Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #11 – Kristy and the Snobs

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

I wasn’t there when my childhood pet died. His name was Sammy, and he was a gorgeous Australian Shepherd. He died while my family and I were abroad, visiting my extended family in the Philippines. My father had to sit my sister and me down and explain that our dog wasn’t going to be there when we got back. I still remember the exact spot in my Grandmother’s house, the exact chair I was sitting in, a long bench next to the dining table, and the exact color of the flip-flops that I stared at as my father told me the bad news (yellow).

In The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs, Kristy at least has the luxury of saying goodbye to her beloved Louie, and I don’t consider that a spoiler – the dog is limping before the end of chapter one. Anyone who has read a book featuring a beloved pet knows that doesn’t bode well for Spot.

The book’s title implies that there’s some kind of Kristy vs. the Snobs war, and there are a few pranks, but the crux of the novel is heartbreak and loss. Ann M. Martin writes about sadness in a stark and plain way. The pain isn’t covered up with flowery language and metaphor; there is no euphemism sufficient enough to describe the death of a beloved pet. It’s a sad book, but it’s a good one.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs – “Oh dear! Jeans and a dog that sits! How plebeian. Come smaller clone with white cat – my dog that never sits and I don’t want to catch anything uncouth.”

The book starts with breakfast at the Watson/Thomas compound. They cook their own breakfast, Watson helps with the chores, and they clean their own house. They don’t have a pool, or a tennis court, or a fountain in the entryway. That’s not a compound, you say? Not like their neighbors, who actually have maids, cooks, pools, butlers, and courts tennis? This difference is made apparent by the appearance of Kristy’s neighbors, who attend a private school and are all blonde.

“Are you the one who’s been sending those fliers around? For some baby-sitting club?”

“Yeah,” I said. (Every now and then our club tries to find new people to baby-sit for, so we send around advertisements. We’d put one in every box in my new neighborhood not long ago.)

“What does your little club do?” asked another blonde.

“What do you think?” I replied testily. “We baby-sit.”

“How cute,” said the blonde with the curls.

The others giggled.

“Nice outfit,” called the one non-blonde, putting her hands on her hips.

I blushed. Too bad I’d chosen the jeans with the hole in the knee that day.

But if there’s one thing to be said about me, it’s that I have a big mouth. I always have. I’m better about controlling it then I used to be, but I’m not afraid to use it. So I put my hands on my hips and said, “Your clothes are nice, too. You look like clones. Snob clones.”

Slam, Kristy. You got ‘em. Now they’ll have to respect you. I feel like I’ve said and done this exact thing in my past life as an awkward eleven-year-old.

While this is going on, Louie is limping on page seven. The dog is not long for this world and they take him to a veterinarian named Dr. Smith, who is a woman. I only mention that because when I read the name, I thought it was a male vet. I was surprised at my own internalized misogyny when it’s revealed that Dr. Smith is a woman. Martin is progressive (most of the time, she could do better with Claudia), especially in the eighties. Dr. Smith informs them that Louie is getting older, has arthritis, and his eyesight is getting worse. She prescribes some pain medication and suggests short walks for Louie. Kristy does just that when they get home and meets one of the snobs, the one who lives across the street, and her immaculate dog, accompanied by another blonde child.

“What,” she said, pointing to Louie, “is that?”

That,” I replied, “is a dog.”

The girl made a face at me. “Really? It’s hard to tell. He’s so . . . scruffy.”

“Yeah, he’s icky!” cried the younger one.

“He’s old,” I said defensively. “And he has arthritis.”

The older girl softened just a smidge. “What’s his name?” she asked.

“Louie.”

“Oh. This is Astrid. Astrid of Grenville. A pedigreed Bernese mountain dog.”

“And this is Priscilla. She’s purebred. She cost four hundred dollars,” said the little kid.

First of all, dogs shouldn’t have titles. They’re not in Game of Thrones. They didn’t just stab the Mad King and inherited a title. Astrid of Grenville, Kingslayer, Heir to the Iron Throne, Vanquisher of the Montorian Horde, Defender of the Clahnahvan of the Western Vales, and daughter of Buddy and Miss Honey Toes. That sounds ridiculous. This is Astrid. She’s a dog. She can shake, but only if you give her a treat afterward. She also responds to friendly whistling and “Hey, dog.”

Priscilla is a fine name for a finicky cat, but one of my dogs cost about four hundred dollars, and she still shat and humped everything in sight. That doesn’t mean your animal is better bred or less trouble. However, reminding everyone how much something cost is a thing a spoiled child would do.

The older girl introduces herself as “Shannon Louisa Kilbourne” and her charge is Amanda Delaney. Any good BSC fan will spot the name. I know that at some point, Shannon and Kristy will put aside their differences and Shannon will become an associate member of the BSC. Let’s see how these two work it out, but not before some pranking shenanigans.

While Kristy is babysitting for the Papadakis clan, Shannon calls her and warns her that smoke is coming from the upstairs bedroom. It’s a ruse, of course, but Kristy doesn’t figure that out until she gets the children outside. Kristy retaliates by sending a diaper service to Shannon.

Chapter five is our first handwriting chapter in the book with Mary Anne at the Perkins’s. Mrs. Perkins is preparing for a new baby, and Myriah and Gabbie are excited. But Jamie Newton comes over and complains about his little sister, prompting Gabbie to become upset. Mary Anne and Myriah set up a tea party for the Gabbers and invite some of her favorite stuffed animals. This placates the child and then it’s back to Kristy, but this time, she’s babysitting the four-hundred-dollar cat and its humans – Amanda and Max Delaney.

They are brats. They demand Kristy get them Cokes, then ice, then no ice. She complies with their arbitrary requests – she doesn’t want to piss off new customers. Shannon calls and wants help with Sari Papadakis, but there’s nothing wrong with the kid. She just wanted to waste Kristy’s time, I guess. Not a great prank, but they’re twelve, and I’ll give them a break.

Meanwhile, Dawn is having some problems with Jeff. He’s being moody and while Dawn’s watching over him, he yells that he wants to go back to California with his father. When Dawn tells the BSC during the next meeting, she mentions that her mother called her father and he was reluctant about taking in Jeff. It seems that Jeff doesn’t have a place anywhere.

The Delaneys call again, but Kristy refuses to take the job. Instead, Stacey takes over. When she arrives at the job, Mrs. Delaney asks that they clean up their playroom while she’s away, but Amanda insists that they like their room messy. Stacey concocts has an ingenious plan.

“You know, you’re right. I like a really messy room. In fact, I don’t think this room is messy enough. Look at this. A whole set of Lincoln Logs. They’re not even on the floor.” Stacey poured the Lincoln Logs into the toy soup.

“Hey!” cried Amanda. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Yeah! What are you doing?” added Max.

“You said you like a messy room,” Stacey replied. “Well, I do, too.” She picked up a stack of construction paper and let it start floating to the floor, piece by piece.

“Quit messing up our room!” shouted Amanda. She held her arms stiffly at her sides and stamped her foot.

“Why?” demanded Stacey, pausing long enough to let the remainder of the paper settle into the toy soup. Then she began scattering puzzle pieces.

“Because,” said Max. “That’s why.”

“I thought you liked a good mess,” Stacey went on.

“We do,” Amanda began, then hesitated. “But not . . . not this good a mess. Cut it out!”

“I’m just trying to help you guys out,” Stacey told her.

“No! I mean . . . we want it clean.” Amanda scrambled around, picked up the paper.

The Delaney kids pick up their room – Stacey’s plan worked. She continues like this for the rest of the job. Max demands a drink so Stacey starts pulling out cups, saying she doesn’t know how much drink he wants so she’s just going to start pouring as many cups as she can. He ends up getting his own drink. In the end, Stacey convinces them to play some kind of advanced hopscotch involving a snail. It’s a successful babysitting job.

Kristy employs the same tactics the next time she babysits of the Delaneys, but it’s interrupted by a pizza delivery prank from you-know-who. Kristy sends it to Shannon’s, who comes over with the pizza. The girls commiserate over the round prank and Kristy pays for half the pizza.

Chapter 11 is a handwriting chapter – Claudia at the Pikes. Half of the Pike clan has chicken pox and Claudia has a hard time trying to placate everyone. It ends with two more children joining the pox party. Then it’s back to the main story.

Louie is not doing well. Horrifying dog scene warning.

Louie seemed to have lost complete control of his hind legs. He was pulling himself around the kitchen with his front legs, dragging the back ones as if they were paralyzed. And he was, as you might imagine, in a panic. He crawled into a leg of the kitchen table, and then into the stove.

I knew Louie wasn’t going to make it to the end of the book, but nothing prepared me for that in my innocent BSC book. As I’m writing this, it’s about a month after I’ve actually finished the book, so I’ve forgotten some of the specifics. (Classes have started back up and I was writing a personal narrative for this class I’m taking.) My notes just said, “Oh, Jesus” with a highlighted page number, meaning it’s something I’m thinking of excerpting. When I read this again, I felt that searing pain in the back of my throat. I have an affection for dogs and I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing a dog lose control like Louie. I worried about my pets when they had nightmares – and dreams couldn’t hurt them. Unless, of course, their parents burned a child murderer alive and he came back to exact revenge on his murderers’ children.

The family and Dr. Smith come to the decision that Louie is in immense pain and would be better served if he were to be gently lead across the Rainbow Bridge to the golden dog park in the sky. David Michael asks if his mother will, “hold him while he goes to sleep?” Kristy’s mom carries Louie as they enter the veterinarian’s office, but her arms are empty when she returns.

The Thomas and Watson clan hold a funeral and, to their collective surprise, Shannon, Tiffany, Hannie, Linny, Amanda, Max, and two random friends (previously called “the snobs”) show up to pay their respects.

After a few days, Shannon’s dog, Astrid, gives birth to a litter of puppies and she gives one of them to Kristy and David Michael. They name the dog “Shannon.” Also, Kristy extends Shannon (the human one) an invitation to join the BSC, but Shannon is too busy to attend meetings, so they make her an associate member, like Logan. Ann M. Martin leaves us with this:

I knew David Michael would never forget our Louie. None of us would, because Louie had left a sort of legacy. He’d brought Shannon and me together so we could be friends instead of enemies, and that in turn had brought a new puppy for our family, but especially for David Michael. So, I thought. Endings could sometimes be beginnings. They were sad, but sometimes they brought happiness.

That’s what Louie had shown us, and that’s just one of the things we would remember about him.

It’s important to teach children that not every ending necessarily means a definitive, capital “E” End. This book was devastating, and Martin describes Louie’s pain in detail appropriate, but not euphemistic, detail. She doesn’t patronize her young readers by shying away from the more unpleasant aspects of losing a pet. She could have had him just go to sleep one night and never wake up, but she chooses to force the reader to face the grim reality of a dying pet. This is an integral BSC book that may be harder to read (because of subject matter – the reading level itself is the same as the other books), but it’s one that I think will resonate with most people.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #12: Claudia and the New Girl

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

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Monster Blood

When I was eight, during the summer between third and fourth grade, my parents took my sister and me halfway around the world to the Philippines. The trip was my first venture outside the United States, my first plane ride, and my first time in a country that spoke a completely different language. It wasn’t a random trip to a random country – my mother is Filipina, and we had (and still have) extensive family out there. I spent most of my time running around, exploring the countryside where my family lived on the slope of the Mayon Volcano. My favorite haunt was a dilapidated church and the adjacent graveyard. I was obsessed with the cracked gravestones and the icon of Mary with the faded paint and a chipped hand. Unlike Gabe in Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, I never came face to face with a supernatural creature, but I like to think I had an adventure, albeit a safe one.

R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was an absolute delight to read. This is what I came to Goosebumps for: kids my age (or slightly older) overcoming scary situations with a little dash of humor. While on a trip to his ancestral home of Egypt, our protagonist, Gabe, explores the Great Pyramid of Giza. Gabe a sweet kid and his uncle, scientist Ben Hassan, is a likable adult who helps his nephew. Gabe adversary is his cousin, and Ben’s daughter, Sari, who is charming in her own way. I’m looking forward to exploring this book – this reminder of why I loved these books so much as a kid.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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My copy of Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – What will wake the dead? Anything! I have that mummy wrapped around my little finger! I’ll let myself out.

The book starts at the Great Pyramid and a thirsty child. Gabe asks his parents for water.

“We can’t you a drink now,” she answered, staring at the pyramid. “Stop acting like you’re four. You’re twelve, remember?”

“Twelve-year-olds get thirsty, too,” I muttered. “All this sand in the air, it’s making me gag.”

“Look at the pyramid,” she said, sounding a little irritated. “That’s why we came here. We didn’t come here to get a drink.”

Hey, Mom, you can drink and look at pyramids at the same time. The end of the first chapter surprised me. Instead of a danger that is revealed to not be a danger at all, we have an ominous passage:

“I’m afraid you’ll just have to appreciate the pyramid from the outside,” Dad said, peering over the yellow sand, trying to focus the binoculars.

“I’ve already appreciated it,” I told him glumly. “Can we get a drink now?”

Little did I know that in a few days, Mom and Dad would be gone, and I would be deep inside the pyramid we were staring at. Not just inside it, but trapped inside it, sealed inside it – probably forever.

I’m in. I’m interested. I want to know where the story is going, and I’m happy the first chapter’s cliffhanger wasn’t some fake out.

Gabe’s dismissive parents are quickly ushered away from the book and our protagonist is left with his Uncle Ben Hassan, an Egyptologist with a daughter, Sari. Gabe has an adversarial relationship with Sari. She treats him like a child despite their identical ages. She has a strained relationship with her cousin, but she has a great relationship with her father – one that sometimes forces Gabe to look at them through an invisible barrier. The father and daughter have inside jokes and play pranks on Gabe. He gets frustrated with them, but, as a reader, I never felt the jokes were too malicious, and I have the notion that Uncle Ben has played these pranks on his daughter and that the source of their inside jokes. He’s trying to pull his nephew into a relationship the only way he knows how – jokes.

Uncle Ben has discovered a new burial chamber in the Great Pyramid and he invites his nephew on a tour. This is where we have our classic horror warning.

Uncle Ben handed us both flashlights. “Clip them into your jeans as we go in,” he instructed. He gazed at me. “You don’t believe in curses, do you? You know – the ancient Egyptian kind.”

I didn’t know how to reply, so I shook my head.

“Good,” Uncle Ben replied, grinning. “Because one of my workers claims we’ve violated an ancient decree by entering this new tunnel, and that we’ve activated some curse.”

This is classic horror. The characters were warned. The strange old man told the teenager to avoid Camp Blood. The fortune teller told the young jock not to enter the abandoned funhouse. The cheerleader read the stories about the escaped convict who targets babysitters. They were warned, but they continued deeper into the pyramid.

Uncle Ben goes down a rope ladder first, followed by Gabe, who falls off. Sari catches him. She teases Gabe, but she would never let him get hurt.

They reach the bottom of the pyramid and Uncle Ben introduces us to his excavation team – Ahmed, a taciturn man who is obsessed with the curse, Quasimodo, which is a nickname, and Christy. It’s nice to see a woman among the archaeologists. Thank you for the representation, Stine.

Uncle Ben forbids the children from exploring on their own, but the kids do it anyway in typical kid fashion. Sari gets ahead of Gabe and he gets lost trying to find her. He stumbles on a “mummy case.”

Uttering another low cry, I took a step back.

The lid raised up another inch.

I took another step back.

And dropped the flashlight.

I picked it up with a trembling hand and shined it back into the mummy case.

The lid was now open nearly a foot.

I sucked in a deep breath of air and held it.

I wanted to run, but my fear was freezing me in place.

The lid creaked and opened another inch.

Another inch.

I lowered the flashlight to the opening, the light quivering with my hand.

From the dark depths of the ancient coffin, I saw two eyes staring out at me.

This is a fun, scary passage, even though the single sentence paragraphs make the passage look like a poem. The mummy is just Sari, but I wasn’t mad. I just thought, “Oh, that Sari, always with the pranks.”

Uncle Ben finds the children and admonishes them for running off. The next morning, Uncle Ben leaves the children behind at the hotel after two workers come down with a “mysterious illness.” Sari and Gabe get bored and decide to go to the museum. Gabe goes over the mummification process, complete with brain pulling and intestine yanking, much to Sari’s chagrin. We see that Sari is not impervious to everything around her. Her father is an Egyptologist and she has no problems spelunking in a stuffy pyramid, but she cannot listen to her cousin say things like, “The brain had to come out first. They had this special tool. It was like a long, skinny hook. They’d push it up the corpse’s nose until it reached the brain and then wiggled it back and forth, back and forth, until the brain became mush.” Sari is complicated. Just don’t talk about guts and she’s fine.

They see Ahmed in the museum and after a brief chase scene, Ahmed tells them that Uncle Ben sent him to get the children, so the children get into his car with him. They realize they aren’t heading back to the hotel – they’re being kidnapped! That’s terrifying! Fun fact! When I was a kid, someone tried to kidnap my sister and me, but that’s a story for another review.

The kids jump out of the car and run back to the hotel. Uncle Ben returns and they tell him about their experience with Ahmed. Uncle Ben believes them. He doesn’t imply that they didn’t understand what was happening, he doesn’t dismiss the children. He actually listens to them. Thank you, Stine, for having at least one adult actually listen to a child for once.

Uncle Ben wants to leave the children in the hotel, but Sari and Gabe convince him to take them with as he returns to the pyramid. He gives them beepers in case they get separated, and, of course, they get separated. If they didn’t get separated it would be the end of the story. The floor gives out from beneath Gabe and he falls on his beeper, breaking it, but he’s in an undiscovered section of the pyramid.

There were mummies leaning against the wall. Mummies lying on stone slabs, arms crossed over their chests. Mummies leaning at odd angles, crouched low or standing tall, their arms straight out in front of them like Frankenstein monsters.

I realized that I had made an incredible discovery here. By falling through the floor, I had found a hidden chamber, a chamber where mummies had been made. I had found all of the tools and all of the materials used to make mummies four thousand years ago.

That’s creepy – a room full of dead bodies. Sari catches up with Gabe, but Ahmed is close behind. He reveals that the chamber is the “sacred Preparation Chamber of the Priestess Khala” and Ahmed as trying to prevent anyone from trespassing on it. Then he the true identities of the surrounding mummies.

“They were all violators of the Priestess’s chamber,” Ahmed revealed. The thin smile that formed on his face could only be described as a proud smile.

“You mean – they’re not from ancient Egypt?” Sari cried, raising her hands in horror to her face.

“A few of them,” Ahmed replied, still smiling that frightening, cold smile. “A few of them were ancient intruders. Some are quite recent. But they all have one thing in common. They all became victims of the curse. And they all were mummified alive!”

Then he points out the one he did himself! This dude is insane and scary as shit. Uncle Ben finds them and tries to reason with him “scientist to scientist.” Ben, boobala, the man threatened your assistants by showing them what it would be like to be boiled alive. He’s not a scientist. He’s a crazy man with a knife who is threatening your daughter.

Ahmed knocks Uncle Ben out and forces the scientist into a coffin with the children. There’s a little crying and suspense before Uncle Ben wakes up and reveals that every coffin has a trap lever. That’s a little deus ex machina – I wanted the children to figure out a way out for themselves and save their Uncle, or maybe the kids could have observed the trap lever during their trip to the museum. I guess the book can’t be perfect.

The kids and Uncle Ben escape and are forced into a final confrontation with Ahmed. Gabe pulls out a mummy hand that he keeps with him. (This isn’t a deus ex machina – it’s been mentioned.)

Maybe I thought the mummy hand would distract Ahmed.

Or interest him.

Or confuse him.

Or frighten him.

Maybe I was just stalling for time.

Or maybe I was unconsciously remembering the legend behind the hand that the kid at the garage sale had told me.

The legend of why it was called The Summoner.

How it was used to call up ancient souls and spirits.

Or maybe I wasn’t thinking anything at all.

But I spun around and, gripping it by its slender wrist, held the mummy hand up high.

And waited.

Ahmed stared at it.

But nothing happened.

I waited, standing there like the Statue of Liberty with the little hand raised high above my head.

It seemed as if I were standing like that for hours.

The thought of this kid holding up a mummy hand while everyone around him is just staring at him and shrugging is a hilarious. I laughed out loud. If there’s an episode of the television show based on this book, I hope that’s played with a comedic beat. (I just checked – there is no television adaptation of this book.)

But the mummy hand does something eventually – the mummies come to life and chase Ahmed out of the pyramid, allowing Uncle Ben, Sari, and Gabe to escape. Ahmed should have been run into the tar pit, but that might be too gruesome for a kid’s book, even if the book is a horror book.

It ends with the three of them sharing a moment, including a silly pun that will probably be an inside joke between them.

“We’re okay,” Uncle Ben said gratefully, throwing his arms around Sari and me. “We’re okay. We’re okay.”

“We can go now!” Sari cried happily, hugging her dad. Then she turned to me. “You saved our lives,” she said. She had to choke out the words. But she said them.

Then Uncle Ben turned his gaze on me and the object I still gripped tightly in front of me. “Thanks for the helping hand,” Uncle Ben said.

I see what you did there.

Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was a delight. It was scary, funny, and I loved the dynamic between Gabe, his cousin, and his uncle. This is what Goosebumps is all about: a kid overcoming a scary situation with gumption and humor. I had an adventure to an ancestral homeland when I was a kid and, while it didn’t involve any mummies, I keep those treasured memories in a special part of my brain. Gabe’s experience was scary, but he became closer to his uncle and cousin, and now he has a great story to tell. And I enjoyed reading it.

Next time: The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement! 

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

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

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

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nearly spit out a mouthful of milk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see about that, Mary Anne.

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

Short pants? Like, bicycle shorts?

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

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

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

Matchy, matchy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why did you ask me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of rant.

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Bad Dreams

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

I still read Bad Dreams and guess what?

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here came the question Maggie had silently predicted.

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

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

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

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

Should I avoid a fight and give it to her?

What should I say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the kiss ended, they were both breathless.

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

Then she glanced past him to the bedroom doorway.

And she saw that they were not alone.

Someone stood in the shadows, staring at them.

The girl from the dream!

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

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

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

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

Maggie was breathing hard now, and every muscle ached.

But the thought of losing hurt a lot more.

She silently commanded herself: Faster! Faster!

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

I’ve blown it! She thought.

She had never lost a really big race before.

Could she still win? It was now or never.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miranda!

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

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

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

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

“No, please tell me,” Maggie pleaded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But who are you?” Maggie demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You what?” Andrea shrieked.

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

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

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

“Shut up, Andrea,” Gena said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

Rereading My Childhood: An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple. Exercise and nostalgia.

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

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

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

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