the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in Friends Forever

Last week I watched the movie Young Adult, which stars Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt and was made by the people behind Juno, which I’ve never seen. Besides feeling lots and lots of secondhand embarrassment for Charlize Theron’s character, Patton Oswalt’s excellent turn at dramatic acting, and this song from Teenage Fanclub, the movie has one very important thing going for it. In the movie, Charlize Theron’s character’s profession is… wait for it… YA series ghostwriter!!!

Now we can imagine how Nola Thacker looked while working on the BSC, amirite?

So Mavis, Theron’s character, is a ghostwriter for a YA series called Waverly Prep, which I imagine to be more in the Gossip Girl vein than the BSC or SVH, but whatever. The thing that stuck with me, besides the realization that ghostwriter for a YA/middle grade reader series is kind of a dream job for me, is that the fact that the series has just been CANCELLED is a plot point that’s kind of floating in the background the whole time, and, in my opinion, the thing that really sets off Mavis’s mid-30s crisis, even more than the fact that her long-ago boyfriend had a baby and is apparently happy.

This, of course, brought to mind the BSC and its end in 2000. The end of the BSC has always been spun as, “Ann decided it was time for the thing to end,” but it’s always struck me as more PR than truth. Let’s look at the facts:

  • Before the introduction of Friends Forever, they redesigned the Mystery series, only to use the new covers for, oh, three books. Now, it’s possible that the art department and the editorial department just didn’t communicate that well, but it says to me that Friends Forever was something that was moved along quickly and was somewhat of a surprise to those who worked on the series.
  • California Diaries and Little Sister ended without a satisfying, wrap-everything-up ending, whereas Friends Forever had Graduation Day. The Claudia/Alan, and yes I am just going to go with this fantasy of mine here, Mary Anne/Cary (or at least Mary Anne-on-her-own) plotlines were not resolved. Stacey/Ethan also didn’t really get a satisfying conclusion.

    It seems to me that the ending of the BSC, and perhaps even the transition to Friends Forever, was more sudden than Ann & Co. let on. It would have been fairly easy to put together Graduation Day, because it’s the obvious conclusion to the series. It would have been harder to decide a proper sendoff for Ducky and Karen. Perhaps the California Diaries team and the Little Sister team didn’t even know they were being axed alongside the BSC and figured that rumors about the end of the BSC wouldn’t affect them–maybe Little Sister had better sales than its big sister series, much like how the Full House “Michelle” books were being published long after ABC cancelled the show. I’m not sure how good California Diaries sales were, but I can see them attracting the audience that felt embarrassed to be buying the BSC, but still wanting to feel some connection to the characters.

    It’s entirely possible that only the FF editorial team was given enough notice to properly finish out the series. Maybe the LS and CD people had a whole bunch of books outlined that they never got to finish. I’d ask @PeterLerangis, but I’m sure Scholastic made him sign a blood oath to never tell the true story.

    One of the things that struck me about the plotline in the film is that they did in fact use the word “cancelled,” exactly as you would for a television series. I guess it makes sense for a book series as well; I had just never thought of that way. I had always seen the end of a book series as more as an agreement between the author and publisher, not the publisher deciding to no longer publish the books. Looking back on it, I think this is probably a naive attitude to have about how the publishing world works. Just like how many cancelled series have episodes in the can that will never air, I am sure that many book series had more plots outlined and new characters in the wings that never ended up on bookshelves.

  • Per my last post, I like the FF series as a whole. If I had to choose a least favorite, however, I think I’d go with Graduation Day. While this was an event that we had been waiting for ever since Logan Likes Mary Anne! was published, I’m not sure if I liked how it was handled in Graduation Day, or if it could ever really live up to any expectation we could have had.

    I’m glad they went with this direction in ending the series, and having a real “conclusion” book to the whole thing, instead of just ending with Claudia and the Disaster Date or something. But still, it’s not really a book I reach for often. Let’s see, Stacey freaks out about returning a Beverly Cleary book (what? THAT is how you end the story of our Most Sophisticated Sitter?!), Claudia almost fails (no surprise), Mary Anne… I don’t even remember, Kristy is sad about the end of eighth grade/the BSC (ok, this plot makes sense, and is a perfect segue for ninth grade BSC fanfic), and the kids do a time capsule thing. Yawn. I guess you couldn’t conclude the series without a stupid kid project, though.

    Anyway, I think it accomplishes what it’s supposed to… but it’s just not a book I find terribly interesting. And yeah, I recognize that this is a series that includes a book where the central plot revolves around every single ex-boyfriend of a THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD coming into town at once, but I’m sticking with my choice.

    If I were to have a deep, dark fandom secret, it would be my love for Friends Forever. A lot of BSC diehards can’t stand Friends Forever. They think it doesn’t have the same spirit of the original series, especially the spirit of the beginning of the series.

    In contrast to most, I actually prefer the crappy, later-series ghostwritten books. They have the flavor of my childhood, and focus more on things that interest me. Plus, less appearances by the Perfect Perkins Girls. (What did happen to those kids, anyway? They just seemed to drop off the face of Stoneybrook.) Friends Forever focused pretty much entirely on boy problems and family problems, and there was little to no sitting. Awesome!

    Some of my favorites of the series are Claudia and the Disaster Date, where Claudia and Alan explore their newfound relationship and Claudia works out some issues with her mom, Mary Anne’s Revenge, where Mary Anne tells Cokie to shove it with the help of Cary Retlin (and everyone knows that MA/Cary is my OTP), and Welcome Home, Mary Anne, featuring architectural porn in the form of the BarnHouse and an appearance by Sunny Winslow.

    But really, I could reach for any FF book and be satisfied by the lack of sitting jobs and the importance of dude drama.

    In the 90s, I remember seventies stuff being pretty cool. That is how we ended up wearing bell bottoms and velveteen tops in 1997. The last few years have been all NEON! RAYBANS! LEGGINGS!, culling its sartorial influences from the 80s. There’s a 20-year cycle of fashion, when things have faded from memory just long enough to stop seeming hideously ugly.

    Thus, we have started to see a 90s revival, both in fashion and in entertainment. Beverly Hills, 90210 is back on air, as is Melrose Place. Of recent book releases, the book I’ve heard the most about is Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music by Melissa Meltzer, which has insipired even those who weren’t even alive at the time to listen to Bikini Kill.

    It’s no surprise, then, that both the Baby-Sitters Club AND Sweet Valley are coming out with new books. (Yes, the long-awaited Sweet Valley Confidential is being released.) Had these books been released five years ago, only those of us diehards in the fandoms would have cared. The sales would have resembled those of the attempted revitalization of the series that was Friends Forever, if that. But now enough time has passed since the heyday of these series to mean that people who were readers the first time around might have kids of their own of BSC/SV-reading age. Those who don’t have kids might check out the books just out of pure nostalgia, and old enough now to not be embarrassed about being seen buying them Teachers and librarians, also of the first generation of readers, can introduce the books to the kids they work with. When the graphic novels came out, I think it was just slightly too early for all of this. Only the hardcore fanbase seemed to be interested, for the most part, and I don’t remember as many writeups across the internet. Jezebel, for one, has been following the reissues/prequel story for as long as the fandom has.

    While ten years ago, Ann said she was simply “done” with the characters, perhaps the real implication of her words were that, outside of her hardcore and aging fanbase, the public was done. They were a relic, overshadowed by new phenomena like Harry Potter. Even a graphic design upgrade and less focus on baby-sitting couldn’t obscure the fact that their time was over. They were innocent books without anything supernatural. But now twenty- and thirty-somethings seem to all be infected with a sense of early 90s nostalgia.

    Maybe Ann saw the marketing opportunity and seized it, or her editors gently suggested it to her. Or perhaps, she, too was nostalgic for the BSC’s heyday, and wanted to revisit these characters.

    The Baby-Sitters Club is rife with examples of glaring violations of child labor laws. Logan works as a busboy at the Road Spud. Laine poohs baby-sitting in favor of working as a cashier at Flowers and Bows, the boutique on the Upper East Side (or West? Please, someone with Stacey’s Ex-Best Friend handy, let me know!). Stacey works at Kid Center in Bellairs.

    But in later books, someone seems to have sent Scholastic a memo saying, hey, THAT IS ILLEGAL. Sunny says that Ducky is the only friend of hers who can work at Winslow Books, because he is sixteen. Maureen Spencer says that none of Stacey’s friends can work at her new, as yet unopened store, since they’re not old enough. While in many ways the series got more unrealistic as time went on (oh hai princess in Stoneybrook and field trips to Europe), when it got to be CA Diaries/FF time, things seem to have become more realistic. Nothing in the plots of either series are as outlandish as things often found in later BSC.

    Another thing I noticed in my reread of Stacey’s Problem: Samantha is one glamorous woman. She is a former model turned fashion photographer. Now, this kind of woman is not going to date just some normal guy. I would imagine that she would probably end up with someone high-powered and rich, because that is the kind of person she would come across in her work. We’re told over and over again that Watson is Very Rich, yet Stacey buys all her clothes at Bloomingdales (which is not cheap–Stacey is rocking the cost equivalent of Marc by Marc Jacobs in eighth grade), she went to a fancy private school in Manhattan, they had an apartment overlooking Central Park, Ed takes Stacey to fancy restaurants and Broadway plays all the damn time. So how come the obvious was never stated, that Stacey is very wealthy as well, in addition to being sophisticated? It seems odd to mention Kristy’s wealth in every Chapter 2 and not say anything about Stacey’s.

    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?