the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in Mystery series

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.

Play along here, in the comments, or on your own blog!

OK, this one is actually difficult for me, because I happen to like a lot of the mysteries. Yes, they are unrealistic for the most part, and I am always like, “Why haven’t I ever come upon a mystery in my own life?”, but I find them quite enjoyable. Good job, Ellen Miles. Actually, as I write this, I am looking at the list on wikipedia, trying to decide.

I like Stacey and the Mystery at the Mall, despite its ridiculousness, because it takes place at a MALL and I love malls. I live across the street from an awesome one now, and it’s great. H&M and TopShop all day, every day. Plus a food court. But I digress. I like The Mystery at Claudia’s House, because, spoiler alert, Janine gets a boyfriend! Stacey and the Haunted Masquerade is DEFINITELY the creepiest! I also always had a little crush on Thrash from Dawn and the Surfer Ghost.

I think, though, that it’s a tie between Claudia the Mystery at the Museum and Stacey and the Stolen Hearts. I like Museum because the descriptions of the Stoneybrook Museum make it sound really cool, like if you combined an art museum with the Franklin Institute. Stolen Hearts is very gossipy, which I enjoy. You get to see a lot of the minor SMS characters in that, and I like to have more information about the minor characters. Cary Retlin, too, is a particular favorite of mine.

So yeah, I guess this a cop-out, because I couldn’t really decide. It’s honestly easier for me to talk about which mysteries I DON’T like, but that’s tomorrow.

EDIT: I just realized I skipped Day Four, least favorite regular book! I’ll do THAT one tomorrow. Also, Donica reminded me that Masquerade is the book where Cary moves to Stoneybrook, so I may need to just rethink this whole thing. Deciding which Mystery is your favorite is SERIOUS BUSINESS, guys.

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?

I know, I know–this blog is basically turning into “Greer Bitches About How Dumb Mysteries Are” dot com. BUT THEY REALLY ARE DUMB.

Today I read Dawn and the Disappearing Dogs. The premise is that one of the wealthiest men in Stoneybrook is no longer so wealthy, so he’s taken to stealing purebred dogs to maintain his lavish lifestyle. This is dumb for many reasons:

  • People usually don’t spend tons of money on adult dogs.
    People who buy dogs, which can be very expensive, usually get puppies. Why would you pay hundreds of dollars for a purebred adult dog from a pet store when you can get a purebred puppy from a breeder for the same price? People who are fine with having an adult dog usually get one from a shelter. Stealing adult dogs to sell through a pet store does not seem lucrative to me.

  • Why bother with dogs when you can just sell drugs?
    Obviously Karl Tate is prepared to break the law and take beloved pets away from their loving families. Instead of the dog scheme, why didn’t he just do something with a little Bolivian Marching Powder, or get involved with the mafia? He does seem like kind of a wuss in the Super Mystery he appears in, though, so maybe that’s why. And it is a BSC book, I guess. Woody Tate, though, seemed to me like he might have had a few grow lights in his closet or something along those lines. But yeah, drugs are probably more lucrative than dogs. Or maybe he could have laundered some money. If you’re going to do illegal stuff, do it BALLS OUT, Karl!

    A lot of this book was really stupid. OH LOOK, a green car that drives slowly! It must be connected with the dog-napping case! And of COURSE the lady who stole Cheryl showed up to the park just as the Krashers were playing their game. Coincidence is hard to pull off in fiction without it seeming lazy and unrealisitic. This book just left me with feeling of, “That’s it?”

    Are there any Mystery books that AREN’T full of fail? I tend to like Claudia mysteries, I think–the museum one, the stolen painting one, the Janine gets a boyfriend one–they were always some of my favorites. What do you think of the Mysteries in general? What struck you as particularly unrealistic or lame?

  • *****SPOILER ALERT*****

    Yesterday I reread Kristy and the Haunted Mansion. It is not a book I have read many times. I wasn’t sure why, before I read it again. Despite the presence of Karen Brewer, the idea of sleeping over in a creepy old house seems kind of neat, looking at all of the old crap in the house, all of it perfectly preserved. And then I got to the end and I realized why I hated it.

    And this is where you should stop reading if you haven’t gotten a chance to read this book in the sixteen years since it’s been published.

    So the caretaker guy, Will Blackburn, was so heartbroken that nearly sixty years later he was living on his ex-girlfriend’s property, keeping up all of her things, which is actually really creepy. You know, it’s sad that his first love died and all, but really he should have done something to get over it. He should have fought in World War II or something and gotten over it. Seriously. Are we meant to believe that his girlfriend died, his girlfriend’s dad died, and then he just bought this huge mansion on his own? I guess he must have made money while pining away for her after her death or something. But that’s beside the point–basically you have this dude, who never got with anyone else, never had kids, never seemed to really do anything in his life because his fiancee died in 1937…


    Despite the fact that Dorothy’s actions killed her father and destroyed Will’s life, basically (although OK, I can see the argument that Will not moving on with his life is totally not her fault; he chose the path he followed, I guess), she is presented as a positive character in the book. She’s a nice old lady who bucked convention and had a great, feminist-empowerment life. I do understand why she did it, I suppose–not wanting to go from her dad’s house to her husband’s house–but, you know, she could have just met Will and said “I am not ready for marriage” and then gone off to Paris or whatever. She didn’t have to let everyone believe she was DEAD.

    And what is the BSC’s reaction? “Oh, let’s reunite them! How romantic!” No, all you Mary Anne Spiers of the world, she’s just not that into him. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have faked her death to get away from him. Plus, how will poor Will feel, when his sixty-years-presumed-dead-fiancee-who-jilted-him shows up at his door? Dude’s gonna have a heart attack. Then he is going to be really, really pissed off.

    In conclusion, this book is just all kinds of messed up and sends a weird message.

    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.

    Last night I read Mary Anne and the Secret in the Attic. This is an significant Baby-sitters Club book, as it introduces a very important part of Mary Anne’s biography. After her mother’s death, Mary Anne was sent to Maynard, Iowa to live with her grandparents for a while, until Richard fought to get her back. Future BSC books would occasionally list the state as Nebraska, rather than Iowa, but it was definitely Iowa.

    Obviously, in terms of Mary Anne character development, this is a pivotal book. Sadly, it is full of glaring holes and mistakes and just plain sloppy writing. Perhaps most confusing is Mary Anne’s trip to Iowa, which we learn about through her correspondence with her family and friends back in Stoneybrook. The last line before this chapter-of-handwriting is “It was time for me to make plans to go to Maynard, Iowa.” Then we turn the page and with no transition, MA is having a great time in Maynard. Mary Anne, however, was in school throughout the whole book and she seems to spend a long time in Iowa. At the end, Richard writes a letter about how Mary Anne would like to visit her again next summer. This leads to the conclusion that the last chapter of the book takes place the summer after the other events of the book, but again, this passage of time is not clear. Richard also invites Verna Baker (MA’s grandmother) to come for Christmas. That never happens.

    The story of MA’s visit to Iowa is told fully in Mary Anne’s Book. It paints a much less rosy portrait of her visit than this book. For most of the time MA and Verna are not getting along and it is only at the end that they begin to like and relate to one another. I suppose that the story about her trip told by Mary Anne in the mystery book is much less interesting than in the Portrait, and in 1992 they perhaps had not planned the Portrait Collection series yet, so this is something I’m willing to overlook.

    What I cannot overlook is what is truly the most WTF?! moment in the book. Mary Anne, supposedly a loyal girlfriend, continues her Sea City tradition in Iowa and goes on a date with a cute Farmer Bob. She does not say, oh well my Grandma made me go, or anything to that effect. She just says he’s cute. I can understand being bored after only hanging out with your grandma all the time, but if you have a steady boyfriend back home, you should not paint your activity as a date. Mary Anne was then disappointed that Bob, who took her to the Dairy Queen, was only interested in cars and cows. What does it matter, Mary Anne? You have a BOYFRIEND! God. MA is worse than Stacey sometimes.

    Another problem with this book is this big paint fight they have while painting their cardboard cutouts for Heritage Day. While Mary Anne and Dawn’s house has a freaking BARN, they decide that the logical place to undertake a messy project would be… the den. This makes absolutely no sense. In a choice between a room which the family uses often and probably has expensive electronic equipment and perhaps important things like uber-romantic high school yearbooks and things like that, and a barn that no one cares whether you get it messy or not, they choose… the den. Well, anyway, they have this big paint fight. It is so messy that Logan has to take off his shirt. While they mention covering the floors with newspapers, they don’t mention the furniture or the other stuff in the room that I assume includes a television set. Also, it is specifically stated in several books that unlike Stacey’s mom, who allows boyfriends in the kitchen when she is not home, Richard and Sharon have an explicitly-stated “no boys in the house when we’re not home” rule. Mary Anne’s dad doesn’t even flinch when she relays this event to him, even when she mentions the “no shirt” thing. (Sexy!)

    This last annoying, sloppy writing mistake is not terribly important but might be the most annoying and stupid. Charlotte Johanssen’s great-grandmother, Berit Marie Hjielholt Johanssen, emigrated from Denmark to the US. Her diary, which details her life starting from her voyage to America. Now, since it has never been mentioned before, I doubt that Charlotte reads Danish fluently. I doubt even more that Berit would have written her diary in English, given that she was Danish. But Charlotte can read this diary. My grandparents immigrated and even after years and years and living here they still wrote personal things in their native tongue. Has Ellen Miles mistakenly thought that Denmark was a part of England, like a Scotland with lax marijuana laws and more herring? It is hard to tell. Perhaps she is one of the one-fifth of Americans who cannot locate even the United States on a world map. Such as.