Back in the early 90s when these came out, I tried one or two books from The Babysitter’s Club, but figured I was too old for them. My sights were set on solving mysteries with Nancy Drew in college, if I was reading YA/Middle Grade at all. So when the Netflix series came out, I did not at all consider myself the target demographic. Still, one adoring Insta post after another from Cover Critiques had me turning the show on while making dinner one night. And oh, dear reader. I may have been too old to read these books back in the 90s, but I’m definitely the right age to watch this series now.
So the two books that I did read were Keep Out, Claudia! (Book 56 in the series) and, um, something about Kristy training for something athletic and needing to carb load? Anyway, I came in when there were dozens of characters and I felt confused most of the time and, let’s be honest, the Very Special Racism issue read weirdly to me as a teenager. I don’t remember much else about my reactions then but I’ve read enough incisive reviews since to know that this is the kind of book that would make me go “yikes” now. Even at the time, I didn’t think these books were as well or engagingly written as the Sweet Valley High books or the Nancy Drew Case Files that I’d been obsessed with (which yo, I know is a super low bar.)
Thus my reaction to the absolutely charming and really terrific Netflix show has very little to do with childhood nostalgia and everything to do with how great this new production is. They have talented age-appropriate actors for the main characters, with outstanding supporting performances by Alicia Silverstone and Marc Evan Jackson (or grown-up Cher and Captain Holt’s husband, as I automatically think of them.) Each of the first eight episodes is based on the first eight books of the series, with the two-part ender being an amalgam of different books and scenes revolving around summer at Camp Moosehead. It’s both surprisingly faithful to the source material as well as delightfully and sensitively updated for the 21st century. Mary Anne is now biracial and Dawn is Latina, but neither change feels inorganic. There is really great trans and neuroatypical representation, as well. Perhaps the only thing that feels a little less than realistic is how the girls are so consistently loving, supportive and forgiving of one another, but that is aspirational behavior I can get behind! In particular, I love how Dawn weaponizes kindness. She’s such a great character, even if I’m definitely a Mary Anne-Stacey hybrid myself.
This is a great series that anyone who’s ever been a pre-teen girl should watch. Honestly, anyone who enjoys wholesome, lovely G-rated entertainment should check this out (especially if you enjoy the occasional good cry.) Side note: way back in the day I read an article stating that Ann M Martin was married to Michael Crichton, which was an idea I always enjoyed, but apparently the journalist had confused this author with Anne-Marie Martin, whoops!