Wednesday, March 11, 2015

“I think you may have been watching too much TV.” BSC Mystery #12: Dawn and the Surfer Ghost (1993)

I’m just going to come out and say it. Has anyone else noticed that the middle of the BSC series is subjectively lame? I mean, there is a certain ridiculous silliness to the early books, but that’s what made them appealing to preteens. The idea of five babysitters watching fourteen kids for a whole week, or being stalked by boys…those books were the reason that I wanted to BE a babysitter, or, more accurately, a member of the BSC.
By contrast, when you get to this part of the series, you’re starting to feel like an episode of the Simpsons. I loved that show in its early years; you never knew what was going to happen and the characters were fun. Then Homer just kept getting dumber, and so did the plots. I stopped watching around the time they started making fun of themselves (with an episode, among other things, called ‘Worst Episode Ever’ and another that literally stole plot points from about 10 other earlier episodes.) Simpsons/BSC fans could even argue that Abby = Poochie. The stories are still entertaining…sorta…just not up to the level you’ve come to expect . You open some of these books and go, ‘Oh, look, the BSC is organizing another event for 60 small kids. I wonder what angle they’ve got for it this time…zzzzz….” (That’s you falling asleep, obviously.)
Now, I loved the last ten or so books. I can’t exactly pinpoint when the series shifted back to being excellent. The last two books are very, very good, in my opinion. I even liked #129, when Kristy actually sucked at something (for the second Kristy book in a row!) and #127, when Abby was allowed to NOT want to date anyone—the way Dawn started out—and it was completely okay, with only the fans assuming that Abby = lesbian. (Abby is =ing a lot of things today, and she’s not even in this book!) I even loved the B plot in #126, and not just because of my near-obsession with the Pike triplets.
Now, the mysteries didn’t really get a chance to get better like the original series did, and for some reason, Dawn mysteries seem to be even sillier than the rest of the series; this one is especially Scooby-Doo tastic. (I know; I need to be familiar with some other mystery series. The only other ‘mystery’ show I ever really followed was The Mysteries of Alfred Hedgehog, where Alfred solves spooky goings-on by the use of logical scientific explanation. I’d actually love to see a BSC mystery that mimicked that!) The ‘ghost?’ I’m glad you asked. I mean, there’s no real ghost in this story, simply because the guy whose ghost is supposedly haunting the beach isn’t really dead. He just faked his own death.
I think I just summarized the whole plot in those last two sentences, so let me get back to my regularly scheduled snark.
Interesting Tidbits
The cover: I think if I saw that ‘ghost,’ I’d have come to a logical conclusion: Someone was stupidly surfing after dark with no lifeguard on duty. And of course, that’s what is really going on. But this is Dawn, and logic isn’t her middle name. (Of course not. It’s Read.)

The book starts with a letter from Dawn to Mary Anne in which she mentions being sad because she’s missing a sleepover at Stacey’s. Is it just me, or are most of the sleepovers either at Kristy’s or at Dawn’s? I can only think of a few sleepovers that weren’t at the Brewer/Thomas or Spier/Schafer households. Mary Anne hosted one back in book #4 when Dawn joined the club and Mallory hosted one once—probably just that once because the triplets slimed everyone. I’m sure there are other examples, but all the other examples I can think of were at Dawn’s (#50) or Kristy’s (#17, #38, SS #11).
List of things Dawn is never allowed to say again, #1: Cowabunga.
Consistency: Sunny likes the surfer guys more than surfing. You don’t get too much Sunny until the California Diaries, but if any of you haven’t read those, Sunny is a little boy crazy and has no problem dumping one boy and dating his friend a couple days later. (Actually, my sister did that in high school too. Hmmm.)
I wonder how much the ghostwriter actually knew about surfing when she wrote this. Some of the stuff is such a silly stereotype. The ghosty-surfer is named Thrash, while Dawn’s surfing instructor is Buck. I sincerely doubt everyone who surfs goes by a silly nickname. (Or even worse: let’s hope they weren’t born with those names.)
Wait. Not everyone in California likes health food? All of my dreams are shattered. I can’t handle it. (*Sits down for a nice long cry*)
Sadly, even in a book that takes place in Cali, we have to have a chapter two introduction to the BSC…followed by an intro to the We Heart Kids Club.
Heh. Maggie’s not a punk…she just dresses like one.
Wait a minute. Why does any elementary school kid need to be taught how to play Duck Duck Goose?
Ooh, here’s a description of Thrash, whom Dawn finds cool: “Thrash was about twenty years old, and tall—maybe six feet two—with shoulder length white-blond hair. He was incredibly tan and his blue eyes were intense in his brown face.” He also has five earrings and a ring shaped like a snake. He’s a walking, talking surfer cliché, using words like ‘screamers’ and ‘gnarly.’ Dawn says he’s attractive but not her type. She also—like me—muses as to whether Thrash is his real name.
There are WAY too many letters to the BSC members in this book. When I was a kid, I never read the notebook entries, and reading all the boring letters from Dawn to whomever is worse.
I took a break after chapter four to do some laundry (now that there’s no longer 6 inches of water in my basement…long story) and when I came back, I turned on my ITunes on shuffle. The first song? Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home.” Appropriate. What’s funny is that this is the second time something like that has happened: Back during SS #4, I did the same thing and got Shinedown’s “Second Chance” which includes, among the lyrics, “I just saw Haley’s comet; she waved.”
So there is actually a B plot in this story too. Back in S-brook, the Arnold twins have started taking gymnastics. Carolyn hurts her ankle while Marilyn is supposed to be spotting her. Marilyn, feeling guilty, refuses to let Carolyn out of her sight after that. There are only two parts of this that are interesting: 1. The accident happens while Mary Anne is babysitting, and no one blames her (including Kristy…generally when little accidents like that happen when one of the BSC is sitting, she gets all worried that they’ll get blamed.) 2. My niece isn’t the only little girl who takes one set of gymnastics lessons and suddenly her parents turn her whole basement into a gymnast’s paradise. (She has uneven bars, a balance beam and several other things down there. Her dad is really more into the gymnastics than she is.)
One of the little DeWitt boys gives Dawn a seashell because it’s beautiful, and the guy in charge of her group says he has a crush on her. Dawn actually blushes. Dude, he’s eight! It’s just cute at that point, not blush worthy.
Even though Sunny loves ghost stories, she has the common sense not to believe in real ghosts. This puts her head and shoulders above Dawn.
Poor Dawnie has to solve this mystery by herself because they WHKC members just don’t care as much as the BSC would. Where’s Mallory and her mystery notebook when you need her? (This is probably the only time Dawn will think that.)
I’ve figured out Dawn’s ghost related problem: Like Mallory, she has yet to figure out the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Just because something happens in a ghost story doesn’t mean it could/would happen in real life!
I like Sunny more and more in this book: Sunny decides that Dawn won’t let Thrash’s death/haunting go because she has the hots for him. They did have a conversation in which Thrash called Dawn a surfer princess. I could totally see that starting a crush. (Had it been Stacey, Sunny would have been 100% right.)
Ha! The police aren’t interested in what happened to Thrash and Dawn thinks it’s because he’s a “surfer bum.” She’s partly right. It’s like when prostitutes turn up missing: they tend to be nomadic, so a missing/presumed dead hooker could turn up alive in another city. That’s why hundreds of women were able to go missing in Vancouver before the authorities caught on (and realized a farmer was feeding some of them to his pigs). In this case, though, I don’t blame them. The only proof that something bad happened to Thrash is a mangled surf board. For all anyone knows, he busted a few ribs and is recuperating in bed. Or, like the police seem to think, he could have just moved on.
Sunny finds a ‘clue’ on the beach: a can of Thrash’s one-of-a-kind board wax. She suggests that he either a) faked his death or b) got amnesia and is wandering around as alternatives to his ghost using the wax. Dawn’s response is the title quote.
Gozzie Kunka’s back! I like her almost as much as I like “Alan who lives under my stairs,” my neighbor’s imaginary friend.
Jill and Maggie join Dawn and Sunny at the beach, where they decide to just veg. Sunny decides to put some nail polish on, which seems like a bad idea. Hello, sand?
Oh, but they all spot a surfer at dusk making a move that only Thrash could make. Sunny points out that the ‘ghost’ has short hair but she’s certain it’s Thrash; she agrees to help Dawn investigate.
Thrash’s ghost sure has a weird sense of vengeance. He cuts a little girl’s foot at the beach, causes a grill flare-up that results in eyebrow loss, and even sends a seagull to dive bomb someone. Yet Dawn still believes that his ghost is the cause of everything. (To be fair, a few of the things could be Thrash’s fault, like flat tires and boards that may have been tampered with.)
Stacey finally solved the Marilyn/Carolyn problem by getting their own separate friends to call and invite them over. And it’s about as interesting as it sounds. The only part of it that got me was the name of the video game Carolyn leaves home to go play: Princess Power. Ha!
Dawn likes skipping stones. Insert your own snark about the stones polluting the water….
This is the third mystery in a row that unravels because the BSC is in the right place at the right time. I don’t read enough mysteries to know if that’s normal. They’re definitely no Sherlock Holmes, and I bet even Nancy Drew does more sleuthing than they do. Dawn goes for a smoothie and happens to recognize Thrash while he’s in disguise.
Oh, and then she goes and confronts him while he’s tampering with the board of the person he thinks is responsible for tampering with his board. Dawn manages to convince him to let the police set a trap instead. It’s a good idea, but if the guy’s willing to fake his death, do you really think some 13 year old he’s met once before can talk him out of finishing his revenge?
There’s something really funny about cops undercover as surfers, although I can’t explain it.
After the mystery is over, Dawn calls during a BSC meeting, pretending to be Mrs. Heidendorferman, needing a sitter for her triplets, Moe, Larry and Curly. Yet, that’s not the cheesy ending: the Arnold twins have now had a fight and aren’t speaking. Laaaaaaaaame.
So what did we learn in this book? Most surfers have stupid nicknames like Thrash, Gonzo or Spanky. The end.
Dawn: shorts, t-shirt, sweatpants and white sweater
I’d tell you what I’m reading next, but I’m literally putting this book away and picking up the next one. Just read the next post, okay? ;)


  1. I don't think MA's party in 4 was a sleepover because Richard offers to drive Dawn back home so Sharon wouldn't have to go out twice in one evening to drop off/get her. There was a sleepover at Claud's in 28, at Stacey's in 51 and 18, Dawn's in 9, and Jessi's in Mystery 18. Also, MA and Dawn sleep over at MA and Richard's the night of the wedding before the Spiers move in with the Shafers. I can't think of any at Abby's, Shannon's, or Logan's, of course.

  2. I agree; the middle of the series really lagged. In fact, this is one of my least favorite books. I just couldn't bring myself to care about the plot at all.

  3. Me too. The middle was just so boring.