The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin – Review

It should be no surprise to anyone that we live in a nostalgia driven world. I mean, take a look at the movies and TV shows that are coming out and you’ll see many appeals to our nostalgia, some predatory, some not. It’s nostalgia that started me on the road of rereading all the Baby-Sitter’s Club books and looking back at the things I’d read as a kid as an adult. It can almost feel like opening up a time capsule to peer inside when you crack open an old book again, looking back into the past with every turned page.

The problem with nostalgia is that it’s good when it’s left to the past and when new versions appear of something I have nostalgic feelings for, I tend to be wary.

After all, I had been excited about the Transformers movies once upon a time (although I will easily admit that the Power Rangers movie was great and I’m glad it exists).

So when I found out that Ann M. Martin had written a prequel to the Baby-Sitter’s Club books that I had just started rereading… I was nervous.

Yes, I could tell myself that it wasn’t for me and my opinion didn’t matter. Ann M. Martin wasn’t expanding on the BSC universe for people who were my age, but for the kids who would be picking up those books for the first time. But even as I told myself that, I could feel that worry growing. After all, there were times when adaptations/sequels/prequels could change my entire view on something. The second Captain America movie made me reconsider him as a superhero and the Star Wars prequels had dimmed some of the love that I’d had for the original series.

So I swallowed my trepidation and picked up a copy from the library, craftily signing it out as an ebook so I wouldn’t have to face the judgement of the librarian (technology is wonderful, ain’t it?) and after all the waiting, I spent the commute home from work immersing myself in what it would be like to live in Stoneybrook.

And… it was alright?

I don’t know if I was expecting fireworks or not, but it definitely didn’t do anything to diminish my love for the series. It was good, but in the same way that most of the Baby-Sitter’s Club books are for me. They’re a comfortable read that tend to have some heart-warming (or heart-wrenching) moments in them, but I’ve been reading novels that set my mind on fire lately. Novels that worm their way into my head and won’t stop.

So going back and reading a prequel to the Baby-Sitter’s Club right now kind of felt like stepping back into my childhood bedroom and lazing around for an hour or two before getting called back into the present.

Kristy, Claudia, and Mary Anne are all growing up and getting ready to go into Grade Seven. They’re going through those classic preteen troubles, but there’s also an undercurrent of rawness to the entire book that I appreciate. One thing that the Baby-Sitter’s Club books always did well (as far as I could remember) was keep the tone light even when there was serious stuff going on. Somehow, Ann M. Martin managed to dive into some heavy subjects without dragging down the story or making the reader feel like they were bogged down.

Being a preteen is a messy time and in some ways, it can be even worse than being a teenager. At least as a teenager, you’re allowed some autonomy.

We see Mary Anne trying to grow up within the confines of an overprotective father who wants to keep her a child for as long as he can lest he lose her.

We see Claudia struggling to connect with her sister and learning how to sort out her own feelings both romantic and platonic.

Kristy wants to see her father again and is hoping against hope that he’ll be able to make it to her birthday party so she can know, without a doubt, that he still loves her.

And Stacey, fighting back against all new levels of bullying from the people who were supposed to be her friends and stick by her no matter what.

The best part about The Summer Before is that Ann M. Martin doesn’t bother to pull her punches. She doesn’t need to punch hard or go into over the top dramatics to make things feel real. It’s the simplicity of how things are presented that really drive them home over and over again.

Perfectly encapsulates everything that the Baby-Sitter’s Club was for me as a child.

The Summer Before (The Baby-Sitters Club, #0.5)

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