the best friends you’ll never have

One of the main complaints about later BSC is that so many talents are exaggerated. Jessi becomes an INTERNATIONAL PRIMA BALLERINA. Mallory is no longer just a girl who writes stories about mice wearing high-tops, she’s a future best-selling author. Stacey is better at math than anyone else in Connecticut. In the beginning, before ghostwriters, fans argue, Jessi was just a girl who liked to dance and didn’t want to go pro. Dawn would sometimes eat a piece of cake, provided she had a toothbrush handy.

I don’t often reread the earlier BSC books. The later ones, for me, capture the flavor and time of my childhood and hold more nostalgic appeal. Sure, I’ll agree that the writing quality goes a little downhill (but I stick out my tongue at all of the Peter Lerangis haters), but I don’t read BSC for quality writing. I simply just don’t get the urge to reread the early books all that often.

Well, lately, I’ve been in an early book mood. I recently reread Jessi’s Secret Language, and I really think that it invalidates the above argument for why the earlier books are better. Let’s review.

Jessi’s Secret Genuisness
Now, if Jessi were a member of the Glass family, this book might be believable. We’re told at the beginning that Jessi is good at languages. But there’s a difference betweeen “being good at languages” and “being a savant.” Jessi begins sitting for the Braddocks, Mrs. Braddock hands her a dictionary and shows her the sign for “bathroom,” and suddenly Jessi is able to have competent, complicated conversations.

As somebody who spends a lot of my life dealing with learning and teaching foreign languages, this made me shake my head. ASL has a different grammar than English. There are no synonyms or cognates, because you don’t use speech. You absolutely have to learn every sign individually. Even the best student can’t say as much as Jessi was saying in ASL after a few classes of Spanish I, and Jessi wasn’t even taking classes. And everyone else in Stoneybrook seemed to be learning just as fast.

Either Ann has never learned a foreign language in her life (although for some reason I recall her studying a few semesters of French…?) or she, too, is a real genius.

2. Jessi Ramsey, Best Dancer Ever
The subplot in this book, which mainly exists for Jessi to do a Really Nice Thing for Matt Braddock, is the production of Coppelia that is going on at Jessi’s dance school. Now, just so you don’t get confused, Jessi’s not just in the corps or something. No, Jessi is freaking SWANILDA. Now, the school only seems to go up to age 14, so MAYBE it could be believable that they’d cast an eleven-year-old–but I still doubt it. But the really unbelievable thing is that Jessi has time to become fluent in sign language AND star in a ballet AND go to school AND do other baby-sitting. It’s being a star or the kids, Jessi. Choose one.

I guess that what bothers me about both of these things is that they’re so… unnecessary, I guess? Jessi could have arranged the show for Matt even if she was a dancer in the corps. She also could have had the same “introducing Matt to the kids and learning some signs” plot without becoming practically fluent in three days. I’m just not sure what the point of making Jessi so AMAZING was.

13 Responses To This Post

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Rhiannon said, May 28th, 2009 at 5:26 pm

I think its during Dance School Phantom, one of the girls is said to be like 18 or so and she was hoping to get a big part in the Nutcracker to put on her dance resume for dance school. And yet Jessi still got the lead in taht one too. So her getting leads makes no sense.

I don’t know why Jessi is the Super Awesome Dancer Extraordinare. Maybe its part of the idea that we can live vicariously through these girls. She’s normal just like me, but she happens to have an amazing talent.

Myu said, May 29th, 2009 at 8:09 am

@Rhiannon: I think you’re thinking of Carrie Steinfeld(?), who was about 14 or something.

Sometimes it just doesn’t occur to me that someone else might not understand something basic in my second language – maybe that’s where AMM’s makes the mistake with sign language. Since she learnt French for a fairly long period, she probably forgot how long it takes to learn even the most simple things.
I like to entertain the theory that Jessi thought she was having all these complex conversations, all the while signing “A fish! A fish! Beep thunder rabbit” or something.

nikki said, May 29th, 2009 at 11:32 am

YA characters in general (but really in the BSC) tend to have a little less subtlety all around. So the fact that their talents are less subtle is not a surprise.

HelenB said, May 31st, 2009 at 12:28 am

I don’t think it’s really that unbelievable in the context of the books. I mean, almost every single one of Kristy’s amazing ideas which are so integral to the plots are maybe things that 13 year-olds could come up with, but could she really have seen them all through?

Yeah, I think their talents become increasingly exaggerated, but so do their faults, and I think this happens with any long-running series – characters eventually just become parodies of what they started with.

Rhiannon said, June 1st, 2009 at 5:35 pm

@Myu – Its completely possible that’s who I’m thinking of, but I could have sworn she was older. Its been years since I read Dance School Phantom though, so I’m probably just making shit up as a go along.

LemurCat said, June 2nd, 2009 at 1:07 pm

I’ll just put this out there … Kristy’s supposed to be some great athlete but yet she’s never on any organized team. Someone …. anyone …. please explain that one to me.

Myu said, June 3rd, 2009 at 12:11 pm

@LemurCat: Yes, she is – she joins the SMS softball (/baseball? I’ve forgotten) team in book 74, “Kristy and the Copycat”. She was initially wary of joining at first because it would interfere with her Krushers coaching.
Also, do you really have to be on a team to be a great athlete?

bbb said, June 3rd, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Wasn’t Kristy jealous of(or at least in competition with) Abby because Abby was more of a great natural athlete than her?

Laura @ Hungry and Frozen said, June 4th, 2009 at 4:06 am

I love the earlier books, the later ones I read for fun but am not necessarily as ‘fond’ of them. They’re still great though.

Jessi is way too talented for an eleven year old. Swanhilda is a demanding role. She should only just be starting pointe at 11!

Sadako said, June 4th, 2009 at 4:01 pm

bbb, I remember that. In fact, she would say stuff like, “Abby’s undisciplined, she’s a natural athlete but I’m a true sportsman.” Stuff like that that made it clear she was insecure about Abby being better than her. I dunno, I just got the impression Abby was better.

Myu said, June 6th, 2009 at 10:46 am

@Sadako: Agreed. Abby seemed to do a wider range of sports than Kristy and spent more time on them to boot. Abby was the one who jogged home from BSC meetings and even gave up the club to focus on her sports…

greer said, June 6th, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Kristy eventually realized that she was a better coach than athlete.

TwennyTwo said, September 9th, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Have to raise my hand and disagree about the ASL. Hear me out.

I knew only the 1st grade fingerspelling I learned more than 20 years ago, and I used it to talk to a man at temple who is deaf. What I did do, though, was make him teach me about 20 signs… then I went and taught them to my students, a bunch of preschoolers. Then we watched signing time with Alex and Lea (PBS videos). Now, I can carry on a decent conversation with him.
Yes, ASL has different syntax, but if you’re used to another language- or even non-standard English- it’s not hard to pick up.

So… yeah, the ASL is believeable on Jessi’s part. The dancing? Gimme a break. But the best part is, I didn’t know that when I was reading these. Way back in first and second grade. That was part of the magic.

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