the best friends you’ll never have

Reading the BSC often requires a suspension of disbelief. The shy, mousy girl getting the guy (pre-makeover, even!), middle school girls of diverse personality and interests and social standing being the best of friends, thirteen-year-olds being entrusted with the care of infants–if you started to list everything about the BSC that wasn’t realistic, you’d be listing for a long time. The most glaring logic problem in the series, though, is obviously the Stoneybrook Time Warp. How many Christmases, Summer Vacations, and Valentine’s Days can you have and still never make it out of eighth grade?

This bothers some readers. They wish they could have seen the girls experience high school, and all the challenges that brings. A series that comes to mind that displays a different model of dealing with time is the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. We start with Alice in elementary school (granted, the three prequels came out long after I’d be interested in reading about an elementary schooler, so my Alice knowledge begins with The Agony of Alice), and I’ve read that once Alice graduates from high school, Naylor plans to write a book about Alice’s life through middle age. Unlike the BSC’s rigorous publishing schedule in the 90s, Alice books come out once a year or so. The reader, I suppose, might pick up the earlier books in their elementary school library, and then discover the more YA Alice books in middle school and early high school. Alice ages along with her target audience. As her readers get more mature, so do Alice’s experiences and perspective.

Some would have liked to see a similar model for the BSC. Spend 50 books or so in the eighth grade, then move the girls up to ninth. I, personally, am not in this camp. I don’t even want to see a reunion book. Keeping the girls in the eighth grade allows the books to maintain a certain innocence and element of escapism. Although I suppose that in real life, eighth grade is less innocent than appears in the BSC (the most scandalous thing in the books is some tiny wine bottles hidden in push-down socks), it is believeable to maintain a lack of real-world issues as long as the girls are still in middle school.

In California Diaries, although four of the five core characters are also 13-year-old eighth graders, the move to the high school building alone makes for a more serious, mature series, which deals with tougher issues is a more realistic way than the BSC ever does. In BSC, when they do tackle serious issues (outside of divorce and death), they’re happening to someone not in the Club. It’s a friend, a neighbor, a client. The core characters are only observers. In California Diaries, it’s Maggie, it’s Amalia, it’s Ducky, it’s Sunny. Only Dawn remains a passive observer. Perhaps she brought an amulet with her from Connecticut to keep these things from happening directly to her. Regardless, the mere setting change from middle school to high school brings about a whole new set of questions, even though they’re still eighth graders.

Too much would have had to happen to let the BSC mature from eighth grade to ninth. Probably certain elements of the Club would have been rated as socially undesirable by other, more popular elements. A wider world would have meant new friends and new experiences, which would have shaken the Club to the core and probably rendered it unable to exist. By keeping the Club in an eighth grade purgatory, it allowed the publishers to churn out stories for fourteen years, without ever having to demonstrate real maturity or growth. Which is just fine, because that’s exactly what people wanted from the BSC. It wasn’t a series that you were supposed to read for ten years; I would say that most read for one or two and then moved on to something else. They didn’t need to mature with their readers, the way Alice does.

I have to say that I prefer the Time Warp model for the BSC. It takes you to a place removed from the troubles and stresses of everyday life. Ahh, the idyllic suburb of Stoneybrook. Even with counterfeiters and jewel thieves and psychotic fans running around, it still manages to retain its bucolic quality.

9 Responses To This Post

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nikki said, March 17th, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I’m with you on this one. I never had trouble suspending belief when the third halloween came around. It really was only in re-reading as an adult that I even took notice. And still I didn’t care. It’s the same with watching The Simpsons or King of the Hill, etc. It just doesn’t bother me to have to suspend belief. Though it is funny to make fun of it :)

There is plenty of reunion, high school, etc. fan fiction out there for me to get my “real time” BSC fill.

But for real….the first book was published in 1986 (I think) and the girls were 12. That would make them 35 this year! Yikes!

bbb said, March 17th, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Having them remain in eighth grade was, on the whole, fine. I didn’t really question the time warp as a kid because I was perfectly content to read about their many glamorous adventures. But honestly, by the time that Claudia Kishi, Middle School Dropout came around, and they were STARTING eighth grade AGAIN, I began to get irked. Probably a lot of that had to do with me feeling I was definitely outgrowing the BSC around the time that book was published…I think ’95, ’96?

“It wasn’t a series that you were supposed to read for ten years; I would say that most read for one or two and then moved on to something else.”

Hmm…it would seem to me that many fans read them for longer than that.

And Alice through middle age strikes me as just…weird, although I shouldn’t judge because I was never really into that series :)

BananaBomb said, March 17th, 2009 at 8:17 pm

As a kid, I read the BSC for a long time. I remember dragging my dad to B. Dalton to get the next one every month. And I read them religiously until the mid-70s or so. Until I was past 13 and moving on to more “mature” YA lit.

Back then, I either didn’t notice or didn’t care that they never reached ninth grade. It does bother me now, but only for continuity.

One thing they could have done with the Friends Forever series was something like what they did with the CA Diaries: have the 9th grade move to SMS (due to space issues at SHS or something) and the FF series could have used that as their passage to high school. They could have had one last Super Special after #131 in which to “graduate.” But to go through eighth grade for the FOURTH time was too much.

greer said, March 17th, 2009 at 10:18 pm

@BananaBomb: Those of us who are still discussing the books probably read them for much longer (or never stopped reading them). But most of the kids I went to elementary school with were only into them for a short time.

tinypants said, March 20th, 2009 at 6:03 pm

In the BSC and in other series from the 80s the time warp always bugged me, but interestingly now in all the current YA series I’ve read, they all use time excruciatingly realistically — and honestly, it’s soo much worse. Rather than having the characters simply stay the same age via a time warp, they have the characters stay (more or less) the same age by having time move agonizingly slowly. So each book tends to take place over the course of 1 month maximum, but often wayyy less — 2-3 days is the norm. This makes it so some contemporary series that have been around for a few years now have only covered like 2 months’ territory!

greer said, March 21st, 2009 at 11:52 am

@Tinypants–whoa, seriously? An entire novel over the course of 2 or 3 days? I haven’t read YA fiction in a long time, so I had no idea. Maybe the authors of the current YA series were bugged by the BSC/SV timewarps growing up.

Sadako said, March 23rd, 2009 at 1:58 pm

The thing that annoyed me about them never aging was mostly that they’d act like so much had happened and they were so close when so little time had gone by. Like Dawn and MA saying they felt like real sisters, not just stepsisters when really they’d only known each other since the beginning of 8th grade. I’d buy them feeling like sisters if maybe a little more time had gone by, you know?

bibberly said, April 13th, 2009 at 9:50 pm

One advantage to keeping the characters the same age is that parents only have to check one or two books in the series to be assured that any of the books is the right maturity level for their child. One complaint about the Alice books is that young kids start reading the younger ones and enjoy them, then pick up some when Alice is older that might be inappropriate for the reader’s age. Working in a school library, I have heard this criticism of some other series as well, such as Harry Potter (to give one popular example). If you are lucky enough to be the “right” age when the first book comes out, then you can grow up with the characters (like people our age did with the original 90210, for instance). But if you first find the series 5 or 10 years down the line, and you’re in elementary or middle school, you can read the first couple and then are basically told to wait a few years before continuing the series, which is frustrating. With the BSC, a kid who is in elementary school now, more than 20 years after the first book, can pick up any book in the series and not have a problem.

greer said, April 16th, 2009 at 2:21 pm

@bibberly: we had that exact problem in our elementary school, actually. The decision was to move the more explicit Alice books to the middle/high school library. This was in 1998, though, so Alice hadn’t even gotten to high school yet.

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