the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in Kristy Thomas

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

There are two instances in the series where the characters are based off of real, existing people and Ann has admitted this.

The first is that the characters of Mary Anne and Kristy are based off of Ann and her childhood best friend, Beth. Ann is kind of mousy and quiet, whereas Beth is loud and outgoing. Notice, however, that Ann gave herself a hot boyfriend–something that never happened in real life. Hmm. Anyway, so their friendship dynamic is based on Ann’s and Beth’s, and so are the personalities, just exaggerated.

The other instance of real-life people purposefully brought into a character happens with the Perkins family. The Perkins family in the books is a fascimile of the Perkins family in real life, forever frozen in Stoneybrook time. There is a real Myriah, Gabbie, and Laura.

Why did Ann choose to put this real family in the books? Why, Mrs. Perkins is, in real life–wait for it–Beth, childhood best friend. So when Kristy (adolescent Beth) moved away, Mrs. Perkins (adult Beth) moved in. When Kristy sits for the Perkins girls, she is in fact sitting for her future children.


So it seems from the comments that everyone disagrees with me on the Cary front. Pffft.

Let’s start from the beginning. Cary Retlin is quite interesting, as he did not appear in the series until very late (Stacey’s Haunted Masquerade, I believe), yet he seems to leave a lasting impression. Reviewing what we know about Cary, we know that he is hot (according to Stacey, so how much does that really mean?); he hails from Oak Hill, Illinois; his dad used to be a policeman but is now a locksmith; and he is the purported ringleader of the Mischief Knights, who cause a lot of trouble around SMS. Cary shows up often in Mystery books, and seems be quite the detective himself. He also wishes to become J.D. Salinger and enjoys surrealist art. He hangs out with Alan Gray.

Kristy and Cary do not appear to like each other. In Kristy In Charge, this hatred sends several seventh graders to the hospital. In Kristy and the Middle School Vandal, Cary challenges Kristy to a mystery contest, wherein a loss results in the loss of Kristy’s fancy watch. In Kristy Power!, Cary and Kristy have a huge fight. I am sure that there are other Kristy/Cary hatefests which I can’t think of at the moment.

This brings me to my point. Kristy does indeed have a history of having hate-to-love evolutions in her relatioonships. But the transformation happens quickly. Alan Gray went to a dance with Kristy in the second book of the series. Michel and Kristy were making out in the Eiffel Tower by the end of European Vacation. But between Cary and Kristy the closest they got to any sort of reconciliation was a grudging respect for one another. If they were OTP, they would have gone to a dance or kissed or exchanged friendship shoulder punches (the Kristy Hug!) if you want to really stretch it.

Kristy and Cary have the opposite of a mutual adoration society. I think Cary really is just annoyed by Kristy, by her gigantic ego, by her confidence that she is smarter than the entire Stoneybrook Police Department. Kristy is annoyed by Cary because he does not revere her, nor is he frightened by her. He even questions her detective skills! He is one of the only people, besides Cokie Mason, who is willing to say to Kristy, “You’re wrong.” And as we all know from some book which i can’t recall now where Logan writes in huge letters KRISTY WAS RIGHT in the notebook, and the narrator said that Kristy lives to be told she is right and probably blew up that entry and hung it on the wall above her bed, well, this does not bode well for Kristy and Cary even being friends. To be Kristy’s friend, you must suffer through her mistaken “great” ideas and cheer her on when she really does have a great one. You must treat her as someone who is Much Better At Problem Solving Than You, regardless of whether that is true. I do think she has a softer side to her, but this is the face that she likes to show to the public.

So no, I do not believe in Kristy/Cary at all.

Instead I believe in Mary Anne/Cary.

The issue with Mary Anne/Cary, sadly, is that it takes place pretty much only in FF. This is because for the entire time that Cary is a part of the BSC world while the regular series is being written, MA and Logan are still together. I believe I have mentioned many times on this blog that I can’t stand Logan Bruno, except in his own books where he’s a huge dork, but it bears saying again: I can’t stand that Logan Bruno.

There are many in the fandom who take a “If I don’t open my eyes and see it, it doesn’t exist” approach to FF. They would prefer the Club to be fully functional, for Stacey and Claud to not be fighting over a boy, for the farmhouse to still be standing. I happen to enjoy FF, however, although I know those of us who enjoy FF are certainly a small group. Anyway, most Mary Anne/Cary action happens in FF so that is why it is kind of an ignored ship.

Most of the MA/Cary stuff happens in Mary Anne’s Revenge. Mary Anne’s Revenge is a great book, even if you hate FF on principle. Cary helps MA get revenge on Cokie. I don’t think Cary’s hatred for Kristy really carried on to the other BSCers. Cary seems to work very hard on this plan, claiming that he hates Cokie, but I think it is because he wants to make out with Mary Anne. Interpret it as you wish. Also, in Claudia and the Disaster Date, Cary totally asks to be MA’s partner during miniature golf, and she does so, happily. Awwww. I think that if FF had not ended after that, MA and Cary would have dated. Claudia with Alan, MA with Cary… Kristy’s head would have exploded. That would have been terribly gross, so that is why they had to let the BSCers graduate. The head-explosion scene would have been way too gross.

As for those who ship MA and Pete… I ask, why? Sure, Pete asks her out, but Pete is the character equivalent of wet clay. He was molded into whatever shape was needed for that particular book. Sometimes he’s cool, sometimes he’s geeky, sometimes he snaps bra straps, sometimes Stacey dates him. People enjoyed MA/Pete in MA Misses Logan, but I think their teamwork was based more off of hatred for Cokie/Logan than anything else.

So that’s my stance.

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