The Fabulous Five #13: The Christmas Countdown

“I want a puppy for Christmas so badly. I’ll die if I don’t get one.” 

fab 5 xmas

I’ve had a few requests for The Fabulous Five series, Betsy Hayne’s spin-off from the Taffy Sinclair books, the first of which was reviewed here in 2016. Reviewer and readers alike recalled that the book, about a group of 5th graders who found a club to harass an early-developing classmate, as being strange and unsettling even for the 1970s. Although the girls seem to settle into an uneasy truce with Taffy by the end (I have not read any of half-dozen subsequent books, so how long does that last?) they fail to suffer any real consequences for their actions.

13 years later, Byers rebooted the gang into 7th grade and a new clique (her word) with a new rival (Taffy has split the scene) in a new series of what seem to be pretty low-stakes adventures.

The series lacks the really good gimmick of competing series targeting middle readers (The Babysitters Club, Sleepover Friends), and it seems like the raison d’être for the Fab Five’s existence is to compete with The Fantastic Foursome, a team of astronauts who receive superpowers after being exposed to… oh sorry, I misread, they are a Foursome. I don’t know, they barely figure into this plot, it is a snobby girl named Laura McCall and her four friends.

This is my main complaint about some of these series: when they’re done right, you can jump in at any volume and the “creator” or ghostwriter will bring you right up to speed on who these people are and what their relationships are: Ann M. Martin and Francine Pascal excel at this. Betsy Haynes does not, instead name dropping literally a whole school full of new people on the reader without bothering to re-introduce them to us. Melanie’s boy-crush keeps making references to “Igor” who is some kind of pet that eats bugs that he extensively consults with throughout the book, but it is never revealed what kind of animal Igor is- lizard? Frog? Tarantula? Are we supposed to know who Igor is because we met him earlier in the series? Or is it supposed to be a running joke that we don’t learn what kind of animal Igor is?????

The Fab Five themselves have even less personality that when they appeared in the Taffy Sinclair books, but we still have Jana and her nearly-indistinguishable friend, Beth; Christie, the smart one; Melanie the (no-longer) fat one; and Katie, the shrill feminist (she has a cat named Libber, and I’m dying). While Taffy Sinclair was told through Jana’s point of view, Haynes switches to the third person for this series, and this is nominally a “Melanie” book.

The Plot: Melanie is trying to convince her parents to get her a dog for Christmas, but so far they remain unmoved by her emotional blackmail. When she finds out that her classmate, Mona, volunteers at a local animal shelter, she convinces the Fab Five to go check it out. Melanie immediately falls in love with a mutt named Rainbow, but one of the shelter staff, a dude wearing a sideways baseball cap, breezily informs them:

“On Christmas Eve day they’re going to put a bunch of older animals to sleep. Nobody comes in after Christmas wanting a cat or dog, but the animal-control warden keeps picking up strays and bringing them in. I expect she’ll be one of the ones that gets put to sleep.”

Melanie is determined:

She’d find a way to save the animals before Christmas Eve if it was the last thing she ever did.

That kind of sounds like a threat, Mel.

The main obstacle that Haynes puts in the path of the girls is coming up with the $25 adoption fee for each of the fifteen cats and dogs that are on death row. The problem-solving process is very stupid, but also kind of sweetly low-tech and I can barely make fun of it:

“Do you suppose we could get a bank loan?”

“No way,” said Katie. “What would we use for collateral? The bank always wants to know what they can have if someone can’t pay them back.”

“We could put up or bicycles,” suggested Beth.

They eventually start fundraising at lunchtime in the school cafeteria, and then at the Mall until security puts a stop to it (ask any macramé hippie, you need a permit for that!), and the parents get roped into it and they put a classified ad in the paper and start collecting donations by mail.

But who is going to adopt the fifteen cats and dogs once they’re freed? Melanie’s parents are still taking a hard line on not getting even one dog, so her plan to keep them in her father’s toolshed all winter seems… poorly thought-out. Her love-interest Shane agrees to take the cats, reasoning:

Everyone knew that Shane’s parents had been hippies and that they still make the peace sign and talked about love among all people on earth. Surely, they loved animals too.

Another classmate’s parents are “local TV personalities” and the girls take their plea to the 6 o’clock news, which results in a cat-and-dog based on-camera riot, but also somehow an influx of adoptive families and cash donations to their cause.

Through a very contrived process with her neighbor’s visiting nurse, the Visiting Nurses Association takes on matching the remaining pets at the shelter to their elderly clients, in a series of paragraphs that uses the word “elderly” so much it stops sounding like a real word:

“Many nursing homes are starting to bring in pets to help the elderly. They even provide protection.”


“You know a dog can hear a lot of things that you and I can’t. They alert the elderly that someone may be at the door… it’s too bad that all elderly people can’t have someone like Jo-Jo.”

“Do you know a lot of elderly people who would like a pet?” asked Melanie.

By Christmas Eve all of the pets have been adopted, even Melanie’s favorite, Rainbow. When Melanie and her friends go to the shelter to secure the last poodle for on of their elderly financial supporters, sideways baseball cap informs them that the family that was going to take Rainbow changed their mind when they found out about her “condition”. And in a plot twist that Barbara Fisher would hate, Melanie’s parents are finally won over and they take Rainbow home, where on Christmas morning she births eight puppies, and Melanie’s mother says they can keep them all. So, Melanie ends up with nine dogs after all.

Sign It Was Written In 1989 Department:

“I’ll take the film to the one-hour photo lab and get the prints back this afternoon.”

Good Name For A Restaurant Department: The happenin’ place for the 7th grade is Bumpers, which is not described, so I am imagining a bumper-bowling themed diner.

Name That Book! Update
Still accepting queries and solutions via email, look for a major overhaul in the new year! Again, I ask for your patience as I process these hundreds of requests and create a format that’s easier for everyone!

This entry was posted in Vintage YA Fiction and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Fabulous Five #13: The Christmas Countdown

  1. isabelcooper says:

    I read this book about a million times as a kid. Now the flaws are apparent, but at 10 all I could see was CHRISTMAS and PUPPIES. (Also, both “Melanie” and “Rainbow” struck me as great names at the time.) I was delighted to find someone else talking about it!

  2. Amity says:

    Is #172 in Name That Book The Birds’ Christmas Carol, by Kate Douglas Wiggin? That was written well before the 1950s but it’s definitely about a little girl named Carol who dies on Christmas Day (which is also her 10th birthday). The book never says what exactly Carol has but she’s weak and bedridden for most of her life. Her family is very well-off, but her neighbors aren’t, and the main plot of the book is Carol planning a Christmas party for them. I got a free e-copy on the books app on my iPhone so it should be easy enough to check if this is what you’re thinking of. Sorry, I know this is the wrong place to comment but I couldn’t find where to add one on the name that book page (although that could definitely be from operator error!).

  3. This is my main complaint about some of these series: when they’re done right, you can jump in at any volume and the “creator” or ghostwriter will bring you right up to speed on who these people are and what their relationships are: Ann M. Martin and Francine Pascal excel at this.

    Oh my Gods, you’ve just unlocked a core memory. I voraciously read both the Babysitter’s Club and just about anything to do with Sweet Valley as a child, and damn that really was a thing!

    Is it weird to feel sad about fictional dogs and cats? I do.

    Side note, your review of Kidnapped by the Cult was an absolute delight. I haven’t revisited those books since I was a kid since I just know there’s stuff in there better lost to memory, but the snark from the ghostwriter was hilarious. I’m not saying we can’t and shouldn’t have fluffy silly reads, but so much of Sweet Valley (any universe) absolutely falls apart if you even give it a first serious thought let alone a second.

    • mondomolly says:

      Thanks for commenting- I agree, I couldn’t go too hard on how ridiculous some of this plot was, just because the girls’ motives are so pure! It is not a very good book, but there is something really appealing about how innocuous this plot is.

      And I also read a lot of BSC and Sweet Valley, but never in order; those series were a model of efficient storytelling when it came to being able to pick up in the middl eof the series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s