(Note: I’m going to take a slight break from my normal posts about moving to New York and post a book review I just wrote for the new Babysitters Club prequel. Just for fun.)
Last fall I found out that Ann M. Martin was writing a prequel to the Babysitters Club series, to be released in April. Anyone who knew me well as a kid knows that I was beyond obsessed with those books. I read them from second grade (when they were reasonably appropriate for my reading level) all the way up to eighth grade, when I knew I was too old for them but loved the characters so much I could not pull myself away. My tenth birthday party was a group of girls going to see the movie, then eating an ice cream cake (just like Kristy’s!) and having a sleepover while planning to start our own BSC. Those books were a huge part of my childhood, and I feel like they had an influence on the person I’ve become.
When I was reading the books as a kid, at first I associated with Mary Anne and Claudia- MA for the shyness and love of kittens, but Claud for the creativity and addiction to junk food. As I grew older, I knew I was definitely a Mallory- kind of awkward, loved reading and writing, and wasn’t quite sure where I fit in with my friends (I’m still kind of a Mallory…). Based on my current obsession with New York, I’m obviously a Stacey right now (minus the love of math, perms, and obnoxious hearts in her handwriting).
Yesterday I purchased a copy of The Summer Before in hardcover. First off- smart move, Scholastic. The audience for this book is not young adults, but people like me who grew up with BSC. People who are more than willing to shell out $16.95 for the book. As Claire Pike would say, NOFE AIR. I just finished reading it. It was worth it.
The story documents what happened to the girls the summer before they formed the BSC in seventh grade. The format is similar to the super specials: chapters alternating between the characters, but no handwritten intros. Kristy is struggling with trying to get back in touch with her father while her mom has begun dating Watson. Mary Anne is trying to convince her father to be less strict, and also trying to learn about her mother. Claudia is starting to realize that she’s growing up faster than her friends and is interested in boys and fashion. Stacey’s family is preparing to move to Stoneybrook, and Stacey apparently has lost all of her friends in New York, especially Laine, due to them acting like mean pre-teen girls.
This book was written for adult fans of BSC. There were plenty of references to things that would make the seasoned BSC reader feel nostalgic. At the first mention of Jenny Prezzioso, I thought about her frilly outfits (even though they weren’t mentioned until later in the book). I thought “Hi hi!” as soon as Jamie Newton was mentioned, and rolled my eyes at Janine Kishi being such a know-it-all. When Mary Anne and Kristy watched the Pike kids, and Mallory suggested they have a “smorgasboard” for dinner, I remembered Nicky Pike calling it a “smurgerbeard” in one of the older books. For the adult reader who was obsessed with the BSC, this book will be a nice trip down memory lane.
The book reads as if it was written after the rest of the series. The writing’s considerably better, and since the characters are more developed than they were at the beginning of the series, it provides the reader with a deeper understanding of these characters, and feels like a visit with an old friend. As I was reading it, it felt exactly like I was a kid reading a brand new BSC book. I’ve obviously read many books since I stopped reading BSC, but this is the first time in a very long time that I’ve been this engrossed in a book. I’ve tried re-reading some of the original books, and it’s never the same. The lack of ‘80s references (primarily in Claudia’s outfits) makes The Summer Before seem almost timeless, which is great.
That being said, there were a few attempts to modernize the book for today’s young adults, and they stuck out like a sore thumb. When Mary Anne was looking through the box from her mom and found some dolls, she said they were “halfway between the size of a Barbie and an American Girl doll.” Even though American Girl dolls appeared in my life a year before the BSC, Mary Anne should have no idea what they are. Period. And Stacey shouldn’t call herself a diabetes “newbie,” because she would have had it for two decades before that word was invented.
I’m just glad that the girls don’t have cell phones and talk about the Jonas brothers. While the modern culture references were a little jarring, the majority of the book was very neutral in that respect, and it was easy to read and imagine it taking place in the ‘80s. I’m sure young girls who read it now, and then the other re-releases next, will imagine it taking place now. I think that’s what’s going to make this book work so well.
The last chapter in the book is basically right out of Kristy’s Great Idea, told from a slightly different perspective. It provides a nice context for the rest of the series. The Summer Before works as both a happy reminder of a great childhood and a great introduction to the BSC for kids today.