don’t give up, mallory (babysitters club book #108) is so fucked up. but maybe that’s why i liked it. it’s rare that a babysitters club book actually makes me get angry along with the characters.
so mallory is excited because she is beginning a new short takes class about children’s books. as we all know, mallory aspires to one day write & illustrate children’s books, so this is right up her alley. her teacher is mr. cobb, a foxy new young dude who just graduated from princeton. i am pretty sure that they just recycled the model who played mr. ellenburg in the cover illustration for stacey’s big crush, because these dudes look exactly alike.
it is worth noting that mallory does well in school & takes pride in it, but recently, some of her classmates have been teasing her about being a “brain”. it’s making her a little bit self-conscious.
mallory shows up in her first children’s literature class all ready to take notes & write great papers, but mr. cobb instructs the students to put away their notebooks. he says they will each write one paper at the end of the class term, but they will mainly be graded on class participation. he wants them to have discussions about great works of children’s literatures, share opinions, & debate ideas. basically, this guy has seen “dead poet’s society” one too many times. he is imagining them all leaping on to their desks at the end of the short takes term & reciting hop on pop, i guess.
mallory is befuddled by this. she LIKES to take notes & write papers. that’s where she’s a viking. she’s never had a class that relied so much on participation & discussion, but she decides she’s game. she certainly has plenty of opinions about children’s literature. she tries to participate in the very first class, raising her hand every time mr. cobb throws a question out to the class, but he doesn’t call on her once. mr. cobb is an assistant coach for the boys’ baseball team, & some of the players are in mallory’s class. mr. cobb is already clearly all buddy-buddy with them, & they feel pretty comfortable just shouting answers out without raising their hands & engaging in lengthy conversations with mr. cobb, while the other students just sit around twiddling their thumbs.
every day, mallory walks into mr. cobb’s class with big plans to participate. every day, she raises her hand & waits to be called on. & every day, mr. cobb passes her over in favor of students (almost all boys) who just shout their answers out & make jokes. eventually mallory starts to lose confidence in herself. she wonders if maybe mr. cobb can tell she’s going to say something stupid & that’s why he doesn’t call on her. one day he picks her to read a section of hop on pop out loud (yes, really) & she totally flubs it. the kids in the front row can’t hear her, she’s reading too fast, & she skips a line. she’s totally confused, because she reads out loud to her siblings at home all the time & she’s great. she feels like a total idiot in mr. cobb’s class.
while all this is going on, mallory is also involved in organizing the sixth grade class fundraiser. because she is secretary of the sixth grade. i remember writing the review of kristy for president & saying that we will never again hear anything about mallory being elected secretary of the sixth grade, but i guess i stand corrected. well played, scholastic. well played. last year’s sixth graders sold candy for a week, but sales had dropped off precipitously by the end of the week. to avoid that problem, mallory has decided to have a different kind of fundraiser everyday, in order to keep excitement high & keep raising money. they’re going to sell candy, but they’re also having a dunk-the-teacher booth, they will be selling hearts & flowers for people to send to their crushes, etc etc. now the student council members just need to decide what to spend their funds on.
the student council president, justin (mallory refers to him as “the cutest boy in the sixth grade”; WHAT ABOUT BEN HOBART?), suggests that mallory look in the school records to see what previous classes bought & see if it sparks any fresh ideas. so mallory goes through the old minutes & learns that the sixth graders five years previous raised over $1000 to be spent on building a student lounge in the school library. mallory is confused because there is no student lounge in the library. she brings this to the attention of the other student council members, including sandra, who is vice-president & in mallory’s children’s literature class. together, they sneak into the financial records in the basement before school one day. sandra’s dad is an accountant & she’s a whiz at deciphering the records. they discover that that $1000 those sixth graders raised was spent on some roofing & plumbing repairs the following years. mallory is outraged. if those kids had wanted to raise money for the roof, they would have earmarked the money for the roof. sandra calls it “misappropriation of funds,” but urges mallory to just forget about it. sandra doesn’t like to make waves. but mallory tells the other student council members what they found out, & they decide to confront the principal.
the principal is all, “yup, we spent the money on the roof & on some new pipes. what’cha gonna do?” the kids are like, “dude, that’s fucked up! return the money & build a lounge!” the principal is all, “they money’s gone. & even if we did have it, $1000 wouldn’t be enough to build a lounge anymore. we’d need twice that.” the kids go talk to the school librarian, who confirms that a student lounge would cost about $2000. but he also tells them that the school has a fund for discretionary money, & maybe the school could refund the $1000 in misappropriated funds from that. the kids pitch that idea to the principal, & he basically scoffs at them & says, “i’ll tell you what. if your fundraiser makes $1000, we’ll match you dollar for dollar & build the lounge.” no word on what they’ll do with the money if the kids make under $1000. coke & hookers, i assume.
meanwhile, in mr. cobb’s class, mallory begins to realize that mr. cobb mainly calls on boys. every now & again he calls on a girl, but if she takes more than two seconds (literally) to formulate an answer, he calls on someone else. meanwhile, he will give recalcitrant boys as much time as they need to come up with answers. he routinely cuts girls off mid-sentence, while letting boys talk as long as they like. there are some girls in the class that have NEVER spoken in class, & this is a big problem if they’re being graded on participation.
mallory requests a conference with mr. cobb & points all of this out to him. he’s all, “really? you think i favor the boys? that’s RIDICULOUS. i would NEVER do that. you’re just upset because you’re not doing well.” seriously. as mallory leaves his classroom, she thinks that on a scale of one to ten, her conference rated a two. it got a point for the fact that mr. cobb did not pick her up & physically throw her out of the room.
but during the next class period, mallory sees mr. cobb making more of an effort with the girls. he starts to call on a boy over a girl & then calls on the girl instead. he starts to cut a girl off to listen to a boy who is shouting out an answer, but then he tells the boy to raise his next time & allows the girl to finish. at the end of the period, he tells the kids that this is his first year teaching & he knows he’s not perfect, but that he is trying to get better & if any of them ever have any feedback about his teaching style, they should let him know & he’ll do his best to listen. he gives mallory a little nod to let her know he’s taking her criticisms seriously. she thinks to herself, “mr. cobb is a good guy.”
UM, NOT REALLY, MALLORY. he’s a sexist dick. he spent four years getting a teaching degree at princeton so that he could introduce students to a participation-based grading system & then blatantly favor boy participation! just because he TRIED not to do that for one 45-minute teaching period one time does not make him a “good guy”. especially after he totally shat all over your feedback in the conference. jesus.
anyway, the sixth grade fundraiser happens & it’s a huge success. the kids raise over $1300. the principal calls an assembly to announce the final tally, & he actually gets up onstage & says, “we told these kids we didn’t think they could do it, but they did!” really? you actually TOLD them, “we don’t believe in you”? STONEYBROOK MIDDLE SCHOOL IS THE WORST SCHOOL EVER. they hire sexist teachers, they nakedly undermine kids’ self-esteem, they pass kids on to the next grade & then make them repeat a grade in the middle of the year…this school is a fucking mess. anyway, the principal announces that the school will match the sixth graders’ contributions dollar for dollar (which means they DID have $1000 just sitting around) & build the student lounge.
mallory writes her final paper for the children’s literature course & receives her grade. she has earned a B+ for the entire course. she’s a little bit bummed that her straight-A average is blown, but she thinks that’s it’s okay because, she says, “i did my best.” NO, YOU DIDN’T. your “best” was undermined by your sexist teacher who prevented you from participating in a class that grades on participation. if mallory had been allowed to contribute in class from day one, she easily would have earned an A. mallory says something about how mr. cobb was a hard grader & only two students earned As. WELL, I WONDER WHY THAT IS. maybe because the only kids that he allowed to participate were baseball-playing knuckledraggers who don’t do well in any class. they scored high on participation & bombed the final paper. the kids who are good students were polite & raised their hands & never got to talk in class, so they were marked down on participation & high on their papers. maybe there were two kids in the class that were confident enough to speak in class & also do well on written assignments. JESUS. FIRE THIS ASSHOLE.
also, mallory has a heart-to-heart with sandra. throughout the book, sandra is mallory’s foil. she smiles at everyone all the time & always acts cheerful. she doesn’t want to confront the administration about stealing the sixth grade fundraising money five years earlier. in mr. cobb’s class, she giggles at the boys’ jokes & doesn’t volunteer any original ideas. while mallory & sandra are staffing the candy booth together, sandra complains that her feet hurt. mallory asks why she’s wearing heels & sandra explains that they make her look more feminine. mallory asks if it’s worth “looking more feminine” if she is in pain. the booth has a halloween theme, with papier machie jack o’ lanterns with different creatures on them: a vampire, a frankenstein’s monster, a black cat. trevor sandbourne asks which creature sandra would be & she chooses the cat. mallory points out later that sandra chose the weakest creature to represent herself. sandra says it was the most feminine choice. mallory asks why sandra thinks “feminine” equals “weak”. basically, this is mallory’s big fat feminist awakening book, & it is AWESOME, if perhaps a bit ham-fisted.