Saturday, December 31, 2016

Book Review: Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #7 - Snowbound



It snowed here in Portland recently. Twice. Predictably, everyone went crazy. Icy hills were attempted, cars were abandoned on highways, and schools were cancelled on four separate days. 



In the midst of it all, I decided to re-read Snowbound, Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #7! This one came out in 1991, when I was in sixth grade and still a pretty big BSC fan, though I wasn't buying all the books when they came out. I did get this one, though.

Recently I've revisited some of the BSC Super Specials, and I've reviewed three of them here: (#4 - Baby Sitters' Island Adventure#6 - New York, New York!, and #10 - Sea City, Here We Come!) I've actually read a few more than that, but haven't reviewed them. (The "if you can't say anything nice" mantra keeps coming into play.)

Snowbound, however, is actually pretty good. Unlike some of the other BSC Super Specials, the plots are believable and the baby-sitters tend to act their age. The book also holds up pretty well, even 25 years later, despite the fact that some of the girls' problems in this book could have been solved, or at least helped, if they'd had cell phones and the internet. (On the other hand, it's kind of quaint that they don't have those things.)


So let's talk about Snowbound.



Snowbound begins with Kristy Thomas, Baby-Sitters Club president, talking about how this huge snowstorm pummeled Stoneybrook recently. The storm affected all of Kristy's friends in various, unusual ways. However, the local newspaper's take on the storm is a boring, facts-only affair with no human interest value. Kristy takes it upon herself to write to one of the newspaper's editors and ask if she can submit an article all about her and her friends' adventures. Certain that the editor will not be able to refuse, Kristy begins gathering her notes for the story.

Then we flash back....



Sunday

Anticipation and intrigue abound (!) as Kristy and her friends look forward to two upcoming events: a possible snowfall (yay for school cancellation!) and Stoneybrook Middle School's Winter Wonderland Dance. All the baby-sitters are excited about the dance because they all have dates. Oooh lala! Mary Anne is going with her steady boyfriend Logan, Kristy with her pal and semi-crush Bart, Mallory with her little boy beau Ben, Dawn/Stacey/Claudia with random boys, and Jessi with her out-of-town boyfriend, Quint, who she met back in Super Special #6.

As for the snowfall, which has yet to occur, Kristy writes: Sunday was a pretty regular weekend day. Homework. Spending time with my family. Talking to Bart on the phone. Even the weather report was normal (but boring). The newscaster was predicting a snowstorm. Big woo. It was the fourth storm that had been predicted in two weeks and not a single flake of snow had fallen.

Karen and Andrew, Kristy's stepsiblings, are staying at Kristy's house for two weeks. Karen has invented sweater pants, and at some point on Sunday, her pet rat disappears. Rodent on the loose! But that's about the extent of the excitement. Gee, if only it would snow!


Monday



I've always wondered, if Claudia is such a terrible speller and a poor student, how did she ever learn to write in cursive? I recall cursive being kind of a challenging thing to master. One theory: Claudia was actually very smart until about the fourth grade, when she got in a terrible accident that nobody ever talks about. Now she can't remember how to spell describe, but at least she makes her letters all fancy-like!

Claudia get the explain-a-club chapter here, where we are reminded that Mallory is white and Jessi is black, Stacey has Diabetes, and that Claudia and Stacey are "sophisticated." NEVER FORGET.

The baby-sitters are having their Monday club meeting. They are sad it hasn't snowed. They talk about their next meeting, which is supposed to be held on Wednesday. Several baby-sitters will be unavailable that day.... Jessi has a special ballet rehearsal, Mallory and Mary Anne will be sitting for the Pikes, and Dawn and her mom will be picking up Dawn's brother Jeff from their airport. The others don't have set plans, though Claudia volunteers to take incoming BSC phone calls from 5:30 to 6. Glad that's taken care of!


Tuesday



(I took a colored pencil to some of these illustrations sometime in the mid-90's. I regret nothing.)


On Tuesday, Mary Anne arrives at the Pike's, where she will spend Tuesday and Wednesday night, since Mr. and Mrs. Pike are heading to New York City for a day trip at the crack of dawn. Mary Anne and Mallory will be sitting for the kids for nearly 24 hours, and they are quite excited about this.

 Mrs. Pike has already explained to Mallory her & Mal's dad's New York plans: "We're going to eat a light breakfast at the Embassy... After breakfast we're going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then we'll take a bus across Central Park and go to the Museum Of Natural History. Then we'll head downtown and go shopping.... We're meeting the Sombergs for lunch.... In the afternoon, your dad and I plan to visit the Museum of Broadcasting and maybe walk around Lincoln Center. Then we're going to meet the Wileys for dinner, and after that we're going to see The Phantom Of The Opera. Then we'll come home."

Oh, is that all?

After Mary Anne gets to the Pike place, Mr. and Mrs. Pike give Mallory and Mary Anne some important instructions. Then Mallory, ever tactful, asks how much money her parents will be leaving the baby-sitters for school lunches and emergencies, etc.

Mom [Mrs. Pike] forked over a roll of bills. "I expect to get most of this back," she said. 

I [Mallory] looked at the fortune in my hands. "Where am I going to keep this? We better have a good hiding place." I gave the money to Mary Anne. "Here, you hide it," I said. "I can't do it. I'm afraid I'll lose it."

Mary Anne took the money.

I love how Mary Anne's just like, "Omg, Mallory. I'll put it in my damn purse, okay? A purse is a place where money can go. So simple. What on earth have I gotten myself into??" (Stay tuned for more of Mallory says stupid things.)


Wednesday

So Wednesday arrives, school goes on as normal, and in the evening, around six o'clock, snow begins to come down.

Mallory and Mary Anne are still baby-sitting at the Pikes.

Claudia has just started a job baby-sitting at the Perkinses.

Kristy is at home, where she has invited Bart over to watch some movies.

Dawn and her mom are setting out for the airport to pick up Jeff, whose plane is due to arrive from California.

Jessi is at her dance studio for a special Nutcracker rehearsal, anticipating her dad to pick up New York boyfriend Quint at the Stamford train station and then pick her up from the dance studio.

Stacey are her mom are at the mall, where Stacey has just finished getting a perm. She explains that she's been permed before, but she needed a new one. Flakes are already falling as they leave the mall.

The snowfall quickly turns into a major storm.

Mr. and Mrs. Pike are unable to get a train home from New York (where it is also snowing.) With nine people in the Pike house, and a near-empty pantry to boot, and no way to get to the store, the kids begin scrounging for food. When the power goes out, they raid the freezer and devour the ice cream.



Dawn and her mom make it to the airport, but Jeff's flight is diverted to Washington D.C. The ladies have to spend the night at the airport, with no way to contact anyone after the phones go down. Dawn discovers that airport chairs are very uncomfortable. Also, her mom snores.

Everyone at Jessi's dance studio is stranded there for the night. (The train station is apparently nearby, though, and Quint braves the storm to make it to Jessi.) Jessi and Quint help Jessi's dance instructors take care of the younger dancers during the night.

Claudia is still sitting for the Perkins girls. Mr. and Mrs. Perkins are stuck at their friends' house and can't make it home. Luckily, the Perkins kids are sweet and adorable as usual, but before they go to bed they realize their dog is missing. It's not even a small dog. It's a retriever named Chewbacca. But he's nowhere to be found. (Maybe he's with Karen's pet rat? Lots of animals are going missing in Stoneybrook lately.)


The power goes out all over the city, followed by the phones, but Claudia puts the girls to bed and then continues to look for the dog. He randomly shows up the next morning. He was in the basement the whole time. Oh well... way to add some unneeded tension.


At Kristy's house, Bart is unable to leave, thanks to the heavy snowfall, and has to spend the night at the Thomas-Brewer Maniac Mansion. This puts Kristy into panic mode. First she's embarrassed by how her family is acting. Then she's worried that Bart will somehow come into her room in the night! She then switches her thoughts to what will happen the next morning. What if Bart sees her first thing in the morning, looking bad? Oh noooo!

Stacey and her mom are still trying to get home. Stacey's mom leaves the freeway after a near-accident and takes the back roads. But the snow is so bad, she can hardly even tell where she's going. She stops the car, hoping to pause until the storm lets up. When she realizes that's not going to happen, she attempts to drive again, but the car is now stuck. Meanwhile, Stacey takes this opportunity to ask her mom why she fell in love with her dad. They have a sweet conversation. Then they run out of gas, which kills the heater and the mood. Death is eminent. Oh yeah, and Stacey's still Diabetic, so that's bad, too.


(Stacey is mostly sad about the fact that her hair has already unpermed itself.)


Then a car pulls up and it's some random guy who lives nearby. "Come home with me," he says. Stacey is reasonably wary. This is it, I thought. He's taking us deep into the woods, and Mom and I will never be seen alive again. We'll wind up as a story in one of those books about missing people and strange disappearances.

But it turns out she has nothing to fear, because the guy has a Christmasy-decorated house, a nice wife, and a cute baby son! They are super nice to Stacey and her mom, let them spend the night, and keep Stacey from going into Diabetic shock. Hurray!




Thursday

As the snow begins to subside, the power comes back on, and Kristy's alarm goes off at 5:30am. She then spends over an hour in the bathroom, showering, shaving her legs, attempting to curl her hair, and applying makeup so as not to scare away the guy she sort of likes. 


This is Kristy we're talking about.


Her brothers rightfully make fun of her, but Bart compliments her on her looks. (Don't encourage her, Bart!)


At the Pikes, the ice cream is gone and everyone's moaning about their hunger because apparently no one knows how to make pancakes or muffins or anything from scratch. Mary Anne calls Logan and whines about being hungry. She also asks him if anything interesting happened to him during the blizzard. No, he says, but his dad built a fire in the fireplace and the family played board games.


Mary Anne replies: "Oh, that sounds cozy. We didn't think of making a fire."


"We wouldn't have been allowed to make one," spoke up Mal from across the kitchen. "Not unless the heat had gone off, too."


I love the way Mallory just listens in on the phone call and adds her two cents. She does it twice during this phone call. To Mary Anne's credit, she does not slap Mallory.


A short while later, Logan shows up at the Pikes' on skis.




"I come bearing food," said Logan solemnly.

The grateful Pikes chow down on the snacks Logan has brought. While they eat, Mary Anne brings up the Winter Wonderland dance and wonders if it will go on as planned the next evening.


Logan thinks that it will be cancelled, since the snow is so deep. Perhaps, he says, it will be postponed till next week.

"It can't be postponed!" said Mal. "Ben and I can't wait until next week!"

And... why can't you? Are you eloping next week? What's the deal?


Claire Pike then asks if they can go outside and play in the snow.

"Sure," Mal answered. "It's okay, isn't it, Mary Anne? This may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What with global warming and all."

Even though I believe in global warming and all, the fact that THAT comes out of Mallory's mouth just cracks me up. I remember this was the first time I'd heard/read the phrase "global warming," way back in 1991, and it actually made me think that we might not have snow anymore when I grew up.


So remember how Stacey and her mom are staying with the guy who rescued them, and how no one has cell phones because it's 1991? Well, Mallory and Mary Anne are both worried about Stacey and her mom. Stacey is the Pikes' neighbor, so they can see her darkened house from their house. They've tried calling her but have gotten no answer.

When Stacey and her mom finally return home, everyone is happy to see them. But Stacey and Mrs. McGill are surprised that they were even missed, and say so.

"Don't ever think we wouldn't miss you," Claud said to [Stacey].

"Yeah. I'm very nosy," added Mal. "I can usually tell whether you're home or not, and it matters to me."


OMG, Mallory THIS is why you have to have braces and frizzy hair. THIS is why you're the baby-sitter who gets mono. THIS is why you're going to be driven out of school and have to go to boarding school in another county. THIS IS WHY.


Stacey doesn't seem to mind Mallory's creepiness, however. In a postscript, she says that "Even though we made you guys worry, it was kind of nice for Mom and me to realize just how much you care about us." (Kind of nice, mmmhmm.)

Lo and behold, Stoneybrook (unlike my hometown) has snow plows, and even though there's no school on Thursday, Friday is a normal day. And the Winter Wonderland dance is held and all the baby-sitters have a grand and glorious time.



The ennnnd.

No wait! There's more! It turns out the editor from the Stoneybrook Gazette or whatever is interested in Kristy's article and is willing to pay her for it! Kristy is now a writer! Her dream has come true! (Actually, that's Mallory's dream, but screw Mallory.)

So that's Snowbound.

A quarter century later, the book still holds up. I think the reason it does is because the events within are completely believable, even to an adult. There's no winning the lottery (Super Special #5) or getting stranded on an island in the ocean (Super Special #4), nor do the baby-sitters go a-traveling (Super Special #5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 14, and 15) more often than middle schoolers ought. Yet, the things that happen to the girls in this book are still interesting and exciting. 

However, the book feels outdated in one obvious way... no cell phones. It's crazy how Jessi has to wait in a long line at her dance studio to even try to call her dad, because the place has exactly one telephone, and when she gets a busy signal, she has to get back in line. When she goes to try again later, the phones are dead. Likewise with Dawn and her mom trying to get hold of Jeff. They have to wait in a line at the airport and then, whoops, the phones go dead. And then the deal with Stacey and her Mom. If the book was written nowadays, the issue could be that they both have cell phones but that they can't get any service where they are, or maybe because they don't know where they are, it wouldn't matter anyway. But the fact that they're stranded and near death and the best Stacey's mom can do is lean on the car horn? That's scary.

On another subject, the author (Ann M. Martin? A Ghostwriter? In 1991, it could be either) apparently had an edict when writing this book to make every baby-sitter interact with a child at some point. This was fine for Mary Anne, Mallory and Claudia, who were all baby-sitting during the snowstorm, and for Kristy, who comes from a big family, but what of the others? Well, the author has Jessi helping take care of the younger ballerinas who are stranded at the dance school. At the airport, Dawn helps a runaway toddler reunite with his dad. And the guy who rescues Stacey happens to have an adorable six-month-old baby at home that Stacey gets to cuddle. 


Compare that to previous Super Specials:


#1 (Baby-Sitters On Board): Only Mary Anne and Stacey are technically baby-sitting; the others are off the hook, though Dawn does encounter some kids and Kristy takes her siblings swimming at one point.


#2 (Baby-Sitters' Summer Vacation): They're camp counselors so they all deal with kids all the time.


#3 (Baby Sitters' Winter Vacation): They all deal with kids most of the time.


#4 (Baby-Sitters' Island Adventure): Claudia and Dawn are stuck with kids. Jessi's baby-sitting. The others get to avoid kids.


#5 (California Girls): Both Mary Anne and Kristy take baby-sitting jobs while on vacation. Jessi visits a kid she used to sit for on the set of his TV show. The rest of them do their own thing.


#6 (New York! New York!): Mary Anne and Stacey agree to sit for two diplomats' kids while on vacation. The others stay kidless.


And then in #7, we're back to the Every-Babysitter-Must-Be-Babysittorial-To-A-Child rule. Neither sleet nor snow nor global warming can keep those baby-sitters from their noble profession!


This was also the first Super Special cover that didn't feature all the current BSC members in the illustration. Just Mallory and Mary Anne and two Pikes.




"A national disaster" (see cover tagline) might be a bit of an exaggeration, since the book only mentions Connecticut and Manhattan getting snow.


On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a rousing Baby-Sitters Club adventure, and 1 being a book I'd send straight to Good Will, I give Snowbound a 8.1. The plot was believable, the characters were mostly likable (Kristy's beauty regime and Mallory's creepiness non-withstanding), and the writing was smooth and even.

A fine book to cuddle up with on a snowy day.



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