By this book, Claudia has turned thirteen! (Time actually passes in the first ten books and then freezes for the rest of the series until Friends Forever starts.) It’s the summer before eighth grade and she’s taking art classes. Oh and, in case you didn’t know by now, Claudia’s older sister Janine is a certified genius and they have nothing in common and have a hard time communicating and barely get along. Claudia thinks she disappoints her parents (compared to how smart and successful Janine is in school) and Janine seems jealous of Claudia’s full life of friends and activities. The girls just can’t find any middle ground.
At a Baby-sitters Club meeting, Kristy has the idea for the club to host a playgroup three mornings a week during July. The girls agree, thinking it would be good for their clients and a good way for them to make some spare change since they probably wouldn’t have enough sitting jobs to keep them all busy and paid. The gals make a flier and invite their best clients to the play group – and they get a good response. (Duh.)
Claudia has a night in with Mimi and Janine, and they have breakfast-at-dinner and play The Trivia Game. Claudia and Janine cannot get on the same page, and when Janine kicks Claudia’s ass, Claudia accuses her of cheating. Meanwhile, Mimi is feeling really tired and goes to bed early. Janine comes back down to make up with Claudia, and admits she wishes she were as close to Mimi as Claudia is. Claudia retorts that Janine is basically married to her computer and maybe if she chilled on that she could spend more time with Mimi. Just as the girls are gearing up for Round Two, they hear a thud.
They rush to Mimi’s room and find her in a heap on the floor, half undressed. Claudia (purveyor of the Nancy Drew serial) immediately thinks Mimi has been murdered, but Janine wisely guesses it might have been a heart attack. The girls called 9-1-1 and Mimi is whisked off to the ER with Janine at her side. When Claudia arrives at the hospital with her parents they find out that Mimi has had a stroke and is in critical but stable condition. She can’t move or speak but the doctor hopes for a recovery.
The next morning Mimi is still unconscious, so Claudia goes to work with the rest of the BSC at the playgroup. They are all sad (especially Mary Anne) but decide that the kids should all make get-well cards for Mimi as an activity that day. Mallory Pike is there as a baby-sitters’ assistant, working for free because she wants to be included but (at eleven) she’s too old for the playgroup. The playgroup goes pretty well, except for spoiled-as-shit Jenny Prezzioso, who shows in in party clothes instead of play clothes, and hates all the other kids but gets pissed when they don’t play with her. Stone cold toddler bitch.
Claudia also thinks Janine is a bitch, but really Janine and Claudia just have a communication problem. That being said, Claudia almost slaps Janine in front of Jamie Newton, which would have been a bad scene. During the BSC meeting Claudia gets the news that Mimi has woken up. She still can’t speak, but she can have visitors. Claudia has a hard time seeing Mimi hooked up to all the machines, but on her second try she is able to sit and talk with Mimi. She even finds a way for Mimi to communicate without talking – one blink for yes, two blinks for no. (Maybe Janine isn’t the only genius in the family?) Still, Janine and Claudia can’t seem to bond over their shared tragedy.
At the next playgroup, Karen Brewer strolls in like she owns the place. She also immediately hates Jenny Prezzioso (because how could you not?). She ALSO convinces everyone that Morbidda Destiny cast a spell on Andrew and at ten o’clock he’s going to turn into a monster. Of course, Andrew doesn’t really turn into a monster, but he plays it up a little. Jenny is freaked out. And the baby-sitters use it to their advantage: they get Andrew to tell Jenny to wear a smock every day at playgroup so her nice clothes don’t get dirty. He’s the only one she obeys.
In Mimi news, she’s able to use her left hand, sort of write words, and is attempting to speak. Her brain is still kind of jumbled so she’ll require a lot of therapy, but her doctors say she is making average progress. Claudia is relieved because she thinks she caused Mimi’s stroke by being rude the night it happened. She volunteers to go to the hospital and sit with Mimi every morning; this, of course, means that she won’t be able to work at the playgroup anymore. She doesn’t miss much, except that David Michael brings Louie the collie, and all the kids and baby-sitters band together to bathe and beautify Louie so he can fit in with all the rich snobby dogs in David Michael and Kristy’s new neighborhood. Oh and by the way, of course Jenny Prezzioso doesn’t like big smelly dogs.
Mimi is acting like a kid, too. She is struggling with some routine physical things like brushing her teeth, walking, etc. and is still getting words mixed up (she has aphasia). Good news though – she can finally come home! Claudia decides she’s going to stay home with Mimi in the morning and help her work on speaking and penmanship and stuff like that. Her parents are going to pay her her regular baby-sitting rates but not tell Mimi that – Claudia doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. Even Mary Anne takes a turn watching and working with Mimi, and she has a hard time seeing Mimi get so frustrated and even yell at her. They all realize that trying to re-learn things she already knew must be really hard for Mimi and that she might be embarrassed. Claudia also kind of disses Mary Anne by calling her a school marm, which is probably 100% accurate.
Claudia and the girls help out at Lucy Newton’s christening and Claudia can’t help but notice how jealous Jamie is about all the attention Lucy gets. She starts to put the pieces together and realize that, since she and Janine are so different and have different talents, they both might resent the attention the other receives – they both might be suffering from jealousy. DUH, say the readers. Claudia finally has a chat with Janine in which they work things out. Janine explains how she feels like no one wants her to be part of the family and they just push her into her studies, and Claudia gives Janine some tips for how to better integrate into family life. Janine decides to try, and has tea with Mimi that afternoon. Things seem to be right again in the Kishi world.
“As long as there is time, there is change.” – Mimi
At the next BSC meeting, the club gets a new client – the Perkins family, who’ve moved into Kristy’s old house – and a very interesting call. The Pikes – eight kids, remember? – are going on their annual trip to the Jersey Shore (before it was cool) and they want two baby-sitters to go along as mother’s helpers. Ooh la la! The lucky two are Mary Anne and Stacey. And we all know where this leads… Boy Crazy Stacey!