Chapter 7: Kristy has planned on taking Susan over to the Hobarts' to make friends with the boys. She finds out that Susan has been stubborn all day, refusing to come away from the piano or eat lunch. Mrs. Felder assures Kristy, and not for the first time, that Susan does not get violent. Well, if you are leaving her with a thirteen-year-old, I would certainly hope not.
Kristy asks why Susan did not eat lunch; her mother explains that it is a common problem among autistic children. The likely explanation (unknown 20 years ago) is because autistic children frequently have sensory issues. It affects everyone differently, but one of the characteristics of autism is being oversensitive to certain smells or tastes (or other senses, but that has nothing to do with Susan not eating lunch). My own brother, who has Asperger's Syndrome, will gag if he smells pickles. This goes way beyond "I hate the way they smell." It actually can make him physically ill. He definitely has a stubborn streak, too. Not when it comes to food, but when his mind is made up about something, nobody can change it. I foresee that he will get some very good deals on cars one day.
Kristy gets Susan to stop playing the piano by putting her hands on top of Susan's. Fine. Then she gets Susan away from the piano by picking her up. I find this hard to believe. Kristy is thirteen; Susan is eight. I take care of a seven-year-old, and I would not be able to lift him. I can lift his five-year-old brother, but just barely. Kristy carries Susan into the kitchen and opens up the refrigerator for Susan to look inside. Yeah, good luck with that. Predictably, Susan ignores this. Kristy gets her to eat a couple of cookies on their way to the Hobarts'.
The kids are unsure how to react to Susan. They try talking to her, but there is no response. Then they try to teach her to play tag, reasoning that you can play tag without talking. Of course, Susan's real problem is her inability to pay attention rather than her inability to speak. Susan just wanders around the yard. Their game is interrupted by two of the neighborhood bullies, referred to as "Bob-or-Craig" because they both claim, "He's Bob and I'm Craig." Kristy concludes that the teasers were actually really interested in learning about Australia, and they were only teasing because they wanted to feel superior. Well, which is it? Do they think the Hobarts are interesting, or do they think they are better than them? When Bob-and-Craig turn on Susan, James Hobart steps up to protect her and declares that she is his "mate." I know "mate" often means "friend" in Britain, but I am not sure about Australia. This would have been the perfect opportunity for Bob-and-Craig to inform James that "mate" means "girlfriend" in America, but there is no mention of that. Kristy gets Susan to perform her calendar trick, and all of the kids are amazed.
Chapter 8: Stacey, one of the other club members, is baby-sitting at Kristy's house. Seven-year-old Karen talks the rest of the kids into playing a dress-up game called "Let's All Come In." Apparently this game shows up fairly often in the books, but it is one detail I had forgotten about entirely. It leads to a lot of filler description of the expensive dress-up clothes, because their dad is a millionaire. From my experience, kids are just as happy with their parents' old clothes or cheap costumes. Then again, their dad may not have known that. Kristy comes home early from her job at Susan's and talks with Stacey about how she is still determined to convince Mrs. Felder that Susan can stay at home. Stacey warns her not to go overboard, and Kristy admits that Susan is "one of the most handicapped" children she has ever seen. Again, if Susan is so hard to manage, why are her parents leaving her with an inexperienced middle-schooler?
Chapter 9: Kristy is sitting for Susan again. Susan is wrapped up in her piano playing when half of "Bob-or-Craig" comes to the door. Kristy finds out his real name is Mel. He is astonished when he hears Susan playing the piano. Kristy grandly proclaims that Susan takes requests, so Mel suggests a few songs. Susan knows them all. The odd thing, though, is that Susan responds immediately to his song requests, but needs several prompts to respond to her own name. There is no logical explanation for this, other than it moves the plot along. But in-story, there is no reason why Susan should do this. Anyway, Kristy explains that Susan can memorize songs in one try. Mel says that Susan is even more amazing than the piano-playing chicken he saw at the circus. He finds out when Kristy will be at the Felders' again, and then abruptly leaves.
Shortly afterward, James comes over to play. Kristy pulls Susan away from the piano. James is a bit uncomfortable about this when Susan protests, but Kristy reasons that it is more important for Susan to make friends. They sit and talk in the Felders' backyard. Kristy fails to realize that when James says "pen friends" he means "pen pals." That seems like a pretty easy colloquialism to translate there, but what do I know? James talks about how he wants someone to ride bikes and go to the park with, and someone who can teach him "what American kids say." Yeah, because if they are confused by "pen friends," he might have to have an interpreter. Kristy knows that something is wrong, but cannot quite put her finger on it. Well, Kristy, does Susan fit James' description of what he is looking for in a friend? There you go.
Coming soon: part four (In Which Kids Are Jerks And Kristy Makes a Decision).