YA Book Club: Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club #1: ‘Kristy’s Great Idea’
Today, we’re kicking off our first (of what I’m sure will be many) BSC books by starting where it all began, with Kristy’s great idea. In the immortal words of Bill Paxton in Titanic: are you ready to go back…to Stoneybrook?
(More like 33, but who’s counting?)
For those of you familiar with the BSC series this is old hat, but for anyone needing to reacquaint themselves, BSC books are told from the first-person perspective of a member of the Baby-Sitter’s Club—each lady gets her day in the sun with her own book, but the club members are featured heavily in each entry to the series. The founding four members of the club are Kristy, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi, and Stacey McGill—so ‘Kristy’s Great Idea’ is naturally about Kristy, and the genesis of the Baby-Sitter’s Club.
Just who is Kristy? Friends, show some respect for Kristy Amanda Thomas because she’s the tweenage entrepreneur who came up with the idea of bringing 4 pre-teens together to hang out in Claudia Kishi’s bedroom, and take phone calls from parents who need a baby sitter. This is her story. Let’s get to it.
Kristy lives in Stoneybrook CT, her mom is divorced, and she’s got a deadbeat dad with a new family out-of-state so naturally he no longer cares about Kristy and co. That’s not great because he’s got 4 kids, but who cares? Not him! Kristy is number three in the mix, and has a younger six-year-old brother who needs to be babysat frequently. The older siblings help out only when they have to, so what’s a working mom in the ’80s to do? If you guessed call around frantically in order to find a sitter last minute when her regular options bone out, you’d be correct, friend. So Kristy gets a good, nay, great idea—assemble a group of babysitters together to have regular office hours so that parents can have a central hub to get a baby-sitter rather than calling around frantically. (I should note that Kristy ended up helping her mother with the last minute baby-sitting request by taking her brother along on her own sitting gig. Kristy’s not a monster, unlike her father.)
Kristy Thomas is a damn genius—this book came out in 1986 and she basically predicted app culture way before the internet was even a thing. It’s beautiful in its simplicity—consolidate a resource so that it’s on call when parents need it. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We all have like 10 apps on our phone that do the same thing, although not with as much panache because Claudia Kishi isn’t involved in it. Anyway, I digress.
So, we can all agree it’s a great idea—and Kristy needs fellow babysitters to join her club. Her shy and kind of boring best-friend/next-door-neighbor Mary Anne is an obvious choice, as is Claudia Kishi, who is basically the coolest 12-year-old to ever exist and who just happens to live across the street from Kristy and Mary Anne—but Kristy is pretty sure the club needs four people to make the concept work, because people can have conflicting availabilities on their schedules, and it’s Claudia Kishi who recommends new girl in town Stacey Mcgill to round out the group. We don’t know much about Stacey, only that Claudia, who distanced herself from Kristy and Mary Anne over the course of the school year because she got interested in boys all of a sudden, and Stacey share the same boy-crazy interests. Kristy, it should be noted, mentions multiple times throughout the book that she has no interest or use for boys. We’re going to talk about that later.
Anyways, the die is cast and their fates are sealed—the Baby-Sitter’s Club is born.
If you thought all was well in Kristy-land during this momentous occasion, you would be sorely mistaken. In addition to having her mom dating a dude Kristy hates on principal, Kristy has to navigate the ins and outs of starting a business (of which she was elected president of, obviously) and she learns a lot of things the hard way.
First off, because Stacey is an unknown entity, Kristy has to learn her personality and quirks, one of which is that Stacey clearly has some issues around food. She refuses to eat in front of people. It becomes really obvious because Claudia always has junk food on hand and Stacey always passes on it as the other girls dig in. This makes Kristy uneasy, but she has bigger fish to fry.
Kristy learns that when vetting new clients one must ask if the services are being requested for a human or a dog, because some dingbat calls up the club and asks them to babysit Pinky and Buffy. Thinking it’s a yuppie mother’s name for her darling children (Again the book came out in 1986, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility) Kristy shows up to her job only to find out that Pinky and Buffy are huge dogs. She won’t make that mistake again.
Kristy decides that every baby-sitter should have to keep a log of every job they do through the BSC so that the other baby-sitter can learn about what the family is like, and what to do (and not do) when sitting for them. As such we find out about every one else’s first official BSC gigs, too. Mary Anne baby-sits for the boyfriend of Kristy’s mom, and finds out that his kids are pretty cool and they have a standard mean old lady neighbor who hates cats and kids (side note, Karen, one of the kids, got her own spin-off series later on, and I’m like 90% sure the mean old lady next door finally befriends Karen in it, so that story eventually has a happy ending.) Claudia finds out the benefits of ignoring children when they’re acting like little s*its by calmly reading a story out loud when chaos erupts because a hissy fit needs attention like a fire needs oxygen. Finally, Stacey ends up babysitting for Kristy’s little brother and we find out that yes—she really does like boys that much (as much as she likes keeping secrets…dun dun dun) because she ends up flirting with Kristy’s older (yet still age appropriate) brother the entire time when he cancels all his plans that afternoon to hang out with her and his brother, once he sees that Stacey is cute.
The big conflicts of the book happen towards the end. Kristy’s mom announces that she’s going to get engaged to her boyfriend, which makes Kristy angry because she doesn’t want change (same, girl, same) but she comes around on him when his ex-wife breaks her ankle and Kristy is required to babysit his kids in a pinch, and she realizes they’re pretty good kids and that he’s an okay dude.
…and then there’s Stacey. See, after a successful first week of the BSC, Kristy wanted to have a pizza party in celebration, where every member would chip in $3 to buy a pizza for the group (side note: I long for the day where $12 could feed four people in pizza, friends.) Only twist! Stacey says she can’t do pizza because she’s going out of town that weekend; but double twist! Mary Anne sees Stacey in town that weekend driving with her parents. Then, triple twist! Kristy calls Stacey’s house to see if she’s in town, and Stacey’s mom says she’s not. Something is clearly amiss, here.
Kristy brings this up at the next meeting (the pizza party didn’t go ahead because Mary Anne’s dad said she had to save all her babysitting money for clothes and college—which lol, I also long for the day a few bucks a week could legitimately pass for a college fund—and Claudia had to cancel all plans because her grades sucked and her parents made her do homework) and calls Stacey out for being a liar. Stacey loses her s*it, Claudia backs up Stacey (because Stacey is cooler than Kristy and Mary Anne, which…yeah, she probably is, even though Kristy is a little boss lady) Mary Anne cries (see? Stacey is cooler than her) and Krisy and Mary Anne storm off, so the ranks are closed.
This conflict is short-lived because they all like the money (and yeah, I guess the club, too) so they come together at the next BSC meeting and they all apologize and makeup. In fact, they decide to have a sleepover to solidify the club and the friendship. Cut to the sleepover: Stacey finally admits her dark secret. She’s newly diagnosed as diabetic. She got teased at her old school so much about it that her parents moved her to Stoneybrook to start over, so she was trying to keep it from everyone. Everyone is kind of confused because they don’t think it’s that big of a deal, and all is well in BSC land, at least for now. But those of you who know the series know that there is a dark cloud on the horizon in the form of Dawn Schafer, but that friends, is a story for another time.
Friends, I love the Baby-Sitter’s Club, but I haven’t read one of these books for at least 20 years. Here’s a few things I noticed reading as an adult:
Kristy is clearly not interested in boys. I mean, sure she eventually dates Bart later in the series, but… come on. My peak hey-day of BSC reading was probably the ages of 8-10, which was in the early ’90s, so my awareness of the fluidity of sexual orientation was pretty limited, which is to say that this aspect of Kristy’s personality wasn’t as apparent as it is to me now. Rereading, it’s so obvious that I’m not sure how I missed it then because the subtext is definitely there, even at the beginning of the series. For a lot of girls (myself included), Kristy was probably our first encounter with a heroine who reads as bi or gay. That’s huge! I mean, granted, these books were written in the ’80s and ’90s, so they never could have come out and say it about her—and they did the whole Bart romance (and wiki tells me there was a Michael thrown into the mix, too) but the way she’s written leaves no doubt in my mind that the subtext was intentional—and I think that’s pretty cool.
The other stand-out moment for me was the introduction of Claudia’s know-it-all sister Janine, who interrupts a meeting of the BSC to tell Claudia that the spelling of their club name might be an error or it might not be. OK, Janine. Janine for the limited interactions we get with her in the book is constantly correcting people’s grammar or word choice, apropos of nothing, which kept cracking me up because as a lady who dares to express things on the internet, Janine’s actions hit very close to home. I’m not sure if she started any of her lectures with “Well, actually…” but she might as well have. Janine is basically every random commenter who pops up to let you know you’re wrong because they say so, and I kind of love her for it. You do you Janine!
Anyway, it was pretty fun to reacquaint myself with the ladies of the BSC, and spend some time with them again after all these years. I’d definitely recommend it if you were interested in the same. I’m sure we’ll be back with them soon (and shudder) even Dawn. Apologies to the Schafer apologists out there, but your girl is the worst and it can’t be said enough.
Next week we’ll be doing Christopher Pike’s oddly religious ‘Road to Nowhere’ so track down a neon pink covered copy and get reading. Until then!
Header Image Source: Scholastic Books
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