Kristy & The Secret of Susan: The Baby-Sitters Club #32 by Ann M Martin
2 out of 5 stars
This book really rubbed me the wrong way, for a lot of reasons. This was one of the "afternoon specials" where we all learn something important, except it wasn't really done very well. Susan is an 8 yr old girl with autism, who's family lives around the corner from Claudia. Susan normally goes to a special school but is home on break for a month and her mom needs some time away each week, so Kristy gets the job. Kristy being Kristy, thinks it's horrible that Susan lives away from home and doesn't attend a "regular" school and is determined to show Susan's parents that they should let her live at home. She comes to this decision before even meeting Susan or knowing anything about autism.
Susan appears to have all the aspects of autism rolled into one: flapping hands, refusal to communicate, living in her own world, memory tricks, being a savant in one particular thing (in this case, playing the piano), etc...it's like Martin looked up "autism symptoms" in Encyclopedia Brown and wrote them all down. Anyway, Kristy thinks if she can just get Susan some friends, her parents will change their minds and let her stay. Because, you know, they haven't thought long and hard about sending their only child far, far away.
And what better friends could Kristy find than the new Australian kids that just moved into Mary Anne's old house? (Well, a lot better actually, but that's Kristy for you.) The Hobarts are the reason I bumped this up to two stars. They are pretty cool: 4 boys (plus their parents, in the house that one book before was too small for Mr&Mrs Spier, Mary Anne & Dawn? Way to go continuity team), red-headed, fun Australian accents. The oldest is 11 yr old Ben and Mallory immediately falls for him. Like whoa. By the end of the book, they're holding hands! Um...Mr and Mrs Pike, don't you think you should get a handle on that quick? I know you have the whole "no rules, individuality" thing, but she's only 11. Come on.
this instead: Claudia had on a denim mini-skirt that was ripped along the edges and a white sweatshirt with a big, glittery, red heart on the front. She had paired it with her skull tights (on one leg only) and black boots she'd borrowed from Stacey-her dangly skull earrings were handmade of course and she had even put a skull sticker on an old watch face. Her hair was pulled up in a high ponytail with a skull scarf wrapped around it and she was carrying a black t-shirt purse that she had screenprinted with a silver skull. She called it her "Rock of Love" look.
One of the middle Hobart boys, James, becomes sort-of friends with Susan after they are both bullied by some jerks that have never and will never again appear in the books...Mel Tucker & Zack Wolfson. All the kids are intrigued by Susan, especially when they find out she can give the day of the week for any date ever and also play any piece of music on the piano after hearing it once. Kristy is elated when kids suddenly start showing up at Susan's, asking to "play" with her. Of course, that bubble is popped when she realizes the bullies are running a sideshow for a dollar to see "the incredible retard, the amazing dumbo." I know this book is old and that was an acceptable word back then, but the multiple uses of the word "retard(ed)", even by BSC members, really got on my nerves.
Kristy finally realizes that maybe this isn't a good place for Susan, duh, and maybe she should be at her school where there are other individuals like her and she can get the (good) attention she needs. So she helps Susan's mom pack up her things and they talk about how Susan was before. Then Kristy meets the dad and she comes clean with him about wanting to prove them wrong and stuff. He is understanding and even says that he has had those thoughts before too. But it's all okay, because they are going to have a new baby and they are going to name her Hope and she will be perfect and they won't have to worry about that imperfect Susan anymore. Ugh. Double ugh.
Oh and there's a few things at the end: James ends up becoming friends with the "better" bully Zack, Claudia is trying to pick her lock with a bobby pin like Nancy Drew, Ben asks Mallory out to the movies, Jessi looks upset by that, and Stacey is feeling sick and has lost weight. Dun DUN dun!! What next?! :)