a dark secret and an eyepatch?

Or, more likely, was it the use of Tarot cards, something I collect in my adulthood, as a plot device? Could it be the gore, something novel to a young girl just discovering death? While those last two contributed to my devotion to this book, the most obvious reason for my affection is that the main character is named “Amy.” 

Does this book hold up? Let’s explore ten-year-old Amy’s (the person, not the book character) favorite book and, maybe, along the way, remind me why I got a reputation for being creepy in school. 

a girl in a purple dress stares at the reader while a different girl falls out a window
Nellie was so excited to win a contest where a major publishing company steals your idea that she ran out the window to mail her entry.

In the fall of 1863, young Amy Pierce travels to live with her cousin, Angelica Fear, in New Orleans. That’s right, folks! We’re following the people who wanted to expand chattel slavery into the west! It’s not discussed in this book, but it does diminish character sympathy when I know they’re fine with people as property. 

The carriage driver warns Amy about the Fears and fulfills his role as the “Crazy Ralph” of the book. 

We meet Angelica Fear and her two daughters, Julia and Hannah. Julia is the timid one whom Amy immediately identifies with while Hannah is the more outgoing one. We also meet Nellie the Maid, who strongly resembles a slave, and it’s never addressed in the book, but the implication is there. 

It’s eleven pages before we have our first cliffhanger! I think that’s a record. Stine is exercising restraint in this one. It’s a face in the mirror! But it’s just Julia, who is coming into Amy’s room to be cryptic.

“Amy . . .” The girl hesitated for a moment. “I . . . Do not open your bedroom door at night when everyone is asleep.” Amy heard Julia’s voice crack. “No matter what you hear.”

“What? Why not?” Amy exclaimed.

“It is not safe.” Julia wrapped her arms around herself. “It is not safe.”

“I saw the shadows in the hall move,” Julia said. “They whirled into a black, smoky column filled with faces. Faces without eyes, faces without skin. Faces covered with oozing sores. Faces burned until they were black.”

That’s a pretty creepy thing to say, Julia. Cool, but creepy.

When Julia is finished creeping everyone out and leaves, Amy hears a noise behind her door. She ignores Julia’s warning ten minutes later and flings open the door.

There’s nothing. Of course, there’s nothing.

The next morning, Angelica invites Amy into the library and shows her guest tarot cards. When Amy picks up the cards, she shuffles madly as the cards take over her body. Angelica is super excited and says, “In every generation of Pierce women, one or two are born with a special power.” 

You’d think Amy’s mother would have told her this if it’s as consistent as “every generation.” 

Amy runs away because quick shuffling is too much for her. She would hate trick shuffling. In Vegas, she would just freak out and run screaming. She should do that now, but not for card-related reasons.

She goes outside to play with the children and we get to meet Angelica’s three sons – Joseph, Robert, and Brandon – and that’s a wrap on the boys. Let’s give them a hand for their hard fifteen minutes of work – they’ve been real professionals.

I’m not joking. Well, I’m joking a little. But that’s it for the boys. Later, it’s referenced that they’re playing war and none of them want to be “Yankees” so they all play the soldiers who betrayed our country because they wanted to own people.

Anyway, during a game of Hide and Seek, Amy gets lost among the greenery and trellises. She eventually hears a shrill scream from the garden next door. Amy finds an old woman and a snake. Amy kills the snake with a nearby garden hoe. 

The old woman, Clare Hathaway, is grateful and we also meet her son, David, who has an eyepatch and a sling. Angelica says he is dangerous and warns Amy to stay away from him. Apparently, he escaped a Union prison and has killed and will kill again. So, our romantic lead fought for the Confederacy. It’s becoming clear that I did not think about the issues that underpin this book. 

Amy joins Clare for tea and David is there. Apropos of nothing, Amy exclaims that she still wants to jump David’s bones even if some of those bones are brittle right now and he ain’t go no eye. 

While they’re flirting at an acceptable level for a ‘90s young adult novel, they hear a crash and a scream. Nellie has fallen out of the window.

The description of her mangled body and face is so graphic I don’t want to quote it for fear of demonetization (as if I did these for money). Morbidly, this is what I liked about the Fear Street Sagas over the mainline series. Stine didn’t shy away from the violence. There was no implication – no offscreen death. This is especially relevant now. PG-13 has all the violence of an R-rated movie but without the consequence. We don’t see the consequences of violence – just the violence itself. It’s crazy to read something in a book for thirteen-year-olds that would never be shown in a PG-13 movie.

Although, when I read these as a kid, it was more for bloodlust. As an adult, I can see the fun and humor in violence. I am, after all, a big fan of Friday the 13th, so much so that if a random person named a Friday the 13th movie and a name, I could probably tell them how they died. “Friday the 13th 6! Cort!” “First of all, it’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI and knife through the temple!”

However, there may be people who don’t understand the appeal of horror. And that’s fine. I’m not here to change your mind. And if I did want to change your mind, I wouldn’t do it with this book. 

Anyway, Amy figures out that Nellie fell from Angelica’s study. She talks to the cards and she keeps seeing the Death Card (not the Ten of Swords, for those of you Tarot-inclined folks who are about to tell me that the Death Card doesn’t usually mean actual death, don’t DM me, I know). David shows up and has the privilege of saying that Nellie’s death was “no accident.” Classic horror dialogue.

Just because a maid died doesn’t mean they can’t have a good ol’ antebellum-style ball! We meet some of the local women: Chantal, a blonde woman with the hots for David, and Bernice, a woman who is on fire. Well, she’s not on fire for a few pages of the ball, but once she’s on fire, boy, she’s on fire! Literally! Her skin melts and everything! She took fire burning on the dance floor seriously.

I’ll take my decade-old song references, and my insensitivity, and take my leave.

After seeing a good friend fall out of a window and an acquaintance on fire, Amy is understandably distraught. In the middle of the night, David shows up at her window. Of course, Amy sneaks out and they run off to the middle of the garden, far away from the house, and David tells her what happened during the dance.

“Everything she touched started to burn,” he continued. “I thought I knew every terrible way to die. But I did not. Bernice’s death was the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Amy put her arms around him. She hung on tight.

His breath went out in a long, shuddering sigh. “Amy,” he murmured, his voice low and intense.

He pulled his head back and stared down at her. Then he kissed her. His lips felt warm and hard.

“Oh man, I’ve seen so much death. I’m so broken. Let’s make out. Ughluhluhluh.” 

Then he says that Amy shouldn’t trust anyone, including him, because he’s our red herring and he has to say that. And it’s the end of Part One.

Yes, the end of Part One. On page 78.

In Part Two, Amy sees a vision of David shoving Chantal in the lake. Our protagonist finds her dead – drowned in the lake. Amy determines that David is the killer, even though he ran off at the end of part one for unknown, plot-based reasons and hasn’t returned yet. 

Amy consults the tarot cards, but for some reason, when she gets close to them, she’s completely frozen. She cannot move and she is slowly freezing in the middle of a mansion in the antebellum version of the suburbs.

She focused all her attention on that small glowing ember inside her. The cards called to her, even through the awful cold. If she could only reach them, she had a chance.

Oh, but she was cold, so cold. She did not think she could make her body obey her again.

She had to try. Either that, or give up and allow the cold to take her completely.

“I . . . will . . . not . . . give . . . up!” she gasped.

She forces her way to the cards, pushing through the cold, forcing her legs to move through sheer fire and willpower. When she reaches the cards, they give her the strength and warmth she needs. 

It’s beautiful. A young woman overcomes an obstacle with her innate strength. And it’s as much character growth as we’re going to get and I’m perfectly happy with it.

The cards tell her that David killed Chantal and is going to kill his mother next. Amy rushes over to the Hathaway estate next door.

She finds Mrs. Hathaway in a trance at the top of the stairs. David appears behind his mother. Amy thinks he’s going to push her, but he pulls his mother away from the stairs instead. She was sleepwalking. Because David saved his mother, somehow, Amy knows he didn’t kill the other girls (even though the cards and the visions tell her that he did – we’ll get to that). 

David finally divulges his sordid past. He promised to keep a fourteen-year-old soldier safe and the kid got killed. Where the Union prison comes in, I have no idea. Amy is reassured, and so is the reader because we’re finally at the climax.

David urges Amy to stay with him, but Amy says that if Angelica suspects something is amiss, she would take it out on the Hathaways. Amy goes back to the house and finds Angelica in the doorway. The lady of the house pulls Amy in and sends her to her room.

In the middle of the night, Amy’s doorknob turns. It’s just Julia. She gives Amy a letter she found in the ash pile behind the house. It’s a letter from Amy’s mother that Angelica intercepted and intended to hide from her (not very well if a seven-year-old found it). Amy tries to go to David, but Angelica is waiting for her and goes full-on World of Warcraft boss, complete with phases. (And all my WoW are pre-Cata, sorry.)

In the first phase, Angelica summons wind, and leaves swirl around her. Also, she puts a barrier of green eyes around the party, so, hunters, I know you’ll have some trouble. Rogues will try to stay behind her, but they’ll probably get hit with her leaf AOE. The healers should use their HOTs on the rogues.

There’s a cut scene before phase two wherein the party temporarily gets away from Angelica and meets up with David. He asks the party to trust him. Make sure to type /yes for the Trust Buff. 

In phase two, Angelica spawns an extra mob – the column of smoke. Angelica will explain the smoke monster as well as her motivations:

“That column holds my spirits, my friends, my guides. Some of them have been with me since I was very young. Once I was like you. Frightened of the power inside me. But not anymore.”

“I was so looking forward to having another powerful PIerce woman in the family,” Angelica explained. “We could have done so much together. You have missed an incredible opportunity by turning against me.”

“To be evil?” she asked. Amy knew the door behind her was locked. And if she tried to run past Angelica, the spirits could swoop down on her.

“There is great power in evil,” Angelica replied. “Oh Amy. You could have had anything you wanted.” … “Well, anything but David,” she added. “I am saving him for Hannah.” … “The Hathaways are very wealthy,” … “David will marry Hannah and bring that fortune for the Fears.” … “David will do what I tell him.”

“I know you killed them all,” Amy whispered. “Nellie, Bernice, Chantal-”

“Of course,” Angelica replied. “Death pleases my spirits. And it adds to my power.”

The column of smoke moves toward the party. We just have to heal through it. It engulfs everyone and we can see the faces of the people it had fed upon and their horrible distended faces. Once we gain enough strength, we’ll shoot white balls from our bodies, destroying the column of smoke and causing damage to Angelica, who will go into phase three.

In this phase, Angelica will bring in David, who is seemingly under her spell. If we all have the Trust Buff, David snaps out of his trance and shoots Angelica. When we escape the house, ivy will attack the party. DPS please free the healers after you free yourselves, as they have to focus on healing. We’ll get a loot crate when we reach the Hathaways.

David and Amy escape the mansion and we time jump forward to David, his mother, and Amy leaving New Orleans. Amy mentions that she feels empathy for Julia, and she doesn’t think they should have left her there with that evil family that has nothing but disdain for her. David says that since Julia is a Fear, she was doomed from birth. Great thinking, David.

I had a great time with this book, however, it is difficult to forget that these people are from the side that wanted to keep and expand slavery into the west. If only this took place in the north, which is where I think Shadyside is located, and David escaped from a Confederate jail. If that were the case, I could enjoy this book with as much glee as I did when I was a kid. The setting puts a dark cloud over this book and makes it difficult to like the characters, especially David. The book never directly mentions slavery, nor is it an integral plot element, so there is no reason why the setting couldn’t be altered. In another world, one where the protagonists weren’t slavers, the book is stupid, morbid fun. Horror allows us to confront death and peril without actually putting ourselves in that situation. Tension followed by a scare gives us catharsis. Violence alleviates anger. Some of these things might not make sense to people who don’t understand horror, but those of us who can recite the deaths in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter know what I’m talking about.

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 #19: Claudia and the Bad Joke

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

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

Or maybe not, given the title.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betsy and Mal looked at each other. They smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And stop pranking each other. This is stupid.

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