Rereading My Childhood — The Baby-Sitters Club #2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls
At one time, I was just collecting and reading The Baby-Sitters Club. I was going to Goodwill every two weeks, buying whichever books in the series I was missing. Then I’d go home and read one every once in a while. Sometime during Claudia and Mean Janine, I got the idea to review these as writing practice and maybe help me build a portfolio. That’s why the first one is Boy-Crazy Stacey.
After I wrote a few of those I went back to the beginning — for continuity’s sake. I can’t review two hundred BSC books and skip over the first seven for no discernable reason. I went back through Kristy’s Great Idea and wrote what became one of my favorite reviews. Then I came to this book and put it off. When it showed up again in the rotation, I did a different book.
Eventually, I had to take a deep breath and jump back into Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, much to my chagrin. I hate this book. There. Plain and simple. It has a terrible message, and terrible people get rewarded for doing terrible things. It’s a terrible ball of terrible, but I read it. For continuity. So welcome, to the nightmare that is Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.
It starts out like all the other books that center around Claudia — she is struggling with school and comparing herself to her genius sister.
The thing about homework is that it is just so boring I can barely concentrate on it. And it’s useless. Who cares whether > means greater than or less than, or what X equals?
I don’t know, Claudia, anyone who wants to solve almost any practical problem ever? If one of your dumb baby-sitting charges is supposed to have twelve blocks in his toy chest, but he only has five, how many blocks has he eaten? That’s what X equals.
If Claudia didn’t spend so much time thinking about how schoolwork is boring, she could probably just learn the material and move on. Or she has a learning disability, and then it’s the school that is failing her. However, I haven’t read anything that indicates a learning disability, just laziness on Claude’s part.
But this isn’t Rereading My Childhood While I Complain About Claudia Kishi, Don’t @ Me, Mary Anne is the Best and Everyone Should Know That. I have to move on.
Then, like every book, Ann M. Martin feels the need to tell me that Claudia is Japanese and her grandmother, Mimi, has an accent, but her parents don’t. Does the accent come up later? No, but it seems to be Mimi’s only defining trait. Claudia starts to paint her and asks the very open-ended question, “Tell me about when you were a little girl in Japan.” Just, like, anything, Claudia? Is Mimi like Mary Lou Henner? “When I was eight, on December 3rd, I ate miso soup and a biscuit for breakfast. Then I bathed for 24 minutes.”
Then she goes into her clothes for the day, and they are, as usual, interesting.
I like bright colors and big patterns and funny touches, such as earrings made from feathers. Maybe this is because I’m an artist. I don’t know. Today, for instance, I’m wearing purple pants that stop just below my knees and are held up with suspenders, white tights with clocks on them, a purple-plaid shirt with a matching hat, my high-top sneakers, and lobster earrings. Clothes like these are my trademark.
My sister is an artist but she wouldn’t wear capris with garish tights underneath. You are just silly. Also, I don’t think a “funny touch” is a feather. That sounds more like cultural appropriation to me.
Later, Stacey calls Claudia and our resident artist talks about her crush on Trevor Sandbourne — a boy who writes poetry for the school’s literary magazine The Literary Voice. Did you know that Robert Pinsky first published “Impossible to Tell” in Stoneybrook Middle School’s The Literary Voice? Poet Trevor’s peers are an august retinue.
Chapter two starts with a problem.
Stacey, Kristy, Mary Anne, and I did get together on Saturday, but we couldn’t think of a thing for the four of us to do together. Mary Anne wasn’t allowed to ride her bike to the mall. Stacey couldn’t eat s’mores or ice cream or anything fun. (She has diabetes and has to control very carefully the amount of sugar she takes in each day.) And there was only one movie playing in town and Kristy and I had already seen it.
Okay, a few problems here. Even if Mary Anne could ride her bike to the mall, what would you do there? Just sit around like you’re doing now. Secondly, just because Stacey is diabetic doesn’t mean she can’t be around sugar. Sugar isn’t airborne. I understand that you don’t want her to feel left out, but you guys can have a camp out that just happens to have s’mores, and, for example, roasted hot dogs or something. Lastly, Stoneybrook’s movie theater only shows one movie, but their middle school has a literary magazine. Sparks, Nevada has several movie theaters that show several movies, and my school didn’t even have a newspaper.
So the girls talk about random stuff instead and mention Alan Gray, a boy who has been terrorizing Kristy since she was a child. Then the conversation turns to the plot point that the “Phantom Caller” is still on the loose.
[Mary Anne] took the paper and read: “‘ Phantom Caller on Rampage in Mercer.’” She cleared her throat and glaced at us. Then she began to read again. “‘The thief, whom police have nicknamed the Phantom Caller, struck again in Mercer on Tuesday night. Following the pattern of his previous burglaries, he began making phone calls, this time to the home of Thornton and Sophia Granville of 236 Witmer Court, shortly after four P.M. He never spoke, simply hanging up the phone when someone answered. The Granvilles left their home at seven-thirty to attend a meeting of the school board. When they returned at ten-fiftenn, they found all of Mrs. Granville’s jewelry missing. Nothing else had been taken, despite the fact that a considerable amount of silver, as well as Thornton Granville’s famous and very valuable coin collection were in the house.
“‘This is the sixth home that thePhantom Caller has robbed in the past two weeks, and the second home in Mercer. The first four robberies occurred in New Hope.’” Mary Anne stopped reading.
Cool, Newspaper Person. Got any more information about the Granvilles’ belongings? Emergency money in a fake book on the tallest shelf in the den?
The kicker is that while Claudia was babysitting for the Marshalls, the phone rang twice and when Claudia answered it, there was silence on the other end. Stacey comes up with the idea of a code for over the phone. If they are in trouble, they call another member of BSC and ask, “Have you found my red ribbon?” I don’t know why 911 isn’t the best option, but there’s a whole code they work out. It never really pans out, as the BSC can’t remember the code later in the book. They also decide to bring the BSC record book to school every day and look over it so they know who is babysitting for whom, which proves to be a huge security issue later.
At school, Claudia stalks Trevor Sandbourne outside The Literary Voice office, Alan Gray harrases her, and she attempts to find Stacey in the lunchroom, but Stacey is standing in line next to Alexander Kurtzman, “who carries a briefcase and wears a jacket and tie, and lives to obey rules.” How this kid hasn’t been murdered is beyond explanation. Claudia spends her time expressing her desire to attend the school’s Halloween Hop with Trevor.
Claudia babysits for the Newtons and someone calls but doesn’t say anything when Claudia answers. A news report says the Phantom Caller was spotted in a stolen car, but it turns out the news reported that fact too hastily (how irresponsible, this is we get crazy alt-right jerks yelling about fake news) and the Phantom Caller is still on the loose. On a different night, Claudia babysits Eleanor and Nina Marshall and she gets another phone call with no answer. She calls Stacey to help her feel better, and they chat for a while, but it doesn’t help — Claudia is still freaked out. This is harassment, plain and simple, and I emphasize this so when the perpetrator is revealed and actually rewarded, you will understand my ire.
The first handwriting chapter is Kristy at Watson’s, babysitting Karen and Andrew. Karen expresses concern over their next-door neighbor actually being a witch named Morbidda Destiny. The phone rings and Kristy answers it and there is no one on the other end. Then the phone rings again.
At last Kristy reached for it. She knew she had to answer it. The caller could be Watson or her mother. She picked up the receiver and held it to her ear. But she couldn’t get any words out.
“Kristy?” asked the caller.
“Claudia?” she whispered back. (The caller was me!)
Ladies and gentlemen, I present the limitations on the first-person perspective because that was silly. Kristy is so scared she doesn’t want to answer the phone, so the person harassing her is also a monster. He’s actually worse, but we’ll get to that.
Stacey has the next handwriting chapter at the Johanssens. It’s mostly uneventful. There is a thunderstorm, but that’s it. Mary Anne babysits David Michael, Kristy’s little brother, and she sets up a bunch of traps straight from the Kevin McCallister School for Home Defense. This ends up comedic and enjoyable.
Then Claudia’s next-door neighbors are robbed, bringing the Phantom Caller threat straight to the BSC’s front door. This prompts Mr. Spier to forbid his daughter from babysitting until the Phantom Caller is caught. That’s a little reactionary, Mr. Spier. The Phantom Caller doesn’t rob homes that have people inside, he doesn’t murder anyone, and just because there’s some crime doesn’t mean that you should lock Mary Anne away like you’re in a Bonte novel. They didn’t catch the Golden State Killer for decades and people were still able to babysit — didn’t see you locking Mary Anne behind three feet of bulletproof glass. Mr. Spier is a crazy man.
We are now at our climax. Kristy and Claudia dual babysit for Jamie Newton and his cousin, one of whom hates girls, including girl babysitters. He is a future politician.
The same things happen. Phone calls, no answer. However, this time, Kristy sees someone skulking outside the house. Claudia decides to call the police. The police arrive and catch the person skulker. (The skulked? The skulkee? Asshole. We’ll just go with Asshole.)
It’s fucking Alan Gray. And then we get this bullshit.
Son,” said Officer Stanton in a more kindly voice, “what did you want to ask her?”
Alan mumbled something that nobody understood.
“What, Alan?” asked Kristy, sounding nearly civil.
“I wanted to know if you’d go to the Halloween Hop with me.”
If I were Kristy, my eyeballs would have fallen out of my head along about then. But Kristy just said, “Oh, gosh, is that all? Of course I’ll go with you . . . Thanks.”
Lemme get this straight, Kristy. This boy, who makes fun of you, steals your homework as well as your lunch, and treats your friends like shit; stalks the house of the children you’re supposed to be watching over; scares the shit out of you so much so that you call the police; then the police have to chase him down in the rhododendrons, only to have him ask you out and you actually say, “Sure and thanks.” Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of message is that to young girls? If he scares you, it’s okay, he likes you. You know how someone is worth your time? They don’t fucking scare you! That’s how you know. Alan Gray should be arrested. Moreover, you know he’s definitely white because if he were black, he would have been shot on the spot. What sexist, patriarchal, white nonsense is this?
And you know who keeps calling Claudia and hanging up? Trevor Sandbourne. He’s trying to ask Claudia out. While not as egregious as Alan Gray’s stalking, Trevor’s behavior is still bad, but all Claudia can focus on is the Halloween Hop. Kristy is stalked but all she can focus on is that a boy likes her. She doesn’t even get angry that Alan Gray has been stealing the BSC record book to find where all the babysitters are on any given night and sharing that information with people (Trevor). This is a flagrant privacy violation.
There is some resolution to the relationship between Claudia and Janine, but it’s pointless, especially after the infuriating conclusion of this book.
This book should be banished to the edges of young adult literature and purged from every BSC collection. It has the worst message for young, impressionable girl readers: if a boy is mean to you, scares you, and doesn’t respect your privacy, he likes you and you should reward him by going to a dance with him.
Fuck this book. It’s easily the worst one. I’d prefer the babysitters being stalked by the actual Phantom Caller.
Speaking of whom, The Phantom Caller gets caught, and Mary Anne is allowed to babysit again, but more on the patriarchal nature of Mr. Spier later. My blood pressure is high enough as it is.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com. To listen to the official podcast, just visit the website or search for “Rereading My Childhood” in your favorite podcatcher. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.