Tuesday, June 26, 2012

“Get a life, Mom. That’s what I was saying”……..BSC Special Edition: Shannon’s Story

Memory Reaction

I HATED this book. Seriously hated it. I don’t remember reading it more than once, even though I owned it. In fact, once when I was a kid and re-read the whole series (up until that point), this was the only book I skipped. The reason I didn’t like it is because Shannon fails a test on purpose in this one. To my childhood self, that was one of the worst things that could happen. I think what made it worse was that Shannon was supposed to be a great student, and with an F, her record got a bit tarnished, even if she did well moving forward. It may have set off the perfectionist part of me.

I also remember how Shannon has to “take over” for her mother while she’s away, and the thing that stands out in my mind’s her being on a bus with her sisters going to the grocery store. The scene seemed a bit over-the-top to me, like she was taking herself so seriously. I could see her being asked to baby-sit, but not act like she’s in charge of the whole house (cause her father was home, albeit working, the whole time too).

Revisited Reaction

Shannon’s really excited because her French class is taking a trip to Paris right after school gets out for the summer. But while we’re waiting for that to arrive, we get to hear about all of Shannon’s family issues. You know her sisters, but now we meet her parents. First up is her dad….he works too much during the week and plays golf on the weekends. He basically has no idea what’s happening with Shannon and her sisters and hardly talks to her mom. This is pretty standard for rich girl father issues. Meanwhile, and more relevant to this book, is her mother. She doesn’t work and with the kids getting older, she has nothing to do with her time. So, she constantly asks Shannon about her schedule and criticizes what she eats/wears, etc. She also tries to hang out with her all the time and it drives Shannon crazy.

When Shannon finds out her mom’s going to chaperone the Paris trip, she loses it. She flunks her French final on purpose so that she isn’t eligible to go on the trip. Her mom still goes as chaperone and Shannon’s “in charge” while she’s gone. During that time Shannon has an epiphany about how hard her mother’s life is, how it must be tough to not have anything to do while her husband and children are busy, and blah, blah, blah. Shannon decides she’s going to start being nicer, starting with throwing a welcome home party for her. Somehow this makes her father try to be a better father/husband as well. And her mom might start working as well, so she has more to do.

Since the theme’s mother-related, the subplot is about the BSC doing something for mother’s day. The first part of this is that they have a “gift-a-thon,” where kids go to Mary Anne’s backyard to make presents. Jackie Rodowski causes a disaster involving the refreshment table, I’m sure you can picture it. The second part’s a mother-child softball game. It’s most of their regular clients playing their mothers (obviously). The mom team wins, which shouldn’t be a big surprise considering most of the kids are Krusher’s. I actually enjoyed this, because all the moms in town were talking to each other, which I don’t remember happening before. Unless the parent is also a BSCer’s parents (Mrs. Pike, Mrs. Brewer), they usually only appear long enough to give sitting directions or talk about how great the BSC is.


  • This is taking place the first time Dawn’s in California, so Shannon’s attending regular BSC meetings. I guess that’s like how they had Logan “filling in” for Dawn in his first book. You can’t have a BSC book without BSC meetings!
  • Shannon’s school lets students do independent studies on stuff they’re interested in, so she takes Astronomy and Psychology. Which I can see happening in a private high school, but not 8th grade. I guess Shannon’s supposed to be advanced though. And does talk about being in the Astronomy Club in her section of the memory super special, so that’s some continuity.
  • When Kristy and Shannon get to the Kishis’ for a club meeting, Janine lets them. It’s weird, because they’re always telling us how the girls go right in on meeting days. But it’s really just an excuse to remind us how smart Janine is…when Shannon greets her in French, Janine responds in kind.
  • Stacey outfit: “Black leggings, a black sweater, a big black belt with an oversized buckle, black Doc Martens, and her hair pulled back with a black and gold scarf that picked up the gold of the gold chain earrings she was wearing.”
  • Claudia outfit: “An enormous pair of pants held up with a man’s belt and a pair of neon purple suspenders, an enormous purple T-shirt over a tie-dyed long-underwear top, her long black hair pulled back into a braid clip at intervals with little-kid barrettes, and these dangly peace-sign earrings.” Is it weird that I want to know what earrings she wore in her third hole? I like when they specify.
  • When planning their Mother’s Day event, they refer to the Mother’s Day Surprise book where Emily Michelle was adopted. But they want to do something different this time.
  • This book really makes Shannon seem like a brat. She gives up a trip to Paris with her best friends that she was looking forward to all year because she doesn’t want to be around her mom? And she does it by flunking a test purposely? Seriously, an embarrassing mother isn’t the worst problem in the world.
  • Mrs. Kilbourne buys matching Laura Ashley dresses for her and Shannon, which of course Shannon finds mortifying. And, yeah, I can understand that. I’m surprised her mother wouldn’t have gotten the matching dress for Tiffany or Maria who are both younger. But then again, they’re not narrating this book.
  • Also, when her mom wants them to wear the dresses to dinner, Shannon tries to say it’s at the cleaners. But what 13-year-old takes their own clothes to the cleaners?
  • I won’t talk about how going to Paris is a crazy unrealistic school trip because Shannon goes to a private school with all the rich kids in town, and it’s only her French class going. It makes a little more probable than SMS trips.
  • When planning the softball game, one of the girls says they’ll provide sitting for kids who are too little to play. My reaction to this was to say that 2 ½ year-old Gabbie Perkins plays on the Krusher’s. Who are they thinking will be too little to play? But it turned out they meant actual babies.
  • Shannon’s all embarrassed that her mom uses her childhood nickname, Shanny, in front of her friends. But that’s really not so bad as far as childhood nicknames go.
  • The back of the book says “Shannon Kilbourne, Straight-A Student,” but her final grades are three As, 2 Bs and an F (which was intentional). No one comments on how her Bs are rare, so I’m thinking the back of the book thing was written by someone who didn’t actually read the book.
  • I can’t tell if her mom knows what Shannon did with the test. Mrs. Kilbourne gives her this speech about how she’s surprised and it makes her think Shannon doesn’t want to go, but she knows Shannon would have said something if that was the case. It’s either some kind of guilt trip or she’s really clueless.
  • Shannon’s teacher and guidance counselor do meet with her after her test score comes in to try and find out what happened. Because, it’s really weird for someone who’s gotten As all year to suddenly totally bomb a test in the same subject. But there’s nothing they can really do about it.
  • When Mrs. Kilbourne’s leaving, Shannon reminds her not to worry because her dad will be there and he has a beeper, so they won’t have trouble getting in touch with him. I remember when beepers were popular. But it’s amazing how the existence of cell phones makes such a difference in life, because this whole conversation would have been different if it was written today.
  • When Shannon goes grocery shopping with her sisters, she doesn’t let them buy any junk food that they ask for. Which seems a bit harsh. I mean, I was always a total goody-goody but I would have bought something sweet in those circumstances.
  • The mothers who play in the mother-child softball game are Mrs. Barrett, Mrs. Papadakis, Dr. Johanssen (even though Charlotte a cheerleader, not a player) Mrs. Pike, Mrs. Rodowski, Mrs. Braddock, and Mrs. Brewer/Thomas. It’s kind of fun to see them all athletic and competent instead of people who need teenagers to tell them what’s happening with their kids.
  • Shannon also plays on the mothers’ team because Maria wants to play and her mom’s in France, but we don’t get to hear whether she’s any good or not.
  • It’s kind of weird…when planning the game, the girls say they’ll play on the mom team because there are fewer mothers than kids. But we don’t hear about any of them playing. Kristy coaches the kids (and I guess they needed one person to do that), and others are mentioned as selling refreshments, but that’s it.
  • Shannon’s realization about what her mom’s dealing with is a bit too obvious for me. She’s in the kitchen thinking how she’s done whatever she had to do and maybe she should just go talk to her sister, and literally says to herself, “this must be what mom feels like.”
  • It’s not clear if the grades Shannon gets are for her final exams, or actually her final course grades. If they’re her course grades, she really screwed herself because getting an F in French would mean she doesn’t move up to the next level with her friends, and wouldn’t get to go on next summer’s trip. But I guess it doesn’t matter since she’ll never get out of 8th grade anyway.
  • I’m guessing they are actually her test grades, because how big an impact could the test have had? She said that until the final, her French grade was higher than all her other grades. So, say she had a 95 average. If the test was 25% of her grade, she could have gotten a 0 on the test and still gotten a 71 in the class. But I’m probably putting more thought into this than the ghostwriter, so whatever.
  • I’m not really sure what made her dad resolve to be around more and delay a business trip to be there when Mrs. Kilboure gets home. Because he sees his daughters making a welcome home cake for his wife? It seems a bit forced. I’m guessing they wanted to wrap up the conflict in this book since it’s a one-off and we won’t be going revisiting Shannon’s life the way we will with the other girls.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

“I spend the other half feeling intimidated and stupid”……BSC # 108: Don’t Give Up, Mallory

Memory Reaction

This was just after I stopped reading.

Revisited Reaction

The book starts with Mallory getting her mid-term progress report and seeing she has all As. Unfortunately, her classmates also see this and start making fun of her for being a “brainiac.” She’s embarrassed, but still pleased about it. She’s also pleased with her new Short Takes class – it’s about children’s literature, which is obviously her thing. But, when the class starts, she finds out it’s all discussion. The dork in her is upset that they’ll be no writing, and she’s not a fan of having to talk in class a lot.

At first Mal tries to speak up, because the class is graded on participation. But she doesn’t get called on a lot, and then she loses confidence in her ideas. Part of the problem is that the teacher (a young, “cool” teacher) lets two of the obnoxious guys in the class call out their answers. He also seems to favor the boys when calling on students. The first couple of times he does call on Mal, she gets flustered and doesn’t speak up, she doesn’t even correct him when he calls her “Valerie.” It keeps happening, and eventually, she keeps looking away to avoid being called on.

Eventually, Mal gets courage to tell the teacher she thinks he’s favoring the guys. At first he tries to brush her off, but he still makes an effort to call on girls the next day. Then in class he suddenly realizes she’s right, and apologizes to the class as a whole (he doesn’t mention her accusation). That’s the part that totally lost me. I can’t see a teacher ever doing that, and it comes off as the book trying to make everyone learn a lesson or something. Anyway, Mal does a great job on the one paper they do have, so she gets a B+ in the class.

I expected to feel bad for Mallory based on the back of the book summary, but I really didn’t at all. First of all, since when is Mal shy? She’s quiet, but I don’t remember her being afraid to talk in class or stuttering when she’s called on. She’s not as outspoken as Kristy, but she’s not as shy as Mary Anne. Secondly, the whole thing’s really her fault. She stops raising her hand. She avoids getting called on. When I was in school, I was super-shy, but if a teacher told us we were graded on participation, I raised my hand and spoke up because I was a dork like Mal that wanted straight As. And yeah, the teacher’s favoring the guys, but that’s mostly because they jump in with answers all the time. In the real world, there are going to be people who are more outspoken, or people who might be favored, and you deal with it. Now, to be fair, Mal admits that it’s partially her fault. But she still annoyed me. Maybe I’m getting old and just can’t relate to middle school problems anymore.

Meanwhile, Mallory’s still Secretary of 6th Grade, and is working with the other class officers on a fundraiser. Apparently, the sixth grade class always has a fundraiser, and then leaves the money to the school to do something special. I’m not sure why sixth graders would be gifting something to the school, it seems more like something the graduating class would do. But whatever. It’s not like anyone actually graduates from the place anyway. Mallory finds out that a few years ago, the class’s monetary gift of $1,000 got re-classed to pay for fixing pipes or something, instead of making a student lounge. Mallory encourages the other class officers to go with her to talk to the vice-principal about how unfair that was, and he agrees that if they raise $1,000 this year, the school will match the donation to make up for what they did a few years ago. And they not only make $1,000, they break the school’s record, thanks to all Mal’s work. So, she does get to be competent at something. This is nice, because while she’s always the butt of some jokes, I like Mal.

There’s also this silly subplot about how Buddy Barrett’s jealous that Lindsay (his step-sister) gets to march in the Memorial Day parade with her Brownie troop. Since only “groups” are allowed to march, he told the parade organizers that he has a marching band. I’m not sure why they took an eight-year-old’s word, but again, whatever. Buddy asks the BSC to help him form one. They jump into it like always, and soon all the regular clients want in. They help them make handmade instruments, but realize the kids sound horrible when they try to play. Mal gets the idea to give all the kids kazoos and hide them in the instruments. Then the day of the parade they get way more kids than they expected, because parents of their clients just drop off their kids, even though they hadn’t been involved in the preparation or talked to any of the BSCers about it. But it goes well enough in the end.


I know kids tease, but the making fun of Mal for having straight As seems a bit over the top.

There’s a subplot with a girl in Mal’s class trying to act dumb and agreeable so that boys like her, and Mallory telling her it’s not right to do that. It’s the feminist message of the book, and probably the whole reason for it existing.

Claud outfit: “She was wearing denim overall shorts, a short black T-shirt, red-and-white pin-striped stockings that came over the top of her knees, red thick-soled patent leather shoes, and a black felt derby.”

I love that they mention “All the Children of the World,” the band they started in that book with the racist client. (I’m being serious – I really like references to past books).

The teacher starts class by talking about how they’ll be no papers, and even tells Mallory to put her notebook away because he doesn’t want kids taking notes. But then he goes, “oh, wait there will be one essay.”

Since when do teachers give out progress reports in class? In my school they mailed them to our parents. If they’re giving them out in class, I would at least expect an envelope in order to avoid kids seeing other people’s grades.

Claud’s outfit for “building” instruments: “Shorts and a rainbow tie-dyed T-shirt. Her hair was pulled into a thick pony tail held by a matching tie-dyed scrunchie…she sported her favorite work shoes, red high-top sneakers.” That may be the tamest Claud outfit ever. How boring.

Stacey’s outfit for the same thing: “Jeans with rolled up cuffs, an oversized denim work shirt, and a painter’s cap turned backwards.” Also pretty tame.

When Claud and Stacey show up for a sitting job, Mr. and Mrs. DeWitt seem surprised to hear about the whole making instruments and forming a band thing. Shouldn’t the girls have cleared it with them before agreeing to help the kids?

In Mal’s class, the kids are talking about projects to “further the cause of children’s literature,” and her suggestion is to arrange to have SMS students read to little kids. The teacher is…surprisingly down on it. But he loves suggestions like making a poster or giving books to a library in underprivileged areas. This was the one time when I felt for Mallory in the whole thing, I thought her idea was better than the others. It also made me think of this book.

Mallory takes one of the class officers into the basement of the school to find evidence of what happened to the old donation, I think it’s the same place they snuck into in some other book (Maybe this one?). But that time, it was records from 20 + years ago. I can’t imagine records from only five years ago being stored in a basement.

The scene also dates the book, because today you’d have someone hacking into the school’s computer to “investigate.”

Some guy in Mal’s class makes a Jurassic Park reference, as though it’s current…but that movie came out way before 1997, when the book was published.

It’s kind of annoying that parents in town just drop their kids off at the beginning of the parade and expect the BSC watch them/let them join the “band.” BUT, can you really blame them? Look at everything else these girls do.

However, I don’t buy that Mrs. Newton would be one of the parents who did this. She just drops her 4-year-old off near the parade start, watches him walk over toward Kristy and wave good-bye? With no contact with Kristy first?

Also, Kristy was already planning to watch the Barrett-DeWitt and Papadakis kids by herself before the parade started…that’s way more than their usual limit. That’s why the other kids showing up is a big deal.

Mallory and the other class officers work on the fundraiser and talk about what to do with the money. It feels like there should be more people in on that decision, aren’t there members of student council that aren’t the officers? They should be involved.

Again, why are sixth graders talking about what people will remember them for?