I always feel awkward standing in the YA section at bookstores. Every adult looks at me like I’m a pedophile, that I should spend my time amongst literature, perhaps perusing Nabokov’s works. So waiting alone in line with mostly teenage girls to have a book signed by the author of The Baby-sitters Club book series was a test of wills.
I got a few looks. I was mortified to see a former co-worker of mine, a women in her early 20s, walking down the line and giving everyone a scrap of green paper to write their names on. She looked down at my dog-eared baby-sitters book and said to me with a smirk: “So, are you a fan?”
The Baby-sitters Club was a series written by Ann M. Martin for middle grade readers about a group of four girls that were best friends and lived in a well-to-do Connecticut suburb. Wholesome to the point of saccharine, the books were inescapable for middle school girls or their parents, from the mid-80s to the late 90s.
When I head that Ann M. Martin was the Keynote speaker at this years Empire State Book Festival, held on April 2nd, I knew I had to go hear her talk. It may seem unusual that a 29-year-old man would have a burning desire to see Ann M. Martin, beloved children’s author, discuss books about 12-year-old girls. But for 24 years of my life, I have been forced to confront one of Mrs. Martin’s books -- BSC #3: The Truth About Stacey.
First published in 1986, BSC #3 was told from the perspective of one of the baby-sitters, Stacey, the super hip girl who moved from New York and came late to the group. She was stylish and cool and happy to be taken in by this group of resourceful girls who ran a small business while still getting all their homework done on time. But what was the dark truth Stacey was hiding in the idyllic suburb of Stoneybrook, Connecticut you may ask? She was diabetic. The first act is like a primer on diabetes, some passages of it sounding more like a manual for the recently diagnosed than fiction for teen girls.
I was diagnosed with type one diabetes in 1987, a year after Stacey. I was seven at the time. Every woman I’ve ever met my age learned everything they know about diabetes, at least initially, from BSC #3. This is not neccessarily a bad thing. Sure, it's a little emasculating to know that Stacey and her dark truth linger somewhere in their minds, the cover caricature a portrait of Stacey, her desperate eyes mooning over the forbidden wonders of the local Connecticut confectionary as a child draws her towards evil caramels.
But in middle school and high school, the few times I had severe hypoglycemic reactions it was always the studious girls, the ones that read, who knew how to help out. Being nursed back to health by girls in glasses is something I can thank Stacey for, but perhaps I shouldn’t.
At 10:00 in the morning on the day of the book festival, I had a chance to listen to Ann M. Martin talk about her life and literary career in front of a semi-packed room. Most of the people in attendance were women, with an age range from 25 through 50, and a few teenage girls. She was everything you would imagine of a middle-grade writer: sweet, funny, and generally likable. I think if she cursed or said anything mean-spirited the world would shatter and be impossible to put back together.
Halfway through the presentation, I had to check my blood sugar. Diabetes care has changed a great deal since Stacey and I were first diagnosed. Diabetics are now instructed to monitor their blood sugar more closely and many, like myself, rely on high-tech insulin pumps which have taken the place of needles and receive blood sugar readings through subcutaneous electronic sensors. We have become cyborgs. Still, I learned to use needles the same way Stacey did, by practicing on oranges.
My blood sugar was 190, running a little high. I made a few adjustments and continued to listen to the lecture. Ann M. Martin’s favorite hobby is making children clothes and crafting greeting cards for friends and family.
After her talk, she was ushered over to a table in another room to sign books. I had on me my dog-eared copy of BSC #3. With the exception of one father and one husband, I was the only man on line. In front of me were two eight year old girls with their parents, and behind me was a women about my age and a grandmother getting signatures for her grandkids.
I jotted down on my card my name and added, in parentheses, “Diabetic since 1987.” After the little girls got their books signed and pictures taken I finally got my chance to speak to Stacey’s creator; the woman who explained a fundamental part of my identity to women my age.
Ann M. Martin and her posse were at first a little confused by me, but quickly caught on from my explanation why I was there. I think I wasn’t the first diabetic to tell her about Stacey’s impact. She laughed when I told her that she had taught my generation about diabetes (I left out the whole girls with glasses thing, she was too pure to hear about such things). She told me they had recently re-released The Baby-sitters Club since many of them were out of print, and had updated some of the information about diabetes.
As I walked away I took a moment to check my blood sugar again. 120. Perfect.