Stoneybrookite

the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in Jessi Ramsey

One of the many things I learned from the books is who Balanchine was. He is mentioned in Jessi’s Awful Secret:

There’s a look in ballet – dancers are thin, square-shouldered, and have a more-or-less oval face. I’ve heard that it started because the great choreographer George Balanchine wanted his corps de ballet (all the dancers who aren’t the stars) to look alike. Since his death, this has started to change. That’s what people say, anyway. It seems to be true.

Now, this basically blames Balanchine for a hell of a lot. Not only is it blaming Balanchine for image issues in ballet, but, especially since it is in Jessi’s voice, also carries implications of Balanchine only wanting women who look alike in terms of race as well to be in his corps. Also, while I’m not a ballet scholar–although I have studied ballet history and the work and influence of Balanchine in particular before–this does not even appear to be a true statement. In Lincoln Kirstein’s Program Notes, about Balanchine’s 1971 staging of Serenade, he writes: “If there is a star, perhaps it is the corps de ballet, which Balanchine, at the start of his American career, intended to strengthen past anonymity or any subordinate position” (Source).

This, of course, could still be interpreted as dancers still looking alike, while their work is elevated en masse. In Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet, Robert Greskovic writes:

In concept, “individuality in the corps” is something of an oxymoron. Or so it has been until more recent times, notably in the era of George Balanchine. The founder and guiding light of the New York City Ballet altered the concept of regimented uniformity of the corps de ballet. Balanchine’s vision of the corps de ballet definitely included the dimension of individuality. It allowed for personal distinction within its ranks. Answering criticism for his company’s lack of strict regularity in the dancing of his corps de ballet, Balanchine likened likened his preferred, individualized effects to those of an unclipped garden” (p. 167).

Now this, to me, does not sound like a guy who wants all of his ballerinas to have oval faces. The reason why I’m bringing all of this up is that in the September 22nd issue of The New Yorker, there’s a profile of Misty Copeland. This article provides insights into the issue of race in ballet that I think are helpful for understanding and looking critically at the way Jessi’s dancing is described, putting the whole “dancing major roles en pointe at age 11″ thing aside. Once again about Balanchine, Rivka Galchen, the author of the profile, writes:

The original dream of a uniquely American ballet was of a company that mixed whites and “Negroes”—the term used by George Balanchine, one of the co-founders of New York City Ballet. Balanchine had been influenced by working with Josephine Baker, the black American dancer who became a celebrity in France during the twenties. His vision was only occasionally realized: in his famous “Agon,” he choreographed a pas de deux for Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell, a white woman and a black man. “Agon” was performed in 1957, to critical celebration, even though it could not be shown on television until 1968. Balanchine also made Maria Tallchief, who was of Osage heritage, an early star of the New York City Ballet. (For a time, he also made her his wife.)

I suppose that the point of this post was just to direct you guys to the profile, because it is very interesting. Also, I felt like clearing up some things about Balanchine, because Suzanne Weyn (a ghostwriter I usually like, since she wrote all of the juicy Stacey stories) created an image of Balanchine in my head as someone “who wanted his corps de ballet to look alike, but since his death ballet dancers are not as overly conscious about their looks and weight” (from the Complete Guide). An entire generation of girls, hating Balanchine. Poor guy.

If there’s one thing that the fandom seems to 100% agree on, it’s that Jessi’s handwriting is too damn hard to read. Many cheerfully admit that they skip the sections where she has handwritten something, or even say that they can’t read cursive at all. (I have actually had people my age–28–tell me to rewrite something in print so that they can read it.)

Now, cursive, and whether it’s worth teaching kids how to do it, with the ubiquity of computers and all, is a hot-button issue. Personally, I am glad that laptops in the classroom only really became a thing after I finished college, because the clackety-clack of 20 or so keyboards going simultaneously would have driven me crazy, plus it’s easier to think with a pen in your hand. Anyway, that is not what I’m writing about today. Back to Jessi and her poor, maligned handwriting.

My rereading of My Own Two Feet that I mentioned last week also resulted in several Wikipedia/Google k-holes about common handwriting systems in the United States. Beverly Cleary, having gone to school in the ’20s and ’30s, learned the Palmer Method. When you look up the Palmer Method, it looks a lot like Jessi’s writing.

(Source)

Apparently Oakley was just very behind the times in their writing program, because by the ’50s, the Palmer method was on the way out, to be replaced by Zaner-Bloser, which is what I learned, and which has more in common with Mary Anne’s writing than Jessi’s.

Now, of course, if kids do learn cursive today, they learn D’Nealian, which is stupid and ugly. But let’s stop insulting Jessi’s handwriting. It is a part of American cultural heritage! And I have never understood the whole “hard-to-read” thing, anyway. Jessi’s handwriting 4 lyfe!

Inspired by this series.

KRISTY is a very successful entrepreneur. I see her being a serial entrepreneur, always with the next great big idea. Social media, innovative new ideas for charity start ups, whatever, she’s into it. Watson probably gave her some seed money for her first venture, but she made it back ten fold and now gets her funding like anyone else. I have never had a clear read on Kristy’s sexuality as an adult, but whoever she marries would probably end up being a stay-at-home parent, and Kristy has four kids and tries to make it to as many of their softball games as she can.

CLAUDIA is a high school art teacher. New York was too expensive, and the practical Kishis wouldn’t support her art career financially. So she came back to Stoneybrook, and teaches art while taking care of her superbly dressed son with Alan Gray.

STACEY is like Lauren Santo Domingo, only insanely good at math. Worked for LVMH before starting her own fashion-related company. Has one kid, a husband in finance, a nanny, a housekeeper, an apartment in New York, and a house in the Hamptons.

MARY ANNE is a high school guidance counselor. She lives in a small seaside town in Maine, not far from Reese, with her husband, who is a chef at a restaurant frequented by wealthy tourists. Basically, she’s Susan Branch without the cookbooks.

DAWN lives in California and works for an environmental non-profit. Her husband was a lawyer, but they fought a lot, and now she’s divorced with two kids.

MALLORY lives in New York City and is a writer. I secretly think Mallory=Ann, even if Ann says Mary Anne was based on her. So just picture Ann’s life, and give her red hair.

JESSI went to Dance New York soon after the series ended. After a stint dancing professionally, she now teaches dance and is married to a fellow dancer with a daughter named Mary Rose.

ABBY decided she wanted to be on SNL. She didn’t make it, but turned her hilarious LA experiences into a successful blog, which landed her a position on the staff of a ladyblog. She is too independent for a partner of either sex, and prefers shorter affairs. She is thinking of adopting at a later date.

SHANNON used her facility with languages and general all-around brains to get a job with the State Department. She is still looking for Mr. Right, but her experiences with her family growing up have deep down soured her on the idea of marriage and family in general.

LOGAN stayed in Stoneybrook and married Dorianne Wallingford after she got pregnant at 19. He manages a sporting goods store. They have two boys and a girl. Dorianne writes an aspirational lifestyle/mommy blog, and she makes more money than Logan does with her sponsorships and whatnot.

I feel like it’s high time that I wrote something here on the rereleases, but I’ve had a hard time deciding how I feel about them. I am kind of bummed that 2010 is shaping up to be the biggest year in BSCland since ten years ago, when the series ended, and I’m not living in a country where I can really fully participate in what’s going on. The only way I’ll be able to access any of the new books until July is if Amazon decides to put them on the Kindle (go to the pages for the books on Amazon.com and let them know you want them on the Kindle! Do it for me, and, I guess, fans who want to read the books on the subway without anyone else knowing and other BSC fans living abroad who have an ipod touch and the Kindle app), or if someone types up an ebook of them and I can find it somewhere, although I feel that the attitude of the fandom will be similar to the attitude that is taken toward the graphic novels and Main Street. They’re in print, so let’s vote with our dollars and let Scholastic know that these should continue to be published.

Anyway, now that the personal stuff is out of the way, one of the biggest controversies is how the series will be updated. We know that the clothes and hairstyles will be changed to reflect current trends–although, frankly, are trends today (leggings! oversize!) all that different, except now we’ve combined acid-wash jeans and leggings to make JEGGINGS? I’m wearing jeans with zippers on the bottom right now, a style I first was made aware of by the Club. Fresh! Also, the new outfits I’ve heard of so far (featured in the prequel) sound way more hideous. From the USA Today blog post:

Claudia was wearing willowy black pants, cinched at the waist with a drawstring, and a boldly patterned summer shirt with ties that she was adjusting around her midriff. Her
midriff would have been bare, but Claud had slithered into a lacy black tank top before she’d put on the shirt. On her feet were delicate silvery sandals, and her hair, which was looooooong and thick, was held away from her face with two silver combs.

I kind of feel like this isn’t much different from the outfits featured in the series in the late 90s, rather than something a modern 13-year-old would concoct out of thrift store finds and Forever 21. I think Modern Claud would dress like Tavi.

Another issue the reissues bring up is what they’re planning on updating besides the fashions. One thing that has never really sat right with most people in the fandom is the “We don’t care if Jessi is black! We’d like a girl if she were PURPLE and a good sitter!” Even other series of the same time, such as the Saddle Club, didn’t make such a big deal about having a character of a different race, if they reissue the series up until the point where Jessi comes into the picture. See also: Claudia being “exotic.”

Also, I’m sure they’d have to update medical stuff in regard to Stacey. Perhaps she’ll have an insulin pump decorated with glitter or something for her by Claud!

As far as Kristy and Mary Anne go… I don’t know what they’ll update for Mary Anne, because Mary Anne’s early wardrobe seemed very fifties even in the 80s and 90s. I’m having a hard time with modern readers buying the excuse that Watson and Elizabeth need to get married right away so they don’t end up living in sin.

What do you think they’ll update? What would you be sad to see go? What would make you glad?

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.

There are certain things which happen with regularity in children’s series about middle schoolers aimed at young girls that do not really happen in real life all that often. Here is a but a short list, culled from readings of The Baby-Sitters Club and GirlTalk. Other tropes or other series/tv shows in which these things happen are welcome and encouraged in the comments.

Modeling.
Since there is usually at least one main character who breathtakingly beautiful (while also being intelligent and modest), modeling is a good, exciting plot to turn to. Because what young girl doesn’t want to be judged solely on her looks? GirlTalk blew this wad early, in the third book of the series, The New You. Allison Cloud models after being selected in a Belle modeling search. She could have gone on to have a real modeling career, but the she wouldn’t have time to read 100 books over summer vacation.

Stacey was so pretty that Scholastic felt justified in using this plot twice. The first was in the tv show, where Stacey was selected to model for Bellair’s and also could have gone on to have a big career, but chose baby-sitting instead. Much more glamorous. Then in Stacey and the Fashion Victim, she participates in Stoneybrook’s Fashion Week. Yeah.

Another important plot point is that the only other girl in the modeling group that your modeling character knows is the sworn enemy of the series’ main clique. Stacy Hansen in GT, Cokie Mason in BSC. They’re bitches, and they’re beautiful.

A fun twist to this plot is that in Stacey and the Bad Girls, Stacey is rejected as a model, for being “too commercial.” What, perms aren’t edgy?!

Beauty Pageants.
When I think of beauty pageants, I think of Delta Burke and Bravo’s series Toddlers and Tiaras. And the South. But in middle grade girls’ fiction, geography knows no bounds. Every town has a beauty pageant, and every girl wants to enter. Now, since sometimes the BSC takes on a feminist slant, in the BSC beauty pageant plot, it’s clients who are entering, and Mal and Jessi form the beauty pageant opposition.

But in the GirlTalk book Beauty Queens, Allison and Sabrina both enter and it’s a big fucking deal and stuff. I don’t remember what Allison’s talent was–reading? I think Sabrina gets Miss Congeniality. Whatever. I haven’t read that book in ten years.

Synchronized Swimming.
Have you ever done synchronized swimming? No? Well, in middle school book girl world, schools have synchronized swimming teams. Wtih costumes. And underwater stereo systems. Perhaps there were editors out there with Esther Williams fantasies. Again, it’s our Allison who does this sport, in Allison, Shape Up!. Jessi, our ballerina, gets this plot in Jessi’s Gold Medal. Of course, these girls take to “synchro” (that’s what the cool kids call it) and win medals and shit. But because it’d be too boring a plot to include in chapter 2s, no matter how good at synchro-ing your heroine is, it’s always a one-book deal.

Horseback Riding.
According to movies and tv shows and books, before girls love boys, they love horses. Randy, because she likes to be surprising, had this plot in GirlTalk. Surprisingly, it was a multi-book arc for her. The other girls tried it, but sucked. Mallory also tried it, and naturally sucked. Mallory and the Dream Horse is easily one of the most snarkable books of the series. Who can forget Mallory, dressed like she is from the 1965 Sears and Roebuck catalog, hanging out at a cool rich kid’s birthday party where everyone else is dressed like they are auditioning for “Kids Incorporated”?

Poor Mom, Rich New Dad.
Is your mom a harried, overworked, lonely single mother? Have no fear, because soon a really rich dude will walk into her life, marry her after like a week of dating, and soon you will all be moving to an awesome mansion, which you will have to share with your new stepsiblings. If you’re a main character in a middle grade book series, at least. Both Katie Campbell and Kristy Thomas watched as their moms were swept off their feet, and soon they had to leave the little houses they had known all their lifes for mansions. Oh noes. Katie’s new stepdad’s mansion is way cooler than Watson’s, if you didn’t read GirlTalk. It has an elevator, an indoor pool, and is fully staffed. I want to go to there.

There are several character-memes in the BSC fandom, and one of them is “Stacey is a ho.” I.e., you will find Stacey underneath the bleachers sucking off the basketball team LOL. I have always found these meme to be unfair and distasteful. Yes, as we saw in Stacey and the Boyfriend Trap, Stacey sure has had a lot of boyfriends for an eighth grader. But to be fair, Stace was in eighth grade for a very long time. (Oooh, another fandom meme!) Really, is it so hard to believe that someone who is smart, attractive, and pretty damn nice would be attractive to the opposite sex? And wouldn’t have a hard time finding a boyfriend (or seven)?

SOmeone on the BSC boards, however, pointed out that they didn’t really like the message that it sent that Stacey moved right on from one serious relationship (Robert Brewster) to another (Ethan Carroll). This criticism kind of threw me for a loop, because I’ve done the same thing. I am what a women’s magazine would call a serial monogamist. I don’t have one night stands. I date people for about two years, and enter into a relationship state known as being Brooklyn-married. The longest time since I’ve been seriously dating that I’ve gone without some sort of romantic attachment: two weeks. Shortest: twelve hours. So as you can see, for me Stacey’s serial monogamy that occurs later in the series doesn’t strike me as odd at all, and I never even thought to fret about the messages that Stacey’s boy-attachment sends to young, impressionable readers.

Then, like in Beavis and Butt-head when their very small and ineffectual brains begin working, a dim, small lightbulb appeared above my head. Out of all the BSC members, Stacey is the one whose family situation most resembles my own. My dad has always worked a lot, my parents got divorced, and he found his own Samantha Young while my mother is still single. I can say, easily, that things that are easy for my friends with parents in loving stable relationships (getting over things, breaking up with someone), are very difficult or near impossible for me. I then began to think about some of the other members of the BSC, and their attitudes toward men and relationship.

Mary Anne, Jessi, and Claudia are probably the healthiest. Jessi’s parents seem to have a really great relationship, and Squirt is still a toddler so you know their marriage is still Hot. Jessi is usually pretty level-headed, and she tells Quint where to go when he wants to take their relationship further and more serious than she is comfortable with at age eleven.

As far as Mary Anne goes, well, my hatred for Logan is still strong. Despite her meekness, Mary Anne is able to stand up for herself and dump the dead weight and bossiness to rival Kristy Thomas that is Logan Bruno. Yeah, she takes him back a few books later, after he promises to smother her less, but she finally realizes that Logan is not the guy for her in Mary Anne’s Big Breakup. She knows that she needs to be her own person, and having Logan Bruno around will hinder that. It is easy to criticize Richard Spier for being nerdy and over-protective, but I think that Richard, especially later Richard, is one of the BSC parents who is actually the most tuned-in and active in their kid’s life. It was Richard’s help, after all, that Mary Anne recognized that she needed to dump Logan–for good this time. Even her friends in the BSC blew her off, but Richard recognized that the relationship wasn’t really working for Mary Anne anymore.

Claudia is someone who should be on the same boy-attractiveness plain as Stacey, but she doesn’t even have a boyfriend who’s not a Vacation Boyfriend until Mark Jaffe. Janine dumps her Hottie Boyfriend Jerry and have her pine after her for the rest of the series. Go Janine! The Kishis, like the Ramseys, have a really strong marriage.

On the divorce side, we also have Kristy and Dawn. While many pin Kristy as a lesbian, I don’t think that not caring about clothes and a love for sports automatically defines someone as a lesbian. Kristy manages to keep Bart as her sort-of boyfriend until Kristy + Bart = ?. Bart gets fresh (Peter Lerangis’s memorable makeout scene!), Kristy freaks out. Kristy realizes that she is not ready for that kind of action yet. Some people read this as Kristy will NEVER be ready for this kind of action if a penis is attached, but I think that might not be necessarily true. I think it has far more to do with the fact that her father abandoned her. Kristy: probably should go to therapy now that she has a millionaire stepdad who can afford it.

Finally, we have Dawn. Dawn is one of the more contradictory characters in the BSC, and perhaps in children’s literature as a whole. We are told over and over that Dawn is such an individual, but yet she often changes her California Casual self to satisfy what she perceives as what other people would like. The two most glaring examples of this involve boys: Travis and Lewis. Dawn did everything Travis told her, because she thought that Travis liked her and if she cut her hair and pierced her ears again that he would like her even more. And then she made that kind of psychotic-sounding phone call–”I was already a beauty!” And for Lewis, Dawn did that weird makeover/personality transplant, and then immediately went back to Old Dawn when he revealed that he liked Old Dawn more. Insecurity stemming from the fact that her parents, who for most of her life seemed to be happy and loving, very suddenly got divorced and her family was ripped in half? It’s the only explanation I can come up with that makes sense.

I am sure that there are people with divorced parents who are OK with relationships, and people with happily-married parents who are messed up about them, for various life factors. But it sure does seem to be an explanation for a lot of what goes in BSC lovelife land.

It always confused me why Jessi and Mallory only had one mystery each. After some lengthy discussion on the top at the BSC boards, I finally found the answer. Jessi and Mallory, at eleven years old, were simply too young to participate in any of the dangerous crime-solving that the much older thirteen-years-old sitters were doing. Even in the Super Mysteries where Mal and Jessi have chapters, i can’t recall them doing any real stakeouts or anything–just keeping the mystery notebook up to date or doing some library research. Despite the total disregard for safety throughout this spinoff, such as the fact that even when someone tries to burn someone’s house down Claudia doesn’t bother to tell her parents about the scary stuff that’s happening to the BSC, at least they left the young’uns out of it.

Everyone rolls their eyes when they recognize that the last name of the Australian Hobart family is a city in Tasmania. But did you know that Kent (last name of Victoria, the British Princess), is a county in England? And that Ramsey is a borough in Bergen County, New Jersey?


Are there any other examples of this phenomenon?

No, the title does not refer to the fact that Jessi has probably yet to reach puberty. The title instead refers to the fact that while Jessi Ramsey started out with such promise, she was soon turned into a mere Token Character, with no real characterizations beyond dancing and being black. Remember when Jessi wondered, “Who ever heard of a black robot?” (For that matter, young Jessica, who ever heard of white robot? Aren’t all robots made out of metal, or at least silicone-covered metal?) Well, there is one black dancing robot, and its name is Jessi Ramsey.

When we first meet Jessi, she’s funny, and super good at languages. She seems to be a long-lost member of the Glass family, what with her going to Mexico for a week and becoming “practically fluent” in Spanish and all. (For the record, I hate romance languages. That, however, is a story for another blog.)


She also tells corny jokes about penguins. This is an aspect of Jessi’s character that when it disappeared, I did not really miss about Jessi. Then Abby came and reclaimed the corny joke role for the BSC.

Jessi is also introduced as a dancer, but it is not her whole life and she does not want to be a professional. Jessi is also a nice counterbalance to neurotic Mallory. She can always calm Mal down. This, at least, she retains, until Mal decides she wants to go to boarding school and Jessi turns into a megabitch. And that time she thought Mal, her BEST FRIEND, was racist because she was shy when visiting Jessi’s grandparents house.

After Jessi Ramsey, Pet Sitter, Jessi pretty much lost most of her characterizations. Her sitting job with Matt Braddock basically faded away with no explanation, and the other girls become pretty good at sign language as well. So what were we left with? Basically Jessi dances and is black, and everything else she has common with Mallory: she thinks her parents treat her like a baby because she can’t sit at night unless for her own family and can’t wear sophisticated (read: ugly) clothes like Claudia and Stacey. Not much else can be said about her.

Ergo, Black Dancing Robot.

I think the loss of Jessi’s more subtle characterizations is even worse than Dawn’s assassination by the ghostwriters. At least Dawn redeemed herself in the CA Diaries, of which I am a huge fan. But Jessi just dropped out of the Club to dance more, and did not narrate a book after Jessi’s Big Break. It’s saddening, because if you go back to Hello, Mallory!/Jessi’s Secret Language, it’s obvious that so much more could have been done with her. I would like to see some high-quality Jessi fanfic, to give her the chance to succeed that Scholastic didn’t.