Book 14: Mallory isn’t Ginger, and Jessi is Black

Sorry, look, I know that probably sounds racist but the amount of times we’re reminded that the Ramseys are Black and in Stoneybrook this is an Issue was kind of appalling. Perhaps this is the way suburban Connecticut residents acted in the 80s. Perhaps Stoneybrook was a town of white supremacists.
But, more on Jessi later.

Hello, Mallory

Hello Newman

— offers us a unique look at the Baby-Sitters Club; from the outside. We’re told everything from wee Mallory Pike’s perspective, who excitedly tells the reader in the first couple of pages that these awesome older girls have asked her to join their baby-sitting club!

But she’s not a member of the BSC, even within the closing pages of the book (not really).

We have a once-in-a-series opportunity to catch a glimpse of how the BSC girls appear to the rest of the Stoneybrook universe; as a bunch of patronising 13-year-olds who treat a lonely 11-year-old very unfairly.

As you would expect, it’s pretty much all Kristy Thomas’ fault.

It begins when Mallory carefully selects what to wear to her first ever Baby-Sitters Club meeting. She angsts over outfits for a couple of paragraphs, before deciding that while she has no cool clothes, she can at least look ‘nice’:

I finally decided on my red jumper that said Mallory across the front, a short-sleeved white blouse, and white tights with little red hearts all over them.
“You look like a Valentine,” Vanessa told me, but I didn’t care.
I put on my penny loafers.

Mallory outfit red jumper white tights red hearts penny loafers.

In her haste, she seems to have forgotten trousers or a skirt, but in the 80s perhaps this was okay. Maybe the jumper was one of those enormous 80s jumpers that can double as a dress? Anyway, awkward BSC meeting ensues – and Kristy, being the instigator of most of the forthcoming drama, feels compelled to write a journal entry about it.

Today was our first meeting with Mallory instead of Stacey. It was a little weird. Sorry, Mallory, but it was…
Mallory, I’m not sure how to say this, but you don’t have to get dressed up for our meetings, I mean if you don’t want to.

Why even bother, Kristy? Just why?

Mallory could have seen this as a sign that the girls were still grieving the loss of Stacey, or that they only wanted her in the club because they needed her, not because they wanted to be friends with her.
But she doesn’t. Mallory does what any eleven-year-old in her position would do; blames herself, and resolves to be better, more adult, and show them how responsible she is.
Because we’re reminded constantly in this book of how responsible and qualified Mallory thinks she is, even when she’s being whiney.

“But I am reliable,” I said. “And I was watching Nicky. And I know everything about taking care of kids.”

hello-mallory-300The situation goes from awkward to worse, when the BSC line up a sitting job for Claudia with the Perkins. Kristy decides this will be a good trial job for Mallory, and sends her along. The sitting job devolves into Mallory suggesting things and Claudia haughtily taking control of the situation time and time again. It’s…it’s not pretty.

As well as the trial job, Kristy tells Mallory she has to take a test the next day.

Kristy cleared her throat. “At what age,” she began, “does a baby cut his first tooth?”
I relaxed. That was easy. “Eight months,” I replied.
“Wrong,” said Kristy. She looked at Mary Anne. “Jot that down.” She turned back to me. “It’s seven months.”

I was about to ask what the rest of the answer was, when Kristy said, “And when do you remove a tourniquet?”
“When, um the bleeding has stopped?”
“Wrong again! You never take one off. You always let a doctor do it.”
“No fair!” I exclaimed, surprising everyone in the room, including myself. “That was a trick question.”
“Well,” said Kristy huffily, “I hope you never put a tourniquet on me.”

“We want you to draw a picture of the human digestive system.”
Why?” I cried.
“Because it’s an important thing to understand. You might have to sit for a kid with colic one day.”
“If I do, I’ll give him soy formula,” I said. I was dangerously close to crying.
“Just draw.”
My picture looked like this:

Mallory Pike draws a digestive system.

“Half credit,” said Dawn, when I was finished. “She left out the liver, the gall bladder, the pancreas–”
“And about a hundred other things. No credit,” said Kristy. “The test is over.”

An eleven year old who can spell esophagus (yeap, that’s the US spelling of it)?! Bloody hell, give the girl all the points!

It’s completely ludicrous and unfair. At the end of the week, at the Friday meeting, the BSC assess the results of both Mallory’s trial job and weird test with all the unconcealed derision they can muster.

“And really,” said Claudia. “Your drawing of the divestive system was terrible.”
“Digestive system,” I corrected her.

At the end of the meeting, the current BSC decide that Mallory can only be in the club if she passes another test, to which Mallory (rightfully) flips out – then storms out.

You’ve really got to hand it to the girl for taking on and yelling at Kristy Thomas, particularly when the BSC exhibit such nasty behaviour toward her suddenly – considering that in Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye, Mallory was the saintly epitome of sensibility and practicality. The BSC sure changed their tune in a hurry. I wanted to applaud Mal when she left the meeting.

After a mope, Mallory decides that there’s only one course of action.

I'll make my own baby-sitting club!

But she can’t do it alone. Enter new girl, Jessi Ramsey.

My eyes widened. For one thing, the girl was beautiful. She was long-legged and thin, and even sitting down she appeared graceful.
Also, she was black.
There were no black students in our entire grade.
Jessica’s eyes were huge and dark. Her lashes were so long I wondered if they were fake. Probably not, if her mother was anything like mine, and I decided that was a distinct possibility, since Jessica wore glasses and didn’t have pierced ears, either.

Wait…Jessi wears glasses? O_o since when?

Mallory decides that the new girl will be her best friend – she says that she’s in need of a best friend, because there are no loose best friends floating around (!?!).
Before Mal can decide how to go about becoming best friends with Jessi, we’re transported back to the 1940’s and subjected to reminders that Jessi is black from the other students.

“Can you believe that new girl?” Rachel sounded aghast.
“Who, Jessica Ramsey?” I replied.
“What do you mean ‘who’? Of course I mean Jessica Ramsey. Who else?”
I shrugged. “What about her?”
“What about her?” cried Sally, this girl I’ve never really liked. “Are you blind? She’s black.”
I nearly choked. “So?”
“Well, she doesn’t, you know, belong here.”
“Where?” I challenged them. “She doesn’t belong where?”

Hermione stabbing you with her mind.

Yet again, I find myself applauding Mallory. For a character that not many readers seem to gel with (and that Ann M Martin has said herself that she has no strong feelings about post BSC), seeing her stand up to both Kristy Thomas and the entirety of her bitchy lunch crew made me actually like her. She’s one brave little kid.

Mallory does eventually get an opportunity to talk to Jessi – as she’s walking by Stacey’s old house, which the Ramsey’s have moved into. Mallory and Jessi chat and share jokes on Jessi’s front step, while Jessi’s sister Becca plays with this enormous bubble maker thing, and their little brother Squirt crawls around and gurgles and does baby stuff.

Then there’s another awkward moment where the little girl across the street wants to play with Becca, and her mother yells at her to get back inside.

The Ramseys are almost completely ostracised, and it depresses them, when they had such a happy life in Oakley (NJ). Jessi’s even considering not taking ballet lessons in town (“I knew it. Those long legs of hers were a dead giveaway.”), for fear of being further excluded from productions because of the colour of her skin.
Nobody in the neighbourhood, or the entire town, is making them welcome.

Welcome wagon

This is a Welcome Wagon, apparently.

Mallory is (rightfully) furious, remembering how Stacey had told them when she first moved into the house a year earlier that neighbours had brought them casseroles and a Welcome Wagon lady had shown up and everything. None of that for the Ramseys, apparently.

This is somewhat remedied by book’s end, thanks to the AMAZING AND AWESOME Johanssens. Dr Johanssen sends Charlotte around to the Ramsey’s with banana bread, asking them to dinner later in the week, and then stays to play with Becca when they realise they’re the same age. YAY CHARLOTTE! YAY JOHANNSENS!

And while initially loneliness unites Mal and Jessi, once they both realise that they have reading horse books in common, they become SUPER BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE. YAY, JESSI AND MALLORY!

Together, they become the short-lived Kids Incorporated; “two sitters for the price of one”, who’s only jobs are the Pike’s (once) and the Ramseys (once), and who’s only additional call is Kristy, to have a go at them.

While the topic of race and exclusion is studied for the entire book, there was another moment in the book that threw me: it turns out that the Pike’s aren’t ginger.

Every single one of us Pikes, even my parents, has dark brown hair (Mom calls it “chestnut brown” to make it seem less ordinary) and blue eyes.

WHAT SORCERY IS THIS

A lot of my memories of the BSC have been challenged during this re-read. Certainties about Kristy’s outfits, Mary Anne’s attitude, Dawn’s diet and the like have been disputed.
The topic of Mallory’s hair is another one of those childhood memories that I had no prior doubts about. Mallory has curly red hair. I know this.
So what’s with the “chestnut brown”? This is chestnut brown:

Chestnut brown hair

— and this is Mallory, as portrayed on book covers, in the TV show, and in the BSC movie (cc 1995):

This is Mallory Pike

You’re GINGER, Pikes. Mrs Pike, why the “chestnut brown” malarkey? Ann M Martin, why the “dark brown hair” nonsense?!

Kirk throws a tantrum

You’re both wrong! *slams door on the matter*

Ann M Martin’s “pretty much money” makes another appearance (as it did in Logan Likes Mary Anne!. Once is a mistake; twice is a bit WTF):

And they have lots of clients who call on them when they need sitters, and the club members earn pretty much money.

Clothing descriptions are rattled off out of necessity, when Mallory introduces the club members in Chapter 2, though half are just general descriptions of the types of clothing they wear:

She [Kristy] was wearing faded jeans, sneakers, a pale pink turtleneck, and a dark pink sweater.

Kristy Thomas uniform.

Things like short, tight pants with little ballet slippers, or torn T-shirts decorated with sequins, or overalls and high-topped sneakers. And her [Claudia’s] jewelry! She has a bracelet that looks like a coiled snake, and earrings that are a dog for one ear and a bone for the other, and I don’t know what else.

I thought Stacey owned the dog and bone earring set?

Claudia tight pants ballet slippers sequin torn t-shirt coiled snake bracelet overalls high-top sneakers dog and bone earrings.

On the day of my first meeting, she [Mary Anne] was wearing a baggy yellow sweater with a silver squiggle pin near the collar, a short skirt made out of sweatshirt material, yellow tights, and ballet slippers.

Mary Anne Spier wearing yellow sweater grey sweat skirt yellow tights silver squiggle pin and ballet slippers

She [Dawn] wears kind of casual clothes, like baggy jeans with the cuffs rolled up, shirts with the tails out, and big belts.

Dawn Shaefer wearing rolled cuff jeans shirt tails out big belts.

Mallory’s only other outfit description is of her own, the day she’s due to take the ludicrous BSC test:

I threw on a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt that said I’D RATHER BE WRITING MY NOVEL, and a pair of sneakers.

Mallory Pike I'd rather be writing jumper jeans sneakers

This book is full of surprises. The lack of ginger, the lack of tolerance, and the lack of Stacey all weigh it down, but as in all BSC books, things are on the mend by the end, even if Mallory and Jessi aren’t officially part of the BSC just yet.

The book ends with a phone call from Stacey, who calls during the meeting that Mallory and Jessi have been invited to (again out of necessity – the BSC are swamped with jobs). But while Mallory and Jessi are both worried about not fitting in with the rest of the BSC, they approach the Club with excitement now, as they have each other to rely on.

Claudia listened for a moment and then began to laugh. She covered the receiver again. “Stacey just said, ‘You mean I was so good it took two people to replace me?'”

Unimpressed Buffy

Coming up next is Little Miss Stoneybrook…and Dawn. Goodie! A book all about the psychotic world of child beauty pageants!


Want to read about a BSC member before she’s part of the BSC? Want to have your memories of Mallory’s hair challenged too? Get Hello, Mallory for Kindle for under a fiver on amazon.

5 Responses

  1. Fifi says:

    Stoneybrook is racist? Huh. :/ I wonder if that’s an actual reflection of 80s Connecticut or just a plot device that’s going to disappear in upcoming books. I do recall that one of the later novels features Claudia dealing with a racist client who doesn’t want a Japanese-American girl watching her kids–but that’s treated as shocking, which suggests that prejudice isn’t *that* normal in Stoneybrook. I don’t know, consistency doesn’t seem to have been a huge priority for these books. At least, as you say, this provides an opportunity for Mallory to show some backbone and open-mindedness.

    Kristy, suggesting that a BSC member’s outfit is too dressy just makes you look like an idiot: a) the girl was wearing a jumper with her name on it, which isn’t exactly formalwear, and b) you’ve got Claudia in your club, for frick’s sake! While Claudia is in your club, you cannot play the ‘Don’t dress creatively’ card!

    • Min says:

      Kristy is a massive jerk throughout most of the book – the unnecessary journal entry shunning Mallory’s outfit and nervousness is just the start! I wondered that she could act that way when Mal was, not long ago, one of their charges, and when Mal’s parents were one of their regular clients. Follow your actions to conclusion, Kristy – Mal goes home, tells Mrs Pike even half of what happened, Mrs Pike tells the Barrets and the Newtons and anyone else their kids play with, word starts to spread on how mean you are, and you lose business – not because you’re bad at what you do, but just because you HAVE to be a bitch. It’d be like a writer having a go at one of their fans (Kristy Thomas = Jacqueline Howlett?)!

      Yeah, the racism thing threw me – I didn’t remember it being quite to the scale it was portrayed. I remember that other book you’re talking about – about the neo-nazi-esqu family who didn’t want Claudia sitting for them (I distinctly remember them calling the BSC saying “can we have one of those blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby-sitters we’ve been told about?”), but that was as much as I remembered on the racism front. I thought the majority of US states, particularly those er, not of the south, had largely done away with their black vs whites attitudes by then – but not being part of things over there, perhaps it wasn’t as tolerant as Saturday morning Disney made it out to be to us Aussies. Or perhaps AMM just took it as an opportunity to discuss something that was an issue when she was a kid. Who knows? Either way, like you, I’m betting it’s largely gone by the next book.

  2. SideshowJazz1 says:

    This was the only book when racism was mentioned, actually. Weird how that never came up again. OK, well, it was mentioned, but not to the scale it was here. Jessi’s family is pretty much accepted. I think some of the girls from Jessi’s ballet class did resent her for some of “Jessi’s Secret Language”, but then again, I really need to find and reread that book. I’ve been spending money on Kindle so I can read BSC books, but so far, they’ve only brought out the first 50. I even pre-ordered book #51, “Stacey’s Ex-Best Friend”, one I’ve never read. On a lighter note, I finally managed to read book #20, “Kristy and the Walking Disaster” which is a misleading title, because even though the title is referring to Jackie Rodowsky (probably one of my favourite baby-sitting charges in the series along with Charlotte Johanssen and the Perkins girls), it’s not just about him – it’s about him and about nineteen other kids making up Kristy’s Krushers.
    Anyway, sorry, totally off-track there. Point is, Jessi and her family are established as being black and they are discriminated against in this book, but they’re treated fairly in all subsequent novels, regardless of skin colour. No problem with that – they should be treated fairly – but a bit unrealistic that everyone automatically accepts the Ramseys just because the Johanssens finally decide to. Like, what about people like Amy’s mom, who wouldn’t let Amy even talk to Becca just because of her skin?

  3. Keira says:

    On the jumper issue: in America, jumpers are like zip up or strap on dresses for some reason, instead of sweaters. So Mallory actually wore something like this: http://a1216.g.akamai.net/f/1216/955/6h/images2.nordstrom.com/ImageGallery/store/Product/MediumLarge/13/_5304333.jpg

    So yes, trousers weren’t necessarily required 🙂

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