Join the club

Ibookmark still remember the day my reading life changed forever. I remember the oversized sweater and matching leggings I was wearing, and the teased fringe that sat centimetres above my head, topped only by my outrageously high ponytail. I remember stretching the cord of the phone so it would reach my bedroom to speak to my best friend in private (yes kids, there was a time when phones had a cord, crazy I know). On this particular day, hidden among stories of playground betrayals, she made an off-hand comment about a book she’d just bought. The first book in a series, she said. About a group of girls, roughly our age, who formed a club. A babysitters club. The Babysitters Club.

Well, little did she know at the time, but my friend had just set some serious page-turning wheels in motion for me. I’d always been a big reader (although my ‘I’d rather be reading’ t-shirt-wearing days (ok, years) were still ahead of me), but I don’t remember anything that captivated me quite like the hijinks and scrapes those Stoneybrook girls got up to and into.

I owe those girls a lot, and I’m not just talking about the extra dollars I made from forming my own, albeit much smaller and infinitely less cooler, babysitting service. Nor am I just talking about the years of reading pleasure they provided. I’m talking about the things they taught me. Like wearing a vest can be cool (Claudia) and not all boys are gross (Stacey and eventually Logan). Being nice sometimes gets you the guy (Mary Anne), being bossy is ok as long as you pass it off as assertive (Kristy) and being healthy is fine, but only if you’re from California (Dawn, who was a total Gwyneth precursor by the way).

For some long-forgotten reason, I started reading at book number 3: The Truth About Stacey. Well, the truth was that she had diabetes; beautiful, glamorous, sophisticated Stacey had a hideous disease (at least it seemed hideous to an eight-year old terrified of needles). Lesson learnt: beauty is no protection against disease, a lesson I’m not sure has been completely backed up by other series, those Sweet Valley girls seemed to have it pretty easy. And the lessons didn’t stop there – each new instalment saw them overcoming challenges in ways that played a vital role in my upbringing. Everything I know about besties, boys and, shock horror, babysitting, I learnt from those girls.

Long before I agonised over whether I was a Carrie or a Charlotte, I was wishing I was a Claudia or a Stacey but knowing deep down I was probably a Mary-Anne (or even, don’t say it, a Mallory). Even now, many (too many) years later, not a day goes by when I’m not still striving to be as unique as Claudia, as sophisticated as Stacey, as organised as Kristy, as kind as Mary Anne and as healthy as Dawn, and failing miserably at every single one.

 

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