There is no one book that has changed my life, but rather a whole series – The Babysitters Club, by Ann M. Martin. From the first page, I was hooked. I shunned society, tyrannically demanded higher and higher watt light bulbs for my bedroom, and unabashedly preferred the company of Claudia Kishi, the artsy babysitter, to any mortal. Their power over me knew no bounds.
Briefly, the series follows the lives of several teenage girls who come together based on their love of babysitting. The girls all have very different personalities (or personality stereotypes) but bond by sharing their tips on how to take care of a bratty two-year-old, which also translates well into dating advice, helping each other through tough family times and school problems. They simulate friendship with thrilling peeps into the close-knit group of girlfriends, complete with hand-written letters and journal entries. With so many characters, and such indulgent ways to bond to them, it's easy for a young, socially awkward girl to get all too wrapped up in the stories. In this way, they are a kind of early warning sign that your child will be prone to Ren-Faire levels of fandom in the future.
I used to ditch my classmates to spend every recess reading, which equated to a kind of junior radical act. Climbing up to the very top of the playground to curl up with a book, and blocking the slide with your literary interest, tends to make the other children hate you. I know this now. My next idea was to straddle the blue plastic tunnel connecting the jungle gyms. It was high off the ground so my legs could dangle in the breeze, and I had a nice view of a grove of trees. What I didn't count on was how the kids who chose the more normal route of crawling through the tube to get to the twisty slide would be able to kick the sides, and my shadow on the plastic would tell them exactly where to do it.
But the babysitters, and my obsessive love for them, also helped me form bonds – bonds that began with trips to the library. For anyone unfamiliar with The BSC, there is an endless supply of them spread over various series, including the Little Sisters, Mysteries, and both special and Super Special editions-more than enough to last until puberty. I was able to borrow more books in a single visit than I was years old. My mother found the image of her little girl teetering out of the library with an enormous stack charming, until I racked up a fine higher than she was years old, times two. It was my dad who took me to go pay the fees. As I cried at the circulation desk, he knew how to make me feel better – he asked me what the books were about. To this day, we still exchange our favorite titles every holiday.
The strangest thing about my obsession was that I wasn't interested in actual babysitting. It seemed like watching a little kid all day would be a pain, and then, when would I find the time to read?
So, alienating friends, raking up massive library fines, craving personal injury, and raving to inanimate objects-these were the legacy of The BSC books in my life. Creepy? Sad? Most likely, but it was delicious to be so wrapped up in a story. When I look for a book now, I ultimately search for something that will fill the desire first carved out by The BSC. Some others have been made it to the list – Jude the Obscure, Middlesex, the short stories of Flannery O'Connor. But it all began with a group of teenage girls in Connecticut, and my life has never been the same since.