Thursday, May 22, 2014

“If that were true, I’d be a Snickers bar or something.” BSC #40: Claudia and the Middle School Mystery (1991)

You readers are soooooooooo lucky! The next three books I blog are mysteries: this one, mystery #2, and #42! I always loved the mysteries as a kid for the same reason I always loved Scooby Doo: even though the stories were really stupid, I always wanted to be the one driving around in the Mystery Machine. (I am SO Velma.) I wanted to catch dance school phantoms and figure out who Mr. X was and so on. (I never read most of the later mysteries where the BSC was catching ‘real’ criminals. The only one I know I read with that element in it was the one where Stacey helped catch a counterfeiter. Now, I’ve been in retail loss prevention for five years and still never seen a counterfeit bill. Sigh!)
That said, this really isn’t a mystery. You know from the beginning what happened! Claudia and another girl, Shawna, are accused of cheating because they got the exact same (good) score on a math test. Because the score is better than her normal grades, Claudia is the one suspected of cheating, but of course Shawna is actually the culprit. The BSC tries to help Claudia ‘solve’ her problem, but it’s actually Janine (who had helped Claud study, hence the good grade) who brings the situation to a head.
Meanwhile, the triplets broke a window but won’t admit who did it. They end up grounded because of it, until the BSC helps them recreate the crime.
Interesting Tidbits
Le Cover! Claudia looks so shocked, while Shawna is all “ha ha!” If anyone walked in on this scene, they’d know who the cheater was right away. (Shawna’s clothes on the original cover, btw, are representative of everything that was wrong with early 90s fashion…except the stretch pants and neon. And her clothes on the redone cover are representative of what was wrong with mid 90s fashion)

The tag asks “How could anyone accuse Claudia of cheating?” Now, let’s be fair here. We all know the BSC is good and perfect and never does anything wrong, but I think that this is a fair assumption on the teacher’s part. Claudia is not known for her math skills. Shawna took a big gamble on copying off of her in the first place. What if Claud had bombed the test?
The title quote is Claudia’s response to “you are what you eat.” She prefers “you are what you wear.” I’d rather be a Funyon than a t-shirt, but whatever.
Ugh…I’m only at the beginning of chapter two, and Claudia’s already said/written “I’ll tell you about that later,” three times. It bugs me when they do that—partly because they seem to really think that someone would pick this series up in the middle and read #40 without reading the first ten or so books first, and partly because it’s just lazy.
Worst transition between one sitter and another EVER: They mention the ghost of Jared Mullray when talking about Dawn, and then switch to Stacey by saying, “I don’t think Stacey believes in the ghost.” Lazy, awful writing!
I love how Janine is just giving Claudia all these test taking pointers now. Stuff like, take a deep breath; do the problems you know how to do first and come back to the ones you’re not sure about later. I think I figured those things out in about fourth grade, but I know that they taught us studying and test skills at various points through the years. Although, knowing Claudia, they probably just never got through until now.
Ha! Claudia says she’s actually embarrassed by her spelling.
Okay…Claudia says she’s in ‘remedial math,’ which is fair enough. Most schools these days don’t call it that, but it is what it is. Yet Shawna is one of the ‘best students in the class’ and ‘always gets good grades.’ If she’s that good in remedial math, shouldn’t they put her in regular math?
Here’s the problem with Mr. Zorzi blaming the cheating on Claudia. He seems to have made up his mind about her before even asking, and he never gives her a chance to defend herself. Shawna just says, “I would never cheat,” and boom, it must have been Claudia—despite the fact that she obviously knows the material. When he shows the two girls how they got the exact same wrong answer on a problem, Claudia explains exactly what she should have done on that problem to get it right.
How does Claudia know who Emily Dickinson is? She compares Vanessa Pike to ED. (It’s a fair comparison, to be frank.)
Speaking of the Pikes, did you ever notice how Margo doesn’t really have too much of a personality? Sometimes she’s bossy, but otherwise she’s not nearly as well defined as the others. This book just says she’s a pretty good kid.
There’s an elaborate description of Stacey playing hopscotch with Claire that reminds me so much of trying to play games with my niece that it’s not even funny. Luckily, the Pepper has never called anyone a “silly-billy-goo-goo.”
Has anyone ever stopped to think of where Claudia buys her junk food? (There are no grocery stores in the map of Stoneybrook.) Does she buy them at Jugtown, which still makes me think of a liquor store? How far does her sitting money go if it pays for the crazy markups on food from convenience stores, art supplies and crazy clothes?
Claudia mentions the ‘popcorn-y smell of tacos’ warming in the oven. Part of me wants to boggle, but then…I actually get it. The hard taco shells—the ones made of corn—do smell vaguely like popcorn. It’s not the first olfactory connection I would have made when thinking of tacos, but this is Claudia here. She’s kinda special.
I love, love, love that Janine stands right up for Claudia when her parents question her. I get their point of view, because when they ask her about the cheating incident, she says that she doesn’t know what to say instead of saying, “I did not cheat, and I can’t believe this is happening.”
Dude, Claudia. Your parents are standing behind you. Let them help you! Let them talk to the principal! I know it would have ruined the book: “And my dad talked to them and I got to retake the test and was proven not to be a cheater. The end!” on page 52, but seriously. What kind of message are you sending to girls who are reading this book?
I think it’s interesting that every time someone’s accused of something they didn’t do (cheating on a test, stealing a ring) Mary Anne’s always the one who says, “You know, if you did do it, you should admit it, because we’ll still love you anyway.” I don’t know if she’s just so “sensitive” that she wants to give the person an out to admit guilt or if she really doesn’t actually trust her friends at all.
It says something about how Claudia feels about teachers that she didn’t believe that Shawna had to have cheated—instead of just making the same mistakes Claud did coincidentally—until Stacey says it. Even though Mr. Zorzi said the exact same thing.
There’s this weird thing where, during the BSC meeting, all the babies are mentioned by full name: Laura Elizabeth, Lucy Jane.
Ha ha! The girls are all gossiping about Shawna’s friend’s new perm. This was 1991; mall hair was still everywhere. I’m surprised more of the BSC members didn’t have perms and teased bangs.
There’s this whole plot point about how Dawn and Shawna switched lockers at some point during the school year, so Dawn knows Shawna’s locker combo. A) Why would they switch lockers part way into the year? If they accidentally got assigned the wrong lockers, they could have just kept them. B) Um, lock scrambling? It seems like a really poor choice to allow Dawn and Shawna to know each other’s locker combinations. C) Every school I’ve ever worked in assigned lockers alphabetically. You can’t tell me there’s not someone between Riverson and Schafer in the alphabet. (Of course, SMS works under its own unique logic, so this point may be completely moot.)
Best notebook entry ever: Jessi tells Mal to remind her, when she’s ready to have kids, to never have triplets.
Going back to my earlier obsession with Pike triplet order: Claudia keeps using Adam, Jordan, Byron. (I promise I won’t do that for every book…just ones with lots of triplet in them.)
Really? The triplets are surprised that Jessi knows how to speak Pig Latin. I’m pretty sure most kids that age know how to speak it. I keep having Soap flashbacks while reading this: “Id-day ou-yay ask Urt-bay about his affair-ay?” “What?” “Did you ask Burt about his affair-ay?”
Claudia tries to think like Nancy Drew. And I laugh.
So Dawn breaks into Shawna’s locker and finds an incriminating note. (Why would Shawna keep that? It’s bad enough that she was bragging about getting away with cheating in the girl’s bathroom, but that’s really stupid. What if it fell on the floor with all the other stuff in her messy locker and someone found it?) Dawn gets really into it. And suddenly I’m having an image of adult Dawn as a P.I., breaking into people’s cars to find evidence that they’re having affairs or whatever. And it’s totally hilarious.
The paper I just finished writing this morning was about the exclusionary rule. For those of you who are not criminal justice majors, I’ll shorten it for you: if evidence is illegally gathered, it can’t be used in a court of law. So Dawn entering the locker (not really breaking and entering, as Claudia keeps calling it, but still not legal) and taking the note would be violation of the Fourth Amendment’s ‘unreasonable search and seizure’ clause.
Claudia comes up with all these really awful ideas of how to goad Shawna into confessing that she cheated…like using the words copy and cheat over and over again while talking to her.
Yay! We finally got some Claudia spelling. She doesn’t have her first sitting job until chapter 12. Brillyunt, beleive, tripplets, nevver, werse. She also switches your and you’re.
When Mal helps the triplets reenact the baseball-to-window incident, they go way overboard (big surprise there). But what cracked me up was that they were so happy to be ungrounded that Jordan actually hugged Mallory.
Oh, and they say that all the triplets are equally at fault for the window, but Jordan threw the pitch and Byron is the one who batted. How is that Adam’s fault?
Oh hell yeah! The Ms. Frizzle outfit! I only read this book a couple times as a child, but I always remember this outfit (see below.) My favorite part of this is that, when she gets called to the principal’s office wearing this outfit, she’s all embarrassed.
Claudia’s been working on a collage all book long, and when she finishes it…she gives it to Janine. For believing in her. I’m not kidding when I say it’s actually really sweet.
The BSC has a party to celebrate Claudia’s name being cleared, and Janine attends. It’s full of classic lines, including Kristy telling Claudia that Nancy Drew would be proud of her, and a call back to the very first math problem in the book.
Claudia: blue and green tie-dye t-shirt dress, green leggings, fancy “Princess Di” earrings (not a reference you see any more), ballet flats; blue tropical fish skirt, green blouse, sand dollar barrette, jellies covered in stickers of shells and sea horses (what is she, four?)

Next week: Mystery #2: Beware, Dawn. (And another Soap reference appropriate to this that I kept thinking during all the math problems. “Algebra. Who needs it? Never in all my life have I ever had to solve for X.” I love you, Jessica Tate.)


  1. I love your blog, and look forward to the entries every week! But this line made me giggle: "It bugs me when they do that—partly because they seem to really think that someone would pick this series up in the middle and read #40 without reading the first ten or so books first" -- because Claudia and the Middle School Mystery was the very first BSC book I ever read. A friend of mine had just read it in "Library" class in elementary school, where we got to take out a different book every week, so I took it out next. I then proceeded to read all 50 or so books that were out at that point. Definitely stopped reading the Chapter 2's, though.

  2. Speaking of the Pikes and their personality traits, Adam never gets one. Byron is sensitive and more mature than his brother, Jordan plays piano, and then there's Adam, the other triplet.

    Great post!

  3. Its funny that you mention picking up the series in the middle because while I started with the very first two books, immediately after that I watched one of the BSC videos and was wondering who all the other girls were and how Mary Anne suddenly had a sister when she didn't in the first two books!
    Mary Anne made me so mad in this book, she only asks if Claudia really did cheat when Claudia calls her on it, Mary Anne cries, and Claudia ends up comforting Mary Anne. I mean what the hell? Mary Anne should have been the one comforting Claudia.