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 – 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 – Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear

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

The original Fear Street novels were too tame for my sixth-grade self. I craved more blood, more mayhem, more murder. Something shocking. Something that pushes what can be done in YA fiction. Something with more petticoats.

I preferred the spin-off series Fear Street Sagas to the original Fear Street and served as historical fiction. These books went into Shadyside’s tumultuous past, and the infamous Fier (later spelled Fear) Family, starting with Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear.

Technically, this isn’t the beginning. There is a trilogy that comes before these, but I’m not reviewing those today. Instead, I’m starting where the trilogy ends, with the newly widowed Nora Goode trapped in an insane asylum, where all good horror starts.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear
If that haircut doesn’t warn her to stay away from Creepy Eyes Brown Suit other there, then I guess nothing will keep her away.

Nora Goode married Daniel Fear and the whole family, save Nora, died in a tragic fire. (These names are not subtle.) Nora claims that the fire itself was malicious. For some 1900’s reason, that’s enough to send a pregnant woman to an insane asylum. Back then, they threw women in asylums for being too mouthy, so this is absolutely believable.

What’s unbelievable is that the asylum thinks that giving an infant to a 12-year-old, who is also a patient, is an acceptable practice, but that’s what they do while they keep trying to convince Nora that the face she saw in the flames was a hallucination. She tries to escape by making a rope out of her hair, but she is caught and they cut off her hair.

Eventually, the asylum plans to take her child, Nicholas, away from her and give him to a family that “has agreed to pay [the doctor] a large sum for a male child.” Nora resists, fighting orderlies that try to pull her away from her son’s cradle. Just as the doctor takes Nicholas from the cradle, the amulet that Nora received as a wedding gift from Daniel glows.

The fire crackled and blazed. The flames grew higher and higher. They reached past the hearth. They climed the wall. The flames lapped greedily at the ceiling. They grew higher until all Nora could see was a wall of fire.

A man emerged fromthe writing flames.

“Daniel,” Nora gasped.

Her husband had come back from the grave.

“Come and join me, Doctor,” Daniel rasped. He reached past Nora and drew the doctor into the raging inferno.

Screaming, the doctor fell to his knees. His eyes bulged. Bulged out farther and farther. Then, with a moist pop, his eyes flew from their sockets and rolled across the floor. They hissed as flames devoured them.

There’s the bloodlust I craved in middle school! That was what the regular Fear Street books were missing: ridiculous body horror and talking fire ghosts.

Nora escapes with Nicholas as the asylum burns down. They stow away on a boat, where Nora eats a rat to survive. That’s a fun scene. She is discovered and the crew thinks she is a witch. Then the boat sinks. They are adrift at sea, but eventually wash up onshore. Somehow, she still possesses the amulet.

She turned it over and read the inscription: DOMINATIO PER MALUM.

“Power through evil,” Nora whispered. “Your father gave this to me as a symbol of his love, Nicholas. The amulet was special to him, because it had been in his family for a long time.”

Nora sighed. “Your father’s family had power and money. But they paid a heavy price. They let evil into their lives, and it destroyed them.”

Nora stared down into the ocea for a long moment. “I do not want that evil to be a part of your life, Nicholas. I do not want you to suffer the same fate your father did.

The amulet felt heavy in her hand. Heavy and warm.

Nora brought her arm backand flung it into the calm sea.

Relief swept through her her. She hugged Nicholas. “Now the Fear evil cannot touch you.”

Nora stared down into her baby’s face. “We are going to start a new life – with new names. From now on, we will be known as Nora and Nicholas Storm.”

And that’s how the book ends.

I’m just kidding. That’s just the end of part one. We get a huge time jump – eighteen years. Nicholas Storm is a fisherman who hates fish. He is also a fisherman who loves a woman named Rosalyn. However, they can’t get married because Nicholas isn’t worth enough money for Rosalyn’s strict father. Also, his mother, our original protagonist, Nora, dies as she was telling him about his father, her last words being, “Your father left you a legacy of…”

So Nicholas goes off to find his legacy so he can someday marry Rosalyn. He leaves Shadow Cove, where he was living, and what do ya’ know, he ends up in Shadyside after a man who looks a little like him yells, “Shadyside!” and disappears. Because that’s how you choose where you want to figure out your life. You wait for a ghost that vaguely looks like you to shout a location and then you buy your ticket. Also, Rosalyn gives him her good luck charm – an amulet she found on the beach, one with some Latin on the back. It’s the amulet her mother threw into the ocean if you haven’t figured that one out.

In Shadyside, he finds Fear Street and thinks about its “strange name.” He stumbles across a huge, dilapidated, burned house. The house “whispers” to him so he decides to enter the house. A woman yells at him, “Daniel Fear! You’re supposed to be dead!” And then she attacks him with a knife.

Instead of running away and giving up this stupid quest, like any other human, he sticks around and asks her questions about the people who used to live there. She starts to cry and says that he ran off with his wife, Nora Goode. That’s enough for him to figure out that his mother changed her name to Nora Storm and his father is Daniel Fear.

Lightning lashed. “I know who I am at last!” Nicholas cried over the booming thunder. “I am Daniel Fear’s son.”

He clenched his fists. “I am Nora Goode’s son!”

He threw his head back.

“I am a Fear!” he shouted. “Nicholas Fear!”

That’s what normal people do – they run into the rain and punch dance their name.

But Nicholas can’t move into the house. He rents a room from a woman and her daughter – a forward girl named Betsy Winter. The next day, he goes to a man, Mr. Manning, to talk about the inheritance he believes he is owed. The man laughs and tells him that there is no inheritance – just a bunch of back taxes on the land. But Mr. Manning owns a sawmill and hires Nicholas so he can get back on his feet. As he is leaving, an out-of-control woman runs into him while on a bicycle. She is Ruth Manning, Mr. Manning’s daughter.

At the sawmill, Nicholas meets his new co-workers – a fussy little man named Jason and a friendly hulking man named Ike. Both Ruth and Betsy show up at different times while they’re working to establish their overt feelings for Nicholas, and so Jason can get jealous over Ruth and be overly protective of Betsy. He is our red herring, after all.

Someone throws a rock at the back of Nicholas’s head with a note that he doesn’t belong in Shadyside. It’s hilarious. Who throws rocks like that? And to hit Nicholas without killing him, the thrower would have to be the weakest person and only a few feet away, which makes me wonder why Nicholas didn’t see who threw the rock. That or Nicholas has a very hard head.

While fixing up his wound, Betsy reveals that she is a Goode, but she doesn’t hate the Fears. This comes up later.

At the sawmill, Ike gets his fingers sliced off, Ruth expresses more interest in Nicholas, but he doesn’t return her affections, and Betsy also expresses more interest in Nicholas.

Later, Nicholas comes home and finds Betsy dead in the kitchen, tied up next to the stove.

He noticed something thick and white pushing its way out of her mouth. Nicholas dropped her wrist. He parted her lips and teeth.

The gooey white substance billowed out of her mouth.

Dough.

Nicholas checked her nose. Thick white dough filled it, too.

Someone had stuffed Betsy’s nose and mouth with dough. And left her by the stove with her hands tied behind her back.

As the dough rose, she suffocated.

This is how serial killers on The Great British Bake-Off kill people.

At the funeral, Jason says that they should be burying Nicholas, not his cousin. Jason warned Betsy not to get close to Nicholas and he believes that Nicholas killed Betsy. Jason threw the rock at Nicholas, and, since Betsy is a Goode, that makes Jason a Goode also.

Mr. Manning is also found dead. Ruth says that her father wanted her to marry Nicholas if anything happened to him, so he reluctantly agrees to marry her, just to help her during her grieving. He figures out that since Jason is a Goode, thinks he killed Betsy, and Mr. Manning liked Nicholas, Jason must have killed Mr. Manning.

It gets violent when he goes to confront Jason, but Ruth appears and stabs Jason in the throat. She reveals that if Nicholas doesn’t marry her, then she will tell everyone that Nicholas killed Jason, and no one would believe a stranger and Fear over the daughter of a beloved local businessman. Ruth also reveals that she killed Betsy to get her out of the way and killed her father to force Nicholas to marry her.

He gets married to her but plans to poison her after the wedding. However, Rosalyn (remember her?) shows up at his house and sees Ruth wearing the amulet that Rosalyn gave Nicholas. Ruth poisons Rosalyn with the poisoned drink that Nicholas was going to give to Ruth. It ends with Nicholas resigned to being with Ruth.

“Together, we shall make Fear Street all it was meant to be,” Ruth vowed. She ran her fingers over the words engraved on the back of the amulet. POWER THROUGH EVIL.

Nicholas gazed over at the remains of the Fear mansion. Yes, he thought. Soon everyone will know the name of Fear Street.

See that, kids? If you’re evil, you can make your dreams come true!

This is a fun book, even if it is ridiculous. It’s a promising start to a seminal series in my life. It even has a perfect horror movie ending, opening up the path for many, many sequels. The nonsensical plot and deus ex machina plot devices may make some roll their eyes, but I can’t help but love the melodrama, the reveals on reveals, and, most of all, the outrageous character deaths.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts

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 #16: The Costume Conundrum

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.

This week started with a letter from Mallory, who is always writing to me.

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The game asked me what my favorite game was and I said Final Fantasy VIII, which it is, don’t @ me with your undeserved love of VII. I don’t know how she won a 40-hour fantasy epic that is about true love in the face of witches, corrupt schools, and time travel, but okay. You won, Mallory. Sure.

Most of the BSC is still dealing with the “Hannie problem.”

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Maybe Hannie doesn’t want to celebrate Halloween. It’s her choice. Halloween is my favorite holiday, but I’m not going to make someone celebrate it. Unlike Abby, my love for Halloween doesn’t come from costumes. It comes from the one time of year people live the way I want to live all year around. There are haunted houses, horror movies, and cool decorations you can buy at Target and pop-up stores. I wish I could live like that all year around – haunted houses, horror movies every weekend, and buying skull decorations in July. (Okay, to be fair, I watch a horror movie (or horror TV show, what’s up, The Haunting of Hill House!) about once a week – even in May.)

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Why should Mrs. Papadakis buy a costume that her kid is only going to wear once? I understand that it’s a complete waste of money and resources.

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And just like that, once again, Mary Anne proves she’s the best babysitter. That’s an elegant solution to a non-problem.

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And just like that, once again, Claudia contributes so much to the conversation.

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #12: Send In the Grandparents!

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.

Consider the last episode of A Year With the BSC a cliffhanger!

When last we saw our babysitters, Abby was wondering when Grandparents’ Day is, and now we have our answer! Take it away, Kristy!

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Umm, that still didn’t really explain what Grandparents’ Day is. Maybe it’s a Connecticut thing. Hey, Connecticut, tell me if this is a thing there, would ya?

Also, I can’t believe that Kristy wrote in all-cursive-caps. It’s like she’s shouting at me. “Hey, little Amy, are you taking your grandparents to BRING YOUR GRANDPARENTS TO SCHOOL FOR SHOW AND TELL DAY, ya’ bitch!” “I was but now I’m scared you’ll give my grandmother a heart attack.”

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Yeah, Kristy, why didn’t you think about those of us who’ve lost our grandparents? I have never met my grandfathers but both of my grandmothers were involved in my life.

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Why did Stacey write this and not Kristy? Anyway, I guess it’s better than nothing. What about those kids who have no parents or grandparents, huh? They just go to school by day, work in an 18th-century factory by night, and have no relatives? What about those kids?

Jessi is here to change the subject.

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Man, a lot of parades in Stoneybrook. Every other book features a parade. And now more parades in The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. No joke. I haven’t seen a parade in, like, two decades. I think I was thirteen the last time I saw a parade. Also, it’s ironic that Claudia and the BSC did so much to get Sean Addison to appreciate his tuba, only to render it useless while he’s getting rained on.

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Yeah, Mary Anne, I read all about Kristy’s BRING YOUR GRANDPARENTS TO SCHOOL FOR SHOW AND TELL DAY. While children in other countries are learning second languages, geology, and painting, we’re listening to Grandma Ebby’s day at the fair.

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

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

My parents are not anti-vaxxers because they’re responsible parents. My sister and I are current with all our shots, no matter how hard it was to get us to sit down and actually take the damn shot. We used to cry and cling to our parents and engage in futile begging, but our tenacious parents still forced us to receive our shots. After it was all done, the pain a distant memory, we got a prize from the hospital.

That’s where I saw it – a green hand wrapped around a door. Leaves and vines grew around the hand as if something escaped the confines of the basement and was now poised to take over the upstairs. Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement by R. L. Stine sat on the highest shelf, most of which featured boys with dogs or girls with dolls. Maybe one or two with arm-crossed children rolling their eyes as their apron-clad mother held a rolling pin and chastised them. The hand stood out. The hand grabbed my attention. The hand scared me, but I needed to know what was happening.

Rereading this as an adult, I’m happy this one was my first Goosebumps book. My copy has the new cover that fails to live up to the original, but I’m still happy I own this scary book that holds up as fine children’s horror.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

GBStayOutoftheBasement
I realize this is the new cover, but Goodwill only has so many old covers.

Casey and Margaret Brewer are tired of their father’s excuses. They want to play Frisbee with him, but he’s always busy. And he’s been working every day since he moved his family out to California, a place that Margaret doesn’t like because it’s “the middle of winter; and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and Casey and I are out in jeans and T-shirts as if it were the middle of summer.” Oh no, how terrible it must be to have temperate weather in the second-best state in the union. (First is Nevada – don’t @ me.)

Margaret thinks that Mr. Martinez, their father’s boss, fired their father for some experiments that went “wrong.” She gets curious and encourages Casey to come with her to find out what their father is doing deep in the basement. When they halfway down the basement stairs, their father appears.

He glared up at them angrily, his skin strangely green under the flourescent light fixture. He was holding his right hand, drops of red blood falling onto his white lab coat.

Stay out of the basement!” he bellowed, in a voice they’d never heard before.

Both kids shrank back, surprised to hear their father scream like that. He was usually so mild and soft-spoken.

Stay out of the basement,” he repeated, holding his bleeding hand. “Don’t ever come down here – I’m warning you.”

I think the kids just slink away because the next chapter starts with Mrs. Brewer leaving to help care for her sister for a few days. She says she’s no worried about the kids, but is worried about Mr. Brewer, particularly that he will become so engrossed in his work that he won’t eat. The man himself appears, his hand bandaged despite it being a few weeks after he yelled at them. He takes their mother to the airport as Margaret’s friend Diane arrives for some adult-free childhood banter.

Diane is also the one who dares Margaret to go into the basement, because what’s a Goosebumps book without some kids daring each other to do some stupid shit. I remember being a kid. We always dared each other to do stupid shit. It’s the most realistic thing in the series.

In the basement, they find a “rain forest.” It’s so hot and humid that Casey decides to take off his shirt and drop it on the floor, just like an actual kid. That’s when they notice a tall treelike plant actually breathing. Casey touches it and he goes into convulsions!

Of course, it’s just a prank. At least the fake out is at the end of chapter three when I’m already invested, instead of the first chapter. The children think the plants are moving and they decide to go back upstairs. They think that their father will never know they were down there, but Casey remembers that he left his t-shirt on the floor.

Casey goes back into the basement to retrieve his shirt, but their father comes home. Margaret is standing at the top of the stairs, urging her brother to return before their father walks through the door. He grabs his shirt but some tendrils grab him. It’s not a trick. Actual tendrils grab Casey. They wrestle free, but not before their father catches them.

They insist they didn’t touch anything and while their father is disappointed, he is not stark-raving mad. They ask their father about the weird plants, but he refuses to explain their bizarre appearance and behavior to them. The next morning, Margaret finds a lock installed on the basement door.

Dr. Brewer is working so hard to impress his boss, Mr. Martinez, and prove that the university was wrong to fire Dr. Brewer. However, Margaret clings to her idea that something is askew, especially since she sees his research as putting his career ahead of his children, something he hasn’t done before. Her suspicions are exacerbated when she sees him devour something from a bag “greedily” and stash it under the sink before returning to the basement.

When she was sure he had gone downstairs, Margaret walked eagerly into the kitchen. She had to know whather father had been eating so greedily, so hungrily.

She pulled open the sink cabinet, reached into the trash, and pulled out the crinkled-up bag.

Then she gasped aloud asher eyes ran over the label.

Her father, she saw, had been devouring plant food.

Oh, shit, Margaret! The call is coming from inside the house! Get out of there!

She tries to confide in Casey her findings, but, like every shitty man, he doesn’t take her concerns seriously. There are more frustrating scenes wherein others excuse Dr. Brewer’s neglect as something he’s doing for the sake of his career while dismissing Margaret. This whole book is like a metaphor for women’s struggles. A young woman is supposed to just accept a man’s egregious behavior for the sake of his own interests even to her detriment. I feel ya, Margaret. We cuz.

While Margaret is growing up with a distant father, Dr. Brewer is growing green hair. He is also skulking around the house and scaring his daughter and is sleeping in a bed that is covered in earthworms and wet, black clumps of dirt. Finally, he tries to feed his children a strange substance bearing a resemblance to dirt. This is the straw that breaks Casey’s back, so to speak. He is finally curious enough to investigate the basement with Margaret.

They get their opportunity when Dr. Brewer leaves. In the basement, they find a jacket belonging to Mr. Martinez. They come to the conclusion that plants may have eaten the big boss man (the character in the book, not the wrestler), but their father insists Mr. Martinez just got hot and left his jacket. A few days later, they also discover Mr. Martinez’s shoes and pants, hurting their father’s theory that he just got hot. You don’t just take off your pants in someone else’s house, even the house of your subordinate.

During another excursion into the basement (and after some heavy lock destruction), they peer deeper into the experimental jungle.

She took a deep breath and held it. Then, ignoring the moans, the signs, the green arms reaching out to her, the hideous green-tomato faces, she plunged through the plants to the back of the closet.

“Dad!” she cried.

Her father was lying on the floor, his hands and feet tied tightly with plant tendrils, his mouth gagged by a wide strip of elastic tape.

“It can’t be Dad!” Casey said, still holding her by the shoulders. “Dad is at the airport – remember?”

She reached downand tugged at the elastic tape until she managed to get it off.

“Kids – I’m so glad to see you,” Dr. Brewer said. “Quick! Untie me.”

“How did you get in here?” Casey demanded, standing above him, hands on his hips, staring down at him suspicisously. “We saw you leave for the airport.”

“That wasn’t me,” Dr. Brewer said. “I’ve been locked in here for days.”

“Huh?” Casey cried.

“But we saw you-” Margaret started.

“It wasn’t me. It’s a plant,” Dr. Brewer said. “It’s a plant copy of me.”

Holy shit! It’s a plant! Metaphorically and literally! The story continues with a classic, “I’m your real father! Shoot him!” “No, shoot him! He’s the impostor!” only with a little girl holding an ax, which is my new aesthetic.

Margaret figures out who her real father is when she stabs the father from the basement in the arm. He bleeds red blood, so she hands him the ax. Then her real father cleaves the impostor in two! Take it back. A father who was held captive by a sentient plant cutting his captor in twain with an ax from his daughter is my new aesthetic.

In the end, the Brewers destroy the plants and return the equipment to the university, but R. L. Stine isn’t finished.

It’s so peaceful now, [Margaret] thought happily.

So peaceful here. And so beautiful.

The smile faded from her face when she heard the whisper at her feet. “Margaret.”

She looked down to see a small yellow flower nudging her ankle.

“Margaret,” the flower whispered, “help me. Please – help me. I’m your father. Really! I’m your real father.”

Fucking perfect. This book was perfect.

I’m happy this was my first Goosebumps book. I’m happy this was the book I chose from all the other books on that bookshelf at the doctor’s office. Thank you to whoever put that book on that shelf. This book started my lifelong love of all things scary and creepy. I’m even happier that this book holds up. I like the punniness. I like Margaret. I like the mystery. Everything about this book is perfect.

Stay Out of the Basement was the second book of the Goosebumps series and, especially with Welcome to Dead House as the first, I can see why this series is revered in the Pantheon of Young Adult Fiction, exactly where it should be.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #4: Happy Birthday, Claudia!

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.

It looks like Dawn is back from California.

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Dawn, I don’t really want to discuss my airplane experience. I’m more interested in why the plane ride was “great.” No plane ride has ever been “great” since the chairs stopped lining up with the windows. You know why they don’t line up, right, Dawn?

July 12th is Claudia’s birthday and the BSC gives her a sweet gift.

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That’s adorable and warms this old bitch’s heart. Even I am like, “Yeah, that sounds like something I’d like. It’s personalized and it will keep me warm.” Personalization and mild warmth – two things I like. Hey! You already have two patches!

But the Claudia Birthday Celebration has to end and she asks Kristy to babysit Rosie Wilder for her.

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Poor Claudia, but if you can’t spell “school,” you should probably be in a summer one. I’m sure Kristy is happy to take the job, but Claudia owes Kristy. Not just because it allows Claudia to study, but also because this babysitting job sounds insufferable.

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Yeah, the title of that book is Madeline. It’s the name of one of those twelve little girls, the main character, and you read it yesterday. I realize that it’s summer vacation, but that doesn’t mean you should allow your brain to atrophy over fourteen hours. You read all the books. And made Onion Soup – the one dish the French are famous for because when I think of the French, I think Onion Soup. Escargot, canapes, or those little pastry sandwiches never come to mind. I guess Onion Soup is more accessible to a child. That doesn’t excuse Kristy’s memory. I’m worried Kristy. You’re too young to be experiencing memory loss. I have a book by Mary Lou Henner I think you should read…

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Bad Dreams

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

I still read Bad Dreams and guess what?

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

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here came the question Maggie had silently predicted.

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

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

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

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

Should I avoid a fight and give it to her?

What should I say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the kiss ended, they were both breathless.

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

Then she glanced past him to the bedroom doorway.

And she saw that they were not alone.

Someone stood in the shadows, staring at them.

The girl from the dream!

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

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

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

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

Maggie was breathing hard now, and every muscle ached.

But the thought of losing hurt a lot more.

She silently commanded herself: Faster! Faster!

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

I’ve blown it! She thought.

She had never lost a really big race before.

Could she still win? It was now or never.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miranda!

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

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

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

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

“No, please tell me,” Maggie pleaded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But who are you?” Maggie demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You what?” Andrea shrieked.

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

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

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

“Shut up, Andrea,” Gena said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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