Larissa's Reviews > The Summer Before

The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin
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Apr 11, 2010

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bookshelves: kinder, 2010, english-usa, spontaneous-reads
Read in August, 2010

When I found out that there was a new Babysitter's Club coming out, I actually pre-ordered the book from my local bookstore. I was--although I probably shouldn't have been--kind of amazed at the instantaneous nostalgia that this publication inspired for me. Suddenly, I was remembering the family driving trip through the Four Corners where I pretty much missed all of Utah because I was reading the first Super Special (Babysitters on Board!) and literally could not pull my eyes away from the pages. I remembered the awesome passages about Claudia's fantastic wardrobe, which inspired in me a life-long love of red shoes and dangly earrings (and has since been immortalized, to great effect, in the blog ""What Claudia Wore.") I remembered the sympathy I felt for Mary Ann, who had, like myself, a rather strict set of rules to live by. There's really no doubt that this series was one of the pivotal cultural touch points of my young life, which I'm sure is true for a lot of my peers.

The point being, it would be difficult for anyone to live up to the nostalgia created by this series, so I commend Ann M. Martin for being brave enough to attempt to write a new installment. Maybe she was capitalizing on a moment and trying to revive her series' popularity for a new generation, but I'm going to choose not to be cynical. I think it was a bold move, and she pulled it off rather well. There's actually not an excess of babysitting in this prequel, but enough to set the stage. And Martin still treats each girl with a great deal of empathy and concern for the problems--big and small--that affect each of them. She gently captures a range of experiences: Mary Ann sorting through her deceased mother's memory box, Claudia spending the summer with her first boyfriend, Kristy struggling to let go of her absent father, and Stacey getting a fresh start in Stoney Brook after a humiliating year of dealing with her diabetes in New York.

The only real problem I had was that at the end of the book, Kristy, Mary Ann, and Claudia all have a heart to heart after a summer of being a little disconnected from one another and their self-awareness and getting-at-the-big-theme-ness is a little overbearing. Claudia repeats a sentiment that Mimi shared with her--that all girls grow up at different rates--and neither Mary Ann nor Kristy are remotely affronted that she's basically just called them immature. Then there is a whole bunch of dialog where they explicate that they are bonded together through experience and friendship and that (I'm paraphrasing) "we are the glue that holds us together." Now, young girls are extremely intense in their friendships, that is true, but this seems a little too end-of-the-episode/Big Idea for three 12 year olds to be explaining. But, eh--I still don't really mind. It's a sweet set up for the series.

As a sort of side note, I realized reading this book how affirming the actual set up of the Babysitter's Club is for young girls. I didn't realize it at the time, but here was a series of books that was encouraging teen age girls to take a form of employment that almost all young women fall into at one time or another--babysitting--and use it to develop all sorts of important, quasi-feminist qualities. For one, they don't need allowances--they make their own money. (I don't think allowances are mentioned at all in this new book; I forget about the others.) They are innovative (kid-kits!), responsible, independent, supportive, and smart. So I'm just all aglow with the Babysitter's books, all over again.
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