The book series in elementary school for me was the Baby-Sitter's Club. During spirit week in third grade I dressed up as Claudia for "favorite book character day" (spirit weeks in elementary school were always so nerdy. I loved it!) and I obsessed over the books for years - for about 5 seconds in 6th grade a friend and I tried to start our own babysitting club - foiled only by pesky facts like not knowing a lot of families with little kids. However, after sixth grade I set the books down and I don't think I ever picked them up again (I was distracted by my Animorphs obsession) - so when I started reading the new prequel, I was surprised by how much of these books I remembered!
Also, because it was stuck in my head the entire time I was reading the book (and again now that I'm reviewing it), here's the theme song for the TV show. Listen to it while you read the rest of the post and join me in my nostalgia/misery:
Told from alternating points of view like the old Super Specials were, The Summer Before shows the lives of Kristy, Mary-Anne, Claudia and Stacey the summer before Kristy has her big idea to form the Baby-Sitters Club. It's the summer before seventh grade and changes are afoot for everyone. Kristy's mom has started dating again, while Kristy is hoping desperately that her father will remember her 12th birthday. Mary-Anne is feeling stifled by her father's strict rules and wants to be trusted enough to go out babysitting on her own. Claudia has her first crush and feels she's growing up way faster than either Mary-Anne or Kristy and wonders whether they should still be friends. And poor Stacey is alone in New York City, still learning how to deal with her relatively recent diabetes diagnosis and how all of her friends seem to have turned against her. She can't wait until the end of the summer when she and her parents are moving to Connecticut.
One thing that did set this novel apart from the other BSC books is a distinct lack of description - the old books always dedicated the second chapter to giving an extensive rundown of the girls and their distinct late 80s/early 90s fashion sense (which continues to be celebrated today at What Claudia Wore). There's a severe lack of clothing descriptions here - I don't think Stacey's city-chic fashion sense was mentioned even once! The bulk of the clothing descriptions went to Claudia, naturally, but even hers seemed a little toned down. I miss my crazy Claudia :-(
Among the nostalgia, one thing I really, really enjoyed about this book, and in retrospect all of the BSC books, is how much these girls genuinely like each other. You can see why they're friends because it's actually demonstrated in the text - we aren't just told that they're friends and then they go off on their own separate adventures. I was a little concerned with Claudia's boy-interest in this book - I don't remember her being the type that would fall for a boy and ditch her friends in the process. Am I just forgetting something from the original series?
Is this a ground breaking novel? Nope. Is it a sweet coming of age story? Definitely. The writing style doesn't seem to have changed in 20+ years, which is great for the nostalgia factor for grownups returning to the series, though I don't know if this is the greatest place for prospective BSC fans to start.