#6: Kristy's Big Day
by Amy A. Cowan, 2021-09-02
So far, I have written all of these retrospectives before Netflix's The Baby-Sitters Club series has aired. Those reviews, even the ones that came out after the show, were written without any knowledge about the new series and how it would change (and, in most cases, improve) on the original material. This review is different. I have crossed the threshold and there is no turning back. I have already seen and written about the new series. (Although, #8 through #17 I've written before I saw the series. I did these early ones out of order --- I started rereading the series before I decided to write about them.)
However, I am discussing the book --- not the episode of the excellent Netflix series (seriously, if you love the BSC, you'll love the new series). Maybe I'll get to that one day, who knows. Until then, it's time to put on a yellow dress and walk down the aisle, because Kristy's mom is getting married in this very special episode of The Baby-Sitters Club.
The Thomas/Brewer wedding was famous for having all the men in khakis, as a tribute to business casual.
Elizabeth Thomas is getting married to Watson Brewer in September, and she wants Kristy to be her bridesmaid. Kristy is excited to wear a dress and stand by her mother, which surprised me, as I always thought if Kristy was seen in a dress, she would combust. But you know, it's a special occasion and Kristy is happy for her mother. It's incredibly mature of her to put aside her clothing preferences for one day to make her mother happy.
However, there's a snag. Kristy's mother's company is sending her on a business trip the week of her wedding, and there's a new family that wants to buy Kristy's house and they want to move in next month. The wedding is not postponed --- no, it's moved up. Mrs. Thomas has to pack, move an entire family, and plan a wedding in two and a half weeks. I'd suggest getting the house ready to move, marry at the courthouse if it's that important, and postpone the wedding. However, I decided to postpone a trip to Disneyland and then Covid-19 hit and who knows when I'm going to see my buddy Hat Box Ghost again. I might not be the best person to ask about long-term planning.
The rest of Watson and Kristy's relatives are arriving early to help with the wedding, but they're also bringing a total of 11 kids (plus David Michael, Karen, and Andrew) with them. The kids can't be left on their own, but the parents are going to be busy with the packing and the planning and the preparation of the aperitifs. Well, the Baby-Sitters Club is to the rescue!
Since they're on summer vacation, many of their charges are also taking vacations. There's a big hole in their job calendar, so they step up and create what is essentially a day camp for the Thomas/Watson relatives --- a future BSC staple. Watson and future Mrs. Brewer (I'm assuming, I wouldn't want to be a Mrs., but since it's the '80s, I'm assuming Lizzie will take the title) will pay the BSC a total of $600 to watch over fourteen kids for a week --- $125 per BSC member. That is nothing to scoff at in 1987 dollars --- today it would be $1300 --- or about $260 apiece. But they're going to have to earn it, and the next few pages showcase just why these girls are worth more than a thousand bucks.
The first thing the girls do (after accepting the job, of course) is to list all the kids and their ages. Mary Anne organizes the list by age. Two of the kids are babies and Mary Anne volunteers to exclusively care for those two. The rest of the kids are split into groups of similar ages and are assigned to a baby-sitter. Then, the girls name each group with a color and a symbol and create name tags. Their corresponding baby-sitter will wear the same name tag and this allows everyone to know which group they're in. This also helps the babysitter remember the names of the kids. I was reading this book and two sentences after the list of kids, I already forgot all their names --- except the regulars David Michael, Karen, and Andrew. Katherine of the Yellow Suns? I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm pretty sure that's a team on Legends of the Hidden Temple. ("The Shrine of the Silver Monkey," Olmec echoes in my head forever.)
This level of organization is incredible. Seeing the girls work together is a highlight and an excellent example for girls to emulate.
On Sunday, all the relatives arrive and each kid gets a little introduction. Turns out David Michael and his cousin Berk are friends. Peter is carsick. There's a shy one who won't let go of her father's legs. I don't remember them all. I can barely remember the names of my favorite K-Pop group, and there are only five of them. How would I remember the names of fourteen kids whom I'll never see again?
Monday arrives and it's T-minus five days to the wedding and the first day of the Brewer/Thomas It's All Relative Day Camp (it's not called that, but it should be). Every parent who shows up gives a monologue about all their kids' various allergies. Poor Mary Anne has to stand there and write down everything. They all have nap times. I don't remember childhood-scheduled nap time. I don't remember ever taking a nap as a kid. And the only times I've ever taken a nap as an adult, I immediately regretted it moments after waking up.
When the parents leave, all the kids start to cry. Some because they're children and that's what children do. Maybe some of them are crying just to fit in. Anyway, the baby-sitters start to read to the kids and they all calm the fuck down.
The next day, they take the kids to various field trips around Stoneybrook. Just to name a few, Claudia takes her kids to the library, Stacey goes to the brook, and Dawn takes her kids to the school playground. Unfortunately, Dawn's group is Karen, David Michael, and Berk.
The three tell the other children at the playground about the Martians, who are coming to fight humans with ray guns. The other children run screaming and Dawn ushers her group away from the playground, or else face the horrific wrath of the playground counselor --- Fran. The kids are on their best behavior for the rest of the day.
Three days left to go and Stacey writes in the BSC Notebook,
> "I know you guys think I'm so sophisticated, since I'm from New York and my hair is permed and everything, but no kidding, my favorite movie is Mary Poppins."
Okay, Stace, like what you like. Mary Poppins is a fine movie to choose as your favorite. And I have no basis to judge you. One of my favorite movies, and the movie I've probably seen the most in my life, is Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. (My actual favorite movie is Spirited Away, in case you were wondering, which you weren't.)
Well, it just so happens that The Embassy, the local movie theater, is showing Mary Poppins. Stacey takes her group to see the movie and it doesn't go so well. First of all, one of the kids, Emma, forgets her money. Stacey calls Mary Anne and asks if the money is there. Mary Anne can't find it. Emma discovers her money in her pocket, but this, paired with the children getting snacks, makes them late for the movie. By the end, the kids spill their food and scream and are kicked out of the theater.
On Thursday, the boys of the camp all have to get haircuts. Mary Anne is tired of taking care of two babies, so she joins Kristy in this task. They take the kids after lunch when the kids are, hopefully, tired.
It does not go well.
The barber is overwhelmed, the boys ask for strange haircuts instead of the standard boring stuff appropriate for a wedding, and Kristy chastises David Michael and Luke when they act like brats.
The day before the wedding, it rains all day and the camp is moved inside. There's going to be a rehearsal dinner later, so the BSC gets the idea to put on a rehearsal for the rehearsal --- they're going to marry off Karen and David Michael. Not really of course --- it's not West Virginia (prove me wrong, West Virginia). The others volunteer for the remaining roles, including Luke as the minister and Berk as the bride's father (to give her away --- my thoughts on the antiquated idea of the father of the bride giving his daughter to another man as if she were a Buick is coming soon). While the ceremony takes place, the BSC takes pictures of the whole thing. Of course, when it comes to the kissing part, David Michael and Karen recoil in horror.
One more thing bad thing has to happen. While the children are getting dressed for the rehearsal dinner, all the clothes are mixed up. Emma moved the clothes around for some reason. Kristy punishes her by making her sit in a room by herself to think about the trouble she caused. That punishment never worked for me. All I thought was, "Oh thank God, I get to have some alone time." However, it does work for Emma.
At the end of the week, the BSC is paid, including a bonus of ten dollars each. Don't break the bank there, Watson, you're only the richest person in Stoneybrook.
The only thing that goes awry during the wedding is Karen screams when she sees Morbidda Destiny. This is addressed fantastically in the Netflix series. In the book, the parents just usher Karen away and pretend she didn't just scream at the neighbor.
Finally, as a wedding present, Kristy gives her mother and Watson a hand-drawn family tree.
I'm not a big fan of weddings, so a wedding episode of The Baby-Sitters Club doesn't appeal to me, especially when it involves old, rich, white people. What does appeal to me? I appreciated the extensive logistics conversations utilizing each baby-sitter's specialties. I like the personal drama, but it's better when the drama doesn't involve petty fights between the members of the BSC. The conflict should come from outside the club. Also, it should force the club to work together to make the world a better place --- even if it's just teaching a kid to behave better or giving respite to some stressed-out people who have no patience.
Either way, the girls earned that money and it's positive to display young women as smart and capable. The BSC was thoughtful in how they went about organizing the camp and they were responsible in how they interacted with the children. This book is an early BSC highlight and an excellent example of what made this series so special to millions of young girls (and a few boys) around the world.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.
#5: Dawn and the Impossible Three
by Amy A. Cowan, 2021-09-01
Sometimes I wonder how people function. I mean, how specific people function. They always ask you for a pen, as if the idea that they might have to take notes in class was sprung on them that day. When they arrive at the register, they have to dig through a pillow-case sized purse and they pour all the contents on the counter, as if they had no idea the cashier would ask for payment. This goes beyond absent-mindedness as this is a daily occurrence. Simple things that most of us are accustomed to (paying for things, taking notes, a basic level of preparation) in life come as a surprise to them. That might be nice while gliding through life, and they're probably happy in their little flighty head, but it's a huge inconvenience to everyone around them.
In Dawn and the Impossible Three, our favorite California Girl meets a person who needs a lot of help and Dawn doesn't seem up to the task.
Some books, a shoe, and a dog? What chaos!!!
The book starts with Dawn sitting at the Pikes'. Dawn goes over how her parents got divorced and her mother moved them across the country. Two little kids from down the street come over to play --- Buddy and Suzi Barrett. Dawn connects with them because their mother is also recently divorced. After her job is done, she is heading to the BSC meeting when she sees Mary Anne who yells, "Great news!" And we end the first chapter on a cliffhanger.
Did I accidentally read a Goosebumps book instead?
The cliffhanger is quickly resolved. Mary Anne says that her father is going to ask Dawn's mother out and he won't be there for dinner. I guess even Republicans have to date, as much as that idea makes me retch. Who the hell would date a Republican?
At the BSC meeting, the girls hand in their dues and decide to use the money to buy more stuff for the Kid-Kits. The Prezziosos, the Newtons, and the Brewers call. More importantly, there's a call from a new client! It's Mrs. Barrett and Dawn takes the job.
Saturday morning, Dawn goes over to Mary Anne's house primed with stuff for Mary Anne to go through in her endeavor to redecorate her room. Apparently, the Schafers brought a bunch of stuff with them that they were planning on selling. Why they didn't get rid of the stuff while still in California, instead of packing it all up, paying shipping fees, and unboxing it for the express purposes of a yard sale, I don't know.
Kristy catches wind of shenanigans in Mary Anne's room and the two shout at each other through their windows. Kristy comes over and acts hostile and jealous toward Dawn, refusing to speak directly to her and never laughing at her jokes. This behavior continues into lunch the next school day when Mary Anne and Dawn realize that they'll be sisters if their parents get married.
During Dawn's initial meeting with the Barretts, Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie, she makes a strict "no guns" rule. Good rule, but this is America, Dawn, and in America, we give guns to every God-fearin' white person who wants one because 2nd Amendment blah blah blah rights blah protection blah blah.
Anyway, Mrs. Barrett is discombobulated. She doesn't give Dawn a phone number to reach her in case of emergency ("call the Pikes, okay?"), something called "Pow" is waiting to get inside, and the baby needs stuff.
When she leaves and Dawn is in charge, Dawn learns that Pow is "the meanest dog who ever lived." He's a lethargic basset hound. So, a basset hound. Dawn figures out a way to trick the kids into cleaning the living room, the kitchen, and the playroom by turning it into a game where they have to break their previous record time. She bonds with the kids more regarding their mother's divorce. Suzi gets upset that her father isn't coming back and then she pees her pants. I don't think the two events are related, but that's the order in which they happened.
Mrs. Barrett returns and she calls Dawn the best baby-sitter she's ever had. Dawn is happy and says that if Mrs. Barrett needs Dawn to come over, she can call on her "any time." Dawn ends the chapter with the following ominous passage
> If I had only known then how often "any time" was going to be, I might not have spoken so quickly.
Meanwhile, Kristy babysits for Karen and Andrew and they all play this game called "Let's All Come In." Basically, they pretend to be hotel guests with outlandish personalities. Clearly, this is something Karen invented. It's not really a "game" if no one wins, but there are definitely losers in "Let's All Come In."
Karen's friend Hannie comes over and the games begin. Hannie pretends to be a woman named Mrs. Nowswimple, who is meeting with her husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor. Strange. Whenever I tell the hotel staff that I'm going to meet my husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor, I'm escorted off the premises.
While they're playing, the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Porter, a woman whom Karen thinks is a witch named Morbidda Destiny, comes over and asks for some fennel and coriander. You know, for a kid who pretends to be someone named Mrs. Mysterious (not Miss Terious, for some reason) and makes up stories about ghosts, Karen is awfully judgmental of her neighbor.
Later, in a surprise move, Dawn invites Kristy over. In an even more surprising move, Kristy accepts. They hang out in Dawn's barn and patch things up through swinging on the rope swing and talking about divorce. By the end of the chapter, they're friends, Dawn becomes the BSC's Alternate Officer (a person who fills in for any role if a member can't), and Kristy's jealousy doesn't rear its ugly head. Well, at least until the next BSC fight.
Dawn sits for the Barretts again --- this time during an all-day affair that starts at 8:30 in the morning. Claudia calls and suggests a lunchtime picnic with the Pikes. Dawn and the Barretts bake some brownies for the event and there are about four pages of baking. At the picnic, Jordan gives Nicky the Bizzer Sign, which is just pointing at someone and buzzing. The Pike kids created it to flip each other off without actually flipping the bird. Usually, you flip off your sibling behind your parents back and the idea is that they don't see it. The Bizzer Sign, however, is noisy --- it's obvious when you do it. Maybe it's more akin to saying "Shut up, shitbrains."
Anyway, when it's time for brownies, Mallory snatches the brownie from Marnie. Is Mallory just being a jerk? No. Mallory knows that Marnie is allergic to chocolate. This infuriates Dawn. Mrs. Barrett should have told her that Marnie can't eat chocolate. Dawn fully plans to address the issue with Mrs. Barrett, but when the forgetful mother comes home and notices how immaculate the house is, she gushes over Dawn. Dawn forgets any issues she had.
During another baby-sitting job for the Barretts, Mrs. Barrett warns that if her ex-husband calls, Dawn shouldn't let him talk to the children or tell him that Mrs. Barrett is out. Mrs. Barrett implies that Mr. Barrett is not holding up his end of the custody deal financially. When Mrs. Barrett sees that Buddy spilled pink water on Suzi, she looks to be on the verge of tears. Dawn insists that Mrs. Barrett get going and Dawn will take care of her moist child.
Dawn baby-sits for the Barretts "an awful lot" over the next couple of weeks and Mrs. Barrett's disorganization becomes a bigger issue. When Dawn needs to call her to let her know Suzi has a fever, Mrs. Barrett does not leave the phone number for the temp agency she's working with, but instead the number for "Hurley's Garage." This is a problem that wouldn't happen today, as Mrs. Barrett would just have a cell phone. But knowing Mrs. Barrett, she probably wouldn't charge her phone.
Dawn also helps Buddy with his homework --- a family tree. While Dawn can't tell him his family tree, she does help him put blanks for him to fill in with his grandparents and his aunts and uncles. When he comes to Dawn to let her know that he got a good grade, Dawn hugs him while thinking that it should be Mrs. Barrett hugging her son.
Meanwhile, Stacey babysits for David Michael, who is nervous about moving. On a tangential issue, Kristy doesn't know how she'll be getting to BSC meetings when she lives across town.
Dawn's mom sets up a picnic for her parents to meet Mr. Spier . . . again. Dawn invites the BSC, but only Mary Anne (obviously) and Kristy's families can attend. Also, the Barretts show up. There's some food stuff involving the Schafers driving to the grocery store because they don't have any red meat to serve people, but that's fixed relatively quickly. When everyone shows up, Dawn notices some tension between her grandparents and Mr. Spier. I sincerely doubt Mr. Spier was a rebel without a cause in high school, so I don't know why they have a problem with him. At the end of the picnic, Mrs. Barrett asks Dawn if she can babysit on Tuesday. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Dawn isn't free, but Mary Anne is there to take the job.
Mrs. Barrett rushes out of the house just as Buddy gives Suzi the Bizzer Sign, causing her to burst into tears. The kids are getting restless, so Mary Anne tells them to put on their bathing suits and "thongs" (the shoes, I'm assuming) and they go outside. There, Suzi and Buddy jump in the fresh puddles. Mary Anne calls this a "puddle walk" and it's a great way to get worms. She doesn't even make them shower when they get home --- they just have to change their clothes.
While Mary Anne is babysitting, Mr. Barrett calls to ask if he can speak with Suzi or Buddy. Mary Anne remembered Dawn saying something about not letting Mr. Barrett talk to the kids, so she tells them that they're at a friend's house. Mr. Barrett gets angry and slams the phone.
When Dawn babysits for the Barretts again, Buddy goes outside and throws a baseball around while Dawn gets Suzi and Marnie dressed. When she finally goes outside, Buddy is nowhere to be found. She calls the Pikes and asks if Buddy is playing with Nicky. No luck. The Pikes rush over, ready to search for Buddy. They try to contact Mrs. Barrett, but she's shopping and no one can reach her. Finally, Jordan Pike comes back from his piano lesson and says that he saw Buddy get into a strange car. He didn't say anything because he thought Buddy was going to a lesson of some kind because Jordan was going to his lesson at the same time.
Dawn panics as the Pikes enlist others to help search for Buddy and they call the police. The police interrogate Jordan, seemingly to the point of traumatizing the poor kid. They also go through the Barrett household, looking for clues. Yeah, I wouldn't trust the cops, but I guess Dawn doesn't think she has any other options. Dawn bursts into tears and her mother tries to console her. Dawn gets a phone call on the Barrett family phone --- it's Buddy. He's calling from a gas station. He says he got into his father's car, but he thinks he's not supposed to be with his father. Then the connection goes dead.
Mrs. Barrett comes home to find the police and neighbors swarming around the house. Not long after that, Buddy sheepishly enters the house and we get an explanation.
> Apparently, earlier in the week Mr. Barrett had become angry when he'd realized that once again, Mrs. Barrett had confused the dates and had forgotten that today was to be Mr. Barrett's day with Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie. He had decided to teach her a lesson. His plan was to come by on Saturday, simply take the children, and wait for Mrs. Barrett to figure out her mistake. So he drove over to the Barretts' house. There he found Buddy by himself in the front yard. At that moment, he decided that the easiest course of action would be just to take Buddy without bothering to look for the girls. So he did. He drove Buddy to an amusement park and took him out to lunch, but Buddy didn't seem to be enjoying himself. When he asked him what was wrong, Buddy said he was worried about me. He didn't think I knew where he was. That was when Mr. Barrett realized that Mrs. Barrett wasn't even home. Concerned about what a baby-sitter might do when she discovered that one of her charges was missing, he headed home immediately, stopping briefly at the gas station on the way. He'd tried to call before that, but had gotten only busy signals, and didn't even know Buddy had phoned until they were on the highway again. (Buddy had called while his father was in the men's room.)
Good Lord, Mr. Barrett. You think it's okay to just kidnap kids to teach their mother a lesson? No wonder Mrs. Barrett left you and you lost custody. You should lose unsupervised visitation also. "Hey son, if a bitch pisses you off, scare her into learning." It is not a husband's job to "teach her a lesson." I know she's scatterbrained, but that's no reason to treat her like one of the children of whom you lost custody.
After the whole kidnapping debacle, Dawn finally tells Mrs. Barrett that Dawn can't be a mother to her children and in order for Dawn to be a good babysitter, Mrs. Barrett needs to help her out with things like visitation and allergies and correct phone numbers. Mrs. Barrett promises to do better.
Mrs. Barrett is no angel, but Mr. Barrett's behavior is inexcusable. Mrs. Barrett is absolutely one of those people who needs a lot of help in life. However, her problem is fixable --- she should get into the planner lifestyle. Mr. Barrett should be a lonely divorced man who only sees his children while an actual adult supervises.
I wish the best for Mrs. Barrett and Dawn --- I really do.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.
#4: Mary Anne Saves the Day
by Amy A. Cowan, 2021-08-31
I'm conflicted when it comes to incredibly strict parents. My parents were pretty hands-off when it came to my sister and me --- as long as we got good grades, we were allowed to do almost anything we wanted without too much parental oversight. I firmly believe that this helped my sister and I determine who we are and what our values are because we were able to explore these topics without our parents' meddling. On the other hand, this made an environment wherein we (mostly me) made mistakes that were entirely avoidable if we had more guidance besides "it's your life, you need to decide for yourself."
As for stricter parents, I had a friend who lived with her grandparents and they were so strict that she wasn't allowed to watch PG movies and The Simpsons, as if one whiff of Bart Simpson would have her blaspheming the Lord and breaking windows. Despite this, when she became a teenager, and her mother regained custody, she rebelled in a major way that included drugs, drinking, and teenage pregnancy --- three things I didn't do in high school despite my parents letting me watch the wretched Lisa Simpson question authority and any rated-R movie I wanted.
I think it comes down to parents understanding their children --- some kids need rules and regulations, whereas others can thrive in a laissez-faire upbringing. Some need their parents to tell them that their school counselor, whom they have met exactly two times, doesn't know them well enough to suggest dorm life, because if they knew you well enough, they'd know that the dorms are the worst thing for an introvert.
Mary Anne of The Baby-Sitters Club has an incredibly strict father, and frankly, he's ridiculous. Mary Anne is the one member of the BSC who doesn't need any restraints, but it takes Mary Anne to exhibit wisdom beyond her years just for her father to treat her like a basic twelve-year-old. Let's get to it.
The true villain of this one is whoever chose that couch.
The first thing we learn about Mary Anne's father is that he forces her to wear her hair in braids each day paired with a corduroy skirt and sweater combo set. The thought of my father choosing my outfit when I was in the seventh grade makes me both laugh and fill me with dread. Laugh because my father would hate it. Dread because he could make me wear a pair of Levi's 501 jeans and a plain t-shirt with a pocket. That was his uniform and there would be no reason for him to alter it for his daughter. Anyway, Mary Anne's father really should have sent her to Catholic School if he wanted her to have such a constricting wardrobe.
By the end of the first chapter, the BSC is having a fight --- a common trope for the BSC. This time, it's about Kristy accepting a job without asking the others first. They all blow up at each other and storm out of the meeting.
Mary Anne's father also makes her eat dinner with him every night, including saying grace. My family tended to just eat at the same time because if we didn't, the food would be cold. The food is made when it's made and it's up to you to get to the table in time or heat it up later. During dinner, Mary Anne's father is a lawyer and he says that the case he's working on is of the utmost importance:
> "This case is interesting because it demonstrates the extreme importance of honesty in business dealings," he said finally. "Always remember that, Mary Anne. Be scrupulously honest and fair. It will serve you in good stead."
Yeah, okay, Mr. Spier. Be honest but if you really want to get ahead in business, you should open a bunch of businesses, don't pay your contractors, declare bankruptcy, create a fake college to swindle well-meaning people out of their money, get loans from Germany, be in the pocket of Russia, and then become president. I'm not talking about any real-world case in particular.
After dinner, Mary Anne sees her room and remarks that it looks like the room of a child. It's pink and white, she has nursery rhyme pictures on the wall, framed in pink, and pink curtains. Mr. Spier can't be that smart if he thinks that's an appropriate room for Mary Anne, let alone any human being with sight. Actually, even the blind shouldn't be subjected to that and I would call CPS on behalf of the blind person.
The next day at school, the BSC is still fractured. Each member refuses to talk to the others. Mary Anne attempts to say hello, but they just ignore her. At lunch, Mary Anne is forced to sit by herself, but the new kid asks if she can sit with the braided wallflower. This is the introduction of Dawn Schafer, a future BSC member. Mary Anne is ecstatic to have someone to sit with. Dawn asks where her regular friends are and Mary Anne tells her that they're all sick. Yep. That's not suspicious at all. All my friends got sick except me. I didn't do anything to make them sick, they were like that when I found them, I swear!
Mary Anne tells Dawn about all the weirdos of Stoneybrook Middle School. I mention this because I need everyone to know that there's a kid named Alexander Kurtzman who wears a three-piece suit to middle school. Let me repeat that. There's a kid at Stoneybrook Middle School who wears a three-piece suit. In middle school. I've been to middle school. It's a miracle this kid doesn't get beaten up in Dog Alley every day.
Anyway, Dawn invites Mary Anne over to her house. Dawn has a VCR, so how could Mary Anne say no? Dawn's parents just got divorced and her mother grew up in Stoneybrook, so she moved her daughter, Dawn, and her son, Jeff, across the country to an old farmhouse in her hometown. That's a pretty extreme thing to do after a divorce. I hate you so much I'm leaving beautiful California, with its theme parks and culture, for a town that is suspicious of black people when they move in.
The girls watch The Parent Trap. The Hayley Mills version, I'm assuming. The one where they make sure the girls are always standing on opposite sides of the screen. Afterward, Mary Anne has her BSC meeting.
To call it frosty would be an understatement. Kristy doesn't even show up to her own damn club. She claims she's sick. Stacey, Claudia, and Mary Anne distribute the jobs, but it's not in the friendly manner that the club is accustomed to. When Mary Anne leaves, she looks back at Claudia's window. Mary Anne waves and Claudia "flashed [her] a hopeful smile and waved back." Mary Anne goes back to Claudia's house and leaves an apology note for Claudia with Mimi. Claudia calls her and the girls make up, but the peace is only temporary.
Mary Anne goes to talk to Kristy at school. If the club can't get along, they have to figure out how to run it. Kristy comes up with the idea that one girl goes to the meeting and takes any jobs that she can immediately and calls around to the other members if she can't.
Dawn comes up and Mary Anne takes the opportunity to invite her over. Kristy is flabbergasted because Mary Anne only invites Kristy over. To get back at her, Kristy announces that she can stay out baby-sitting until ten on weekends and nine-thirty on weeknights, further cementing Mary Anne's position as the "baby" of the BSC.
Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos. There are a few paragraphs about these freaks, including notes that Mrs. Prezzioso wears cocktail dresses wherever she goes and buys monogrammed handkerchiefs and suits for Mr. Prezzioso. She also has a daughter whom she dresses like a porcelain doll. When Jenny says she likes Mary Anne's skirt, Mrs. Prezzioso says to her daughter, "It's a very pretty skirt, I'm sure, but not as pretty as my little angel in her brand-new dress!"
Mrs. Prezzioso's first name must be Karen. (It's actually Madeleine, but I refuse to call her that. It is clearly Karen.)
Jenny goes through Mary Anne's Kit-Kit and inspects the Colorforms. She eventually settles on one of those coloring books where you put water over the page and, magically, dull colors appear. It takes the choice out of coloring!
After the babysitting job, Mary Anne asks her father if she could stay out later. Predictably, he says no. Mary Anne continues:
> "I'd like to be allowed to choose my own clothes. I'd like to take my hair out of these braids. I'd like to wear nail polish and stockings and lipstick. And if a boy ever asked me to go to the movies or something, I'd like to be able to say yes --- without even checking with you first. You know what? Sometimes you don't seem like my father to me. You seem like my jailer."
These requests are perfectly reasonable but not to Old Man Spier. It does not go well. You can't reason with Conservatives --- they don't listen to reason. They only care unless it directly affects them. And even then, they'll just get the secret abortion for their mistress.
Mary Anne meets with Mimi and asks what to do with her father. She basically tells Mary Anne to try to find another way. In the process, she calls Mary Anne, "my Mary Anne." Claudia overhears and says, "But I'm the only one you call yours." Mary Anne and Claudia's tentative truce is clearly over.
Mrs. Newton invites the entire BSC to help with Jamie Newton's fourth birthday party. Mary Anne is also forced to ask Kristy if they want to sit for the Pikes. Kristy doesn't want to work with Mary Anne, so Mary Anne says she'll get her new friend Dawn to sit with her. Kristy relents and agrees to the job because the only thing she can't stand more than her former best friend is a baby-sitting job going to someone outside the BSC babysitting monopoly.
At the Pikes, Kristy and Mary Anne speak through Mallory. Then they play Telephone, followed by a play. The suggestions for what play they should put on include Peter Rabbit, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Chuck Norris. What the hell is "Chuck Norris," Adam? Huh? Do you just do bad karate while wearing a hat? Or do you just try to sell exercise equipment?
The next day, Dawn invites Mary Anne over. They venture deep into Mr. Spier's yearbooks, looking for Ms. Schafer (or Ms. Porter, as that's her maiden name). It seems that their parents knew each other in high school and may have dated. Well, they at least went to prom together.
Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos again. This time, they're going to a basketball game in a suit and a cocktail dress. These two seriously subscribe to the axiom "It's better to be overdressed than underdressed."
Jenny is quite lethargic all afternoon and falls asleep on the couch. Mary Anne notices that Jenny is hot and mumbles when Mary Anne tries to wake her up. She takes Jenny's temperature and it's 104. She calls Jenny's doctor and leaves a message. She calls the Pikes. Nothing. Her father. Nope. The next-door neighbors. What? Those nameless no-faces? Do you think some no faces are going to help Mary Anne?
It's Dawn who comes to assist Mary Anne. She suggests they call 911 and ask them for advice. The operator sends an ambulance. In the meantime, Dawn makes a cold compress and gets Jenny's coat while Mary Anne calls the gym and leaves a message for the Prezziosos.
When they get to the hospital, it turns out Jenny has strep throat. The Prezziosos arrive. The gym was paging them for a while before they arrived and heard the announcement and they immediately went back to Stoneybrook. Mr. Prezzioso drives Mary Anne and Dawn home and pays them ten dollars each --- a fact that Mary Anne is very excited about. Those ten dollars is the spending power of $20 today. That's pretty good for half a night of baby-sitting.
Mary Anne finally tells Dawn what has been going on with the other members of the BSC. Dawn is upset because Mary Anne originally claimed all her friends were sick, starting the friendship on a lie. Now Dawn is mad at her also. Okay, Dawn, it's not like Mary Anne said she's a vegan just to impress Dawn but it turns out she just loves bacon and the taste of death.
Mary Anne tells her father what happened with the Prezziosos after they call later to update Mary Anne. Then he makes a weird analogy:
> "But twelve means different things for different people. It's like clothes. You can put a certain shirt on one person and he looks fabulous. Then you put the shirt on someone else and that person looks awful. It's the same way with age. It depends on how you wear it or carry it."
That's a convoluted way of saying that people are different. All that so that Mary Anne can finally wear the clothes she wants, decorate her room in a way befitting someone over the age of four, and she doesn't have to wear her hair in braids.
In the BSC Notebook, Stacey remarks that the fight is stupid and has been going on for a month, but that doesn't stop the BSC from almost ruining Jamie's birthday party. Mary Anne steps on Kristy's foot and over pours a drink for the BSC president. Kristy cleans up the mess and throws the napkin in Stacey's face. Then Stacey smashes the napkin in Claudia's face. This causes Jamie to cry and the girls realize that they almost ruined Jamie's party if it wasn't for Mrs. Newton. The rest of the party goes fine.
The girls have yet another emergency meeting at Claudia's house after the party and we have the big apology scene where they all recognize their pettiness and makeup.
Mary Anne also makes up with Dawn. And Mary Anne's father even lets Mary Anne have a BSC party at her house to formally ask Dawn to join the BSC. However, Mr. Spier insists that the girls eat dinner together. With him. During the party. I can think of a million things I'd rather do than have dinner with a group of 12-year-olds, I don't care what tradition I have. He is a grown-ass man and his daughter deserves a little privacy.
During the dinner, the BSC formally invites Dawn to join the club.
After all that, in order for Mr. Spier to treat his daughter like the responsible person she is, all Mary Anne had to do was save a little girl's life! I'm not a parent, but that's a ridiculous lesson. She has to be extraordinary just to be treated as ordinary. No one should be held up to this standard. I mean no one.
Mr. Spier is entirely too strict. My childhood best friend's grandparents were also too strict, but her mother wasn't strict enough. Maybe Mr. Spier should take his own analogy to heart. Making sweeping rules for your child is a good way to ensure your child won't speak to you when they get older. But not having enough boundaries can create undue stress on a child, either by making avoidable mistakes or detrimental life decisions. The key must be in knowing your child --- who they are and their priorities and proclivities --- in order to create appropriate boundaries. But that would require parents to actually speak to their child as if they're equals, and who has time for that? /Nervous laugh.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.
#1: Kristy's Great Idea
by Amy A. Cowan, July 27, 2021
I’ve started a club or two in my lifetime. They started with lofty goals and a generic name. Best Friends Club. Sparks Friends Club. The No Homers Club. We made Membership Cards, usually out of tin foil. We had club bylaws, things like “be kind to each other” and “no one who likes Kimberly can join.” We had a few club meetings, which divulged into the depths of Kimberly’s cruelty. The clubs never lasted more than a week and they certainly never generated income. Unlike Kristy Thomas’s club.
In the inaugural book of The Baby-Sitters Club, Kristy comes up with the idea of the titular club that went on to generate income and adventure for many girls (and maybe some boys) both in Stoneybrook and around the world, both fictional and real. Kristy demonstrates maturity while running and creating the club. She considers feedback from each member and delegates in a professional way. The book also showcases Kristy’s immaturity, particularly when dealing with Stacey, the new girl, and how she deals with her mother’s love interest, Watson, and his family. Kristy has depth, as well as this book. This is a promising start to the greatest book series ever created (come at me, J. K. Rowling).
Oh, I don’t know, book cover? Going to an amusement park? Reading a good book? Taking a bite out of a good book, like the previous owner?
It starts on a hot day at the end of class. The clock ticks and Kristy loudly and audibly expresses her excitement for the end of class and she can go home to her air-conditioning. Her teacher punishes her with an essay assignment on the word “decorum.” The first time we see Kristy, she’s shouting before thinking, talking before her brain analyzes what she wants to say. This can bite Kristy in the butt, like almost breaking up the babysitters club just as the club starts or with her teacher, forcing her into a punishment in the form of homework.
Kristy finds her best-friend Mary Anne. The first time we see her, she’s biting her fingernails and talking about her ridiculously strict father. Even for that time, he’s incredibly strict. If the book were written today, I bet he’d be one of those parents who stand outside their kids’ classroom staring at them through the little window in the door. He’d probably give her a cell phone preprogrammed with his phone number (and his phone number only) so he can reach her at any moment. Thank God she stands up to him later in the series — I’m always rooting for Mary Anne.
Kristy and Mary Anne rush home so Kristy can get there before her little brother, David Michael. Kristy watches her little brother while her mother is at work. Ms. Thomas is a single mom/divorcee, which is progressive for an eighties book targeted at children. I remember all the dead mothers on television when I was a kid. Every single parent (usually the father) had to have a dead spouse (usually the wife). They couldn’t utter the word “divorce.” And the television producers certainly wouldn’t have a woman divorcee. To have a working mother in an Apple Paperbacks is revolutionary, at least to childhood me. Ms. Thomas tries, both career-wise and domestically. She isn’t perfect but she still succeeds in giving her children the attention they deserve while (seemingly) conquering the business world in Stanford. All this while providing a secondary influence on Mary Anne next door. I like Ms. Thomas and I think she’s a great mother. I would credit her with the spark that gives Kristy her great idea.
Ms. Thomas needs a babysitter, so she calls every teenager in Stoneybrook. Unfortunately, they are all busy. Kristy comes up with the idea for someone to call one phone number and reach several sitters — the Baby-Sitters Club. After Kristy completes her decorum homework, she contacts Mary Anne via their bedroom windows.
Kristy and Mary Anne decide to discuss the club with their friend, Claudia Kishi. The girls arrive at the Kishis’ house and we have our first outfit description:
“I rang the Kishis’ bell. Claudia came to the door. She was wearing short, very baggy lavender plaid overalls, a white lacy blouse, a black fedora, and red high-top sneakers without socks. Her long black hair was carefully arranged in four braids. I felt extremely blah compared to her.”
Claudia’s clothes are an explosion at a paint factory — just colors and mayhem everywhere. I love her eclectic style, but there are a few problems I have. People need to wear clothes that are an appropriate size for them. They should not wear clothes that turn them into a giant blob. I know this is new thinking, but, truthfully, people look better when clothes fit them. Secondly, under no circumstances should someone wear sneakers with no socks — that is an experiment in foot odor no one wants to undertake. And lastly, no to a fedora. Never. No fedoras ever. For all time.
Claudia introduces Kristy and Mary Anne to Stacey McGill, who denies food — her major personality trait. When our resident artist comes up with the logo for the Baby-Sitters Club, Kristy wants to call Claudia a genius, but Claudia is sensitive about that word. Her older sister, Janine, is an actual genius and the sisters have a strained relationship.
As a group, they decide on officers without incident. They also create a flyer with phone numbers that start with KL-5, which is something I never understood and still don’t understand. Why not just use numbers?
Kristy’s sensitivity to Claudia is a stark contrast to her interactions with Watson, Ms. Thomas’s suitor. He brings over Chinese food in an attempt to get to know his girlfriend’s family better, but Kristy ruins it by refusing the food and establishing open hostility toward him. I get that it’s a huge change, but he’s not so bad. No matter how mature Kristy is with her clients or her friends, she still exhibits immaturity when it comes to Watson. After all, she’s still 12-years-old.
Kristy’s mother is the first call during the inaugural meeting of the Baby-Sitters Club. Stacey takes the job after Kristy mentions her brothers. Then there’s a prank call. I wish prank calling was still the bane of telephone use. If this were written today, the prank calls wouldn’t be a juvenile prank orchestrated by Kristy’s brother, like it is in this book. The annoying calls would be from recordings trying to trick you into buying a cruise or, god forbid, trying to fix a Windows PC that you don’t have.
The first call that is not a prank or a family member is a woman named Mrs. McKeever. She wants a sitter for twins named Buffy and Pinky. Kristy would probably make the best first impression for a first-time customer, so she takes the job. Mary Anne is going to babysit for Watson’s children, Karen and Andrew, and finally, Claudia takes a job for Mrs. Newton.
Chapter 7 starts with a long description of how addresses work.
I walked over to Quentin Court right after I got home from school. I left a little early, just in case I had any trouble finding the McKeevers’ house. Mrs. McKeever had said that address was 52 Quentin Court. So I found the side of the street with the even-numbered addresses on it and started walking. There was 22 Quentin Court, 28 Quentin Court, 34, 40, 46, and sure enough, there was number 52.
I know how addresses work, Kristy. This passage would have been necessary if, at the end of 46 Quentin Court, there was a large opening in the ground. But there isn’t a chasm. Instead, here is a woman who keeps her “children” locked in the laundry room. Oh, and they are not children — they are dogs. Two hulking Saint Bernards. I would rather babysit for dogs than humans, but Kristy doesn’t agree. She reluctantly watches over the dogs but makes it clear that it’s the first and only time she is going to do that. She makes $3.50, which made me think of the Loch Ness Monster for pop-culture-from-the-Paleolithic-era-related reasons.
Claudia babysits for Jamie Newton and his three cousins, one of whom hates girls and is a future gamergater. I like Jamie, but I hate his jerk cousins. Claudia reads to Jamie and that gets the kids to calm the fuck down. She handled the situation well, but fuck those shitty Feldman cousins.
David Michael gets a brand new babysitter in Stacey, but the person Stacey is focused on is Kristy’s older brother Sam. According to Sam himself, Stacey is “a foxy chick.” You’ll have to excuse him, he is a manifestation of Jimi Hendrix. Sam decides to stay behind and play Candyland with Stacey and David Michael.
The final babysitter to tell us how her first babysitting job went is Mary Anne. She introduces us to Karen and Andrew — Watson’s children and future stars of their own book series (I never got into Little Sister, so don’t ask me to write about them). We also meet Boo “mess of a cat” Boo. Watson suggests that Mary Anne just avoid the cat, but when Boo-Boo (the cat, not the Boyz4Now ingenue) gets in Mrs. Porter’s garden, Mary Anne has no choice but to intervene. Karen warns that Mrs. Porter is actually a witch named Morbidda Destiny (I love that name). She calls the cat a “rapscallion” and Karen thinks it’s a curse. Mary Anne has to inform Karen that it’s just a word, not a curse. A ridiculous, archaic word, but a harmless word nonetheless.
Later, Ms. Thomas forces Kristy to wear a dress to dinner, where Ms. Thomas and Watson announce their potential engagement. Not their actual engagement — the fact that they might get engaged. This is a misstep for Ms. Thomas. If she has any hope of ameliorating the relationship between Kristy and Watson, she should have let Kristy wear what she feels comfortable in. She should ask her daughter to wear something nice for the occasion, but shouldn’t force Kristy into a dress. This does not help the situation.
Stacey leaves for New York under mysterious circumstances. Honestly, Kristy can be too nosy. It’s none of her business why Stacey goes to New York periodically — that’s where she’s from. Stacey’s mom shouldn’t have lied on her behalf, but the girl is allowed a little privacy, even from her best friends.
Eventually, Kristy is forced to babysit for Watson’s children, the previously introduced Karen and Andrew. She finds out they’re nice kids and finds common ground in their divorced parents. She tells them, “Divorced kids are special kids.” As Watson drives Kristy home, we are treated to an especially sweet passage:
Later, as Watson was driving me home, Karen said, “Kristy, I wish you were our big stepsister, right now.”
“Well,” I said, “how about if I be your baby-sitter instead?”
“That’s okay,” said Karen.
“Yeah, that’s okay,” echoed Andrew.
I glanced at Watson. He was sneaking a look at me, too. We smiled at each other.
After all of Ms. Thomas’s forcing Kristy to wear a dress and spend time with Watson, it was babysitting, Kristy’s focus, job, and love, that brought them closer as a potential family.
The book ends with Watson and Ms. Thomas (Edie, I guess — that’s not a name for anyone under seventy) announcing their official engagement and the BSC’s first slumber party. This is where we learn about Stacey’s diabetes. To her surprise, her new friends are completely cool and understanding with her complicated health situation. We end with this:
I felt deliciously scared — and happy. We were friends again. Things were okay with Watson. The Baby-Sitters Club was a success. I, Kristen Amanda Thomas, had made it work, or helped to make it work. I hoped that Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey, and I — the Baby-Sitters Club — would stay together for a long time.
And they certainly stayed together for hundreds of books (all of which I hope to own someday), several years, a tv series (I wanted to watch but couldn’t because I didn’t have cable), a movie (I watched it recently — it’s not great), a CD-ROM game (which I played every day and would still play if I had it), and countless other merchandise (I’m always on the lookout for merch).
This isn’t just the first book in a series. This is the first book in a revelation. When I was a young girl, this was the only book series exclusively about a group of distinct girls. Girls with flaws and strengths and stories. I didn’t have that with any other book series out there — they all had boys mucking up the awesome girl adventures or drippy girls who spent their time nagging boys and not being fun.
Ann M. Martin created my childhood. She created my love of reading. She created my need to write and tell stories. And I don’t think I’m that different. I’m sure millions of women my age feel the same way. This book was fantastic, this series was important, and I am even more excited to read books from my childhood.
#2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls
by Amy A. Cowan, July 27, 2021
At one time, I was just collecting and reading The Baby-Sitters Club. I was going to Goodwill every two weeks, buying whichever books in the series I was missing. Then I’d go home and read one every once in a while. Sometime during Claudia and Mean Janine, I got the idea to review these as writing practice and maybe help me build a portfolio. That’s why the first one is Boy-Crazy Stacey.
After I wrote a few of those I went back to the beginning — for continuity’s sake. I can’t review two hundred BSC books and skip over the first seven for no discernable reason. I went back through Kristy’s Great Idea and wrote what became one of my favorite reviews. Then I came to this book and put it off. When it showed up again in the rotation, I did a different book.
Eventually, I had to take a deep breath and jump back into Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, much to my chagrin. I hate this book. There. Plain and simple. It has a terrible message, and terrible people get rewarded for doing terrible things. It’s a terrible ball of terrible, but I read it. For continuity. So welcome, to the nightmare that is Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.
Hello? The worst BSC book? It’s right here, let me give it the phone.
It starts out like all the other books that center around Claudia — she is struggling with school and comparing herself to her genius sister.
The thing about homework is that it is just so boring I can barely concentrate on it. And it’s useless. Who cares whether > means greater than or less than, or what X equals?
I don’t know, Claudia, anyone who wants to solve almost any practical problem ever? If one of your dumb baby-sitting charges is supposed to have twelve blocks in his toy chest, but he only has five, how many blocks has he eaten? That’s what X equals.
If Claudia didn’t spend so much time thinking about how schoolwork is boring, she could probably just learn the material and move on. Or she has a learning disability, and then it’s the school that is failing her. However, I haven’t read anything that indicates a learning disability, just laziness on Claude’s part.
But this isn’t Rereading My Childhood While I Complain About Claudia Kishi, Don’t @ Me, Mary Anne is the Best and Everyone Should Know That. I have to move on.
Then, like every book, Ann M. Martin feels the need to tell me that Claudia is Japanese and her grandmother, Mimi, has an accent, but her parents don’t. Does the accent come up later? No, but it seems to be Mimi’s only defining trait. Claudia starts to paint her and asks the very open-ended question, “Tell me about when you were a little girl in Japan.” Just, like, anything, Claudia? Is Mimi like Mary Lou Henner? “When I was eight, on December 3rd, I ate miso soup and a biscuit for breakfast. Then I bathed for 24 minutes.”
Then she goes into her clothes for the day, and they are, as usual, interesting.
I like bright colors and big patterns and funny touches, such as earrings made from feathers. Maybe this is because I’m an artist. I don’t know. Today, for instance, I’m wearing purple pants that stop just below my knees and are held up with suspenders, white tights with clocks on them, a purple-plaid shirt with a matching hat, my high-top sneakers, and lobster earrings. Clothes like these are my trademark.
My sister is an artist but she wouldn’t wear capris with garish tights underneath. You are just silly. Also, I don’t think a “funny touch” is a feather. That sounds more like cultural appropriation to me.
Later, Stacey calls Claudia and our resident artist talks about her crush on Trevor Sandbourne — a boy who writes poetry for the school’s literary magazine The Literary Voice. Did you know that Robert Pinsky first published “Impossible to Tell” in Stoneybrook Middle School’s The Literary Voice? Poet Trevor’s peers are an august retinue.
Chapter two starts with a problem.
Stacey, Kristy, Mary Anne, and I did get together on Saturday, but we couldn’t think of a thing for the four of us to do together. Mary Anne wasn’t allowed to ride her bike to the mall. Stacey couldn’t eat s’mores or ice cream or anything fun. (She has diabetes and has to control very carefully the amount of sugar she takes in each day.) And there was only one movie playing in town and Kristy and I had already seen it.
Okay, a few problems here. Even if Mary Anne could ride her bike to the mall, what would you do there? Just sit around like you’re doing now. Secondly, just because Stacey is diabetic doesn’t mean she can’t be around sugar. Sugar isn’t airborne. I understand that you don’t want her to feel left out, but you guys can have a camp out that just happens to have s’mores, and, for example, roasted hot dogs or something. Lastly, Stoneybrook’s movie theater only shows one movie, but their middle school has a literary magazine. Sparks, Nevada has several movie theaters that show several movies, and my school didn’t even have a newspaper.
So the girls talk about random stuff instead and mention Alan Gray, a boy who has been terrorizing Kristy since she was a child. Then the conversation turns to the plot point that the “Phantom Caller” is still on the loose.
[Mary Anne] took the paper and read: “‘ Phantom Caller on Rampage in Mercer.’” She cleared her throat and glanced at us. Then she began to read again. “‘The thief, whom police have nicknamed the Phantom Caller, struck again in Mercer on Tuesday night. Following the pattern of his previous burglaries, he began making phone calls, this time to the home of Thornton and Sophia Granville of 236 Witmer Court, shortly after four P.M. He never spoke, simply hanging up the phone when someone answered. The Granvilles left their home at seven-thirty to attend a meeting of the school board. When they returned at ten-fifteen, they found all of Mrs. Granville’s jewelry missing. Nothing else had been taken, despite the fact that a considerable amount of silver, as well as Thornton Granville’s famous and very valuable coin collection, were in the house.
“‘This is the sixth home that Phantom Caller has robbed in the past two weeks and the second home in Mercery. The first four robberies occurred in New Hope.’” Mary Anne stopped reading.
Cool, Newspaper Person. Got any more information about the Granvilles’ belongings? Emergency money in a fake book on the tallest shelf in the den?
The kicker is that while Claudia was babysitting for the Marshalls, the phone rang twice and when Claudia answered it, there was silence on the other end. Stacey comes up with the idea of a code for over the phone. If they are in trouble, they call another member of BSC and ask, “Have you found my red ribbon?” I don’t know why 911 isn’t the best option, but there’s a whole code they work out. It never really pans out, as the BSC can’t remember the code later in the book. They also decide to bring the BSC record book to school every day and look over it so they know who is babysitting for whom, which proves to be a huge security issue later.
At school, Claudia stalks Trevor Sandbourne outside The Literary Voice office, Alan Gray harrases her, and she attempts to find Stacey in the lunchroom, but Stacey is standing in line next to Alexander Kurtzman, “who carries a briefcase and wears a jacket and tie, and lives to obey rules.” How this kid hasn’t been murdered is beyond explanation. Claudia spends her time expressing her desire to attend the school’s Halloween Hop with Trevor.
Claudia babysits for the Newtons and someone calls but doesn’t say anything when Claudia answers. A news report says the Phantom Caller was spotted in a stolen car, but it turns out the news reported that fact too hastily (how irresponsible, this is we get crazy alt-right jerks yelling about fake news) and the Phantom Caller is still on the loose. On a different night, Claudia babysits Eleanor and Nina Marshall and she gets another phone call with no answer. She calls Stacey to help her feel better, and they chat for a while, but it doesn’t help — Claudia is still freaked out. This is harassment, plain and simple, and I emphasize this so when the perpetrator is revealed and actually rewarded, you will understand my ire.
The first handwriting chapter is Kristy at Watson’s, babysitting Karen and Andrew. Karen expresses concern over their next-door neighbor actually being a witch named Morbidda Destiny. The phone rings and Kristy answers it and there is no one on the other end. Then the phone rings again.
At last Kristy reached for it. She knew she had to answer it. The caller could be Watson or her mother. She picked up the receiver and held it to her ear. But she couldn’t get any words out.
“Kristy?” asked the caller.
“Claudia?” she whispered back. (The caller was me!)
Ladies and gentlemen, I present the limitations on the first-person perspective because that was silly. Kristy is so scared she doesn’t want to answer the phone, so the person harassing her is also a monster. He’s actually worse, but we’ll get to that.
Stacey has the next handwriting chapter at the Johanssens. It’s mostly uneventful. There is a thunderstorm, but that’s it. Mary Anne babysits David Michael, Kristy’s little brother, and she sets up a whole set of traps straight from the Kevin McCallister School for Home Defense. This ends up comedic and enjoyable.
Then Claudia’s next-door neighbors are robbed, bringing the Phantom Caller threat straight to the BSC’s front door. This prompts Mr. Spier to forbid his daughter from babysitting until the Phantom Caller is caught. That’s a little reactionary, Mr. Spier. The Phantom Caller doesn’t rob homes that had people inside, he doesn’t murder anyone, and just because there’s some crime doesn’t mean you should lock Mary Anne away like you’re in a Bonte novel. They didn’t catch the Golden State Killer for decades and people were still able to babysit — didn’t see you locking Mary Anne behind three feet of bulletproof glass. Mr. Spier is a crazy man.
We are now at our climax. Kristy and Claudia dual babysit for Jamie Newton and his cousin, one of whom hates girls, including girl babysitters. He is a future politician.
The same things happen. Phone calls, no answer. However, this time, Kristy sees someone skulking outside the house. Claudia decides to call the police. The police arrive and catch the person skulker. (The skulked? The skulkee? Asshole. We’ll just go with Asshole.)
It’s fucking Alan Gray. And then we get this bullshit.
Son,” said Officer Stanton in a more kindly voice, “what did you want to ask her?”
Alan mumbled something that nobody understood.
“What, Alan?” asked Kristy, sounding nearly civil.
“I wanted to know if you’d go to the Halloween Hop with me.”
If I were Kristy, my eyeballs would have fallen out of my head along about then. But Kristy just said, “Oh, gosh, is that all? Of course I’ll go with you . . . Thanks.”
Lemme get this straight, Kristy. This boy, who makes fun of you, steals your homework as well as your lunch, and treats your friends like shit; stalks the house of the children you’re supposed to be watching over; scares the shit out of you so much so that you call the police; then the police have to chase him down in the rhododendrons, only to have him ask you out and you actually say, “Sure and thanks.” Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of message is that to young girls? If he scares you, it’s okay, he likes you. You know how someone is worth your time? They don’t fucking scare you! That’s how you know. Alan Gray should be arrested. Moreover, you know he’s definitely white because if he were black, he would have been shot on the spot. What sexist, patriarchal, white nonsense is this?
And you know who keeps calling Claudia and hanging up? Trevor Sandbourne. He’s trying to ask Claudia out. While not as egregious as Alan Gray stalking, Trevor’s behavior is still bad, but all Claudia can focus on is the Halloween Hop. Kristy is stalked but all she can focus on is that a boy likes her. She doesn’t even get angry that Alan Gray has been stealing the BSC record book to find where all the babysitters are on any given night and sharing that information with people (Trevor). This is a flagrant privacy violation.
There is some resolution to the relationship between Claudia and Janine, but it’s pointless, especially after the infuriating conclusion of this book.
This book should be banished to the edges of young adult literature and purged from every BSC collection. It has the worst message for young, impressionable girl readers: if a boy is mean to you, scares you, and doesn’t respect your privacy, he likes you and you should reward him by going to a dance with him.
Fuck this book. It’s easily the worst one. I’d prefer the babysitters being stalked by the actual Phantom Caller.
Speaking of whom, The Phantom Caller gets caught, and Mary Anne is allowed to babysit again, but more on the patriarchal nature of Mr. Spier later. My blood pressure is high enough as it is.
#3: The Truth About Stacey
by Amy A. Cowan, 2021 August 26
One of the most deplorable things people can do is convince someone to give up their life savings in exchange for quack medical cures. People will do anything to save their lives, and it's unconscionable to take advantage of their situations. The American health care system already takes advantage of people (#medicareforall). That might be why people look for cheaper alternatives to proven healthcare.
Stacey's parents want to cure her diabetes and are willing to drag her around to charlatans to do so. Stacey has to stop them before they drop ten grand on some crystal bullshit. That's not in the book, but if this were written today, they'd be blaming vaccines and spending their money on crystals and essential oils.
She’s different because she can see secret cameras in candy stores.
As usual, the book starts with a BSC meeting where they discuss the impending birth of Mrs. Newton's second child. They want to make sure that one of them is always available in case the Newtons have to go to the hospital since they're "such good customers." Solid plan. Consistent, good customers should receive some special privileges (but the customer shouldn't expect it --- my thoughts on this are complicated). The meeting turns south when Janine enters with a flyer for the brand new company "The Baby-Sitters Agency."
After some digging (including a pretend baby-sitting inquiry) it turns out that the business owners, Liz and Michelle, have a network of friends they can call, some of them older, and act more like a liaison to the parents. The way it works is that the parents call the phone number, Liz or Michelle calls around to see who is available, and then call the parent back with a sitter. They don't do any baby-sitting themselves (neither do the baby-sitters they send, really, but we'll get to that).
Stacey talks about her previous life, including her former best friend, Laine Cummings. They had a falling out after Stacey wet the bed they were sharing because of Stacey's undiagnosed diabetes. After a series of doctor visits, Laine accused Stacey of faking it for attention. Laine is the type of person who says that people with depression should just exercise and go vegan if they want to "get happier." After that, Stacey and her family moved to Stoneybrook.
Later, Stacey's mom wants to speak with her. She tells Stacey that she wants her to see a TV doctor named Dr. Barnes in New York. Apparently, Dr. Barnes has some new treatment that Stacey's parents think will cure Stacey of her diabetes. Stacey doesn't want to go because she'll miss three days of school and she has no desire to see a new doctor, especially one that her Uncle saw on television. Imagine Dr. Phil attempting to cure your lupus. I'm surprised Dr. Barnes doesn't go by Dr. Brad.
During a special BSC meeting, Kristy proposes the idea of Kid-Kits in order to make themselves more appealing to their babysitting charges and their parents. This is one of the few ideas that Kristy has that actually sticks, and Kid-Kits are a staple of subsequent Baby-Sitters Club books. Kid-Kits are basically toys and games and activities for the children that each babysitter can take with them on jobs. This is a good idea. However, Kristy's other ideas aren't so great.
The other ideas Kristy has are rate cuts, free housework, and giving away jobs to their older brothers and sisters. Claudia and Mary Anne refuse. They go forward with the Kid-Kits, but the other ideas are considered last resorts.
Stacey babysits for Charlotte and we are introduced to Dr. Johanssen, Charlotte's mother and the only doctor in all of Stoneybrook. The city only needs one doctor, but they have competing adolescent baby-sitting agencies. Stacey and Charlotte take a walk downtown. After a quick stop in the candy store from the cover of the book, Charlotte sees some children who call her "teacher's pet" and tease her. Stacey shares that she was also teased in school before she moved to Stoneybrook. On the way home, Liz gives them a balloon with the Baby-sitters Agency phone number, mistaking Stacey for Charlotte's older sister.
Suddenly, Mrs. Newton is in labor! Mr. Newton rushes her to the hospital while they leave Jamie with Kristy. They decide to hold a Big Brother Party for Jamie because the kid is apprehensive about having a sibling. A bunch of the usual kids show up and the baby-sitters put on a record and play musical rug. Mr. Newton calls and talks to his son. Jamie reveals that he has a new sister named Lucy Jane and Jamie storms off.
Kristy chases him down and asks him if he's sad that it's a girl and not a boy. Jamie says that he's upset because now Kristy can't babysit him and his mother is going to switch them to a sitter named Liz because she's older. Jamie doesn't seem to like Liz and Kristy vows to do something to help Jamie.
The BSC finds a flier for the Baby-sitters Agency with the words, "Want to earn fast money the easy way?" Well, sign me up! They find Michelle Patterson signing people up. Kristy decides to allow eighth-graders into the BSC.
Stacey's mother schedules tests for Stacey with Dr. Barnes. Stacey has to be in the hospital for five days sometime near Christmas. Despite Stacey's protests, her parents think that Dr. Barnes's "holistic approach" will cure her. While Stacey is babysitting Charlotte, Stacey asks Dr. Johanssen if she's heard of Dr. Barnes. Dr. Johanssen has and warns Stacey about the man, whom she calls "a faith healer."
"What he is going to do --- I can practically guarantee this --- is recommend all sorts of expensive programs and therapies designed to make your life as positive and fulfilling and healthy as possible. He'll tell your parents that this will enable you to rid your body of the disease...It's just that --- well, it's my belief that no special program is going to rid your body of diabetes."
Stacey begs Dr. Johanssen to help her get out of meeting with Dr. Barnes. The doctor promises to figure out a way to help her. Probably without a caper, but let's hope for a caper. (There isn't a caper.)
So Kristy gets this idea to put the BSC in sandwich boards to advertise that their club is looking for new members. It goes as well as you'd expect an idea involving cumbersome wood would go. A girl says that she just uses the babysitting time to watch TV. A boy says that he doesn't want to show up to meetings three times a week. Some guy named Pete Black flirts with Stacey.
Kristy ends up finding two eighth-graders to join the club: Janet Gates and Leslie Howard. They were once friends with Liz, but they had a falling out. Or so they claim. Jeez, Kristy, for someone smart enough to come up with the club and the Kid-Kits, you're awfully dense when it comes to obvious sabotage tactics. Even Stacey sees through the ruse, but she goes along with it anyway, because if she raised objections or put restrictions on the new members, there wouldn't be a plot.
The BSC gives presents to Mrs. Newton presumably for the new baby. They also give presents to Jamie, which Mrs. Newton appreciates since Jamie has been jealous of the presents the baby has been receiving. They also ask about babysitting for them again, but Mrs. Newton says that the BSC is too young and when Lucy is older, she hopes they can sit for her again.
At the BSC meeting, they meet the new members and give them jobs. I'm sure the new members will be fine and responsible and not try to sabotage the BSC's reputation at all. They don't need to send another more established member to the job as well to make sure everything's okay. Not at all. This will in no way hurt the BSC and their new clients.
Also, Stacey remarks that she's impressed by the simple fact that the new members are thirteen and fourteen. Stacey is impressed by the passage of time, instead of how we should all feel, which is dread.
And, as expected, the new girls don't show up for their babysitting jobs. The BSC confronts them at school and it goes as well as the sandwich board idea. It ends with Kristy crying in the girls' bathroom. Things really suck when Kristy is crying.
Stacey is at Jamie's while Mrs. Newton and Lucy are in another room. Jamie's demeanor is noticeably different. Stacey asks if it's because of the new baby. Instead, Jamie laments that babysitters used to read and play with him, but his new sitters just watch tv and invite over their boyfriends, and one of them smoked in the living room and burned a cushion. Stacey encourages Jamie to tell his parents about what his sitters are doing. It's my experience that if someone tells a kid to keep a secret or hide something from their parents, that person sucks and should be shot into the sun.
Later, Stacey babysits for Charlotte and the poor girl explodes at Stacey, saying that babysitters only care about money.
Charlotte looked at me sadly. "Ellie said, 'Oh, Charlotte, you are the teacher's pet, teacher's pet,' and I said, 'I am not,' and she said, 'Are, too, and you don't have any friends.' And I said, 'I have baby-sitters. They're my friends.' And she said, 'They are not. My sister Cathy doesn't like you.' And I said, 'Then how come she sits for me?' And she said, 'Because your parents pay her a lot of money, stupid.'"
Stacey is able to convince Charlotte that she's different because Stacey actually plays with her and doesn't ignore her the way Cathy does.
The next day, on their way home from school, the BSC finds Jamie Newton just hanging out in the street. By himself. A three-year-old. Alone in the street. Apparently, his sitter, Cathy Morris, told him it was okay to go play outside. Even Disneyland doesn't let someone shorter than 54" drive a car by themselves in Autopia, which is the only place I've seen an eight-year-old living his life. The BSC walks him back home and they wonder if they should tell the parents and if that would be interpreted as them trying to sabotage the Agency. Stacey asks her mother for advice, to which her mother says, "I'd say the person who's going to tell something should risk 'looking bad,' if a child really is in danger." Oh, now Mrs. McGill shows some measured thinking as opposed to when she's channel surfing to find Stacey's new doctor.
The girls go to Mrs. Newton's and tell her how they saw Jamie and how a babysitter burned one of their cushions and asked Jamie not to tell her. She's pretty horrified and won't use the agency again (except some seventeen-year-old boy sitter, I guess, that was thrown in).
The BSC confronts Liz and Michelle. This time, it goes a little better. The BSC demonstrates how much they know about their babysitting charges and the behavior of a good babysitter.
Stacey leaves for New York, which includes a reunion between Stacey and her former best friend. Laine and Stacey fight. The next morning, Stacey has her tests --- strangely, without her parents expressly present.
I was examined, poked, and prodded. Blood was drawn. I was fed a specifically prepared lunch and more blood was drawn. Then this woman holding a sheaf of papers asked me to do weird things like draw a picture of my family, make up stories about inkblots, and build towers of bricks. I ran on a treadmill and tried to do sit-ups and push-ups. I rode an exercise bicycle. At last I was given a written test. It might have been an IQ test, but I wasn't sure. Whatever it was, it looked long.
They let her go back into the custody of her parents. I would be suspicious at the "draw a picture" phase. What does that have to do with diabetes? Blood, food, exercise. Okay, maybe. But, inkblots? Also, her parents should have been there the entire time. She's twelve and these people are all, "Let us do tests on her without y'all here." Hey, TV doctor, don't just touch kids without their parents there. That's creepy!
Luckily, they let her out in time for her appointment with a real doctor, Dr. Graham. She springs the appointment on her parents, and they are forced to go see this real doctor with Stacey. After all, Dr. Johansson helped Stacey get this appointment with a renowned physician. Frankly, after her parents sprung this weird, IQ testing doctor on Stacey, Stacey has every right to spring a reputable doctor on them.
After the meeting with an accredited doctor who speaks to both Stacey and her parents, Stacey finally stands up to her parents, telling them that it's not fair for them to switch doctors without her and force her to switch schools. Her parents say that they trust Dr. Graham more than Dr. Barnes, who is suggesting "unusual" treatments with exorbitant costs.
Back with the Cummings', the two families go to the movies. Laine and Stacey talk while getting snacks. Laine was jealous of Stacey because she was getting all this attention from teachers and school administrators and she was permitted to miss so much school. She apologizes and things are copasetic between the two again.
The next day, the families hang out again, this time while traipsing around New York. They watch Paris Magic, which Stacey calls "the best musical" she'd ever seen. It is not a real musical because I Googled it and found nothing. It was a ridiculous title for anything and it turns out that the only appropriate use for that title is hair care products, which is the only search result I received.
When Stacey goes back to Stoneybrook, she learns that Charlotte and Jaime told their parents everything, and it turns out that there were other unhappy children. The Agency folds.
On a final note, the problem with Charlotte's bullying is resolved as well --- she's skipping a grade.
I understand Stacey's parents' desperation. They just want their daughter to have the best life possible. That's what makes Barnes, and people of his ilk, so dangerous. People seek radical and expensive treatments because they provide a little bit of hope where there is none. Snake oil salesmen are taking advantage of people in the most blatant way. It's all about how much can they charge for this thing that probably won't work but has a cheap cost. It's monstrous.
I can't believe I have to say this but don't trust miracle cures and panacea. Don't digest bleach or aquarium agents or shine light into your veins. When I started writing this, I wasn't worried about people doing anything of those things, but it turns out that there are still salesmen peddling miracle cures to their cult and scared members of the populace. Just, please, be safe out there. Don't rush things.
And wear a damn mask, please. It shouldn't be this hard to get people to do something so simple that will help so many.