the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in book club

So Ashley of dibbly-fresh sent me the new editions and The Summer Before (those who pay close attention the fandom will know why soon ;) ), and I, naturally devoured them all. I’ll write about the prequel later, because I have more to say about it and probably should read it a second time before I sit down to do a thorough post about it, but here’s what I think about the rereleases.

The text is quite large, but the same font, so after a while, it’s less noticeable. I’ve read that they were aiming a slightly younger target audience, so this, and the graphic covers, makes sense. The handwriting is now fonts, and not the fonts that were created for the CD-roms. I suppose, going along with the new lower target audience thing and the decreased emphasis on learning cursive in schools–I’m shocked at how many even my age can’t read cursive–I’m not surprised. I’m sure it increases readibility. Plus, Claud’s “how did this girl ever get out of the first grade” spelling errors have been taken down a notch. She now seems like a perfectly capable twelve-year-old who isn’t the greatest speller, but at least picks up a book once in a while, even if it is Nancy Drew. If they get to Claudia and the New Girl, I wonder what they’ll do with the spelling test scene, where they go through Claudia’s spelling thought process.

After reading about the Sweet Valley rereleases, where they got rid of 1BRUCE1, I was scared about what I’d find. But they did a nice subtle job, one that I only noticed if I was really looking hard–and I’ve been reading these books constantly for nearly 20 years now. They changed “tape deck” to “stereo,” for instance, and frankly, even when I was a kid no one said “tape deck” any more. Charlotte’s favorite tv show is no longer The Cosby Show; she now has a favorite board game instead. Kristy, however, still says “One false move and I’ll punch your lights out,” and if I were an editor I would have taken that out, because what the hell are the best baby-sitters in town doing, threatening violence against their clients? WTF, Thomas?

So all in all, I think they did a damn good job here. In fact, I was kind of hoping for MORE edits, just so it’d be DIFFERENT and exciting. But whatever, yay Scholastic. I do wonder, though, if the lack of more edits to modernize it will lead to reviews like the latest ones on Amazon for the new Alice McKinley book, Alice in Charge:

The dialogue between Alice and her friends falls flat. They simply don’t speak the way teenagers talk. In fact, sometimes when various characters talk, they seem to serve only to hammer home the moral lesson Alice is learning. Naylor (or her editors) seem to want to avoid dating the books. This is admirable, but it makes Alice and her friends much less relatable and their world feels inauthentic. The books contain a few token references to Facebook and Starbucks, but are otherwise so devoid of pop culture that these token references stick out like someone’s parent trying to be “hip to the scene.” The characters often listen to “a CD.” CDs are dinosaur technology to your average high school student. The names stick out to me as well. Many of them seem to be literally like `50s era names–Penny, Fran, Rosalind, etc. There’s nary a Taylor or a Brianna to be seen.

As a long-term fan, I like that the overall feel of the books wasn’t affected. But after spending time with girls in the target age group earlier this month, I’m not sure how much they’ll connect with it. Plus, it seems now that eleven-year-olds are sittees, not sitters. They’ve available for preorder on Amazon up until Kristy’s Big Day, and like I said in my last post they planned to do the first seven at least, so we’ll see if we get any after that.

Stacey and the Missing Ring is a book I misplaced years ago. I had always wanted to reread it, because although I remembered that Stacey was accused of stealing a ring and everything and the people she stole it from were pretty fancy, I didn’t really remember much else.

Well, I got a chance to reread it a few days ago. Usually, I’m a big Stacey supporter. When other people talk shit about her, I defend her. I can often relate to her better than most of the other characters. But in this book, the girl is just spoiled. She demands that her mother buy her a diamond ring!!!!!!!! At 13!!!!!!!!! (LUCA VOICE!) She thinks that her mother is TOTALLY UNFAIR to not want to buy her this ring, and insists that her dad totally would, making her mom feel shitty for having less money than her dad. I mean, usually when people are all, “Stacey is a bitch,” I can see where Stacey’s coming from. But this “BUY ME A DIAMOND RING” thing seems pretty out of left field for Stacey, who totally could have had that purple suede fringe jacket from Betsey Johnson (I can just imagine the price tag! More evidence that Mr. McGill=up there with Watson Brewer in terms of wealth), but went with sunglasses instead. And here she is just so spoiled and demanding.

Of course, this whole diamond ring-thing is plot device to make Stacey seem suspicious. While coincidences like that happen all the time in everyday life, in fiction they seem contrived. Another thing that seems contrived is the “OMG NO ONE IS CALLING US BECAUSE OF SOMETHING BAD A SITTER DID,” which also happened in Mary Anne Breaks the Rules. No guys, everyone just randomly went on vacation!!

Another thing that sucks about this book: the Gardellas are wacky! They love their pets more than their daughter! Yet this whole plot point never goes anywhere. No sign of the crazy for real, just “oh look, the cat eats on the table, ho-hum.” What a waste of comic potential! They could have at least had some weird crazy secret or something.

Also, there is no real subplot of this book. Just a sort-of rehashing of the Phantom Caller plot, where the girls get scared while baby-sitting. Jessi robber-proofs the house.

I feel like that for the first branded mystery, they should have done something… better. Not just Stacey being spoiled and stuff that happens multiple other times in the series–although in defense of The Powers That Be, Mary Anne Breaks the Rules was published later. But it still feels like “Well, this aspect of the plot has certainly been done to death in other books in the series.” Overall, it was just disappointing. It may rank up there in the pantheon of my all-time, least favorite BSC books.

Has there ever been a BSC book that you haven’t read in a long time, and were super excited to reread, and then it just fell completely flat?

One of the complaints about Friends Forever is that people don’t like the fight between Claudia or Stacey, especially since they were fighting over a boy who seems pretty boring and non-descript. One of the great friendships of children’s literature, and they let some guy whose distinguishing characteristic is a leather shoelace worn around his wrist come between them?

While rereading Claudia and the Friendship Feud recently, a question popped into my mind. Who did I side with: Claudia or Stacey? It’s a hard question. Claudia feels that Stacey stole her boyfriend, except that he never was her boyfriend. Stacey feels that since Jeremy admitted that he had no feelings for Claudia, but that he did have feelings for Stacey, that she should be free to go for him.

On the one hand, it goes against “girl code” that a friend would go after a guy she knew you liked. On the other, it would be selfish of Claudia to stand in the way of Stacey’s happiness when there was, according to Jeremy, no chance that he would develop feelings to Claudia (although this proved not to be true later).

The best answer I can come up with to this question is that there is no black-and-white, true answer. Stacey was wrong to go after a guy Claudia liked, BUT it is also not really fair, in my opinion, to expect Stacey to not go after someone she liked–and who liked her back–just because Claudia said she liked him first. Is there no other boy at Stoneybrook Middle School? And I don’t like how Claudia sees it as “Stacey stole my boyfriend” when HE WAS NEVER HER BOYFRIEND.

Opinions? Who do you side with?

Stacey and the Bad Girls happens to be one of my all-time favorite BSC books. It might in fact be my #1, but I haven’t really considered this question thoroughly yet. Anyway, this book, if you’re one of those people who missed out on the later series, takes place after Stacey vs the BSC, where Stacey is kicked out of/quits the BSC, depending on whether you ask Kristy or Stacey. Stacey realized that maybe there is life outside of baby-sitting, and starts running with a different crowd. She starts skipping BSC meetings and sitting jobs to go to dates at places like Pizza Express and Burger Town, and throws a blowout party and only invites Claudia. Stacey is BSC history.

So in this book Stacey has these cool new friends, who are into things like nose jewelry and like to come over every day, watch MTV, and eat. Stacey’s mother thinks that it is time for Stacey to get a job. Hi, Mrs. McGill. Let me introduce you to a little something called “child labor laws.” (Paging the Rosebud Cafe.) There is very little for a thirteen-year-old to do except baby-sit, and as someone who was kicked out of the BSC, there aren’t really any baby-sitting jobs for Stacey to do. Stacey’s mom gets her a job at the Kid Center at Bellairs, which I kind of think is illegal, but moving on. Stacey’s cool new job gets her an employee discount, so her cool new friends use her and squeeze some money out of Bellairs, while also shoplifting paperback books. OMG.

All hell breaks loose when Stacey and her friends go to a U4Me concert. They sneak in miniature bottles of wine in their flop socks. Stacey and her new friends are no more. And Stacey doesn’t even get to see the one and only Aristotle Dukas in person. It’s very tragic.

Stacey is let back into the BSC. Good for her, I guess.

The one thing I don’t like about this book is the annoying subplot. Sharon Spier’s cousins are dropping off their six-year-old daughter for two weeks while they go to Europe. Um, yeah. Apparently the dad did not get along with Jack Schafer, so they were estranged or something. So these model parents are dropping off their daughter Amy with people she’s never seen before while they gallivant around Europe for two weeks. Obviously this does work out well, and Amy is really annoying and runs away to… the Bellairs Kid Center. Where Stacey happens to be working. It’s a bit awkward, since Stacey hasn’t made up with Dawn and Mary Anne. It’s hard to forgive a friend who spies on you from behind a jukebox.

One of the most notable things about this book is that it feels the most concurrent with its time, somehow. Now that Stacey has left the BSC, she is free to be a slightly more average teenager, so a lot of this book is filled with MTV-watching. There is talk of grunge, and flannel, and fashion that does not involve papier-mache. Stacey is hanging out with the cool kids, so we get to learn all about the mid-90s from a fashion perspective that does not inhaling paint fumes.

Stacey does not, however, live up to her sophisticated Chapter Two trait in this book. She dresses kind of dorky, bringing a white cardigan sweater to the U4Me concert. She also is hoodwinked by those “friends” of hers. Oh, Stacey. You’re the most sophisticated of the BSC, but it seems as if that is not a very large accomplishment.

I think that my hatred of Logan is one of my strongest and most steadfast BSC opinions. Thus, I can’t help but look at this book through special Logan-hating goggles.

One of the biggest illusions that the BSC gives its young readers is that the mousy, shy girl who can barely speak to the opposite sex will end up with the cute Big Man On Campus, despite the fact that if Mary Anne were a Monopoly property, she’d be WaterWorks. But I think that all of middle school losers should be thankful the boys made fun of us instead of making out with us, because we could have ended up with boyfriends like Logan.

In this book, however, Logan seems pretty sweet, being very understanding when MA doesn’t want to dance after clocking Mr. Kingbridge in the head with her shoe, or when MA runs away from her own birthday party. He doesn’t really show signs of the Draculogan he will become in the future, the one who gives iron chain bracelets as presents after being dumped.

One of the essential questions that this book will ultimately raise in a reader is, “Why Mary Anne?” After all, sophisticated Stacey seemed interested. I have two answers for this. One comes from what we know about Ann. Mary Anne is an exaggerated version of Ann, and she wanted to give her doppelganger the chance of a dreamy junior high school romance that she never had. The other answer I have, from a very biased perspective that affects my analysis of Logan’s character, is that Logan wanted a girlfriend he can control. Looking at the character of Lyman Bruno, it’s not hard to see where that stems from.

Sorry for the long time between updates, but in the last couple of weeks I didn’t have time to sleep, let alone write a thoughtful and coherent blog post. Next on the agenda: my review of Best Friends and a look at Stacey and the Bad Girls.

I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that it is universally mocked for being a terrible, terrible book, I really like Mallory Pike, #1 Fan. Yes, it is quite strange how someone who writes stories about sneaker-wearing field mice would suddenly believe that only real-life experience begets good fiction, but still, I like this book a lot.

I like reading about Mallory’s internship with Henrietta Hayes, even though she messes it up. There was a thread on the BSC livejournal recently which posed the question whether #1 Fan was a response to all of the BSC fans’ questions. I.e., why do I keep on receiving form letters, how much of your own life is in the BSC, etc. Which is an interesting proposition, although it kind of promotes the idea that if you’re a fan of the BSC, you can just show up at Ann’s house and she’ll hire you for a job as a personal assistant, even if you’re, um, eleven years old. I do believe that Ann was still living in New York City at the time, and it’d be a bit more difficult in a doorman building to actually reach Ann’s apartment door than just simply riding your bike up to the front door, like Mallory does.

One thing I find slightly annoying is the Kids Can Do Anything Club. I don’t like do-gooding children all that much. The play is hilarious though, especially how Mallory was just so… thick when she was writing it. Ranessa? Delaware? Um, ok Mallory.

I also like how the BSC formula–Kids make anything better!–is not bought by Mallory’s teacher. Although I’m not sure that Mallory’s teacher is reasonable in his rejection of her proposal; it seemed at least as legit, if not more, as Jessi’s plan to type up the plots of some ballets and interview Mme Noelle. Oh well, plot device!

Do you think this book sucks, or do you actually enjoy it, like I do?

I received Best Friends today, so that’s what I’m reading now and what my next blog post will be about. But if you want to read along with my Stoneybrookite Book Club, the next BSC book I will write about is Logan Likes Mary Anne!.

As promised, here are my thoughts on Dawn and the We <3 Kids Club.

Dawn was my favorite member for quite some time. I liked her LOOOOONNNG white blonde hair. Being a platnium blonde myself, I envied her, as my mother didn’t let me grow out my pageboy until fifth grade or so. I also was what my boyfriend calls an “aspiring vegetarian.” And California seemed even more glamorous to me than New York City. Finally, I, too, wanted to be seen as a laid-back individual.

As we all know, Dawn is rarely actually a laid-back individual. This book is indeed one of those times where she defies her chapter 2 characteristics and is anything but laid-back.

This is a Dawn-in-Palo City book. I happen to enjoy reading about Palo City a fair amount. I am a big California Diaries fan. Thus, this is a book I reread fairly frequently. There are so many crazy things in this book, starting with the laid-back lack of school bells! OMG! I went to school on the East Coast and never had bells either, but I digress.

First moment of craziness–the W<3KC gets famous! They are in the newspaper and on TV! Dawn has a laugh like pealing bells! Kristy gets really jealous. Oh, Kristy. Kristy is pretty annoying in this book, so I don't want to focus on this part too much. Basically, despite the fact that the BSC has more business than they can handle, Kristy wants to equal, if not better, the W<3KC media attention.

But the W<3KC can't handle it! They are too disorganized! Dawn steers them in the right direction, starting with an appointment book for the CORRECT YEAR.

In this book we also get to spend more time with Carol Olson. Dawn’s newfound respect for Carol from California Girls! flies out the window when Jack and Carol announce their engagement. Dawn sees it necessary to steal her dad’s credit card, book a flight to Connecticut out of LAX, and rechristen herself “Marisol.” Lo and behold, she is not welcomed with open arms in Stoneybrook. Dawn=delusional. Mary Anne=rocking an LL Bean nightgown.

If I had done this at thirteen I would have been in such deep shit. If I did this at 22 I would still be in deep shit. All Dawn has to do is work back the cost of the plane ticket–a nice large sum, to be sure, but still.

Dawn’s punishment, however, is not mentioned in any subsequent book. It’s possible she worked it off fast, what with all the extra baby-sitting jobs the W<3KC got after their media blitz, but still.

Dawn’s actions also cause Jack and Carol to break off their engagement. Poor Carol. I would feel so bad if my future stepdaughter flew across the country to get away from me.

But don’t worry, she always pulls herself up to the top of heap. I still don’t really understand what that means. Jeff doesn’t either.

So yeah, this book pretty much encourages children to steal from their parents if they don’t like their future stepparents. After all, the punishment won’t carry over into the next book and you’ll totally get what you want: a break up! Yay!

For next time: Mallory Pike, #1 Fan.

The reason why I’ve been slacking off on posting lately is because I have a lot of work to do before I graduate in May, and it’s difficult for me to sit down and ponder long enough to come up with something to post about. So I decided that until my graduation, I’d try a new format and post my thoughts of a specific BSC book. Regular posting will resume before the end of May.

First up is Kristy’s Great Idea. As well as the first book in the series, it is the first BSC I read. I got it in a set of three from the Collector’s Club with Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls and The Truth About Stacey at the end of first grade. I guess you could make the case that this is the book that got me hooked, but, truth be told, I don’t think that it would have mattered how much I actually enjoyed the book. I was so in love with the idea of reading the BSC that the quality of the book didn’t matter. It just seemed like such a grown-up thing to me, especially since my mom had to use my brother’s Scholastic book club form to enroll me.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I actually enjoy the later books more than the early books. They just have a different feel to them. While it’s cute to see them forming the club and everything, it feels very different from the later books. Plus it’s always strange to see the girls in seventh grade rather than eighth, and having Mal be a sittee rather than a sitter. I think that KGI is probably the most realistic book of the entire series, and I think we lose some of the Thomas family closeness later on. Plus, you don’t really see the sitters mouth off to their parents and teachers in later books like you do in this book, which I appreciate.

Hmm, maybe I like this book more than I thought I did!

Next up, in case you’d like to read along with me: Dawn and the We <3 Kids Club.