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Literature / The Saddle Club

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Yes, that is the 82nd book in the series, and there were 22 more.
Business-minded teens and pre-teens in the 1980s and 1990s had The Baby-Sitters Club. For the horse-crazy, there was The Saddle Club.

Set in Virginia, primarily at Pine Hollow Stables, the books revolved around three good friends, Carole Hanson, Stephanie "Stevie" Lake, and Lisa Atwood. They all attend school together and share a passion for riding and horses, though only Carole and Stevie own their own. Other notable characters include their trainer, Max, and rich rival, Veronica diAngelo.

In general, Carole is the most dedicated to riding and has probably been doing it the longest. She lives with her father, an Army colonel, and owns a horse named Starlight beginning in Book 13. Stevie is a tomboy; raised with three brothers, she's more comfortable with the guys than the girls. Riding is about the only "girly" activity she enjoys. Partway through the series, her parents buy her a horse that she names Belle. Lisa is the newest member of the group. Though a year older than the other two, she just started riding and is the greenest of all. Through her, less horse-involved readers learn the ins and outs of riding and equine ownership. She started riding because her mother thought it would be proper for a lady, but eventually grows to love it. Her parents occasionally bring up the possibility of buying a horse for her, but for one reason or another it never comes to fruition.

The series spawned two spin-offs, Pine Hollow (which followed the girls at high school ages and revolved more around their personal lives than horses) and Pony Tails (aimed at younger kids, following around three younger girls from the same barn).

The books were eventually adapted into an Australian live-action series.

This series provides examples of:

  • Academic Athlete: Lisa is both a straight-A student and a top-level rider, and is also mentioned to have been involved in other types of athletic activities in the past.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: David McCloud is this to such an extent that it's probably more accurate to say that the TV series just borrowed his name to use for an original character. The David McCloud in the books is a kind man who helps run the local animal shelter, not to mention he has nothing at all to do with Prancer's arc.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Veronica edges into this a few times in the TV series, specifically with things like the pager stunt in the series premiere and the burr-under-the-saddle stunt she pulls in a later episode. While Veronica in the books did occasionally put other riders at risk due to her own selfishness/carelessness, her intentional acts were usually limited to things that were annoying or disruptive (like putting mud in Belle's tail before a show or arranging for Stevie to be embarrassed at a school assembly), but not dangerous.note 
  • All for Nothing: The subplot of the first book involves Stevie setting up a mini-business to try and earn money for an overnight riding trip after her parents threaten not to pay for it if she doesn't get her grades up. She successfully earns more than enough money, but ends up blowing most of it on an impulse purchase. Subsequently Subverted when Lisa realizes that Stevie's accounting from her business can also be used as an end-of-year project for her math class, thereby allowing her to get the grade to satisfy her parents.
  • Ascended Extra: Alex Lake and Phil's friend AJ have larger roles in the Pine Hollow books.
    • Emily Williams too in the earlier Pine Hollow books, since she's the one helping Callie with her therapeutic riding after Callie's accident.
  • Automaton Horses: Averted. Several books revolve around what can happen if you don't take proper care of the horse (or sometimes just through pure bad luck), including injuries and illnesses like colic.
  • Batman Gambit: The girls (led by Stevie) pull one in Stable Farewell to get a young rider's parents to buy Veronica's horse Garnet. The Saddle Club girls can see that the rider, Katie, was a perfect match for Garnet and really want to see Katie buy her, but on the day Katie visited her, Garnet had looked run-down and was acting up from too much pent-up energy (because Veronica had been focusing all her attention on her new horse and neglecting Garnet), and even though Katie could see Garnet's potential and was still interested, her parents said no. So the girls arrange for Katie to come back to Pine Hollow to try out another horse "for sale" that's clearly not a good fit for Katie, while also conveniently giving her and her parents a chance to see Garnet, who has now been thoroughly groomed and exercised courtesy of the Saddle Club. Just as they had hoped, after her test ride with the other horse goes badly, Katie and her parents decide to have her try Garnet one more time. This time Garnet performs perfectly, and Katie's parents buy her on the spot.
    • In another book, Max seemingly pulls one of these on the Club by letting them believe they'd lost his mother's expensive broach before she goes out of town for a week, knowing that the girls will pick up extra work in hopes of finding it or at least making amends for losing it. It works, but his mother pieces it together pretty quickly after she gets back and it earns him a sharp tongue-lashing from her.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Stevie is known for ordering bizarre and outlandish combinations of ice cream and toppings when the girls go for sundaes. Pretty much nobody will eat them but her.
    • In a "Christmas special"-type book, Lisa's cousins visit from Scotland. Turns out one of those cousins, Eliot, has the same penchant for weird ice cream, which Stevie, of course, appreciates.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: In the TV show. Technically, Carole has black hair, but Stevie is blonde and Lisa is a redhead, so the rest fits.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Carole not telling Lisa that Prancer was pregnant. On one hand, Carole could have saved Lisa a lot of worry by just coming clean; on the other hand, Carole keeping it a secret was a directive from Max — who by this point is her employer — and she could have gotten in real trouble if she disobeyed him.
  • Brainy Brunette: In the books, straight-A student Lisa is a brunette.
  • Canon Foreigner: The TV series has quite a few characters that don't appear in the books, but the most prominent are probably Kristi and Melanie.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Toyed with, but ultimately defied, in the final Pine Hollow book. Throughout the book, several potential fire hazards are introduced: a stablehand who won't stop smoking on the job, a snobby girl's fancy, electric-powered water bucket, some construction occurring on the property. At the book's climax, the entire barn burns down, but it's never revealed which of the aforementioned hazards was responsible. In fact, it's not even made clear that any of them were; for all the reader knows, the fire could have had another cause altogether.
    • Played straight in the original series book Starting Gate, where the girls visit their movie star friend Skye Ransom on the set of his latest movie. When Skye shows them the horse he's working with on the movie, Lisa is immediately struck by how strongly she resembles Prancer; unfortunately, however, this horse is very ill-tempered, so much so that it's making it hard for Skye to film his scenes. When the Saddle Club's horses are accidentally brought to the filming site (It Makes Sense in Context) just as Skye is struggling with a particularly difficult racing scene, Lisa is reminded of the resemblance, and the girls salvage the scene by secretly swapping Prancer with the movie horse during a break in filming.
      • There's an earlier one in the same book, where Stevie ends up with Veronica's horse tranquilizers due to some confusion while loading the transport van, and she later realizes she still has them. They don't work in the racing scene because they would make the horse too lethargic to run convincingly (hence the need for another solution), but Skye is able to use them in the rest of the scenes where the horse isn't required to be active.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Early in Nightmare, there's an offhand reference to an adult rider named Betty Johnson that Max is working with in the ring. She turns out to be the author of the book that Stevie is reading in the subplot.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Deconstructed with Carole and Cam in Pine Hollow. Carole sees their rekindled relationship as this, but Cam has become a jerk in the intervening years and doesn't really care about Carole; he only starts dating her because he wants to sleep with her.
    • Played straight with Phil and Stevie.
  • Darker and Edgier: In keeping with the increased ages of the characters, the non-horse related plots in Pine Hollow tend to be a lot more serious and higher-stakes than anything that showed up in the original Saddle Club, including arcs around alcoholism, stalking, and a serious car accident that leaves one girl temporarily crippled, just to name a few.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Stevie's full first name is Stephanie, but she doesn't like it and refuses to let anyone use it.
  • Downer Ending: The Pine Hollow series ends with Pine Hollow burning down, resulting in the deaths of five horses.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Invoked in the "Inside Story" book from Carole's point of view, in which she finds and begins reading her old diary from the year she moved to Willow Creek, so clips from the diary are interspersed with the present-day narrative. At one point in the old diary, Carole briefly joins a dance club at school, and the club secretary is a girl named Lisa who is clearly meant to be the same Lisa from the series.
    • Guest character Marie makes a brief appearance in the book where the club is hosting a fair for children at the local hospital, before becoming a much more prominent character in a later book.
  • Everybody Cries: In the episode of the TV series, "Herdbound", when Lisa's mother prepares to have Lisa removed from Pine Hollow and enrolled at Wentworth Academy, a boarding school that is far away, Carole and Stevie give Lisa a box of souvenirs to help her remember the time she had at Pine Hollow. This soon culminates in the girls breaking down in tears.
  • Extruded Book Product: The series was published bi-monthly from it's 1988 debut until 1993, then expanded to monthly from 1994 through 1998, and then back to bi-monthly from 1999 until the series ended in 2001.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Carole's "Inside Story" book includes a series of look-back diary entries from before the start of the book series, beginning with her family's move to Willow Creek. Every reader knows that one way or another, things will reach the point that they were when the book series began, even if the diary entries seem to be headed in a different direction entirely.
  • Friendship Moment: Many throughout the series (book and TV), but a few stand out.
    • In Horse Care, Lisa ends up injured and alone on a trail while riding at another stable, after which she was supposed to meet up with the rest of the club. When she no-shows, Stevie and Carole immediately suspect that something's not right and spring into action to find her and get help to her, likely hours before anyone else would have realized she was in trouble.
    • In Chocolate Horse, when Stevie is dealing with a pile of complicated feelings due to her twin brother Alex being hospitalized, Carole and Lisa are there to support her without question, even when they don't really understand what's going on with her. Then, on the day that Alex is set to come home, they come over to decorate his room and bring Stevie breakfast in bed, complete with a homemade Stevie-style sundae.
    • In Trail Ride, Carole becomes ill while she and Lisa are watching a meteor shower, and Lisa goes through a harrowing ordeal when she tries to ride back to get help. Even as she's literally in life-threatening danger, Lisa's priority remains getting help for Carole, with her own predicament distressing her primarily because it's hindering that goal.
  • Gift of the Magi Plot: In the final book in the original Saddle Club series, Best Friends, the girls are invited to a prestigious horse show, but none of them has money for the seventy-five dollar entry fee. Come Christmas, it's revealed that each of them sold something they would have needed for said competition to Veronica DiAngelo in order to give the entry fee money to another of the group. It works out for them in the end: the show ends up being a moot issue because the horses can't be transported from Pine Hollow due to a freak snowstorm, Carole and Stevie use the gift money to buy back the things they sold to Veronica, and Lisa, whose item (an application form) is now worthless, now has seventy-five dollars to spend on whatever she wants.
  • Hypocrite: In Stable Farewell, Stevie acts like Veronica getting a horse for Christmas is the most ridiculous thing she's ever heard. Apparently she forgot that Carole also got a horse for Christmas in an earlier book. (It's not a perfectly comparable situation, since Veronica already had a horse, but Stevie actually doesn't mention that part at all, instead expressing general incredulity at the idea of getting a horse for Christmas.)
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: As much as the Lake siblings constantly fight, they're also extremely protective of one another when it comes to anything or anyone outside the family. This is especially true of Stevie and Alex, who have an added level of bond due to being twins.
  • Idiot Ball: A minor case in the English Horse/English Rider duo in the book series, in which the trio is put on probation by Max after a prank gone wrong. Veronica finds out about the probation and attempts to goad them by bullying their friend Tessa, who is visiting from England, knowing they can't retaliate without violating the probation and being suspended from Pine Hollow. Somehow it never occurs to the club to just tell Max about the bullying, which he would likely have put a stop to if they actually gave him the chance.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Callie often resents having her family in the public eye and believes it prevented her from developing authentic friendships.
    • Horse Spy involves a guest character who is the daughter of a foreign president. The first mention of her involves the girls reading an article in a horse magazine where she says she wishes stable hands would just let her do her own chores sometimes, and she expresses other sentiments of this type throughout the book.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Callie gets extremely upset when Emily appears to be refusing to help her as she's trying to control her difficult horse, and isn't shy about telling Emily what she thinks of that. When she learns that Emily actually couldn't give her the help she was asking for due to having a disability, she's extremely embarrassed and even gives Emily flowers as an apology.
  • Ironic Name: Carole's cat is a black cat named Snowball. Doubles as a Meaningful Name, since Carole deliberately gave him an ironic name because he always does the opposite of what he's told.
  • Jerk Jock: Cam in the Pine Hollow series.
  • Junior High: The girls are in seventh and eighth grade (and never age, despite going on many, many summer vacations).
  • Last-Minute Baby Naming: Max and Deborah were certain their child was going to be a boy and consequently didn't pick out a name for a girl. Since a boy would have been named Max in keeping with the family tradition (Max's father and grandfather were also named Max Regnery), they decide to name their daughter Maxine. Everyone agrees it's fitting.
  • Left Hanging: In the final Pine Hollow book, it's never revealed what started the fire; whether it was Maureen's smoking, Kelsey's electric water bucket, the construction, or something else altogether.
  • Lethal Chef: Stevie in the TV series; Carole compares Stevie's cookies to hockey pucks.
    • This seems to be averted with Stevie's chocolate chip muffins though. In the episode Herdbound, she gives some to Lisa as a going away present.
    • Zig-zagged in one book where Lisa and Stevie are learning to cook over a school break (Lisa to get a leg up on her home ec classes, and Stevie just because she thinks it sounds fun). They do pretty well for the most part, but at one point they decide to attempt some recipes that are a bit too advanced for them. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Lifesaving Misfortune: In New Rider, Carole forgets to latch the stall door of a pregnant mare. When she realizes she doesn't remember latching the door, she goes back to check (at a time when the stable is normally empty of people) and finds the mare in labor and having complications. Because Carole is there, she's able to save the mare and deliver the foal successfully. Initially, Carole is still mortified by her lapse, but Max points out that while it was careless, it was also incredibly lucky; if Carole had latched the door, she wouldn't have been at the stable at that hour, and the mare might have died before the normal staff arrived to realize anything was wrong.
  • Long-Running Book Series: 101 books in the regular series alone, plus seven "Super Editions", three "Inside Stories", and two spin-offs (Pony Tails and Pine Hollow) with a combined 33 books between them. That's a grand total of 144 books produced within a 13 year lifespan!
  • Mathematician's Answer: In the TV series episode "Jumping To Conclusions", after Stevie spills soda on a shirt she "borrowed" from her brother without his permission.
    Stevie: What do you do with soda?
    Carole: (deadpan) Most people drink it.
  • Missing Mom: Carole's mother passed away before the beginning of the books.
  • Moral Myopia: Lisa was angry that Carole didnít tell her about Prancerís pregnancy but she made Stevie not to tell Alex about her considering moving to California for her senior year knowing how touchy he was about her spending the summer away from him there
  • Negative Continuity: The girls remain at the same ages throughout the series, even though it clearly covers a timespan of several years, but plots in earlier books are often given a nod in later ones, so there is some continuity across the series, which just ends up making the timeline make even less sense.
  • New Transfer Student: Lisa, in the very beginning. She provides a viewpoint as she gets to know Stevie and Carole, and is also new to the equestrian scene. Through her, readers learn about both the characters and the horses. In the Pine Hollow books Callie and Scott Forester.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In the first episode of the series Veronica tells Lisa not to tell Stevie or Carole about a pager she implanted under Comanche's saddle. Lisa does and not only saves Stevie and Comanche from nasty injuries, but brings the Saddle Club together.
  • No Ending: The final book in the Pine Hollow series just...stops in the immediate aftermath of the climax, without any real resolution. It would be an abrupt ending if it was for a book in the middle of the series, let alone for the series finale.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: The protagonists remain at the same ages throughout the series even though it clearly covers several years and in fact the series acknowledges in-universe that it takes place over several years. For example, Broken Horse, set at Christmas, references the events of Starlight Christmas as having occurred the previous Christmas, making it an in-universe fact that a full year has passed, but the girls are the same ages for both. Sidestepped in Pine Hollow since that series takes place within a single yearnote .
  • Oblivious Adoption: In the Pine Hollow series, secondary character AJ has a sudden meltdown, which turns out to have been triggered by him learning that he's adopted.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: In the event described under Batman Gambit, a young rider looking to buy a horse says that she's happy to be dealing with Pine Hollow and the Saddle Club girls again, because so many other sellers were lying to her... after the Saddle Club had brought her to Pine Hollow on a false pretense (claiming they want her to see a new horse for sale when they're really trying to rekindle her and her parents' interest in the horse they looked at last time). The girls end up feeling a little uncomfortable with what they're doing, but they push through anyway because they really want the rider to buy the first horse. It ends up working out for the best, with the girl getting a great horse that's a perfect match for her, so no harm done.
  • One of the Boys: Stevie has three brothers, plays football, spits, and does nothing girly except riding.
    • The book Sidesaddle has Stevie attempting to avert this trope after she becomes jealous of a fellow rider who is very girly. From everyone else's point of view, it's just plain bizarre. (In the end, Stevie realizes how silly she's being and everything goes back to normal.)
    • Subverted in a couple of books involving school dances and the like. Turns out Stevie does have a girly side.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: In one of the specials, Stevie takes a blow to the head and is acting out of sorts, which concerns Carole and Lisa a little bit, but only a little. Then they buy her one of her signature strange ice cream sundaes and Stevie gags upon tasting it, asking who would be crazy enough to want that; now her friends are worried for real.
    • Before that, they were shocked that Stevie believed Veronica was too "nice" to have caused the accident that led to her hitting her head, but they had relaxed a bit after she made a (very characteristic) comment about pranking her nurses while they were visiting her in the hospital, thinking the earlier incident might have just been momentary disorientation, until the sundae incident happened.
  • Pet Heir: In Million Dollar Horse, Pine Hollow boards a mare whose deceased owner put the bulk of her multi-million dollar fortune into a trust with the mare as the sole beneficiary, with the stipulation that whatever's left reverts to her only living relative, her nephew, after the horse dies. Justified given that keeping and caring for a horse is much more expensive than keeping an ordinary pet; the owner had no one in her life she felt she could trust to take care of the mare after she was gone, so she instead made an arrangement for her money to be used to provide for the horse's care directly. It doesn't hurt either that the aforementioned nephew was a jerk who stuck around for the sole purpose of getting his hands on her money and who spends most of the book trying to find a non-obvious way to shorten the mare's life so he can inherit as much and as soon as possible because he's already blown through the money that he inherited immediately upon her death (a quarter of a million dollars — a relatively small percentage of her total estate, but still a pretty substantial amount of money), so nobody has much sympathy for him.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: In the Pine Hollow series, after Carole gets caught cheating on a test, both her teacher and principal prove to be this. While both of them pull no punches about the fact that her actions were serious and she needs to face consequences, they each come up with a constructive consequence that gives Carole a chance to make things right rather than simply throw the book at her; her teacher assigns her a research paper that doubles as both a punishment and a way to make up points in her grade that she'd lose by having the test zeroed out, while the principal offers her the option of doing community service as an alternative to detention or suspension.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Lisa, Carole and Stevie decide to kidnap Prancer in the middle of the night because she was being abused by David McCloud and from going to the slaughter house.
  • Series Continuity Error: Lisa has gotten the chicken pox at least twice, each time acting as though she never had it before. See Negative Continuity above.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Pepper was put down in the book 'Autumn Trial' after he was put out to pasture. But in the episode 'The Home Straight', Pepper was bought by Bud and looked after.
    • In the books, Delilah dies from an incurable virus, and in the Pine Hollow series, Prancer dies of complications after becoming pregnant with twins. Neither of them die in the TV show, though Delilah isn't seen or mentioned after season 1.
  • Sports Mom: The subplot of Horse Spy involves two teenage champion riders who both have mothers of this type; while the actual competitors have a pretty Friendly Rivalry, their mothers are constantly squabbling over every little thing and they aren't shy about their distaste for each other, each other's daughters, and even each other's horses. At the climax of the story, it's revealed that one of the mothers hired someone to take the other girl's horse on a reckless trail ride right before a major competition in hopes of injuring the horse so that the other girl will have to scratch the meet. Fortunately, the Saddle Club foils that plan.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Said about Stevie, the resident tomboy, on the somewhat rare occasion that she dresses up.
  • Shipper on Deck: Carole and Lisa were this for Stevie x Phil in seasons 1 and 2. Also, Stevie and Carole were this for Lisa's odd crush here and there.
    • More of them in the Pine Hollow series (not entirely surprising given the characters' increased ages). Stevie/Phil is too well-established for anyone to pay attention, but Stevie is this for Lisa/Alex, Callie when Lisa starts dating Scott, and both Stevie and Lisa for Carole/Cam (at least until Cam turns out to be a creep). Stevie and Lisa are a little more hesitant about Carole/Ben due to how quickly it follows on the heels of her breakup with Cam, but Callie is on board right away, and the other two eventually come around after seeing how well Carole and Ben get along.
    • In the minor character department, Carole, Stevie, Lisa, and Phil are all very much in favor of their friend AJ's relationship at the beginning of the series.
  • Shrunk in the Wash: In Show Ponies Part 1, Veronica gave Ashley her coat after it shrunk in the wash since it wouldn't fit her anymore.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Desi Beggins is almost as rich as Veronica and Kristi, if not more so. Yet she gets along well with everyone regardless of this, and according to Melanie and Jess 'she gives smiles, hugs and love, she's not like Veronica at all'.
    • In the books, Lisa befriends a girl named Tessa while on vacation with her family in England, after Tessa is thrown from her horse. Tessa turns out to be literal royalty, but she's kind and down-to-earth in all of her subsequent appearances.
      • On the same vacation, Lisa also encounters one of the Italian boys who had visited Pine Hollow in an earlier book, who invites Lisa and her parents to stay at his family's house when he learns the hotel lost their reservation. Said "house" turns out to be a massive estate that would rival some palaces. Lampshaded in a later book, when one of the girls comments, "I never would have figured him for a zillionaire, he's so normal."
  • Stalker with a Crush: Callie has one in the Pine Hollow series, a fellow rider named George Wheeler. It starts as just a regular, if slightly intense, crush, but in later books he starts increasingly crossing the line, constantly showing up wherever she happens to be, peeking through windows at her house, and even trying to engineer a situation on the trail where she'd have no choice but to accept his "help" (this one backfires when he ends up getting himself knocked unconscious in the process). Callie becomes increasingly uncomfortable around him but believes she's overreacting, so she doesn't call him out or reach out for help. In the penultimate book, she finally has the realization of how not okay his behavior is and tells him off, which he responds to by cornering her in her horse's stall and trying to forcibly kiss her. After this incident, she reports the stalking and gets a restraining order against him; the final book reveals that his family abruptly moved out of town after the order was filed, much to Callie's relief.
  • Token Minority: Carole, who is black.
  • Tomboyish Name: Stevie; her given name is Stephanie but she refuses to let anyone call her that.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: More than a few of the books have multiple plot arcs. In many of these cases, said plots will end up intersecting as part of the climax of one or both arcs. (For example, New Rider has an A plot involving the eponymous new rider and a B plot involving Carole looking after a pregnant mare, and both arcs ultimately culminate in Carole finding the mare in labor early one morning and the new rider being the only other person around to help.)
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: In the original Saddle Club series, Carole's sort-of-boyfriend Cam is kind and friendly and clearly likes Carole as much as she likes him. By the time of Pine Hollow, he's turned into a complete Jerk Jock; he only dates Carole in order to get in her pants and then dumps her when she refuses to sleep with him, and she later learns that he had another girlfriend at the same time he was with her. Stevie specifically has this thought when Carole tells her what happened.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Several books introduce a new character or horse, only for said character/horse to never be mentioned again, even when the original book gives no indication that their presence is only temporary.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Valley Vista, where Callie and Scott Forester moved from is somewhere on the West Coast, but it's never specified beyond that.
  • Wild Teen Party: Happens in the Pine Hollow books. Stevie's brother accidentally leaves beer in the basement, leading to both of them getting grounded.
  • Younger Than They Look: One of the later books has Lisa flirting with a high school boy who brings her to hang out with his friends. When they ask what year in school she's in, she tells them that she'll "be a freshman", which they take to mean college rather than high school. She almost corrects them, but decides not to because she wanted to fit in and didn't want them to see her as some little kid. Somehow not one of them ever thinks that she looks a little young to be a senior in high school.