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 —
— 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.
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.”
The 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.
My picture looked like this:
“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.
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?”
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.
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.
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:
— and this is Mallory, as portrayed on book covers, in the TV show, and in the BSC movie (cc 1995):
You’re GINGER, Pikes. Mrs Pike, why the “chestnut brown” malarkey? Ann M Martin, why the “dark brown hair” nonsense?!
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.
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?
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.
She [Dawn] wears kind of casual clothes, like baggy jeans with the cuffs rolled up, shirts with the tails out, and 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.
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?'”
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.
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!
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.
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?
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 🙂
Neat! Thanks for the confirmation (and how strange!).
In America, “jumper” means a dress with straps that is work with a blouse underneath. Like a pair of overalls, only with a skirt instead of pants.
In general, they are worn by younger kids. An 11 year old would not willingly wear one. Especially if it has her name on it. That would be more appropriate for a five year old.
Im wheezing seeing that the Pikes arent actually redheads. MY CHILDHOOD IS A L I E. I finally look like book cover Mallory though (Fluffy ginger hair, big glasses, braces, and pierced ears).
I think Ms Martin was bringing up Jessi being black for an extremely well deserved point that this was the 80s and books with a diverse set of friends were so few and far between. Perhaps one of the points that drew me into this series so much in the early 90s was the diversity aspect. And 3 out of those girls came from parents of divorce which was a huge relief for us who still felt different from other kids because of it, even though it was so common, it wasn’t really ever put into fiction young adult books. The 80s was a time of still grasping that we need to talk openly about tough issues, not act like they don’t exist.
Absolutely, I totally agree with you. One of the best thing about the series was her pointing out all the different ways we can make a family.
But to the comment I made on being reminded constantly of Jessie and race in the opening – I’m sorry if it was misinterpreted or worded badly. My saying it was brought up constantly wasn’t saying it shouldn’t have been mentioned – because discussion is vital, as is calling out people on unacceptable, racist behaviour. It was a comment about the characters in the book – at school, in the neighbourhood – being, it seemed, obsessed with being negative about Jessie and her family based on nothing but the colour of their skin. If I haven’t made it clear, I’m not from the US and I had no idea that this was what POC do actually experience. Australia has a long way to come when it comes to the treatment of our Indigenous/First Nation people, but the level of hatred Jessie and her family endure surprised me, as a half-Croatian Australian who grew up surrounded by people from other cultures.
Now with the BLM movement and its international exposure, I understand better what she was conveying all those years ago when she wrote it – because there are people who believe as the racists in Stoneybrook do, in the real world, and who do much worse, and that’s fucking scary and wrong.
I’m from the county in CT where fictional Stoneybrook is set. It’s racist as HELL. I was one of only a handful of Brown kids in my schools, as a South Asian American kid, along with one Puerto Rican kid, most of the other kids were white. There were definitely some Black kids but it was a small minority. There were obvious divisions, but much more so in my second elementary school further in town from my first school. There, the numbers of kids of color were far less. I got tons of microaggressions from my teachers about being Brown, about coming to school wearing Mehndi/henna on my hands for holidays and was always the one teaching my classes, my teachers, my friends’ parents and my classmates about Islam. They didn’t know shit. In fact, if you can imagine back in the 1980s, they had mostly never heard of it. This is in America where prominent Black Muslims, Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, dominated the 1950s and 1960s. Plus a Cold War world where formerly colonized majority Muslim countries were in the news a lot. Ridiculous. When I was a kid, Martin Luther King Jr.’s bday was only just beginning to be celebrated as a federal holiday (that’s like a bank holiday here- but celebrating a specific person). There were still states voting against its celebration. Fun fact- Senator John McCain, from Arizona and known as the opponent to Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election, actively voted against the commemoration of MLK til the bitter end.
Wow, like I’ve said I’ve lived in Australia for most of my life (and the UK for a small portion) so thank you for sharing the insight into life for POC in the US. Racism in Australia is – well, sideline example, my father decided to change our surname in the 80’s (when I was very little) because he was picked on at school for having a Croatian surname – and he wanted his kids to grow up as “Australian kids”. So our surname is very white and generic sounding, but it’s meaningless (though due to other personal issues with my father, I wouldn’t consider changing my surname back to what it was originally, either). Our pigmentation is fair to medium and darkens if we spend lots of time in the sun, but white Australians are in the sun a lot as it is. Of course a surname that was changed is nothing compared to being judged based on the colour of one’s skin, and no one should have to change who they are out of fear of judgement (I guess my dad’s experiences effected him to a level where he considered it necessary, regardless of it being wrong to have to feel that in the first place). I don’t know if I would have encountered more racism as a half-Croatian if I was called what I was named on my birth certificate; my cousins who still have the Croatian surname didn’t encounter racism so perhaps by the 80’s white Australians were over segregating Eastern-Europeans in general. Which is I guess why in this chapter I found it so starkly surprising that Stoneybrook was so racist to Jessi’s family – because I didn’t have an experience like dads or yours, and we were technically from another country, but nobody at my school seemed to care because we were all from different backgrounds.
I’m sorry you experienced such ignorance and racism, nobody deserves that. You are a champion for educating others amidst what sounds like a horrible situation to navigate as a child.
Wow thats so sad! I live in California and there are like what, 10 Americans in each grade. The rest of the people are Indian or Chinese, or Tawainese.
P.S. Fairfield County, CT is still racist as hell. It is actually the county in the US Witt the wisest income inequality in the entire country. We have many many of the hedge funds and hedge fund billionaires near the NY state border in Greenwich, and also in Darien, Westport, Wilton and Easton, but three cities with large groups of people of color- Stamford, Norwalk, and Bridgeport. Bridgeport has a substantial number of Black people and Brown people and is actually the third largest city in the entire Northeast of the country. It has been underserved for decades by federal and local funding And suffered from white flight, which is when white people fled more diverse urban areas for expanding all white suburbs where Black people were often not allowed to live. When I say not allowed, I mean It was written into mortgages and into home owner associations that Black people weren’t allowed to buy houses in those neighborhoods. So what Ann M. Martin was writing was very real. It still is in many of these ridiculously racist and largely wealthy white suburbs.
Gods, this makes me so angry on your behalf. Thank you for sharing the information as – I can’t speak for other countries but in Australia there was little knowledge that racism is still such an issue there. And I can’t speak for the country to be honest, just for myself. The BLM campaigns have really helped to open my eyes at least of what a huge problem it still is and I hope that the movement is paving a path to closing that gap – that shouldn’t exist in the first place!
Gasp, Min you’re back! Finally! Will you ever do more blogging (or about the new Netflix bsc show?)
Gosh, I wish I could! But ever since I had my own baby (in late 2014) time has turned into an enemy and I barely have time to do all the things I *need* to do in a day, let alone the things I *want* to do. I did get to binge the Netflix BSC series, though – as its release happened to coincide with my partner taking my son camping (it’s the first time I’ve watched something for *me* in a LONG time)! But as for writing up reviews and finding gifs – they took hours of time to form, and they’re hours I simply don’t get any more. If I could organise myself to chip away at it then maybe I could put up a review once every 6 months or so.
Ideally (in my head at least) the next thing I’d do would be review the Netflix series, which was AMAZING and I highly recommend it if you haven’t already watched it.
Some day, if I ever have an opportunity to get back into blogging, this’ll be the first place I come back to because it was so much fun.
Though, one review every eight months is better than nothing!
“And really,” said Claudia. “Your drawing of the divestive system was terrible.”
“Digestive system,” I corrected her.
Cue gif of smug teenage boy surrounded by his excitable pals reacting to a sweet burn
Who is Kristy to comment on Mallory’s outfit, Ms. Sweatshirt and baseball cap and jeans?
And yes racism exists north of the Mason-Dixon line (I recommend Mad Men)