YA Book Club: Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitter’s Club – ‘Claudia and the Mean Janine'
I love Claudia Kishi. I am embarrassed to admit at the time I read the Baby-Sitter’s Club (or BSC if you were in the know) I was an unabashed Mallory fan because she was from a big family and read a lot, like me. But as an adult, I clearly see the error of my ways and have revised my favorite BSC member to Claudia (Dawn remains the worst still.)
So it is with great pleasure that I share with you today “Claudia and the Mean Janine,” which I completely forgot centered around their grandma Mimi, and not just random sibling rivalry. It was heavy stuff. Mimi is one of my favorite peripheral characters in the series, so it’s hard to revisit the book where she got sick because we all know what’s coming soon in the series: “Claudia and the Sad Goodbye.”
Anyway, I digress. So what was this about?
School is out, it’s summer break, and Claudia is having the time of her life. She has art classes to look forward to, babysitting money to make, and Kristy has had yet another great idea by coming up with a plan to host a kid’s club three times a week, were the BSC can corral a bunch of kids together and charge $3 a head, to watch them for 3 hours. (Note: This book was written in 1989. $3 for 3 hours’ worth of babysitting pans out to $1, per hour, per kid. No thank you.)
Life is pretty sweet, but Claudia’s life gets derailed after her grandma, Mimi, who lives with Claudia, her sister Janine, and Claudia’s parents, falls in her bedroom one day due to a major stroke. Claudia feels guilty because Mimi went to her bedroom to get away from Claudia and Janine sniping at each other, so Claudia feels like she caused her stroke. Reading this at the time, I very much understood where Claudia was coming from and would have felt the same as her. As an adult, all I saw was a grown woman who was sick of being around teenagers and their BS and needed a break. Her stroke and fall were a total coincidence, and couldn’t imagine a scenario where someone would feel like they caused that. The power of age and perspective at play, I guess.
Anyway, Claudia throws herself into taking care of Mimi once Mimi is allowed to return home, which leads to tension between her and Janine, who is not asked to take on any further responsibilities. See, Janine is a wiz kid genius, and although she’s only 16, she’s already taking college classes in the summer for reasons that aren’t entirely clear but basically boil down to: She’s smart and doesn’t really have a life.
Let’s get this out of the way: Janine is kind of a drip. She’s one of those people who likes to correct your word choice to make sure it’s grammatically correct. The night of Mimi’s stroke, the fight between Claudia and Janine is kicked off because they play a trivia game (clearly meant to be Trivial Pursuit) and Janine gets every question right, and Claudia can’t get any point on the board so she feels inadequate next to Janine.
Anyway, Janine is a drip, but also, Claudia makes no effort to include her in anything. They fight throughout the book, culminating in Claudia at one point, almost hitting Janine in front of a kid she’s babysitting because sisters fight and are s*itty to each other, even in BSC land.
Claudia realizes she needs to slow her roll after she witnesses a 4-year-old charge almost dump punch on his baby sister at her christening party but stops himself because he realizes he loves her. Claudia realizes that she loves Janine, and they patch things up. Janine in turn, stops throwing herself into studying all the time, and starts to spend more time with Mimi, which is good, because honestly friends, Mimi is not going to be around for much longer. Her death is covered in BSC #26 (this is BSC #7) and even though she died in a fictional series, about 30 years ago, I have only read “Claudia and the Sad Goodbye” once. I love Mimi. Her health issues and ultimate death left an impact on me that lasts to this day, and now that I’m an adult who lost both her grandmothers in the past 6 months (one to a stroke, even) revisiting Mimi and what’s happening to her hits very close to home. In fact, I was a little angry at myself for picking the book where she got sick. I forgot it was this one.
So what were the other BSC members up to in this one? Well, Dawn continued to be the worst. Examples of that include not noticing Stacey’s new haircut until it was pointed out to her by Stacey; and inadvertently making Claudia stress out about what to feed her when she came to a BSC meeting, because Claudia’s junk food isn’t “healthy” enough for Dawn (Claudia decided on pretzels knowing full well they probably weren’t healthy enough for Dawn. Claudia is awesome. Dawn needs to bring her own snacks if she wants to be particular about them.) Mary Anne got yelled at by Mimi because she was treating Mimi like a child when trying to help her recover from her stroke. Mary Anne had it coming, although Mimi did apologize. Kristy finally moved houses across town to Watson’s (her new step-dad’s house). Stacey didn’t have much to do, but she got a new hair cut so that was nice. Obviously, all the BSC baby-sat, and this was the first instance of Mallory showing her chops as a babysitter (she was allowed to be a helper at the BSC kid’s camp, without pay. Mallory clearly isn’t business minded, here.)
The thing about re-reading BSC books is that I forgot they deal with pretty heavy stuff in a way that allows the characters to be 13-year olds dealing with these issues. Claudia’s dumb feud with her sister while her grandma is sick feels incredibly authentic to how a teenager would process their feelings. I’m genuinely surprised at what these books tackle because even though I read the first 60 of them as a kid, many of them multiple times, I forgot how deep these get. It’s a pleasant surprise and makes revisiting them even better because I realize that even though I may not remember the heavier plot points now, I can see how reading these books set me up to deal with the more challenging times in my life. It’s cool to see, especially 25+ years removed from when I first read these books. Although I’m still not over Mimi. I don’t think I ever will be.
Next week we’re going to go with the high-camp “drugs are bad” classic “Go Ask Alice” by Anonymous because it is a trip and it’s time to re-read it. Until then friends, Baby-Sitter’s Club 4-eva!
Header Image Source: Scholastic Books
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