the best friends you’ll never have

There are certain things which happen with regularity in children’s series about middle schoolers aimed at young girls that do not really happen in real life all that often. Here is a but a short list, culled from readings of The Baby-Sitters Club and GirlTalk. Other tropes or other series/tv shows in which these things happen are welcome and encouraged in the comments.

Since there is usually at least one main character who breathtakingly beautiful (while also being intelligent and modest), modeling is a good, exciting plot to turn to. Because what young girl doesn’t want to be judged solely on her looks? GirlTalk blew this wad early, in the third book of the series, The New You. Allison Cloud models after being selected in a Belle modeling search. She could have gone on to have a real modeling career, but the she wouldn’t have time to read 100 books over summer vacation.

Stacey was so pretty that Scholastic felt justified in using this plot twice. The first was in the tv show, where Stacey was selected to model for Bellair’s and also could have gone on to have a big career, but chose baby-sitting instead. Much more glamorous. Then in Stacey and the Fashion Victim, she participates in Stoneybrook’s Fashion Week. Yeah.

Another important plot point is that the only other girl in the modeling group that your modeling character knows is the sworn enemy of the series’ main clique. Stacy Hansen in GT, Cokie Mason in BSC. They’re bitches, and they’re beautiful.

A fun twist to this plot is that in Stacey and the Bad Girls, Stacey is rejected as a model, for being “too commercial.” What, perms aren’t edgy?!

Beauty Pageants.
When I think of beauty pageants, I think of Delta Burke and Bravo’s series Toddlers and Tiaras. And the South. But in middle grade girls’ fiction, geography knows no bounds. Every town has a beauty pageant, and every girl wants to enter. Now, since sometimes the BSC takes on a feminist slant, in the BSC beauty pageant plot, it’s clients who are entering, and Mal and Jessi form the beauty pageant opposition.

But in the GirlTalk book Beauty Queens, Allison and Sabrina both enter and it’s a big fucking deal and stuff. I don’t remember what Allison’s talent was–reading? I think Sabrina gets Miss Congeniality. Whatever. I haven’t read that book in ten years.

Synchronized Swimming.
Have you ever done synchronized swimming? No? Well, in middle school book girl world, schools have synchronized swimming teams. Wtih costumes. And underwater stereo systems. Perhaps there were editors out there with Esther Williams fantasies. Again, it’s our Allison who does this sport, in Allison, Shape Up!. Jessi, our ballerina, gets this plot in Jessi’s Gold Medal. Of course, these girls take to “synchro” (that’s what the cool kids call it) and win medals and shit. But because it’d be too boring a plot to include in chapter 2s, no matter how good at synchro-ing your heroine is, it’s always a one-book deal.

Horseback Riding.
According to movies and tv shows and books, before girls love boys, they love horses. Randy, because she likes to be surprising, had this plot in GirlTalk. Surprisingly, it was a multi-book arc for her. The other girls tried it, but sucked. Mallory also tried it, and naturally sucked. Mallory and the Dream Horse is easily one of the most snarkable books of the series. Who can forget Mallory, dressed like she is from the 1965 Sears and Roebuck catalog, hanging out at a cool rich kid’s birthday party where everyone else is dressed like they are auditioning for “Kids Incorporated”?

Poor Mom, Rich New Dad.
Is your mom a harried, overworked, lonely single mother? Have no fear, because soon a really rich dude will walk into her life, marry her after like a week of dating, and soon you will all be moving to an awesome mansion, which you will have to share with your new stepsiblings. If you’re a main character in a middle grade book series, at least. Both Katie Campbell and Kristy Thomas watched as their moms were swept off their feet, and soon they had to leave the little houses they had known all their lifes for mansions. Oh noes. Katie’s new stepdad’s mansion is way cooler than Watson’s, if you didn’t read GirlTalk. It has an elevator, an indoor pool, and is fully staffed. I want to go to there.

17 Responses To This Post

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Abby said, April 18th, 2009 at 11:31 am

I’m such a loser for knowing this, but Allison’s talent was singing Bette Midler, ‘From a Distance”, while Sabrina’s was acting out a scene from Romeo and Juliet with the use of a dummy.

greer said, April 18th, 2009 at 11:44 am

@Abby: Bette Midler????? What?

Sadako said, April 18th, 2009 at 1:44 pm

The weird thing was I never thought the girl playing Stacey was all THAT pretty in the BSC TV show. I thought the girl playing Kristy was way prettier. (Which is weird b/c in the books, Kristy was never described as being all that hot.)

That’s another weird thing. All these girls seem remarkably well adjusted to their bodies/looks (well…Mal). And they’re all thin. The only physical differences we’re told about are in maybe height and hair color and occasionally race.

greer said, April 18th, 2009 at 1:59 pm

@Sadako: Kristy is described as being pretty. She just doesn’t care about looks.

Abby said, April 18th, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Yes, in a rare show of using real songs, Allison was getting ready for bed one night and heard a song on the radio that she really liked. When she sang it for Randy the next day, Randy identified the song as From a Distance by Bette Midler, and helpfully told us the song won a grammy. I remember thinking it was not too bright of LE Blair/Katherine Applegate to have the supposed bad-ass Randy be into Bette Midler.

And I totally agree that the TV Stacey was nothing to write home about, although I think movie Stacey was really pretty and much more how I imagined the character to look.

Laura @ Hungry and Frozen said, April 19th, 2009 at 1:50 am

This is a great list, had fun reading it. There are so many other things that could be added to it (Like…a constant stream of good looking guys that appear whenever you go on holiday or a school trip. Heck, even Mallory got romance in Sea City…)

Penny Lane said, April 19th, 2009 at 11:21 am

Also Twins. Twins who look exactly alike but have different personalities show up A LOT in YA books. Rarely do they point out twins who look nothing alike.

Sadako said, April 19th, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Yeah, movie Stacey felt more realistic. She was also kind of a bitch which is true to life as well.

Greer–I remember some book where Kristy was saying she thought MA was prettier than her–but maybe that was just how she felt about it? Plus it seems like everyone was always saying things like Dawn, Stacey and Claud were gorgeous looking (oh, and Jessi also was pretty/had a great body), but Kristy never got described as being totally pretty…and that was how she appeared in the TV series.

baseballchica03 said, April 19th, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Hey! Synchro was a big thing in the 80s and 90s. From seven to sixteen (when I got a real job apart from babysitting), I was on two teams – a winter league and a summer league.

greer said, April 19th, 2009 at 4:14 pm

@Sadako: there are definitely books where Stacey and/or Claudia bemoan the fact that Kristy is pretty but refuses to do anything with herself.

@baseballchica03: I think it’s regional, because where my family spends the summer, all the girls in the town do “water ballet” in the summer. But no one does it/did it where I grew up.

Eowyn said, April 24th, 2009 at 9:41 pm

In the BSC, Mallory was the only really awkard one. Stacey, Dawn, and Claudia were supposed to be gorgeous (Jessi struck me as being more elegant than anything or at least as elegant as an 11 year old can be) but the rest were all supposed to be pretty. And yes it did suck for Mal to have this graceful ballerina best friend.

starlett2010 said, June 15th, 2009 at 3:12 am

I love this post Greer! It makes me want to research girl’s fiction series for my P.h.D!!! ;) Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

greer said, June 15th, 2009 at 4:54 am

@starlett2010: It would be totally rad! I wish I could work YA novels into my Master’s Thesis, but that’s not gonna happen.

charmecia said, January 14th, 2010 at 7:18 pm

theyre all pretty if you ask me
they just have different ways of being pretty
kristy has that sporty
tough beauty
mary anne is delicate
and natural
mal’s is plain
but very cute for an eleven year old
jessi has the grace and beauty
and dawn
has a healthier look
(especially since she likes eating healthy)
same with stacey
and claudia
claudia’s is urban
and wild
and i do find the movie version of stacey
to be really hot
the tv stacey seemed alright
but movie stacey was more smokin
and if you ask me
the movie kristy was even more pretty
(especially since she is played by sissy spacek’s daughter)
you remember the girl from snow day
and sissi spacek from carrie
that’s her

caitaintdead said, October 17th, 2010 at 9:59 am

What about the shy, bookish, smart, sensible, beautiful girl!? Elizabeth (SVH), Mary Anne, and Shannon (Pen Pals)

They always do well at everything. Generally everyone likes them. They’re the person that will have friends even outside the social circle.

And almost ALWAYS they are one that has the steady reliable boyfriend.

greer said, October 17th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

@caitaintdead: Mary Anne wasn’t ever described as “beautiful,” though. Pretty, maybe; sweet, definitely. And she didn’t have non-BSC friends.

Allison Cloud fits, though. Billy Dixon, the Jordan Catalano of the 7th grade.

Melissa said, October 20th, 2010 at 8:26 am

you forgot to mention that girls would have the chance to host their own radio shows too. Cause in book 37 i think of the girl talk series randy has her own radio station and in book 85 i think of the babysitter’s club, claudia also gets to host her own radio show.

there’s probably more comparisons along the way but that one i remembered the most that i thought i want to add more.

btw i love your site. ^_^

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