Title: Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin
Summary: When Kristy Thomas has the great idea to form a baby-sitters club–a chance to earn money and spend time with her friends, all while doing something they each love to do–she has no idea how much the club will change everything.
Crank calls, uncontrollable toddlers, wild pets, untruthful clients . . . running a business is hard work! Kristy and her co-founders, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey, are sure they can handle anything. But only if they stick together . . .
Tagline: Four friends and baby-sitting–what could be more fun?
Well, here we are, kicking off 2018 and Nostalgic Bookshelf with my favorite cheesy contemporary preteen series, The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin. Unlike the Sweet Valley books, I read these obsessively, and still sometimes reread them as an adult. I was a baby-sitter from a young age, and I loved the focus on friends and having adventures together. I’m excited to revisit them now, with a recapper’s eye.
My favourite baby-sitters before recapping: Dawn, Stacey, Claudia, Abby, Jessi, and Shannon.
Least favourite: Kristy, Mary Anne, and Logan.
Say hello to your friends, everyone. We’re in this for the long haul.
[Dove: And I have never read any of these before, so this is Wing’s payback for Sweet Valley. And I’m cool with that.]
The Baby-Sitters Club is Kristy Thomas’ great idea. She has it on the first Tuesday afternoon in seventh grade. She acts out in class, and Mr Redmont, her teacher, assigns her a short essay on decorum; this really has very little to do with her great idea, but it is the way the entire series opens, so we might as well enjoy the randomness now.
(Though it does do a good job of introducing Kristy, who will continue to be impetuous and loud throughout the series.)
Kristy walks home with Mary Anne Spier after school, her best friend and next door neighbour. While Mary Anne waits for Kristy, she chews her nails up out of nerves and stress, and we quickly learn that her father not only doesn’t let her wear nail polish, but she’ll be 75 before he ever allows her to do so. (Mary Anne’s driving personality throughout the series is shy and sensitive with an overprotective father, so, again, this is setting things up nicely.)
Mr Spier is overprotective because Mrs Spier died when she was little and Mary Anne is his only family now.
Kristy makes them run home, because Tuesdays are her afternoon to watch her younger brother, David Michael, and she is supposed to make it home before him. Quick rundown of the Thomas family: Charlie and Sam, the older brothers, sixteen and fourteen respectively; Kristy, twelve; and David Michael, six. Charlie, Sam, and Kristy are each responsible for David Michael one afternoon a week and the other two days, Mrs Thomas hires a baby-sitter.
Sure enough, David Michael beats them home and is waiting for them on the front steps. He starts crying when he sees her because he’s locked out; he lost his key and he freaked out and he really has to go to the bathroom. So, you know, a kid.
(David Michael is frantic to get inside to pee; their collie, Louie, is frantic to get outside to pee.)
While Kristy puts together a snack for David Michael, she asks Mary Anne if the Newtons called her to baby-sit their son Jamie; Kristy had to turn down the job because she was watching David Michael. Mary Anne says she never talked to Mrs Newton, and suggests she called Claudia Kishi, another friend of theirs. She lives across the street from them on Bradford Court, but they’ve never been as close to her as to each other. (Claudia’s defining traits are her love of art, her love of mysteries, her bad grades, and the pressure she feels to be better at school from her Japanese-American family. Look, one chapter in and Stoneybrook already has more diversity than Sweet Valley.)
Mrs Thomas brings home pizza that night, which makes Kristy, Charlie, and Sam suspicious, because she only lets them have pizza when she wants something. Kristy is flat out blunt about this and wants to know what Mrs Thomas wants to ask them. I really like this about Kristy.
Sure enough, Mrs Thomas does need a favour: someone to watch David Michael the next day, because Kathy has cancelled. Charlie: football practice; Sam: math club (oh, damn, I’d forgotten he was in math club. This should become important later, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t); and Kristy: sitting for the Newtons. (UMM. How many days in a row do they need an afternoon baby-sitter but don’t have a regular one?)
The kids eat dinner while Mrs Thomas calls around to find a baby-sitter. Mary Anne: sitting for the Pikes (remember this name). Claudia: art class. Two unnamed high school girls: cheerleading practice.
David Michael is really upset that no one wants to take care of him, which is a valid fear for a six-year-old kid, poor guy. Finally, Mrs Thomas arranges for Kristy to take David Michael with her to her baby-sitting job for the Newtons.
This is when Kristy has her great idea.
That night, she writes her decorum assignment to get it out of the way (she has to look up “decorum,” “propriety,” and “etiquette” before she figures out he was telling her not to be rude. She also does the rest of her homework, because she’s a conscientious student, obvs.
And then she brainstorms the Baby-Sitters Club.
She makes all sorts of notes about it: members (Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, ???), advertising (flyers, telephone, newspaper), where and when to meet, and whether to have weekly dues for expenses. The idea is that a group of baby-sitters (a club, if you would) will meet a couple of times a week so that they can be reached at one phone number and it will be much easier to schedule baby-sitters.
Kristy spends a little time talking to her mom that night. Mrs Thomas spends a few minutes with each kid each day, which I think is pretty wonderful considering she’s a single mom raising four kids after Mr Thomas ran off to California and refused to support his kids. (Why she didn’t change her name from Thomas, I have no idea.) [Dove: Is it that she wanted to keep sharing her surname with the kids? I’ve seen this in my friends growing up – Dad bailed, but the kids have his surname, so mum wants to stay the same because this unit is a family.] [Wing: That is a good theory. None of the divorced parents I knew did this, but I do know some families where the kids changed their names back to the mom’s maiden name, too, or where one parent never took the other parent’s name in the first place.]
At nine, Kristy gets her flashlight to send Mary Anne a message. Mary Anne can’t talk on the phone after dinner except to discuss homework, but their bedroom windows face each other and they’ve use flashlights to send each other messages. [Dove: This is adorable. Especially when Kristy sends a really long message and Mary Anne gets confused, so Kristy has to start it all over again.]
Before bed, Mrs Thomas asks Kristy if she’ll baby-sit for the Brewer kids that weekend. Mrs Thomas is dating Watson Brewer, and he has his kids for the weekend but has to work Saturday morning. Kristy absolutely refuses; she doesn’t want to play nice with Watson, doesn’t want to give him a chance, and doesn’t want to befriend his kids. She’s afraid if she lets anyone in, they’ll marry her mother and everything will change.
The next day, Kristy and Mary Anne get their charges together to hang out while they’re baby-sitting. Kristy has David Michael (six, remember), of course, as well as Jamie Newton (three); Mary Anne has Claire and Margo Pike (four and six), the youngest of the Pike siblings. (There are eight, total.)
Mrs Newton is due in about eight weeks and is glad that Kristy has brought David Michael along so that Jamie can start getting used to having other kids around. UMM. I feel like eight weeks out is a bad time to be starting that, but sure, why not, I have no parenting experience, so I’m going to roll with it.
After all the baby-sitting is done, Kristy and Mary Anne go visit Claudia to talk about Kristy’s great idea (yeah, I’m going to run that into the ground, what of it?); Kristy isn’t super comfortable going to Claudia’s house anymore, because Claudia is growing up faster than she is. Claudia wears a bra and is interested in boys, even though when they were in sixth grade, the boys were goofy and gross, but now Claudia thinks the same boys are great.
First Claudia outfit of the series! (But not the last.)
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…. [Kristy] was so used to seeing Claudia in outfits like that that I didn’t bat an eye. What I did notice was that she was wearing make-up. There was blue stuff on her eyelids, gold stuff above her eyes, and magenta stuff on her cheeks.
Kristy says she looks like she got made up for the circus, which makes me literally laugh out loud every time I read it. So much for learning about decorum, Kristy. [Dove: Jessica would love Claudia’s outfit. But hate Claudia, because only Jess can be that fabulous. Can’t be friends with a girl who pulls focus.]
We quickly learn a little more about Claudia’s family (parents are very conservative and don’t understand her taste in clothes, but let her get away with fedoras and feathers and palm tree socks, but Kristy thinks they will shut down make-up; Mimi, her grandmother, is sweet and quiet and is the first generation of her family to come to the USA; and Janine, her fifteen-year-old genius sister who takes university classes even though she’s only a sophomore in high school. I love Janine.)
Once Mary Anne arrives, Kristy explains all about her idea and what led to it. Claudia offers her room and her private number for use with club meetings, and says she knows someone who can join the club, new girl Stacey McGill.
The next afternoon they all meet at Claudia’s house promptly at 5:30 p.m. (And so the meeting time obsession begins.)
Claudia outfit: baggy yellow-and-black-checked shirt, black pants, red jazz shoes, and a bracelet that looked like it was made from a telephone cord. Her earrings were dangling jointed skeletons that jumped around when she moved.
No make-up, though, because her parents shot that down; she snuck the skeletons on after she went to school, which is smart.
We get our first run-in with Janine, who explains to Kristy that she’s misusing the word “hopefully” because she tries to use it in a way that means “it is to be hoped” rather than “in a hopeful manner.” Janine, I love you so much.
And a Stacey outfit! Keep in mind that Stacey is from New York City and is supposed to be cool and sophisticated: Stacey had on a pink sweatshirt with sequins and a large purple parrot on the front; short, tight-fitting jeans with zippers up the outsides of the legs; and pink plastic shoes.
Stacey is tall and thin, with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Kristy and Mary Anne outfits: jeans, sneakers, and a blue hair band (Kristy, though I assume she’s wearing something else with it); skirt and saddle shoes and braids (Mary Anne, and I make the same assumption here).
Stacey is nice, but Kristy feels like she and Mary Anne are a lot younger than Stacey even though they’re the same age. Stacey does get a little hesitant when Mary Anne asks about NYC, but says that her dad changed his job. She also refuses to eat any of the candy that Claudia offers them from all the places she has it stashed around the room: bubble gum in her underwear drawer, chocolate bar behind her encyclopedia, Twinkies in her desk drawer, and lifesavers in her piggy bank.
They spend so much time talking about Stacey and NYC and her diet (Kristy is super fucking rude about it) that they don’t get a lot done and decide to meet at lunch the next day to talk about it more.
They decide to hand out flyers and that they need a logo. Stacey and Kristy both want Claudia to do it, but she’s reluctant, because Janine is good and symbols and stuff, not her. Oh, Claudia, my heart. You poor kid, living in your sister’s shadow.
They brainstorm all sorts of ridiculous ideas (including a frog, a nerd, a warthog, and dog food, and this conversation feels real for twelve year olds). Mary Anne then suggests an alphabet block with their initials on it, but there are four of them and you can only show three sides at one time — and then Claudia has the great idea to do the icon block letter logo. Nicely done, Claudia.
Over the weekend, they work hard on the club. They call all the families they already baby-sit for and give them the information; put an ad in the newspaper; and elect officers, which is Stacey’s idea.
President: Kristy, of course, because it was her idea.
Vice-President: Claudia, because they use her room, phone, and phone number.
Secretary: Mary Anne, because she’s good at writing things down.
Treasurer: Stacey, because she’s good with money and numbers.
When the candy comes out, Stacey rushes home because she’s forgot about something. They think it’s all about the diet, and she’s pretty damn cagey when she gets back. Claudia keeps Kristy from asking too many questions, though, because Claudia has some social skills.
They finish up the flyer, which has their logo, their phone number, their names and offices, and that they meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. from now until infinity. (They make it to eighth grade. They don’t really get to age past that, though. #stoneybrooktime)
That night, we meet Watson for the first time, who has kindly brought Chinese food so they can all dinner together before he and Mrs Thomas go out. All the other kids are pretty chill about Watson, but Kristy even refuses to eat his food, and instead makes a peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich. Instead of Chinese food? You are making terrible choices, Kristy. [Dove: I kind of wanted to slap Kristy here. But then again, I was pro-mum dating when I was her age, so my bias is showing.] [Wing: I mean, maybe it is, but Kristy is really in the wrong when it comes to Watson, so I don’t think it’s just your bias.]
Kristy continues to be rude to Watson, until Mrs Thomas makes her apologize and go to her room without finishing dinner. Kristy does so, but before she finishes going upstairs, she shouts that she’s sorry he’s a terrible father. She knows that’s a lie, though; he’s a great father, and it makes her feel bad that Mr Thomas is a terrible father, and she also doesn’t want Watson to be hanging around her family. [Dove: Also, she mentions that his daughter probably has “a My Little Pony doll”, but he wouldn’t know that, because he knows nothing about kids. Neither does Kristy. Literally nobody has ever called it “a My Little Pony doll”. I love that this series is referencing real-world toys. Sweet Valley builds it’s own universe… and it’s feeble.] [Wing: You’re still judgmental over that whole Famous Rock Star has a Concert at Three P.M. thing, aren’t you?]
She does write a note to her mom apologizing, though, and wakes up to a note from her mom saying she loves Kristy.
They pass out flyers the rest of the week, and then on Friday, have their first meeting. Kristy shows up at 430, an hour early, to find Claudia literally hugging the phone waiting for the first call. Oh, you two are precious.
Janine pops in because she’s debating whether they need an apostrophe after the word “baby-sitters” in the Baby-Sitters Club, because it could either be a club of many baby-sitters or a club belonging to the baby-sitters — Stacey arrives to rescue Kristy and Claudia from this debate, but I loved it as a kid (and had the same thought to the series name, actually, which is why I love Janine) and I love it now. [Dove: This was literally my favourite exchange in the whole book. When I’ve been building our schedules for the site, I’ve often wondered about the apostrophe, so having Janine lampshade my wonderings was perfect. I love her.] [Wing: We don’t get to see a ton of her going forward, but when she shows up, she’s amazing every time.]
(There was a huge debate in seventh grade shop about whether we should put apostrophes on the signs we made and, if so, where. Is it the house of many Wings, the house belonging to one Wing, or the house belonging to all Wings? See? Serious business.)
By 505, they are all sitting around staring at the phone and waiting, because they are a bunch of enthusiastic nerds. (This also makes their judgment of Janine damn hypocritical.) And at exactly 530, the phone rings. Kristy actually fucking screams, that adorable fucking nerd. And Claudia has to spit out her jawbreaker to answer the phone, despite the fact that three other people do not have jawbreakers in their mouths.
God, I love these girls.
The first call is from Mrs Thomas, and Kristy is all grumpy at her, until she learns that Mrs Thomas actually needs a sitter, because, once again, Kathy has cancelled one of her days.
Then Claudia looks at their scheduling book, which is mind-blowing, because later in the series, the ghostwriters act like if anyone but Mary Anne merely touches the book, the whole club will fall apart. Anyway, Mary Anne has a dentist appointment and Claudia has art class, so now Kristy and Stacey have to decide who will take the job.
They discuss it a moment, and then Kristy tells Stacey to take the job because Kristy doesn’t want her first job to be for her own family, which makes sense. (Stacey is also pretty excited at the thought of getting to meet Sam and Charlie, because, you’ll soon learn, Stacey [and, to an extent, Claudia] are boy crazy.)
Mary Anne takes the second call, which is a wrong number for Jim Bartolini, and Kristy the third, which is an actual job call for Mrs McKeever, who needs someone to watch her two kids, Buffy and Pinky. Stacey basically dies over this information, trying hard not to laugh loud enough to be heard over the phone. Kristy takes the job, because it’s on that same day that everyone else is now busy, and she’s excited to have the new client.
They get a couple more calls for that Jim Bartolini, and then, just as Mary Anne is getting ready to leave, there’s another call from Mrs Thomas, who is calling for a baby-sitter for Watson’s kids. Damn, son, you only have them every other weekend and you need this many baby-sitters? Though, work can come on the weekends, I know well. Kristy, of course, refuses to take the job, but Mary Anne is curious about them and agrees to do it.
Then, Mary Anne gets one last call; it’s a boy who says his name is Jim Bartolini and he wants to know if there have been any calls for him.
Oh, the days of easy prank phone calls. Kristy figures out it is Sam and shouts at him, and Mary Anne is also aghast, but Claudia and Stacey find it pretty cute. Though they’re entertained, Kristy is grumpy at the end of the meeting and takes that mood home. She tells on Sam, Sam picks on her, they start fighting, and Mrs Thomas separates them. And then Watson comes over, to add icing to Kristy’s grumpy night.
AND THEN, Claudia calls to say she got a job from Mrs Newton, the first call for the club that happens after hours. Kristy feels even worse after that, because she usually sits for Jamie Newton. She grumps around that Claudia should have offered the job to everyone else before taking it herself and that just because the phone number is hers, she doesn’t get dibs on all the calls, but um, yeah, for calls that come outside of meeting times, that’s pretty much exactly what that means. The entire point of the club is that the parents don’t have to wait to call multiple people before they have a baby-sitter. This was your idea, kid! Work that shit out!
By Wednesday, Kristy is excited again, because she’s off to her first job with the new clients. She’s never baby-sat for twins before, and can’t wait to meet Pinky and Buffy. (Like Stacey, I am still laughing over those names.)
Kristy is weirded out when she reaches the house, though, because there are no signs of children, no toys in the yard, no artwork in the windows (…do people really put their kids’ artwork in the windows?), things like that. She also can’t hear them inside when she rings the doorbell, which, since I know where this is going, surprises the hell out of me. Inside, everything is fragile and beautiful, glass and delicate art on display and fancy rugs, etc. The foyer and living room are blocked off with baby gates, and again, since I know where this is going, this surprises the hell out of me.
For a minute, she worries that she’s been lured into a stranger’s home to be murderized, which, if this was Point Horror, would be valid (and, hell, if it was Sweet Valley, might also be true), but this is Stoneybrook, and surely nothing of that sort could ever happen.
And then Ms Hargreaves, who is Mrs McKeever’s niece and is watching the, ahem, twins, introduces Kristy to Buffy and Pinky: two huge, fluffy, drooling, barking Saint Bernard dogs.
HOW THE FUCK DO BABY GATES KEEP TWO GIANT DOGS OUT OF A ROOM? COME THE FUCK ON, MARTIN, I EXPECT MORE LOGIC THIS EARLY IN THE SERIES. [Dove: I hadn’t even thought of that, but we had a border collie who could jump over a 4′ fence from a sitting start.] [Wing: I have hearts in my eyes right now. Also, Monster Dog [my medium-sized Australian cattle dog] can easily jump over couches from a sitting start and clear a 6′ fence with a little momentum. [She can also jump into my sports car through the window.] Saint Bernards are gigantic. They could step over a baby gate.]
Kristy says that she’s not a dog-sitter, but Ms Hargreaves has to leave for an appointment and Mrs McKeever arranged for Kristy to be there, and Kristy is stuck. I have so many questions: why a dog-sitter for just a few hours? Why isn’t the backyard fenced in this nice neighborhood when they have giant dogs? Why call people whose flyer very clearly states that they are baby-sitters? Why not tell the person you called that they are dogs? HOW THE FUCK DO THOSE BABY GATES WORK SO WELL?
SO MANY QUESTIONS.
Ms Hargreaves promises they won’t run as long as Kristy is in the backyard with them, but this proves untrue, and I am not at all surprised. Dogs fucking run. If you don’t know without a single doubt that the dog will come back to you, keep them on a fucking leash outside or put up a damn fence. (Monster Dog and I have been attacked by a large number of dogs while we were out walking and she was harnessed and leashed. Nearly every single time the owner would be shouting how friendly their dog was a second before the dog fight began. I don’t know if you have ever picked up a snarling, biting, lunging 50 pound dog from the middle of a dog fight, but if you have not, it is a little like wrestling a werewolf. I don’t recommend trying it. [One of the reasons she wears a harness instead of clipping the leash to her collar is so I can grab it and lifter her out of a fight. The other is that if she lunges, she won’t choke herself.] No matter how friendly the off-leash dog might be, Monster Dog is not friendly, and she makes sure all other dogs know it. No dog is going to stay friendly when the dog they’re approaching has fighting body language. And none of those fucking owners could actually call their dog off with any reliability.
Here ends Wing’s dog rant.)
This dog-sitting experience does inspire Kristy to have another Great Idea: they are going to keep a club notebook and every time one of them finishes a job, she will write it up in the notebook so the others can read what happened and stay up-to-date on the families.
Claudia’s the first entry we see in the notebook, and in the ebook, I am sad to say that the font for the entry is in italics rather than the (difficult to read) handwriting from the original print copies. (Which I have, too, almost a complete set, but it is so much easier to recap off an ebook that I’ll be buying them as much as possible.) [Dove: Oh cool, so it was like the original Making Out release, with fonts for each writer? I’m going to hit the charity shops/boot sales in the new year, see if I can pick up the books – I’m buying the eBooks each month as it currently stands.] [Wing: Yes, exactly! I’ll take some pictures of my collection as I continue to unpack it, too.]
Anyway, Claudia’s job for Jamie Newton ended up being for Jamie and his three cousins, Rosie (3), Brenda (5), and Rob (8), so four kids for one baby-sitter. That’s a lot, especially when, unlike Jamie, the other three are wild and loud and rambunctious.
Rob hates girls, Brenda doesn’t want Mrs Feldman to leave, and Rosie and Jamie don’t get along (or at least don’t get along with Claudia turns up). Sure enough, as soon as the parents leave, Rob, Rosie, and Brenda get mad at Claudia and start running around and shouting. Claudia almost breaks down and calls Stacey for help, but then thinks back to how her parents would intentionally ignore her and Janine if they started shouting at each other. Instead of paying attention to the Feldman’s, Claudia sits down and reads The Tale of Peter Rabbit to Jamie. Slowly, one by one, the kids stop running and yelling and start to listen to the book, because Claudia is delightful. She goes on to read Where the Wild Things Are, which intrigues Rob enough to join them, too, and she’s tamed the wild children. Go, Claudia, go.
Second entry is Stacey’s when she sits for David Michael, and I am actually sad to have lost her handwriting, because it is clear and easy to read and she dots her Is with little hearts, which is adorable.
Anyway, Stacey has a great time at the Thomas house, and Kristy knows it’s not only because the job went so well, but because of Sam. Kristy finds this interesting because Sam is in high school, a freshman, and most high school boys wouldn’t be caught dead with a junior high girl (…even though Stoneybrook has no junior high and, in fact, they go to Stoneybrook Middle School, which Kristy clearly knows) unless she was a knockout, so Stacey must be pretty special. [Dove: Sam comes across a lot less creepy than Steven Wakefield/Sandra Ferris. And I am relieved.]
Considering how judgmental you will be toward various girls as they get boyfriends and/or become boycrazy, Kristy, you certainly seem to think Stacey gets some worth from the fact your brother likes her.
Anyway. Kristy gives Stacey a fast tour of the house and introduction to David Michael, then runs off to her own job (and we already know how that one goes). Shortly after she leaves, Sam shows up, and Kristy (having read the notebook entry and now narrating it to us, more or less, gives us outfits.
Stacey: Gray sweatshirt top and skirt with big yellow #10s, hair pinned back with clips shaped like rainbows, silver whistle earrings. Kristy thinks it is a cool look, but very young, which is part of why she’s so confused by Sam’s attraction. (Sam can go hang out with Steven Wakefield.)
Sam: (Kristy admits he’s pretty good-looking, with dark, curly hair, sparkly blue eyes, and freckles; maybe she and Sam both need to go hang out with Steven Wakefield.) Ratty jeans that he’d promised to throw away, a t-shirt that says I KNOW YOU ARE, BUT WHAT AM I? and a bad attitude.
That attitude changes the second he sees Stacey, though. After their introduction, she offers to leave, because there’s no sense in Mrs Thomas paying a baby-sitter when one of her other kids are home, but that’s not the deal, they only get one day each week, and the rest of the time, they don’t have to baby-sit even if they’re home. Which is a fair and decent way to manage it, really.
They play a championship series of Candy Land, which is David Michael’s favourite game. Stacey later tells Kristy that they had fun, but Sam kept teasing David Michael and accusing him of cheating, like a big brother might, and she was torn whether to laugh to impress Sam or take David Michael’s side because she’s the baby-sitter. She settled on doing both, but I don’t see how that helped anyone.
Now we get to Mary Anne’s sitting job for Karen and Andrew Brewer (5 and 3). Mary Anne writes in the notebook that she thinks Kristy would like them if she ever gave them a chance, which is not what Kristy wants to hear, but then she says there are some problems at Watson’s house and talks about them instead: the kids are cute, looking and acting most of the time, but Karen can be a pill. (Oh, Mary Anne, how little you know.) Boo-Boo, the cat, is old and unfriendly and likes to roam outside, which becomes a problem. And Mrs Porter, the next-door neighbour, is also a problem, mostly because of Karen and Boo-Boo.
Are you seeing a theme here?
Watson lives in a large house across town, and it becomes clear for the first time that he’s pretty well-off when it comes to money. He’s also an organized customer, every baby-sitter’s dream. He introduces Mary Anne to the kids, shows her the rooms, explains the rules and food, and makes sure she knows what’s going on and feels welcome.
Boo-Boo: gray, yellow eyes, kind of handsome, fat enough he looked like a pillow with legs attached and his stomach sways when he runs. Kristy calls him gross, because Kristy is an asshole. Apparently, he weighs 17 pounds, which I guess is pretty big for a cat (though within reason for a Main Coon cat, the kind of cats I’ve spent the most time around, because my sister, Canary, has some). [Dove: Canary has tigers. I’ve seen the photos.]
Watson warns her that Boo-Boo: bites and scratches if provoked (Karen calls him an attack cat, and I laugh); gnaws up doors if he’s confined (…this is going well); can’t be touched by strangers; and has trouble with Mrs Porter, but she’s on vacation.
Sure she is.
Karen talks a lot once her dad leaves, all about how their parents are divorced and their mom is getting remarried and if Watson gets remarried, too, they’ll have two mommies and two daddies. Maybe you’ll have three daddies, kid.
They go outside to play, and Karen shows Mary Anne Mrs Porter’s house, which is a sprawling old Victorian mansion with gables, turrets, and curlicues. It sounds delightful; Mary Anne thinks it looks dark and scary.
Mrs Porter’s witch name is Morbidda Destiny. (MORBIDDA DESTINY.) She eats toads and casts spells and fliest to witch meetings on her broomstick.
AND MARY ANNE STRUGGLES WITH WHAT TO TELL KAREN ABOUT THIS.
I mean, sure, let the kid think the neighbor is an evil witch and tell nasty stories about her, no need to say anything because it might make you a bad baby-sitter. WTF, Mary Anne? You’re supposed to be the kind, sensitive one.
Anyway, Karen believes that Mrs Porter is a witch because she made Boo-Boo fat one time after he dug up her flowers. (Karen, at least, doesn’t think it’s so horrible that she made Boo-Boo fat, but what if she does something mean in the next spell.)
AND THEN IT TURNS OUT MRS PORTER IS HOME. Mary Anne sees a window shade snap up and a wrinkled face with a big nose press against the glass. SO MUCH FOR THAT VACATION.
Boo-Boo has, of course, disappeared at this point, and sure enough, he’s in Mrs Porter’s garden. Mary Anne has to try to keep him from digging in the chrysanthemums, but he completely ignores her.
Mrs Porter comes out to join her: [she] was dressed in black from head to toe. Her hair was gray and frazzly. There was a wart on the end of her nose. She was carrying what Mary Anne at first mistook for a broom, but which turned out to be a rake.
A WART ON HER FUCKING NOSE. COME THE FUCK ON, MARTIN.
Mrs Porter frightens Boo-Boo back into Watson’s yard, shouting rapscallion after him and muttering about children and pets being nuisances. PREACH, MORBIDDA! I MEAN MRS PORTER!
(I also have strong feelings about people letting cats, who are great predators, loose on an environment unprepared for them. Mostly, I guess, I have issues with people letting their pets roam free and not caring for the damage it does.
And I don’t much like kids.)
Mary Anne tries to convince Karen that “rapscallion” isn’t a curse, but she’s interrupted when Boo-Boo starts frantically running in circles then scrambling up trees. She says that cats do silly things, though she’s never had a cat. Karen argues that Boo-Boo never does silly things, and so this is a sign of a witch.
Mrs Porter stares out her window, touches her nose, and Boo-Boo falls out of the tree and runs away.
…so, let’s revisit this witch thing.
At another meeting, Mrs McKeever calls for another sitter for Pinky and Buffy, but Kristy refuses to let anyone take another pet-sitting job. They then get a new customer, the Marshalls. Stacey takes all the information, and it turns out they need a baby-sitter for Friday night until 930 for their two kids, Nina (3) and Eleanor (1). (They have one cat, because this is now a question they ask new client. ADORABLE.)
Claudia takes the job, because Stacey is busy (though she won’t explain doing what), and Kristy and Mary Anne have to be home promptly by 930. If Claudia is a little late, her parents won’t freak out.
Stacey then figures out how much they’ve earned from their jobs (which can’t be that much unless they’ve had a bunch of jobs we didn’t get to see), and they decide to each donate $3 and have a pizza party that weekend.
Stacey is quiet as they plan, and Kristy actually apologises for forgetting about her diet. Stacey says they’re going to New York on Friday and might not be back in time. She tries to come up with a couple different excuses for why they’re going, and it’s clear she’s hiding a secret and also sucking at hiding it.
Kristy gets home to find Watson there. She’s grumpy that he’s there again, the third time he’s been over in the last week, and he hasn’t brought any food, he’s having leftovers with the rest of them. Kristy thinks that’s a bad sign because neither of them are trying to impress each other anymore.
Things get even weirder because Mrs Thomas asks Kristy to put on a dress, which she never does if she can help it.
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn they have all dressed up because Mrs Thomas and Watson — wait a minute, I don’t actually know Kristy’s Mom’s name off the top of my head, and it hasn’t come up in this book so far, but it feels weird to be talking about them both like this — because Elizabeth and Watson are making a surprise announcement. They’re getting married! Such surprise! Tons of shock! Time to celebrate!
Over SpaghettiOs and Gatorade. Welp.
Actually, though, it’s a little sweeter than that. Watson asked if she would consider getting engaged to him, because Elizabeth won’t let him give her an engagement ring yet. She wants to think about it first; it’s a huge deal to consider combining their families like that, with lots of big questions. The boys are pleased, Kristy is unhappy and has a ton of questions (including whether her dad would still give her child support, which he doesn’t fucking do most of the time anyway), but Elizabeth doesn’t have answers for her yet. [Dove: Mrs Thomas > Mary Giaccio-Robinson-Wallace‘s mother.] [Wing: Seriously. Elizabeth is pretty great throughout the series.]
Stacey leaves at noon on Friday, and the rest of them aren’t sure whether to have the pizza party without her or not. They decide to buy everything except the pizzas Saturday morning, and then if Stacey is home on time, they’ll have the party. If not, they’ll wait.
That doesn’t happen, though. Instead, Saturday is chaos in the Thomas house: David Michael is sick, Louie hurts his paw, Elizabeth is grouchy, Charlie can’t find his football helmet, and Sam oversleeps and nearly misses an emergency meeting of the Math Club (…math clubs have emergency meetings?!).
Kristy gets a call from Mary Anne, crying because her dad won’t let her spend her money on the pizza party (because she needs to save it for important, necessary things like clothes and college; $3 is going far toward those things, you know). Mary Anne won’t be coming to the party because she feels guilty.
Then Kristy gets a call from Claudia, who is both angry and near tears. Her parents got a letter from school about how she’s not trying hard enough and doesn’t pay attention and she’d be a good student if she’d just concentrate and now she can’t have a party until she’s more serious and gets all her homework done.
Kristy tries to call Stacey around 1130, but Mrs McGill says that Stacey’s not home, she stayed in NYC with friends; then Mary Anne calls to tell Kristy that she saw Stacey ride home with her parents (Mary Anne is at the Pike house now, I assume baby-sitting, though wasn’t she supposed to be free for the party before?).
Kristy then calls Claudia back to tell her about Stacey, and she’s finally done on the phone, to her mother’s joy, because Elizabeth has been telling her to get off the phone for awhile.
The next call is from Watson, though, because he needs someone to baby-sit for Karen and Andrew due to an emergency (their mother broke her ankle and is in the hospital, and her fiance isn’t available to help). And, of course, the only BSC member available is Kristy.
Kristy takes the kids inside Watson’s house and the first thing she sees is Boo-Boo (not: the huge, gorgeous front hall, not the tree that was growing in the living room, not the sparkling chandelier or the stained glass window).
The kids open up over lunch and talk about how they’re worried about their mother, of course. To make them feel better, she tells them about the time she broke her ankle last summer; she took Louie for a walk while riding her bike, he went one way around a tree and she went the other, and she broke her leg. (Karen is desperate to meet Louie now.)
(OH RIGHT THE NAME CHANGE. Karen asks if Kristy’s mom is Edie Thomas, but for the rest of the series, she’s Elizabeth.)
Watson told Karen and Andrew that he loves Elizabeth, and Karen knows that if they get married, Elizabeth will be Karen’s mommy, too; Kristy explains that she’ll be their stepsister, and for the first time, Kristy’s thinking it won’t be so bad. They talk about how crappy being a divorced kid can be, and also that they don’t want their mom to get married, but they just want their parents back together again.
See, Kristy, all this time you’ve been avoiding these kids and really you guys have things in common.
Kristy cheers them up with ice cream and telling them that divorced kids are special kids. They play outside, read books together, and generally bond until Watson comes home. They don’t want to wake Andrew from his nap early, so Kristy plays checkers with Watson and Karen while they wait, and Karen talks about how happy she is to have Kristy around and she wishes Kristy was their big stepsister already.
Despite herself, Kristy is touched and offers to be their regular baby-sitter. [Dove: My heart grew three sizes. Well, probably not, but it gained a cm or two.]
That night, Kristy talks openly to her mom about her concerns, but there’s still no real answers because things are up in the air. Kristy needs to know how things work and hates when things are undecided, which I feel, too.
Monday, the four girls show up at their meeting with news.
Mary Anne: Over the weekend, she and her dad worked out a plan, and she can spend half her money any way she wants as long as she puts the other half in the bank. Which is a great plan.
Claudia: Caught up on all her homework, got a B- on some math problems she had to do, and had a long talk with her parents about how she’s not Janine and she has different interests. They said they understand that, and tell her that she has to spend some time each night on her homework (and that her parents, Janine, and Mimi will take turns helping her and making sure she does it), but that she can keep baby-sitting and art in her life.
Stacey: Gets confronted by Kristy, who absolutely can’t help but ask the questions she wants to have answered, because Kristy can’t let shit go. You guys barely know each other. Yes, she shouldn’t lie, but she doesn’t have to tell you all the shit going on, either. She’s allowed some fucking privacy, dude.
This leads to a big fight, where Stacey attacks back and calls Kristy a baby, Claudia says she has no tact, Kristy says they’re treating her like a little kid, Claudia says she is a little kid look at how she dresses, Kristy wants to know what’s wrong with her snowflake and snowmen sweater, Claudia says she looks like a four-year-old, Kristy makes fun of Claudia’s sheep barrettes, and we get one of the icon lines of the series:
SHEEP, CLAUDIA INFORMED ME WITHERINGLY, ARE IN.
ONE MORE TIME: SHEEP. ARE. IN.
God, I love Claudia so much.
Anyway, the fight continues. Kristy says that everything’s in sometime, it was frogs, pigs, now sheep, maybe next week will be snowmen and Kristy just doesn’t have time to keep up; Claudia says she would if she’d stop playing with dolls; Kristy flips out over this because of course they don’t play with dolls anymore (not admitting they only gave it up over the summer — and also, there’s nothing wrong with playing with dolls); Claudia calls Mary Anne a baby when she cries, and then Mimi interrupts them to ask what is wrong and why they are all yelling.
They all immediately become quiet and ashamed.
When Mimi leaves, another call comes in. Kristy and Stacey literally have a tug-of-war over the phone, but Kristy wins and is the first to talk to a new client, the Johanssen, who have one daughter, Charlotte (7). They are all free, they all want the same job, and Claudia calls the club a dumb idea. Since it was Kristy’s idea, she takes the job.
Kristy and Mary Anne leave, Kristy has to stop herself from saying something nasty to Mary Anne because she doesn’t want it to become three against one (and not, you know, because Mary Anne is her best friend and Kristy knows she cries, this is not a surprise), and they head to their own homes.
Elizabeth and Watson go out for dinner that night and come home celebrating again, because Elizabeth agreed to become engaged and now has a “diamond … about the size of a boulder,” thanks, Kristy.
Again, the boys are excited, Kristy feels weird and full of questions. Elizabeth reassures her the wedding won’t be for months, which is a relief.
The girls avoid each other at school on Tuesday, Kristy’s family has dinner with Watson’s family, and Karen keeps trying to figure out all the relationships (she also guesses that Charlie is 35, which made me literally laugh out loud. Little kids and their lack of understanding ages delights me). They have fondue (DELICIOUS) and make fun rules for it and Kristy ends up having to kiss Watson on the cheek because her bread falls off her fork.
She also writes him a nice note talking about how he should call her first when he needs a baby-sitter and how she had fun and likes his house and it’s okay with her if Elizabeth and Watson get married.
Aww, Kristy. You can be a delight.
At Wednesday’s meeting, everyone apologises to each other, but it’s not just an easy apology and sweeping it under the rug (which sucks), but them being open and honest about how they feel, including the fact that Stacey doesn’t have to feel pressured to tell them anything and her lie didn’t hurt anyone and she clearly has a good reason for lying because her mom went along with it, and Kristy needs to back off out of other people’s business.
(Also, Claudia flat out says that she wouldn’t tell Kristy how she felt if they weren’t friends, because Kristy wouldn’t be worth getting mad at if she didn’t care about her, which is an interesting point.)
They agree to have a party on Saturday, and Kristy wants to talk Elizabeth into letting it be a sleepover (and succeeds). That night, they eat and laugh and hang out (Stacey outfit: spectacular nightshirt with gold glitter and the skyline of NYC across the front), and Stacey finally tells them her big secret, but not until Kristy suggests she has anorexia because of her crazy diet. THAT’S HOW YOU WANT TO THROW IT AT HER?! YOU’VE LEARNED NOTHING, THOMAS.
Stacey’s secret is this: she has diabetes.
Kristy’s nonchalant about it, though; her cousin has diabetes, too, so she knows what it means and that it’s serious but not a big deal. There’s a brief breakdown for readers who might not know, and a lot of talk about how it’s not a curse and Stacey is still fine and they care about her and it doesn’t bother them.
Stacey’s parents have made it a huge deal, and the kids at her old school teased her a lot, and they basically left NYC to come to a quiet, peaceful little town where she would be safer from teasing. That’s — not really how small towns work.
Hiding it from them was even worse than telling her old friends, though, and made everything too complicated and made her sad to lie.
Elizabeth sends up a snack and they tell ghost stories and everything is pretty wonderful. Kristy is deliciously scared, and happy, and hopes that they will stay together for a long time.
Oh, Kristy, you have nothing to worry about.
God, I love this series and these characters so much. It can be heavy-handed with its themes (and the later books only moreso), but they’re such good friends to each other and, at least this early, so real in their flaws and strengths.
I had a BFF growing up who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when we were young, and Stacey was the first character I ever saw who reflected my friend’s illness in fiction. Awhile back, one of my nieces was diagnosed with type 1 as well, and though at the time it had been like 25 years since this book was published, it was still a useful reference for a scared kid.
It’s a lighthearted series aimed at young readers, but it tackles some serious subjects, sometimes better than others. It means a lot to a lot of people to this day; it means a lot to me still.
We’ll be recapping these for years, and I’m excited to revisit each and every book.
Finally: Book #3 is called The Truth About Stacey, which means it feels like they blew that secret wide open just a little early.
[Dove: When I finished this, my thoughts were that it wasn’t life changing, but I’d have probably gotten into it if I’d have picked it up around the same time I picked up Sweet Valley Twins. Also, as an opening book, it was far stronger than Sweet Valley Twins #1: Best Friends. So, yes, I am now committed to buying and reading one of these books each month. I look forward to seeing what comes next. Also, Wing is right, as usual. When I was looking up titles to find out which one was first, I saw the summary of book #3, so knew that Stacey was hiding her diabetes.]
[Wing: Right? Some secret.]