As regular visitors to this blog will no doubt be aware, I was a big fan of Ann M. Martins Babysitters Club series when I during my middle and upper primary school years. I smiled to myself a few years ago when I learned that the series was to be re-released for a new generation of readers, along with a brand new prequel, and wondered if kids today would enjoy it as much as I did. But it wasn't until a trip to QBD last week when I found a copy of the BSC prequel The Summer Before sitting on the shelf that I began to feel excited. Very excited. Even though it was aimed at children, I just had to take this book from the shelf, buy it and take it home. And you know what? I'm glad I did.
The Summer Before is the perfect nostalgia trip for grown up BSC fans. Yes, it is a childrens book, but did we ever really, truly want to know what happened to the girls after they graduated from Stoneybrook Middle School? There's something much more comforting about going back to Bradford Court and reading about where it all began, to a time when Mary-Anne was still being treated like a little girl by her strict father, where Claudia is growing up faster than her friends, when Stacey is about to move from New York to Stoneybrook and start anew and when Kristy is having difficulties coming to terms with the fact that her father is no longer a part of her life and that her mother has a new boyfriend. Each girl has her own set of problems and their summer isn't always a pleasant one. Stacey in particular has suffered a large degree of bullying from her former best friend Laine as well as having to cope with an extreme form of type 1 diabetes. The authors attention to detail is incredible and many well-known Stoneybrook locations are mentioned, such as Fawcett Avenue and Stoneybrook Middle School. A sullen ten-year-old Mallory Pike makes a brief appearance as a sitting charge (she is quickly instated by Kristy as a junior babysitter,) and many other minor characters from the early books in the series appear throughout the novel, including sitting charges like Jamie Newton and Jenny Prezziosos. It was also pleasing to see that the author had made Janine Kishi a far more sympathetic character and it was lovely to read about Mimi, one of my favourite 'adult' characters from the series. And, of course, because its Stoneybrook, the kids all seem much older than their twelve years and the town has a real 1950s sense of community about it.
All good fun, a great read for kids and a perfect nostalgia trip for grown up fans.