Welcome back to Paperback Throwback, where I highlight a book from my ever-growing collection of older paperbacks, ‘90s and prior. Come check out everything from Zebra’s line of horror to Scholastic’s preteen Apple Paperbacks, and everything in-between— you’ll know them by their stylishly cheesy covers, flashy plots, and cheap prices.
Join me on this stroll down Literary Memory Lane. Stops include Sweet Valley High, Fear Street, and anywhere else mass market paperbacks may be lurking.
This week’s throwback is a treasure.
In the pantheon of young adult paperbacks of the ’80s and ’90s, The Baby-Sitters Club reigns supreme. Originally written by author Ann M. Martin, the series debuted in 1986 and follows the exploits of a group of friends as they run a babysitting ring in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. The books proved so popular that the series initially ran for 131 titles along with multiple spin-offs, including 36 books in The Baby-Sitters Club: Mysteries line.
Ann M. Martin exclusively wrote the first 33 books and subsequent ones on occasion, but like a lot of long-running series of the time, ghostwriters were brought in as regular contributors. Authors like Ellen Miles, Peter Lerangis, and Nora Thacker each added their own flair to the club. And from a publishing standpoint, this makes sense. Set on meeting the eager demands of young readers, Scholastic could pull from its hefty stable of writers who, in turn, propelled the series for hundreds of books in a little over a decade.
One of these ghostwriters is Vicki Berger Erwin. She authored three books for different The Baby-Sitters Club collections and has since gone on to produce varied children’s and adult works, including Scooby-Doo adaptations along with true crime and historical nonfiction. However, her writing career started in 1987 with a Scholastic Apple Paperback original: Jamie and the Mystery Quilt.
Jamie knows that since the death of her father, the large and aging house she loves more than anything has become overwhelming for her mother to manage. But after she finds a mysterious quilt in the attic that includes a map of the house, she has the perfect plan to renovate it to its former glory. However, after the quilt is stolen, Jamie must act fast to find the thief, save her dream home, and maybe even spend a little time antiquing with Kevin, the cute guy she’s tutoring in math.
Erwin deserves special praise for her ability to write dialogue for teens that never treads into hokey territory. Rather, Jamie and Kevin feel like a completely natural pair of kids who happen to take up sleuthing. With such grounded dialogue, it gives her more room to play with the mystery, which revels in the ‘family-treasure’ trope. While the twists might seem obvious to even less-focused readers, the grand setting and satisfaction of nabbing an odious villain keeps the plot compelling.
Even with most of the focus on the mystery, Erwin doesn’t fall into the usual trap of letting her characters remain unchanged. As the tension grows, so does Jamie as a character. Though she initially latches onto her home for personal reasons, by the end, there’s a strong admiration for the family history that exists outside her bubble.
In such a slim tome, Erwin packs gorgeous antiques, a mysterious attic, a quilt that doubles as a map, and even a budding romance or two. With sharp simplicity, it all combines into a fun adventure.
Title: Jamie and the Mystery Quilt
Author: Vicky Berger Erwin
Publication Date: April 01, 1987
Classification: Young Adult