Reading Diary: Saddle Club #1: Horse Crazy by Bonnie Bryant
"You know, Lisa, I understand horses. They make sense to me. It's people who are confusing. Stevie wants to go on the [Mountain Trail Overnight] so badly, but she's doing absolutely everything wrong. First, all she had to do was a Math project, but no, that wasn't good enough for Stevie. So then, she decided to earn money, but no, she's too good to do the work. I never saw anybody so eager to turn jobs over to other people. So then, while she isn't doing any of those things, she's busy getting Max so angry with her that might not let her go on the trip. Some fix she's getting into."
"Listen, you tell me about horses, and I'll tell you about people," Lisa said . . . "Stevie isn't so dumb . . . [She] isn't giving work away, she's selling it!"
What I love about the juvenile series of my childhood--which I never actually read during my childhood--is how strongly they bring back the first decade of my life for me. Which is not to mean the 1980s that I actually lived through, but the 1980s that I imagined everyone else was living through in another part of the world: a decade exemplified by the toy and snack commercials that got taped over along with the Saturday-morning cartoons that an aunt in California sent over on Betamax. (Oh, Betamax!)
So it doesn't really matter that I never had a proper riding lesson during the decade, much less friends who shared a hobby I was passionate about. Two paragraphs into Saddle Club #1: Horse Crazy and I was back in a world I would have known on Jupiter.
with milk, orange juice, and buttered toast
(Did anyone actually eat like that? Tell me!)
It is also, I soberly reflect, a lost world--and not just because the fashions have moved on. The economy has moved on, too. And so Stevie Lake's big scheme to make enough money to pay for the Mountain Trail Overnight camp out that she is desperate to join might not be possible for other horse-crazy girls today . . . for likely the same reason it wasn't possible for me in my own 1980s and following.
I don't dare to analyse the economic factors at play, but according to several sources, the teen unemployment rate is quite high these days. And according to the"anecdata" I get to read, it's not that the jobs which young people could do suddenly became unavailable, but that more people are willing to compete for them. I buy it because it fits my own experience. One reason why my teenage self couldn't get simple after-school jobs was that I was competing with older people who did the work full-time and needed it more: you won't hire a baby-sitter from among the neighbours' older children when you already have a live-in nanny in her twenties who has made your own children her career. I was finally able to do some glorified baby-sitting during my underemployed after-school tutor years . . . but I wouldn't have been hired without a uni degree. All the children I tutored already had full-time nannies, but the latter hadn't been to college (sometimes not even high school) and so weren't considered qualified by the parents who hired us both. (For the record, there was a least one nanny whose simple humouring of her tutee's ideas of fun was better for the girls' learning than anything I was doing.)
Of course, for me, it was also cultural: if I had gone from door to door in my childhood village, declaring my willingness to do yard work or the like, my neighbours' full-time servants would have assumed I was joking and not even let me see their bosses . . . and my grandparents would have been humiliated. =P And if I were still a teenager and tried it in my current area . . . let's just say I'd have more luck selling cookies out of my kitchen. (I know because I have sold cookies out of my kitchen, at a time when it was the only thing I could do.)
But don't let me make any assumptions about where you live, dear reader. Tell me yourself how successful a flyer like the following would be in your neighbourhood today:
I'm desperate for money!
Please hire me to do odd jobs for you.
Nothing is too big or too small for me.
I'll do any kind of honest work.
I must have cash immediately to put a shelter over my head and food on my plate!
Signed, A Starving-Twelve-Year-Old.
Call 555-7823 and ask for Stevie.
Stevie is my favourite character, by the way. =)
Thanks to that ad copy, our hard-working girl gets called to clean pools, to muck out gutters, to rake yards, to clear out attics, to walk dogs, to water plants, to put up wallpaper, to deliver newspapers, and of course, to baby-sit. And there's so much work that what she can't do herself, she passes on to other kids who are also saving up for stuff they want--like her nine-year-old brother who wants a five-gallon fish tank. Would this happen in your area today, dear reader--or in any neighbourhood you've ever lived in?
Indeed, it's so fantastic that it begs the question of how economically realistic these 1980s juvenile series even were. (I'm assuming they're all set in the same world.) I recall an article by someone who had loved The Baby-sitters Club when she was the same age as the characters but couldn't get hired to baby-sit, much less make a business out of it, because all the part-time childcare jobs went to high school kids! I guess these books were aspirational for the majority of their readers.
And unless a girl actually hated horses, she probably would aspire to a course at Pine Hollow Stables--just like shy new girl Lisa Atwood, who gets to be the reader's "Sue" in this introduction to the Saddle Club world. Lisa starts out unsure of both her own abilities and the more experienced riders in her class; but of course, she turns out to be a natural (LOL!) and after a few bumps in the road, bonds beautifully with the irrepressible Stevie and the latter's calmer, more mature best friend Carole Hansen. It's a plot that has been done to death in children's books--and it's definitely less interesting than Stevie's hilarious money-making scheme in the subplot.
If this first Saddle Club book is typical of the rest of the series, then I won't be looking too hard for the next book. (On the other hand, I'm still desperate for BSC #14: Hello, Mallory.) To be honest, the part I liked the most--even more than Stevie's antics and all the vague 1980s bling--was the bonus essay on equestrian events in the Olympics, which was written not by the primary author Bonnie Bryant, but by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, who would ghostwrite later books in the series. Still, Horse Crazy does fairly well as an introduction and makes an okay portal back into the 1980s I never lived through. If I do stumble across Book #2, Horse Shy, I'll read it in the hope that Lisa, Stevie, and Carole get a big "complete breakfast" scene in it!
Image Source: Saddle Club #1: Horse Crazy by Bonnie Bryant