31 October 2015

+JMJ+

BSC #17: Mary Anne's Bad Luck Mystery by Ann M. Martin

"This," said Kristy somberly, "is an emergency meeting of the Baby-sitters Club. You all know why you've been called here."

It was Sunday afternoon. The six main members of the club were in Claudia's room in our usual places. And yes, we all knew why we had been called there.

Because of me. Because I had tempted fate, thrown away a chain letter, then been sent a bad-luck charm, which I was forced to wear or else. Not knowing what "or else" meant was the only thing that kept me wearing the charm. Or else death? Death and destruction? Death, destruction and the end of civilisation as we know it? Claudia was afraid it could mean the end of junk food. Who knew? We weren't taking chances. We'd done enough of that already.

Happy Halloween! You'd never know it from the cover, but BSC #17 is totally the 1988 holiday special! And it's got everything you remember from a good old retro Halloween: homemade costumes, elaborate pranks, fruit mixed in with the junk food, and teenagers getting dressed up for a school dance but not trick or treating unless they're also baby-sitting. Ann M. Martin doesn't quite hit the 80s nostalgia bull's eye in this novel (the candy and other references are all "timeless") . . . but then again, how could she know that I'd be mining her series for pop culture references in the 2010s? =P There is one thing she got absolutely right, though, and boy does it take me back. Two words: chain letters.

This year, the BSC's Halloween, as individuals and as a club, is just that much creepier thanks to a mysterious letter that the club's Secretary Mary Anne Spier gets in the mail . . .

Well, okay, 70s, 80s and early 90s . . .

Is this something the post-paper generation would still get? I think that as a Horror trope, it's pretty universal: a 2010 movie called Chain Letter just changes the media to e-mail and text messages . . . and even before that, 1998's Ringu depicted another sort of bad luck chain that used video tapes in Japan. And now I recall a friend pointing out, a decade after we all freaked out together over Sadako, that if any of her victims had uploaded a digital copy of her tape onto YouTube . . . Actually, he never finished the sentence. He didn't need to. We all just got it: the murder instrument is the message.

Of course, no one actually gets killed in this story! They just all get a lot of bad luck at the same time. By "bad luck," I mean forgetting homework at home, dropping lunches in the cafeteria, and accidentally breaking their parents' favourite keepsakes--and on the job, showing up late, having to clean up huge messes, and having the children's clothes come apart in their hands. So they start to think there is something to the chain letter they all so reasonably dismissed one day earlier; and when more mysterious messages start arriving, their worst fears are confirmed.

Well, this is probably the silliest BSC book so far. As we've seen in both Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls (#2) and The Ghost at Dawn's House (#9), Martin struggles with scary. This story is strongest where it sticks to traditional Halloween activities, such as making your own costume, trick or treating at the house of the neighbourhood "witch," or sneaking out to a cemetery at midnight. It makes me wish that the main story were about the club doing some Halloween-themed marketing . . . but then the proper narrator of the story would be either Club President Kristy Thomas (who nurtures their business like a child) or Vice-President Claudia Kishi (who must surely see in Halloween a perfect overlap of her love of art and her love of junk food).

I'm sure that what happened was October 1988 coinciding with Mary Anne's turn to narrate a novel. And while the girls tend to sound very similar to each other, the prim and proper BSC Secretary (whom Martin based on herself) can tend toward the dramatic. (Who remembers "the final battle in the war against the Baby-sitters Agency"? LOL!) Out of six main BSC members, she is the one most likely to experience something scary and to get superstitious about it. So, yeah, we have to hand Martin that..

But if I had been a beta reader of Mary Anne's Bad Luck Mystery, I would have still made one suggestion. Let the murder instrument be the message. Let the mail or other forms of communication be the main sources of the BSC's bad luck. Or let the bad luck come from others who are passing on a burden because they'd rather not bear it themselves--which is exactly what happens with chain letters. Or let the first bit of bad luck set off a chain of clearly-related events. That is, Miss Martin, if you are not already too busy . . .


Image Sources: a) BSC #17: Mary Anne's Bad Luck Mystery by Ann M. Martin, b) Chain Letter by Christopher Pike, c) Chain Letter 2: The Ancient Evil by Pike

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