Monday, April 14, 2014

BSC #32: Kristy and the Secret of Susan

By Ann M. Martin. Published March 1990.

Ugh, you guys. This book. It’s so infuriating. But I try to remind myself Kristy is only thirteen, when you really do think you know everything.

When Kristy arrives at a BSC meeting, she finds Dawn and Claudia spying out the window. They’re watching the new family who moved into Mary Anne’s old house. They’re excited because there are four boys, and they’re from Australia. You know, like Crocodile Dundee. They get compared to him a lot in this book.

While they’re spying, Kristy spots a mother leading a little girl by the hand, and she’s moving very strangely. Claudia says they’re the Felders, they live close by, and Kristy doesn’t know them because the daughter’s been away at school. And what do you know; they get a call that very same day from Mrs. Felder. She is looking for a sitter to come three days a week for a month, so she can get a bit of a break from Susan. Susan is autistic. Kristy gets the job, and Mrs. Felder asks her to come meet Susan before she takes the job.

Kristy tries to do a bit of research, and looks up autistic in the dictionary. It says something about childhood schizophrenia. That’s…I’m pretty sure that’s not what it is. Maybe that’s how it was defined back in the day, though. I don’t know.

So, the big meeting. Susan is almost completely closed off. She does not talk at all, and almost never responds to her name. But she’s pretty! Kristy makes sure to get that in there. And she’s a savant. She can play any song that she’s only heard once on the piano, and she’ll sing if there are lyrics. She’s in between schools right now, so she can go to one with a strong music program.  And she has a perpetual calendar in her head, and can name the day of the week a date falls on.

Kristy decides, yes indeed, she does want the job. And she’s going to convince her parents to keep her at home, and not send her away to school. Oh, Kristy.

She takes her outside, where she can see into the Australia family’s yard. She’s learned they’re the Hobarts. She sees a bunch of neighborhood kids teasing them.

Mal and Jessi sit for the Pike crew, and they decide to go over to the Hobarts’, and make friends. The little kids all get along, but it’s Mal and the oldest boy, Ben, who really hit it off. He’s eleven, has red hair, and glasses. Mal practically sits in his lap. She admits at the next meeting that she has a crush on him, and the other girls advise her to go after him.

Kristy takes Susan over to the Hobarts’, figuring they all need friends. But of course, Susan can’t play like the other kids. Then the kids who were teasing the Hobarts before arrive, and start picking on Susan. James Hobart calls her his mate. Aww. Then Kristy has Susan do her calendar trick, and the bullies are impressed. Kristy is all sorts of proud.

The next time Kristy sits for Susan, Mel Tucker, one of the bullies, comes over to see Susan. He’s impressed by Susan’s piano playing, and gives her a couple of songs to play. He compares Susan to a chicken that played the piano in the circus, but Kristy doesn’t make the connection. She’s just happy because she thinks Susan now has two friends. Later, James Hobart comes over, and he and Kristy talk.

At a school assembly, the BSC sits behind the special ed. class. There’s one kid who Kristy is just sure is autistic, but he can have an actual conversation. Kristy gets frustrated that Susan can’t go to a regular school like him, and she thinks he’s more “normal” because he gets to learn in a familiar environment.

A few different kids drop by when Kristy sits for Susan again, and they have her do her calendar trick, and one girl has her memorize a new song. She says it was totally worth it, and runs out, and Kristy follows her. Right to Mel Tucker, who is charging kids a dollar to see “the incredible retard who can memorize dates and music. The amazing dumbo who can sing but not talk.” Ugh. Kristy feels really na├»ve. No shit, Kristy.

Claudia is sitting for the younger Hobarts (Ben’s at the library with Mal. Aww, yeah), and Zach, one of the other bullies, comes straight from Susan’s to tease James. He’s really having a red-letter day, isn’t he? But James is able to impress him, by punching through a wooden crate. So that cements their friendship, and they skateboard happily together. Boys are weird.

For Kristy’s last day, she goes over to the Felders’ to help pack Susan’s things for school. Kristy’s really bummed about this, but she helps anyway. Kristy is actually surprised when Mrs. Felder gets choked up. She thought sending Susan away was an easy way out for them, but this makes her realize it might be hard. Oh, Kristy. While they’re working, Mrs. Felder tells Kristy about when Susan was a baby. She was advanced until she was about two and a half, when she just shut down.

Kristy notices Susan is antsy, so she offers to take her for a walk. They go over to the Hobarts’, but when they get there, Susan pees her pants in front of everyone. Kristy is ashamed for them both.

Kristy goes over to the Felders’ on the day Susan’s leaving to say goodbye. She admits to Mr. Felder her plan about trying to keep Susan at home. He says they had looked into that, but found the schools they send her to are better for her. What, parents actually knowing better than a baby-sitter about what’s best for their child? Color me shocked. But he’s really nice about it. And lets Kristy in on the news that Mrs. Felder is pregnant, and they’ll name her Hope.

James comes over to say goodbye and he’ll miss Susan, which makes Mrs. Felder cry.

At the BSC meeting, Kristy tells everyone about the baby. They all flip out, of course. Mallory adds the news that the Hobart boys are all making friends. Yay. And then she comes out with the really big news. Ben asked her to the movies. Aww, yeah, Mallory. Get you some.

o   Charlie has a sign on his car that he made that says “Baby-sitter on Board”. I highly doubt that. I don’t think Ann was ever around teenage boys very much.

o   Still on Charlie, Kristy has him drive her over to the Felders’ right after school. Why not just walk there after school?

o   So this is the first book that has Mal with red hair. I guess Ann changed it from brown just to match Ben’s.

o   I admit, after reading this book when I was little, I thought I was suddenly an expert on autism. Now I know I don’t know how much I don’t know.


  1. Hah, I thought I was an expert on autism too.

    I never understood why kids made fun of the Hobarts for being Australian. Most Americans LOVE those accents. Wasn't Crocodile Dundee really cool back in the eighties?

    1. I thought he was cool! I watched our video over and over again.