Sunday, August 8, 2021

Book Review: Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #2: Baby-Sitters' Summer Vacation

Another Super Special review, so soon? What can I say? Sometimes I get on a roll. Besides, it is summertime where I live, so it's the perfect time to dive into the big book o' baby-sitter summertime fun....


The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #2, Baby-Sitters’ Summer Vacation takes place between books #25 (Mary Anne and the Search For Tigger) and #26 (Claudia and the Sad Goodbye). By the way, we’re now officially immersed in the BSC’s infinite time loop. It started in book 10, and it may never, ever end. This is Summer #2. There will be many more.

Much has happened since Summer #1 (the one where they went to Disney World). Logan Bruno has moved to Stoneybrook, and he and Mary Anne have become an item. Kristy has started a softball team, and her family recently adopted a little girl. Stacey has moved back to New York City. And perhaps most importantly, Mallory Pike and Jessi Ramsey have joined the BSC.


This summer, the baby-sitters have decided to descend upon Camp Mohawk. Who to blame? Why, Dawn, believe it or not! She owns a VCR and she kept making everyone else watch her favorite movie, The Parent Trap. (Too bad it wasn’t Stacey forcing them to watch Mary Poppins... maybe they’d have taken a trip to London! Eh, don’t worry, we’ll get there eventually.) So everyone's now going to camp, along with a bunch of the kids in Stoneybrook, including Karen Brewer, Charlotte Johanssen, Jackie Rodowsky, David Michael Thomas, Becca Ramsey, and the majority of the Pikes.

Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Dawn, Stacey, and Logan are Counselors In Training, aka CITs. Mallory and Jessi are regular campers, though they are granted the opportunity to be “junior CITs” and work on a special project.


Stacey, who has come all the way from Manhattan to spend two weeks in the woods against her better judgment, figures... as long as she’s doing this, she might as well journal her experience. She asks the other baby-sitters to take their own notes and give them to her so she can make a diary.

Stacey is assigned to a cabin of 6-year-olds, including Karen Brewer. Her counselor is named Barbara and her fellow CIT is Joanne. Other campers there include Nonie, Valerie, and Monique. On the first day, one of the girls has a sore throat and another might have pinkeye. Stacey hates to see people who are sick. Ironically, a few days later, Stacey starts itching, and whatdya know? She's got poison ivy!
 Also impetigo, pinkeye, mosquito bites, and a cold! 


After spending several days in the infirmary, Stacey then gets a giant splinter in her hand. Despite all this, Stacey still manages to have a pretty good time at camp. She becomes pals with a precocious camper (Nonie) and makes the stunning realization that Karen Brewer is loud and hyper. (Yes, and...?)

Mary Anne is put in cabin 7A. Her counselor is Connie and her fellow CIT is named Randi. 7A campers include Stoneybrookites Margo Pike and Nancy Dawes, as well as a girl named Tara (“The Terror”). Next door in 7B, the CITs are Julie and Faye. Mary Anne immediately feels inferior to the other CITs. Trying to sound cool, she mentions that she has a boyfriend across the lake, but everyone thinks she's lying.


Later, Mary Anne writes a mushy note to Logan, hoping Randi will discover it. Randi does, and shows the note to Julie and Faye. Before long, they’ve convinced Mary Anne to sneak around the lake to the boys' side and deliver the note. So one night, Mary Anne stuffs her sleeping bag full of clothes to get past the bedtime inspection, and sets off. 


Mary Anne gets about halfway around the lake before she's caught. Though her daring escapade earns her a little bit of respect, her fellow CITs are still on her case. They convince her to let them pierce her ears. The supplies are gathered (including a giant needle!) but in the end, the other CITs chicken out, and Mary Anne is relieved. 

On the night of the CIT dance on the boys' side of camp, Mary Anne runs into Logan’s arms in front of everyone. Now there’s no doubt that Mary Anne's beloved boyfriend does, in fact, exist.


Kristy faces a problem similar to Mary Anne’s. She’s assigned to cabin 8B, whose campers include Becca Ramsey and a tear-streaked, homesick Charlotte Johannsen. Her counselor is Jo, and her fellow CIT is named Tansy. Next door in 8A, Lauren and Izzie are the CITs. Kristy immediately feels inferior to the other girls. They all have cool sneakers;] she doesn’t. They all accessorize their camp uniforms with hair bows and jewelry; Kristy didn’t bring any of that stuff. The others think Kristy should wear makeup; Kristy disagrees. Despite Kristy’s objections, the other girls do give her a makeover before the CIT dance. 


Kristy has a good time at the dance, but ultimately decides that she’s happier with a mostly makeup-free life.


Claudia is in cabin 9A. Her counselor is Meghan and her fellow CIT is Sally. Her campers are Vanessa Pike, Haley Braddock, Brandy, Leann, Jayme, and Gail. 

Because the camp food is so awful (and because she's a sugar fiend) Claudia buys a ton of junk food at the canteen, which prompts remarks from the vendors/counselors such as “How do you stay so thin?” and “How come your complexion’s so good?” (A missed opportunity for a joke about staying fit by chasing children around Stoneybrook.)

One afternoon, Cabin 9A goes horseback riding, and they return covered in dust and straw. There’s a knock at the cabin door, and it’s BOYS. Claudia goes out to the porch to see what they want, and immediately locks eyes with a cute Japanese guy. Later she learns his name is Will. She crushes on him for the rest of the week. Finally, at the CIT movie night and dance, they get to spend time together.



They get into some deep conversations, hold hands, etc. When it's time to depart after the dance, with tears in their eyes, they say goodbye... but will it be forever?


Dawn is assigned to cabin 11A. Her counselor is Charlene, and her fellow CIT is named Amy. The campers are Heather, Shari, Caryn, Rachel, Freddie, and Donna. Dawn worries about Heather, a quiet girl who becomes somewhat of an outcast (but honestly doesn’t seem to care.) 

During the second week of camp, Charlene is called away because her mother is sick. But Mrs. Means, the camp director, has a list of replacement counselors on call. The next day, 15-year-old Debra shows up. She was at Camp Mohawk one other summer. And what a day to arrive! The girls are just about to leave on their big hike/overnighter. 

At one point during the hike, one of the cairns that’s supposed to guide the way is found to be knocked over. Debra misreads the map, and takes the group off in the wrong direction. They hike for hours. It's now clear that they're lost. Heather speaks up. “I see a clearing. Why don’t we just make camp there? We have to stop soon anyway to eat and sleep. We can’t go tramping through the woods all night.” 

The next day, they set off again, hoping to return to Camp Mohawk, but they go in circles and end up back at the same clearing. Finally, Heather takes the map, studies it, and figures out the correct way back. The next day, they get close to camp and are found by a search party. Everyone has respect for Heather now. But, Dawn notes, she feels a little bad because, since they spent an extra night out there, the 11B kids didn’t get to go on the overnighter themselves. Sorry, Mal and Jessi. No s’mores for you.

Oddly, in just two Super Specials, Dawn will have to practice her survival skills again, only this time on a deserted island. No wonder Dawn eventually wants to move back to California. Between these two incidents and the murderers running rampant in New York City, it’s clear the East Coast has it in for this girl.


Mallory and Jessi are in Cabin 11B, and boy, you can cut the tension in that room with a spork. Their Counselor is Autumn, the CITs are Gwen and Corinne, and the other campers are named Mandi, Maureen, Mary O. and Mary T. The four Ms are white, and at least one is definitely racist. The other girls jeer at and tease Mallory and Jessi. It might be partly because they see Mal & Jessi are already tight, or maybe the other girls are just mean, or maybe they're all racist? Who knows.


At least M&J have each other – and their special project. They’re tasked with helping the kids in 8B put on a performance for Parents’ Day. They write a skit with an anti-racism message, and hope their cabinmates get the point. Hurray, they do! Three of them apologize for being a-holes. The fourth girl does not. Thinks Jessi: I guess some people never learn.


Logan is in cabin 7A (on the boys’ side.) His fellow CIT is Rick, and his campers are Jackie Rodowsky, Buddy Barrett, Matt Braddock, Russell, Curtis, and Thomas, aka “T”. Next door in 7B are CITs Henry and Cliff. I remember reading this book as a kid and thinking Ann M. Martin did such a good job with the names of the female counselors and campers. Then on the boy’s side – Russell, Thomas, Rick, Curtis, Henry, Cliff. In the late 80s, those names belonged solely to dads and grandpas.

Anyway, the mushy note that Mary Anne wrote ends up in Logan’s hands – during a meal in the mess hall. The other guys snatch it away, and it’s soon read by all. Logan is a little embarrassed, but also kind of touched by Mary Anne's note. But he soon gets fed up with the teasing from the other guys, and he starts an epic food fight. 

So those are the main plots! The only other notable plot is about Charlotte Johanssen, who is a big ol' mess for nearly the entire two weeks. Given the option to go home, though, she decides to stay at camp.

Camp Mohawk sounds awesome in some ways, and not so much in others. 

Pros: Lots of activities, including arts and crafts, horseback riding, swimming, water skiing, and sailing. A canteen filled with junk food. What seems like a good mix of scheduled activities and free time.

Cons: Terrible food served in the mess hall. Green and white camp uniforms (hated especially by Claudia.) 

Neutral: The boys and the girls are separated by a lake, and they rarely mingle. Presumably the same activities/food are offered on both sides, though that seems strange. So this camp has two separate stables for the horses? Two boat docks? Two swimming areas, watched over by lifeguards? Two kitchens, with adequate staffing? I have questions, and yet... there seems to be more staff in this book than there was at the camp the baby-sitters attended in the Netflix series, so you know what? It's fine.


The chapter distribution is rather uneven in this book. Stacey, the bookend-er, gets 5 chapters. Kristy and Claudia each get 4. Dawn and Mary Anne have 3. Jessi and Logan have 2 chapters apiece. And poor Mallory, the writer, only gets 1 chapter. 

Overall, this book is a lot of fun. I love a good book about Camp. But Baby-Sitters’ Summer Vacation also feels a little sad.  Stacey has come all the way from Manhattan to hang out with her friends, but none of them (except Jessi and Mallory) share a cabin, and they're mostly all kept apart. Stacey spends half her time in the infirmary. Dawn and her cabinmates get lost. Kristy and Mary Anne get their egos crushed by their fellow CITs. Claudia meets a great guy, but they part with the sad knowledge that they may never see each other again. And Jessi and Mallory don’t seem to get to do much other than help out some 8-year-olds and try to avoid the meanness of their cabinmates.

Plus, a lot of the camp activities are talked about only after they happen. Kristy tells us about enjoying sailing and water skiing, but she never does those things on the page. One of Claudia’s chapters starts AFTER they’ve all been horseback riding. There are some brief mentions of time spent in the arts & crafts center and attempting archery, but I just wish there was more.

* * *

Time to examine the ol' Super Special tropes checklist...

☑Will someone make an unusual friend who is then never heard from again? Yes, Dawn & Heather and Stacey & Nonie. Both pairs become penpals for a short time after camp.

☑Will one of the baby-sitters fall in LUV? (Yes, Claudia + Will.)

☑Will at least one baby-sitter who is supposed to be on vacation/sans children be put in a position where they must care for children anyway? (Sort of. Mallory and Jessi are supposed to just be regular campers, but they ask for more responsibilities. Enter: six 8-year-olds in need of some dance coaching.)

☑Will someone have a near-death experience? (Dawn, sort of. Getting lost in the wilderness doesn't always have a happy ending, so I suppose it could've been worse.)

🗹Will someone act like a major jerk, even though they're normally pretty pleasant? (No, thankfully. Everyone's pretty great.)

🗹Will the airplane seats have two seats, then five seats, then two more? (No airplanes. Just an old school bus taking them all to camp.)

* * *

And now we must critique the cover...


Kristy's torso raises some concerns. Dawn looks like she just walked barefoot across some LEGO. Jessi's hair is sad. But nearly everyone seems to be having a fabulous time!

* * *

RATING!

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 Baby-Sitters' Summer Vacation an 8.6. I wish the baby-sitters could've spent more time together. I we'd gotten to see more fun camp activities. But the writing is solid, and thank goodness there aren't any Karen chapters.

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