Let's see if I can be the first ever snarker to survive this little literary gem, shall we?
Chapter One! "I like the snow!" says Jessi.
She and Mallory are walking home from school in a slight snow flurry. Jessi talks breathlessly about all the ballets with snow in them, because that's her only setting, and does a little pirouette on the slippery sidewalk.
Mal complains that her glasses need windshield wipers.
And then Jessi begins to tell you all about herself and Mal, of course. Incidentally, did you know that Mallory is Old English for bad luck? Learning this made me wonder about the etymology of "Jessica..." according to Babynames, the name was invented by Shakespeare for The Merchant of Venice, probably derived from the Hebrew name Jeska, which means "God Beholds." I don't know how to snark this information, but it's far more interesting than anything Jessi has to say about herself-- except that she gets up at 5:29 every day to practice at the barre in her basement, which is news to me.
When Jessi gets home, we learn that Nola Thacker doesn't know how to illustrate that a character is drawing out a syllable for dramatic effect: Jessi cries "I'm hommmmmme!" It sounds like she's trying to speak French.
Squirt is at home, being annoyingly cute by banging on pots in the kitchen. Aunt Cecelia is there as well, and I cringe as Jessi starts calling her parents "Daddy" and "Mamma."
Aunt Cecilia is busy mysteriously writing things down on pieces of paper; she stuffs them in her pocket and leaves at this moment, citing unspecified errands.
Jessi the Highly Responsible Babysitter puts Squirt in his baby walker and lets him run around unattended. I think it's very special that a book that's basically about the dangers of recklessness begins with Little Miss Mary Sue putting her own brother in one of those contraptions, since baby walkers are so horrifically dangerous they're warned against by most competent pediatricians. Sure enough, Squirt starts deliberately banging into things in his Death Walker, and Jessi ignores him as she and Becca restock the kid kit. Apparently she still has her office kit from Book 53 in there, in case anyone's keeping track.
The doorbell rings; Jessi runs to answer it, still ignoring the baby. Squirt is crashing into everything he can find in order to make a loud noise. I don't know if this is literary foreshadowing or if Ann/Nola honestly thought that a baby getting whiplash was cute and endearing. Charlotte and Danielle are there, wanting to see Becca.
The girls ask to go play in the basement alone; Jessi is surprised that they want to play in her ballet room because Charlotte hates "sports."
Just then, Squirt zooms into the kitchen and bashes into a cupboard, which somehow causes the cupboard to spill OPEN and its contents to fall all over. This is the first example of a complete violation of physics in the text; it will not be the last. Physics! It's not just for Timelords anymore. Writers could stand to learn some as well. Generally, Nola/Ann, when a baby in an Evil Death Machine crashes into a cupboard, the momentum moves in the direction the baby was moving and the cupboard is jammed SHUT.
Jessi goes to put Squirt down for a nap. When she gets back, her parents are helping to cook dinner, and I cringe some more at their being called "Mamma" and "Daddy." Ann really gets that hip inner city black dialect, doesn't she? Aunt Cecilia asks Jessi to send the guests home for their dinners. Since this is Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey's house, I don't know why they're not being asked to do it, but whatever. When Jessi comes downstairs, she finds that the girls are writing "secret" messages backward on paper, and then holding them up to Jessi's ballet mirror to decode them. Becca has written "Bill Dobson is cute." Charlotte thinks it says "Bill Dobson is etuc." She apparently says this aloud. I can't begin to imagine how that would sound. Everyone giggles, and scene.
Chapter two! It's time for the BSC meeting!!!! Kristy gives Jessi a Look when she arrives 2 minutes late. Stacey rushes in after her, and everyone including Jessi gives her a Look.
Now it's time for the Standard Chapter Two Exposition Bomb, and I'll skim for the good stuff... There is nothing remarkable about Kristy or Mary Ann's entries. Dawn "looks like an advertisement for the benefits of exercise and healthy eating... she's really beautiful with long, pale blond hair, blue eyes, and a strong, tall body (she's got a perfect body to be a ballet dancer!)" I'd thought you actually had to be quite petite and small, but with very strong leg muscles. My mistake. And remember, children: if you eat your vegetables and get regular exercise, you too will grow up to be Caucasian.
Stacey is "probably the most sophisticated of all of us. That's partly because Stacey has diabetes." Remember, children: if you want to be cultured and mature, come down with an hereditary metabolic disorder!
Claudia outfit: "she'd cut patterns into the legs of her jeans (which were major faded), and was wearing leopard-print tights underneath so that they showed through. She was wearing her black Doc Martens with yellow shoelaces, and she'd used matching shoelaces to pull her hair back into a long, thick braid. Her earrings were a pair she'd made herself, out of little yellow feathers and black beads. And she was wearing a black and yellow striped flannel shirt buttoned up to her throat, with another pair of shoelaces made into a sort of bow tie."
Mal is described including her red hair and freckles, despite the fact that she was already described in Chapter Two. Then Mal and Jessi are compared and contrasted and Mal's appearance is described a third time; this time it's even worse than in the first chapter. "Mallory is shorter than I am, and not athletic, and she has glasses and red hair and pale skin with freckles, while I am tall and thin (a dancer's build) and have black hair and brown eyes and brown skin." Again with that dancers-have-to-be-tall thing. Hopefully an actual dancer will weigh in on this.
Danielle's mother calls and asks for a sitter, and Jessi crushes on Danielle a bit before being allowed to take the job. It's slightly unnerving.
Chapter three! When Jessi arrives at Danielle's house, Danielle is shrieking and grinning and saying she feels "grrrrrreat!" Oh, and Danielle's new hair is red, so of course we know she's going to be a brat in this book.
Mrs. Roberts comes in and gushes that she's so happy for Danielle's new-found energy. The cancer really seems to be in remission and now Danielle is playing like a normal child. I can't really snark this. My own (much less serious) struggles with chronic health problems gave me many sick and exhausted days, and now that it's more or less under control I have plenty of Danielle-level euphoria just because I'm well enough to move around. I can only imagine how horrible it would be to be the mother of a child with cancer, so I can't snark her mom's enthusiasm either.
Jessi tries to stop herself from wondering if this is more than a remission; she tells herself to take it "one day at a time." Again, can't snark it.
Mrs. Roberts is actually a responsible parent, telling Jessi how long she'll be gone, where she'll be and all of the relevant phone numbers including Danielle's doctor. Then she says they're having an early dinner, so the children can have a "snack, but only a small one-- a piece of fruit or one or two cookies out of the jar of the counter, and some milk." That sounds like a perfectly substantial snack to me. Also, no one thinks it's a Bad Sign that Danielle's parents restrict their between-meal snacking, the way they did when scary old Mr. Nicholls did it.
Danielle's mother also says there are no restrictions on Danielle's play; she can use her newfound energy as much as she wants, and doesn't need to be made to rest.
Greg, Danielle and Jessi admire Mr. Toes the cat for awhile before Jessi goes away to read to Greg. They read for quite some time before Jessi hears "an enormous crash from the back of the house."
When they find Danielle, she's "lying sprawled on the floor of the study with a small bookcase tipped over beside her and books all over the floor." She crashed into it, because she was rolling around the house wearing her mother's rollerblades, which were several sizes two big. Okay, so, Danielle is lying "sprawled" which usually means "on her belly," presumably from falling into the bookcase. Why isn't she on the fallen bookcase in some fashion? Also, unless you are a compulsive bookworm like my husband and I and have to turn bookcases sideways so they'll all fit in the living room, it's most often the custom to place bookcases with their backs flush against a wall. This means that Danielle either shoved the bookcase through a layer of drywall onto the floor in the next room, or else she somehow tipped it sideways. It might also be possible, if she hit it just right, that the bookcase could be knocked off balance and made to topple forward; however, that would mean that Danielle would not be sprawled near the bookcase, but rather buried underneath it with a broken spine. Danielle is unhurt, however. And according to the cover illustration, she's "sprawling" but facing up. Physics!
Jessi doesn't quite know what to say. After all, in this wintry weather there's no way for her to go rollerblading outside; she's just trying to work off all the new energy. I don't know why she can't just go outside-- it's been stated that there have been flurries, but it's sunny and there's no snow on the ground. She has leukemia in remission, not Victorian consumption. The cold will not harm her. Wear layers and a hat. Problem solved.
Jessi helps Danielle put the books back; then the three of them make a fruit salad, which was NOT according to their mother's directions. When Danielle's mom comes home, Jessi doesn't mention the rollerblading incident. After all, Danielle's so happy to be feeling better.
Chapter four! Jessi intends to practice at her barre when she gets home, but stops when she sees Becca in front of a closed door, "bent way over in a funny hunch." Turns out she's eavesdropping at the keyhole. How far would an eight-year-old have to bend over to listen at a normal-height keyhole anyway? Physics!
Jessi comes over to listen too. It turns out that a man named Mr. Major came to see Aunt Cecelia, and the two are talking in hushed tones in the next room. Jessi hears them mention "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue," and of course leaps to the conclusion that Aunt Cecelia, who lives with her full time, and Mr. Major, whom she's never met before, are ENGAGED!!!!! This subplot is so humiliating I'm about ready to spontaneously combust, so I'll skim the rest of the chapter. They immediately start wondering if Squirt will be the ring bearer, and when they'll go shopping for a dress.
Chapter five! Mary Anne is going to sit for the Robertses, and she's "almost in a state of shock." Stacey was going to babysit, but she called to cancel without an excuse at the last minute, so MA had to fill in.
Mrs. Roberts explains that they don't want Danielle outside in the cold even though she's "wild to go sledding." Again, why? Why not let her go outside, if you're allowing her to do everything else?
The children are playing Doctor, which rather endearingly means that they're pretending to be Dr. Frankenstein and Igor. She hands Mary Anne a "specimen jar" that makes her want to throw up, and laughs. Danielle explains that it's "leftover pea soup with ketchup and a cut-up hot dog."
Danielle invites Charlotte and Haley over to play, and MA and Greg settle in with a book. Eventually, she hears a "wumping-thumping." Mary Anne assumes that it's "the pipes," because she's a dimwit. Finally, she goes to the basement to investigate. It turns out that Danielle and her friends are downstairs covered in ashes, sledding down the basement steps on an old crib mattress. They're covered in greasy old ashes because of an unspecified furnace malfunction that happened a few months ago, after which Danielle's parents never cleaned the basement. That sounds pretty disgusting to me, and irresponsible-- you won't let your daughter go outside for fear it will hurt her leukemia somehow, but you leave months-old ashes all over the basement? For that matter, what kind of furnace do you have that leaks ashes? A coal furnace? A wood stove? It's 1998. Most people have gas or a heat pump or something. Are Danielle's family Amish?
And then there's the little matter that all the furnace-containing basements I've ever seen have been unfinished, meaning that their stairs are the rickety hard kind, not the carpeted kind. A crib mattress with, say, a 50-pound eight-year-old on it wouldn't slide down the steps; it would stick on the first step and then tip over. The child would tumble headfirst down the stairs. She wouldn't slide "all the way to the furnace" at the bottom as the children claim to have done; she'd merely land on her head and crunch a few bones. Physics!
Mary Anne looks around and sees rakes, garden hoes and an old rotary-blade lawnmower in the basement, because apparently Danielle's family actually is Amish.
Mary Anne sends the girls upstairs to clean up. When Danielle's mother comes home, she doesn't tell her about how her chronically ill daughter almost impaled herself on a rotary-blade lawnmower; she trusts that Danielle and Greg will tell her all about it.
And I've got to leave off there, Ladies and Germs. Next time: more violations of physics, Kristy repels a wall of water with her mere presence, and Jessi and Becca plan for the secret wedding. It's gonna be awesome.