Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Say Hello to Your Friends: Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before

Here's how an email exchange between me and a children's book publicist went down:

Me: I'd like to request an advance review copy of Mockingjay (book three in the super-awesome Hunger Games trilogy, which you must read IMMEDIATELY if not sooner).

Children's book publicist: We're not doing that for Mockingjay, but I'll make sure you get a review copy on the release date.  In the meantime, would you like a copy of the Baby-Sitters Club prequel?

Me (in the email): Sure, that would be great!  I think my readers would love a review.


Mind you, this happened after the release date of The Summer Before, buuuuut it was particularly fortuitous because I'd almost bought the hardcover when the book was first released, but didn't!  Now I get a free Baby-Sitters Club book?  The ten-year-old in me says WIN WIN!  (Okay, so does the 29-year-old in me.)

Without further ado, I bring y'all the conclusion of Awesome Authors (Two) Month(s): a review of The Summer Before!

So the title's pretty self-explanatory: this book chronicles the summer before the beginning of The Baby-Sitters Club, through the eyes of its four founding members.  So there isn't any of Jessi kicking ass as a pint-size New Jersey ballerina, Dawn sanctimoniously saving whales in California, or Abby being told she was funny by someone I'd like to hunt down.  There is a bit of pre-Spaz Girl Mallory, though.

Each of the girls (who are twelve at this point, having not yet reached the perpetual age of thirteen) has their own separate storyline.  Kristy's, Mary Anne's and Claudia's intersect--hard-core fans will remember that Stacey moved from the Big Apple (Ann M. Martin TOTALLY used that outdated touristy phrase on her Facebook page the other day) to Stoneybrook, and didn't meet the girls until school started.  Basically, the book ends with the first scene of Kristy's Great Idea, where Kristy has an outburst in class, writes an essay on decorum, and eats pizza while her mom frantically tries to track down a baby-sitter.

Not that I have the opening chapter of KGI memorized or anything.

The storylines go like so:

Kristy: writes to her dad and doesn't hear back, so is feeling a little bummed about that.  Also feels like she and Claudia are growing apart, and is resenting her mom's new boyfriend Watson big-time.

Mary Anne: is offered her first real sitting job for the Pikes (a joint deal with Kristy, consistent with the "two sitters for more than five kids" rule), but her dad is ambiguous about letting her do it.  The seeds of her breaking free of her strict pop with a Laura Ingalls fetish are being sown.

Claudia: falls in "luv" (to use Stacey-speak) for the first time, with a boy that (gasp!) Janine has a thing for.  And of course, for every preteen luv there is a preteen hartbrake (to use hypothetical Claudia spelling).

Stacey (who by the way has diabetes, did you know she has diabetes, DIABETES DIABETES DIABETES): helps her mom and dad prepare for the Stoneybrook move while fending off the nasty vibes of her former bestie Laine (who in this book is more Regina George bully than Blair Waldorf lovable beyotch).  Why is Laine so mean, you ask?  It starts with a "d" and ends with an "iabetes."

From what I've heard and read online, The Summer Before hasn't been that well-received by those who grew up reading Baby-Sitters Club.  The consensus is that a sequel would have been preferable, and I can understand that.  I'd love to see if Jessi stuck with the ballet--even those who are super-hard-core have a snowball's chance in hell of really making it, if Mallory kept up with the writing, and if Kristy bought a U-Haul already.  I don't give a shit about Abby.  She's annoying.

As prequels go, I was pretty much divided on this one.  Kristy and Stacey's storylines felt like retreads of what we read in the series.  Kristy has daddy issues and Stacey has DIABETES, nothing new to report.  I was reminded how much I liked Kristy before she became a bossy-boots parody of herself (how many turtlenecks can one junior-high girl OWN?), so there's that.

However, I really enjoyed Claudia and Mary Anne's portions.  First-crush stories never go out of style, and the way kids' minds work, it's believable that Claudia's former boytoy was never mentioned in the series. And with Mary Anne, fighting for something as straightforward and simple as a summer baby-sitting gig, I was reminded how damn powerless twelve years old can feel.  For Mary Anne in this book, baby-sitting is more than a chance to earn a little money and spend time with younger kids she likes.  It's a marker of independence, at an age where those are remarkably few and far between.

When Ann M. Martin puts her mind to it and doesn't get lazy, she's really adept at writing from a kid's perspective.  It sometimes bothers me when people wax poetic about childhood: sure, there were no bills to pay or jobs to worry about, but you were also forced to do things "because I said so," endure classroom taunting, and live in a world dominated for better and for worse by those taller than you.  Martin's better writing not only brings back the nostalgia of childhood, but the negativity as well.  For this reason, portions of The Summer Before work on a much deeper level than revisiting the characters we loved as kids.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

NOTE: no Armchair Casting Director for this one.  I don't really know a lot of tween superstars, besides the ever-baffling Justin Bieber (dude, even if I were in the target demographic, I'd still think he looked like a 9-year-old.  There's no way in hell that guy's 16).

NOTE PART TWO: If you entered the Forbidden Love Giveaway, please email me ASAP with your address (maybeimamazed02ATyahooDOTcom).  Everyone who entered gets a prize, but I have to know where to send it!  Click here for a list of the top three winners. 

Did you read The Summer Before?  Do you think Ann M. Martin should have let the past be the past and not bothered with a prequel?  Leave a comment!

And here's a fun video.  Y?  Because I like you!


  1. I actually liked Kristy's storyline the best. I love it when we get away from Kristy the Bossy Beast and get the vulnerable little girl who misses her daddy.

    Also, a lot of the fandom were kind of 'eh' about The Summer Before. Not me. I was squeeing all the way through.

  2. Yeah, Kristy's definitely cool when she's more down-to-earth and less domineering. And (SPOILER) the Kristy Day parade was just too adorable.

    It was just the storyline I had a problem with because I think it was the focus of another book. And it would have been cool if it was Kristy's mom first meeting Watson. Because they were already dating, that just felt like a huge retread of Kristy's Great Idea.

    Yes, I iz geek.

  3. I actually wish that she would write a sequel, like one where the girls in the Babysitter's Club are all grown up and their children form their own club.

    You're right, though, that first-crush stories never go out of style. They're fun to read because they're easy to relate to.

  4. Nice one getting the free copy!

    I too wish for a sequel - it would be fun to see where she took the girls. This feels like a complete retread of what we've already read in a combination of the autobiographies and The Baby-Sitters Remember. Nevertheless, I really liked your review of it and of course I still want to read it. I really like what you say about childhood in terms of Mary Anne's fight to get a babysitting job, it's true isn't it - no bills, no rent but no real control or independence either.

    Haven't read your blog in a shamefully long time - eek! Will have to rectify this asap :)

  5. Huzzah for a free BSC book! I feel the same way, Neurotic Workaholic. I feel like going back isn't giving them any development. I want to see them going forward. Plus I want to see if Claudia got even more bizarre in high school. Did she go through an all leather period? An Alexander McQueen homage period? A nothing but hemp period?

  6. Oh, this takes me straight back to my pre-teen years and my love of all things Babysitter-Club-y.

    Claudia was always my favourite, though I think it might have been because I read one of her books first.

  7. I did read it and Nikki I liked Kristy's storyline best as well. I thought it was written very realistically, and I felt so bad for Kristy for pining away for her dad, yet she still isn't ready to accept Watson. Very well done. I actually liked Claudia's storyline the least just because Claud having her first boyfriend is never mentioned previously so that sorta irked me. But like u Unprofessional I loved Mary Anne's storyline as well but yes with Stacey's I sort of felt " yeah this was covered in Baby Sitters Remember already."

  8. I haven't read it but would also have been more interested in a sequel. Seriously Bieber is 16! Some concert had to be cancelled in Sydney on Monday because of fears for the girls safety. Yikes, it's Hanson fever again.

  9. Laura: welcome back! I've missed you. :)

    Thanks everyone for reading and commenting!

    Don't quote me on this, but I think Ann M. has publicly spoken about why she didn't write a sequel. Also, I know that Scholastic is "revamping" the first few Baby-Sitters Club books (complete with shitty, shitty cover art), so The Summer Before was probably a marketing tool as well, to introduce new readers to the BSC.

    And I'm not sure how I feel about that. If you followed the whole Sweet Valley High revamp, you know that it was not super successful. And yes, I loved the BSC graphic novels, but they took a different approach to the story (as in, adding cool pictures!), as opposed to just releasing it with updated details. I'm not sure if preteens today WANT to read Baby-Sitters Club--and if they do, there's the library or eBay. The real audience are people like us, who read and enjoyed it growing up, and want to know what the girls ended up doing with their lives. Therefore, a sequel might have been the better, more profitable move.

    But maybe that's just me talking outta my ass.

    I would have looooved to see the girls in high school. I bet Claudia did get even crazier with fashion (as Sadako suggested), and Stacey maybe got a . . . um, reputation a la Cha Cha DeGregorio in Grease.

  10. I didn't that there was baby-sitter club. Actually I think that it is qute funny that there is a club like that.

  11. oh yeah I can beliebe that I use to watch that show hahaha it's really stupid now anyway I guess that was our childhood haha