the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in Publication

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.

  • 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.

    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 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?

    This is old news by now, but the REISSUING of BSC books will begin soon. This is not surprising, as you’d hardly expect that they’d go through all the trouble of releasing a prequel when they couldn’t capitalize on either the new fans of the characters that the prequel will bring, nor bring the nostalgia bucks that the old fans whose collections were sold off in garage sales and donated to thrift stores by well-intentioned parents would be willing to spend, once the prequel jogs their memories. Rather than being completely blindsided by surprise (as I was by the news of the prequel itself), it was simply confirming what I knew would happen all along. Sure, they have the graphic novels, but as I learned when I tried to get my stepmother to buy them for my sister–some people just don’t want the comic format, and the four-book option already ended. It’s cheaper just to take the old books, reprint them with a new cover, and send them out into the marketplace.

    I have my doubts, though, that the texts will remain untouched. Thinking of other reissues-Sweet Valley comes to mind, although I heard that Saddle Club was reissued as well–as well as updated versions of old classics like Judy Blume books, I am pretty sure that the BSC will not escape modernization. Perms, flop socks, even iconic pieces like Mary Anne’s “Famous Cities” skirt–it’s hard to fathom that they will be allowed into the homes of today’s children, despite the fact that the clothes right now are pretty damn eighties and nineties to begin with.

    An interesting cultural shift that begun after I left childhood behind was the idea that kids are really, really stupid became in vogue. Yes, the whole sanitary belt thing in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret confused me, but I understood that it was a story of the early 70s and things were different then, and I wouldn’t have wanted all of the slang and fashions updated. One of my favorite things about Harriet the Spy is the Mad Men-era Upper East Side locale, which is one of the main reasons why I absolutely hated the movie starring Nona F. Mecklenberg/Regina Sparks. But apparently nowadays even things like 1BRUCE1 are just too hard for the kids to understand, too unrelateable. You’d think it’d be the opposite, because now kids can just google that shit. Perhaps this lack of faith and push the modernize things is what made the SVH reissues not very successful: perhaps if they had just retained the corny, tacky, vintage feel that we all know and love, they’d have been more successful. Because I am sure that now it just reads like a less-scandalous Gossip Girl. Would today’s kids live in fear of trying cocaine after what happened to Poor Regina Morrow? Maybe, maybe not, but if it were framed in LOLEIGHTIES! it might seem less lame.

    I think that now the entire concept of the BSC is outdated. Even in 1986, it was hard for the girls to compete with the Baby-Sitters Agency, which had older sitters. I can’t see any contemporary parents I know leaving their children in the care of an eleven-year-old, even a levelheaded one like Mallory. Claudia’s voracious appetite for junk food that never results in weight gain would definitely be frowned upon. And obviously, with cell phones, Claudia might even be stripped of her title as vice-president! The books are so firmly steeped in a pre-cell phone, pre-internet, pre-THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!!!!!! culture that it is hard to see how, exactly, they’d be able to modernize it without basically having to redo the entire concept. I mean, this stuff DOES enter the series, but only at the tail end, and I doubt that they will even get to the ghost-written books in terms of reissuing the series.

    So perhaps, if we’re lucky, they will just leave them alone and reissue them as they are, as a relic of the 80s and 90s.

    Yes, I know that it has been about two months since I last posted. What have I been doing? Well, I moved. I moved to a place where I could not take my BSC books. I have been quite distracted by my real life, and in all honesty have not been thinking much about the BSC. My mind has been occupied by things like, “How can I pay my tuition if I can’t get a student loan because my university has no association with the US banking system?” and “Oh fuck my head hurts from this hangover.” I had a few topics I wanted to write about, but I just never got around to forming the ideas to the point where I could write a meaningful blog post about them.

    BUT THEN SOMETHING TOTALLY UNEXPECTED WAS DISCOVERED YESTERDAY, THE BIGGEST NEWS SINCE THE YEAR 2000 WHEN THE SERIES ENDED. If you care enough about the BSC to follow this blog, then you probably about know about it. Adri posted this yesterday in the BSC livejournal. I haven’t read the comments yet, because I wanted to write this post completely unbiased. But anyway, A NEW BSC BOOK IS COMING OUT APRIL 1ST. It is a prequel called The Summer Before, which takes place the summer before seventh grade. You can read the summary in the link to the BSC lj.

    What are my thoughts on this? I have many.

  • Is this the start of a series of prequels? Will we have books that take place when the sitters are even younger? Or is this a one-off thing?

  • Perhaps, instead of a bunch of prequels, we’ll next have The Summer After, which would take place after Graduation Day. Now, I have mixed feelings about the idea of a “reunion book” in general. I kind of prefer us all being able to imagine what happened to the girls ourselves.
  • While a prequel is exciting, we do all know, say, what happened to Stacey the summer before seventh grade. The Claudia plot, though, intrigues me.
  • How will it be written? I imagine it will be more like Main Street than BSC. I doubt we will have, say, a Chapter Two.

  • Speaking of Main Street, I wonder how this will affect Ann’s Main Street effort. Will she abandon it in favor of more BSC? Or is this, as I noted above, just a one-off thing and will not affect Main Street at all? Does anyone know how well Main Street has sold?
  • This is perhaps the most important question of all: Does this indicate a potential, at least partial, re-release of the series? It’s hard to imagine having a prequel released for a series that has been out of print for years. Although the graphic novels are still in print, and the book will only be about the original four, so perhaps Scholastic doesn’t deem a re-release necessary.

    I will go more in depth about my various thoughts about this news in subsequent postings. But I just wanted to get something up here, and just bang out a few of the reactions floating around my head. What reactions do you guys have to this news?