Missed parts one through three? Start here.
Chapter 10: The girls are at school (for once) and Kristy is dismayed to hear that there will be a school assembly. Kristy thinks, "Thank goodness we don't have to sit with our classes during assemblies." Really? Wow, I wish I had gone to their school! This policy actually makes no sense; allowing students to sit wherever they wanted would lead to more confusion while people find their seats and more distractions during the assembly. I mean, the students all want to sit and talk to their friends, but teachers and administrators are actively trying to avoid that. And they are the ones making the rules. We also find out that the students ARE segregated by grade at lunch. Go figure. Maybe the real-world schools are better after all.
Anyway, the assembly seating policy is an excuse to have the BSC members all sit together. Coincidentally, they end up right behind the special ed class, which consists of a grand total of ten students. Their various problems are all briefly explained. Three kids have Down's Syndrome, which is explained thusly: "Down's syndrome people have sort of slanted eyes and flattish faces, and are usually docile, affectionate, and friendly." Find me a thirteen-year-old who can define "docile." Interestingly, Down's syndrome is discussed more in-depth in a later book, when Dawn is hired to sit for a girl with Down's. The complication there is that the girl is only a year or two younger than she is, and does not know that Dawn is being paid to spend time with her.
There is also a boy whose unidentified problem sounds a lot like ADHD. Did that really qualify you for special ed twenty years ago? Yikes. Kristy wonders how the teachers are able to teach these kids in the same classroom, with all of their various issues and different learning methods. It is obvious here that Martin has great respect for special ed teachers. And she probably knew what she was talking about (as much as was known) when describing autism. At the end of the book, there is an author note where she talks about basing Susan on real-life kids with autism she worked with while she was in college.
Kristy notices that one of the boys in the special ed class is similar to Susan in many ways: clapping for no reason, waving his hand in front of his eyes, and staring off into space. However, he is more advanced than Susan; he talks to himself, and at one point even talks with a teacher. Kristy figures that if this boy could learn to carry on a conversation, Susan can too.
Her thoughts are interrupted when some kids across the aisle start teasing the kids in the special ed class and throw spitballs. See, administrators? This is why seventh graders should not be able to sit with their friends during assemblies. Kristy realizes that this is a drawback to sending a handicapped child to a public school.
Today, things are different. The goal of special education is to place kids with challenges in what is known as the "least restrictive environment." This is basically "as close to 'normal' as possible, while still giving them needed support." The boys with ADHD and autism would probably be in regular classes, though one or both of them may need an assistant. There is a push to integrate kids with special needs as much as possible into the mainstream environment, probably to stop exactly this sort of teasing from happening.
After the assembly is over, Kristy goes to talk to the special ed teachers. They confirm that the boy who reminds her of Susan is autistic, and invite her to come to their classroom during a study hall to see how they run things. Kristy agrees, but sadly, this is never mentioned again. The chapter ends on a positive note as we find out that Ben Hobart is no longer being ridiculed because his family is from Australia.
Chapter 11: Kristy is at the Felders' house again. No sooner does Mrs. Felder leave than the other half of Bob-or-Craig comes to the door. We find out that his name is actually Zach, and he wants to hear Susan's calendar trick again. He stays for about five minutes and then rushes out. As soon as Zach leaves, a girl named Kathie comes to the door with dates for Susan to tell her. As soon as she leaves, another child comes. Kristy is excited that three children have come to see Susan all in the same day! This girl, named Gina, has a song request for Susan: "Sheik of Araby" from the Roaring Twenties. Kristy thinks, "Whatever the Roaring Twenties are." Really, Kristy? Not even a guess? Anyway, Susan has never heard the song before, so Kristy has to play the (vinyl) record that Gina brought. On a turntable. Near the end of the song, the record starts skipping. Some would argue that this dates the book far more than any outdated "facts" about autism.
Susan is able to not only play the song, she comes in singing right on cue. To Kristy's dismay (and Gina's amusement), she even plays the skips at the end. For Kristy, this means that the words really do not mean anything to Susan. To Gina, this means that she really got her money's worth.
Yes, the reason that so many children have been coming to see Susan is because Mel is charging money like she is a sideshow attraction. He is even advertising her as "the incredible retard who can memorize dates and music. The amazing dumbo who can sing but not talk." This is probably the strongest language the book could get away with, and it sounds like an oddly unrealistic insult. I am not sure exactly why; it just does not strike me as something real kids would say. Maybe I am expecting something more creative.
Kristy yells at the kids and tells them she never wants to hear them say "retard" or "dumbo" again (all right, so I guess "retard" was an insult back then). Then she says that Mel owes at least half of his money to Susan. Mel ignores this and runs away, and that is the end of that. The whole situation is never mentioned again. If what these kids are doing is so awful, why are there no consequences? Even for the sake of poetic justice. Kristy mentally kicks herself for being so naive. Obviously nobody wants to be friends with Susan. The message that this book seems to be sending is that kids with autism do not make good friends. Kristy realizes that she could use a friend herself right now, so she and Susan go to hang out with Claudia, who is babysitting the Hobarts.
Chapter 12: Claudia is sitting the Hobart boys for the first time. The youngest has become very wary of strangers since the strange American kids started teasing him for being from Australia. His mother bribes him with the promise of the "telly" and "lollies" if he will let her leave. Perhaps not the ideal strategy, but I am sure every parent has used it at some point. Points for realism!
The boys opt against watching the telly, partly because it is really boring to read descriptions of people watching TV and partly because this will move the story along. Oh, and also because it is a nice day outside. The older boys are swinging on their tire swing when Zach comes into the yard and begins teasing them. He calls them babies, which James protests because he is in "advanced maths" at school. Silly Australians, there is no "s" in "math"! Where did it come from? They probably stole it from the end of "Legos."
Of course, people in Britain and Australia wonder why Americans do not say "Lego" and "maths."
James decides that the best way to prove himself to Zach is to punch a wooden crate in with a boxing glove. Is this a "guy thing" or an "author makes no sense thing"? Zach is impressed and a bit intimidated. Five minutes later, James is loaning Zach his brother's skateboard so they can go skateboarding together. Personally, I would be a bit hesitant before deciding that a kid who had mercilessly teased me was my new best friend. Even if I could break his face. Actually, I would be hesitant about deciding a kid who could break my face was my new best friend. Especially if I had teased him mercilessly. Then again, maybe this is how boys bond.
Kristy shows up with Susan. James decides to go skateboarding instead of hanging around with Susan, and Kristy fills Claudia in on Susan's short-term career as unwitting sideshow performer. Here we have Kristy's conclusion about Susan: "I really don't think she hears us. I don't think she knows who we are. I don't think she even knows where she is. Worse, I don't think any of that matters to her." In other words: Susan is an outcast, and there is nothing anyone can do to fix it. You see why I pegged this book as one of the more depressing ones? Kristy and Claudia conclude that Susan's parents are right after all: she really does not belong at home with them.
But at least James Hobart and the neighborhood bully are friends now.
Coming soon: Part Five (In Which The "Feel-Good" Ending Is Even More Depressing Than The Rest of the Book).