10 May 2014


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred!

Well, this is shocking . . . ;-) This time last year, I thought about ending Locus Focus forever with Take Ninety-Nine, but it turns out that all I needed was an eleven-month hiatus. LOL! It's nice to be reminded of this blog's roots again--kind of like the characters in the books I'm going to be featuring all month. Last week, China got to be the first setting for my Mothers' Birthplaces challenge. And of course, today I have something as different from it as possible . . .

Stoneybrook, Connecticut
BSC#5: Dawn and the Impossible Three
by Ann M. Martin

I've only lived in Connecticut for a few months. Until this past January, I lived in California with my parents and my younger brother, Jeff. But last fall Mom and Dad split up, and Mom decided to move back to the place where she grew up. Her parents still live here. So right after Christmas, Jeff and I were uprooted from hot, sunny California and transplanted to cold, sloppy Connecticut, where (so far) it's never been warm enough for me.

. . . I'm still not sure what the big deal about New England winters is is all about. Back in California, we had one season: summer. I thought it was wonderful. I loved the beach, I loved sunshine, I loved eighty-degree Christmases. Why, I wondered, would anyone want to interrupt all that warmth with three other seasons?

There is a real Stoneybrook in Connecticut, but the Stoneybrook of the Connecticut of Ann M. Martin's Baby-sitters Club series is completely fictional. And for the purposes of this analysis, also archetypal.

When BSC member Dawn Schafer's parents get divorced, her mother decides she needs a fresh start. And what better place to get that than the one in which she got her original fresh start (i.e., birth)? Mrs. Schafer may not move back into her actual childhood home (which might be too dramatic, you know?), but she does find a nice property that was built in 1795 and that Dawn affectionately calls the "new-old house." Still very fitting--inasmuch as Dawn's move to Stoneybrook has the qualities of both a new chapter in her own life and a flashback to a time before she was born.

We all get what it means when a character who has failed at something in the big world returns to his hometown . . . but what does it mean when a child whose parent has failed at something in the big world has that less-than-triumphant homecoming? In Dawn and her brother's case, it's not so much a return to their roots as it is a severing of them.

It may be Martin's own sense of this that ultimately made her leverage Dawn's split soul into a spin-off series: The California Diaries. Although I've never read any of these West-Coast-set novels, I'm willing to bet that Dawn spends as much time in California wishing she were back in Connecticut as she does in Connecticut wishing she were back in California. It's a near-perfect metaphor for what happens to children when their parents get divorced.

Question of the Week: Have you ever visited your own mother's birthplace?

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


Sheila said...

You know, I don't think my *mother* has ever revisited her birthplace! And I have no memory of mine. Military life teaches you not to care too much about stuff like that.

Stoneybrook is so archetypal as not to exist. Where is there a town in America where preteens can just bike "around the corner" to wherever they want to go? Zoning has destroyed that world entirely. I was jealous of the BSC to get to live in a town like that.

Enbrethiliel said...


My mother and her siblings got to live in many different houses when my grandfather was in the military, but they always had a "home base" in Manila. That was a great thing for them: the now grown-up children are still close to all their old neighbours! In general, our military families aren't required to move around as much as their US counterparts do--and even if someone is stationed elsewhere in the country, his family usually remains behind, where he will rejoin them for holidays and leaves while the deployment continues, and where he will return at the end of it. That's better for putting down roots, but I also know that it strains marriages.

Reading juvenile series as a child, I was even more envious than you were. And this injury had the added insult of my believing that all American children lived like those characters! You asked, "Where is there a town in America where . . . ?" I asked, "Why can't I live in America where . . . ?" =P

Many years ago, an organisation in the Philippines, which wanted to help rural schools build libraries, started a donation drive for old children's books. It said that all books would be welcome except juvenile series like Sweet Valley, Baby-sitters Club, et. al. The explanation was that these books have stories set in places that are so perfect that no Filipino child's home will ever live up to them, and the child will just end up with a completely unrealistic idea of perfection. How sharp of them, aye?

Angie Tusa said...

The town my mother was born in is right next to my own, and I've been there many times. But I was actually never allowed as a child to step in the home she grew up in - with good reason. My grandmother is a hoarder, and the house was in such bad shape that the town eventually forced her out and condemned the place. I do remember sitting outside it in the car though when my mom would occasionally go by to drop something off/pick something up. It sounds odd now but seemed completely normal to me back then.

Reading the books from Dawn's perspective was always interesting for me, because California always sounded like a wonderful place to be, and I could see why she wouldn't care for Stoneybrook as much. Ditto to Stacey's mentions of New York. Living in a suburb that probably wasn't too different from Stoneybrook I was always more interested in the other locales.

Enbrethiliel said...


Now that's an interesting story! I hope that your grandmother found a good place to stay in the end.

You know, it never occurred to me that suburban kids reading the BSC books might have found Stoneybrook too much like their own hometowns. For me, a US suburb was already so different from where I grew up that the BSC books were--and still are--escapist literature! =P

Sheila said...

Sweet Valley is even worse. You have two girls with "honey blond hair," "blue-green eyes," and so forth, one of whom is brilliant and responsible and the other of whom is perky and popular. They have no faults. They are the coolest girls in school. I can't think why I read them. Perhaps I thought all *public-school* kids had it that good? I probably did, so no wonder I begged to be allowed to go.

BSC at least deals with real problems that real girls have. None of them is perfectly attractive, and they all have faults.

Off-topic ..... I really would have loved, when I was a kid, to read about other kids who were homeschooled. Do you know of a single mainstream (that is, not put out by some Christian fundamentalist group) book with a homeschooled hero?

I have looked and looked. There are kids who don't go to school because they are sick, or because they lived a long time ago, but none I've ever read dealing with the ordinary day-to-day life of a homeschooled kid.

Enbrethiliel said...


I begged to be allowed to go to boarding school! But I think it was an attachment issue rather than a real aspiration: I just wanted to be away from home.

As a matter of fact, I do know of "a single mainstream book with a homeschooled hero" . . . or in this case, a hero and a heroine! ;-) It's Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan. I enjoyed it, but it seems to get mixed reviews.

And now a friend reminds me that the title character of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli was homeschooled before she went to public school, and returns to homeschooling in the sequel. I normally like Spinelli, but for some reason, I never got into the Stargirl books. I read the first one only once and found it very, very whimsical.

Other titles I've seen but not tried are Schooled by Gordon Korman and The Homeschool Liberation League by Lucy Frank.

And now here is a list of titles (including some of those I've mentioned), with colourful reviews by a homeschooling parent:


And if all else fails, you could write a book of your own, you know! ;-)

Sheila said...

Everyone says that, but there are a LOT of kinds of books I want to read and I can't write them all!

Doesn't everyone want to go to boarding school? All my high school students did. I blame all those books and movies: Spying on Miss Mueller, The Little Princess, The Trouble With Angels, Madeline .... all showing girls at boarding school having these wonderful friendships, which I envied, and not having those awful parents I had to deal with. Imagine my disappointment to find my boarding school didn't even have ivy on the walls! Much less hijinks in the dorms .... they had to be spotless and we weren't allowed to talk in them, so the most excitement we ever got was when someone talked in their sleep.

I destroy the mystique of boarding schools every time I see it. The books make it sound like so much more fun than it really is. And even if there are fun ones out there .... what if you made the wrong choice and ended up at the Experiment House?

Enbrethiliel said...


Don't forget Harry Potter!

I wonder how popular boarding school stories are among children who actually do go to boarding school.

And now I'm remembering what the engineer James Dyson said about them. He said that he had genuinely loved his own boarding school experience, but that he would never send his children to one because he didn't want them having those formative experiences so far away from him. He wanted to be involved in their lives. That really struck me because I read it at a time when I was both longing for boarding school and making long-term plans to homeschool. What a contradiction, aye? LOL! But I think what both situations have in common is a sense of connection and community. I wasn't feeling very close to my family or my current classmates, and I imagined that I'd be able to forge better ties somewhere else. (Of course that hypothetical boarding school would be in a place where everyone spoke English and I wouldn't be ostracised! =P) On the other hand, I wanted to be close to my own children the way I felt my mother wasn't with me, and homeschooling still seems to be a key to that. While my understanding of both scenarios is very theoretical, and even magical, Dyson's experiences of both have definitely been practical.