30 March 2011


Reading Diary: BSC #5: Dawn and the Impossible Three by Ann M. Martin

Kristy and the other members had trained me on handling new clients.

"Never take them on without finding out certain important information first," Kristy had told me.

"How many children do you have?" I asked.

"Three," she replied. "Buddy, my oldest, is seven . . . Suzi is four, and Marnie is the baby. She's a year and a half."

. . . Then I asked a few more questions, and after that [she] said nervously, "I guess you should know that my husband and I have just gotten a divorce. This is a hard time for my children. I've got to find a job and they're used to having their father around, and I'm not a terribly organised person."

Wow. I could sympathise with that.

This is still an early book in the Baby-sitters Club series, but it already has a lot to live up to . . . kind of like Dawn Schafer herself, who takes her first turn narrating. She is the newest member of the club and the newest girl in town, so she has something to prove to both the other members and the readers who have already fallen in love with them and might not be too crazy about an outsider suddenly coming in.

So it doesn't really help that Dawn's book is the first weak link in the series. =S

Up to this point, the BSC books have followed a certain structure. Each one has a main idea that "flowers" in a different way for every girl on a job.

For instance, in the debut novel Kristy's Great Idea, all the club members are still learning to deal with clients and run a business, so most of the baby-sitting episodes are comedies of errors that teach them something new.

In the second book, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, everyone is spooked by a series of robberies in a neighbouring town and has to deal with a scary situation at work.

This awareness of theme reaches a new peak in The Truth about Stacey, when the rival agency taking away the BSC's clients perfectly parallels Stacey's fear that telling the truth about her diabetes will scare away her new friends.

We get some new tangles in Mary Anne Saves the Day when the club members have a huge falling out, refuse to speak directly to one another, but still accept several group sitting jobs. (LOL!)

Each theme also "matches" the girl who is narrating the novel in which it "flowers." =)

But how can you have a similar thematic round robin when the main idea is the effects of divorce on children and only two of the BSC members and two families in their regular clientele have had to deal with it?

Answer: You can't.

Accordingly, this book is mostly Dawn's story, with two interconnected storylines: how she wins the trust of Kristy (a fellow child of divorce) and how she handles sitting for Mrs. Barrrett (a newly divorced mother who reminds her of her own) when it starts to become too much.

Dawn and the Impossible Three is a misleading title, though. The three Barrett children are all right. But Dawn and the Impossible Mother might have hit too close to home for latch-key readers in the 80s. Mrs. Barrett is one of the most critical satires of single motherhood ever to emerge from a decade already full of them (although, yes, Mr. Barrett is hardly a paragon himself).

Scholastic has already reissued "updated" editions of the first four Baby-sitters Club books, plus a new prequel, but it has been dragging its feet where Book 5 is concerned. And I can't help but wonder whether it's because there is simply no way "to update" Mrs. Barrett's carelessness and casual cruelty so that it doesn't clash with today's tastefully layered PC mores.

Image Source: BSC #5: Dawn and the Impossible Three by Ann M. Martin


Syrin said...

It has been so long since I read this series that I mostly remember vague feelings about the various characters than I do about any of the stories. I remember that while I didn't dislike Dawn, she and her "hippie" ways never appealed to me that much.

Given the whole organic craze these days, I imagine it wouldn't be too hard to update Dawn as a character, but perhaps this particular book shows how the series was really meant to be a part of the 80s/early 90s culture and not necessarily universal.

Enbrethiliel said...


Dawn doesn't draw me, either, I'm afraid. =S Right now, she's just "Hippie Stacey" to me!

It's the tension you point out between the universal and the decade-specific that never fails to fascinate me. (That's why I'm rereading the whole series!) I agree that a hippie character from California is practically an archetype and would be very easy to update, but the Schafers' are about both healthy living and divorce, and poor Dawn brings her baggage into everything. There are still lots of kids who are traumatised by divorce, but we seem to tiptoe around these issues more often these days.

Along those lines . . . When Bantam updated Sweet Valley High, it had a completely different book for SVH #3: Power Play. The original story was about an overweight girl who tries to pledge the high school sorority, only to learn that the super slim "sisters" were really just toying with her the whole time. I don't know whether it was the weight issues (compounded by bullying) or the cheesy idea of a high school sorority that defied updating . . . but I'm willing to put my money on the sorority. (LOL!)

Syrin said...

You would think that Sweet Valley High book would be the perfect thing to talk about right about now, given the whole "it gets better" anti-bullying messages going around. Of course they probably finished the update long before that broke. I wonder if they are kicking themselves for passing it up now! :)

Enbrethiliel said...


I know!!!

The new story is still about an elitist club that wants to rule the school, but as far as I can tell from the plot summary, no overweight girl was bullied. I suspect Francine Pascal wants to draw the readers of Gossip Girl and It Girl. =P

One small correction: Power Play is SVH #4, not #3. *blush*