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

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 I was always more withdrawn with my nose behind a book, an unwillingness to talk to people, and a style that included ill-fitting pants and even more ill-fitting sweaters and/or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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capris and gladiator sandals – fantastic. 

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

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

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

“Jamie!” I shouted. “No!”

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

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

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

“How come?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: The New Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Halloween Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No charges were filed pending police investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah, and David stumbles out of the woods.

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

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

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

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

So far, I have written all of these retrospectives before Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club series has aired. Those reviews, even the ones that came out after the show, were written without any knowledge about the new series and how it would change (and, in most cases, improve) on the original material. This review is different. I have crossed the threshold and there is no turning back. I have already seen and written about the new series.
However, I am discussing the book – not the episode of the excellent Netflix series (seriously, if you love the BSC, you’ll love the new series). Maybe I’ll get to that one day, who knows. Until then, it’s time to put on a yellow dress and walk down the aisle, because Kristy’s mom is getting married in this very special episode of The Baby-Sitters Club.

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Elizabeth Thomas is getting married to Watson Brewer in September, and she wants Kristy to be her bridesmaid. Kristy is excited to wear a dress and stand by her mother, which surprised me, as I always thought if Kristy was seen in a dress, she would combust. But you know, it’s a special occasion and Kristy is happy for her mother. It’s incredibly mature of her to put aside her clothing preferences for one day to make her mother happy.
However, there’s a snag. Kristy’s mother’s company is sending her on a business trip the week of her wedding, and there’s a new family that wants to buy Kristy’s house and they want to move in next month. The wedding is not postponed – no, it’s moved up. Mrs. Thomas has to pack, move an entire family, and plan a wedding in two and a half weeks. I’d suggest getting the house ready to move, marry at the courthouse if it’s that important, and postpone the wedding. However, I decided to postpone a trip to Disneyland and then Covid-19 hit and who knows when I’m going to see my buddy Hat Box Ghost again. I might not be the best person to ask about long-term planning.
The rest of Watson and Kristy’s relatives are arriving early to help with the wedding, but they’re also bringing a total of 11 kids (plus David Michael, Karen, and Andrew) with them. The kids can’t be left on their own, but the parents are going to be busy with the packing and the planning and the preparation of the aperitifs. Well, the Baby-Sitters Club is to the rescue!
Since they’re on summer vacation, many of their charges are also taking vacations. There’s a big hole in their job calendar, so they step up and create what is essentially a day camp for the Thomas/Watson relatives – a future BSC staple. Watson and future Mrs. Brewer (I’m assuming, I wouldn’t want to be a Mrs., but since it’s the ‘80s, I’m assuming Lizzie will take the title) will pay the BSC a total of $600 to watch over fourteen kids for a week – $125 per BSC member. That is nothing to scoff at in 1987 dollars – today it would be $1300 – or about $260 a piece. But they’re going to have to earn it, and the next few pages showcase just why these girls are worth more than a thousand bucks.
The first thing the girls do (after accepting the job, of course) is to list all the kids and their ages. Mary Anne organizes the list by age. Two of the kids are babies and Mary Anne volunteers to exclusively care for those two. The rest of the kids are split into groups of similar ages and are assigned to a baby-sitter. Then, the girls name each group with a color and a symbol and create name tags. Their corresponding baby-sitter will wear the same name tag and this allows everyone to know which group they’re in. This also helps the babysitter remember the names of the kids. I was reading this book and two sentences after the list of kids, I already forgot all their names – except the regulars David Michael, Karen, and Andrew. Katherine of the Yellow Suns? I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m pretty sure that’s a team on Legends of the Hidden Temple. (“The Shrine of the Silver Monkey,” Olmec echoes in my head forever.)
This level of organization is incredible. Seeing the girls work together is a highlight and an excellent example for girls to emulate.
On Sunday, all the relatives arrive and each kid gets a little introduction. Turns out David Michael and his cousin Berk are friends. Peter is carsick. There’s a shy one who won’t let go of her father’s legs. I don’t remember them all. I can barely remember the names of my favorite K-Pop group, and there’s only five of them. How would I remember the names of fourteen kids whom I’ll never see again?
Monday arrives and it’s T-minus five days to the wedding and the first day of the Brewer/Thomas It’s All Relative Day Camp (it’s not called that, but it should be). Every parent who shows up gives a monologue about all their kids’ various allergies. Poor Mary Anne has to stand there and write down everything. They all have nap times. I don’t remember childhood scheduled nap time. I don’t remember ever taking a nap as a kid. And the only times I’ve ever taken a nap as an adult, I immediately regretted it moments after waking up.
When the parents leave, all the kids start to cry. Some because they’re children and that’s what children do. Maybe some of them are crying just to fit in. Anyway, the baby-sitters start to read to the kids and they all calm the fuck down.
The next day, they take the kids to various field trips around Stoneybrook. Just to name a few, Claudia takes her kids to the library, Stacey goes to the brook, and Dawn takes her kids to the school playground. Unfortunately, Dawn’s group is Karen, David Michael, and Berk.
The three tell the other children at the playground about the Martians, who are coming to fight humans with ray guns. The other children run screaming and Dawn ushers her group away from the playground, or else face the horrific wrath of the playground counselor – Fran. The kids were on their best behavior for the rest of the day.
Three days left to go and Stacey writes in the BSC Notebook,

“I know you guys think I’m so sophisticated, since I’m from New York and my hair is permed and everything, but no kidding, my favorite movie is Mary Poppins.”

Okay, Stace, like what you like. Mary Poppins is a fine movie to choose as your favorite. And I have no basis to judge you. One of my favorite movies, and the movie I’ve probably seen the most in my life, is Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. (My actual favorite movie is Spirited Away, in case you were wondering, which you weren’t.)
Well, it just so happens that The Embassy, the local movie theater, is showing Mary Poppins. Stacey takes her group to see the movie and it doesn’t go so well. First of all, one of the kids, Emma, forgets her money. Stacey calls Mary Anne and asks if the money is there. Mary Anne can’t find it. Emma discovers her money in her pocket, but this, paired with the children getting snacks, makes them late for the movie. By the end, the kids spill their food and scream and are kicked out of the theater.
On Thursday, the boys of the camp all have to get haircuts. Mary Anne is tired of taking care of two babies, so she joins Kristy in this task. They take the kids after lunch when the kids are, hopefully, tired.
It does not go well.
The barber is overwhelmed, the boys ask for strange haircuts instead of the standard boring stuff appropriate for a wedding, and Kristy chastises David Michael and Luke when they act like brats.
The day before the wedding, it rains all day and the camp is moved inside. There’s going to be a rehearsal dinner later, so the BSC gets the idea to put on a rehearsal for the rehearsal – they’re going to marry off Karen and David Michael. Not really of course – it’s not West Virginia (prove me wrong, West Virginia). The others volunteer for the remaining roles, including Luke as the minister and Berk as the bride’s father (to give her away – my thoughts on the antiquated idea of the father of the bride giving his daughter to another man as if she were a Buick is coming soon). While the ceremony takes place, the BSC takes pictures of the whole thing. Of course, when it comes to the kissing part, David Michael and Karen recoil in horror.
One more thing bad thing has to happen. While the children are getting dressed for the rehearsal dinner, all the clothes are mixed up. Emma moved the clothes around for some reason. Kristy punishes her by making her sit in a room by herself to think about the trouble she caused. That punishment never worked for me. All I thought was, “Oh thank God, I get to have some alone time.” However, it does work for Emma.
At the end of the week, the BSC is paid, including a bonus of ten dollars each. Don’t break the bank there, Watson, you’re only the richest person in Stoneybrook.
The only thing that goes awry during the wedding is Karen screams when she sees Morbidda Destiny. This is addressed fantastically in the Netflix series. In the book, the parents just usher Karen away and pretend she didn’t just scream at the neighbor.
As a wedding present, Kristy gives her mother and Watson a hand-drawn family tree.
I’m not a big fan of weddings, so a wedding episode of The Baby-Sitters Club doesn’t appeal to me, especially when it involves old, rich, white people. What does appeal to me? I appreciated the extensive logistics conversations utilizing each baby-sitter’s specialties. I like the personal drama, but it’s better when the drama doesn’t involve petty fights between the members of the BSC. The conflict should come from outside the club. Also, it should force the club to work together to make the world a better place – even if it’s just teaching a kid to behave better or giving respite to some stressed-out people who have no patience.
Either way, the girls earned that money and it’s positive to display young women as smart and capable. The BSC was thoughtful in how they went about organizing the camp and they were responsible in how they interacted with the children. This book is an early BSC highlight and an excellent example of what made this series so special to millions of young girls (and a few boys) around the world.

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

Sometimes I wonder how people function. I mean, how specific people function. They always ask you for a pen, as if the idea that they might have to take notes in class was sprung on them that day. When they arrive at the register, they have to dig through a pillow-case sized purse and they pour all the contents on the counter, as if they had no idea the cashier would ask for payment. This goes beyond absent-mindedness as this is a daily occurrence. Simple things that most of us are accustomed to (paying for things, taking notes, a basic level of preparation) in life come as a surprise to them. That might be nice while gliding through life, and they’re probably happy in their little flighty head, but it’s a huge inconvenience to everyone around them.

In Dawn and the Impossible Three, our favorite California Girl meets a person who needs a lot of help and Dawn doesn’t seem up to the task.

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

The book starts with Dawn sitting at the Pikes’. Dawn goes over how her parents got divorced and her mother moved them across the country. Two little kids from down the street come over to play – Buddy and Suzi Barrett. Dawn connects with them because their mother is also recently divorced. After her job is done, she is heading to the BSC meeting when she sees Mary Anne who yells, “Great news!” And we end the first chapter on a cliffhanger.

Did I accidentally read a Goosebumps book instead?

The cliffhanger is quickly resolved. Mary Anne says that her father is going to ask Dawn’s mother out and he won’t be there for dinner. I guess even Republicans have to date, as much as that idea makes me retch. Who the hell would date a Republican? 

At the BSC meeting, the girls hand in their dues and decide to use the money to buy more stuff for the Kid-Kits. The Prezziosos, the Newtons, and the Brewers call. More importantly, there’s a call from a new client! It’s Mrs. Barrett and Dawn takes the job.

Saturday morning, Dawn goes over to Mary Anne’s house primed with stuff for Mary Anne to go through in her endeavor to redecorate her room. Apparently, the Schafers brought a bunch of stuff with them that they were planning on selling. Why they didn’t get rid of the stuff while still in California, instead of packing it all up, paying shipping fees, and unboxing it for the express purposes of a yard sale, I don’t know. 

Kristy catches wind of shenanigans in Mary Anne’s room and the two shout at each other through their windows. Kristy comes over and acts hostile and jealous toward Dawn, refusing to speak directly to her and never laughing at her jokes. This behavior continues into lunch the next school day when Mary Anne and Dawn realize that they’ll be sisters if their parents get married. 

During Dawn’s initial meeting with the Barretts, Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie, she makes a strict “no guns” rule. Good rule, but this is America, Dawn, and in America, we give guns to every God-fearin’ white person who wants one because 2nd Amendment blah blah blah rights blah protection blah blah. Anyway, 

Mrs. Barrett is discombobulated. She doesn’t give Dawn a phone number to reach her in case of emergency (“call the Pikes, okay?”), something called “Pow” is waiting to get inside, and the baby needs stuff

When she leaves and Dawn is in charge, Dawn learns that Pow is “the meanest dog who ever lived.” He’s a lethargic basset hound. So, a basset hound. Dawn figures out a way to trick the kids into cleaning the living room, the kitchen, and the playroom by turning it into a game where they have to break their previous record time. She bonds with the kids more regarding their mother’s divorce. Suzi gets upset that her father isn’t coming back and then she pees her pants. I don’t think the two events are related, but that’s the order in which they happened. 

Mrs. Barrett returns and she calls Dawn the best baby-sitter she’s ever had. Dawn is happy and says that if Mrs. Barrett needs Dawn to come over, she can call on her “any time.” Dawn ends the chapter with the following ominous passage

If I had only known then how often “any time” was going to be, I might not have spoken so quickly.

Meanwhile, Kristy babysits for Karen and Andrew and they all play this game called “Let’s All Come In.” Basically, they pretend to be hotel guests with outlandish personalities. Clearly, this is something Karen invented. It’s not really a “game” if no one wins, but there are definitely losers in “Let’s All Come In.”

Karen’s friend Hannie comes over and the games begin. Hannie pretends to be a woman named Mrs. Nowswimple, who is meeting with her husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor. Strange. Whenever I tell the hotel staff that I’m going to meet my husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor, I’m escorted off the premises. 

While they’re playing, the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Porter, a woman whom Karen thinks is a witch named Morbidda Destiny, comes over and asks for some fennel and coriander. You know, for a kid who pretends to be someone named Mrs. Mysterious (not Miss Terious, for some reason) and makes up stories about ghosts, Karen is awfully judgmental of her neighbor.

Later, in a surprise move, Dawn invites Kristy over. In an even more surprising move, Kristy accepts. They hang out in Dawn’s barn and patch things up through swinging on the rope swing and talking about divorce. By the end of the chapter, they’re friends, Dawn becomes the BSC’s Alternate Officer (a person who fills in for any role if a member can’t), and Kristy’s jealousy doesn’t rear its ugly head. Well, at least until the next BSC fight.

Dawn sits for the Barretts again – this time during an all-day affair that starts at 8:30 in the morning. Claudia calls and suggests a lunchtime picnic with the Pikes. Dawn and the Barretts bake some brownies for the event and there are about four pages of baking. At the picnic, Jordan gives Nicky the Bizzer Sign, which is just pointing at someone and buzzing. The Pike kids created it to flip each other off without actually flipping the bird. Usually, you flip off your sibling behind your parents back and the idea is that they don’t see it. The Bizzer Sign, however, is noisy – it’s obvious when you do it. Maybe it’s more akin to saying “Shut up, shitbrains.” 

Anyway, when it’s time for brownies, Mallory snatches the brownie from Marnie. Is Mallory just being a jerk? No. Mallory knows that Marnie is allergic to chocolate. This infuriates Dawn. Mrs. Barrett should have told her that Marnie can’t eat chocolate. Dawn fully plans to address the issue with Mrs. Barrett, but when the forgetful mother comes home and notices how immaculate the house is, she gushes over Dawn. Dawn forgets any issues she had.

During another baby-sitting job for the Barretts, Mrs. Barrett warns that if her ex-husband calls, Dawn shouldn’t let him talk to the children or tell him that Mrs. Barrett is out. Mrs. Barrett implies that Mr. Barrett is not holding up his end of the custody deal financially.  When Mrs. Barrett sees that Buddy spilled pink water on Suzi, she looks to be on the verge of tears. Dawn insists that Mrs. Barrett get going and Dawn will take care of her moist child. 

Dawn baby-sits for the Barretts “an awful lot” over the next couple of weeks and Mrs. Barrett’s disorganization becomes a bigger issue. When Dawn needs to call her to let her know Suzi has a fever, Mrs. Barrett does not leave the phone number for the temp agency she’s working with, but instead the number for “Hurley’s Garage.” This is a problem that wouldn’t happen today, as Mrs. Barrett would just have a cell phone. But knowing Mrs. Barrett, she probably wouldn’t charge her phone.

Dawn also helps Buddy with his homework – a family tree. While Dawn can’t tell him his family tree, she does help him put blanks for him to fill in with his grandparents and his aunts and uncles. When he comes to Dawn to let her know that he got a good grade, Dawn hugs him while thinking that it should be Mrs. Barrett hugging her son.

Meanwhile, Stacey babysits for David Michael, who is nervous about moving. On a tangential issue, Kristy doesn’t know how she’ll be getting to BSC meetings when she lives across town. 

Dawn’s mom sets up a picnic for her parents to meet Mr. Spier . . . again. Dawn invites the BSC, but only Mary Anne (obviously) and Kristy’s families can attend. Also, the Barretts show up. There’s some food stuff involving the Schafers driving to the grocery store because they don’t have any red meat to serve people, but that’s fixed relatively quickly. When everyone shows up, Dawn notices some tension between her grandparents and Mr. Spier. I sincerely doubt Mr. Spier was a rebel without a cause in high school, so I don’t know why they have a problem with him. At the end of the picnic, Mrs. Barrett asks Dawn if she can babysit on Tuesday. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Dawn isn’t free, but Mary Anne is there to take the job.

Mrs. Barrett rushes out of the house just as Buddy gives Suzi the Bizzer Sign, causing her to burst into tears. The kids are getting restless, so Mary Anne tells them to put on their bathing suits and “thongs” (the shoes, I’m assuming) and they go outside. There, Suzi and Buddy jump in the fresh puddles. Mary Anne calls this a “puddle walk” and it’s a great way to get worms. She doesn’t even make them shower when they get home – they just have to change their clothes.

While Mary Anne is babysitting, Mr. Barrett calls to ask if he can speak with Suzi or Buddy. Mary Anne remembered Dawn saying something about not letting Mr. Barrett talk to the kids, so she tells them that they’re at a friend’s house. Mr. Barrett gets angry and slams the phone.

When Dawn babysits for the Barretts again, Buddy goes outside and throws a baseball around while Dawn gets Suzi and Marnie dressed. When she finally goes outside, Buddy is nowhere to be found. She calls the Pikes and asks if Buddy is playing with Nicky. No luck. The Pikes rush over, ready to search for Buddy. They try to contact Mrs. Barrett, but she’s shopping and no one can reach her. Finally, Jordan Pike comes back from his piano lesson and says that he saw Buddy get into a strange car. He didn’t say anything because he thought Buddy was going to a lesson of some kind because Jordan was going to his lesson at the same time.

Dawn panics as the Pikes enlist others to help search for Buddy and they call the police. The police interrogate Jordan, seemingly to the point of traumatizing the poor kid. They also go through the Barrett household, looking for clues. Yeah, I wouldn’t trust the cops, but I guess Dawn doesn’t think she has any other options. Dawn bursts into tears and her mother tries to console her. Dawn gets a phone call on the Barrett family phone – it’s Buddy. He’s calling from a gas station. He says he got into his father’s car, but he thinks he’s not supposed to be with his father. Then the connection goes dead.

Mrs. Barrett comes home to find the police and neighbors swarming around the house. Not long after that, Buddy sheepishly enters the house and we get an explanation.

Apparently, earlier in the week Mr. Barrett had become angry when he’d realized that once again, Mrs. Barrett had confused the dates and had forgotten that today was to be Mr. Barrett’s day with Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie. He had decided to teach her a lesson. His plan was to come by on Saturday, simply take the children, and wait for Mrs. Barrett to figure out her mistake. So he drove over to the Barretts’ house. There he found Buddy by himself in the front yard. At that moment, he decided that the easiest course of action would be just to take Buddy without bothering to look for the girls. So he did. He drove Buddy to an amusement park and took him out to lunch, but Buddy didn’t seem to be enjoying himself. When he asked him what was wrong, Buddy said he was worried about me. He didn’t think I knew where he was. That was when Mr. Barrett realized that Mrs. Barrett wasn’t even home. Concerned about what a baby-sitter might do when she discovered that one of her charges was missing, he headed home immediately, stopping briefly at the gas station on the way. He’d tried to call before that, but had gotten only busy signals, and didn’t even know Buddy had phoned until they were on the highway again. (Buddy had called while his father was in the men’s room.)

Good Lord, Mr. Barrett. You think it’s okay to just kidnap kids to teach their mother a lesson? No wonder Mrs. Barrett left you and you lost custody. You should lose unsupervised visitation also. “Hey son, if a bitch pisses you off, scare her into learning.” It is not a husband’s job to “teach her a lesson.” I know she’s scatterbrained, but that’s no reason to treat her like one of the children of whom you lost custody. 

After the whole kidnapping debacle, Dawn finally tells Mrs. Barrett that Dawn can’t be a mother to her children and in order for Dawn to be a good babysitter, Mrs. Barrett needs to help her out with things like visitation and allergies and correct phone numbers. Mrs. Barrett promises to do better.

Mrs. Barrett is no angel, but Mr. Barrett’s behavior is inexcusable. Mrs. Barrett is absolutely one of those people who needs a lot of help in life. However, her problem is fixable – she should get into the planner lifestyle. Mr. Barrett should be a lonely divorced man who only sees his children while an actual adult supervises. 

I wish the best for Mrs. Barrett and Dawn – I really do.

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

I’m conflicted when it comes to incredibly strict parents. My parents were pretty hands-off when it came to my sister and me – as long as we got good grades, we were allowed to do almost anything we wanted without too much parental oversight. I firmly believe that this helped my sister and I determine who we are and what our values are because we were able to explore these topics without our parents meddling. On the other hand, this made an environment wherein we (mostly me) made mistakes that were entirely avoidable if we had more guidance besides “it’s your life, you need to decide for yourself.”

As for stricter parents, I had a friend who lived with her grandparents and they were so strict that she wasn’t allowed to watch PG movies and The Simpsons, as if one whiff of Bart Simpson would have her blaspheming the Lord and breaking windows. Despite this, when she became a teenager, and her mother regained custody, she rebelled in a major way that included drugs, drinking, and teenage pregnancy – three things I didn’t do in high school despite my parents letting me watch the wretched Lisa Simpson question authority and any rated-R movie I wanted.

I think it comes down to parents understanding their children – some kids need rules and regulations, whereas others can thrive in a laissez-faire upbringing. Some need their parents to tell them that their school counselor, whom they have met exactly two times, doesn’t know them well enough to suggest dorm life, because if they knew you well enough, they’d know that the dorms are the worst thing for an introvert.

Mary Anne of The Baby-Sitters Club has an incredibly strict father, and frankly, he’s ridiculous. Mary Anne is the one member of the BSC who doesn’t need any restraints, but it takes Mary Anne to exhibit wisdom beyond her years just for her father to treat her like a basic twelve-year-old. Let’s get to it.

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

The first thing we learn about Mary Anne’s father is that he forces her to wear her hair in braids each day paired with a corduroy skirt and sweater combo set. The thought of my father choosing my outfit when I was in the seventh grade makes me both laugh and fill me with dread. Laugh because my father would hate it. Dread because he could make me wear a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans and a plain t-shirt with a pocket. That was his uniform and there would be no reason for him to alter it for his daughter. Anyway, Mary Anne’s father really should have sent her to Catholic School if he wanted her to have such a constricting wardrobe.

By the end of the first chapter, the BSC is having a fight – a common trope for the BSC. This time, it’s about Kristy accepting a job without asking the others first. They all blow up at each other and storm out of the meeting.

Mary Anne’s father also makes her eat dinner with him every night, including saying grace. My family tended to just eat at the same time because if we didn’t, the food would be cold. The food is made when it’s made and it’s up to you to get to the table in time or heat it up later. During dinner, Mary Anne’s father is a lawyer and he says that the case he’s working on it of the utmost importance:

“This case is interesting because it demonstrates the extreme importance of honesty in business dealings,” he said finally. “Always remember that, Mary Anne. Be scrupulously honest and fair. It will serve you in good stead.”

Yeah, okay, Mr. Spier. Be honest but if you really want to get ahead in business, you should open a bunch of businesses, don’t pay your contractors, declare bankruptcy, create a fake college to swindle well-meaning people out of their money, get loans from Germany, be in the pocket of Russia, and then become president. I’m not talking about any real-world case in particular.

After dinner, Mary Anne sees her room and remarks that it looks like the room of a child. It’s pink and white, she has nursery rhyme pictures on the wall, framed in pink, and pink curtains. Mr. Spier can’t be that smart if he thinks that an appropriate room for Mary Anne, let alone any human being with sight. Actually, even the blind shouldn’t be subjected to that and I would call CPS on behalf of the blind person.

The next day at school, the BSC is still fractured. Each member refuses to talk to the others. Mary Anne attempts to say hello, but they just ignore her. At lunch, Mary Anne is forced to sit by herself, but the new kid asks if she can sit with the braided wallflower. This is the introduction of Dawn Schafer, a future BSC member. Mary Anne is ecstatic to have someone to sit with. Dawn asks where her regular friends are and Mary Anne tells her that they’re all sick. Yep. That’s not suspicious at all. All my friends got sick except me. I didn’t do anything to make them sick, they were like that when I found them, I swear!

Mary Anne tells Dawn about all the weirdos of Stoneybrook Middle School. I mention this because I need everyone to know that there’s a kid named Alexander Kurtzman who wears a three-piece suit to middle school. Let me repeat that. There’s a kid at Stoneybrook Middle School who wears a three-piece suit. In middle school. I’ve been to middle school. It’s a miracle this kid doesn’t get beaten up in Dog Alley every day. 

Anyway, Dawn invites Mary Anne over to her house. Dawn has a VCR, so how could Mary Anne say no? Dawn’s parents just got divorced and her mother grew up in Stoneybrook, so she moved her daughter, Dawn, and her son, Jeff, across the country to an old farmhouse in her hometown. That’s a pretty extreme thing to do after a divorce. I hate you so much I’m leaving beautiful California, with its theme parks and culture, for a town that is suspicious of black people when they move in

The girls watch The Parent Trap. The Hayley Mills version, I’m assuming. The one where they make sure the girls are always standing on opposite sides of the screen. Afterward, Mary Anne has her BSC meeting.

To call it frosty would be an understatement. Kristy doesn’t even show up to her own damn club. She claims she’s sick. Stacey, Claudia, and Mary Anne distribute the jobs, but it’s not in the friendly manner that the club is accustomed to. When Mary Anne leaves, she looks back at Claudia’s window. Mary Anne waves and Claudia “flashed [her] a hopeful smile and waved back.” Mary Anne goes back to Claudia’s house and leaves an apology note for Claudia with Mimi. Claudia calls her and the girls make up, but the peace is only temporary.

Mary Anne goes to talk to Kristy at school. If the club can’t get along, they have to figure out how to run it. Kristy comes up with the idea that one girl goes to the meeting and takes any jobs that she can immediately and calls around to the other members if she can’t. 

Dawn comes up and Mary Anne takes the opportunity to invite her over. Kristy is flabbergasted because Mary Anne only invites Kristy over. To get back at her, Kristy announces that she can stay out baby-sitting until ten on weekends and nine-thirty on weeknights, further cementing Mary Anne’s position as the “baby” of the BSC.
Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos. There are a few paragraphs about these freaks, including notes that Mrs. Prezzioso wears cocktail dresses wherever she goes and buys monogrammed handkerchiefs and suits for Mr. Prezzioso. She also has a daughter whom she dresses like a porcelain doll. When Jenny says she likes Mary Anne’s skirt, Mrs. Prezzioso says to her daughter, “It’s a very pretty skirt, I’m sure, but not as pretty as my little angel in her brand-new dress!” 

Mrs. Prezzioso’s first name must be Karen. (It’s actually Madeleine, but I refuse to call her that. It is clearly Karen.)

Jenny goes through Mary Anne’s Kit-Kit and inspects the Colorforms. She eventually settles on one of those coloring books where you put water over the page and, magically, dull colors appear. It takes the choice out of coloring!

After the babysitting job, Mary Anne asks her father if she could stay out later. Predictably, he says no. Mary Anne continues:

I’d like to be allowed to choose my own clothes. I’d like to take my hair out of these braids. I’d like to wear nail polish and stockings and lipstick. And if a boy ever asked me to go to the movies or something, I’d like to be able to say yes – without even checking with you first. You know what? Sometimes you don’t seem like my father to me. You seem like my jailer.”

These requests are perfectly reasonable but not to Old Man Spier. It does not go well. You can’t reason with Conservatives – they don’t listen to reason. They only care unless it directly affects them. And even then, they’ll just get the secret abortion for their mistress.

Mary Anne meets with Mimi and asks what to do with her father. She basically tells her to try to find another way. In the process, she calls Mary Anne, “my Mary Anne.” Claudia overhears and says, “But I’m the only one you call yours.” Mary Anne and Claudia’s tentative truce is clearly over.

Mrs. Newton invites the entire BSC to help with Jamie Newton’s fourth birthday party. Mary Anne is also forced to ask Kristy if they want to sit for the Pikes. Kristy doesn’t want to work with Mary Anne, so Mary Anne says she’ll get her new friend Dawn to sit with her. Kristy relents and agrees to the job because the only thing she can’t stand more than her former best friend is a baby-sitting job going to someone outside the BSC babysitting monopoly.

At the Pikes, Kristy and Mary Anne speak through Mallory. Then they play Telephone, followed by a play. The suggestions for what play they should put on include Peter Rabbit, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Chuck Norris. What the hell is “Chuck Norris,” Adam? Huh? Do you just do bad karate while wearing a hat? Or do you just try to sell exercise equipment?

The next day, Dawn invites Mary Anne over. They venture deep into Mr. Spier’s yearbooks, looking for Ms. Schafer (or Ms. Porter, as that’s her maiden name). It seems that their parents knew each other in high school and may have dated. Well, they at least went to prom together. 

Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos again. This time, they’re going to a basketball game in a suit and a cocktail dress. These two seriously subscribe to the axiom “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.” 

Jenny is quite lethargic all afternoon and falls asleep on the couch. Mary Anne notices that Jenny is hot and mumbles when Mary Anne tries to wake her up. She takes her temperature and it’s 104. She calls Jenny’s doctor and leaves a message. She calls the Pikes. Nothing. Her father. Nope. The next-door neighbors. What? Those nameless no-faces? Do you think some no faces are going to help Mary Anne?

It’s Dawn who comes to assist Mary Anne. She suggests they call 911 and ask them for advice. The operator sends an ambulance. In the meantime, Dawn makes a cold compress and gets Jenny’s coat while Mary Anne calls the gym and leaves a message for the Prezziosos. 

When they get to the hospital, it turns out Jenny has strep throat. The Prezziosos arrive. The gym was paging them for a while before they arrived and heard the announcement and they immediately went back to Stoneybrook. Mr. Prezzioso drives Mary Anne and Dawn home and pays them ten dollars each – a fact that Mary Anne is very excited about. Those ten dollars is the spending power of $20 today. That’s pretty good for half a night of baby-sitting. 

Mary Anne finally tells Dawn what has been going on with the other members of the BSC. Dawn is upset because Mary Anne originally claimed all her friends were sick, starting the friendship on a lie. Now Dawn is mad at her also. Okay, Dawn, it’s not like Mary Anne said she’s a vegan just to impress Dawn but it turns out she just loves bacon and the taste of death. 

Mary Anne tells her father what happened with the Prezziosos after they call later to update Mary Anne. Then he makes a weird analogy:

“But twelve means different things for different people. It’s like clothes. You can put a certain shirt on one person and he looks fabulous. Then you put the shirt on someone else and that person looks awful. It’s the same way with age. It depends on how you wear it or carry it.” 

That’s a convoluted way of saying that people are different. All that so that Mary Anne can finally wear the clothes she wants, decorate her room in a way befitting someone over the age of four, and she doesn’t have to wear her hair in braids. 

In the BSC Notebook, Stacey remarks that the fight is stupid and has been going on for a month, but that doesn’t stop the BSC from almost ruining Jamie’s birthday party. Mary Anne steps on Kristy’s foot and over pours a drink for the BSC president. Kristy cleans up the mess and throws the napkin in Stacey’s face. Then Stacey smashes the napkin in Claudia’s face. This causes Jamie to cry and the girls realize that they almost ruined Jamie’s party if it wasn’t for Mrs. Newton. The rest of the party goes fine.

The girls have yet another emergency meeting at Claudia’s house after the party and we have the big apology scene where they all recognize their pettiness and makeup.

Mary Anne also makes up with Dawn. And Mary Anne’s father even lets Mary Anne have a BSC party at her house to formally ask Dawn to join the BSC. However, Mr. Spier insists that the girls eat dinner together. With him. During the party. I can think of a million things I’d rather do than have dinner with a group of 12-year-olds, I don’t care what tradition I have. He is a grown-ass man and his daughter deserves a little privacy. 

During the dinner, the BSC formally invites Dawn to join the club. 

After all that, in order for Mr. Spier to treat his daughter like the responsible person she is, all Mary Anne had to do was save a little girl’s life! I’m not a parent, but that’s a ridiculous lesson. She has to be extraordinary just to be treated as ordinary. No one should be held up to this standard. I mean no one. 

Mr. Spier is entirely too strict. My childhood best-friend’s grandparents were also too strict, but her mother wasn’t strict enough. Maybe Mr. Spier should take his own analogy to heart. Making sweeping rules for your child is a good way to ensure your child won’t speak to you when they get older. But not having enough boundaries can create undue stress on a child, either by making avoidable mistakes or detrimental life decisions. The key must be in knowing your child – who they are and their priorities and proclivities – in order to create appropriate boundaries. But that would require parents to actually speak to their child as if they’re equals, and who has time for that? (Nervous laugh.)

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #3: The Truth About Stacey

One of the most deplorable things people can do is convince someone to give up their life savings in exchange for quack medical cures. People will do anything to save their lives, and it’s unconscionable to take advantage of their situations. The American health care system already takes advantage of people (#medicare of all). That might be why people look for cheaper alternatives to proven healthcare.

Stacey’s parents want to cure her diabetes and are willing to drag her around to charlatans to do so. Stacey has to stop them before they drop ten grand on some crystal bullshit. That’s not in the book, but if this were written today, they’d be blaming vaccines and spending their money on crystals and essential oils.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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She’s different because she can see secret cameras in candy stores.

As usual, the book starts with a BSC meeting where they discuss the impending birth of Mrs. Newton’s second child. They want to make sure that one of them is always available in case the Newtons have to go to the hospital since they’re “such good customers.” Solid plan. Consistent, good customers should receive some special privileges (but the customer shouldn’t expect it – my thoughts on this are complicated). The meeting turns south when Janine enters with a flyer for the brand new company “The Baby-Sitters Agency.”

After some digging (including a pretend baby-sitting inquiry) it turns out that the business owners, Liz and Michelle, have a network of friends they can call, some of them older, and act more like a liaison to the parents. The way it works is that the parents call the phone number, Liz or Michelle calls around to see who is available, and then call the parent back with a sitter. They don’t do any baby-sitting themselves (neither do the baby-sitters they send, really, but we’ll get to that).

Stacey talks about her previous life, including her former best friend, Laine Cummings. They had a falling out after Stacey wet the bed they were sharing because of Stacey’s undiagnosed diabetes. After a series of doctor visits, Laine accused Stacey of faking it for attention. Laine is the type of person who says that people with depression should just exercise and go vegan if they want to “get happier.” After that, Stacey and her family moved to Stoneybrook.

Later, Stacey’s mom wants to speak with her. She tells Stacey that she wants her to see a TV doctor named Dr. Barnes in New York. Apparently, Dr. Barnes has some new treatment that Stacey’s parents think will cure Stacey of her diabetes. Stacey doesn’t want to go because she’ll miss three days of school and she has no desire to see a new doctor, especially one that her Uncle saw on television. Imagine Dr. Phil attempting to cure your lupus. I’m surprised Dr. Barnes doesn’t go by Dr. Brad.

During a special BSC meeting, Kristy proposes the idea of Kid-Kits in order to make themselves more appealing to their babysitting charges and their parents. This is one of the few ideas that Kristy has that actually sticks, and Kid-Kits are a staple of subsequent Baby-Sitters Club books. Kid-Kits are basically toys and games and activities for the children that each babysitter can take with them on jobs. This is a good idea. However, Kristy’s other ideas aren’t so great.

The other ideas Kristy has are rate cuts, free housework, and giving away jobs to their older brothers and sisters. Claudia and Mary Anne refuse. They go forward with the Kid-Kits, but the other ideas are considered last resorts.

Stacey babysits for Charlotte and we are introduced to Dr. Johanssen, Charlotte’s mother and the only doctor in all of Stoneybrook. The city only needs one doctor, but they have competing adolescent baby-sitting agencies. Stacey and Charlotte take a walk downtown. After a quick stop in the candy store from the cover of the book, Charlotte sees some children who call her “teacher’s pet” and tease her. Stacey shares that she was also teased in school before she moved to Stoneybrook. On the way home, Liz gives them a balloon with the Baby-sitters Agency phone number, mistaking Stacey for Charlotte’s older sister.

Suddenly, Mrs. Newton is in labor! Mr. Newton rushes her to the hospital while they leave Jamie with Kristy. They decide to hold a Big Brother Party for Jamie because the kid is apprehensive about having a sibling. A bunch of the usual kids show up and the baby-sitters put on a record and play musical rug. Mr. Newton calls and talks to his son. Jamie reveals that he has a new sister named Lucy Jane and Jamie storms off.

Kristy chases him down and asks him if he’s sad that it’s a girl and not a boy. Jamie says that he’s upset because now Kristy can’t babysit him and his mother is going to switch them to a sitter named Liz because she’s older. Jamie doesn’t seem to like Liz and Kristy vows to do something to help Jamie.

The BSC finds a flier for the Baby-sitters Agency with the words, “Want to earn fast money the easy way?” Well, sign me up! They find Michelle Patterson signing people up. Kristy decides to allow eighth-graders into the BSC.

Stacey’s mother schedules tests for Stacey with Dr. Barnes. Stacey has to be in the hospital for five days sometime near Christmas. Despite Stacey’s protests, her parents think that Dr. Barnes’s “holistic approach” will cure her. While Stacey is babysitting Charlotte, Stacey asks Dr. Johanssen if she’s heard of Dr. Barnes. Dr. Johanssen has and warns Stacey about the man, whom she calls “a faith healer.”

“What he is going to do – I can practially guarantee this – is recommend all sorts of expensive programs and therapies designed to make your life as positive and fulfilling and healthy as possible. He’ll tell your parents that this will enable you to rid your body of the disease…It’s just that – well, it’s my belief that no special program is going to rid your body of diabetes.”

Stacey begs Dr. Johanssen to help her get out of meeting with Dr. Barnes. The doctor promises to figure out a way to help her. Probably without a caper, but let’s hope for a caper. (There isn’t a caper.)

So Kristy gets this idea to put the BSC in sandwich boards to advertise that their club is looking for new members. It goes as well as you’d expect an idea involving cumbersome wood would go. A girl says that she just uses the babysitting time to watch TV. A boy said that he doesn’t want to show up to meetings three times a week. Some guy named Pete Black flirts with Stacey.

Kristy ends up finding two eighth-graders to join the club: Janet Gates and Leslie Howard. They were once friends with Liz, but they had a falling out. Or so they claim. Jeez, Kristy, for someone smart enough to come up with the club and the Kid-Kits, you’re awfully dense when it comes to obvious sabotage tactics. Even Stacey sees through the ruse, but she goes along with it anyway, because if she raised objections or put restrictions on the new members, there wouldn’t be a plot.

The BSC gives presents to Mrs. Newton presumably for the new baby. They also give presents to Jamie, which Mrs. Newton appreciates since Jamie has been jealous of the presents the baby has been receiving. They also ask about babysitting for them again, but Mrs. Newton says that the BSC is too young and when Lucy is older, she hopes they can sit for her again.

At the BSC meeting, they meet the new members and give them jobs. I’m sure the new members will be fine and responsible and not try to sabotage the BSC’s reputation at all. They don’t need to send another more established member to the job as well to make sure everything’s okay. Not at all. This will in no way hurt the BSC and their new clients.

Also, Stacey remarks that she’s impressed by the simple fact that the new members are thirteen and fourteen. Stacey is impressed by the passage of time, instead of how we should all feel, which is dread.

And, as expected, the new girls don’t show up for their babysitting jobs. The BSC confronts them at school and it goes as well as the sandwich board idea. It ends with Kristy crying in the girls’ bathroom. Things really suck when Kristy is crying.

While Stacey is at Jamie’s while Mrs. Newton and Lucy are in another room. Jamie’s demeanor is noticeably different. Stacey asks if it’s because of the new baby. Instead, Jamie laments that babysitters used to read and play with him, but his new sitters just watch tv and invite over their boyfriends, and one of them smoked in the living room and burned a cushion. Stacey encourages Jamie to tell his parents about what his sitters are doing. It’s my experience that if someone tells a kid to keep a secret or hide something from their parents, that person sucks and should be shot into the sun.

Later, Stacey babysits for Charlotte and the poor girl explodes at Stacey, saying that babysitters only care about money.

Charlotte looked at me sadly. “Ellie said, ‘Oh, Charlotte, you are the teacher’s pet, teacher’s pet,’ and I said, ‘I am not,’ and she said, ‘Are, too, and you don’t have any friends.’ And I said, ‘I have baby-sitters. They’re my friends.’ And she said, ‘They are not. My sister Cathy doesn’t like you.’ And I said, ‘Then how come she sits for me?’ And she said, ‘Because your parents pay her a lot of money, stupid.'”

Stacey is able to convince Charlotte that she’s different because Stacey actually plays with her and doesn’t ignore her the way Cathy does.

The next day, on their way home from school, the BSC finds Jamie Newton just hanging out in the street. By himself. A three-year-old. Alone in the street. Apparently, his sitter, Cathy Morris, told him it was okay to go play outside. Even Disneyland doesn’t let someone shorter than 54″ drive a car by themselves in Autopia, which is the only place I’ve seen an eight-year-old living his life. The BSC walks him back home and they wonder if they should tell the parents and if that would be interpreted as them trying to sabotage the Agency. Stacey asks her mother for advice, to which her mother says, “I’d say the person who’s going to tell something should risk ‘looking bad,’ if a child really is in danger.” Oh, now Mrs. McGill shows some measured thinking as opposed to when she’s channel surfing to find Stacey’s new doctor.

The girls go to Mrs. Newton’s and tell her how they saw Jamie and how a babysitter burned one of their cushions and asked Jamie not to tell her. She’s pretty horrified and won’t use the agency again (except some seventeen-year-old boy sitter, I guess, that was thrown in).

The BSC confronts Liz and Michelle. This time, it goes a little better. The BSC demonstrates how much they know about their babysitting charges and the behavior of a good babysitter.

Stacey leaves for New York, which includes a reunion between Stacey and her former best-friend. Laine and Stacey fight. The next morning, Stacey has her tests – strangely, without her parents expressly present.

I was examined, poked, and prodded. Blood was drawn. I was fed a specifically prepared lunch and more blood was drawn. Then this woman holding a sheaf of papers asked me to do weird things like draw a picture of my family, make up stories about inkblots, and build towers of bricks. I ran on a treadmill and tried to do sit-ups and push-ups. I rode an exercise bicycle. At last I was given a written test. It might have been an IQ test, but I wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, it looked long.

They let her go back into the custody of her parents. I would be suspicious at the “draw a picture” phase. What does that have to do with diabetes? Blood, food, exercise. Okay, maybe. But, inkblots? Also, her parents should have been there the entire time. She’s twelve and these people are all, “Let us do tests on her without y’all here.” Hey, TV doctor, don’t just touchkids without their parents there. That’s creepy!

Luckily, they let her out in time for her appointment with a real doctor, Dr. Graham. She springs the appointment on her parents, and they are forced to go see this real doctor with Stacey. After all, Dr. Johansson helped Stacey get this appointment with a renowned physican. Frankly, after her parents sprung this weird, IQ testing doctor on Stacey, Stacey has every right to spring a reputable doctor on them.

After the meeting with an accredited doctor who speaks to both Stacey and her parents, Stacey finally stands up to her parents, telling them that it’s not fair for them to switch doctors without her and force her to switch schools. Her parents say that they trust Dr. Graham more than Dr. Barnes, who is suggesting “unusual” treatments with exorbitant costs.

Back with the Cummings’, the two families go to the movies. Laine and Stacey talk while getting snacks. Laine was jealous of Stacey because she was getting all this attention from teachers and school administrators and she was permitted to miss so much school. She apologizes and things are copasetic between the two again.

The next day, the families hang out again, this time while traipsing around New York. They watch Paris Magic, which Stacey calls “the best musical” she’d ever seen. It is not a real musical because I Googled it and found nothing. It was a ridiculous title for anything and it turns out that the only appropriate use for that title is hair care products, which is the only search result I received.

When Stacey goes back to Stoneybrook, she learned that Charlotte and Jaime told their parents everything, and it turns out that there were other unhappy children. The Agency folds.

On a final note, the problem with Charlotte’s bullying is resolved as well – she’s skipping a grade.

I understand Stacey’s parents’ desperation. They just want their daughter to have the best life possible. That’s what makes Barnes, and people of his ilk, so dangerous. People seek radical and expensive treatments because they provide a little bit of hope where there is none. Snake oil salesmen are taking advantage of people in the most blatant way. It’s all about how much can they charge for this thing that probably won’t work but has a cheap cost. It’s monstrous.

I can’t believe I have to say this, but don’t trust miracle cures and panacea. Don’t digest bleach or aquarium agents or shine light into your veins. When I started writing this, I wasn’t worried about people doing anything of those things, but it turns out that there are still salesmen peddling miracle cures to their cult and scared members of the populace. Just, please, be safe out there. Don’t rush things.

And wear a damn mask, please. It shouldn’t be this hard to get people to do something so simple that will help so many.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend

Previously on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

When I was a kid, treasure hunting deep in the woods seemed like a completely plausible endeavor. I thought I could go on some grand fantastic adventure with wood nymphs and sprites. I quickly dismissed this idea because I lived (and continue to live) in Nevada, where we have more imported trees than any other state. Why do we have so many imported trees? Because we don’t have thick forests. We have sagebrush and ATV tracks. And frankly, the first I went camping, which was as an adult, I realized why my father never made us go camping – he knew it sucked.

This is not the case for the kids in the next Goosebumps installment I’m covering, Legend of the Lost Legend. These kids are out for adventure and treasure hunting – with their writer father. Yes, like Stephen King, writer R. L. Stine has added a writer character into his own novel, so let’s dive right in and see what exactly is the lost legend?

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend by R. L. Stine – The Lost Legend is the Lost Garbage Pail Kid on the cover.

The book barely starts and we have a signature cliffhanger on page four. Our protagonists are a set of siblings – Justin and Marissa. They’re trying to find their father but are lost in a snowy tundra aided only by Balto and the rest of the Iditarod. The sled dogs go off on their own, taking Marissa along for the ride! Of course, at the very beginning of chapter two, Justin saves her and is fine. However, on page nine, we have another cliffhanger! They’re floating on a piece of ice that broke away from the mainland!

It doesn’t matter. It was just a story their father, master storyteller and treasure hunter, made up about his children. It’s going to be one of those, isn’t it? The children ask how they’re going to get off the ice block. The father replies, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story yet.” Well, Stine, you have 120 pages left, so you better get cracking.

They are camping in a fictional European country together while their father, “famous writer, storyteller, and story collector” Richard Clarke, is looking for the Lost Legend – which is a manuscript hidden away in a silver chest that has been lost for five hundred years. Justin reasons that if he were to find the legend himself, he’d win affection from his father as well as fame and fortune. In the middle of the night, a giant dog enters their camp with a note that says, “I KNOW WHY YOU’RE HERE. FOLLOW SILVERDOG.” There wouldn’t be a story if the children refused to follow the dog, so of course, they follow him deep into the woods.

There are some shenanigans while they follow Silverdog, including one where they get lost because they were following a deer instead. But the dog always howls and they get back on track. They also fall into a hole that they think is bottomless, but they easily climb out of it so I think it was more of a pothole than a bottomless pit. The dog eventually brings them to a house and when they enter, a woman yells, “I’ve caught you!”

The woman is the woman on the cover and she just has “a bad sense of humor.” Her name is Ivanna and she was the one who sent Silverdog and she wants to help the kids, but first, it’s time for lunch. After they eat, she tells them that she has poisoned them!

Just kidding. It’s that classic attempted murder sense of humor. Anyway, she sends them on a quest into the Fantasy Forest, apparently the only thing she doesn’t joke about. They’re told to follow another dog named Luka.

After they enter the Fantasy Forest, Luka proceeds to STAND UP LIKE A HUMAN!

If he shaved off all the fur, put on some clothes, and got a haircut, he’d look like a young man, I thought. As I stared at him, he started to wave and point.

This explains the emergence of furries in the millennial generation who read these books.

Ivanna leaves them with a note that says they should follow Luka and not lose him or they will be doomed. Of course, they lose him and fall into a pit of nuts. However, they’re not nuts. They’re rat eggs that start to hatch. Turns out the mice are just little wind-up toys. They get away and a tree falls on Marissa.

Marissa is fine, of course. It’s a fake tree, probably made out of styrofoam. They also run away from bats and find a river with a plug. And finally, they battle giant cats that try to eat them. Justin is swallowed but climbs his way out and distracts the giant cat with one of the wind-up mice from earlier.

So, we have furries and now the swallowing of a boy. This is some serious vore shit and this continues to explain my generation.

The siblings find they way back to Ivanna’s house and when they enter, they find her asleep and unresponsive. We have the triumphant return of Luka!

He was literally a dude in a suit. He takes off the suit in front of the children and expresses his congratulations. He proceeds to tell the children what has been happening.

“My family has lived in this forest for hundreds of years,” Luka explained. “It became our job to protect many of the treasures. And so we built a test forest, to keep out those who were unworthy. To stop the people who don’t deserve the wonderful treasures.”

Everything in the forest is fake, or a wind-up toy, or a marionette – like Ivanna. That’s correct. Ivanna is a puppet. The trial was to figure out what is real and what isn’t in the forest and our siblings have passed. They are given a chest and Silverdog, who is an actual dog – not a man, leads them back to their camp (not before getting lost for a second).

With their father, the children open the chest to receive their gift – an egg. The ungrateful family marches back to Luka’s house and demands an explanation. See, Luka thought they were in search of the Eternal Egg of Truth. If they want the Lost Legend, they need to find the Wanderers of the Forest. Luka will tell them where to find the Wanderers, but the Wanderers might not part with the legend.

The family finds the Wanderers and the second they ask for the legend, they gladly hand over a chest and leave. The family opens the chest and finds the manuscript. Excited, they unroll the piece of paper and read aloud the contents:

“WHOEVER OWNS THE LOST LEGEND WILL BE LOST FOREVER.”

The family looks around and realizes that they don’t know where they are.

Ha! How’s that for a twist ending!

I liked this one – although it took some reflection. While I was reading it, I thought of the words of the father, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story, yet.” As the children were dealing with random women in the forest and man dogs and rat eggs, I wondered if R. L. Stine had an ending to the story. The children are always getting lost – while following Silverdog, during the trials in the forest, and even toward the end of the book after they pass the trials. Stine is telling us early on that it’s a legend about being lost, not a legend that is lost.

The idea of a legend about being lost makes up for most of the book. However, without the twist, this book is a seemingly disconnected set of random events. The twist is great and the kids’ constant direction mishaps are a wonderful bit of foreshadowing, but the man with a fake forest has nothing to do with being lost. I wish that aspect was incorporated more into the legend itself.

That being said, this book was a fun read and brought me back to those days when I was a kid, looking out the window and wondering if there was a magical creature calling out to me, if only I would look hard enough.

Next Time on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #15: Little Miss Stoneybrook…and Dawn

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club: Super Special #1: Baby-Sitters on Board!

There’s no point in trying to conceal my bias – I think child beauty pageants are creepy and gross. I don’t like the idea of forcing children to compete against one another for really no reason. They’ll have enough competition in their futures. However, I don’t blame the children. I blame the judges who are willing to rank children on an arbitrary scale, and I blame the parents who want to slap ten pounds of make-up on their child to make them look sixteen and, finally, I blame the industry that perpetuates this activity – including the trainers who teach the children how to win over judges, the make-up industry that caters to these parents, and the institution itself.

That being said, this month the BSC gets into a fight over a child beauty pageant, so it’s going to be one of those blog entries.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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“Hey, there’s some girl who is obviously from California peaking from behind the curtain, Janet. Can you do something about her? Just toss a granola bar out the back and she’ll chase it.”

Like most BSC books, it starts with a BSC meeting. Dawn is announced as the new treasurer and she thinks to herself, “I like Stoneybrook, but I’m a California girl at heart. I like hot weather, not cold, and health food, not junk.” The flex is that stark and it is in the part of the book where each member is given a page-long paragraph detailing everything we need to know about each member. I’m starting to skip these. And as for the remarks about California – the hot weather is on point except for Northern California, Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Mammoth, and every other ski resort. We can say that Dawn is a Southern California girl. And have you seen the junk food at Disneyland? Clearly, Californians love their Mickey-shaped donuts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I don’t think Ann M. Martin had been to California before writing these books.

Anyway, Mallory and Jessi are sworn in as members, and the BSC oath, as introduced in this book, goes like this, “I promise to be a good, reliable, and safe sitter, and to be true to the Baby-sitters Club forevermore.” Sounds like a good oath. Mary Anne cries. Claudia and Dawn roll their eyes, which I think is a little rude. She’s just happy for them, and while I may be an emotionless gargoyle, I think it’s wonderful that Mary Anne feels still things.

Back at home, Jeff is having some problems adjusting to the house. Jeff’s teacher calls and tells Dawn and her mother that he got into a fight. Jeff wants to move back to California and their mother reluctantly agrees to work out a deal with their father and their lawyers, which, frankly, is probably the best solution for everyone. Unfortunately, Dawn does not agree.

“You little twerp!” I said to him hotly. “You are a rotten, spoiled baby.”

“Dawn!” cried my mother.

I ignored her. “Can’t you see what you’re doing?” I yelled at Jeff. “You’re breaking up what’s left of our family.”

“No, I’m not,” Jeff replied quietly. “I’m giving Dad some of his family back. It’s time we evened things up. Besides, I have to try this or I might end up in jail.”

Mom and Jeff and I all began to laugh.

This is the tenth time reading this and I still don’t quite get it. I guess Jeff going to jail is hilarious. Probably because he’s a white boy and if certain rapist swimmers won’t go to jail for being rapist swimmers, then this kid in Connecticut isn’t going to go to jail for fighting. Hell, white men don’t go to jail for stealing billions of dollars from the American people – this kid isn’t going to jail. Now that’s commentary!

At Claudia’s house, Dawn and the young Miss Kishi see the advertisement for the pageant. The girls will be judged on “poise, talent, and looks.” “Looks.” “Looks?” They’re eight, don’t be gross. There is a short discussion on how sexist it is, surprisingly not from our favorite health-food vegan California girl, but from Claudia. In fact, Dawn says she did child beauty pageants and won when she was a child.

The rest of the BSC shows up and there is a quick conversation about how sexist pageants are, which I guess is progressive for when this book was written (1988). Kristy says, “I guess a pageant could be sexist . . . but fun.” Well, Kristy, if it’s fun, then we should keep doing it! Men have a lot of fun slapping flight attendants’ asses, we should just keep doing it! You’re disappointing me, Kristy, but I guess we have to have a central conflict in the book and it can’t be Jeff and Dawn, it has to be the BSC fighting over their separate pageant contestants.

Luckily, Jessi and Mallory refuse to participate on the basis it’s sexist. You stick to your convictions, girls. Thank god you’re here. However, Mallory’s sisters Clare and Margo hear about the pageant. Mallory sticks to her beliefs and refuses to coach the girl, so Mrs. Pike asks Dawn for help, to which Dawn enthusiastically agrees.

The first handwriting chapter we have is for Kristy watching over Karen, Andrew, and David Michael. Karen hears about the pageant (from Kristy) and wants to enter. Her talent will be singing and tap dancing, although she has no training. Then Watson and Kristy’s mother return from their birdbath auction.

Jeff is confirmed to be moving back to California after an effusive week for the kid. They argue again, even though they were laughing just a few days before. This really doesn’t have anything to do with the pageant. Although, Dawn is using the pageant to distract herself from Jeff. It doesn’t matter, as it’s a B storyline.

We have an A storyline! Dawn is at the Pikes’ house, coaching Margo and Clare.

Clare and Margo raced into the bedroom they share. Before I could say a word, they opened their closet and began peeling their clothes off. Margo reached for her bathing suit. On the front was a gigantic alligator, its mouth open in a grin full of big triangular felt teeth.

“This is what I’m wearing,” she announced.

“For what?” I asked

“The pageant,” Margo replied impatiently.

Fuck yeah, she should wear whatever the fuck she wants, but Dawn is playing this ridiculous thing straight and asks that they don’t think about outfits at the moment. They switch to their talents. They don’t play instruments, they can’t dance, and they can’t sing. Margo chooses to recite a poem from memory, but she doesn’t think it’s enough. She wants to recite the poem while peeling a banana with her feet, which grossed me out. Then she took a bite from it while reciting the poem and I retched a little.

Mary Anne babysat for the Perkins’ and, of course, the girls hear about the pageant. It turns out that Myriah can both dance and tap. Myriah has also taken gymnastics and theater. When their mother comes home, the girls ask her if they can participate in the pageant, to which she says,

“In any pageant, or in any game or contest, there are winners and there are losers. You might be a winner, Myriah, and that would be wonderful. Daddy and Gabbie and I and even Laura would be very proud of you. But you might be a loser, too. There are going to be lots more losers than winners. And I want you to know that we’ll be proud of you if you lose. We’ll be proud of you for having the courage to be in the pageant, and for the work and rehearsing you’ll do.”

That is a very good way of putting it. No sarcasm here. It’s the best lesson in the book, besides the final lesson, but we’ll get that soon.

When Claudia sits for Charlotte, they decide to give Stacey a call. These were the days when you had to have a calling card and it cost, like, fifty bucks a minute or something, so this is a big deal. After the call, to distract from separation from their best-friend, Claudia somehow convinces Charlotte to join the pageant as well, even though Charlotte “would rather read” (a girl after my own heart).

Mallory and Jessi sit for the Pike kids and Margo is still rehearing “The House That Jack Built” complete with banana. I’m disgusted just by thinking about it. Tarantino I am not. All the children start to argue as Adam tries to screw up Margo and Claire tries to sing louder to cover up the fighting. Mallory attempts to quiet them down but it doesn’t work and the chapter ends with headaches.

At the next BSC meeting, there’s a bunch of pageant talk, especially about the last question. You know, the one where the contestants either shine with their brilliance or become an internet meme.

It’s obvious that Charlotte really doesn’t want to do it, Margo and Claire are the only interesting girls entering because they’re so wacky, and Myriah is the only one who has the stage presence and talent to win. Claire would make any pageant awesome and I have the receipts.

“Margo,” I said, “What is your greatest wish?”

“Global peace,” she replied immediately.

“Yes, but say it in a nice sentence.”

“My greatest wish,” Margo said, looking rapturous and angelic, “is for global peace. That would be very . . . nice.”

I only hoped the judge wouldn’t ask her to explain what she meant. Margo didn’t have the vaguest idea what global peace was.

“Great,” I told her. “Now Claire, if the house were on fire and you had time to rescue three things, what would they be?”

“I would rescue,” Claire began sweetly, “my family members, global peace, and the first extinguisher.”

Ha! If I were the judge, I’d say she wins.

Jeff leaves for California. Remember when you could just walk all the way to the gate before you had to say goodbye? It’s weird to see on television shows and it’s weird to read in books. It’s certainly more dramatic to say good-bye at the gate, your loved one looking back wistfully over their shoulder as they wave and pass into a long hallway away from you. It’s not the same if you drop them off outside as they fumble with their luggage, all while an attendant is yelling at someone, “Hey! This is the drop-off you can’t wait here! Get to the cell phone lot!”

Finally, the big pageant day arrives. The girls line up, including a girl named Sabrina Bouvier, who, besides being a distant relative of Marge Simpson, does the pageant thing all the time. It starts with the introductions and Claire immediately starts saying hi to everyone she knows in the audience and is promptly cut off, to which I say, “LET HER SPEAK!” and then I would be promptly cut off and kicked out of the pageant.

During the talent portion, Karen sings, that Sabrina girl sings “Moon River” and is bad, Margo does her banana poem, and Charlotte runs off the stage in tears. I blame you, Claudia. Myriah gives a good answer to the interview portion (“I would say to the people who were making the wars, ‘Now you stop that. You settle this problem yourselves like grown-ups. Our children want peace.'”) and Claire says that her greatest hope is that Santa Claus is real. Karen says that if her house were on fire, she would save her stuffed cat, her blanket, as many toys as she could carry, and finally her brother Andrew or her pen that writes in three colors. Sabrina does the “global peace” answer and Margo goes after and freezes up since Sabrina stole her stock answer.

Myriah ends up coming in second with Sabrina first – just like when Lisa Simpson enters the Little Miss Springfield contest. Of course, Sabrina isn’t struck by lightning, causing Myriah to take up her duties.

The girls learn that while Myriah should have won, Sabrina had the look that the judges like and the make-up of a twenty-five-year-old. Claudia realizes that she forced Charlotte to participate. Jeff calls and seems to be in a better place after moving.

I didn’t hate this one as much as I thought I would. Some of the reasoning for the BSC to participate in the pageant is flimsy, but Mallory and Jessi were always there to point out the stupidity and sexism of the whole endeavor. Beauty pageants are a common storyline from many episodic shows (and book series), from Parks and Recreation to the aforementioned The Simpsons. Just like those properties, the beauty pageant participant usually learns that it’s not about the one with the most talent, but the prettiest.

That being said, I would like to leave you with this:

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #16: Jessi’s Secret Language