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.