Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The Summer Before
Length: 219 pages
Before there was Kristy’s great idea, kid kits, Super Specials and mysteries afoot in the Babysitters Club, there was one summer which started it all.
The Summer Before is the prequel to Ann M. Martin’s hugely successful Babysitters Club novels, which is written ten years after the last book of the original series was published. This novel revisits (or introduces for new readers) Stoneybrook, Connecticut and lets us see the foundation for characters and issues which Martin has explored throughout the Babysitters Club books. Through The Summer Before, we share an important summer for pre-teens Kristy, Mary-Anne, Claudia and Stacey. Each girl faces a number of problems over the course of the summer: Kristy is trying to come to terms with a sense of abandonment after her father walking out (and her mother moving on), Mary Anne struggles for independence from her strict father, Claudia experiences her first crush and Stacey is leaving behind the bright lights and big city New York to be the new girl in a small town.
Using a technique similar to that employed in the Super Specials, The Summer Before alternates in points of view between the four girls, allowing us (whether we are old school fans or new, first-time readers) to gain a strong sense of each girl’s personality and character. Each girl’s narrative arc is fairly well developed for the intended reader and her (mostly) age appropriate issues are dealt with sympathy and sincerity. In terms of style, I did feel that The Summer Before was more polished and cohesive than the original series - possibly due to the multiple points of view and the use of Scholastic ghostwriters in the 90s to keep up with the demand for the series. My only significant disappointment with The Summer Before, was that I found myself wanting more from the Mary-Anne storyline (I kept waiting to hear more about her mother - seeing as it seemed to be set up with the discovery of her mother's dolls, that Mary-Anne would learn more about her that summer) and could probably have done with less Claudia and Frankie. Also, I did notice a lack of obvious date-specific and technologoical references – which may be surprising to a new reader (why doesn’t Mary Anne just call her dad on his mobile?) but it wasn't jarring.
It has been previously mentioned, but I was a really big Babysitters Club fan growing up. I owned at least 30 of the original series, as well as a handful of the specials/mysteries (and sadly about two-dozen of the Little Sister books, argh I don’t know why exactly because Karen Brewer is one of the most annoying children in literature!) I enjoyed The Summer Before – though I’ll admit that it’s hard to say how much my enjoyment was enhanced by a sense of nostalgia. On the plus side, I always liked that the novels promoted female friendship and young women entrepreneurs (oh how the BSC inspired me on many early money-making endeavours! Like selling handmade notebooks and offering to pet sit). I bought two copies, one of which to give to my cousin for her ninth birthday later in the year - I really hope she’ll get into it and I can introduce her to the series.