The BSC is a little ahead of the curve on the autism front – meaning they introduced an autistic character (sitting charge Susan Felder) in this 1990 book. I’m sure that this book was my first introduction to autism (as Stacey was my first introduction to diabetes). Man, the BSC really taught me about LIFE.
Anywho, Kristy books a job sitting for Susan three times a week for a month while she’s home from her special school. Her mother doesn’t work but needs “a break from Susan” for a few hours a day. Hmm. Kristy tries to look up autism in the dictionary but can’t really find anything (imagine everything she’d get if she could Google it – the 90s were a different world). Turns out Susan kind of lives in her own world, doesn’t really make eye contact, doesn’t speak (but she sings), wrings her hands, clicks her tongue, and doesn’t really like being touched or hugged. She is a savant, though, with a remarkable piano-playing talent. Kristy says it’s “like Susan is keeping a secret from the world.”
Meanwhile, the BSC is familiarizing themselves with the Hobart family, who moved into Mary Anne’s old house when she and her father moved into the Schafers’ house. The Hobarts are Australian and there are four of them, all boys. They’ve been getting teased by Stoneybrookers because they’re different and they have accents. One of the Hobarts, Ben, is eleven and in Mal and Jessi’s class at SMS – and Mallory is immediately obsessed with the ginger Aussie. I guess she’s over that whole boy-hating thing? Maybe the magnetic pull of another redhead is just too much to overcome. She jumps at the chance to baby-sit for his younger brothers and, after some teasing from Stacey and the rest of the BSC, admits that she has a crush on him.
Kristy decides that since Susan is isolated and has no friends, she’ll bring her to the Hobarts to meet them, since they don’t really have friends either. Mallory, up for any chance to see Ben, brings her youngest sisters over to play, too. Susan doesn’t really grasp the point of Tag, but the kids are nice to her and protective when the same kids come around to bully the Hobarts and take notice of Susan. Kristy informs everyone of Susan’s talent – she can tell you what day of the week any date fell on, ever. The kids all think it’s a cool party trick and don’t know how she does it.
Kristy is a little agitated because she feels like Susan’s parents treat her like an outcast and ship her off to a special school. Kristy thinks Susan could live at home and be in a special class at one of Stoneybrook’s elementary schools and be fine. The next time she baby-sits Susan, two boys Susan’s age stop by – first one of the former bullies, Mel, and then James Hobart. They are both awed by Susan’s piano-playing. Kristy is excited to think that Susan might have two friends now. James especially is sensitive and kind since he knows what it’s like to not have friends in town.
The nest time Kristy sits for Susan, another of the bullies shows up – Zach. Then another kid. They both want Susan to do her calendar trick. Then another girl rings the doorbell and wants to see if Susan can memorize a song to play. Susan does. At this point Kristy gets suspicious. She goes outside and finds out that Mel the bully is charging kids a dollar each to “go inside and see the incredible retard”. Kristy is completely incensed (so am I… I hate the r-word being used like that) and tells the kids to beat it and never use the words retard or dumbo to describe someone again. She feels stupid for thinking those kids were Susan’s friends.
Zach goes from Susan’s to the Hobarts’ and tries to bully James, Ben’s younger brother. James stands up for himself, though, and impresses Zach – they actually become friends. Kristy then comes over with Susan and tells Claudia what happened. Both girls are nearly in tears and realize maybe Susan really does belong at her special school with people who understand her. Kristy talks to Mr. Felder about it, and she’s also excited to find out that Mrs. Felder is pregnant with a baby girl who they’ll name Hope. Kristy and James Hobart say goodbye to Susan as her parents drive her off to her new school. Kristy decides that when she grows up she might want to become a teacher who works with kids like Susan and kids with other learning disabilities and handicaps.
Oh, and Mallory gets a date with Ben Hobart. GINGERS UNITE.