the best friends you’ll never have
I completely missed that this book was coming out. I guess there has been so much focus on Rain Reign that this book kind of slipped through the cracks. It is the last book in the Family Tree series, and since it also serves as a wrap-up of the entire series, its format is a bit different. Instead of just talking about Georgia, the main character in the book, it also focuses on the other three protagonists from the series, kind of like a Super Special.
Out of all the books, this was probably my second favorite. I think Abby’s book was the most interesting. Also, one of the major issues with these books, especially since a fair amount of time passed from the time I’d read one to the time I’d read the next, is that I kept on forgetting things. Like I don’t really remember what the relationship was between Francie and George in the book before this one. I think these books could have benefited from a Chapter Two, or a literal family tree at the beginning that briefly explained things.
Actually, I think the best way to read these books might be as one long novel. That way, you could remember the progression of the characters’ lives better. It really is one long story anyway.
Overall, I thought this book was a satisfying end to the series, even if the kids in this book, whose childhood was the 2000s, got very, very excited at the prospect of watching an I Love Lucy marathon.
Taking a little break until after the New Year. In the meantime, what’s your favorite holiday BSC book? Thinking about it, most of them are pretty strange. One of the most interesting is Mallory’s Christmas Wish, since it foretells the dawn of the Age of Reality Television. I think I might like Baby-Sitters’ Christmas Chiller the best.
So I said I wouldn’t read it because I hate Sad Dog Books, but I broke down and got it anyway, since the reviews have been so positive.
Rain Reign is a book about Rose, a kid on the autism spectrum who loves homophones. But the book keeps on calling them homoNYMs, and I’m going to put on my Karen Brewer hat and admit that this bothered me. Homonyms have the same pronunciation AND spelling, and homophones just have the same pronunciation. Rose actually goes into this the beginning, and says that her teacher says that homonym is used colloquially for homophone. This is true, but since Ann is writing an entire book on the topic, she could have used this as a springboard to correct this colloquial use that still makes probably even sociolinguists a little bit twitchy. Also, since Rose is very into following rules and not following rules is something that really upsets her, it seems odd to me that she has come to terms with this colloquial misuse of the term.
Okay. That aside, it’s a decent book overall. I like how the dad was portrayed in a nuanced way, instead of just straight up as a villain. You understand that he wants to do his best for Rose, even though he really just can’t. For those of you with the same fears I have, I would say that this book ranks about 5/10 on the Sad Dog Scale. There is a happy ending for the dog, even though Rose is sad. But it’s not like this book, which destroyed me the only time I read it.
Autism is a topic that Ann has centered a book around several times: Inside Out, which I think is excellent; Kristy and the Secret of Susan, one of the most maligned BSC books out of all of them; and a A Corner of the Universe, which I have not read, but received a Newbery Honor Medal. Considering the reviews for this one, I could see a Newbery Honor in its future as well. This book differs from all of those because Ann is actually writing in the first person from the point of view of a person on the spectrum, and not from the point of view of a family member or a baby-sitter. I think she did a good job, but it’s hard for me to judge, since I don’t have much personal experience myself.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts if you’ve read it. Would I say that it’s a must for BSC fans? No. If you’re interested in well-written middle-grade/YA books on serious topics, then I’d suggest it to you. It has less “Ann quirks” than even Family Tree has (i.e., mention of certain things you’ll recognize from Ann’s likes/biography). I’m now thinking that it’s time for me to check out her other well-regarded books like Corner and Belle Teal. Ann is a much better writer than she was in her 80s days, and now that she can take her time with her books, unlike when she was working on BSC, she can come out with some really excellent fiction.
In the past year or so, the Alice McKinley books have taken over the BSC as my “comfort” reading. I read recently that Phyllis Reynolds Naylor decided to have Alice grow up in the series (each book covers roughly four months of her life) because she wanted a challenge as a writer and didn’t want to be stuck in a sitcom.
Of course, this immediately brought the BSC to my mind, where they were, more or less, stuck in a middle school sitcom, only growing and changing as much as staying in eighth grade forever would allow. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. I liked being able to grow up along with Alice, starting with the series in 1997 when she was still in middle school and I was ten and being able to read the last book as an adult in 2013. You can trace the evolution of Alice as a person, which I think makes her seem very real.
But one of the problems the Alice books have, which I think ruin the effect slightly, is that Naylor started the series in 1985, and then covered four months a year after that until the last one, so we only got to the summer after Alice’s senior year in high school in 2012. The world is going to change a lot in an almost thirty-year period. Like the rest of the world, Alice had to be introduced to computers and cell phones. Each book was written to be true to the year they were published, so even aging chronologically, you still have a time warp. For the new editions, which is what I read on my Kindle, they have edited some things that date the books, but the books would have to be rewritten completely to make them all 100% modern. I noticed this when I was reading the end of Now I’ll Tell You Everything, because although Alice entered college with Facebook and email, when they open the time capsule from Mr. Hensley’s class at the end, they open a capsule containing a Michael Jordan poster and newspaper articles about the Soviet Union. So even within this one book, there’s an acknowledgement that aging chronologically can’t work 100%, unless you can keep up a very grueling schedule to have someone age in real time, which is when you need a team of ghostwriters.
With that in mind, I don’t think I would have preferred for the BSC to age. You can suspend belief completely, and not really be distracted by time. Maybe aging in real time would have been possible for the BSC, though, since they published a book every month, instead of just every year. In the end, I find the time warp comforting, in a way. I think what the authors/editors chose for these different series works for what they are. The Alice series shows someone growing up. The Baby-Sitters Club shows a friendship and mysteries and fun. They are limited by never getting any closer to adulthood, and sometimes, that’s what we want to read.
Would you have preferred to see at least some aging in the series?
There are books that have a universally bad reputation among BSC fans, such as Mallory Pike, #1 Fan. I actually like many of these books. As I’ve mentioned, the later books hold a more nostalgic place in my heart than the earlier ones, since I had a 90s childhood and not an 80s one. But there are books that I feel should get more shit than they do, and one of those books is Super Special #12, Here Come the Bridesmaids.
I remember very clearly when this book came out. As you can see on the cover image I found from Young Adult Revisted, not only were the names of the sitters written in various colors on the cover, but it also had an announcement for the contest to name the new baby-sitter:
Now, considering the fact that eleven still seemed ancient to me at the time that this book came out, I mostly just accepted the weirdness of the book at face value. But this book is very strange, and you really have to suspend your logic to get into it. (Although frankly, this applies to many, many BSC books.)
First up, there is Jessi’s plotline. Jessi is… Santa Claus. At Bellairs. Because literally, the only person in Stoneybrook available to play Santa is an eleven-year-old girl. Even Jessi knows it’s weird, and she tries to pawn the job off on her dad, who says he is way too busy, along with apparently every other adult male in Stoneybrook. They try to explain this away by saying that it is a volunteer position, so it’s hard to find people to do it. Well, duh. And why does Bellairs have a volunteer Santa anyway, when it is a business run for profit? Who does this volunteering benefit? If your store is doing too badly to pay for a Santa, then don’t have one. Don’t get someone to do it for free. If it were a last-minute charity thing, MAYBE I could buy it. But not a department store Santa. And the worst part is that it’s all Maureen’s fault. She is not even an incompetent BSC client parent who is used to relying on the BSC for everything! They could have at least gotten good old Charlie Thomas to do it.
Mrs. Barrett, on the other hand, is an incompetent client parent who can’t do anything without the BSC. Which is why Stacey is her bridesmaid, I guess. Mrs. Barrett couldn’t find anybody else except for a BSC member to share in this important day. They kind of justify it by pointing out that Stacey has gone on vacation with the Barretts and stuff, and has usurped Dawn’s position as the sitter closest the Barretts. It’s still weird to have your kids’ baby-sitter as an emergency bridesmaid instead of a distant cousin or a frenemy, but whatever. We can deal.
Dawn’s plot is a pivotal one in her story. After all of her tantrums and credit card fraud, Jack and Carol are finally getting married. (By the way, isn’t it strange when Carol is the person who you are probably closest in age/life stage to? Yes, yes it is.) The beach wedding is to be expected and seems beautiful. Dawn wanting as many BSC members there as possible, also expected within the context of the series. But as a “divorced kid” myself, as the series oddly puts it, Dawn assuming that Mary Anne would be a fellow bridesmaid is bizarre to me. She is the daughter of Jack’s ex-wife’s new husband. Why wouldn’t Dawn expect SUNNY to be the bridesmaid instead of Mary Anne, since Sunny is also Dawn’s best friend, and is much closer to Dawn’s California family? It’s weird enough that Mary Anne is coming to the wedding in the first place.
This is not weird, but a sad point for me. This book is one of the last appearances of Ben and Mallory as a couple. As I have noted before, at one point, Ben and Mallory’s relationship is just kind of forgotten about and sometimes he is even lumped in with the clients, and this is Mallory’s last plot that centers around Ben, I think. In this case, he is being a real asshole. Mallory has been asked to baby-sit during the Barrett-DeWitt wedding, on a day that she and Ben had tentatively agreed to go caroling. He is uncharacteristically very Mary Anne vs. Logan about it. I suppose this and the whole card catalog debacle was their undoing.
Are there any books you can think of that compare with this one for such logical issues, besides the obvious ones that involve child labor laws?