the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in pop culture

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.

  • One of my favorite parts of the Complete Guide is seeing which things are marked with a “*”, for “Only in Stoneybrook,” and which ones are real. Ann/the ghostwriters mention a lot of books, tv shows, movies, etc. beyond Little Women, I Love Lucy, and The Wizard of Oz.

    But aside from the odd Jasion Priestly reference in the later years, most of the “celebrities” mentioned exist only in the BSC fictional universe. Even when an author appears on Claudia’s WSTO radio show who is obviously based on Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, he is called Ted Garber, author of the Fright Nights series. (Although now that I think about it, if R.L. Stine did make an appearance, the series could’ve been criticized for advertising another Scholastic property.) Even without googling a name, fans of the books can pretty much take it for granted that if a famous person actually makes an appearance in the books, they’re made up.

    There is one exception to this rule I’ve been able to find, however, and it’s a puzzling one. It takes place in California Girls:

    “Guess what,” said Derek. “Today we start working with a special guest star.”

    Mallory’s eyes widened. “Who?

    “Elaine Stritch.”

    Mal and I must have looked puzzled, because Derek said, “She used to be on Broadway all the time. And she’s been in a Woody Allen movie.” (Obviously Derek knew more about such things than we did.)

    Now, the reference to Stritch being in a Woody Allen movie (September, I actually like this movie a lot, rent it from Netflix!) does lend some legitimacy to her appearance. Jessi and Mal decide to obtain Stritch’s autograph for Terry, because he is really into movies, and at the end he says that he’s in a Woody Allen phase, perhaps to due to The Autograph. But otherwise, it’s just a bit strange. It wouldn’t have hurt the plot at all to just have some random madeup actress and say that they had worked on Broadway and in feature films. And I’m not saying that Elaine Stritch hasn’t made a significant contribution to theater and film, but she’s not exactly the kind of the celebrity name that kids in elementary school and middle school would recognize.

    So why does Elaine Stritch get the honor of being the only Real Person to have a cameo appearance as herself in the BSC? Are she and Ann friends, and her grandnieces were big fans or something? Does Elaine Stritch herself have a secret collection of BSC books that she turns to when she’s feeling down, and wrote Ann, begging for a walk-on part? Is Ann a huge Elaine fan, and her VHS copies of her films are all worn down? (This last one actually seems doubtful to me, because none of her films were ever mentioned in the series.)

    It’s puzzling, to say the least. But next time you’re watching 30 Rock, and Colleen Donaghy is on, you can impress your friends and family by sharing with them your keen grasp on Elaine Stritch trivia and letting everyone know that she is the only real person to have appeared in the BSC series.

    EDIT: I did just realize that Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves and maybe some other people are mentioned as having eaten at the Blumes’ house. So that’s another celebrity crossover, albeit not one as mystifying or as significant as the Elaine Stritch one.


    In this picture, Elaine has obviously just finished telling Kenneth the Page all about the time she met Mal and Jessi.

    Erin: I’ve been trying to get into the baby-sitting game forever. The 13-year-olds in this town have a complete monopoly. It’s almost like a baby-sitters club.