Title: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls
Summary: Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne and Stacey have had some strange adventures since they started the Baby-sitters Club. [Wing: Considering this is book #2, I think that’s a bit of a stretch, blurb writer.] But nothing’s been as spooky as what’s going on right now. The baby-sitters have been getting mysterious phone calls when they’re out on their jobs. When a phone rings and they pick up, there’s no one on the other end of the line.
Claudia’s sure it’s the Phantom Caller, a jewel thief who’s been operating in the area. Claudia has always liked reading mysteries, but she doesn’t like it when they happen to her. So she and the baby-sitters decide to take action – with some very mixed results!
Tagline: Claudia’s not sure she wants to find out who’s on the other end of the line.
What the everloving hell is Claudia wearing on the cover of my copy of this? That’s the one pictured up top there. That vest looks like it was made by a commune of llama-breeding hippies in the 1970s.
Also, we might as well get this out of the way: Kirsten Dunst modelled for the cover of this. I don’t even know why I know that, but I do. [Wing: Wait, what? Did she really? I had no idea.] Not the cover I have; this one:
I love these books too much to be properly snarky about them, particularly the early ones. I thought maybe rereading them I’d be more cynical, but no; if anything they’re even more adorable. So apologies in advance for that. [Wing: It’s so difficult to be snarky over something you love! I still adore these books so, so much, and I feel your pain.]
It was a dark and stormy night, or at least as close as middle school fiction gets. Claudia actually begins by telling us “the evening was gloomy and windy.”
She wants nothing more than to curl up with some licorice whips and The Phantom of Pine Hill, which she unconvincingly describes as a “really spooky Nancy Drew mystery.” I…don’t remember finding any of them spooky, but I did obsessively consume them, and I kind of like Claudia for her unabashed love of junk literature and junk food.
Also, I ONLY JUST REALIZED that this Claudia-view story has a title that echoes the title of the book she’s reading. I seriously literally wondered MORE THAN ONCE why they were called “phantom” phone calls instead of, say, scary ones or threatening ones or mysterious ones. Well, now I have a Doylist explanation and can die happy. [Wing: … I have been reading these books for close to 30 years and never caught that, oh my god.]
The other thing Claudia would like to do is work on her still life and daydream about Trevor Sandbourne. We’ll be hearing lots more about him, unfortunately. [Wing: Trevor Sandbourne. Swoon. (Kidding. I actually dislike most of the dudes in the BSC books.)] [Dove: I love that she thinks he has a “romantic” name. Trevor is not a romantic name in England.]
But she’s not doing either of those things: she’s doing homework, since in book one she agreed to get all her homework done and in return her parents are letting her take art classes and “More important, I can stay in the Baby-sitters Club.” Okay, wow, Claudia and I are VERY different people if she prefers babysitting to art classes, or honestly any other kind of classes.
She recaps the formation of the club and explains how it works, and then complains about homework some more:
Who cares whether > means greater than or less than, or what x equals? (Besides, why bother finding out, since x equals something different every time?)
A little part of my soul just died. [Wing: Same. Solving for x is one of my favourite things to do. It’s like a logic puzzle. Same with geometry theorems.]
She also explains that her sister is a real actual genuine genius, and then admits that her own IQ is also above average, which is why her parents and teachers are pushing so hard for her to concentrate and do better in school. Oh God, I really am old, because now I’m siding with her parents and teachers.
In the middle of comparing herself to Janine she gets to one of the bits I love (and can quote) from this book:
Well, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m not up to trigonomulus, or whatever it is she does. We can’t all be scholars.
Then she spends some time describing Mimi, her grandmother, who is the gentlest and most patient member of the family when it’s her turn to supervise Claudia’s homework (which is how they’re making sure she does it. I see their point, but getting Janine to eyeroll her way through Claudia’s homework sessions every fourth time must be torture for both girls and pure humiliation for Claudia, and this is not my idea of great parenting, guys. C’mon, at least TRY to see things from your daughter’s point of view).
I unabashedly love Mimi and plan to avoid this blog like the plague when we get to a certain book further along in the series.
BECAUSE I STILL CRY AT THAT ONE, THAT’S WHY.
[Wing: WAIT DOES THAT MEAN I AM RECAPPING IT OH NOOOOOOOOOO.]
[Necromommycon: I honestly think we need some random person who has never read the books and doesn’t care about the characters to do that one. Like can we just grab a recapper off the street or something?]
She thinks about fashion and how important it is to her, and how boring traditional clothes are, and then we get this description, which sounds capable of inducing eye bleeding in casual onlookers:
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 hightop sneakers, and my lobster earrings.
[Dove: No sheep? Are sheep no longer in?]
Anyway. After her homework Claudia is about to go indulge in some spine-tingling Nancy Drew, but decides instead to work on her portrait of Mimi.
Mimi tells her oddly-dressed granddaughter about her own family when she was growing up, and how close she was to her sister, and Claudia asks why she and Janine don’t get along, which breaks my heart a little. Honestly, the hostility and hurt feelings between Claudia and Janine are so well written, and it’s so satisfying whenever they make progress. Back to the moment with Mimi, though: she gives Claudia some simple, good advice about friendship.
“Being friends takes work,” replied Mimi quietly. “To be a good friend you must spend time with someone. You must talk to her and try to understand her. That is how you became friends with Kristy and Mary Anne and Stacey.”
I feel like I’m quoting way too extensively from the first chapter, but what the hell, I’ll skimp on quotes later. Because I CANNOT let this perfect description of seventh-grade romance pass unremarked.
Trevour Sandbourne is the most gorgeous boy in the entire seventh grade at Stoneybrook Middle School. And he happens to have the most romantic name in the whole world. Trevor has jet black hair and dark, brooding eyes and freckles on his nose. He walks through the halls looking serious and deep in thought, and he writes poetry for The Literary Voice, our school’s creative journal. I never dreamed I would fall in love with a poet. The only problem is that Trevor and I don’t have any classes together, so we don’t know each other at all.
I’m not sure which is funniest, the “damning with faint praise” of calling him the most attractive boy in a single grade in a single school, or the part where she’s “fallen in love” with someone she admits she doesn’t know at all.
Stacey calls her up so they can share the breathtaking revelations that Claudia is thinking about Trevor and Stacey is thinking about Kristy’s older brother Sam. I’m sure my friends and I had conversations exactly this idiotic when we were in seventh grade, too.
Stacey’s feeling like she doesn’t have any friends outside of the BSC, and Claudia tries to think of something fun the BSC can do together on Saturday. That’s…not exactly solving the problem, but okay. [Wing: Ah, the early days when making friends outside of the BSC wasn’t an offense punishable by short-sheeting the bed and eating all the junk food and public shunning.]
The thing they end up doing on Saturday is…nothing. They hang out in Kristy’s yard. Kristy suggests going through some old toys in the attic, and Stacey and Claudia are dismissive of that idea, which leads to the familiar aside about how Stacy and Claudia are oh-so-sophisticated and Kristy and Mary Anne are still childish little girls. Speaking of unsophisticated people, I’m currently getting angry at two fictional seventh graders for looking down on their two friends who aren’t into fashion and boys yet.
Claudia demonstrates her sophistication by letting the others in on the secret that she’s in love with Trevor Sandbourne. Kristy says he sits in the row behind her in math class, right next to Alan Gray. Pay attention: this is both important to the plot, and yet all these boys are instantly forgettable to me so I keep confusing one with the other. Don’t do that, it makes things confusing later. Try to remember that TREVOR is the most gorgeous boy in the whole grade and ALAN is the pain in the butt that teases all the girls. He especially teases Kristy, though, because she once got back at him by tricking him into stealing her lunch, only to have said lunch be made of mud and plastic-fly-covered sandwiches.
Sure, Kristy. That’s why he picks on you the most: because you pranked him in fifth grade. Why is it that these girls know more about child psychology and household management than I do, but know nothing about boys their own age?
Then Mary Anne, who’s reading the newspaper, screams. She’s so frightened she can’t even explain why she’s frightened, which feels like a ridiculous over-reaction, especially when it turns out to be an article she was reading about a series of jewellery robberies in nearby towns. (Kristy tries reading random headlines from the page she was on to figure out which one it was, and I just want to note that one of them is “Depressed Trucker Drives Self Crazy,” which is a heartless joke even by 90s standards.)
But no, Mary Anne was screaming over “Phantom Caller on Rampage in Mercer” (which admittedly is a WAY scarier headline than the story deserves.) [Wing: Sensationalist journalism at its best.]
Even her observations that 1) the robbery locations are getting closer and closer to Stoneybrook and 2) sometimes the robberies take place even though someone’s at home don’t make this especially scary. He’s just stealing stuff, not brandishing a weapon or assaulting anyone. I don’t usually like Stacey’s constant interjections about New York, but in this case, when she says this is nothing compared to what goes on in New York every day I wholeheartedly agree with her.
But then Claudia remembers that when she was babysitting for the Marshalls on Wednesday, she got two calls where the caller hung up without speaking!
Kristy, hilariously, calls an emergency meeting of the BSC. Kristy, honey: the entire BSC are right there with you. You are already more or less in a meeting. [Wing: Kristy is SRS BUSINESS.]
But no, chapter three opens with them all in Claudia’s bedroom, because God forbid they just talk about stuff while they’re at someone else’s house.
One thing I will forever love about these books is how seriously the girls take their babysitting. They approach it like it’s a career, or maybe a calling. (The Cherry Ames books got this way about nursing, too, but that was a little less endearing because it’s an actual career. It’s adorable when the BSC do it precisely because they don’t have to, and because no adult is blithering on at them about how important babysitting is: they just genuinely feel that way themselves.)
So at their emergency meeting Kristy is moaning and asking how they can babysit “under these conditions,” and Claudia has to console herself with chocolate, and I could not possibly love these over-earnest dorks more.
Even though they talk themselves out of thinking the Phantom Phone Caller is an immediate threat, they decide “good baby-sitters should be prepared for anything,” and apparently that includes burglary. Look, I’m a grown-assed adult with children, and I can’t honestly say I’m even a little bit prepared for jewel thieves. Should I be boning up on that?
Stacey proposes a code that still makes me LOL like an idiot every time I reread it: if one of them thinks the burglar is in the house, she has to phone another sitter and ask Have you found my red ribbon? and that’s supposed to tip the other girl off that she needs to call the police. The idea is that the sitter with the burglar in the house can’t call the police herself, in case the burglar overhears her.
“Aughh! Listening in on an extension! That is so creepy!” screamed Kristy.
“But it could happen,” I said. “It happened in that thriller. The Night of the Weird. You know, the one where they find the baby-sitter—“
“Stop! Stop! Stop! Don’t say any more. I Don’t want to know!” cried Kristy.
[Wing: God, I love this so much. And I especially love that while the prep should probably be, you know, CALLING THE POLICE or an adult at the very least (there are very good reasons why people don’t trust the police enough to call them, but that’s not a reality in the BSC world), instead they decide to come up with this plan to have someone else call the police. And if they’re worried about being overheard, GET THE KIDS OUT OF THE HOUSE and then call the police from the neighbor’s house or something.] [Dove: This whole scenario really pissed me off because — aside from Wing’s very sensible thoughts about it all — the minute someone proposed a bit of code, everyone in the room, including the person who came up with it, immediately forgot it. Fucking pay attention, you morons. (And that’s why I’m not allowed to lead training sessions at work any more.)]
Then they decide they need to take the BSC appointment book to school each day so they can review where they are each afternoon and evening so that if they have to call the police, they know where to send them. Kristy volunteers to be the one to bring the appointment book. This is all so elaborate and ridiculous and EXACTLY the sort of plan I would’ve made when I was twelve. Also, the book being at school in Kristy’s possession is an important plot point, so pay attention.
Also, Mary Anne suggests her burglar alarm thing, and since that is one of my clearest memories of this book I need to include it. She thinks they should stack tin cans in front of the door when they’re babysitting so if anyone breaks in it will knock down the cans and alert them.
They practice the code, and Kristy gets mad at Claudia and Stacey for not being able to remember it (and for giggling during the practice). And Claudia is also annoyed at Kristy, for suggesting a “smell alert” involving piling garbage at the entrance to the houses so they’ll be able to smell burglars; she’s joking, but you can tell Claudia thinks it’s babyish and stupid. I just like the little tensions that naturally arise from their differences in personality.
Chapter four opens with Claudia stalking Trevor through the halls of Stoneybrook Middle School. She bumps into Alan Gray, who teases her about liking Trevor. Claudia wonders how he knows about her crush and starts mentally blaming Kristy for blabbing. CLAUDIA. You are stalking a boy through the halls. Absolutely no one needs to be told that you like him. They can see you.
In math class she has an embarrassing fantasy about slipping away from a field trip with Trevor and I cringed reading it. [Dove: Not just sneaking off to kiss, but like a fairy world or something through a small door. WTF?]
At lunch Kristy and Mary Anne are eating with three other girls; Claudia thinks they’re babyish for bringing packed lunches. Claudia and Stacey are eating the hot lunch, chicken divan, even though she admits it’s disgusting; they’re also sitting with a mixed group of boys and girls. The three guys have eight desserts between them, and Claudia asks if they think they have enough food.
“Enough for a food sculpture,” replied Pete.
“Oh, no! Not today!” I exclaimed with a giggle. The guys had been bringing toothpicks to school and using their milk cartons and garbage and stuff to make food creations.
CLAUDIA. NO. Do not get giggly and encouraging over behaviour from guys when we both know perfectly well that you’d be cross and critical if one of your friends did the same thing. That is not cool. If you’d call Kristy babyish for something gross and food-related, you damn well should treat Pete the same way.
Dorianne, some girl whose name Claudia thinks is romantic (ugh), is being dramatic because her grandparents who live in New Hope got robbed, probably by the Phantom Phone Caller. This scintillating conversation is interrupted when the boys drop half a banana off their “sculpture” and into Emily’s chicken divan, and Claudia has to go help her clean off her sweater. Emily has also heard that Claudia likes Trevor, and Claudia’s still blaming Kristy for this super-secret news getting out, even though she has a moment of doubt that Kristy would even give a shit about this kind of thing.
Then she runs into Kristy, blames her, and is immediately sorry when Kristy points out that there’s no reason she’d be even speaking to Alan Gray. Claudia apologizes right away, which makes me like her again.
Later that day the principal makes an announcement about the school’s Halloween dance, and Claudia’s reaction is a perfect reminder of how unromantic middle school is:
I sighed dreamily. The Halloween Hop.
Anyone who can sigh dreamily over that deserves some kind of respect. That is some hardcore determined romanticism right there.
Claudia spends chapter five babysitting for Jamie Newton, whose mother is pregnant. Just writing that sentence gave me a rush of pure nostalgic bliss. One of the things I loved (and still love) about the BSC books is the permanent cast of babysittees. It reminds me of children’s books with very large families of kids, only since huge families weren’t a thing when I was young this felt more realistic (although…the Pikes do sort of belong to that Victorian Family/Brady Bunch swarm-of-children trope). It satisfied that same “lots of children with their individual quirks” urge.
So, anyway: Jamie Newton. Claudia takes him into the back yard, and then gets freaked out when she sees a light turn on and then off inside the house. The phone rings, but she pretends to have to tie her shoe so that it’s stopped ringing before she has to go in and answer it. Not the world’s most responsible response, but honestly I sympathize. Then Jamie hears footsteps on the driveway, on the other side of the fence. Claudia keeps her head enough to avoid scaring Jamie, which is good, but nearly gives herself a heart attack when she looks through a hole in the fence and sees an eye staring back. [Wing: SO FREAKY. Also, I refuse to look through holes like that because I am certain something will come through and stab me in the eye.] [Dove: *sigh* Thanks, Wing. Nobody is ever goign to look through knot holes or peep holes ever again.]
She screams—and so does Kristy, on the other side of the fence. Ha. Kristy’s come over because she was worried about Claudia, and offers to stay.
Kristy can be a blabbermouth and a baby, but she can also be a very good friend.
Chapter six opens with Claudia and Janine almost bonding over a shared memory of hiding during thunderstorms, but then Janine over-intellectualizes it and Claudia tells her to shut up. It was touching while it lasted, though.
While working on her still life Claudia hears a radio announcement that the police are trailing the Phantom Caller, heading south through New Jersey.
Claudia is so excited that he’s not their problem any more that she calls up Stacey and says she has exciting news. Stacey does that thing where she guesses what the exciting news is, only she guesses wrong and says Trevor called Claudia, and Claudia feels deflated because her “exciting news” isn’t as exciting as Stacey’s guess would have been. I know EXACTLY how that feels.
Only the next night while she’s babysitting for Nina and Eleanor Marshall, she hears another radio announcement that the police were chasing the wrong guy, and the Phantom Caller is still at large. She immediately gets so scared she expects to see him outside the window.
Then she gets a phone call, only the caller hangs up without speaking. By this point Claudia’s so freaked out that she tries to talk a three-year-old into staying up past her bedtime just so she’ll have company. She pulls it together and puts the kid to bed, but every single sound in the house is making her jump. Stacey calls, and is still on the line when Claudia hears someone at the door. She almost activates the “have you seen my red ribbon” code, but then recognizes the Marshalls’ voices. Mr. Marshall’s forgotten his key. So, just as well Stacey didn’t call the police.
Oh. Before the Marshalls key-failure scares her nearly witless, she has this priceless relationship-update exchange with Stacey:
“So what’s going on with Trevor?” asked Stacey.
“Oh, the usual.”
Which is pretty realistic for twelve, in my experience at least.
There’s one last hang-up call before she leaves the house, which Mrs. Marshall answers.
Chapter Seven sees Kristy babysitting her soon-to-be step-siblings at Watson’s house. She’s immediately on alert because Karen is being serious and non-smiley, and I only JUST realized that this is because Watson is attending a parent-teacher interview at her school (and Karen has reason to be concerned about that).
But Karen is one of those children who communicates by acting out, so Kristy spends the evening dealing with Karen’s ridiculous claims that the harmless next door neighbour is actually a witch named Morbidda Destiny, who this time around stands accused of making Karen have more freckles. I get so annoyed with this crap. Not the part where Karen is a compulsive fantasist (that’s fairly common in children), but the part where they don’t just sit her the hell down and tell her she’s being mean to Mrs. Porter. Karen’s old enough and bright enough to start learning that making up stories about other people can be hurtful. [Wing: Seriously! I was very annoyed with Mary Anne’s waffling over it in the last book, and it is even worse when Watson and Elizabeth do nothing to stop her throughout the rest of the series.]
A phone conversation with Mary Anne is non-helpful since Mary Anne manages to make Kristy half scared of the neighbour, too:
“You know,” said Mary Anne, “I’d be able to laugh, too, if only Mrs. Porter didn’t look so… so…”
“So much like a witch?”
“Well, yes. I mean, she goes flapping around her yard in those horrible black robes like some kind of overgrown bat—“
“Mary Anne, stop!”
Yes, Mary Anne, stop. You’re both being kind of little jerks about this. Although you’ve given me a new life goal: start stockpiling creepy black robes so I can terrify the neighbours if I live to be elderly.
She also talks to Claudia on the phone, and has a fairly awesome line:
“Besides, there are no such things as witches, and I’m through being scared. I’m a baby-sitter.”
Kristy’s deadly serious view of baby-sitting is a source of continual joy to me.
Then Mrs. Porter actually does something fairly horrific. Boo Boo, Watson’s cat, kills and mostly eats a mouse on her front step (ewww), so she PUTS THE REMAINS IN A PAPER BAG AND BRINGS IT OVER TO KRISTY. EWWWWW, WHAT THE HELL. [Wing: I’m on Mrs Porter’s side here! You let your cat roam free and it kills something in my yard, you’re getting that dead thing.]
When Kristy reports on this later Watson says he’ll speak to Mrs. Porter. Now THERE’S a conversation I hope I never have to have. “Excuse me, could you not deliver half-devoured rodents to my underage babysitter?”
Kristy responsibly reports the whole thing to Watson, along with a detailed explanation of what’s been going on with Karen.
“Thank you, Kristy. I appreciate your concern. It seems that she’s been talking about witches at school, too.”
SEE? She looked nervous and solemn because she knows she’s been misbehaving.
Next, Stacey babysits for Charlotte Johanssen. There is a great opening contrast between Stacey’s handwritten assessment of herself to Claudia’s point of view.
Luckily, though, I’m a good baby-sitter, and when you’re a good baby-sitter, baby-sitting comes first. So somehow, I managed to keep my head.
Hmphh. If that’s what Stacey calls keeping her head, I wouldn’t want to see her lose it.
Way harsh, Claudia. [Wing: And also hilarious.]
All that happens is the power goes out, and Stacey is temporarily scared by what turns out to be the Johanssens’ dog, Carrot, who got into the basement through a broken window. There are no hang-up calls, though.
It’s also amusing me that Charlotte’s parents have blocked MTV but not two news stations (or two stations that are showing the news in the evening, anyway). And in response to the lack of interesting television choices, Stacey settles on watching something called “Spook Theatre,” even though at the beginning of the chapter she described Charlotte as timid. [Wing: Aaaah, nostalgia. My parents, too, blocked MTV.]
In chapter nine Mary Anne babysits for David Michael, who has a head cold, while the rest of Kristy’s family go out to dinner with Watson and his kids. That’s…such a nice, reassuring option: having a well-known babysitter friend look after the one sick child so the others can go out, I mean. Restful for everyone involved. I just want to hug all these people.
This is also the chapter where Mary Anne SETS UP BURGLAR ALARMS, and even though I thought I remembered this, it turns out I only remembered the “piling pots and pans and tin cans in front of the door to the garage” part. She ALSO sets up a bag of marbles on a table by the front door, tied to the doorknob so they’ll come spilling across the floor if anyone tries to get in that way. The back door gets a “portable stereo” set up so that if the door opens, the doorstop will hit “play” and something called “Poundin’ Down the Walls” will start playing.
Only she doesn’t shut the front door properly, and it crashes open, scattering marbles everywhere. Louie, Kristy’s dog, insists on going outside to “patrol the property.”
Annnnnnd she also didn’t shut the back door properly, so Louie comes back in that way on his own, setting off the music and waking David Michael. JFC, Mary Anne, doors are not this hard. I officially rescind my “genius” evaluation. [Wing: Mary Anne: Genius at impromptu burglar alarms, terrible at basic doors.]
She gets David Michael half a children’s aspirin and resettles him, and can I just say that I’m jealous of how smoothly this usually goes in this series? This set of seventh-graders are constantly putting babies to bed and children down for naps and never once do they mention how this takes eleven billion hours and sometimes you fall asleep sitting up by the crib right in the middle of Goodnight, Goon.
Just as she’s closing the door to his room there’s an enormous crash from downstairs and of course it’s Kristy and her family. They’re…much calmer and more enthusiastic about the pots and pans than I think I’d be in the heat of the moment. Mrs. Thomas gently asks why all the cans and things were by the door, and praises her for keeping David Michael safe. Kristy and Charlie and Sam are amused, but not meanly so. Mary Anne is embarrassed, but not horribly so by the sound of things; she blushes but she doesn’t cry or run away or anything.
Kristy is a good friend and walks her home. But again: no phone calls. So it’s only Claudia and Kristy who’ve gotten them. DUN DUN DUN.
Chapter Ten opens with the ominous words, “Boy trouble.”
The BSC meeting gets sidetracked by KRISTY, of all people.
“Do you know what Alan Gray did to me today?” she asked, a look of pure disgust on her face.
“What made you think of Alan Gray?” I asked. We’d been talking about Charlotte Johanssen.
“Everything makes me think about him,” said Kristy, throwing her hands in the air. “He bothers me all the time, every single second of every single day.”
I don’t know why Claudia doesn’t leap to the obvious conclusion here. If any of my friends had said that when we were twelve, we might’ve pretended to believe she hated him, but everyone would have IMMEDIATELY assumed she had a crush on him. Then again we ALSO would have assumed his idiotic behaviour meant the same thing. I HATE the “boys tease you because they like you” thing a lot, but it’s such a commonly-said thing that I can’t believe none of the BSC have heard it. (And as it turns out Kristy HAS heard it, so I don’t know why she doesn’t mention it as a possibility. Maybe she’s thinking it but doesn’t share?)
Alan Gray’s been hiding her math homework and shoes, and she’s caught him going through her desk. Maybe I’m overreacting but…that goes beyond teasing. If someone’s touching her stuff she needs to report it to some adult who’ll take her seriously, because that’s not okay.
During the course of this conversation she lets slip that her brother Sam took a high school girl to the movies. Stacey gets so upset she CRIES over this, and Kristy feels horrible, but in the meantime Kristy is just awful about the unnamed high school girl: saying they should have seen “what” Sam took to the movies, and criticizing her weird clothes (“Like mine?” Claudia hilariously asks).
I don’t want to change anything about how the book is written: boys can be jerks, friends can be insensitive, girls can say horrible things about other girls. One of the reasons I love this series, though, is because without being preachy or blunt it somehow does manage to suggest, a lot of the time, that these aren’t great behaviours. Like, Claudia taking offence over Kristy’s snide comments about the other girl’s clothes does suggest Kristy maybe should just let other people express themselves.
In the middle of all this Claudia answers her phone and accepts a babysitting job without offering it to the others, and it emerges that she’s done this three times before. Oops.
Her excuse is that she has a lot on her mind:
“The Halloween Hop is only four days away, and I don’t think Trevor even knows my name yet.”
“Wow,” said Stacey sympathetically. “I didn’t realize it was getting that serious.”
I burst into actual laughter over the sheer middle-schoolness of that. That is the OPPOSITE of “getting serious,” Stacey.
Claudia refuses to ask Trevor because it isn’t a Sadie Hawkins dance (are those really a thing? I mean, were they in the 90s? It sounds like something from centuries ago). [Wing: They were. Not as common as Ann M. Martin makes them (which ties into some regular criticism of these books and adults writing about teenagers in general, which is that they default to what the author’s life was like at that time whether it is actually applicable or not), but there was at least one dance a year where it was tradition for the girl to ask the boy. Which is such ridiculous bullshit in so many ways.] It’s both annoying and pretty realistic; I probably wouldn’t have had the nerve either, at that age.
Then they get a call from Mr. Newton, who is on his way home because Jamie called him and said the baby was coming. Mr. Newton says he’ll call the BSC back once he gets home, and I just about pull my hair out in clumps in frustration. For every example of implausibly competent seventh-graders in this series, there’s a counter-example of some parent who couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag. If your WIFE might be going into LABOUR you don’t hang around so you can phone some twelve year olds and update them! What the hell.
The girls worry sweetly over whether the baby will be all right if it comes three weeks early. Stacey, ever the sophisticate, has heard of a three-months premature baby that was all right. Mary Anne breaks my heart by saying she doesn’t know anything about when she was a baby, like if she was early or late or anything, because her father never talks about it, and she wishes her mother were around to ask. Then Kristy suggests maybe Mary Anne can ask her mother, or Claudia’s, or maybe Mimi, since they were all friends with Mary Anne’s mother. I literally cried a little, both over Mary Anne missing her mother, and over the image of the BSC parents as young women, forming a playgroup, and then having to lose a friend.
These books have a way of sneaking up behind me and stabbing me right through the feels. [Wing: Jesus, that is an entirely new perspective for me. All those young mothers dealing with her death and then with what Mr Spier ended up doing (trying to avoid spoilers here for people who may not have read the entire series but are reading these recaps anyway); what a heartbreaking, painful situation for all the adults, too.]
Mr. Newton calls back. It was a false alarm: Jamie phoned him at work just to talk, and didn’t mean the baby was coming NOW, just that it was coming. [Wing: I find this so adorable. Of course the baby is coming in Jamie’s opinion; he’s young enough that time doesn’t mean much to him, so yes, the baby is coming now. Because the baby is coming, and it might as well be now.]
In chapter eleven Claudia complains to Mimi about having extra review work for math, and they’re trudging through the times tables when there’s an exciting interruption. Their elderly neighbours, the Goldmans, have come back from dinner and they think their house has been robbed. The Kishis invite them in and call the police, and Mimi makes tea.
The police ask about “odd phone calls,” and Mrs. Goldman remembers getting a couple where the caller just hung up.
So later Claudia calls everyone (Stacey first, of course) to tell them the news. The police aren’t sure this robbery fits the Phantom Caller’s pattern (though they never explain why not), and think it was a copycat. But Kristy still calls back later that evening to tell Claudia that Mary Anne’s dad has put his foot down and won’t let her babysit until the Phantom is caught.
She calls an emergency club meeting for recess tomorrow. Kristy, you are ridiculous, but I love you. The seriousness of it all, the formality of “calling a club meeting” instead of just saying they need to talk at school…it kills me.
Also, Mimi wisely tells Claudia that if she wants her relationship with Janine to change, she can’t just wait: she has to change it.
The next day at school Claudia decides to walk past Trevor’s table in the cafeteria, as part of a cunning plan to make him notice her. And I’m pretty sure he does notice her, since she accidentally dumps her entire plate of Jell-O into his lap. She’s mortified. I’m horrified on her behalf: that is legitimately the stuff of junior-high nightmares.
She’s glad to have the emergency meeting at recess to distract her. They divide up Mary Anne’s babysitting assignments. Mary Anne offers to quit the club, but they all insist on sticking together. When Mary Anne points out that she might not be able to pay her dues, Kristy says they won’t worry about that now, which coming from Kristy is pretty amazing. [Wing: God, their friendships. This is a huge part of what I love so much about this series.]
Chapter Twelve is the beginning of the end of the mystery. Claudia and Kristy—the two who’ve been getting the phone calls—are babysitting for Jamie Newton together, because his three rowdy cousins from book one are there again. They arrive to a scene of complete chaos as both sets of parents struggle to find sandwiches, get dressed, and get out of the damned house.
Remember in the first book how Claudia tricked the kids into listening to her by deliberately ignoring their bad behaviour? Well, Kristy is a lot more direct: she shocks them into good behaviour by whistling to get their attention and threatening to punch their lights out if they don’t behave. As a parent I feel like I should object to that but quite honestly I don’t. I mean, I would if I thought she was ACTUALLY threatening them, but I think she’s just calling the bluff of a set of siblings trying to see how far they can push her.
Both Claudia and Kristy pick up the phone to one non-speaking caller each, and then after a third call they hear someone outside and see the shadow of someone right outside the front window. Claudia has HAD IT:
“That does it,” I said, suddenly more angry than frightened. “I’m going to call the police.” And I did.
I am so impressed with how she has enough sense to ask the dispatcher how she’ll know it’s the police at the door, and then she and Kristy both have a look at his ID card before taking the chain off the door. Also they’re collected enough to send the four kids to the dining room to finish dinner while the police are there, dragging along the perp they’ve caught skulking in the bushes…
And it’s ALAN GRAY.
Confession: the first time I read this book, I was so disinterested in the various seventh-grade-boy characters that I couldn’t immediately remember what one he was. Kristy promptly gets mad at him, though, which was my tip off that he’s the one who teases her.
After Alan confesses to the hang-up calls and to KNOWING WHERE KRISTY IS BABYSITTING ALL THE TIME BECAUSE HE WAS SNEAKING INTO HER DESK TO READ THE CLUB NOTEBOOK, I kind of hoped she’d tell him to go to hell (or whatever the appropriate-language equivalent is for people in seventh grade).
I also a LITTLE bit wanted to say the same thing to the cop. On the one hand, he does say some of the right things (“Do you know that was an invasion of privacy?” for instance). But we also get this:
“Son,” said Officer Stanton in a more kindly voice, “what did you want to ask her?”
Just NO NO NO NO NO.
Look, I’m not heartless. I know Alan was just being an idiot about liking Kristy. But at this moment in time? Having just caught him skulking on someone’s porch, having scared these girls for literally weeks? I DON’T GIVE A SHIT WHAT HE WANTED TO ASK HER, AND NEITHER SHOULD THIS COP. This is the moment for “what you’ve been doing is the wrong way to get someone’s attention and you’ve been scaring them and going through their stuff; you are in a HEAP of TROUBLE.” This is not the moment for “I am a kindly older man who will give you the chance to ask her out now.”
Okay. Deep breaths. I’ll be fine in a minute…no, wait, I won’t. Because Alan asks Kristy to the dance and SHE SAYS YES and now MY HAIR IS ON FIRE AND I WANT TO THROW THIS BOOK INTO THE SEA.
Even if you are capable of seeing that he’s just been an idiot and meant no harm…even if you mother told you that “boys tease you because they like you” (AAAAAGH)…at least make him apologize.
Because he doesn’t.
He literally doesn’t say the words “I’m sorry” anywhere in this scene. Not to Kristy, not to Claudia who had to call the freaking police, not to the Newtons and the Feldmans (who come home in the middle of this), not even to the police for wasting their damned time.
Instead we get this:
“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.”
…and I hate everything.
[Wing: What a great Necromommycon Goes Boom moment here. And for good reason. This entire part is terrible, as is the idea that boys teasing girls because they like them is a good thing, a normal thing. This is a low level thing that helps build our rape culture.] [Dove: Yep, this is why I’m here. I read it and thought, “Well, someone’s going to go boom.” I’m amazed our site isn’t on fire right now. But I agree with everything that was said, this wasn’t cute or quirky, this was invasive and wrong.]
And that is, basically, the book. In chapter fourteen we get brief pregnancy humour, with Officer Drew eyeing Mrs. Newton’s belly nervously and asking if she’s okay (this is literally a thing people do when you’re Very Pregnant: they start looking at you like you’re a time bomb and they’re wondering if they’re going to have to rush to your aid somehow. Police and medical personnel are the WORST, probably because they would actually be responsible for you if you suddenly and dramatically went into labour. It’s extremely annoying, though).
On the walk home Kristy “explains” to Claudia that she said yes because Alan just proved what her mother had been saying all along, that boys tease you because they like you. THAT IS NOT A REASON TO SAY YES TO HIM JFC. Whatever bits of me were not on fire just burst into angry flames.
OH WAIT IT GETS WORSE.
“….He deserves to sweat, just like we did. However—Claudia, a boy likes me.”
No, Kristy, that is not a “however.” He deserves to sweat, period. His liking you doesn’t diminish what he did or make him any less deserving of the lecture I hope he’s getting from the cops and his parents.
Kristy, come on: you have so much integrity around being a good friend and taking your responsibilities seriously. Don’t flake out now just because OMG A BOY.
Back at home, Claudia’s in her room when Janine comes in to talk to her privately. She saw the police at the house where Claudia was babysitting, and instead of telling their parents she came to talk to Claudia first, which is pretty damned decent. Claudia tells her what happened, and Janine says she’s proud of her, and I’m not crying. You’re crying. Shut up. [Wing: Sisters. I love how their relationship changes throughout the series because they both work at it, and that it is never an easy thing for either of them.]
Claudia does tell her family, of course, and they are also proud of her.
But then she realizes that if Alan was using the BSC notebook to make calls to Kristy, that still doesn’t explain why she, Claudia, was also getting hang-up calls.
The answer to THAT is so obvious that I can’t believe they drag it out for several pages. Ugh. She even gets as far as thinking that maybe a boy has a crush on her, too, but doesn’t guess (or even HOPE) that it’s whatshisname, the poet she’s been stalking.
The next night when she’s babysitting for the Marshalls she gets a weird call, and then a second one. The second time she manages to ask the caller to PLEASE say something, and he does, and oh joy! It’s whatever his name is, the Poet of Seventh Grade.
Trevor. Trevor Sandbourne.
He’s calling to—I know you’re as fascinated and surprised as I am—ask her to the Halloween Hop. She—wait for it, I know you’ll never guess—says yes.
Chapter Fifteen is the dance. Oops, hop. Whatever.
Kristy goes with Alan. She’s wearing a plaid jumper and a red turtleneck which Claudia and Stacey couldn’t talk her out of, and which sounds like a hellishly warm sweaty thing to be dancing in. Stacey goes with Pete and Claudia goes with Trevor and all is wonderful.
[Dove: Thank you for the picture, in England a jumper is a sweater/sweatshirt/whatever, so I just assumed Kristy was worried she’d be cold and layered up.] [Wing: Not a wrong assumption for Kristy; she spends most of her time in sweaters and sweatshirts.]
On Monday Claudia gets a B- in math, and her family are proud.
Two days later the police catch the Phantom Phone Caller.
The mystery of who robbed the Goldmans’ house goes unsolved. The Phantom says he was never in Stoneybrook, and since robbers never lie the police know their theory was correct and the Goldmans were robbed by a copycat.
I literally adored this book up until the end of chapter eleven and then everything went to hell, Kristy betrayed me, and I remembered that I don’t give a single aching fuck about which twelve year olds are dating which other twelve year olds.
So the friendship parts were awesome, the family scenes were touching, the bickering and chatter were exactly right, and….I don’t know, apparently I have no romance in my soul and a burning desire to kill all variants of the “boys will be boys” thing.
[Wing: You can have plenty of romance in your soul and still a burning desire to kill that thing. God, this series. When it’s good, it’s amazing, and when it’s bad, it’s burn everything down.]
[Dove: I could see whether this was going, and quite enjoyed it anyway – except for Kristy’s sudden forgiveness of stalking. But the idiocy of the phone code annoyed me to an irrational level, and now I’m judging them quite harshly. That said, I loved the Claudia and Janine conversations. More of that, please.]