the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in boys

For girls who love mysteries so much, there are lot of puzzling things about Stoneybrook that they just blithely seem to ignore. There is, of course, the infamous Time Warp, and the Mystery of Sabrina Bouvier. Nobody ever brought up how they were able to go on so many vacations and celebrate holidays multiple times. They were in a Twilight Zone episode, but Rod Serling didn’t pop in at the end to hammer the point home to the viewer.

Rod Serling

“Seven middle school girls stuck in a world where no one ever ages and doomed to never enter the hallowed halls of Stoneybrook High School. This meeting will now to come to order… in the Twilight Zone.”

There is one major plot point of the Baby-Sitters Club that just seemed to fall off to the wayside, and it has always bothered me. Sure, we can chalk it up to “Ann Hates Mal,” but perhaps there is something more sinister afoot. I am talking about, of course, the death of Ben Hobart’s and Mallory’s relationship. I wrote about it briefly here, but I’d like to go into more detail today.

Now, Mallory and Ben had a rocky relationship. Who could forget their fight over the card catalog, or the Caroling Debacle in Here Come the Bridesmaids!? He did, however, play a Loganesque Supportive Boyfriend role in Mallory Hates Boys… and Gym. But Mallory and Ben were together, and he warranted the occasional Chapter 2 mention and visions of future redheaded children surely danced in Mallory’s head.

Look how cute they were at the dance!

Somewhere along the way, it all went sour. In Abby and the Secret Society, we see that Ben has now become a client of the BSC, and is participating in a bathing cap decoration content with the other clients. He makes a “shark attack” cap, which seems perfectly eleven-year-old boy to me, so I don’t think it was a ghostwriter/editing error in this case. They did not, say, mean to write “James Hobart.” Although frankly, if you can’t tell the Hobart boys apart, you have no business writing BSC books, amirite. He was also in Christmas Chiller, annoying Mallory and also seeming eleven-year-old boyish. Yet in neither book is their romantic history ever mentioned. No “Ugh, ex-boyfriends are SO LAME,” as would be appropriate in the case when a former flame does something totally embarrassing.

But in Stacey and the Stolen Hearts, Ben and Mallory write each other Valentine Grams! This book was published a mere three months after the release of Christmas Chiller. What happened in the interim? Was there some sort of Pike-Hobart melodrama that we never got to witness, and the other sitters weren’t even aware of it? Was it too painful to Mal herself to mention in various books and her chapters in Christmas Chiller? To me, it is a great oversight that Ben and Mallory’s relationship wasn’t given the attention it deserves. We knew about every fight Logan and Mary Anne had, every time Kristy was embarrassed by something involving Bart, Every Stacey Boyfriend Ever, Claudia’s problems finding a steady guy and later being torn between two men… Hell, even Jessi and Quint, her fellow eleven-year-olds, got a satisfying resolution to their story. But Ben? He was vaguely mentioned, I think, during the Spaz Girl era, but Mallory wasn’t in the mental state to deal with the issue.

This still doesn’t explain, however, how Ben was suddenly reverted to Sitting Charge. I want, nay, demand a satisifying explanation and resolution to Ben Hobart and Mallory Pike, Boyfriend and Girlfriend. For all the nerdy girls with wonky noses and glasses, who didn’t deserve to be given such short shrift in the books, we want an answer for the callous treatment of Nerd Love.

Well, anyone who has been reading this blog or discussing the BSC with me on the Boards/LJ communities knows that my BSC OTP is Mary Anne and Cary. I am actually working on a C/M longform story for Baby-Sitters 100.

Why? I love their interactions in the series, especially in Friends Forever where he helps her out in Mary Anne’s Revenge and when they go mini-golfing in Claudia and the Disaster Date. I am decidedly NOT a Kristy/Cary shipper. I felt like their relationship was based on mutual annoyance with an undercurrent of grudging respect, not that they butted heads due to unresolved sexual tension. (I mean, as much sexual tension as you can have with a fellow thirteen-year-old.)

With Mary Anne and Cary, I feel like Mary Anne brings out Cary’s sensitive side and Cary makes her braver. They complement each other well. Cary is actually a very creative and artistic soul, and Mary Anne would totally understand him. Aww.

Mary Anne and Logan, of course.

Just kidding.

We have already covered my love of Ethan Carroll. But actually, my favorite COUPLE to read about might actually be a tie between Amalia/Brendan and Maggie/Tyler in CA Diaries. I definitely reach for Amalia, Diary Two and Maggie, Diary Three when I am in an “I want to moon over boys” mood. I want Ethan all to myself, but I can swoon over new romance in those two books.

I think relationships work better in CA Diaries than in BSC. The slightly older intended audience tends to make stuff like that more interesting and realistic than in BSC, which was basically always pretty tame. With the noted exception of Kristy + Bart = Bart is a total horndog, of course.

This is quite apropros, since we’re coming up on the holiday season. For my choice, if we think about holiday books in terms of the complete mindfuck that is the BSC Time Warp, I’m going to go with the darkest timeline.

I don’t think there is a terribly popular opinion, but I am a pretty big fan of the Super Mysteries and read them probably more frequently in comparison with other books. The stakes are just a little bit higher and the danger heightened.

So anyway, for favorite holiday book I’m going to go with Christmas Chiller. This one also comes with the added bonus of an Ethan-heavy storyline, so, score. I do realize that Fright Night could also be considered a “holiday” book, but that one is slightly more boring since it does not have ETHAN. And isn’t that the book where Mallory is really annoying about needing the special Mystery Notebook, and somehow cajoles an SMS faculty member or their spouse to bring the Notebook to Salem? Relax, Pike.

But yeah Ethan Carroll forever! Even if he dated a psycho named Sybil and really, ghostwriters, couldn’t you have been a little less obvious and NOT picked a name associated with mental illness for this character?

One of the problems I’m having with this Challenge is that for some of the questions, as a person who has blogged upon the BSC on and off for years and who has participated in online discussion communities for just as long, I feel like I’ve already answered them sufficiently enough. This happens to be one them.

I am, as long-time readers of this blog probably know, an unabashed Ethan Carroll fangirl. Now, we all know that my girl Stacey, as my teacher of (language of country I currently reside in) said today, “changes men like gloves.” Ethan, however, is undoubted the coolest. He is an ARTIST. He has an EARRING. For a while, he had BLEACHED HAIR. He has a PSYCHO STALKER EX (oh wait, that part wasn’t so cool). Unlike all of the other guys the BSC dated, with the exception of MAYBE Trevor Sandbourne, but I probably wouldn’t want to date a poet because then you’d have to listen to their poetry and who wants that, I would totally date Ethan if he weren’t fictional and ten years younger than me.

I find it interesting, now that I’m thinking about it, that Stacey seems to like to surround herself with artistic people. Both her best friend and her boyfriend are artists. Perhaps Stacey herself has a hidden artistic soul she hides with her talent for numbers, and lives vicariously through Claudia and Ethan. Although she did mention that she was good at interior decorating, and she obviously has a keen eye for fashion, so perhaps Stacey should try picking up a sketchpad one of these days.

Again, this one presents a sort of challenge. What does “least favorite” mean in this case? Is it the character you least like to read about, who bores you? Or is it the person you find most repulsive, whom you’d surely dislike if you knew them in real life?

One of the jerkiest characters in the series is, of course, Clarence King. Clarence is someone who looks for people weaker than he is–Mallory, Tess, Logan-when-he-is-a-sitter–and attacks them, most likely out of his own low self-esteem. Clarence is truly needlessly cruel. Cokie was a girl with a crush. Clarence is just a jerk.

I also don’t like Mark Jaffe, Claud’s boyfriend for a brief spell, very much. I don’t think he was a bad guy, necessarily, but if Claudia were your friend, you’d definitely ask her, “Why are you dating him?” Mark was all style and ego, no substance, and Claudia deserved better. Which she eventualy got… with…. Alan Gray?!

Second day of the Challenge! Remember, if you’d like to play along, you can do it in the comments, at the original thread, or on your own blog, like Donica at SMS Cafeteria.

And now, without further adieu: Least Favorite Sitter!

Much like with the “Favorite Sitter” question, anyone who reads this blog or is vaguely acquainted with me probably already knows the answer. Logan. Bruno. Shall I count the ways?

Logan is basically the opposite of my ideal guy. Jock, pushy, makes lame MAN JOKES. Logan is the kind of person who finds Two and a Half Men to be an example of a truly great sitcom.

Then there is the whole Mary Anne-and-Logan relationship, which was at its best in FF#3, when she finally got rid of his ass once and for all. Why does their relationship bug me so much? MA&L represent some kind of bizarre, unpopular quiet girl wish fulfillment. It was always believable for Stacey to have tons of boyfriends. Kristy and Bart were more like friends who played baseball and then sometimes also went to the movies and dances together, and when Bart wanted more, Kristy freaked out. Ben Hobart and Mallory had a cute, clandestine, redheaded relationship. Ok, maybe Quint was a creeper. But this isn’t “creepiest eleven-year-old horndog;” this is “least favorite sitter.”

MA&L had a very serious, adult relationship, in eighth grade. And it was just never believable to me that this popular jock also baby-sat and was into Mary Anne because she was shy and sensitive. What. Girl was barely out of braids when they got together. I also could never see strict Richard sanctioning something like that for Mary Anne. My parents would have been freaked out by the intensity, and they were nowhere near as strict as Richard.

I feel like that whole relationship gave the girls who read the series the idea that when they were in eighth grade, some hunky guy with a cute accent would transfer into their school and love them for their true selves. Let’s face it, those of us who obsessively read the BSC, no matter how awesome we are now, probably were not the most desired girls in our middle schools. We were not the Staceys. Most of us, myself included, probably see more of our middle school selves in Mallory’s “Spaz Girl” experience than Stacey being too pretty to be a part of the cheerleading squad. And that, besides his controlling jerkhead personality, is why I dislike that whole storyline/Logan Bruno so much.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I am an avowed Logan hater. Logan is the antithesis of everything I’ve ever wanted in a man. Now, Ethan Carroll? There’s a dude who would make my heart go pitter-patter. If he weren’t fifteen and all.

But that doesn’t really have much bearing on what I want to say here. Right now, I would like to address one of the most psychologically-damaging aspects of the Baby-Sitters Club series, ones that gave legions of nerdy girls in pigtails hopes that, once they got to puberty, just didn’t pan out and probably didn’t until they got to college or even after college. I’m talking here, of course, about the relationship between Mary Anne Spier and Logan Bruno.

Let’s recap. When they meet, Mary Anne has just convinced her father to let her wear her hair in something other than pigtails. She has just purchased her first training bra, being surpassed only by Kristy in flatchestedness. She cannot talk to BOYS without her tongue turning to sawdust.

Logan is the New Boy. He has blondish curly hair, which was so cool in the 80s. He plays lots of sports and he plays them well. He has a Southern accent, and we all know how accents are supposedl irrestible to women. For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that he looks like a young James Spader:

Think back to eighth grade. Who were the girls who had boyfriends back then, especially the cute new Southern jock guy? Was it the girl whose idea of a really stellar Saturday was sitting at home, rereading Little Women, a box of tissues at her side? No, it was the girls like Stacey and Cokie, both of whom were also interested in Logan. Mary Anne’s relationship with Logan, I think, represents some sort of subconscious wish fulfillment for Ann and other bookworm girls everywhere. In middle/high school, Cute Boys will look past the blonde perms and bras and toothpaste-ad smiles of the confident girls, and see your true self. They will say, “Oh, that girl is so sweet and sensitive. She would make a swell girlfriend and my mother will adore her.”

Has this ever happened in real life? No. Maybe Nerd Girls can date Nerd Boys. But the hot jock guy? Never.

In addition, let’s remember who Mary Anne’s dad was. Richard, the strictest dad in the BSC, the one who, until he hooked up with Sharon, controlled every aspect of Mary Anne’s life. My parents weren’t 1/10th as strict as Richard, and I don’t think my mom would have been pleased about me dating at thirteen. Richard letting Mary Anne date Logan is just completely illogical.

So besides the fact that I Hate Logan, the other reason the whole idea of Mary Anne’s and Logan’s relationship bothers me is that it presents a false ideal. It says, hey, if you can’t even talk to boys and dress like a six-year-old, the boy of your dreams will still want to date you because you have a great personality. If you ever get over the whole unable-to-talk-to-him thing, which he will totally patiently wait to happen. How many of us got to eighth grade, expecting to be swept off our feet by a Southern gentleman, and this didn’t happen because we were a total outcast loser who the jock guys only saw as a target for teasing, not a gal who they’d like to take on a clandestine date to Renwick’s? Yeah. Thought so.

One of the major themes of the series is thirteen as a turning point, the age where one is Grown Up. You can baby-sit at night. You can go steady. You don’t ask your parents for help in 95% of the cases where you really, really should. Mallory and Jessi see thirteen as the magic age where they will get sparkly sweatshirts, contacts, and nose jobs. Shannon Kilbourne even titles the essay that frames her portion of the The Baby-Sitters Remember “Thirteen,” which is a sort-of coming of age story.

Apart from the whole “no sitting at night” thing, Mallory and Jessi actually have a fair amount of autonomy for eleven year olds, especially by today’s Helicopter Parents standard. How many eleven year olds do you know, for instance, who go to New York City to visit a boyfriend? How many eleven year olds are allowed to spend a weekend baby-sitting their siblings? (Sorry, Jessi, but I have to agree with Aunt Cecelia on that one. That’s just plain illegal.)

So one would assume that, despite all the whining from Mal and Jessi, that being eleven in Stoneybrook doesn’t really suck that much. Parents are more than lenient. Despite the fact that the Pikes have nixed the nose job idea, Mallory has more independence than would be considered prudent by commentors on parenting blogs, even the “hip” ones. But the same cannot be said for Mallory and Jessi’s peers. It is, in fact, one of the great mysteries of the BSC.

When we are first introduced to their characters, Tiffany Kilbourne is a sitter and Ben Hobart is Mallory’s Australian doppelganger/boyfriend. (Kind of creepy, if you ask me.) Yet somehow, over the course of the series, they are both on the receiving end of maturity downgrades. Rather than being pissed that the BSC has stolen her and Shannon’s sitting “territory,” Tiffany becomes part of the territory and becomes a BSC client. And Ben shows up at events that the BSC are running/involved with, and there is no mention of the fact that Ben and Mallory go out sometimes.

Sometime after December 1994 (Ben and Mallory have a fight about carolling in SS12), Ben and Mal’s relationship fizzles out. Perhaps all of the fighting about carolling and card catalog usage got to him. He shows up at the Greenbrook Club bathing cap contest. He plays an innkeeper in the church Christmas pageant and pisses off Mallory because he adlibs some Faux-stralian flavor into his lines. There is never any mention that hey, at one time, Ben and Mallory might have looked deeply into each other’s glasses and held each other’s sweaty palms. No, all has been forgotten–the scars from those card catalog/carolling fights go too deep. He is excised from Mal’s Chapter Two segments. The first cut is the deepest, indeed.

Ben has a chance to redeem himself after Mal’s Spaz Girl nervous breakdown, however. He is seen saying that he has tried to reach out to Mallory, but she doesn’t seem very receptive. No, Ben, your flames of love died out long ago. It happened while you were decorating your bathing cap to look like a shark attack.

Tiffany Kilbourne never gets a similar shot of redemption. She becomes a client and stays a client. Sometimes, I think, her age is even downgraded to ten. She’s eleven in The Complete Guide, but I swear she’s mentioned as ten in some places. Anyone with a citation, hit me up in the comments.

Then, in Claudia and the Recipe for Danger, we actually have a twelve-year-old pretty much being sat for by the eleven and thirteen-year-old sitters. He is the second Tyler in the Kids Kitchen thing, and no one ever really notes WHY there’s a twelve-year-old there, and he doesn’t do much. But it’s still alarming.

My conclusion is that really, Mal and Jessi seem to be the only eleven-year-olds in Stoneybrook who are afforded such responsibility. Perhaps if Ben had been smart like Logan (never thought I’d type the phrase “smart like Logan,” BUT SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME, GHOSTWRITERS?!), and become an associate member, he could have kept his lady and his adult-ish status. It seems like being in the BSC is the ticket to maturity, and will help you avoid all of the potential pitfalls of adolescence, like acne, gum-chewing, trying cigarettes, and hiding those tiny bottles of wine in your flop socks. Look at what happened to Stacey and Dawn once they leave the comforting bosom of the BSC for Bad Girl-ism and California! Would Dawn have gone to a restaurant that served “more than just tea” (AKA HEAD SHOP IN THE BACK, DUDES) if she were still living with Mary Anne? Of course not.

The time warp works in mysterious ways. It can make you age so that you seem ahead of your years (everyone in the BSC). It can make you age backwards (Tiffany and Ben). Stoneybrook, Connecticut. An idyllic suburb of Stamford, a convenient train ride away from New York City straight into the heart of… THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

UPDATE: Not even bodily injury can stop Ashley from sharing her vast BSC knowledge. Thank you, Ashley!:

From #70, Stacey and the Cheerleaders:
Shannon nodded. “She missed the Terrible Twos. Instead she’s having the Terrible Tens. Even her teachers are complaining.” (p.23)
Tiffany is a ten-year-old version of Shannon – physically, at least. (p.60)

But in #112, Kristy and the Sister War, Tiffany is 11 again, though she is still getting sat for.

Sometimes I feel like I go against the majority of BSC fans in regard to my personal feelings about BSC pairings. I don’t like Kristy/Cary… I prefer Mary Anne/Cary. I also don’t like Kristy/Alan… I prefer Claudia/Alan. Now, this is not because I buy into the “Kristy is a Lesbian” theory. I am quite fond of Kristy/Michel, actually.

The main reasoning between Alan and Kristy, as I’ve gathered, is that Kristy and Alan have the classic love/hate, teasing-because-I-like-you relationship. As with Kristy and Cary, sometimes I feel like hate/dislike is just that–no romantic overtones at all. Many people were quite blindsided by the Claudia/Alan storyline in Friends Forever, but once I thought about it a little more, it made a lot more sense than it seemed to at first.

Kristy and Alan seem to share of love of playing jokes on each other, but Alan has one thing that Kristy decidedly lacks: an artistic soul. It’s hidden, but it’s definitely there.

First, in Claudia and the Genius of Elm Street, Alan has an infamous scene where he shows up to Claudia’s “gallery” opening and draws disgusting pictures:

I thought she saw a painting of some candy she didn’t like. But when I turned around, I saw she was staring at a crude drawing of a dead cat next to a candy wrapper.

“What is that?” I said.

I walked toward it, and saw another wrinkled sheet of paper tacked up nearby. That one showed a terrible drawing of a grungy-looking toothless man eating a candy bar. He was smiling happily and saying “Mmm!” while the candy was flaking down his chin.

I quickly tore down the disgusting drawings. Who could have –

Then I saw Alan Gray squatting in a corner with a pad of paper and a pencil. “Hey! Cut that out!” I yelled.

Alan sprang to his feet, giving me his dumbest grin. “Go home, Alan, okay?” I said. “Don’t ruin my show.”

“Sure, Claudia,” he said. “No problem. See you.”

Alan also participates in the portrait drawing contest in Claudia Makes Up Her Mind–losing, of course. And when he is trying to romantically seduce Claudia, he makes her a pin out of sculpey and dyes a flower several different colors using the stem-splitting method. He also has an artistically-minded appreciation of anime.

Alan Gray has an artistic, sensitive soul; one that he covers up with jokes and pranks and being obnoxious. In the quote from Elm Street above, it seems like he just wants Claudia’s attention. And he’s not a jerk when she asks him to go home; he just leaves.

Kristy is not sensitive to understand Alan Gray. Once Claudia looks beyond his reputation, she gets The Real Alan.

Do you agree, or do you still like Kristy/Alan?

Next Page »