Hoo, boy. This is a dilly of a book. The BSC doesn’t have a good history of ‘issue’ books, with the stories coming across as either public service announcements or just laughable ridiculousness. I’ve read this one before, but I don’t remember much about the actual issue except for one, very important detail I’ll discuss in the tidbits below.
Claudia gets a regular sitting job for the Nicholls family, who just moved to town. The two boys are very well behaved, but seem to be afraid of their father, whom Claudia doesn’t really like. She soon finds out why the boys are so scared when she learns their father belittles them and sometimes physically abuses them. Claudia tells her mother, who brings it up to Mrs. Nicholls while they’re at work. The Nichollses drop the BSC and hire Erica Blumberg to sit for them. She calls Claudia, concerned, when both boys are bruised and bloody. Mrs. Kishi and Claudia help get Erica, Mrs. Nicholls and the boys out, and Mrs. Nicholls moves in with her sister to get away from him.
The cover: I really don’t want to make fun of what these imaginary kids are going through, but doesn’t the cover make it look like that house should be on fire?
Okay, so Peaches and Russ are going out of town for a week, and they’re leaving baby Lynn in the care of…Claudia?!? Seriously, that’s how it’s described in the book. Only Janine points out that there are also two adults living in the home. (Also, who exactly will be watching Lynn during the day? These books have a habit of ridiculous things like putting babies in daycare for two weeks only or arranging for Claire Pike to go to two sessions of kindergarten in one day.)
Oh look, a page-long recap of book number 116. Now, I haven’t read that one since, like 2012 or so, but I still remember the plot enough that I didn’t need a reminder. Chances are most of the readers had just read that story weeks earlier.
And since baby Lynn is at the BSC meeting, we’re introduced to the members by what they were probably like as a baby. Seriously? Just give it up already.
Our first view of the Nicholls family: the whole house is pristine, and everything is lined up just so, like someone with severe OCD had swept through it. The dad barks orders and the boys are overly worried about displeasing him for any reason or leaving even a little mess. Nate gets extremely upset when he accidentally rips a page in one of Claudia’s books. They also let Claudia win at checkers, as if they’re afraid of what will happen if she doesn’t win. Finally, Mr. Nicholls screams at them because Claudia hadn’t put away the peanut butter when she was done with it and calls his sons dumb slobs. That’s not blatant or anything.
So what was happening with Lynn during the day? Mrs. Kishi was taking her to work and making an employee in the children’s library watch her. Way to abuse your powers as head librarian, Mrs. K.
I like this bit: at the ridiculous B-plot-St.-Patty’s-Day-parade-planning-meeting, Charlotte and Becca roll their eyes at the triplets, finding them immature. Becca tells Jessi that girls mature faster than boys, but I think she overheard someone else say that somewhere.
Karen and Andrew want to play bagpipes in the parade. As if you need another reason to hate the Brewers…. (Actually, I usually don’t have a problem with Andrew. But this is enough to make me want to have a problem with him.)
Here’s what KILLS me about the BSC. Claudia feels that something is off about the Nicholls family, with the way Mr. Nicholls talks down about both his wife and children and the way his children are super-obedient and seem to constantly fear him. But despite the fact that her mother works with Mrs. Nicholls and knows the family, Claudia says she ‘isn’t ready’ to tell her parents about what’s going on there. Yeah, I realize that, at this point, she’s just got a hunch that something’s wrong. She hasn’t seen bruises on the boys or seen their father hit them, but come ON. When I teach new employees how to deal with situations, I always tell them that if something seems wrong, it probably IS wrong. If the hair on the back of your neck stands up, then something is off and you need to trust your gut. Especially because, right after she decides not to say anything, she’s actually present when Mr. Nicholls hits Joey.
“How hard can it be to make a few cardboard shamrocks?” Mallory of all people should know to never say stuff like this. Especially when Jackie is around; after all, the ghostwriters looooove to make Walking Disaster jokes, right?
Claudia’s mom is actually really awesome in this story. When the BSC decide to go ahead and tell her what’s going on, she points out that it’s a serious accusation, then brings up the ‘mandated reporter’ rule.* She takes everything out of Claudia’s hands by saying she’s going to talk to Mrs. Nicholls and a social worker. She believes Claudia 100 percent without question, going so far as to take detailed notes on what she’d seen. And best of all, she holds Claudia when she cries and doesn’t pretend to have all the answers as to why this is happening.
Actually, with a few exceptions, the BSC parents are awesome overall. Richard may handle parenting very different from the Kishis or the Pikes, but can you call any of those parents a bad parent? We definitely get to see BSC parents make bad choices—Stacey’s parents constantly putting her in between them comes to mind—but all the parents (except maybe Kristy’s dad) truly want what’s best for their kids. Claudia even makes a comment to that effect when talking about the Nicholls.
*Mandated reporting, for those who aren’t up on such things, holds that employees in certain professions, such as health care, education and day care, have a legal responsibility to report suspected abuse. I remember being a child and hearing about the Lisa Steinberg case in New York, in which six-year-old Lisa was systematically abused by her illegally-adoptive father before her death. When her teachers were interviewed, they said that she always seemed withdrawn and was constantly covered in bruises. I forget whether she’d been reported to social services or not, but I know that case spurred a lot of reform in many places.
Ooh, Mrs. Kishi is a liespotter! In my line of work, that’s the term for someone who can see the difference between what’s being said, how it’s being said, and non-verbal behavior. For example, you can tell when Hillary Clinton is lying when being asked a yes/no question, because she’ll answer one way and her head will go the other (she’ll gush on about how positive her relationship is with President Obama while shaking her head no.) Mrs. Kishi notes how Mrs. Nicholls is trying to assure her that nothing is wrong at home while she’s wringing her hands.
There aren’t a whole lot of quotable lines in this book, so I gave Claire her second title quote in less than a month.
Someone actually read the BSC bible! Erica, whom the Nicholls hire to sit for the boys after they ditch the BSC, has a history of sitting. She had babysat for Betsy prior to the events of #19, and she mentions taking care of the Newtons in #100. I’ve always wondered why she was never up for consideration to join the BSC anytime they were looking for new members. Claudia calls her level-headed and responsible.
So Mrs. Nicholls agrees to get away from her hubby and says that she’s been making plans for something like that for a while. She gets a restraining order and moves four hours away to live with her sister. Mr. Nicholls agrees to get counseling for his issues. Mrs. Kishi points out the Nichollses problems are far from over, and that admitting he needs help is just the first step. I remember very distinctly when I read this imagining what happened to the family after. Mr. Nicholls does a couple months of therapy and then starts wooing his wife back. She decides he’s changed and goes back to him, only for him to break one of the boys’ arms this time. Mrs. Nicholls leaves him again, only to repeat the cycle a few more times. She eventually leaves for good, but by then her boys are so emotionally scarred that any chance for them to grow up normal is pretty well destroyed.
Think I’m maybe a little cynical?