January 19, 2017
(+++) SMALL PROBLEMS NEATLY SOLVED
Confidentially Yours #5: Brooke’s Bad Luck. By Jo Whittemore. Harper. $6.99.
Roxbury Park Dog Club #5: A New Leash on Life. By Daphne Maple. Harper. $6.99.
Roxbury Park Dog Club #6: A Bone to Pick. By Daphne Maple. Harper. $6.99.
Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club novels, which have sold a remarkable 175-million-plus copies through 35 books by Martin and many more by other writers, have inspired a whole set of “preteen girls doing good things and having occasional minor difficulties” novel groupings, including Confidentially Yours and Roxbury Park Dog Club. The four original members of Martin’s club, when her series started in 1986, were Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia and Stacey. In today’s many sequences along the same lines, there is little that differs from series to series except the names of the girls (and an occasional boy) and the specific activities around which the four-person groups’ interactions revolve. For example, Confidentially Yours features Brooke, Heather, Vanessa and Tim; Roxbury Park Dog Club includes Taylor, Kim, Sasha and Brianna.
Multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity are part and parcel of the new book groupings, and some of the family circumstances are updated to reflect modern family groupings, but by and large, the central issues of these book series are minor ones in which the protagonists have to confront something troublesome (although small in the grand scheme of things), figure out what to do about it, and as a result become wiser and more tightly bound in friendship. Thus, Brooke’s Bad Luck is all about superstition. Brooke visits a psychic who warns her about an upcoming run of bad luck, and the prediction seems to come true because of a series of little things that Brooke blows out of proportion, such as spilling food and playing soccer poorly. What connects Brooke’s troubles with the overall theme of Confidentially Yours is that the advice column that gives this series its title, and the newspaper that she and her friends put out together, are competing in a contest that Brooke fears they will lose because her luck has turned bad. So she creates a good-luck charm to counter the bad luck, and sure enough, it works! But anyone who remembers stories such as, say, Dumbo, will know that it is belief in good-luck charms – and bad-luck predictions – that gives them their power, and this is the lesson that Brooke has to learn in order to take charge of her own life again and stop believing she is somehow “destined” to have things go poorly for her. It even turns out that Brooke’s soccer troubles were engineered – by another player, who is jealous of her – and Brooke gets to mend that particular fence while conquering her worries about superstition. “The fear is in your head,” Brooke concludes, and everything ends, expectedly, in upbeat fashion.
The two latest entries in the Roxbury Park Dog Club series follow a very similar story arc. A New Leash on Life focuses mainly on Brianna, who came to the club late – she was invited by the three other girls – and feels somewhat left out of the trio’s close friendship. So she bonds more closely than ever with the dogs in the club, which the girls started to help dogs whose owners had to work all day and to raise money for the local animal shelter. In fact, Brianna (Bri) bonds especially closely with one particular dog, an older shelter resident called Lily, and ends up deciding that she would like to foster Lily – if she can get her mother to agree to take the dog into their home. So the issues here involve friendship among the girls, bonding both with humans and with dogs, and family matters – in effect, increasing the size of a family by bringing a dog into it. Eventually, things work out even better than Bri ever thought they would, as she develops a new and closer bond with her mother as well as her friends, and Lily does in fact get to join the family. So all is smiles as the book ends. But there are frowns, of course, as the next one starts. A Bone to Pick focuses on Sasha: in all these series, different books focus on different members of the central ensemble. Sasha feels she does more work for the dog club than her friends do, and as a result she is starting to harbor resentment toward them. The question is whether the friendship can withstand this sort of thing, in which the girls find they just cannot communicate effectively with each other. It gets so bad that even well-meant comments are taken the wrong way: “Maybe she was trying to be nice, but it came out like she was being condescending.” Clearly something has to give, and it must not be the girls’ friendship or their commitment to the club. But matters get to such a point that Sasha eventually finds it “impossible to be happy about anything.” So then, of course, the girls realize it is “time to get our priorities straight,” and everybody apologizes to everybody else, and the club is restructured to be sure all duties are apportioned fairly, and happiness abounds for everyone – until, of course, another small crisis gets blown out of proportion. But that can wait for the next entry in the series. Fans of the preteen-focused Roxbury Park Dog Club and Confidentially Yours sequences will just be happy that things have, once again, turned out so well…until the inevitable next time.