the best friends you’ll never have

Now that I’ve read all of Ann’s non-BSC books from the early part of her career, it’s time to reflect on what I thought about them. Since I did not review most of them very positively, it may seem like I did not enjoy doing this. I did actually enjoy it, but the books themselves I probably would have enjoyed more if I were coming across them for the first time while still in the age group they were intended for, or if I were reading them with nostalgia. As far as quality goes, if these were classics of children’s literature, they’d still be in print, or would have at least been in print during my 90s childhood. So even if I have liked the post-BSC Ann books I’ve read, and can tell that there’s been a HUGE leap forward in quality, I couldn’t really expect these books to be any better than any other more-or-less forgotten 1980s children’s books.

My main issue with these books is that I felt that these books sometimes took on too many serious issues at once, and didn’t get deep enough, psychologically. I suppose it’s hard to do that in the space allotted to a children’s book, and for the level you’re writing for, but I feel like people Lois Lowry and Judy Blume can deliver that. Obviously, not many children’s authors reach their levels, but still. They show it’s possible. I haven’t read A Corner of the Universe or any other of Ann’s Very Serious more recent books, unless you count The Family Tree series, but from what I have read, I haven’t had the same feeling of the stories being a very shallow portrayal of the issue she’s writing about. Perhaps it’s because Ann tackled issues that are SO serious, like suicide and missing children and losing a parent, before she was an author who was experienced enough to handle them, that makes these books read that way. Like, at this point of her career, she should have stuck to plots on a Stage Fright level, and not tried to tackle things that were so heavy.

Another thing I noticed was that everybody in these books is wealthy, except for maybe the parents in Inside Out. Like, think of how many kids you knew growing up who had houses with a third floor. I mean, if you’re in an area with a lot of Victorian houses, it’ll be more common, but it seemed like half of the kids in these books had these humongous houses and their parents were all advertising executives or whatever and jetting off to St. Barths for their honeymoons. None of the main characters were treated as being from wealthy families, even though they obviously were. I suppose it’s not that different from Stoneybrook, with everyone’s dad being a lawyer and Stacey’s dad’s glamorous life, but the houses weren’t quite noticeably as extragavant. It is very noticeable in these books, and seems kind of tone deaf. I can’t say if a child reading it would notice all of the clues sprinkled in them about mega-wealth, though.

The biggest surprise, though, was that the books I enjoyed the most–Inside Out and Ma and Pa Dracula–were books featuring male protagonists. I had always asusmed that Ann wouldn’t be very good at writing from a male perspective, but I think it actually forced her to stretch a little more and go outside of herself and she ended up with two books that were a lot better than the rest.

These are the major conclusions I came to during this Readalong. If you’ve read them, what do you think of Ann’s early work as a whole?

(Camp NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow! If you want to join my BSC cabin, email me at or leave a comment below.)

2 Responses To This Post

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HelenB said, July 2nd, 2014 at 4:32 am

I think that Ann was writing at a bit of an odd time in children’s writing. Growing up in the 90′s there were a *lot* of “issue” books, but there was a lot of arguments going on around what was and wasn’t appropriate reading for kids, and the issue books tended to be melodramatic and unrealistic (and generally tackled things like divorce, death, and maybe drugs – later came eating disorders and abuse.) So she was balancing writing about issues (which I think was something she really believed in, hence why the early BSC books include things like divorce and racism) but still writing books that were deemed age appropriate.

I also think her target market was solidly middle-class – not kids who were mega-rich, but who probably didn’t grow up thinking about money all the time, so they didn’t have to. So the issues she deals with are also pretty middle class. I mean, it’s totally conceivable that a working class kid with have parents living on opposite sides of the US, but unlike Dawn they’re not going to have the ability to regularly visit the one they’re not living with, so their situation would be different even if the circumstances were the same (if that makes sense).

Of course, there’s also an element of wish fulfillment for any kid reading – no you don’t have a house with an attic/secret passage filled with mysteries, but that’s why you’re reading about it.

greer said, July 2nd, 2014 at 7:33 am

@HelenB: These are 80s books, though. There was a lot of inappropriate stuff going on in movies aimed at teens at the time, but then also there were congressional hearings about profanity, so who knows. But also it’s not so much that she tackled issues and had to be age appropriate; she just didn’t do a good job with it. You can be age appropriate and still have a good book. Judy Blume, as I mentioned, is the master of this. My issue is not that she was boxed in by the age group; she just wasn’t ready as a writer to tackle serious issues in a real way.

Middle-class people still worry about money somewhat. They don’t have three-story houses and honeymoons to St. Barths. So I think Ann grew up upper-middle class, where these things are somewhat normal, and kind of stayed there her whole life. It’s only much later, in the late 90s, that we start to see realistic characters in her books who aren’t from well-off families. I mean, Stacey’s dad had an apartment overlooking Central Park and only Watson was considered a millionaire? I think Ann just had little exposure to different social classes and wrote about what she knew.

But yeah, wish fulfillment is definitely a part of it, in terms of secret passages and her obsession with big families and stuff.

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