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

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory

Last year, after learning that my partner’s parents took him to Disneyland while he was a baby, my partner and I decided to take a trip to Disneyland. I went when I was eight, but I hadn’t been back since. In the months leading up to the trip, I did what I normally do before a trip: I researched the hell out of the destination. I found myself steeped in Walt Disney history: the man, the park, the opening day problems. I explored the lore behind every attraction: the inspiration behind the Matterhorn and how it may be the first steel rollercoaster in the United States, the opposing ideas for the Haunted Mansion, the various iterations of the submarine adventure. I already knew the layout of the park before we left. I understood the Fast Pass system. I had reservations at what is considered the best restaurant in the park, Cafe Orleans, and the restaurant Walt Disney considered “his” restaurant, The Carnation Cafe. I was on the lookout for the lamp over the Firehouse Station.

This is not a story that leads up to my disappointment when I got to the park. In fact, the park exceeded my expectations and I found a new obsession in the Haunted Mansion. The Disneyland attention to detail is a real thing, the cast members are wonderful, and the park operations are no joke. I also got to see many parents yelling at their kids, and the juxtaposition of parents yelling at their children at “The Happiest Place On Earth” is, frankly, hilarious.

This is leading to my hatred of boats. Let me explain. The first BSC Super Special is split into two parts: the first part on a boat and a second part at Disney World. I realize that Disneyland is different from Disney World. The book features actual Disney World attractions, and while I did exclusively research Disneyland, Disney World is an important part of Disney Parks lore, and the parks aren’t that different, especially in 1989, without Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney-MGM Studios (future Hollywood Studios), both of which had not been built yet.

I love Disneyland, but boy I hate boats. Have I ever been on a luxury cruiser? No. But I haven’t murdered anyone and I hate murder. Did I just compare cruise ships to murder? Yes. I did and I’m proud of it. Pooping over the side of a boat after eating expired shrimp and watching a fifty-year-old couple do a jazz cover of “DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar does not sound like a good time to me.

Anyway, let’s get to the book.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

BSCSS01
My Copy of The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #1: Baby-Sitters On Board! – Good-bye Stoneybrook! And good-bye, cohesive plot!

Super Specials are, well, super special. A normal BSC book is about 120-pages of one character’s story in first-person narration. A Super Special is about 220-pages of switching POV. It’s still first-person but now each chapter focuses on a new character. Each babysitter (and a few others) get their own story, that may or may not intersect with another story (and if it does, it’s in such a tangential way to make the paragraph pointless, we’ll get to that). So, as I go through the book beat-by-beat, I will put the POV character in italics. Let’s hope this works:

Kristy

Baby-Sitters on Board! starts with Kristy explaining how every member of the BSC, plus relevant family members, got a trip on a cruise to Disney World. I should also mention that while the BSC timeline is nebulous, this book seems to take place before Stacey leaves. One clue is that Stacey is still a part of the BSC, hasn’t left, and Mallory, nor Jessi, is a part of the BSC. However, it is the Pikes who start this chain of events.

Basically, Mr. Pike won a naming contest/got off a crime boss at his job as a lawyer for a large company/mob. They invited Mary Anne and Stacey to go with them to watch over the children on the cruise. Watson, who you’ll remember is Kristy’s stepdad, can’t let this mob lawyer have all the fun, so he spends his riches to ensure that his family and the rest of the BSC comes along, minus Jessi, because she has not moved to Stoneybrook yet. This must take place before #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye.

Anyway, the Pikes, the BSC, Watson, Kristy’s Mom (Elizabeth), David Michael, Karen, and Andrew all get on a plane, where there’s some barf bag talk, and arrive in Florida and we switch perspectives as we board The Ocean Princess.

Dawn

Kristy, Claudia, and Dawn are sharing a cabin. Dawn complains that Kristy doesn’t wear dresses and that’s apparently a problem? I didn’t wear dresses when I was a kid, mostly because of crippling insecurity, but that’s for another entry. Anyway, I don’t think not wearing dresses is some kind of personality disorder.

Kristy and Dawn argue almost immediately because Kristy is a bit of a slob and Dawn is a clean freak – their words, not mine. Surprisingly, Claudia is the voice of reason.

“We’ve almost got the whole corridor to ourselves!” exclaimed Claudia. “Pretty cool!”

“Well, let’s go tidy up our cabin,” I suggested brightly.

Now?” replied Kristy. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Girls, girls,” Claudia jumped in. “Lighten up. This is our vacation, Dawn. We’re not supposed to spend it cleaning. It’s also only the first day our vacation. I hope you two aren’t going to argue for the rest of the week. It’ll drive me crazy.”

It was a quick fight, but it’s really just the beginning. Dawn and Kristy will be trying to avoid one another for the rest of the book.

Dawn goes exploring on her own and finds a cute boy almost immediately. As I recall, most, if not all, of the BSC Super Specials had some kind of romance plot for at least one of the BSC members. This one has two.

Anyway, Dawn’s mystery boy is evasive in his answers and runs away.

Mary Anne

Vanessa, Mallory, and Mary Anne are in one cabin while Stacey, Claire, and Margo share another cabin next door. In a terrible decision by the parents, the triplets and Nicky have their own room. But this chapter is about Mary Anne – the triplets will have their own adventure. For now, Mary Anne asks what the kids want to do.

“Go exploring,” said Nicky.

“Go swimming,” said Claire.

“Go eat,” said Byron, who’s always hungry.

“Play video games,” said Adam

“Look at the ocean,” said Mallory dreamily.

“Find a candy machine,” said Margo.

“Read,” said Vanessa.

“Look for people wearing goofy bathing caps and laugh at them,” said Jordan.

I’m with you, Jordan. Who am I kidding? I would just read at the most stable part of the ship with a motion sickness bag next to me.

Nicky, Vanessa, and Mary Anne explore the ship together, where we get a complete overview of every deck on The Ocean Princess. In the spa, Mary Anne spots an interesting girl.

I was looking at a girl who was standing at the appointment desk, apprently waiting for someone to help her. She had masses of dark, wavy hair that cascaded over her shoulders and partway down her back, and she was wearing one of the skimpiest bikinis I’d ever seen. Even though she looked just a little older than me, she had a figure that filled out the top of the bikini nicely.

Whoa, Mary Anne. Who wrote this about a thirteen-or-fourteen year old? Roy Moore? (He’s running again – I can make jokes at his expense once more. In fact, everyone should make jokes at his expense. That’s your task for the day – make a joke at Roy Moore’s expense.)

Her name is Alexandra Carmody, and as she and Mary Anne have a chat, she is called away as she says that her parents were killed.

As they leave, Nicky and Vanessa spot a boy climbing out of a raft and they immediately think he’s a stowaway.

Mallory

Mallory does something I did when I was a kid. Something really dumb and embarrassing. After reading Harriet the Spy, Mallory decides to spy on people. Oh, Mallory, I did that shit too after reading that exact book. It amounted to one terrible afternoon where I peeked into a woman’s kitchen three streets over and got chased out of her yard.

For Mallory, she just spies on everyone else and sees Mary Anne talk to Alexandra Carmody, where she learns that she’s an actress, I’m assuming of the Miley Cyrus during Hannah Montana days variety.

She spots Kristy and Claudia talking. Later, a boy named Marc in a wheelchair is very excited to see his room. Finally, she spots a guy with red hair, whom she believes is Spider from her favorite band The Insects. I imagine they are a doo-wop revival group who sings Kingston Trio covers, akin to Shanana. That’s what the kids in the ’80s listened to, right?

Karen

Yes, everyone’s favorite precocious child gets her own chapter! I don’t know why she got her own series (one that Ann M. Martin wrote more books of by the way) because she is, to put it nicely since she’s a kid, draining.

This time, she wanders off on her own, sees Alexandra Carmody at the spa, gets her nails done and has it charged to her room, er, Watson’s room that she occupies.

At a cafe, she orders a Coke and has that charged to her room as well. Er. Watson’s room that she occupies. I’m sorry, but a child should not be able to charge anything to any room because they are not adults. This boat is filled with incredibly irresponsible staff.

Karen gets in trouble when she comes back to Kristy, but nothing really comes of it. Karen learns nothing and the ship staff don’t second guess a tiny child wandering around unattended. The lack of consequences will be a recurring theme.

Claudia

Finally, we have our first Claudia outfit! What are you wearing today, Claud?

I got dressed quickly. This was because while I’d been laying in my bunk the night before I’d planned exactly what I was going to wear. I put on my new blue-and-white bikini and over that, a pink sundress with speghetti straps at the shoulders and big blue buttons down the front. Then I accessorized. I tied a pink-and-blue scarf around my waist, knotting it in the middle, added my snake bracelet and feather earrings, wound my hair on top of my head, and finally put on these white sandals with long laces that you crisscross up your legs and tie in a bow.

I was with you until you put on the unnecessary scarf, Claudia. But you know, I always look forward to reading what outfit you’ve put together, so you do you. Just don’t criticize others.

As Dawn and Kristy argue at breakfast, Claudia gets a secret admirer note. It turns out there will be two romantic plots in this Super Special.

Claudia goes to the mainland and tries to sketch and take pictures, but a “figure” keeps getting in the way. Claudia has a stalker! Of course, this is not taken as a stalker and Claudia thinks that it’s exciting. A person following you around and giving you gifts is not romantic or exciting – it’s cause to go to the police! We went through this in #2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.

Stacey

Surprisingly, there is no romance in Stacey’s story. There is a young child who looks four but is actually seven. He is in a wheelchair and his name is Marc, the boy Mallory had seen earlier.

Marc and Stacey bond over Stacey’s diabetes, because there are really only two sides to Stacey: boy-craziness and diabetes. And since we already have two stories involving the former in this book, it has to be about the latter.

When Marc’s parents come back, Stacey goes back to her cabin and Margo throws up in a wastebasket. I don’t think the events are related, but you never know.

Kristy

Kristy and Dawn are still fighting and Kristy is really the antagonist here. Dawn just doesn’t want to live with extra multilegged roommates and here’s Kristy just throwing candy wrappers around. So she goes off on her own.

While at the pool, she strikes up a conversation with an old man reading The Mayor of Casterbridge, which happens to be her “nannie’s” favorite book. His name is Rudy Staples and why Kristy can’t find friends her own age is anybody’s guess. Maybe they heard that if you become friends with that Kristy-girl, you’ll invade your cabin and leave pieces of candy wrappers all over your room, and you’ll have to clean up the wrappers until you go insane! They call her the Candywoman. That’s what that movie was about, right? It’s not an excellent horror film about the legacy of slavery or anything, is it?

Anyway, Kristy teaches Rudy-Rudes how to play video games, specifically Centipede, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. When Kristy returns to the cabin, the room is, to Kristy’s horror, straightened up! Oh no! Dawn has done the basic human chores that Kristy should have done in the first place! That fair-weather bitch! Kristy asks her mom to switch rooms with Karen, but her mom refuses because Karen and Andrew are attached at the hip and Claudia and Dawn probably don’t want to share a room with a six-year-old. She encourages Kristy to work out her differences with Dawn.

Byron

That’s right! One of the Pike Triplets gets his own chapter! Honestly, they’re pretty much the same person as far as I’m concerned, so Ann M. Martin could literally switch to one of the others and I wouldn’t know.

The triplets, Nicky, and David Michael see a pirate movie and endeavor to find treasure, especially since they are going to be landing on Treasure Cay and the boys see the name as a sign from the sweet Lord above that they’re going to find treasure.

While on the beach, they find some detritus.

“It’s – it’s a treasure map!” I exclaimed. I held out the small yellowed piece of paper. “Look! There’s a diagram and some funny words. They must be in another language. I wonder what language pirates spoke.”

English, if movies are to be believed. And they should be without question. (I saw a woman and her son murder a bunch of kids at a camp for multiple years and the police did nothing. What is this country coming to?)

The boys decide to look everywhere for the treasure, including the boat and Disney World, regardless of the fact that the pirates did not travel on cruise ships and Disney World opened on October 1, 1971. I bet one of them is probably a senator, making decisions about women’s bodies with bullshit science with that kind of treasure logic.

Dawn

Aaaannnddd Dawn and Kristy are still fighting.

Dawn finds the “gorgeous guy” and they go for a walk. His name is Parker Harris. (Never trust a Parker, Dawn, haven’t you seen Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?). The next day (it moves that abruptly), they have breakfast together followed by a Ping-Pong tournament, which includes a match against Kristy and “her old man friend.” Miraculously, Parker and Dawn win the whole tournament because why the fuck not? They end the day at the arcade and they get into a photo booth.

At the end of the day, they decide to spend more days together at Disney World. Dawn decides that Parker is her “first true boyfriend” and she is in love.

Mary Anne

The triplets had been running around the ship and were sent back to their cabin by the ship staff (or mates?), because kids can buy drinks and get manicures, but they sure as hell can’t explore the ship!

As punishment, Mary Anne has to accompany the triplets, Nicky, and David Michael, so really, Mary Anne is punished. Unless she’s getting paid. The book did not discuss Mary Anne and Stacey’s pay. If she’s being paid, it’s not a punishment – she’s doing her job.

The boys tell her about the treasure map and Mary Anne just plays along. In her words, “I have heard of stranger things, so I held my laugh in.” What “stranger things?” And don’t say the hit Netflix series. I have more pop culture references, and I’m not afraid to use them!

Mary Anne bumps into Alexandra, the thirteen-year-old with the rockin’ bod. The girl says that she’s on the trip with her “guardian” and her parents were killed in a car accident, making her an orphan. If I heard that, I would think that Alex is being trafficked and I would call the police. But this is a BSC book, and while the BSC tackles some heavy issues, human trafficking is just too much for the Scholastic audience.

Stacey

While Claire and Margo are arguing over what to do, Vanessa is reading a book called Baby Island. Stacey does not go into detail as to what exactly Baby Island is about, but I wish she did. Is it an island of only babies, which sounds loud, poopy, and short-lived, or is it about an island of man-children who harass women online? It could also be about an island made of babies or an island for Baby from Dirty Dancing. The possibilities are endless!

Claire, Margo, and Stacey go to this famous video arcade that seems to be the only form of entertainment on this ship and see Marc, the wheelchair-bound kid that Stacey met the other night. Marc’s father leaves him with Stacey.

“I’m sure you’re responsible.” He was probalby thinking about my diabetes, and my diet, and my insulin shots, which we had talked about the night I met the Kubackis.

Stace, buddy, you don’t need to tell everyone about your insulin. It’s really none of his business. Not every person you meet needs to know about your endocrine system deficiencies. But I guess this allows Marc to have some fun without his father, so it’s okay.

The kids ask Marc about his wheelchair. He says he “has a bad heart,” which can describe many politicians I know. ZOOM! He also says he can’t go on rollercoasters, like Space Mountain, but he can go on “quiet” rides. Hate to break it to you, Marc, but every Disney ride is scary. Also, I did Space Mountain and it was enough. I do not like careening through space, even if Admiral Ackbar is there (I went during the Star Wars overlay). I’ll take my Haunted Mansion and the Matterhorn, thank you very much.

The kids and Stacey go to the ice cream parlor and the see Claudia. They also see Claudia’s stalker paying for her sundae. Then he runs away and Claudia chases after him, and we switch POVs.

Claudia

Claudia chases down her stalker and instead finds a boy who says he saw someone run by and is definitely not her stalker, even though he was right there where the stalker would have careened right into him. Claudia expresses disappointment in not catching him and the boy who is definitely not her stalker suggests that the stalker is shy. He is definitely, definitely not her stalker. Nope. No chance.

His name is Timothy and he is not Claudia’s stalker.

I found myself studying Timothy’s face. It was framed by curly hair. His eyes were dark, wide-set, and fringed with long lashes that I would have given my eyeteeth for. And he was the perfect height for me . . . Wait a minute! What was I doing? I had a Secret Admirer. I didn’t need Timony, too. On the other hand, the admirer wasn’t showing his face. And Timothy was awfully nice. Plus he wasn’t in hiding.

Ignoring whatever the hell “eyeteeth” are, which sounds like something that triggers someone’s phobia, Claudia, you have a stalker/secret admirer who is definitely not Timothy, but you know what? Timothy is showing his face while your stalker, who is not Timothy, is hiding. They are definitely different people. Timothy and Claudia decide to meet up at Disney World.

Kristy

The group arrives at their Disney World hotel. Although Martin fails to mention which hotel they are staying at, given the minutiae of details for rides, you’d expect a single mention of the hotel. There’s almost an argument after Claudia, Dawn, and Kristy realize there aren’t three beds, but two king-size beds. Claudia continues to play the part of “Reasonable One.”

“We are going to be here three nights,” she said firmly. “So we’ll switch off. Each of us will have a bed to herself one night. And I don’t want any more contamination wars or clothes battles. There are plenty of drawers and coat hangers. We have enough space to pull all of our stuff away, even mine. So let’s do it. And then you two,” she went on, glaring at Dawn and me, “are going to call a truce.”

It’s strange how sometimes when others are lacking a necessary trait, another person will step up and fill that need. Claudia calls out Kristy when she throws a snack wrapper on the ground in front of Dawn. Finally, Kristy and Dawn call a real truce and the conversation turns to if any of them have seen a rated R movie, to which they admit that none of them have. They’re, like, thirteen or twelve, right? I was eleven when I saw my first rated R movie (I Know What You Did Last Summer at a sleepover, starting a lifelong love of horror movies, but my extensive history with horror is for another review about a YA book that is really just an excuse to write and reflect on my own childhood, and I touched on it a little during my review of Stay Out of the Basement).

Karen

They are finally in Disney World – one of my Bucket List places (the others being Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland . . . and I guess Seoul and London and see the Philippines again, but they don’t have a Disney theme park).

Karen, Andrew, Watson, and Elizabeth meet Minnie Mouse. They buy some magic shop trinkets and Karen mentions the enormity of Cinderella’s Castle. If I said that in front of my father, he’d proceed to tell me all about perspective and kill the wonder of an actual castle in front of me.

Karen says that she really wants to ride the Haunted Mansion (which is the best ride at Disneyland, I say as I think about how I made Jon ride the ride five times in a day). At the end of the ride, when the Hitchhiking Ghosts “appear” in her car, Karen freaks out and that’s what she’s thinking about for the rest of her story.

Dawn

Dawn is going on a Disney date with Parker and she wants to look her best.

This is the outfit Claudia helped me to choose: a white tank top under lavender overalls, lavender push-down socks, lavender high-top sneakers, and a beaded Indian belt, which we looped droopily twice around my middle. In my hair we put lavender-and-white clips that looked like birds. I thought they were just any kind of bird, but Claudia swore up and down that they were birds of paradise. Who knows? (I think she was making that up.)

The matchy-matchy ’80s. And what is the young master wearing?

He was wearing this blue-and-white polo shirt, white tennis shorts, and loafers with no socks.

So Parker is dressed as James Spader telling Andrew McCarthy that he shouldn’t date Molly Ringwald because she’s poor. Cool outfit.

Before they go to the Magic Kingdom, they have to discuss parking. That just comes with the territory when you date someone named “Parker.” Then they go to Tomorrowland and ride Space Mountain. Dawn almost throws up, which is exactly how I felt after getting off that ride.

Dawn finds a unicorn charm in the park and she promptly adds it to her great-aunt’s bracelet that she was wearing. Parker’s parents show up and leave his younger brothers with him and Dawn. They ride Big Thunder Mountain and then they go to Tom Sawyer Island, where Dawn realizes she lost her unicorn/great-aunt bracelet. She cries and Parker gives her a peck on the cheek.

Mallory

Mallory separates from her family to do some more spying. She’s in the Happiest Place on Earth with the best rides and she still wants to play Harriet the Spy even though she has learned nothing interesting and has just wasted her time. At least my brief foray into spying only wasted two hours. But let’s see what Mallory writes in her spying notebook – the sordid details that are so integral to the plot and not problematic or boring at all.

Two old ladies walk by. They have blue hair.

A family walks by with a kid in a stroller. The kid is crying.

Another family goes by. The little girl drops her ice-cream cone. Cries.

A big group of people goes by. They are wearing matching T-shirts. They are very loud (the people, not the shirts). I think the people are retarded. Having fun. Lots of smiles.

A family goes by. Both kids crying.

Riveting and not pejorative at all, Mallory. I want to like you, I really do, but this doesn’t help. The less said about this the better.

Mallory does find out something. She finds Alexandra and it turns out that she is not an orphan but has parents who seem to be famous to old people.

Mary Anne

The BSC holds a meeting where they discuss recent events like a “Previously On” written into a show. Kristy brings up giving Watson, Elizabeth, and the Pikes gifts for the trip. After the meeting, Mary Anne returns to her room and finds Mallory.

Mallory proceeds to tell Mary Anne about Alexandra Carmody. Of course, Mary Anne is upset that Alexandra lied to her about being an orphan. Mary Anne decides to confront Alexandra the next time she sees her.

She sees her at Disney World, yells that she’s a liar, and runs away. Great confrontation, Mary Anne. Confrontations always involve the confronter spouting four words and no response from confrontee. Alexandra spends the day trying to explain to Mary Anne, but our BSC member will have none of it.

Byron

So the triplets, Nicky, and David Michael continue their treasure quest, but Stacey has to come along. Stacey says that they can do whatever they want “as long as it was legal.”

They go on some rides. There’s more awkward description of the rides. I wonder if Ann M. Martin didn’t actually go on all these rides and just interviewed children outside the exit, or it’s just awkward because it’s awkward to try to explain the ride experience to someone.

In one place, the pirates set some buildings on fire. The buildings really, really look like they’re on fire, too – all red and yellow and glowing. In another place, you pass under a pirate sitting on a bridge or something and you can see that he has hairy legs! There are drunk pirates, there’s a gunfight between two ships, with the exploding shells splashing the water all around your boat, and there are funny pirates in jail. A dog has the keys to their prison, but he won’t give them up!

I don’t need to go to Disney World and experience Pirates of the Carribean myself! I have this description!

None of these ride descriptions ever come into play. It’s not like that dog had the key to their pirate treasure. The ride descriptions are just added for word count.

After the ride, the boys buy some pirate items. They go to Tom Sawyer Island and they finally find a treasure – an old bracelet with a broken clasp. Stacey tells them that it is Dawn’s lost bracelet.

The boys gift up trying to find treasure, but Byron keeps the map.

Karen

Her last day at Disney World starts with a character breakfast. During the breakfast, a cast member asks if anyone is celebrating a birthday. A young boy comes up and the entire restaurant is forced to sing happy birthday to him. Instead of feeling pity for the boy, as I would, Karen is envious, lies and says it’s her birthday, and before her father can stop her, she runs up and really shows off her narcissism.

I beamed. I loved it. I loved being right in the middle of things, with everyone thinking about me. I didn’t care that it wasn’t my birthday. It was probably my only chance ever to have a hundred people sing to me.

This is the kind of early behavior of someone who says something racist and doubles down on it on Twitter because they get hate clicks and attention.

Watson kind of chastises her but chooses not to punish because they’re on vacation. Karen proceeds to blame her hitchhiking ghost, which is clearly precedent for her to refuse responsibility. After she says the racist thing on Twitter and people call her out, she’ll blame Ambien or something. Also, I doubt Gus, Ezra, or Phineas would ever do something so fucking conceited as to force others to pay attention to them. They get all the attention they need at the end of the Haunted Mansion.

When the family goes out to the park, Karen figures out a way to get lost. I don’t care if she’s popular – I find Karen incredibly draining. She judges her neighbor and calls her dangerous witch just because she looks different. She thinks it’s okay to wander off and charge things to her room with money she doesn’t have. She believes it’s acceptable to lie just to get people to pay attention to you. And when she’s called out, she blames another party, regardless of the consequences. Now she’s lost. If Karen were my child, Alexandra Carmody wouldn’t be the only orphan at Disney World.

Of course, Karen isn’t forced to pickpockets for Fagan – she finds Elizabeth a page later. So, really, Karen learned nothing and will continue to learn nothing.

Stacey

Stacey, Claire, and Margo stumble across Marc and they spend the day with him and his parents. They go on a dinosaur ride and the awkward descriptions continue. They also watched Captain EO, and if you’re not familiar with Michael Jackson’s venture into Disney, there are many YouTube videos all about it. (I recommend Defunctland’s excellent episode.)

While the children eat, Stacey speaks with Marc’s parents.

The Kubackis glanced at each other. There was an embarrassing silence. Then Mr. Kubacki said in a low voice, “Marc is going to have major surgery in a couple of weeks. Heart surgery. It’ll be very risky.”

I figured out what he wasn’t saying: that Marc might not survive the operation. I was stunned. “Does he know?” I managed to ask.

“He knows about the surgery,” replied Mr. Kubacki, “but not the risks. There’s no need for him to know that. We took this vacation together . . . just in case. And we want him to be happy. If . . . anything happens, this is one of the good times Mrs. Kubacki and I will be able to look back on.” Mr. Kubacki reached for his wife’s hand.

That’s heartbreaking. I’m not going to be snarky here.

Claudia

Claudia gets a letter from her stalker that says she is “as beautiful as ever.” But she can’t pay attention to that! She has a Disney World date with Timothy – the boy who is definitely a separate person from her stalker.

Timothy has a secret! Is it that he’s Claudia’s stalker? No, of course not. Those are two different people! The secret is that his older sister is Alexandra Carmody – the orphan liar with famous parents.

Mary Anne finally lets Alexandra explain why she lied and the answer is reminiscent of another character’s warped logic.

“To get attention,” Alexandra replied matter-of-factly. “And to make life a little more interesting. For the same reasons Timothy spies on people and hides in coiled-up rope and stuff. Makes things interesting. When you’re the children of Viv and Vernon Carmody, you tend to get lost in the shuffle. You have to find ways to . . . to. . .”

And then Mary Anne just accepts that answer and they all laugh about it. This is not a great message for impressionable youth. The way to get attention is to lie about your parents’ deaths or lie about your birthday or makeup lies about your neighbor. Basically, the way to get attention is to lie.

Also, Timothy reveals that he was Claudia’s secret admirer/stalker all along! I never saw that coming! I thought they were different people! Talk about a Shamalayan-level twist!

Then they kiss during fireworks, once again teaching young kids that the way to a girl’s heart is vague stalking.

Kristy calls a final BSC meeting whey they reveal that they are going to take all the pictures they took during the trip and collect them into a proto-scrapbook before the term was really coined by white suburban moms with too much time in the early 2000s.

Kristy

Dawn and Claudia are saying goodbye to their respective summer romances/stalkers. Mary Anne says goodbye to Alexandra Carmody. Kristy gives Rudy her grandmother’s phone number and address. And on the plane, a man approaches the triplets and Nicky.

“Pardon me,” he said with an accent.

The boys looked up at him.

“You are from Holland, yes?” said the man.

All five boys shook their heads.

“American?” asked the man in surprise.

“Yup,” said Adam.

“Oh. My mistake. I saw the copy machine diagram. With words in Dutch. I think you are from Holland, too. I am Dutch.”

“Copy machine diagram?” repeated Byron. “Dutch?”

“Yes,” said the man. He pointed to the paper. “My company, it manufactures copiers. That is a picture of – how do you say? – the insides of a machine.”

“Oh, brother,” mutter David Michael as the man went on his way.

Cool treasure map, boys.

Two months later, the BSC learns that Marc survived his surgery.

Whew! That was a long one!

The thing about Super Specials is that they feature all the BSC members and have an overarching story that may or may not intersect with the other members’ stories. The overarching story is usually just a way to keep them all together however loose that connection may be. In this book, it makes sense to put them all on a boat together, but the extra part with Disney World seems a little unnecessary and I didn’t like reading the passages about the ride events. They don’t really come factor into the plots and just seem extraneous. It’s like Disney paid for this extended product placement, but not enough to make sure the rides contribute more to the plot.

That being said, some of the stories I liked and others I hated. In order of worst to best, this is how I feel about each member’s story.

Worst – Karen: I never understood the appeal of Karen and I still don’t. Why does this brat get her own series? She’s selfish, she doesn’t think about others, she just wants attention, she doesn’t put effort into anything, and she doesn’t learn anything. She just does whatever she wants and there are no consequences for her.

Claudia: Why is Claudia attracted to her stalkers? First the phantom phone call stalker and now this boat stalker. It would be one thing to have a stalker – that is a scary thing that women deal with. But the problem lies with these stalkers getting rewarded with dates and kisses. I want to like Claudia, I really do. She’s the only Asian-American member (maybe the only Asian-American in all of Connecticut, besides her family), and as an Asian-American woman, I want to like her, but it’s hard when she’s macking on shy boys who engage in questionable behavior.

Byron: They were running around with Dutch copier instructions. How am I supposed to be into that?

Mallory: This story makes me remember my spying days after reading Harriet the Spy – and I’d prefer not to remember that afternoon.

Mary Anne: Her story is interesting enough. I was curious about Alexandra Carmody for most of the book, but her third act reveal wasn’t that satisfying. She was doing it for attention? It would be better if she was trying to hide the fact that her parents are famous because people only want to get close to her parents or something. Anything rather than “I want attention.”

Kristy: Okay, so she starts a fight with Dawn and then hangs out with an old man.

Dawn: Okay, so she starts a fight with Kristy and then hangs out with a young man.

Best – Stacey: Even though it seems like the first thing Stacey says is, “Hello. My name is Stacey McGill and I have diabetes,” this is still the best story in this inaugural Super Special. We have a new sympathetic and likable character in Marc. Stacey does some actual baby-sitting. She gets to facilitate a friendship between Claire, Margo, and Marc. It’s heartbreaking to hear that this kid is going to undergo risky surgery and this Disney World trip is a way for his parents to create good memories in case he doesn’t make it. I was relieved when I read he made it.

I enjoyed my first foray into the Super Specials, but there is room for improvement. I remember the other ones being better, and we will see if that’s the case as I continue this series.

Next Time On The Baby-Sitters Club #15: Little Miss Stoneybrook . . . and Dawn

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #49: Neither a Simone Nor a Biles Be

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #48: Turn On the TV

It’s the home stretch of this series, people! This started at the end of June 2018 and we’ve finally come to the beginning of June 2019. Let’s see what the BSC is up to now.

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Did they, Kristy? Are you sure they didn’t just say that so that you’ll shut up? Because that sounds like something I’d do. “Let’s just play her stupid game so she’ll go away and we can watch TV later.”

Also, I don’t think soap operas are appropriate activities for children. Sleeping with the next door neighbor and getting pregnant while giving him an STD doesn’t sound like something 8-year-olds should pretend.

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I think it just rained here, so I had a good day.

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That’s really random. The chances of someone playing this game doing well in gymnastics is infinitesimal as to be negligible. Also, the people who would be good at gymnastics would not be playing this game. Sorry.

Additionally, I doubt the Arnold twins are Olympic gold medalists. For one, you have to be 16 to compete in the Olympics and, secondly, neither of the Arnold twins is named Simone. You’re fine, Kristy. They only reason they can do a flip now is that they’re so low to the ground. They’re kids. You can’t let kids push you around. You push them around. You force them to pretend-murder each other for insurance money.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #50: Self-Promotion

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

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

Cultural osmosis is an interesting thing. I have this library of pop culture I can draw from and understand references to even though I haven’t interacted directly with that specific piece of pop culture. I have never seen Die Hard but if someone references Carl Winslow shooting a kid, I understand both of the references. (I have, however, seen every episode of Family Matters – even the bullshit ones that were on CBS. You know, the ones where Steve Urkel goes into space and then comes back to marry Laura – the girl he has been harassing for most of their lives.)

And that was the thing about Night of the Living Dummy – as I was reading it, I knew that Slappy has become the main antagonist in subsequent Dummy books. I spent the whole book noticing that 1) it’s more like nights of the living dummy and 2) Slappy is just as much a threat, if not more so than Mr. Wood. It’s time for a classic Goosebumps tale about twins, dummies, and competition.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

GBNightoftheLivingDummy
It’s more like “nights” of the living dummy than one night.

Kris and Lindy are twins who seem to hate each other. One has short hair, one has a side ponytail. Other than that, they look identical. Even though they look similar, they are still two different people, but their parents also treat them as identical people. They are expected to play together and, as we later see, their parents don’t make an effort to have them distinguish themselves from the other or actively encourage them to partake in identical activities.

Their mother forces both of them to go outside and play, taking Lindy away from the book she was reading. Was it only our generation had parents that actively didn’t want us reading books? My father was different, though. He was a bookworm and I spent most of my childhood reading books and taking weekly trips to the library while other kids had parents who told them to go outside and play sports or whatever. I saw a study that said that Baby Boomers didn’t read as much as Millennials, so it makes sense that they would chastise us for reading too much. One time when I was a kid and I tried to check out a stack of books from the library and my father said that the library only allowed people to check out three at a time. I don’t think he was trying to curb my reading; I was a kid who walked up the counter with fifteen books and my father didn’t think that I could read all of them or keep track of them to return them to the library.

The girls don’t go to the library after they are kicked out. Instead, they go to the house that is under construction next door. In the dumpster, they find a dummy.

Lindy held the dummy up and examined his back, looking for the string to pull to make his mouth move. “I am a real kid!” Lindy made him say. She was speaking in a high-pitched voice through gritted teeth, trying not to move her lips.

“Dumb,” Kris said, rolling her eyes.

“I am not dumb. You’re dumb!” Lindy made the dummy say in a high, squeaky voice. When she pulled the string in his back, the wooden lips moved up and down, clicking as they moved. She moved her hand up his back and found the control to make his painted eyes shift from side to side.

“He’s probably filled with bugs,” Kris said, making a disgusted voice. “Throw him back, Lindy.”

“No way,” Lindy inisted, rubbing her hand tenderly over the dummy’s wooden hair. “I’m keeping him.”

“She’s keeping me,” she made the dummy say.

“But what are you going to do with this dummy?” Kris demanded.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll work up an act,” Lindy said thoughtfully, shifting Slappy [the dummy] to her other arm. “I’ll bet I could earn some money with him. You know. Appear at kids’ birthday parties. Put on shows.”

“Happy birthday!” she made Slappy declare. “Hand over some money!”

Kris didn’t laugh.

Tough crowd. I thought it was pretty funny.

Now we’re back to the cultural osmosis issue. I know that Slappy is the antagonist of the other dummy books and I know that he’s evil. I spent this whole novel wondering when Slappy was going to go all murder dummy. This book threw me for a loop with the introduction of another dummy.

After Lindy announces she was hired to do a ventriloquist act at a birthday party, Kris asks for her own dummy. Her parents come up with a ridiculous suggestion.

“Why don’t you both share Slappy?” Mrs. Powell suggested.

“Huh?” Lindy’s mouth dropped open in protest.

“You two always share everything,” Mrs. Powell continued. “So why don’t you share Slappy.”

“But, Mom-” Lindy whined unhappily.

“Excellent idea,” Mr. Powell interrupted. He motioned to Kris. “Try it out. After you share him for a while, I’m sure one of you will lose interest in him. Maybe even both of you.”

Kris climbed to her feet and walked over to Lindy. She reached out for the dummy. “I don’t mind sharing,” she said quietly, searching her sister’s eyes for approval of the idea. “Can I hold him for just a second?”

Lindy held onto Slappy tightly.

Suddenly the dummy’s head tilted back and his mouth opened wide. “Beat it, Kris!” he snarled in a harsh raspy voice. “Get lost, you stupid moron!”

Before Kris could back away, Slappy’s wooden hand shot up, and he slapped her hard across the face.

First of all, wow, Slappy’s outburst was harsher than I expected in this child’s chapter book.

Now the biggest issue: HEY, PARENTS, IT’S LINDY’S DUMMY AND IF SHE DOESN’T WANT TO SHARE IT, SHE SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO SHARE THE DAMN DOLL!!! Lindy is the one who embraced the dummy. Kris thought it was disgusting and creepy. Now Lindy is excelling in her weird, creepy hobby and she should be encouraged – not forced to share. And Kris saying she doesn’t mind sharing is infuriating. It’s like standing by a vending machine, waiting for someone to buy a drink, and then saying, “I don’t mind sharing.” No, it’s not yours to share. And her parents justifying it by remarking, “You two always share everything.” This might be the root of the problems between the girls and it brings me back to an issue I brought up earlier. They aren’t able to cultivate a personality apart from each other.

Lastly, her father’s conjecture that one will lose interest isn’t a good metric for parenting.

We also learn there is going to be a school chorus, featuring Russain songs?

“Yeah. We’re doing all these Russian and Yugoslavian songs,” Kris said. “They’re so sad. They’re all about sheep or something. We don’t really know what they’re about. There’s no translation.”

What the fuck kind of school does Russan sheep dirges for the school chorus? The songs we sang during school recitals were nondenominational holiday songs and “Home Means Nevada.”

Anyway, despite all the rigamarole about sharing Slappy, Mr. Powell goes out to buy a second dummy at a pawn shop to give to Kris. She names him Mr. Wood, which is a way worse name than Slappy. Pretty soon, we get a dose of her stand up with her friend Cody.

Kris turned Mr. Wood to face her. “How are you today?” she asked him.

“Pretty good. Knock [on] wood,” she made the dummy say.

She waited for Cody to laugh, but he didn’t. “Was that funny?” she asked.

“Kinda,” he replied without enthusiasm. “Keep going.”

“Okay.” Kris lowered her head so that she was face-to-face with her dummy. “Mr. Wood,” she said, “why are you standing in front of the mirror with your eyes closed?”

“Well,” answered the dummy in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. “I wanted to see what I look like when I’m asleep!”

It’s as funny as any ventriloquist act I’ve seen, and I’d rather watch an hour of this than a minute of Jeff Dunham. Still, Kris knows that Lindy is doing better than her.

Kris keeps finding Mr. Wood in weird positions, like wearing her clothes at one point and mid-choke of Slappy. Eventually, he calls Kris a jerk and is later found in the middle of the kitchen with the contents of the refrigerator strewn about with Kris’s jewelry in the food. Kris insists the dummy did it and Mrs. Powell threatens to take away the dummies if anything else goes wrong. Kris throws Mr. Wood into the closet, then she hears a voice, leading to this exchange:

“I wanted to see if I could scare you,” Lindy explained. “It was just a joke. You know. I can’t believe you fell for that voice in the closet just now! I must be a really good ventriloquist!”

“But, Lindy-”

“You really believed Mr. Wood was alive or something!” Lindy said, laughing, enjoying her victory. “You’re such a nit!”

Lindy did all these pranks after Kris got a dummy also and she did it “as a joke.” Everyone is Stine’s novels are always trying to play pranks on one another, like in Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?What kind of weird pranks were going on in his childhood and why are they always so mean? Kids don’t still do pranks like this, do they?

Kris finds a piece of paper with some weird words on it and, like a dummy (a different kind of dummy), she reads the words aloud. Then the dummy spews green bile at the student body during an assembly.

This whole time I thought Slappy and Mr. Wood are switched because I knew that Slappy is the focus of future Night of the Living Dummy novels, including a whole series called SlappyWorld (we’ll see if I ever get that far). However, Mr. Wood gets up and starts actually attacking the girls. He wants them for “slaves.” The girls try to bury him, but the next morning he’s in the kitchen, saying they’re his slaves and he attacks their dog.

Mr. Wood meets his end when a steamroller runs over his head, a green gas cloud erupting from beneath the vehicle. The girls have become closer and they enter their room together.

They entered their bedroom to find the window wide open, the curtains slapping wildly, rain pouring in. “Oh no!” Kris hurried across the room to shut the window.

As she leaned over the chair to grab the window frame, Slappy reached up and grabbed her arm.

“Hey, slave – is that other guy gone?” the dummy asked in a throaty growl. “I thought he’d never leave!”

I spent the whole book wondering when Slappy was going to reveal that he switched places with Mr. Wood and he was the truly evil one. This ending was fun but I do wonder if Slappy was even meant to continue the Dummy legacy, akin to the final scare of Friday the 13th. Jason wasn’t meant to continue onto to star in ten movies (he wasn’t the killer of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning so that one doesn’t count (also, fuck a spoiler warning for that one – it’s the worst one and should be skipped (the best one is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – it just is))), a television show, a couple video games, some neat cameos, novels I might read in the future, dolls, board games, and countless other things I have yet to own.

R. L. Stine tends to always use these endings that imply that while the characters have learned something, their problems are never really over, like Stay Out of the Basement! (which I covered). Stine may not have intended Slappy to have more books, but he did and I read this book through that lens. Maybe because I knew about Slappy and I expected the book to go a certain way, I was open to being surprised after Lindy says she did all those “pranks” or, more appropriately, “therapist fodder.”

This was a fun book but I wish I could have read this without any knowledge of Slappy. There’s no way I can take away the knowledge I have about these books. And, honestly, this is a series about looking back – we cannot judge these books without the knowledge we have, no matter how hard we try to maintain cultural relativism and ignorance. However, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing or hurts the integrity of the review. This is something we all have to contend with as we interact with popular culture, especially when we’re interactive with popular culture intended for children through the eyes of an adult.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #35: A Phone Call

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

In the middle of Claudia’s room, there is a phone. Today, the phone rang!

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It was from Mary Anne! She had a tip for me: if I plan on playing outside with my baby-sitting charges, I should have a key so I don’t lock myself out.

Okay. I guess I can’t argue with that logic, but I feel like that’s a given.

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Sorry, Jackie, but the only George Washington I can accept on stage is Christopher Jackson.

I know it’s not fair to compare a child to a professional, but the more I can talk about Hamilton, the angrier my History professor gets, and the happier I get, because I am a troll.

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Claude, I think you should worry more. You should worry so much more – maybe you’ll actually study.

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The only vacations I want to take are to fine Disney hotels and theme parks around the world. How about it, Disney? Looking to sponsor a blogger? I’ll write about y’all every post. How about three mentions and I can get some tickets to Disneyland? How about just some Haunted Mansion merch? No? This is a Wendy’s? You’re kicking me out? Can I get a spicy chicken sandwich before I go?

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye

Bring a kid sucks. There. I said it. No “Cult of the Child” Victorian bullshit here. You don’t get to do all the great things that adults get to do: stay up late, eat whatever you want, drive, go shopping, pay bills, get insurance, look at stock options, cut down on your cholesterol. Kids just sit around watching television, loading up on sugar, all while your parents force you to go to school to learn new and interesting things. Wait? What was I going on about?

That’s Mallory’s problem: she wants to be treated more grown-up at the advanced age of eleven. She wants to be older and join the BSC because that’s what you do when you’re a kid: you wish you were older and you try to impress older kids, who are practically adults as far as you were concerned. You try to impress them so much you give them all your money without much coercion. That’s not based on anything true or anything. It’s not like the girl down the street asked me for money and I gave it all to her because she was so cool and tall and as big as a real adult and she could ride her bike with her hands off the handles and she had all these cool friends who said neat stuff like “as if” and I wanted to be just like them. That never happened . . .

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory
My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory – Really, kids? You care about her hair? Not her distended torso and little legs?

Spectacles. Eyeglasses. Bifocals. Trifocals. No matter what you call them, glasses are glasses and I have to wear them.

Hello. I’m Mallory Pike. I’m eleven.

This is what we are greeted with. Synonyms for glasses. A greeting. A name. An age. Then she talks about her family: all seven younger brothers and sisters and their quirks. There are the triplets who are mean. The brother who wants to be like the mean triplets. The one who wants to be a poet and it annoying. The one who is “silly.” The one who is “etc.” She continues with her parents, who are fascinating.

My mom doesn’t have a job. I mean, a job outside of the house, like being a doctor or an insurance salesperson or something. She says us kids are her job, and that with eight of us it’s a big job.

Yeah, I imagine it would be a big job. However, if she doesn’t have a job, why does she always need a babysitter? Later in the book, Kristy refers to the Pikes as “their best clients.” That means they have enough money to live in suburban Connecticut, hire babysitters, have a house in Beach City, New Jersey, can actually go on vacation, have a woman who comes to clean, and raise this ten person family. How about Dad, Mal?

My dad is a lawyer, but not the kid you see on TV, making wild speeches ina  crowded courtroom. He’s what’s called a corporate lawyer. He’s the lawyer for a big company in Stamford, Connecticut. (We live in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, which isn’t far away.) Mostly, he sits at a desk or attends meetings. Once in while, though, he does go to court, but I bet he doesn’t make speeches. I think he just stands up a lot and say, “Objection!” and things like that.

She doesn’t go into detail but a company that can pay a lawyer enough to maintain this level of lifestyle is one of two things: a corrupt company that provides an essential service but is destroying the world, akin to Amazon or BP, or, more likely, a front for the mob. Mallory Pike’s dad works for the mob. Say it with claps between each word. Louder for those in the back. MALLORY PIKE’S DAD WORKS FOR THE MOB.

Anyway, Mallory is excited because the BSC asked her if she was interested in joining the BSC. This an opportunity for growth. She thinks this will be her stepping stone to semi-adulthood as well as an opportunity to learn more about kids and baby-sitting from Stoneybrook’s premier baby-sitters.

Before her first BSC meeting, Mallory wants to look sophisticated, so she chooses to wear her “red jumper that said Mallory across the front, a short sleeved white blouse, and white tights with little red hearts all over them.” To which her little sister, Vanessa, remarks, “You look like a Valentine.” I don’t know if Martin intended this to be hilarious, but Mallory’s outfit is Hilarious, capital H. However, the funniest thing about the outfit is that Mallory has the word “Mallory” on her jumper. As if she was going to forget her name. Or it was just to establish that this red jumper is hers and there is no debate about it. I’m surprised Claudia hasn’t worn a shirt that says “Claudia” on it, but there are still more than a hundred books to go.

But before her first BSC meeting, Mallory has to sit through school. That’s when we meet Jessi (or rather, Jessica) Ramsey – the new girl. She’s tall and has long legs and is awfully composed for a sixth grader. Later, during lunch, Mallory sits near some girls from her class.

“Can you believe that new girl?” Rachel sounded aghast.

“Who, Jessica Ramsey?” I replied.

“What do you mean ‘who’? Of course I mean Jessica Ramsey. Who else?”

I shrugged. “What about her?”

“What about her?” cried Sally, this girl I’ve never really liked. “Are you blind? She’s black.

I nearly chocked. “So?”

“Well, she doesn’t, you know, belong here.”

“Where?” I challenged them. “She doesn’t belong where?”

Sally shrugged uncomfortably. “Oh, I don’t know . . .”

You get ’em, Mallory. I was lukewarm on the eponymous jumper wearer but she does something that we should all be doing to bullshit racism. She challenges them. She makes them say what they mean to say. She puts horrible men who say nothing when their friend is gross to a waitress to shame and she’s in sixth-fucking-grade.

Also, wow, Stoneybrook. I thought this place was welcoming. Now I see you for what you really are. When I read this passage, I honestly thought they were going to have a problem with Jessi because they think she’s stuck up. I did not expect the blatant racism. Ann M. Martin is not fucking around.

During Mallory’s first BSC meeting, her “grown-up” outfit does not go over well. Also, Kristy sends Mallory on a trial baby-sitting job with Claudia at her Perkins’. Mallory also reveals that the Ramseys moved into Stacey’s old house. On the next meeting day, Mallory tones down the outfit (a sweatshirt that says “I’d rather be writing my novel” – something I would have killed for when I was a kid) and leaves for Claudia’s residence entirely too early. On the way there, she passes by Stacey’s old house to find Jessi and her siblings outside.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Mallory Pike . . . You probably know that. I mean, but I wasn’t sure. You must have met an awful lot of kids yesterday and today.”

“I have. But I remember your name.”

“I remember yours, too. Jessica. Jessica Ramsey.”

“Right.” Jessica grinned. “Call me Jessi, though.”

She has a little sister named Becca and a baby brother named Squirt (his real name is John Philip – they didn’t actually name their kid “Squirt”). Mallory and Jessi hit it off and Jessi tells her a joke:

“A farmer is driving down a highway and he sees a truck by the side of the road. It’s got a flat tire, and the driver, who is holding a penguin, looks really upset, so the farmer pulls up and says, ‘Can I help you?’ And the driver says, ‘Oh yes, please. I’m taking this penguin to the zoo. It’s right down the road. Could you take him there for me while I wait for the tow truck?’ The farmer says, ‘Sure,’ takes the penguin, and drives off. The next day the driver is going down a street and he sees the farmer with the penguin. ‘What are you doing?’ he cries. ‘You were supposed to take that penguin to the zoo!’ The farmer smiles. ‘I did,’ he answers, ‘and he had so much fun that today I’m taking him to the circus!'”

Okay, Jessi. Not a bad goof, especially for a sixth grader. And definitely funnier than Louis C.K. Sorry, it’s true.

Jessi invites Mallory up to her room and they bond over horse books and more jokes. It’s sweet and Jessi is cool. I was always ambivalent about both Mallory and Jessi when I was a kid, but I think I was just forced to be selective in my book buying. I couldn’t get every book, so I clung to specific baby-sitters (Mary Anne, mostly) so I could easily choose which books to get. Now that I’m an adult and I can buy as many as my budget allows, I can see the merit of Mallory and Jessi.

Later Mallory shows up to the next meeting and is greeted with a bit of news: she is going to have to take a test administered by the BSC. You know, totally normal things that all babysitters have to go through with questions like, “At what age does a baby cut its first tooth?” Mallory answers, “Eight months,” but Kristy says she’s wrong. The age when a baby cuts its first tooth is seven months. Because that one month is so different. Also, “What is the difference between creeping and crawling?” What I’m getting at is that the test they administer is unfair, especially when the other babysitters didn’t have to take such a test. Did Dawn take this test when she joined? No. They only administer this test to Mallory. She (rightfully) becomes frustrated with them, but there’s still hope: her trial baby-sitting job with Claudia.

Did you actually think that would go perfectly? There would be no book if everything went well. The first thing Mallory does wrong is ask Perkins’ what they want to eat. Claudia says, “Just give them something – something healthy. That way, there won’t be any arguments.” Which is fine advice but Claudia didn’t have to sound go haughtily about it, Miss I-Hide-Candy-In-A-Bag-Behind-My-Dresser. Then Mallory drops a glass and it breaks. Lastly, Mallory lets the dog in and he causes a raucous. After each minor infraction, Claudia chastises her.

During the next meeting, they agree to let Mallory join the BSC . . . if she goes through yet another test. Mallory refuses to take another test, as she should, and storms out of the club, bringing us to the second act.

Mallory and Jessi bond over more books the next day at school. Then Jessi says that no one at school has talked to her. Her sister is also having trouble making friends. In fact, the whole town isn’t talking to the Ramseys. Jessi can’t even join a ballet troupe in Stoneybrook for fear of making everyone mad.

“I’m even thinking of not taking dancing lessons here. I don’t know if it’s worth it. Can’t you just imagine it? They’d hold auditions for a ballet, but they’d never give me the lead, even if I was as good as Pavlova.”

“Who’s Pavlova?”

“This famous ballerina. You know what would happen if they did give me the lead?”

“What?” I asked.

“Everyone would be upset that a black girl got it instead of a white girl.”

That’s absolute bullshit, but it’s absolutely true. Remember when they cast Amandla Stenberg as Rue? And they were great! And that character was actually black! Remember the bullshit when Zazie Beetz was cast as Domino? That was perfect casting, and she was great, also, and people still got pissed that she got the part. Jessi is right. Jessi tells it like it is. Jessi also has horses and jokes. Nowadays, she’d have a popular horse comedy podcast.

But it’s the late ’80s and podcasts haven’t been invented yet and so Mallory and Jessi decide to start their own babysitters’ club because that’s what keeps happening in Stoneybrook.

It’s called Kids Incorporated and the idea is that you get two babysitters for the price of one. They only get one job – for the Pikes. While Dawn is on another babysitting job, she sees Mallory and a girl she doesn’t know (Jessi) babysitting the Pikes and tells Kristy. Kristy calls the Pikes “their best customers” and sees Kids Incorporated as a threat.

Meanwhile, Jessi is accepted into an advanced ballet class in Stamford so that’s nice. What’s not nice is how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook. Mallory remembers that Stacey’s family had people over every day welcoming them into the neighborhood, but not the Ramseys. That’s some stone-cold racism right there.

While Mallory and Jessi babysit Becca, they blow bubbles on their front porch.

Becca made another bubble, and another.

At the house across the street, the door opened and a face looked out.

Becca made a fourth bubble.

A little girl stepped onto the porch.

Becca made a fifth bubble.

The girl tiptoed down her front stoop and halfway across the lawn to watch Becca and her bubbles.

“Look,” I said, nudging Jessi.

“I know,” she whispered.

The girl reached the street, crossed it carefully, and ran to Becca. “How do you do that?” she asked. “Those are the biggest-”

“Amy!’ called a sharp voice. An angry looking woman was standing on the porch across the street.

Amy turned around. “Mom?”

“Come here this instant,” said her mother stiffly. Then she went back in the house, slamming the door behind her.

It’s this simple scene that shows that racism is learned not inherited. It’s a powerful message to kids: you don’t have to share the same prejudices as your parents. And we see the direct result of that woman’s racism when Becca is crestfallen.

She thought she was going to make a new friend in a town that has been nothing but cold to her. Let’s hope that the mother didn’t want young Amy to play with Becca because a bubble killed her father or something. “Don’t play with bubbles! You know what happened to your father and I can’t have that happen to you, too!”

Or we could just face the fact that Stoneybrook has a dark underbelly. We only see glimpses into the city’s connections with the mob, the orgies that all the parents go to that warrant competing babysitting companies, and the racism, but the clues are there – Stoneybrook, the epitome of American suburbia, is a synecdoche that reflects the problems endemic with American culture.

Or I’m reading too much into the book series aimed at the tween set.

Eventually, the BSC realizes that they were being silly and invite Mallory to officially join the BSC – no more tests. To Mallory’s credit, she insists they take all of Kids Incorporated – including Jessi. Like Michael Scott in The Office when Dunder-Mifflin wanted to buy out The Michael Scott Paper Company and he insisted they take Ryan and Pam as well. The BSC accepts a full takeover and Kids Incorporated is dissolved into the BSC. Good thing since Kids Incorporated wasn’t doing very well. Again, just like that Office episode. Before she accepts, Jessi brings up an important concern.

“But a lot of families around here don’t seem, um, they don’t seem to like me. Because I’m black. So I’m wondering – what if your clients don’t want me to sit for them? I mean, that’s not going to help you at all. It might even hurt the club.”

Oh, god, Jessi! My sweet Jessi!

Kristy says that basically, if they don’t want Jessi to sit for them because she’s black, then Kristy doesn’t want to sit for them. The BSC has two new members, Jessi has some new friends, and even Becca becomes friends with Charlotte Johannsen.

As a kid, I was so lukewarm on Mallory while reading these but this introduction to both Jessi and Mallory is a good book. Martin does a good job confronting racism in this kids’ book without sugar coating it or making it too hard for kids to understand. I like how Mallory doesn’t take any shit from her “friends” about Jessi’s skin color and she helps her even when the BSC sound a little ignorant about how Jessi has been treated. (There is a brief scene where Mary Anne can’t believe that Jessi has been treated poorly, but Mallory tells them about the bubble-fearing woman and how no one has welcomed the Ramseys into Stoneybrook.) As far as I’m concerned, Mallory is cooler than me when I was eleven and she probably wouldn’t have given random older girls all their money, unlike this other person I know. You don’t know her. She lives in Canada. I mean, it’s just a story I came up with. A story about a girl who lives in Canada. I swear I’m not talking about me. Her name was . . . Blamy.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #1: Baby-sitters on Board

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye

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

Separation is difficult, especially when you’re a child and another city might as well be another country. If your best friend moves to another city, it’s not like you can’t just jump in your car and see her. More so twenty years ago before text messaging and video chat. You had to write letters if you wanted to stay in touch. And there was only one phone per house, so you were relegated to an hour of phone time a week with your best friend.

This is the future of Stacey and Claudia in The Baby-Sitters Club #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye. Why Ann M. Martin decided to separate the girls only to have Stacey return is beyond me, but this book is nevertheless sad and bittersweet. Charlotte genuinely moved me in this book, but there’s some weird shit in this one.w

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

The Baby-Sitters Club #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye
Honey! Those McGills are leaving. Good riddance, Phil, they kept their car on the lawn and the HOA wouldn’t tell them to park it in their driveway.

Stacey’s books usually start with food. In this one, she’s having a dream reminiscent of Homer Simpson’s imagined land of chocolate. There are three Stacey characteristics: she likes math, she likes boys, and she has diabetes. This book starts with her Tootsie Roll craving. It eventually goes into the usual describing of the BSC members, complete with the need to tell us that Claudia is Japanese and that she and Stacey are more sophisticated than Kristy and Mary Anne.

The important early complication occurs during a family dinner, where her parents have some news.

“All right,” [Dad] went on. “This is the truth. Do you remember when my company opened the branch in Stamford?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Right before we moved here.”

Dad nodded. “Well, the new branch isn’t doing well at all. The company decided to get rid of it-”

“Oh, no! You lost your job!” I cried. Frantically, I began to calculate how much money I had saved from baby-sitting jobs, and how far it could be stretched.

“Not quite,” said Dad. “They’re coming the Stamford branch with the Boston branch. And I’m being transferred back to New York.”

Stacey tells Claudia that her family is moving back to New York, so the girls have an impromptu sleepover. They come up with what they think is a great idea: Stacey can move into the Kishi household, taking the spare bedroom, allowing Stacey to stay in Stoneybrook. Stacey’s parents object to the idea – they need to watch Stacey’s food intake and they would miss her. Claudia’s parents don’t want to be responsible for someone with diabetes (cool thinking, Mr. and Mrs. Kishi).

The next day, Stacey calls an emergency meeting of the BSC to announce that her family is moving.

If we hadn’t been sitting smack in the center of the Stoneybrook Middle School cafeteria, I’m sure all five of us would have started wailing away. As it was, we were pretty close. Mary Anne (who cries easily) picked up her napkin and kept touching it to the corners of her eyes. Dawn put her fork down and began swallowing hard. Kristy (who rarely creis) bit her lip and stared out the window. I didn’t do anything except not look at Claudia, but even so I knew she was not looking at me, too.

After a moment, I said, “Your enthusiasm is underwhelming.”

That brought a few smiles, at least.

I laughed. I thought it was kind of funny.

The BSC spends some time reminiscing about things that happened in previous books, like when Mary Anne and Stacey took the Pike kids to miniature golf, when Charlotte and Stacey were scared by Charlotte’s dog, and when Stacey took Kristy’s cousins to the movies. Riveting stuff. I’m being a little reductive, but that is, essentially, what they remembered.

When Stacey leaves, the rest of the BSC plan to have a Going Away Party for Stacey. However, they don’t have enough money to throw a good party. They need to get to a-baby-sittin’ if they want to have enough money to throw Stacey an early-’90’s style teen party. Luckily, Stacey gives them a solution.

Apparently, the McGills have accumulated a house full of stuff they don’t need – just like real upper-middle-class suburbanites. They can’t take all their crap with them to New York City, so Mrs. McGill lets the BSC sell stuff at a yard sale and they are allowed to keep any money they receive. Good, that plot complication is done and dealt with, long before it could be interesting.

Meanwhile, over at the Pikes’ house, the Pike children (minus Mallory) are playing spies, with Jordan as J. Edgar Hoover in this mini-CIA. They have new neighbors, the Congdons, and the Pike children believe those outsiders are up to something. The Pike parents didn’t instill a sense of welcoming to outsiders in their children, did they? Just like proper upper-middle-class suburbanites who may or may not be involved with the mob.

Let’s get back to the Sixteen Candles-style teen rager the BSC is planning for their boy-crazy friend. They come up with fliers with catchy rhymes to advertise the yard sale. They rummage through mounds of crap to price things. We learn that Dawn doesn’t know what to price things because, as she says, “People in California don’t have yard sales.” No, Dawn, or should I say, actual writer Ann M. Martin who clearly grew up on the east coast, people in California do have yard sales. They’re just filled with surfboards, hacky-sacks, and they’re all celebrities so all their stuff is autographed.

There’s a side plot with Morbidda Destiny and Karen and bunch of neighborhood kids. Morbidda gives them lemonade and is perfectly nice. Ugh. Not interested. Moving on. Need to get to Kid ‘n’ Play in House Party.

Stacey baby-sits for Charlotte – her favorite charge. We get this heartbreaking scene.

“I have to tell you soemthing, Charlotte. We’re moving again.”

Charlotte wrenched her neck around and peered at me. “What?”

“We’re moving back to New York in a couple of weeks.”

“You mean you’re leaving Stoneybrook? You’re leaving me?”

I nodded. I watched Charlotte take in the awful information. She looked like she ahd just swallowed horrible medicine.

Iggy’s House slipped to the floor as Charlotte put her head in her hands and began to cry.

“I’m really sorry, Char,” I said. “I don’t want to go. But my dad’s job is changing. We have to move.” I wrapped my arms around Charlotte, and she let me hold her for several moments. Then suddenly she leaped up and started shouting. “I hate you!” she cried. “I hate you! You’re mean! I thought you liked baby-sitting for me.”

Fucking harsh, but I have to remember that this is the ’90s. There was no video chat. There was no texting. If you wanted to call long distance, you had to have a calling card and it cost a dollar a minute. Now, the only people who call me are the helpful Pakistani employees of “Visa Mastercard” who just want to lower my credit card rates and all I have to do is give them my credit card number, my name, the number on the back, my social security number, the hospital where I was born, my mother’s maiden name, my father’s first girlfriend, my grandmother’s favorite cigarette type, the first name of the third friend I made in third grade, my sister’s licence plate number, my thoughts on Sioux Falls, and my partner’s DNA.

Getting back to Charlotte and Stacey, their only hope is to become pen pals and that’s impossible to maintain. Name a pen pal that you’ve had for longer than a year. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Cool. You thought of one? Now think of another. Yeah. I thought so. And Charlotte would have to compete with Claudia. Who would you rather receive letters from? An 8-year-old with a shy streak, or a crazy judgmental person who is on the brink of murdering her family and painting her walls with their blood? (That went dark but you can see it. Her family would die but, on the bright side, they would be a part of some beautiful art, especially when compared to the shit that other murderers have created. That’s right, Gacy! I’m calling you out!)

There’s a bunch of yard sale shenanigans, including a scene involving Kristy and the Barretts attempting to sell their stuff on their own. They don’t sell anything and, instead, show up to Stacey’s yard sale and sell their wares.

And speaking of Stacey’s yard sale, the BSC has one. People show up. Charlotte and Stacey make up. It’s successful. Now we can get on with the plot.

What kind of party is the BSC going to throw for their favorite boy-crazy sitter? A rager on the levels of Sixteen Candles, complete with problematic Asian character falling out of a tree? How about the toga party in Animal House? This is Stacey after all and they did just make a ton of money at the yard sale. They have to go all out! Maybe it will be on the levels of the house party movie of my childhood: Can’t Hardly Wait. C’mon, BSC, it has to have boys! And lots of ’em!

The guests were not who I had expected at all. Claudia, Mary Anne, Dawn, Logan, and Shannon werethere, but the other guests were children . . . all the kids (except for babies) that our club sits for. As I looked slowly around at the grinning faces, I saw the eight Pikes – Mallory, Byron, Jordan, Adam, Vanessa, Nicky, Margo, and Claire; Jamie Newton; Myriah and Gabbie Perkins; Charlotte Johanssen; Buddy and Suzi Barrett; Dawn’s brother, Jeff; Kristy’s brother, David Michael; Karen and Andrew; Nina and Eleanor Marshall; Jackie, Shea, and Archie Radowsky; Hannie and Linny Papadakis; Amanda and Max Delaney; and even Jenny Prezzioso. (I guess they couldn’t really leave her out.)

Okay, so a couple things. First, it’s not really a teenage party, is it? You’d think boy-crazy Stacey would want a party with, you know, boys. Secondly, I’m glad they left out the babies, I guess? Third, she just spun around and counted the children who were there? As they’re grinning? If this were any other novel, the grinning would be menacing and they were planning to kill her and eat her. Lastly, shade on Jenny Prezzioso? Don’t throw shade on children, especially one that’s at the mercy of her overbearing mother.

There’s a cake for everyone and a smaller, sugar-free cake for Stacey, which I’m sure tastes exactly the same as the real cake. It also features a giant drawing of everyone’s houses. Cool. So, Stacey has to get rid of a bunch of stuff because she’s moving into a small apartment in New York City, and the BSC thinks it’s a good idea to give her a giant drawing that she has to take with her and hang somewhere in her limited space. Good thinking, BSC. I can see why you’re so successful.

Claudia Outfit Alert!

She was wearing a wonderful Claudia outfit – a purple-and-white striped body suit under a gray jumper-thing. The legs of the body suit stretched all the way to her ankles, but she was wearing purple push-down socks anyway. Around her middle was a wide purple belt with a buckle in the shape of a telephone. And on her feet were black ballet slippers.

I found my Halloween outfit!

The big day comes and Stacey has to leave, but not before a final goodbye from the BSC. Stacey also gives them business cards with her new address and phone number (JK 5-8761) and the words “The New York Branch of the Baby-Sitters Club.” Since I know that Stacey returns to Stoneybrook, that “JK” in her phone number seemed like foreshadowing, but this book was written in 1988. And, according to a brief letter at the back of the new books, Ann M. Martin intended for Stacey to stay in New York.

This book was fine. I felt for Charlotte, but I couldn’t read this book without the knowledge that Stacey returns. I also feel like the children should have said goodbye during the yard sale and a party closer to the one at the end of Logan Likes Mary Anne would be more appropriate for Stacey. One with classmates and music and dancing. And the giant picture is just not a good gift for someone trying to get rid of things. The whole book is about her trying to get rid of things – why gift her more things?

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #14: Hello, Mallory

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #5: Good Job, Mallory

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Oh, boy, this has this been a weird week for our second favorite eleven-year-old babysitter. It started with a letter from Mallory Pike.

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I didn’t realize when I entered Parable of the Sower as my favorite book, it would be read by an eleven-year-old who uses horse stationary. Sorry, Mal. But maybe it was fine, because she’s going to recommend it to Jessi . . . who is also eleven. This is the problem with a grown ass woman playing a game from the ’90s intended for her ten-year-old self.

Dawn writes in the journal to remind us of the current babysitting dilemma the BSC is dealing with.

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And Mallory thinks she has the perfect solution.

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Really, Mallory? Forcing children to watch something called “Tubb the Tuba” may have manifested a new set of problems? Look at my shocked face. And then she tries to play it off on me. “Don’t you think so?” Excuse me, don’t drag me into your problems.*

 

*I understand this is just a prompt to get kids writing, but we’re all pretending that these events are actually happening in this world and that Stoneybrook actually exists. Play into the fiction and stop taking things too seriously, would you? Until next time!

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Bad Dreams

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

I still read Bad Dreams and guess what?

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here came the question Maggie had silently predicted.

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

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

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

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

Should I avoid a fight and give it to her?

What should I say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the kiss ended, they were both breathless.

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

Then she glanced past him to the bedroom doorway.

And she saw that they were not alone.

Someone stood in the shadows, staring at them.

The girl from the dream!

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

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

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

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

Maggie was breathing hard now, and every muscle ached.

But the thought of losing hurt a lot more.

She silently commanded herself: Faster! Faster!

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

I’ve blown it! She thought.

She had never lost a really big race before.

Could she still win? It was now or never.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miranda!

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

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

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

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

“No, please tell me,” Maggie pleaded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But who are you?” Maggie demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You what?” Andrea shrieked.

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

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

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

“Shut up, Andrea,” Gena said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey

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

Complete candor up front – growing up, I had a difficult time relating to Stacey McGill. I had something in common with every other babysitter. I was Asian American and a daydreamer like Claudia Kishi and a west coast girl like Dawn Schafer. I had the responsibility of Kristy Thomas and the social awkwardness of my favorite Mary Anne Spier. My sister and I seemed like Abby Stevenson and her sister, although I was more Anna than Abby. I always had my nose between the covers of a book and wrote stories that I kept with me wherever I went like Mallory Pike. And finally, Jessi and I shared a sense of humor.

Stacey, on the other hand, was beautiful and boys liked her – neither of which were true about me. Stacey was distant and foreign to me – a gorgeous nymph in a waterfall that I would never reach with my misshapen body. Or, at the very least, she was a popular girl in my class who would never speak to me in the first place.

As I got older, the only thing I remembered about her was that she had diabetes. When I thought back on the series, I said to myself, “Diabetes must have been a bigger deal back then.”

After reading The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy Crazy Stacey, I still think, “Diabetes must have been a bigger deal back then.” But I also see something in Stacey – her unwavering belief in the best in people and vulnerability because of her belief.

SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON!

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #8 – Boy Crazy Stacey by Ann M. Martin – Someone wanted this to be #3 instead of #8.

The book opens with Stacey and Mary Anne promising the other members of the BSC to write every day and send them postcards. The Pikes are going on a trip to Sea City, New Jersey and they hired the two as 24-hour babysitters for the eight Pike kids.

Eight kids. Mrs. Pike doesn’t work. Two-story suburban house. Beach front vacation house. Seven kids and Mr. Pike’s mystery job.

He is clearly in the mob. He offed some stooly and his mob boss paid for a trip to Sea City, which is close to Atlantic City. That is the only explanation for his ridiculous life, even during the halcyon days of the 1980’s. How can a ten-person family where the mother doesn’t work possibly afford this vacation with two 24-hour babysitters? Illegally, that’s how.

But I digress. There are eight Pike children that Mary Anne and Stacey have to corral around Sea City. The youngest is Claire, 5, followed by Nicky, 8, Margo, 7, Vanessa, 9, the triplets Jordan, Byron, and Adam, 10, and finally, future BSC member, Mallory, who is 11. I had to write down all these children’s names, but Martin does make it easy for the reader to remember who is who. Mallory is the most mature one. Jordan, Byron, and Adam are little jerks. Vanessa rhymes all the times. Nicky wants to emulate his brothers, Claire is obnoxious, and Margo is miscellaneous. That’s how I kept track of them.

Stacey goes over a few of the items she’s bringing along with her to Sea City, one of which is something called “Sun-Lite.” Apparently, if her parents found out she had a “Sun-Lite” bottle, her Mother would murder her. I had no idea what “Sun-Lite” was and I still don’t. A Google search brings me to a lighting company. When I modify my search to add “hair” I get a Florida hair salon. From context clues, it seems to be some kind of bleaching agent. Ann M. Martin fails to explain what it is and this isn’t the last time I came across something I had never heard of.

Chapter 3 starts with our first handwriting section. Stacey asks if Kristy likes the postcard, which is apparently, “wild.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a “wild” postcard. Maybe if it had a nude lady on it. To be fair, there isn’t a description of the postcard, so I guess it could be a nude lady. If you’ve seen a “wild” postcard, let me know in the comments.

The chapter is the car ride from Stoneybrook to Sea City – including a scene where Mr. and Mrs. Pike exchange instructions. Now he’d just plug in the ice cream stop into his phone and follow the directions. Some of the children get sick, sending me into flashbacks. The Pikes have a puke bucket. My family had a puke can.

At the end of chapter three, we are greeted with a lovely passage.

“The Pikes fell into silence as we entered Sea City. They looked awed, and I could see why. Their senses were suddenly overloaded with great kid stuff: the smell of hotdogs and fried food and the sea air, the sounds of the waves and of kids shouting and laughing and calling to each other, but mostly the sights. We passed Trampoline Land and miniature golf and souvenir stands. We passed stores and restaurants and ice-cream parlors. And in the distance was a boardwalk with arcades and a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster and probably plenty of head-spinning rides. And beyond all that gleamed the ocean.”

I was in. The description was exactly what I thought a family destination called Sea City would be. The exception is “Trampoline Land.” I hated the name and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Just an unsafe trampoline in the middle of the beach? This was obviously a time before trampoline misuse amputation. It doesn’t really matter, the children never venture into Accident Waiting to Happen Land.

Chapter 4 is where Stacey meets Scott, the handsome lifeguard. Stacey is instantly smitten, like any 13-year-old girl. What girl hasn’t fallen in “love” with a much older boy? Usually, the admiration is from afar where a girl can daydream about him from a safe distance. However, Stacey actually talks to him after Claire cuts her foot on a shell and Scott the lifeguard has to patch her up. Scott the lifeguard says to Stacey, “I’ve been noticing you.”

I was nauseated. Stacey is thirteen. Thirteen! We learn later that Scott is eighteen-years-old. He is an adult. He is an adult who should know not to pick up girls who have just been introduced to the idea of different teachers for different classes.

I don’t blame Stacey – she’s just a girl with a crush. I blame him. He should know better. He should have just shrugged off her affections and got back to work making sure the beach is safe. Instead, he sends her on food runs only to garnish her with the useless trinket of his summer job – a five cent whistle – and pet names like “babe,” “cutie,” and “princess.” Mary Anne remarks that the gift is stupid. I concur, gurl, I concur.

Stacey spends so much time with him that Mary Anne remarks on page 72:

“You’re getting paid as much as I am,” said Mary Anne in a huff, “and I’m doing all the work.”

Mary Anne is right. While Stacey is off fetching sodasfor an adult man and giving him googly eyes, Mary Anne is with the children, watching over them and keeping them from venturing too far into the ocean. You know, doing the job Mr. and Mrs. Pike paid both of them to do.

Mary Anne and Stacey take the children to miniature golf. This was a bizarre passage. Martin takes the time out to explain miniature golf pars, but not “Sunlite,” “Noskate,” or “lipcoat.” The next chapter is a supplemental chapter featuring Kristy’s baby-sitting adventure. It mentions an “estate sale.” So, a kid may not know what “par” means, but would totally know what an “estate sale” is?

On the other hand, I love the postcards. The contrast between Stacey and Mary Anne’s approaches to the cards is stark and the way they write to other baby-sitters separates how they feel about the other characters. The cards are full of personality. They also tend to foreshadow the chapter. I genuinely enjoy the handwritten bits and I hope I feel the same way in the other books.

In chapter 10, we finally have the fall. Mr. and Mrs. Pike give Stacey and Mary Anne the night off, so the girls go to the boardwalk. We have another term I don’t understand – pedalpushers, which I just Googled and discovered that “pedalpushers” is another word for “capris.”

While on the boardwalk, Stacey discovers Scott making out with some other girl – a girl who is his age and obviously his girlfriend. Stacey is devastated.

The next day, Stacey doesn’t want to go anywhere. She spends the day with Byron, who has been having trouble relating to his brothers. Byron reveals he is afraid of the water. Stacey helps him get over his fear in a lovely scene in which they go for a walk. Stacey comes to the realization that Scott never loved her, but she’s more effusive about it than I was.

“I decided that Scott really did like me, but just as a friend. Or maybe even just as a cute kid.”

No, Stacey. He is an adult. He should have known better. He’s an adult man who took advantage of a child.

At the end of the book, Stacey and Mary Anne hang out with two boys who are appropriate ages. In the background of the book, Mary Anne met a boy named Alex, who was watching over his brothers and sisters. He has a cousin named Toby. Stacey and Toby hit it off. Here we have my favorite outfit of the book:

He was wearing plain white swimming trunks, but his shirt was amazing – tan with silly pictures of cowboy boots and cactuses all over it. And his sunglasses – black bands with narrow slits from side to side to see through.

So our Toby is a futuristic cowboy.

Mary Anne and Alex and Stacey and Toby go on a group date. The group splits and Stacey and Toby go on a Tunnel of Love.

For the record, I have never seen an actual Tunnel of Love ride in my life, but this is a popular trope.

In the Tunnel of Love, Toby kisses Stacey in a sweet first kiss scene. This old asshole smiled when I read it.

The girls say goodbye to their summer romances and return to Stoneybrook, where I’m reminded of how insane Stacey’s parents are. Sure, she had a ridiculous crush, but she took her medicine and ate responsibility. Stacey is a good person who has a disease that she treats with the severity it deserves. Her ability to navigate life with an intrusive disease is commendable and her parents should lay off a little.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I have a few issues.

I wish Stacey realized that Scott was taking advantage of her, but I don’t think Stacey is the kind of person to feel anger so quickly. She believed the best in Scott, even though he never earned that belief. She’s a better person than me.

Also, Martin explains the things like diabetes and what a par in miniature golf is, but not what why Stacey’s parents don’t want her hair lighter, what “noskate” is (I Googled that one, too, to no avail), and other weird products. What are we supposed to know beforehand?

The handwritten parts were always a treat and I think it has a good message about expectations and responsibility. Kristy’s interlude was fun. Most of all, I’m happy to get to know Stacey bitter. Maybe this time around, I’ll find more common ground with the Treasurer of The Baby-Sitters Club.

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