It's the summer before seventh grade. In the town of Stoneybrook, three friends are looking forward to ten blissful school-free weeks to spend however they choose. Hanging out, going to art classes, and of course picking up babysitting jobs in the neighbourhood. But things are changing in the lives of Kristy, Mary Anne and Claudia. One of them seems to be drifting away from the others, and it's hurting them all.
In New York, another girl their age is having a tough time. Stacey's friends have turned their backs on her, and she's hoping that the move to Stoneybrook will be just the fresh start she needs.
This could be the summer that everything falls apart. Or it could be just the start of something awesome: The Babysitters Club.
Told in alternating points of view, The Summer Before introduces us to the four friends who will go on to form The Babysitters Club. We follow the events of the summer vacation between sixth and seventh grades, as the girls face new developments in their lives alone and together. There's Kristy, who comes from a large family but desperately misses the father who moved to California and has barely kept in touch with her since. Her best friend is Mary Anne, who lives alone with her overprotective dad and just wants to be allowed to grow up a little. Then there's their friend Claudia, who loves art and fashion and is starting to be interested in boys way before the other two. Finally, we meet New Yorker Stacey, who is having a lonely time in the city but will soon be on her way to Stoneybrook where new friendships await her.
The beauty of The Summer Before is that it's written to appeal equally to existing fans of The Babysitters Club and readers who are totally new to the series. Those who (like me) first read this series in the eighties will appreciate how loyal this prequel is to the originals: Claudia and Kristy's birthdays are both remembered, and events that occur in the first few books are foreshadowed here in clever little ways. It even opens with the exact same sentence as book one in the series, Kristy's Great Idea. There's plenty of nostalgia here to remind us exactly why we loved these books so much the first time around.
For new readers in the nine to twelve age group, this is a feel-good introduction to the main characters of the BSC, as each of the four faces a coming-of-age moment that makes them who they are at the point when the main series opens. In fact, The Summer Before would even make for a satisfying standalone read... although I'm pretty sure that it'll make new readers want to check out the rest of the series. It's a book about growing up, which the characters are doing at different rates and in different ways. It's about first love and being your own person and dealing with parents who aren't always perfect themselves. It's also a book about the importance of friendship during this tricky time.
The Summer Before is a fun and thoughtful prequel to the hugely successful BSC series. It's heartwarming and sweet, and it shows that there are some things about growing up that never change. I'd recommend it anyone who has already read and loved The Babysitters Club, and tweens looking for a must-read series to get hooked on.
Out: June 7th 2010, UK / May 1st 2010, US
Big thanks to Scholastic UK for sending me a review copy of this book.