Nostalgic Bookshelf

Snarky recaps of nostalgic media, including Making Out, Baywatch, Blyton and Baby-Sitter's Club
6
Aug 2018
The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey by Ann M Martin

The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey by Ann M Martin

Title: Boy-Crazy Stacey

Summary: Stacey and Mary Anne are mother’s helpers for the Pike family for two weeks at the New Jersey shore. Things are great in Sea City: There’s a gorgeous old house, a boardwalk, plenty of sun and sand… and the cutest boy Stacey has ever seen!

Mary Anne knows that Scott the lifeguard is way too old for Stacey, but Stacey’s in love. She fixes Scott’s lunch, fetches his sodas, and spends all her time with him… instead of with the Pike kids.

Suddenly, Mary Anne’s doing the work of two baby-sitters, and she doesn’t like it one bit. But how can she tell Stacey that Scott just isn’t interested—without breaking Stacey’s heart?

Tagline: Who needs baby-sitting when there are boys around!

Initial Thoughts:

I unabashedly love Sea City and wish it were real and I could vacation there, so this is going to be difficult to recap just because I love it all so much.

That said, I do have some issues with the title.

On the one hand, yes: I vividly remember that age when my friends’ group were getting interested in boys, only we were all doing that on wildly different schedules, so there were frequently times when one of us was visibly making a fool of herself and the others saw it and discussed it. I’m not sure “boy-crazy” was ever a term we used, but it fits the perspective and attitude I remember having.

But on the other hand: I kind of hate that we do this at all. It’s easy, looking back on this as an adult, to see that Stacey isn’t trying to be selfish (and definitely isn’t trying to look foolish!); she’s just grappling awkwardly with new feelings and experiences.

And I wish that, as a culture, we gave girls a little more guidance not just on the crushing/dating stuff, but on the “being an honest but also kind friend to the person currently wrestling with hormones and emotions.” Because really, I don’t remember anyone ever giving me clear instructions about not falling into the “not like the other girls” mindset, and I could have used them.

Besides, she’s not “boy crazy.” She’s making an ass of herself over one particular guy. It’s not, like, a generalized thing she does with every guy she meets.

My only memories of this book aside from Sea City itself were being mad at Stacey for not doing her share, but even more mad at Scott the lifeguard for taking advantage of her (and his other fans).

[Wing: So word to all of this and thank you for saying it so well. Unlearning the drive to reject “feminine” things so as to be “not like other girls” is a terribly hard thing to do, but important. It took me forever, and I rage at all the time I lost to it.]

Recap:

The book begins with Stacey getting ready to go to a small party at Kristy’s new house. Stacey’s nervous about how to behave in a mansion, and her mother is anxious about what Stacey will eat while she’s there. Sigh. I get that the McGill’s have a lot of anxiety around her illness, I really do, but they make it feel like such a burden all the time. It makes me sad for Stacey.

So like this, but with birds?

Stacey outfit: a pink shirt with bright green and yellow birds “splashed all over it,” baggy shorts, a wide green belt, silver bangle bracelets, and earrings shaped like silver bells.

Also we get this gem:

My parents have let me get away with a lot of things fashionwise, but they draw the line at two earrings in each ear. They said I would look like a pirate, although I, personally, have never seen a pirate with more than exactly one earring. I pointed out that if I did get my ears pierced again, probably no one would mistake me for a pirate, but Mom and Dad failed to see the humor in that.

The party is happening because the BSC are going in separate directions for the next two weeks: Dawn and her brother are going to California to visit their father; Claudia and her family are going on a quiet vacation at a mountain resort; Kristy’s staying in Stoneybrook, because her mother has wisely decided they need some time to just get used to being a family; and Mary Anne and Stacey are going to be mother’s helpers for the Pikes.

Stacey thinks about how odd it is that she and Mary Anne, who aren’t all that close, will be the ones doing this.

The BSC exchange addresses so they can send postcards. I can’t even mock this; my BFF and I used to send each other mail any time either of us so much as stepped out of our hometown. [Wing: That is adorable.]

Kristy also wants a postcard from Stacey and Mary Anne every day describing their job with the Pikes, so they can transfer the information into the club notebook later. Kristy, I love you but you’re becoming kind of a nightmare. [Wing: … that is less adorable, damn it, Kristy. (I spend a great deal of time fighting my own Kristy tendencies.)]

Then they all cry a couple of times (which my BFF and I did not do except for the time she moved away for two years). Guys, you’re going to be apart for two weeks. Calm down.

Chapter two re-introduces all the Pikes, since Mary Anne and Stacey have gone over to meet with Mrs. Pike to discuss their responsibilities and Stacey’s diet and insulin requirements. She has a “no swimming before nine a.m. or after five p.m.” rule (because those are the lifeguards’ hours), and that’s so entirely sensible I feel like applauding.

That night Stacey packs:

—last year’s bikini, the new bikini, two bright sundresses, sandals, shorts, tops, a nightshirt. Then I snuck over to my bottom bureau drawer, removed a bottle labeled SUN-LITE, and buried it under my clothes. I was determined to come home with lightened hair. My hair is already blonde, but I wanted it Sun-Lite blonde. However, if Mom saw the bottle, I’d be dead.

That is the most perfectly junior-highish ambition I have ever seen in print. I love you, Stacey.

I also love the phrase “Sun-Lite blonde.” I want that to be a colour. Preferably not the greenish-blonde colour that was the result when my school’s pre-eminent Mean Girl over-bleached her hair one summer. (She then dyed it black, to cover up the green, only it didn’t entirely do the job and she ended up with hair the shade of a live lobster.) (And I feel bad calling her a Mean Girl, because in retrospect she was a girl under ridonkulous amounts of family pressure, but at the time she seemed scary and remote and possibly actively evil, like a Point Horror character.)

Stacey’s mom (has got it going on) comes in to make sure Stacey has packed her insulin kit, and has to work her way around to it by getting her stamps and asking about toothpaste, and for the first time I feel a pang of sympathy for Mrs. McGill. Usually the McGill’s annoy me (and Stacey) and seem to be actively making things worse, but she was trying really really hard in this scene to perform her parental obligation to make sure her child was safe while also not just charging in and lecturing her, and it was touching. Stacey’s reaction is also adorable (possibly a little too much so):

Mom looked at me for the longest time. Then she opened her arms. I leaned over and we hugged. Mom cried. I cried a little, too. It’s awfully hard helping your parents grow up.

But it has to be done.

[Wing: For a series where characters will tease Mary Anne about crying all the time, there is certainly a lot of crying in this book!]

The car ride next day is exactly as hellish as you’d expect a long drive with the Pikes to be: two vehicles, Claire doing the silly-billy-goo-goo thing, a barf bucket actually labelled PIKE BARF BUCKET (which would probably have made me throw up on sight when I was thirteen), and seven hours of heavy traffic. I literally want a martini just for reading this chapter.

However much Stacey and Mary Anne are being paid (and how much ARE they being paid? I don’t remember seeing it mentioned), it’s not enough.

At one point Margo (in the furthest-back of three rows of seats) has to change places with Mallory (in the front passenger seat) because she feels sick, and they do this WHILE THE CAR IS MOVING. ON A FREEWAY. [Wing: I mean — yes? It’s not like either of them were driving.]

But amazingly no one actually throws up, even though Mr. Pike’s idea of a solution is to stop for ice cream. Yeah, no. I was a parent volunteer on a three-hour bus ride this past year, and I can confirm that ice cream is pretty much the last thing nauseated children need to consume. [Dove: I don’t have kids or know any, and even I raised an eyebrow and thought, “That doesn’t sound quite right…”]

I’m pretty sure this is what’s meant by the suntan girl, because it mentions the dog pulling down her bikini.

But they finally reach Sea City and joyfully start pointing stuff out: the suntan girl billboard, Crabs for Grabs (sounds like a great name for a swingers’ club), Trampoline Land, the boardwalk with arcades and a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster.

And I’m almost as excited as they are. Damn, I wish this was a real place. If we could have a portal into the BSCverse I’d like it to be located in Sea City, preferably right there in the rental house the Pikes stay at every year. [Wing: Same. I would live there.]

Chapters three and four, by the way, begin with cheerful postcards from Stacey, who dots her “I”s with hearts and signs them “luv, Stace.” The first one is just updating Kristy on the job so far, but the second one to Claudia is more revealing:

After we looked around the town we took a walk on the beach. I saw the most gorgeous boy! He’s a lifeguard, and he’s the guy of my dreams! See ya! Luv, Stace

The Yellow Wallpaper, anyone?

The Pikes’ rental house is old-fashioned and gingerbread-y with lots of trim, and it’s located right on the beach. It’s a three-story house, and Mary Anne and Stacey are sharing the yellow bedroom. That’s probably only alarming if you’ve read Charlotte Perkins Gilman. [Wing: A+ reference, I love your recaps so much.]

They unpack, help all the Pike kids unpack, and then since the kids respond to “what do you want to do this afternoon?” with eight separate suggestions they just go for a long stroll. They pass all the major attractions in town and return along the boardwalk, and there at the beach Stacey sees the lifeguard she mentioned in that postcard to Claudia:

As the blonde one leaned over to fold his towel, the sun caught his hair, making it gleam. And at that moment, he glanced up. He saw me looking at him, and gave me a smile and a little wink.

Stacey announces to Mary Anne that she’s in love, and Mary Anne just shakes her head, which I guess is kinder than my reaction (even after infinite rereads) of bursting into laughter.

In chapter five Stacey is pretty much phoning it in as a babysitter.

Which is unfortunate, because Mr. Pike double checks with her about her breakfast, managing to provide slightly-alternate versions to what the rest of them are eating and ALSO not making a fuss that would alert the kids. Not that I entirely understand why the kids can’t know: when I was a child I had an uncle with diabetes and I (and all my friends) knew, and it wasn’t traumatic or anything. But Stacey doesn’t want them to know, so that’s what’s important here. [Dove: I did like that Stacey worried that they would think she, a slender tween, was on a diet for weight loss reasons and give them the wrong idea, but I didn’t get why it was so cloak and daggar.] [Wing: I think she’s still pretty embarrassed by it. When I was just a little younger than Stacey, my BFF was diagnosed with type 1, and she was a little embarrassed, but it never became a big secret or anything.]

We’re also treated to Stacey and Mary Anne putting on bikinis, and Stacey’s self-description reminds me of all the fanfic where the heroine has “curves in all the right places”:

I’m not shy. I whipped off my clothes. Underneath was my new bikini. It was skimpy (and we’re talking very skimpy) and yellow, with tiny bows at the sides on the bottom part. And if I do say so myself, the top part was filled out pretty nicely.

Mary Anne’s eyes nearly bugged right off her face.

“Oh, my—“ she started to say. “Well, that does it. I’m not taking my clothes off. I’ll sit on the beach in a shirt and jeans. I’ll wear an evening gown if I have to.”

“Come on, Mary Anne,” I said. “It can’t be that bad. Let me see.”

For all that I find Stacey a bit annoying here, to her credit she does think Mary Anne looks fine and makes a point of telling her so, and Mary Anne doesn’t spend the day in an evening gown. [Wing: When I was younger, I started shipping Mary Anne and Stacey because of this scene.]

This costume is BRILLIANT and I need to include it.

They lug what sounds like a ton of stuff down to the beach and settle in, and Stacey notices there’s a fourteen-year-old boy there with two little boys. This will be important later. She points him out to Mary Anne, because she’s guessed (because he looks nothing like the kids he’s with) that he’s a boy mother’s helper.

She also remembers her Sun-Lite and rubs some through her hair.

Annnnnd then she spots the blond lifeguard, who is surrounded by a group of giggling girls about Stacey’s own age. Reading this as an adult I hate Scott less than the first time I read this, because I can readily believe an eighteen-year-old starting-college-next-fall guy would still be immature enough to like the attention and/or not know how to graciously tell them to go away, but… I still think he should be telling them to leave him alone and let him work. Not letting them get sodas for him and even sending one to make a sandwich for him for lunch. JFC. [Wing: I find him even more sketchy as an adult, mostly because he reminds me of all sorts of terrible frat bros who would pull this, and worse, with younger girls, even high schoolers.]

Also Stacey should be working. Damn it, Stacey.

All morning I watched the lifeguards and the girls. I watched them much more than I watched the Pike kids. Mary Anne seemed a bit miffed, but I couldn’t help it. I was in love.

I have a little sympathy for the “not having 100% of your attention on the kids” part, because honestly that’s unnecessary and “play by yourself for a while” is a necessary life skill; you can keep an eye on non-infant children while also doing other things. But why she’s in love with a guy who has a horde of girls running errands for me is a bit perplexing. Thirteen-year-old me would have loathed him on sight (not that that’s an entirely healthy reaction either, but I prefer my grudgy outlook to the apparently devoted one being presented here). [Dove: I just wanted to shake her throughout this whole infatuation. I agree that keeping half an eye on the lifeguard isn’t the end of the world, but the way she Jessica Wakefielded through every interaction with Mary Anne pissed me off. “Mary Anne seemed peeved, but fuck her, I’m in love, so she can suck it” was the general vibe. Sure, be in love, kid, but you are being paid to work, not just be there while Mary Anne does your share.]

Mary Anne points out that as soon as three high school girls show up on the beach the lifeguards stop paying any attention to their younger admirers, but Stacey doesn’t want to hear it.

Stacey does pay enough attention to the kids to make them put on sweatshirts after lunch, “since their skin wasn’t used to the sun” (wtf? Are they going to develop immunity to UV?). [Wing: This reminds me of that whole idea (that some people I know still have) about needing to get a base tan before going anywhere when you’ll be exposed to a lot of sun so you wouldn’t burn and it would be healthier. Usually that base tan involved a tanning bed, so I’m thinking the health benefits were less than we all hoped. Also, sweatshirts seem really heavy for a warm beach day.] Mary Anne stays in just her bikini and by the next chapter is sunburnt and in pain.

Stacey ALSO notices Adam and Jordan are splashing Byron and insulting him for being afraid to go in the water (these are the Pike triplets, for anyone confused by the Pikes). So she didn’t check out of her job as entirely as I’d misremembered.

But she drops the problem with the triplets pretty quick:

I turned around at that moment and saw the hunk watching us. He flashed me a grin. My knees melted. I just had to talk to him.

While Mary Anne took over with the triplets, I sauntered up to the lifeguard stand.

“Hey, cutie,” said the hunk.

My knees practically disappeared, but I turned on all the charm I could find. “Do you have the time?” I asked. “My watch isn’t working.”

The group of girls around the stand looked at me warily. The backed off a couple of steps.

I am torn between cringing with embarrassment for Stacey, and wanting to hug her for that adorable display of “trying on impending adulthood.” Her obvious delight at having driven out the other girls is just amazing, like watching a kitten pretend to be ferocious.

Scott, though, needs someone to sit him down and explain why all this is Not Okay. I don’t mean that I think he would ever *touch* any of these kids or anything, but I do believe he knows the too-young-for-him girls have crushes, and taking advantage of that to get free sodas and lunch is just gross.

Okay, wait, this is just flat-out wrong:

As Claire ran off a few moments later, the hunk said, “Maybe we better introduce ourselves. I’m Scott. Scott Foley. I’ve been noticing you.”

(The girls at the stand retreated even farther.)

Ugh, there is no way he doesn’t know she’s going to misinterpret that, is there? I mean, the high school kids who run the summer camps here all have WAY more common sense than I’m seeing from this guy. Yuck. Maybe “don’t flirt with thirteen-year-olds” is part of counselor training now?

I’m blaming Stacey way less for her behavior on this read-through, because I’m seeing Scott as more manipulative than I remember. She’s so painfully young. At the end of this first full day at Sea City she writes “STACEY + SCOTT = LUV” in the sand and my heart breaks just a little for her.

But she’s still being kind of a shit friend, because she basically spends the whole afternoon hanging out with Scott and running to fetch him cold soda. That basically leaves Mary Anne to cope with eight children (seven if you count Mallory as self-sufficient, I guess) so Stacey can swoon over one entitled man-child. Not cool.

Monday morning Scott isn’t on duty, and the Pike parents come along to the beach. I only just noticed how unfortunate that is. If he’d been on-duty the one morning that both Pike adults are there they might have put a stop to his antics real quick. Plus I bet they’d have gently reminded Stacey she’d been hired to pay attention to the children, not random hunks.

Stacey and Mary Anne take the kids to Burger Garden for dinner (so the Pike parents can go out to dinner somewhere civilized). The mushroom-shaped tables sound fun, and I adore every and all hamburgers, but having to listen to Claire call it “Gurber Garden” would literally drive me to drink. I have a low tolerance for overly-cutesy fictional children.

Stacey and Mary Anne are really good with the kids, though. Like, about a million times calmer in the face of squabbling than I ever could have been at their age. So I think the book is carefully emphasizing that Stacey hasn’t lost all sense of herself as a babysitter; she’s just temporarily distracted by Scott whenever he’s around.

They do the boardwalk rides and eat ice cream, and Mary Anne’s feeling sick because of her sunburn. The Pike children rather sweetly bring about a dozen different remedies to her room when they get home, which I liked.

The “postcards” are so revealing. Stacey’s in LUV; Mary Anne just doesn’t understand what it’s like to be in LUV; Stacey’s still keeping it together enough to have noticed what’s going on with Byron.

There’s a shark scare at the beach. That’s less scary than the way Scott is openly favouring Stacey now, calling the other girls “kids” when he introduces her. I don’t know, it’s entirely possible that was just an offhand remark, but Stacey interprets it as him thinking she’s older and more sophisticated than the other girls hanging around the lifeguard station. The other girls seem to interpret it that way, too, so they clear off, leaving Stacey mentally crowing that now she has Scott all to herself.

Ugh. Yuck. No.

She’s becoming a steadily worse co-worker, too.

I alternately tried to coax Byron into the water (he staunchly refused, saying he didn’t want to be eaten by a shark) and found excuses to talk to Scott. Every time I did, I noticed Mary Anne giving me dirty looks.

Well, could I help it if Scott needed a sandwich and then another soda? I’m sorry if she thought she had her hands full, but it wasn’t my fault Adam dumped a bucket of water over Byron, or that Nicky disappeared for ten minutes. It turned out he’d gone back to the house without telling anyone, but Mary Anne panicked. She was just going to have to learn to cope with things like that.

At five o’clock, Scott and Bruce climbed down from their stand. Mary Anne called the Pike kids out of the water. “I think we should take them inside,” she said to me. “Mallory and Jordan look kind of burned. And I know Claire’s tired.”

“Okay, you start,” I told her. “I want to talk to Scott for a minute.”

At this point I want to kick Stacey in the pants and DROWN both Scott and Bruce. Oh my fucking God. [Dove: Again I say, that’s some Jessica Wakefield shit right there (although Jess would pull this without the attention and encouragement Scott is giving Stacey).]

Scott gives Stacey his whistle, and all the vaguely-charitable feelings of “well he’s young too” that I had at the beginning of the recap? THEY’RE GONE NOW. There’s no way on earth he doesn’t know she’s interpreting all this romantically, and she’s a CHILD and this is GROSS. If he was my eighteen-year-old son (or employee!) I’d be livid. I’m livid NOW and he’s not even REAL. [Dove: On this, I assumed that he had billions of whistles, like Johnny Buck’s “special” hat that he gave to Jessica Wakefield, and he gave it out every few days or so to the kid who fetched food and drink the best.] [Wing: That is probably true, but it comes across differently when it is a celebrity who does things like signed head shots and a lifeguard who is actually interacting with all these younger girls. He comes across as manipulative and predatory to me.]

On Thursday it’s raining, thank goodness, so they can’t go to the beach. Mr. and Mrs. Pike go off to a restored colonial village (Mary Anne looks disappointed at not being able to go, but doesn’t say anything). Everyone else hangs out at home until they’re crabby and bored, and when the weather clears up a little they go into town.

Ha. They take the kids miniature golfing and it sounds EXCRUCIATING. Claire goes first and takes twenty-seven strokes on the first hole. Mary Anne and Stacey eventually divide into three groups so they can play separately, because other people are getting annoyed waiting while all ten children play each hole. Margo comes up with the real solution, though: a rule that no one can hit the ball more than twenty times at one hole. After twenty tries you’re done that hole. Holy crap, I would go for a number a lot lower than twenty, but it’s still better than just letting them take infinite turns. [Wing: Right. Like three. Maybe five if I felt generous. And that’s for me as much as the kids.]

Then when they return their balls Claire wins two free games for being the five hundredth customer that week, and she and Margo want to play again right now. I laughed. Stacey says no to that. It’s a bit of a relief to see that even the BSC have limits to their patience with children. I’d have cracked LONG before that point, believe me.

Meanwhile, back in Stoneybrook, Kristy is babysitting Karen and Andrew and David Michael one afternoon and lets them wash Watson’s old Ford (Watson himself suggests this). David Michael takes Louie to a dog show in Linny Papadakis’ yard (…okay), and Louie cuts his paw, so Kristy has to deal with tracking down Charlie to take the dog to the vet. And while she’s doing all that, Karen and Andrew decide it would be a great idea to wash the car with steel wool and get it really shiny, so they do that.

Watson isn’t angry (well, they’re his own damned kids and it was his idea, so in a way he CAN’T get angry), and sees it as an excuse to paint the car purple. Karen and Andrew want to be the ones to paint it, but he has enough of a grain of common sense to say no. [Wing: NOW WAIT JUST A MINUTE HERE. This neighbourhood is going to be fine with Watson painting a car purple but in short matter they’ll have problems with a pink car? (Vaguing it up here so as not to spoil Dove.) I call shenanigans.]

Stacey has become the living embodiment of being too absorbed in personal drama to do your damned job. Look at that minimalist report for the BSC journal. I’m shocked.

Okay, no, I’m not shocked. I am sad for her, though.

They’re already into their second week at Sea City. Stacey’s bought another new bikini: pink, with parrots and palm trees all over it. Mary Anne is no longer sunburnt, but she is furious with Stacey.

But by the end of the day, she practically wasn’t speaking to me. She accused me of spending too much time with Scott.

Personally, I think she was jealous. And if I were Mary Anne, I’d have been jealous, too. That nerdy mother’s helper had been hanging around her endlessly, and the two of them were always doing stuff with the kids, like building sand castles, or collecting shells to make a moat around the towels and umbrellas.

That quote probably marks the lowest point in my opinion of Stacey. I think I need a few numbers to count the ways I’m annoyed at her. Numbers are soothing.

  1. She’s spent the whole book saying Mary Anne can’t possibly understand her feelings, and implying it’s because she (Stacey) is so mature while Mary Anne is babyish. But there’s Mary Anne forming an age-appropriate little crush of her own, and Stacey can’t even see it.
  2. I automatically get a bit angry at anyone who dismisses someone as “nerdy.”
  3. DOING STUFF WITH THE KIDS is why you’re at Sea City in the first place, you twit. Don’t criticize Mary Anne and Alex for doing their damned jobs!

Okay, I feel better now. [Dove: *applauds*]

I also feel sorry for her, though, because Scott has reached Peak Shithead:

“Sweetheart,” he said to me on Saturday afternoon, “did anyone ever tell you you’re beautiful?”

What. The ever-loving. Fuck.

Now, by the end of the chapter we’ll know a second reason why this is inappropriate, but even knowing what we know right this second—namely, that he’s eighteen and she’s thirteen, and that he’s supposed to be ON DUTY RIGHT NOW and also anyone with a single functional brain cell would have figured out she’s supposed to be babysitting those kids she’s always bringing to the beach—this is all kinds of wrong.

Poor Stacey offers at one point to run home and get a soda for Mary Anne (who by now is too angry to accept it), and it really is mildly heartbreaking to think that she’s been giving the Pikes’ sodas to that asshat Scott and only now that she’s damaged her friendship gets around to offering one to her friend.

The Pikes give the girls the night off, which is awkward right this moment, but by the time they’re showered and dressed they’re at least talking to each other again.

Stacey also loans Mary Anne her yellow pedal pushers, yellow and white striped tank top, and an oversized white jacket. That sounds ghastly to me, but I’m sure it was stunning at the time. Also, yay for all “sophisticated” girls who help out their less fashionable friends; this is a trope that is dear to my heart for many reasons.

They have five whole hours to roam Sea City on their own, which is pretty exciting.

They have dinner, wander around, go on the Ferris wheel (the attendant winks at them so I guess all the older guys in Sea City are equally inappropriate around young girls? That’s kind of a creepy thought.), and Stacey idiotically spends “almost ten dollars” buying a heart shaped box of chocolates for Shithead Scott.

And then it happens: simultaneously the most satisfying (for the part of us indignant on Mary Anne’s behalf) and crushing (for the part of us that LUVs and understands Stacey) scene in the book.

I turned in the direction she was gazing.

“Wait, Stacey,” said Mary Anne. “No.”

But it was too late. I’d seen.

Snuggled up on a bench behind me were a girl and a guy. The girl was curvy and gorgeous and at least eighteen.

The guy was Scott.

They were kissing.

I turned back to Mary Anne. “Guess I won’t be needing this,” I said. I thrust the satin box at her. “You take it. You deserve it. You were right all along. Enjoy your prize.” I burst into tears.

Okay, Stacey sweetie, you’re being a little bitch here. Mary Anne does not deserve you to get angry at her for trying to warn you about the patently obvious truth about Scott, you poor little jerk.

But Mary Anne is a saint or something, because she leaves the chocolates on a bench, puts an arm around Stacey, and walks her home. YOU GUYS. I teared up, that was so kind. Oof, my heart. I love the friendships in these books.

(You know how the less-creepy of the Bronies—she says, wildly digressing—sometimes argue that they love the show because they tend to be guys who struggle with social skills and the show’s spelling-it-out friendship lessons are actually teaching them valuable things? Or maybe you’ve never spoken to a Brony and are weirded out right now, which I sort of don’t blame you for. But I have, and I’ve heard them make that argument more than once. ANYWAY. My point: those guys should maybe read these books. (Or maybe not, because if just one of them ventured into BSC pinup art I might have to commit homicide.)) [Dove: Married to a Brony. Consider myself one (because the phrase “pegasister” is sickeningly twee and the English have little respect for gendered words). Go to PonyCon every year. Friends with several Bronies. Speak to loads of them at each con. I have yet to meet a “creepy” one. But still, non-fans always have to describe fandom as if it’s 99% sexually deviant sickos.] [Wing: Pegasister sounds dirty as hell, oh my god.]

Mary Anne is no pushover, though, and she has officially had it. The next morning Stacey tells the Pikes she has a headache and wants to spend the morning at home, because she’s avoiding Scott.

“Sure,” replied Mary Anne. But up in our room later, she said, “Thanks for sticking me with all the kids again. You know, last night you dragged me around to about a billion stores looking for a present for Scott. Then when you saw him with that girl, you practically blamed me. You are so rude. The least you could do is apologize.”

“I’m sorry. I really am,” I said.

But Mary Anne wasn’t finished.

“If you actually had a headache, well, that would be one thing, but it’s Scott, isn’t it?”

I nodded.

“Boy.” Mary Anne shook her head.

“Well, what are you complaining about?” I shot back. What was her problem? I’d already apologized. “That guy mother’s helper will be hanging around.”

“His name is Alex.”

“He looks like such a nerd.”

“Well, he’s not! He’s funny and nice. And he’s good with kids.”

What was her problem, seriously? Let’s go back to numbers:

  1. Apologies are not magic words that fix everything. You apologize, and then you STILL HAVE TO FIX EVERYTHING, and you’re not doing that part yet.
  2. Stop calling Alex a nerd, especially not in the same breath as implying he can do your job for you since you’re too embarrassed to show up at the beach.
  3. Mary Anne was as understanding of you as humanly possible last night, and you are right back to taking advantage of her already this morning? Really?
  4. DO YOUR DAMNED JOB ALREADY.

Anyway, Stacey starts in on a couple of those list items kind of inadvertently, because Byron comes back alone, asking to stay with her. She ends up going for a walk with him, and when they’re on a calm beach on the other side of town she has a long talk with him, finds out the sort of fears he has about the ocean, and gets him to join her in the water. It’s actually sweet, and I love that she suddenly understands that even when she’s been with the Pike kids, she hasn’t been present.

She also thinks things over and realizes that Scott only ever saw her as a cute kid, and someone to run errands for him, not a girlfriend. She concludes that she can’t hate him, because at least he was nice to her, and he did give her his whistle. OH BOY. I’m experiencing pure mom rage here. It is not right that a girl Stacey’s age is being forgiving and understanding of a situation an older boy engineered entirely to his advantage. It is even more not right that we promote this sort of reaction as “being nice” or “kind” when honestly, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE NICE ABOUT BEING TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF.

When she takes Byron back to the beach he’s confident enough to at least play in the shallows.

Mary Anne, meanwhile, is glowing with happiness because Alex is there. Stacey makes it a point to be extra-nice to her, and to apologize again.

So, by the end of the day, the triplets were together again, and Mary Anne and I were together again.

But Scott and I had come apart.

You know, these books really capture how slow-mo painful growing up can be, with all the drama and the enormous feelings that accompany each painful little lesson.

“I’m in LUV again!”

And they also capture how quickly the next drama comes along. Ha. I LUV Stacey’s resilience here.

Monday is Scott’s day off, and on Tuesday she avoids him. She gets to watch him flirting with the other girls, though, and calling them cutie and beautiful, and she finally grasps that she really meant nothing at all to him, which she admits hurts.

But she survives it.

On Wednesday Mary Anne takes half the kids to Trampoline World, and Stacey takes the rest to the beach. She falls into conversation with Alex (because Claire makes one of the kids he’s with cry), and meets his cousin, Toby.

That was when I got my first really good look at Toby. He was about fourteen years old. (Perfect!) His brown hair was sort of waved back from his face. It was held out of his eyes with a blue headband. I was glad I could see his eyes, because they were a beautiful deep brown, almost velvety looking. A handful of freckles was sprinkled across his nose and cheeks.

And that goes on and on for two pages of every possible detail of Toby’s looks and hobbies. It’s exactly like the experience of trying to be a good listener while your newly-in-love friend babbles at you.

You know, she’s figured out that fourteen is a better age than eighteen for her LUV purposes. But given the way she goes on about his looks, his clothes, how “cool” he is, and how much she wishes Claudia were there I suspect she’s learned LITERALLY nothing else. Like, for Stacey dating is obviously going to be an excruciating process in which she’ll get her heart broken repeatedly, each time learning exactly ONE thing about how not to choose a guy. “Oh, so I shouldn’t pick based on looks?” “Oh, the cool guy isn’t as kind as the nerd?” And so on and so forth, inch by bloody inch.

SIGH.

Anyway. The next day when Mary Anne is there Stacey comes up with the brilliant idea of double dating, and Mary Anne goes over to Alex and bravely sets the whole thing up.

I’m proud of Mary Anne but I’m also aware that the text is deliberately presenting Mary Anne as the smart, good-judgement, likes-the-nerd one, and contrasting that with Stacey as the pretty, physically developed, flirtatious one who makes bad romantic choices. I don’t love this dynamic and the “not like the other girls” mindset that comes out of it.

[Wing: I’m also surprised that Mary Anne does it, though I guess this is before she was boiled down quite so much to being almost debilitatingly shy.]

The date goes well. After they separate into couples, Toby wins a teddy bear for Stacey, buys her a shiny pink shell, and KISSES her in the Tunnel of Luv. It’s literally the most romantic thing ever to happen to anyone in junior high, I imagine.

Saturday arrives, and they have to pack up and go home. Stacey takes Claire down to say goodbye to the beach, and it perfectly captures that aching happy-unhappy feeling when vacations come to an end. After Claire goes back to the house Stacey (you knew this was coming) writes STACEY + TOBY = LUV in the sand.

They all get one last trip to the beach, so the girls get to say goodbye to Toby and Alex and exchange address. Wait, do we ever hear from Toby or Alex again in later books??? [Wing: I could answer, but spoilers for Dove.]

Stacey also says goodbye to Scott.

“Thanks again for your whistle,” I said. “I’ll always keep it.” I’d never wear it, but I’d keep it to remind me of the first boy I ever fell in love with. I’d put it in a drawer, though. Not on a shelf, where I planned to sit Toby-Bear, or on my dresser, where I planned to put the seashell.

Stacey’s going to grow up to keep scrapbooks, I can tell.

Also, I absolutely love her gift hierarchy.

The final chapter takes us back home to Stoneybrook, and the BSC getting caught up with one another. Stacey calls Mary Anne (who wanted to talk to her about something) before Claudia (who she is absolutely bursting to talk to), which makes me forgive her for everything.

And the payoff is AMAZING, because she finds out that Mary Anne and Alex exchanged five dollar rings engraved with their initials, and Mary Anne’s wearing hers around her neck (so her father won’t see it). Okay, she probably just eclipsed Stacey on the “most romantic thing to ever happen in junior high” scale, right?

The book ends with Stacey calling Claudia to deep-discuss her first kiss. Fair enough.

Final Thoughts

I love love love this book, which might be hard to believe given how much time I spent screaming at it in capslock.

I also don’t blame Ann Martin for the whole “Mary Anne is sensible/young/serious, Stacey is boy-crazy/shallow/pretty” thing. For one thing it’s so pervasive in our culture it’s difficult NOT to reproduce it, and to elevate the “smart but less pretty” one who reminds you of yourself. And for another, series books with multiple characters tend naturally to sort characters into their differences in order to distinguish them from one another.

But in real life it’s more complicated, and we’re all a little bit Stacey and a little bit Mary Anne at various points in our lives. I just want to put that out there.

[Dove: I’m sorry, but this one just pissed me off a lot. It felt so Jessica Wakefield – and I only have room in my heart for one set of tweens who never grow older – that Stacey slacked off all week, made a fool of herself over an older boy, and everything worked out just fine, because she found a boy her own age to have a date with. That said, I loved Mary Anne throughout.]

[Wing: I love Stacey, even when she’s making terrible decisions about her friends and her job and being manipulated by an asshole who really needs to get her shit together. And I quite like the Pike kids in this book and how much they love Sea City. That must be such a fun tradition for them.]

Necromommycon has been mummified and buried in the countryside (with a large number of books).

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  1. […] Stoneybrook, which I suppose don’t count). Claudia and family went to a resort in New Hampshire. Mary Anne and Stacey were off in Sea City working for the Pike family. Kristy and her family stayed put to bond. And Dawn went out to California, with her brother Jeff, […]

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