Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review: The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #6 - New York, New York!

When I was recovering from surgery I had the bizarre urge to re-read The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #6: New York, New York! Why? Because I enjoy punishing myself, apparently.

It's not that the BSC books are bad. Some are actually quite entertaining, and many of them do hold up even 25 years later. The earliest ones -- the books written by Ann M. Martin and not some poor ghostwriter -- are arguably the best, although occasionally the ghostwriters did come up with something worthy, and occasionally Ann M. Martin totally phoned it in.

There were different kinds of Baby-Sitters Club books. The "regular" ones usually had an A-plot involving the main character and a B-plot involving any number of tiny little children. Oftentimes, the two would mesh. Each regular book was told from a different baby-sitter's perspective; so, like, Stacey's Mistake was told in first-person-Staceyview, and roughly every seven books, there'd be another Stacey one.

But then there were the Super Specials. Here are a few things you should know about the Super Specials:

1) They tended to involve some kind of mega-event in the baby-sitters' lives, such as a vacation, a school play, a wedding, or being stranded on a deserted island. The first two Super Specials: Baby-Sitters On Board (a cruise; a trip to Disney World) and Baby-Sitters' Summer Vacation (the girls all go to summer camp) were plausible. The next few, not so much. In #3, their entire middle school gets to go to a mountain lodge for a week. #4 is the one with the deserted island and the stranding of poor Claudia and Dawn. #5, California Girls, was always a personal favorite, but it still makes me giggle that the writers were so desperate to explain how the girls could afford such a trip that they had them win the freaking lottery.

 2) They allowed multiple characters to tell the story. One girl would bookend the whole thing, saying that she was putting together some kind of diary about the experience and that she was going to ask her friends to contribute their memories, letters, pictures, etc., so that this first character might make a scrapbook. If this chosen character was, say, Kristy, she might introduce the story and then narrate chapter one. Then Claudia might take over in chapter two, Dawn in chapter three, and after a cycle, back to Kristy. This way, you were able to follow all the characters in their various exploits throughout the course of the vacation/event.

 3) It didn't matter where the girls went or how they might try to escape from the day-to-day grind of baby-sitting; every single Super Special found SOME way for the girls to BABY-SIT. ON VACATION. It was like there was some kind of curse placed upon them, making sure that, even if they went to the moon, a spaceshipful of plucky orphans wouldn't be far behind.

Now that you know all that, it's time to talk about Super Special #6: New York, New York!

The seven members of the Baby-Sitters Club -- Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia (the bookender), Stacey, Dawn, Jessi, and Mallory -- are going to NEW YORK CITY! Sure, the girls live in Connecticut, and New York is about an hour by train, but none of the girls (save for Stacey, who used to live there) have really had a proper New York vacation.

Here is Kristy's take on the matter:

My friends and I left for New York City today. I've been there before, but not for two whole weeks. What a great vacation this was going to be. Maybe I would get to see a Mets game. I had already checked to see if the dog show would be going on at Madison Square Garden. It wouldn't. I had missed it. But I didn't care. I wanted to go sightseeing. I wanted to buy lots of New York souvenirs. I wanted to feel grown-up and important.

D'aw, Kristy, you little schmuck.

New York was gonna be GREAT! And not just because the girls had two whole weeks in which to explore the urban jungle, but because they had made sure to pack all their coolest oufits!

Claudia: My suitcase was cluttered with about three years' worth of clothing, and a whole pile of things I couldn't decide whether to pack. Would I need suntan lotion and three bathing suits? Probably not. I took them out and dropped them on the floor. Then I began weeding out articles of clothing, entire outfits. I wondered if my other friends were having as hard a time packing as I was. We had all decided to pack that afternoon. Then we were going to ask Stacey her opinion of the things we were bringing (Stacey is a New York expert, since she grew up there.) We figured that if Stacey said we'd made any horrible packing boo-boos, we'd have almost three days to straighten them out before we left on our trip.

Sheesh. I mean, I get that they all wanted to look cool, but to have to get wardrobe approval? Sadly, this paragraph never leads to any scenes where Stacey's actually pawing through suitcases, going, "Mallory... I really don't know how to tell you this, but it's 1991 now, and zipper leggings are just not in anymore. Embrace the emerging grunge era!" Or, "Hon, your wardrobe is fine, it's your hair we're going to have to tame." Leading to a scene where Mallory shuts herself in a closet.

BUT NO. Everything is fine, and the girls go off on their trip.

Now, it's not going to be merely a vacation for all the girls. Kristy may be content with "sightseeing" and "feeling important," but Claudia is going to the Big City for enrichment -- she is taking art classes! Sure, Claudia already takes art classes. But these classes are taught by a famous artist. Mallory decides to take the classes too. Because she wants to learn to draw mushrooms and cute little bunnies. Yeah, I don't get it either.

So the girls arrive in New York and work out sleeping arrangements (subway stations! just kidding.) It is decided that Stacey, Claudia and Dawn will bunk at Stacey's dad's apartment, and the other girls will stay over at the posh apartment of Stacey's best NY friend, Laine Cummings, who is super rich and whose parents' apartment has three bedrooms.

Now, remember before, when I said that little kids always find their way into any BSC Super Special? Wondering where they could be, since the girls presumably left all their baby-sitting charges back in Connecticut? Well, the girls are barely at Laine's apartment five seconds when their new neighbors show up. They're from Britain and they're doing an apartment-swap with some Americans. The Brits are: Mr. Harrington, Mrs. Harrington, and the precious and delightful children, Alistaire, 7, and Rowena, 4. The tykes need a caregiver, someone to show them around the city while the parents are on business, BUT WHO COULD POSSIBLY TAKE CARE OF THE CHILDREN?

So the Baby-Sitters hold a secret discussion and decide to offer themselves up. The Harringtons are delighted. Stacey and Mary Anne take on the job. And so, for the next two weeks, they will take the two kids all around the city. It's actually kind of cool because they get to go places like the children's museum and dinosaur museums and all other manner of kiddie funplaces. But it's not all fun and games, because something sinister is afoot! Stacey and Mary Anne begin to notice that, wherever they go, there are guys in sunglasses and rain hats. CREEPY guys in sunglasses and rainhats. Soon, it occurs to them that it might be the same guy. 

From Stacey:
"Mary Anne!" I hissed. I pulled her away from the others. "Don't panic. And keep quiet, okay? Now, don't panic -- but there's the guy with the hat and the glasses."

Mary Anne turned pale. I wondered if her heart was pounding as fast as mine was. We were passing the Statue of Liberty, and everyone was gazing at it. Even the man.

"He's after the children!" Mary Anne whispered. "I know he wants to kidnap them. Remember when we learned about the Lindbergh kidnapping? Remember the guy who took Anne and Charles Lindbergh's baby? A long time ago? Well, after that, a lot of famous people became afraid their children would be kidnapped, too. You know, for ransom money. And they tried to protect their kids by changing their last names and stuff. I just know this guy is after Alistaire and Rowena. Think of how important their parents are." 

"And think of the ransom the Harringtons could afford to pay," I added.

Now, Stacey, don't start getting ideas!

Even though Stacey and Mary Anne work themselves into a nice, emotional upheaval over the whole thing, it turns out the man in the hat is really the Harringtons' bodyguard, and he wears the disguise so that Alistaire and Rowena won't pay attention to him while they're trying to have fun. Why the Harringtons never mentioned this man's continued presence to Mary Anne and Stacey, I do not know, only to say that I believe they are sick and twisted folks.

Meanwhile, Claudia and Mallory are attending the art classes, but Claudia hates them because her dreamy teacher never says anything nice about her work; he just tells her to slow down with the sketchin'. But he gives positive encouragement to Mallory, even though her drawings suck. As lunch approaches during a class field trip, Claudia is once again dismayed by her teacher's reaction to her sketches. Claudia begins to feel despair.

I sat by myself and ate a pretzel, which was very salty. Apart from that, it had no flavor. I did not care.

But in the end, it turns out Mr. Teacher actually thinks Claudia is quite talented, and was merely hard on her because he believed she lacked discipline. And so Claudia returns to Connecticut feeling just a little bit more smug.

And then there's Dawn. Dawn is TERRIFIED of New York City. Dawn, who found and explored a secret passage in her old farmhouse, which may or may not have been haunted. Dawn, who loves to read ghost stories. Dawn, who likes to pull practical jokes that frighten Mary Anne. Yes, that Dawn is afraid of New York City. Dawn is so frightened, in fact, that she won't even leave Stacey's dad's apartment. Luckily, a neighbor kid with crutches happens up and befriends her, and eventually takes her out on the town and shows her there's nothing to be afraid of. She drinks cappuccino and samples cannoli and learns not to be a scaredy-cat. It's all very touching.

Jessi, the eleven-year-old ballerina, is pretty much on her own this vacation, since her BFF Mallory is taking those art classes. She decides she wants to go see a ballet performance. While there, she meets a boy ballerina named Quint, who is super talented, but is afraid to audition for Julliard because the neighborhood bullies will make fun of him even more than they already do. Jessi encourages Quint to follow his dreams. Before they part, Quint gives Jessi her first kiss and they promise to keep in touch. Awww, Jessi finally gets some lovin'!

And who have I forgotten? Oh, right, KRISTY. Now, Kristy is the President of the BSC, and is usually pretty bright. But she also loves animals, especially dogs, and well, sometimes with animal lovers, our hearts get a little too big for our brains. (What, what?) Translation: Kristy finds a stray dog in Central Park and decides to keep it. As in, bring it back with her to Connecticut. She decides to try to smuggle it in to the apartment building where she's staying (she's convinced they do not allow pets) and then hide it from Laine's parents. Only, pretty soon Laine's parents find out. Also, Kristy calls her stepdad and he says she can't keep the mutt. So now Kristy has about a week to find the dog, "Sonny," a new home. 

Poor Kristy. I mean, this is really a noble thing she's doing, but what a way to spend her vacation. She also spends all her money on supplies for the dog, and most all of her time trying to find it a home. It's all for a good cause, but eeshk.

At least the girl gets to have some real fun. On the baby-sitters' final night in the city, Laine's parents pay for all the girls to go out on the town.

Claudia: My friends and I (plus Laine) ended our vacation with a terrific evening. First we got all dressed up, and then Stacey, Dawn, and I went to the Cummingses' apartment. The eight of us looked like models or something. Even Kristy. She was wearing a long cotton sweater, black leggings, and black shoes. (She had borrowed everything from Laine.) The rest of us were wearing short skirts or dresses, leggings -- you know, the layered look. A lot of our clothes were new, bought while we were on vacation.

"You girls better get going," Mrs. Cummings spoke up. "You've planned an awfully busy evening."

Claudia: That was true. We were going to look in a few of Laine's favorite stores before they closed for the day, then go to dinner at . . . Tavern on the Green. And then go to the show. Whew. (Chilly.)

I like how Claudia preceded "Tavern on the Green" with ellipses as if she was having us guess where they were going to go for dinner, and then -- reveal -- it's THIS PLACE! As if any ten-year-old girl reading this book, outside of New York, even knew what the heck Tavern on the Green was. (Later in the chapter, Kristy, for the benefit of the reader, asks Stacey and she briefly explains, but those ellipses still bother me.)

So the girls get to take a limo shopping and to the restaurant and to a show. Claudia spills her M&Ms and the girls can't stop giggling. It's a wonderful night.

Then it's back to boring old Connecticut, where Mallory has a new idea for a story, Claudia feels like she's a-ok after all, Dawn has made a friend (that neighbor kid who took her around town), Jessi sort of has a boyfriend, Stacey and Mary Anne have wads of newly-earned money, and Kristy is broke and doesn't have a dog. Well, she has a dog, just not the Central Park dog.

* * * 

So how do I feel about this book? When I was a pre-teen, I thought it was awesome, but then, I thought all BSC books were awesome. Now? I feel this one really bites. The writing is blah, and very few of the plots kept my interest. Dawn was acting completely out of character (or else exhibiting signs of an undiagnosed anxiety disorder), but in the end, when she and the neighbor kid hit the town, well... that's a pretty fun chapter. (ETA: I'm reminded that Dawn acted this same way in New York in Book #18, so I guess it matches continuity-wise, but it's still odd.) I also enjoyed the scenes where Mary Anne and Stacey took Alistaire and Rowena sightseeing -- before they started freaking out about the man with the sunglasses/hat. Kristy's plot would be fine for a regular story, but for a vacation? Really? Does the author hate Kristy? This is all she gets? Claudia and Mallory's art classes are straight-up boring, and Jessi's boy-ballerina saga is okay as far as Jessi's character development, but still kind of bleh.

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 this one a 3.6.

Let's let Claudia take us out of here, just as she does in the book....

My New York dairy was finished. I showed it to Mom and Dad and Janine. They thought it was grate. Mom even thought my speling had imporved but I am not so sure.

Neither am I, Claudia, neither am I.


Emily Blair said...

Pah! This amused me. That book cover is seared into my brain, so I either owned it or borrowed it for a long time. However, can't say that I remember any of those plot lines so I wonder if I actually read it.

And it disturbs me that the clothes descriptions are actually current fashions again. Why, oh, why?

molly said...

I once picked up a BSC book which did not look familiar and read almost the entire thing before I came upon one incident which I remembered, and was like, oh, I guess I HAVE read this. Our brains like to shut some of this stuff out.

I really hate this cover. Oh, but if you want a laugh, this>> http://www.angelfire.com/anime3/happydance/wc_sp.htm << is a website with some of the European covers, and they are HIDEOUS.