Jack Schafer tries to take over Watson’s role as the cool BSC dad by agreeing to take Dawn, Jeff, and a couple friends across country in an RV. Watson, not to be outdone, decides to take the rest of the BSC along with Elizabeth, David Michael, Karen and Andrew. The groups take two different routes and meet in Palo City.
The Schafer-mobile takes the northern route and includes the following plotlines:
Dawn is a whiny brat, because she wants to see a ghost town and then is shocked to discover that it’s cheesy.
Jeff hates being surrounded by girls and goes rock climbing.
Mary Anne feels like Jack is picking on her by taking shots at Richard repeatedly, and meets her grandmother at the Mall of America.
Stacey meets up with Ethan (who?) in Seattle after a bunch of ridiculous hijinks.
Claudia fights with Stacey and is surprised that her favorite modern bands aren’t in the rock and roll hall of fame.
Kristy wants to go to as many baseball stadiums as possible, and runs into her dad in San Francisco.
Plus, each RV has group drama…this crew runs out of gas in the middle of the Badlands and has a run in with a bear.
Watson’s crew takes a southerly route and this happens:
Mallory gets emotional at Assateague Island after seeing the wild horses.
Abby convinces the kids (Karen, mostly) that Elvis is really alive, and then gets upset at the Grand Canyon.
Jessi inexplicably decides she wants to see the plantation where her ancestors were slaves.
Karen sulks because she almost doesn’t get to see her chosen landmark, while David Michael is shocked to discover that rodeos are inhumane.
This group experiences a tornado and keeps running into another RV with a girl the group finds really annoying.
The cover. Everyone looks really cute here, as opposed to the internal illustrations. (Most of them are okay, but a few are notably awful.)
The prologue is Dawn’s letter to Sunny, written across the course of a couple days. The only interesting part is that she lets Jeff write his commentary in between paragraphs. He suggests that Jack will be bringing the RV from Palo City, carefully stowed under his seat on the plane.
AWKWARD! The first real chapter starts when Jack Schafer shows up at the Spier household and eats breakfast with Sharon, Richard, and the three kids. He acts like an ass at the table, commenting on the food. It goes very badly until Dawn throws a bagel at Jeff and Richard winds up laughing. I think it was just nervous tension, because I can’t picture Richard thinking throwing food was actually funny.
Everyone gets to pick one place to go during the trip, and who goes in what RV is decided by that. Jessi, Abby and Mal go with the Brewers because their choices are in Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia respectively. That’s how Kristy ends up in the Schafer RV even though her parents are in the other—there weren’t any ‘good’ baseball stadiums along their route. (Also, it’s not exactly fair that Kristy’s one place is ‘as many baseball stadia as possible.’)
Sam and Charlie aren’t going along because they’re going to camp. (Don’t the two of them usually get out of stuff by having to work?) And Nannie is staying home with Emily Michelle, because the Brewers figured out something my father never has: camping (even in an RV) with a two-year-old is a horrible idea.
I like this conversation:
Mary Anne: What does RV stand for, anyway?
Watson: Ridiculous vehicle.
Anyone surprised that Claudia packed three suitcases, including two down parkas, for a summer RV trip? Me neither. Moving on.
When mapping out the trips, Kristy has a Claudia moment. She says that Mallory wants to go to Chinkateeg. To be fair, I don’t know how to spell it either, and Kristy knows it’s wrong. Spell check got me Chincoteague after I tried to spell it twice.
Jessi says everyone loves the smell of fried chicken. Has she met Dawn? I’m sure Dawn doesn’t like the smell of fried chicken (even though she does eat chicken in some of the books.)
Jessi’s grandfather is Arthur Sr. and she has an uncle, Arthur Jr. (I also have a grampa Art and an uncle Artie.) But when she points to a family portrait from when her dad was growing up, it’s her dad, Aunt Cecelia, Uncle Arthur and Uncle John. Umm, what? Jessi’s father is John Phillip Ramsey Sr. Do they have two kids named John? Maybe his name is Alex in this book, like it was in SS #2. In #103, Jessi has an Uncle Charles, so I’m betting that’s who Uncle John is supposed to be.
Baseball stadia and teams that get name-dropped: Cleveland Indians, Jacobs Field; Wrigley Field; Milwaukee Brewers; San Francisco Giants, Candlestick Park.
I had completely forgotten about Ethan, whom Stacey met right as she was breaking up with Robert in book #99. I mean, that was more than 10 books ago, including one Stacey story and one Stacey mystery in which Ethan was mentioned exactly zero times.
For Kristy’s stadium fetish, she originally just insists upon getting a baseball cap at every stadium they pass. But when they arrive in Cleveland while a game is going on, they wind up watching it, and at least several others, along the way.
Oh, and Cleveland lost to the Red Sox, whom Stacey calls the ‘Boston Somethings.’ C’mon. I know she’s supposed to not enjoy sports, but really. The Red Sox are one of the best known teams out there; a lot of people who know nothing about baseball have at least heard of them. And then Stacey grew up in NYC, and anyone who has ever lived in or visited the Northeast knows about the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry.
The girl who annoys the stuffing out of Mal, Jessi and Abby along their trip is Liz, short for Felicitas. I remembered her being Karen-esque and thought she was Karen’s age, but Mal says she’s similar in age to her and Jessi.
Liz says that Assateague is a funny name, which kind of makes me laugh. She’s not allowed to explain why it’s funny—this is a BSC book, after all—but even a ten-year-old should be able to figure that out.
DM, regarding Liz: “She’s either a genius or a robot.”
When Mal finally sees the herd of beautiful wild ponies running free across the plains, she gets all misty-eyed. (I’m just going to let that horse-book pun lie there.)
CLAUDIA SPELLING WOO-HOO! (Sorry; it’s a really long entry, wherein they go to the ‘Rockin Role Hall of fame.’) Exept, anthing, gess, groops, drov, thot, wer’e, cant, abot, dy, ofence, Shafer, Pitsberg. She also uses grate for great; afterword for afterward; ones for one’s; herd for heard; their for there and wile for while.
Claudia also says (spelling intact) that, now that they’re in Chicago, Kristy can’t stop talking about Wriggly Field and Stacy (yes, she spells her best friend’s name wrong, twice) can’t stop talking about Marshal Field. I was wondering whether Kristy would want to go to Wrigley Field or what was then Comisky Park (It was the ‘new’ Comisky, which is now U.S. Cellular Field.) And I remember all the controversy when Marshall Field’s was purchased by Macy’s.
There’s this ridiculous subplot in which Claudia grabs an open notebook, only to realize that it’s Stacey’s diary. So she shuts it, determined not to read it, and Stacey catches her and assumes she was actively reading it. They fight pretty much the entire rest of the trip. (Honestly, I’m surprised those two didn’t fight more often. I kinda loved that subplot in the FF series because it was so realistic.)
Abby spends the ride from Chincoteague to Memphis trying to convince everyone else in the RV that Elvis is still alive. (Her evidence: all those tabloid stories can’t be wrong!) She says that the Brewer adults barely tolerate her musings. Reminds me of how my dad always wanted to tell my friend Teah to shut up when she was spending the night at my house, but never did because she wasn’t his kid. (She would do things like yell EW! when she saw what we were eating for dinner, or make fun of whatever he was watching on television.) She gets so annoying that the Brewers actually drop the kids off at Graceland and refuse to go in with them.
Ha! Stacey has to find shopping everywhere they go, so she convinces everyone they have to go to Woodfield Mall. Woodfield’s not even that exciting, although we always used to drive there in high school…so we could go to Build a Bear, back when that was the only location in the area. (I can understand why she’d go to Water Tower Place, though.)
Mary Anne suggests that Jeff got his knack for really bad jokes from his father. Zing!
Remember when the BSC used to describe Dawn each book by saying she’s strong in her convictions, but she doesn’t lecture? Well, in this book, she lectures a man selling ‘stuffed animal entrails,’ AKA bratwurst.
I suddenly love Mary Anne’s grandma. Jack teases MA because she doesn’t like her seitan cutlet (seitan = wheat gluten, my mortal enemy), suggesting that she and Richard must eat a lot of red meat. Grandma responds with the title quote.
Jessi really wants to see where her family were slaves, even though her grandmother warns her against it. Yet when she gets there, she’s haunted by the images she sees of lynchings and other atrocities, and scoffs the idea that the Daltons, the plantation’s owners, were humane slave owners. Her argument is that they considered their slaves property and only gave them one name, so how humane is that? Of course, we all know that was normal at the time, and the humanity of a slave owner depended on things like how much they whipped their slaves and the like. Racism is a hard topic for a kids’ book, even one for middle grade readers like this. Say too much and you might scare them; say too little and they’re under-informed. This book tries to straddle the line by having Jessi get scared but not really letting the audience see what scared her.
What kind of numbnuts heads into the badlands without first checking the gas gauge? Jack Schafer, ladies and gentlemen (if any are reading this). My favorite part of this semi-realistic but still stupid plotline? Everyone is freaking out, and Jack tells them not to panic…while panicking. Yes, folks, do as I say, not as I do.
Mallory sums up one of her RV-mates in a single sentence: Abby, you are so weird. This is always the truth, but even more so when Abby is writing an entire notebook entry in cowboy vernacular.
Andrew and I are road-trip spiritual buddies. He starts asking “Are we in California yet?” in Arkansas. My dad used to force us to take three week car/camping road trips. My sister and I got sick of each other by day three, by day seven I’d have read all the books I brought with me and by day ten, I’d be sick of sightseeing. (My refrain all through a three-week trip through Eastern Europe was ‘I’m not looking at another church or castle,’ which drove my dad nuts because that’s largely all he wanted to see. That, and Auschwitz….) And I’m not even a four year old who can’t read a book/play a lot of the games kids play in cars.
Watson’s Baylor roommate, whom they visit in Oklahoma, is Chet Romney. And because it’s Oklahoma, they get caught in a tornado. Obviously, someone did a little research: the first hint that something is off is that Abby gets goosebumps on her arm and says all of her hair was standing on end. That’s actually all it takes to get the Romneys to turn on the radio and find out a tornado is coming. (That wouldn’t be enough for me, but that plus the sky turning green would be.) Abby describes the sound of the tornado as an approaching freight train. Think they watched the television special we used to watch in school every year, It Sounded Like a Freight Train?
Woot! More Claudia spelling! Nitime, midle, exept, cyoty (coyote), weerd, cant, disapeered, shoud, sleping, folowing, pepole. Oh, and Claudia’s afraid of gheeler monsters, which took me a while to decipher.
Dawn thinks coyotes are vegetarians. I’m not up on coyotes, but I’m pretty sure they’re scavengers and they eat meat. (Claudia suggests they should have kept a doggy bag of seitan to feed them…so that one of them doesn’t become first course.)
By the way, my spell check doesn’t think that seitan is a real word. Sort of like how Mary Anne didn’t think it was a real food!
Unfortunately, Jack Schafer finds a cop who brings him back to the RV. It would have been so much more entertaining if Watson and company arrived in Palo City and the other RV didn’t. Concerned about Kristy, Watson tracks the path the other RV was supposed to have taken on the way home. He finds it abandoned by the side of the road, with only one person inside. That person’s hair is white, and they keep rocking back and forth, saying the same thing over and over again. Someone else’s bones are found, scattered by coyotes. Rumors come to haunt the area that a ghost is often seen hitchhiking at that site. When people pick her up, she quotes baseball facts at them and then disappears the next time they drive by a stadium of any variety….
When they hit the rodeo, David Michael keeps shouting Yahoo! Karen corrects him, saying that cowboys say Yee-haw! I kept waiting for someone (Abby, most likely) to say Yippee-kay-yay-ay! or however you spell it, but sadly, it didn’t happen.
Jeff’s favorite things about the road trip? Getting a climbing lesson (lessen, as he spells it) at Grand Tetons, seeing the dig site at Mammoth, and, of course, getting stranded and thinking he was going to die. Priorities, that one.
And his least favorite part? Too many girls in his car. He says Dawn’s always been weird, and so are Claudia and Stacey, because they’re fighting. He says he actually likes Mary Anne but she’s been unfriendly on the car trip. (I’d really love more of Jeff’s perspective on Mary Anne, considering how odd MA feels about him. I mean, they’re technically related, but they haven’t really had too much of a chance to get to know each other.) He doesn’t mind Kristy, though, because they can talk baseball and she doesn’t tattle on him.
I like this bit of Jeff’s chapter, just because it’s accurate:” Dawn says the delay [of Old Faithful] is because of what people have done to the environment. But Dawn says that about everything.”
This is actually pretty clever on the whole behind-the-scenes-BSC crew’s part. I don’t know who came up with this idea, but it’s a good use of the massive BSC history. While driving through New Mexico, the Brewer RV sees a sign for Zuni, the town from #44. Since DM had a pen pal, they decide to go visit the town while they have the chance.
I would totally visit the Buzzard Gulch Haunted Village. I have a lot more fun looking at corny cheese (or cheesy corn) than I do looking at nature. No offense, nature.
Andrew: How did the desert get painted? DM: With a sagebrush! This is what happens when you contain people in an RV for too long.
O. M. G. I just realized something. Chapter sixteen is all about Dawn whining because Buzzard Gulch is too touristy. Chapter seventeen starts with Karen whining because her parents are trying to convince her to skip her choice of sites*. I’m totally picturing Karen growing up, getting contact lenses, growing her hair out longer…and being just like Dawn. Only instead of vegetarianism and the environment, Karen will totally be a grammar nazi. She could use those skills for good, by becoming the editor of the school paper and proofreading her classmates’ papers (for free or for a modest profit), but you know that won’t happen. I always imagined Dawn growing up and eventually mellowing out—spending a little time drifting or traveling, then working for a non-profit, or maybe even becoming a lawyer for environmental causes. Karen might someday outgrow her vision of the world as black and white—most kids her age do—but I suspect she’ll always be annoying and rub people the wrong way.
*I’m about to say something nice about Karen here; don’t panic. She’s not even all that whiny about what happens. Plus, I think it is completely unfair for the Brewers to try to talk Karen into another site. That’s the sort of thing that used to happen to me all the time when I was growing up, and I actually responded much the same way Karen did. She doesn’t actually argue; she contemplates choosing another destination, but having to give up her original choice makes her sad, so she cries silently. She doesn’t throw a fit or even make crying sounds. Elizabeth sees her quietly, sadly debating and they manage to fit her choice in.
Stacey’s adventure in Seattle is both dumb and predictable. Ethan is there for the summer, so the two plan to meet at a certain time on a certain day. Stacey remembers that it’s a coffee shop with a name like Corner Coffee, and it’s next to a park. Well, duh, this is Seattle in the 1990s. There was a coffee shop on every corner. (This is now true in almost every city, and every second or third one is a Starbucks. Mary Anne sees a Starthrower coffee shop, which I guess is the BSC version.) Only there are four different coffee shops with similar names, plus Ethan changed the time and left her a message that she never got. So wackiness ensues, naturally.
But my favorite part of the whole event? Stacey’s all ready to see Ethan: she’s brushed her hair, straightened out her clothes, and put on her shoes. Right as she starts to leave, Kristy points out she has a Chunky wrapper stuck to her tush. I felt like Jeff: I laughed at the part that wasn’t really supposed to be funny.
Apparently, Stacey just needed to get kissed so she could get over her anger at Claudia. I won’t say what that has me thinking about her, because it’s really inappropriate.
Mary Anne did the same type of thing I did before I ever went to San Francisco: she read up on how to deal with earthquakes, so when the ground started rattling a little bit, she dove straight for a doorway. Of course, this just gave Jack another chance to make fun of her. She finally gets the balls to tell him that his comments hurt her feelings, which is awesome. Being MA, though, she doesn’t do it until he asks her if she’s having a good trip.
Jack admits that his teasing can be too much and that he’s sorry. The two of them are in a really weird situation, though. Think back to what I said about Jeff and Mary Anne; now take that a step further out. MA points out that the two of them are almost-family, but they aren’t actually related. (She ponders a name for their relationship, suggesting ‘Dad once removed.’) I really don’t blame Jack, Sharon and Richard for being all awkward when they’re in the same room earlier in the book. Mary Anne knows that Jack’s always been really nice to her, and no one else seems bothered by his teasing, but to be fair, he does tease her more than the others.
Liz from Chincoteague shows up briefly in the middle of the story in a notebook entry, but then she’s also at the San Diego zoo. What I love is that none of the kids is happy to see her. Not the BSC members, nor the little guys. She’s a know-it-all bitch who, among other things, talks down to DM and Karen, and is really rude to Andrew. To sum up the BSC members opinion of Liz:
Liz: Why would parents do such a thing? [regarding animal parents who reject their babies]
Abby (to Jessi): Maybe the same reason her parents left her with her grandparents.
Actually, the Liz thing reminds me of a little girl I once met. She was my dad’s best friend’s daughter. I was about BSC aged, and she was about Karen’s age. She was the whiniest, most spoiled brat I have ever met in my life, and she demanded I play all her games with her. After two hours of being ordered around, I told her I was done playing and went to try to read a book. She pulled the book out of my hands and hid it. (My mom had to ask her mother to give it back to me before we left.) She then proceeded to tell her mother that I was rude to her and boring and stupid and annoying…in front of me. I was so happy to leave their house, especially after I heard her say to my dad, “Someday, I want to come to visit you…after Teeki is married.” Liz annoys the poop out of the Brewer crew, and then Jessi catches her whining to her grandparents because the kids are boring and don’t know anything. They make their excuses and leave, making everyone happy.
I don’t know if this is a mistake on the part of the writers or if Kristy was so distracted that she made the mistake. In her notebook entry, she says the Brewers won the game at Candlestick Park where she ran into her father. But the game announcer says that the Giants were playing the Pirates, so I don’t think that’s true. (Kristy did go to the stadium and get a hat when they were in Milwaukee. She should have gotten several, to give to her mom and Watson. It would be appropriate…)
This is so Kristy. Her dad makes a small effort to talk with her when she locates him, but she doesn’t want to sit down and have a soda with him. She says they have to get back to Jack and Jeff, but really, she just wants to be the one to walk away from him this time.
OOH! There’s a picture in the final chapter, featuring the BSC, some of the kids, and the We Heart Kids Club. It’s actually accurate to the notebook entry as to who was talking to whom. Oh, and Abby, who is actually lip-synching Elvis in the picture, appears to have forgotten her pants. I really wish I could upload these drawings, because that part is funny, as is the picture of Kristy and MA in San Francisco. MA looks like someone mashed her face up flat.
Since Claudia had very little to do in this book, there’s an offhand comment about her buying a sketch in an ugly frame that looks like it’s inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe. Jack’s friend, the owner of the RV, sees it when Claudia is trying to remove the frame and agrees that it’s an O’Keeffe knock-off…until the frame comes off and it’s revealed to be an authentic O’Keeffe.
The book ends with a couple of WHKC comments, like how Jill is thirteen going on eleven. This to me is a lead up to the California Diaries books, which had already started to be published. Yet, Maggie’s hair is still all green and punk, while when the CD start, she’s got a blonde bob.
Of course, the epilogue is all letters. It includes the following spelling errors:
DM: Romny (Romney), Lesster/Leter (Lester), leter, killd; youre for your, hear for here, rite for write, blue for blew
Jeff: its for it’s, you’re for your
Claudia: thot, alot, conversasion, generus, scetsh, evury, becuase, inspirred, feling, valuble, scetch, youll; its for it’s
My final super special, except the FFs ones.
Next: #111, also known as ‘Stacey tries to change someone to make her fit in instead of accepting her for who she is.’ Should be fun!