Technically, the Baby-Sitters Club was someone else’s idea. But Malia was the one who stole it, and she thought it was okay to be proud of that.
The epiphany came during the worst week ever. Monday started off with an algebra test where she left half of the answers blank, followed by gym class, where she walked many, MANY semi-aerobic circles around the basketball court, upon which Connor Kelly—aka the only boy worth loving—was practicing free throws. Malia was wearing her new silver leggings and the ultra-curling mascara she’d borrowed from her best friend Bree Robinson even though it made Bree freak out because sharing mascara could apparently lead to eye infections. But Connor didn’t look at her once.
On Tuesday morning, Malia walked to school—yes, walked, on foot like some kind of pilgrim—because her evil big sister, Chelsea, cast her out of their regular carpool. One of Chelsea’s dumb friends had a science project that was taking up Malia’s usual spot in the back seat, and so she was left without transportation.
Like that wasn’t bad enough, on her way down the front walk, she dropped her phone, and the screen shattered into a billion little pieces. Malia could already hear her mom’s voice the moment she saw it. “Ma-li-a,” she’d say, drawing the name out like some kind of curse word. “You have to learn to be more responsible.” Every time she said Malia’s name, no matter the occasion, it sounded like it was laced with disappointment. After all, Malia wasn’t turning out anything like Malia Obama, the brilliant first daughter after whom she was named. Instead, she was destined to be Malia Twiggs, which anyone had to admit sounded kind of bootleg. This is what led her to rebrand herself as “Alia,” a campaign that had been met with moderate success. Malia was still constantly correcting people for including the M. But she had faith that eventually it would stick.
It was only October and so far, seventh grade was turning out to be all kinds of meh. Even Malia’s once-favorite pastime—killing time at the Playa del Mar Mall—had become insanely depressing. She and her friends wandered in endless loops, eating food-court chicken, and looking at all the things they had no money to buy. Her mom called it “window shopping” and said it was good for building character, but Malia called it “torture,” since that’s what it actually was.
To make matters worse, seventh grade wasn’t bad for everyone. Seemingly all of her classmates were bringing their A game, like Sheila Brown, whose thirteenth birthday party had featured an actual elephant, and Charlotte Price, who’d hosted the most lavish bat mitzvah the world had ever seen. Thanks to her high-flying classmates, Malia’s own upcoming birthday was hard to look forward to. Her typical plan—a backyard party with her two best friends—was usually the highlight of her fall, but this year, such a gathering would pale in comparison. Malia had yet to come any closer to realizing how to make her joint-birthday-party dreams a reality.
So anyway, there she was, broke and bad at math, with zero romantic prospects, and now she couldn’t even check Instagram without the threat of cutting her fingers. It was almost too much to handle.
“Wisdom of the universe, come to me!” Malia said, which is something her other best friend Dot Marino’s mom told her to do whenever she felt confused. Dot’s mom was a yogi-slash-tarot-card-reader, which, in their tiny hippie beach town, was actually less weird than it sounds. She was kind of nuts, but in this one instance, Malia figured it couldn’t hurt to follow her advice.
Malia continued on her walk for another block, when straight up ahead, she spied a bunch of cardboard boxes outside the local library, labeled FREE STUFF! Even she could afford free stuff! It looked like the librarians had gone on a wild cleaning spree, ferreting out any old books, magazines, and DVDs that no longer had a place on the shelves.
The biggest box was overflowing with books—cookbooks, gardening books, an illustrated volume of dog breeds, and a guide to achieving optimum colon health. (Ew.) Malia noticed a little yellow corner peeking out from the middle of the jumble.
She pulled it loose to reveal an ancient paperback. It was wrinkled and worn, and the bottom corner was entirely missing, like someone had tried to eat it and then changed her mind. The Baby-Sitters Club was spelled out in red-lettered alphabet blocks, followed by the title Kristy’s Great Idea. The cover illustration showed four girls wearing the most basic clothes she’d ever seen. Like, there was a turtleneck. And loafers. And a vest. Malia had seen the newer version of this book floating around school, and a couple of her friends had even read it, but the original cover was really something to behold.
Four friends and baby-sitting—what could be more fun? read the tagline. Um, she could think of about eight million things. Still, she couldn’t explain why, but she felt like she was meant to find this book. It was a sign from the universe.
Malia settled onto the rickety wooden bench in front of the library and read the first chapter. She learned how Kristy Thomas, a sports-loving tomboy with a mom who said things like “Drat!” had this big idea to form a babysitting club. She and her three friends met multiple times a week, answered a corded telephone, ate various things wrapped in plastic, and got hired to watch people’s children. Weird, she thought. Is this seriously what people found fun in the ’90s? The idea of minding kids for money had honestly never occurred to her before. She didn’t read much more, but she didn’t have to. She had an idea. Technically, she had Kristy’s idea. Now it was time to recruit the rest of the club.