Tuesday, July 23, 2013

“And so this whole big huge chapter of my life is drawing to a close”………….Friends Forever Special: Everything Changes

I’m changing my format up a bit, because the whole memory/revisited thing doesn’t work when I never read the book to begin with.
This book switches from Kristy, Mary Anne, Stacey, and Claudia’s point of view.  It’s told all in letters between Kristy and Mary Anne, journal entries by Kristy and Mary Anne, and letters/emails between Stacey and Claudia.  The girls are apart for the summer – Kristy’s back at Camp Mohawk, Stacey’s in NYC, Claudia’s on a month-long vacation with her family, and Mary Anne’s in Stoneybrook. Mary Anne was supposed to go to camp too, but backed out because she was worried about leaving town so soon after the fire, when she doesn’t know if her family’s moving or not.
Stacey’s in New York to see her dad, but is looking forward to spending time with her boyfriend Ethan as well.  Unfortunately, her dad sees 15-year-old Ethan standing outside some club and decides he’s too old for her and a bad influence.  We don’t know if Ethan was actually in the club or not, but it doesn’t seem to matter to Mr. McGill. He tells Stacey she can only see him 2 hours a day, or a total of 14 hours a week. So, Stacey’s mad at her dad and gets even more annoyed when he tells her his girlfriend Samantha may move in with him.   Ethan convinces Stacey to be more open to this, which makes her Mr. McGill relent about Stacey spending time with him.
Claudia’s on a little island in Maine for a month.  She and her family are doing a thing where they don’t have a phone, TV, computers, etc. Claudia’s bored at first, but she ends up loving it because there are a lot of artists on the island and she bonds with them.  She thinks it beautiful and is inspired by it all as an artist and all sorts of cliché stuff.  She even talks about wanting to live there someday. Then she catches Janine using her laptop (that she snuck in) to check email (the house has phone service, the Kishis just had the physical phones removed).  Janine lets Claud use the computer for email in exchange for keeping quiet.  Claudia also finds her mom reading some trashy romance novel and her dad watching some game on their neighbors TV. And she promises to keep all their secrets, so feels like she scored some points all around.
Mary Anne’s staying in some tiny rental house in Stoneybrook that the insurance company’s paying for because of the fire.  Her grandmother comes to visit, which Mary Anne’s nervous about at first, but it ends up being a good visit.  She brings Mary Anne some things that used to belong to her mom, so Mary Anne feels better about everything she lost. Meanwhile, she’s annoyed at Logan because he keeps asking her if she’s okay/treating her like she’ll break.  She finally tells him how she feels and he stops talking to her.  He’s a very mature 13-year-old, huh? The whole thing doesn’t really get resolved.  But Mr. Spier decides not to take the job in Philidelphia, and the family decides to renovate the barn on their property to a new house.  In the meantime, they’ll be renting a house from the Goldbergs, this couple that live next-door to Claudia, but are moving to Florida, but don’t want to sell the house yet.
Kristy loves being at camp.  She and Abby are co-CITs in the same cabin, and Kristy can’t stop talking about how much fun they’re having together.  It’s almost weird how much she talks about it, actually. Then Abby says she’s quitting the club so she has more time to play sports/relax. Kristy’s pissed, but eventually forgives her/says she understands. I think it was particularly hard because Logan and Jessi had already quit. Logan so that he’d have more time for sports and Jessi because she got into some awesome new dance school and won’t have time to sit.  By the end of the book, Shannon also tells Kristy she won’t have time to do much sitting.  Since Mallory’s already in boarding school, this leaves the original four members of the club.  They talk and decide they want more free time too.  They will still keep the club running, but may cut back on jobs and only have 1-2 meetings a week.
The whole thing seemed very fan fiction-y to me.  It felt a bit weird to have the girls seem so willing to cut back on sitting, when they were still very on board with the whole thing in the last couple books.  Especially with Kristy’s whole essay about how valuable and rewarding it is.  That may just be them wanting to end the old series on a high note, but set up the revamped series in this one.
  • In her journal, Kristy says she should ask Jessi and Mal to visit Mrs. McGill while Stacey’s gone, because she’ll miss having Stacey around.  That seems….overly nice of her.
  • Stacey takes 4 suitcases with her to NY.  She says her mom helped her get them on the train, but now I’m wondering how she got them off the train.  Because she had to walk out of the train to find her dad.  That’s a lot to carry.
  • Claud says how she’s never been stuck on an island before so she doesn’t know what the trip will be like.  Now….really? I’ve never been shipwrecked, but I have a feeling it’s not something I’d forget.
  • I could have sworn that Mary Anne finds her mom’s necklace after the fire, but in this book she says she didn’t find a single thing that belonged to her mom.  I guess they have different people ghostwriting the Friends Forever books?
  • So, they’re renovating the barn on Mary Anne’s property. I always pictured the barn as a little bigger than a garage or something.  I’m surprised they can revamp it into an actual house. They acknowledge that it’s the same amount of work as rebuilding their old house, so I don’t totally get the thinking.
  • The island Claudia’s family’s on is bigger than the one Stacey was at in her autobiography.  It has stores and a couple restaurants and stuff. But I guess Ann M. Martin has a thing for islands in Maine.
  • One thing I thought was odd.  In the book where Mary Anne’s house burns down, Richard says how Sharon couldn’t take the classes she wanted in Stoneybrook.  But when he announces that he’s not taking the job, she’s just all, “oh, I can probably take them in Stamford, or go into NY a couple days a week.”  Which just seems weird to backtrack like that.
  • Also, I thought it was weird that Richard told Mary Anne about the job at the same time he told Sharon.  I would have thought he’d let his wife know and get her input before telling Mary Anne.
  • Since this is told in mostly letters, we have to deal with Claudia’s spelling and grammar mistakes in every page of her chapters not just the handwritten intro.  Even the emails where she had access to spell checker (in theory).  But on the plus side, everything was typed so I didn’t have to read that awful handwriting of hers.
  • Ethan’s uncomfortable being with Stacey when she goes to the bra section of a store they were in.  He was sitting around waiting for her, but when Stacey got to bras he went back and insisted on sitting in a different section.  Wouldn’t a 15-year-old boy be into that? Or maybe it was weird for him because he was with Stacey?
  • What I am surprised about, is that Stacey had no issue picking out bras in front of Ethan. She wasn’t trying them on in front of him or anything, but still.
  • Ethan’s friend Tomas is 17 and has a party while his parents are out of town.  Stacey and Ethan go and they all sit around drinking coffee and reading poetry.  Those party animals.  Mr. McGill’s right to be worried.
  • The other thing that made me laugh is that Stacey thought the coffee/poetry reading was really boring.
  • Kristy keeps using the initial “A” to describe Abby.  Actually she used initials for everyone, but the A one was the most noticeable, because it keeps making me think of Pretty Little Liars.  Which I obviously don’t watch since I am way too old for a show like that.
  • I don’t really get the use of initials?  Was she being lazy? Trying to get more to fit on a journal page or something?
  • When Stacey’s dad wants to talk to her, he sends her a fax from work insisting on a “meeting” (this is to the fax in his apartment).  So, when he gets home Stacey has set out notebooks and bottles of water for them, which is kind of funny. It’s kind of immature though.  Her dad’s 15 minutes late, so when she tells him the meeting’s half over he gets annoyed.  But she has a valid point there.  Lateness annoys me.
  • Claudia says that when she caught Janine on the computer, Janine added her to her email account.  Which suggests she didn’t have an email address before.  So why does she know Stacey’s email address?  You’d think there would be no reason to have it if you don’t have any way place to use it.
  • Also, I want to know how Stacey managed to get the email address “NYCGirl” with no numbers or anything after it. She must have been an early adopter to whatever service they’re supposed to be using (which they don’t tell us).
  • Claudia eats lobster every day of her trip (in Maine).  But she has to leave the room when her mom cooks them, because it’s cruel to watch them die. She knows that happened to every one she ate, right?
  • The new dance school Jessi gets into is in Stamford and “on par with the American Ballet School in NYC.”  I don’t know much about ballet at that level, but I have a hard time believing some new school in CT would just suddenly appear and be at that level off-the-bat.  This was one of the things that made the book seem fan-fiction-y. But whatever.
  • I am happy for Jessi though, because the main reason she didn’t stay at that school in NYC was because it would have required moving away from her family and friends.  This way, she gets the same level of instruction, but gets to live at home.  And Mal already skipped town, so that’s less of a factor.
  • Kristy lists out all the moves/marriages/etc that have happened during the series.  It’s almost a full page, and sounds ridiculous when you read them all together like that.
  • Mary Anne calls Logan, asks to have dinner together.  When they meet, she’s surprised Logan brings flowers and thinks it’s a date.  It made me laugh, because she tells us about her phone call with Logan, then says isn’t it weird Logan thought it was supposed to be a date?  But she called her boyfriend and asked if he wanted to go out to dinner with her.  I think that’s the definition of a date.
  • Claudia takes Janine to an art class that one of the artists on the island is giving.  Janine’s all nervous and insecure about what to do, but eventually manages to have fun.  I thought it was a cute scene.
  • Kristy says she’s been looking forward to going back to camp for a long time.  I guess she means since the first time.  She’s certainly had plenty of summer vacations since then, it must have been ages ago.

Friday, July 5, 2013

“Maybe this really is a chance for a new beginning”……BSC # 131: The Fire at Mary Anne’s House

Memory Reaction
I never read this one during the original series.  I do remember seeing it in a bookstore and being surprised that they would actually have Mary Anne’s house burn down….that’s more serious than the BSC usually got.  I read the author’s note in the end, so I knew they were relaunching the series and feeling a bit sad about it.  This must have been after it was out a while though, because the store also had the first Friends Forever book, which I flipped through and thought was very un-BSC like.

Revisited Reaction
The title of this book pretty much tells the plot.  There’s a fire at Mary Anne’s house.  It’s a major one that hits in the middle of the night.  Everyone (including Tigger) gets out okay, but the house is destroyed and they lose pretty much everything they own.   In the days that follow, Mary Anne, her dad, and Sharon stay with Kristy’s family and start going through the remains of the house to try and find anything salvageable.  Dawn also comes to town, because obviously that’s the thing to do when your mother’s home burns down, she’s forced to stay at someone else’s house, and she’s dealing with a ton of crap.
Anyway, Mary Anne doesn’t cry after the fire.  Everyone else is all teary, but Mary Anne just can’t cry and she feels weird about it.  Since, you know, she cries at TV commercials and everything. But she’s pretty numb about the whole thing.  After a couple days the Spier/Schafers have a family meeting.  We find out that Richard was offered a job in Philadelphia recently, which he wasn’t even thinking of taking.  But it’s a great offer and he thinks that with the fire it may be a reason to start over in a new city.  Also, Sharon hates her job and thinks she’d like to become either an architect or an interior designer.  If they moved, she’d be able to take classes to do that.
At the end, Mary Anne can’t sleep one night and goes back to the site of her old house.  She’s in the barn looking at what little they’ve managed to save and Dawn shows up looking for her.  And this is when Mary Anne finally cries and they have a whole long talk about things.  Ultimately, we don’t hear whether they’re going to move or not.
Back before the fire, Mary Anne had seen an ad in some teen magazine about a contest for “Baby Sitter of the Year.”  Instead of fighting/competing about it, the club decides to enter as a group, and split up the various parts of the application.  But after the fire, Mary Anne and everyone else is a bit distracted.  They mention this to some of their charges, who voluteer to write up the actual history of the club and some testimonials in order to finish the application.   Kristy writes the last part – an essay about why she likes to baby-sit.  She has some trouble getting started, but eventually writes a piece about how much she loves the kids she sits for and how rewarding it can be.  She even talks about the fire and how all the kids came together to help with the application. We don’t find out if they win, but we aren’t supposed to care, since Kristy wrote about how it doesn’t matter if they win, since the fact that the kids cared so much was the most important thing.

  • So, I may not be as snarky as usual, because this is the last book and it’s making me feel kind of sentimental.  But I’ll try.
  • In the backstory chapter, Mary Anne calls Dawn relaxed, and claims she never judges anyone.  I kind of disagree.  She judges people who eat meat, who eat junk food, who don’t care obsessively about the environment, and even who have school spirit.
  • Mary Anne says that she once found one of Sharon’s socks in the lettuce crisper in the refrigerator. Now….really? That’s beyond scatterbrained, IMO.  I can buy socks in the linen closet (another place mentioned) cause you could have been putting laundry away or something.  But the refrigerator?  How does that even happen?
  • Mary Anne says she hates reading those embarrassing moments in teen magazines, because she always feels so badly for the person.  I feel the same way about people having embarrassing moments on TV shows or movies.  I have to look away from the screen sometimes. But I didn’t have an issue with the magazine ones, I actually loved reading them when I was 13. My friend and I once sent a made up one in to Seventeen, but it never got printed.
  • The winner of the baby-sitter contest will be featured in the magazine’s back-to-school issue (this takes place right after school let out).  Which is ridiculous because most magazines would have their back-to-school issue final by June/July.  Possibly even in print. They tend to work in advance.
  • Have we ever heard what Dawn’s mom does for a living?  She works for a woman who has her own accounting firm.  She kind of hates it and/or her boss, and she feels unappreciated.  I would feel bad for her, but if she’s half as scatterbrained at work as she’s at home, her boss shouldn’t appreciate her.
  • Mary Anne doesn’t salvage much from the fire, but she does find the pearl necklace that used to be her mother.  Her dad had given this to her when he got married.
  • The house was pretty much all destroyed and most of the second floor collapsed.  The part with the least damage was Dawn’s (old) room.  This annoyed me in two ways.  First, Mary Anne mentions that some of the secret passage might be intact, but then we never hear if it actually is.  It’s not super important, but details like that bother me. Second, why does Dawn’s room get the least damage?  That sucks for the people who live there all the time.   Granted, she did lose pretty much everything she kept there. But still.
  • When she’s describing Kristy’s family, Mary Anne says how it sounds crazy and living in it would be overwhelming to her.  Then she ends up staying at Kristy’s and is totally overwhelmed.  Foreshadowing or coincidence (since I’m pretty sure they say something like that in every book)?
  • The day before the fire, Mary Anne and Logan have a picnic in her barn (because it was raining).  After they eat, they jump from that rope in the hay loft that we haven’t heard about in ages. She claims it’s the first time she’s done it in “years.”  A statement like that makes the timeline issues jump out at you, doesn’t it?  If she just finished 8th grade, it’s only been a year-and-a-half since she met Dawn. That’s without even getting into the fact that once upon a time Mary Anne was too scared to jump from the loft.
  • Mary Anne references Titanic as one of the saddest movies.  It’s really weird to read that, because I was obsessed with that movie when it came out, but it was way after I stopped reading the BSC books.  Pop culture references like that always seem out of place in these later books.
  • The only outfits we get in this, are the ones Mary Anne and her family had on when they ran out of the house during the fire.  Mary Anne had on “a pink nightgown printed with 50s-style illustrations of kittens playing with a ball of string.”  Sharon just had on shorts and a T-shirt and Richard had on matching plaid flannel pajamas (not surprising, I guess).
  • The Pike kids are all worried about fires after hearing about the one at Mary Anne’s, so Abby and Claudia arrange to take them on a tour of the firehouse. I don’t know if that’s realistic, do they just give tours to random people like that?
  • Also, at the firehouse they give Claud and Abby a pamphlet called “Fire Safety Tips for Baby-sitters.” Really?  There are enough dedicated baby-sitters that someone makes a pamphlet just for them?  Why not just have one for kids/families?
  • I thought it was weird that Dawn comes to Stoneybrook as soon as she can after the fire, but Jeff’s told to stay home.  Mary Anne claims he’s too young (at 10) to see something this upsetting.  But apparently 13’s totally mature and adult and Dawn can handle it.  Never mind the practicality of coming to see people who are basically homeless.  I think they just wanted Dawn in the last book.
  • They didn’t find a way to get Mallory in the book, but I think every single character made a point of saying how she would have been the perfect person to write up the history of the club.  Which is what I was thinking as soon as they mentioned it.
  • So, Sharon wants to be either an interior decorator or an architect.  Those seemed like pretty different things to me at first, but I guess they’re related if you think about it.  They both involve creating spaces where people would live/work.
  • I would recommend interior design for Sharon though.  Architecture takes a lot of school.  Not that she couldn’t go back to school, but that would be a lot of time and effort.  Also, would you want someone who can’t keep track of ANYTHING planning your house?  I mean, they claim the fire was from old wiring, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear about Sharon leaving the stove on overnight or candles burning or something.
  • The Spier/Schafers can’t find anyplace alone to talk at the Brewers, so they go outside and into the new playhouse in the back.  This sounds really familiar to me, but I can’t think of which book it would have been in.  I just know that Karen always wanted to make playhouses for her and her friends.
  • One of the firefighters we meet’s a woman, which is clearly Ann M. Martin getting in her feminist message for the book.  I always approve of that.
  • The day after the fire, Richard and Sharon both call their bosses.  Which I thought made sense at first.  But then I remembered the fire was on a Friday night.  It isn’t like they were expected to show up at work. Why make that one of your first calls?  And would they even know their bosses’ home numbers?
  • Richard also calls Mary Anne’s grandmother, who he’s apparently gotten closer to.  That’s nice for them, I think.
  • The neighbors all come out during the fire to see what’s going on.  Which is only natural.  But I was surprised that Stacey was the first BSC member to show up.  I didn’t think her house was that close to Mary Anne’s, but according to this map, I guess she is.  (Mallory was in boarding school, so she doesn’t count).
  • The girls are surprised that Matt Braddock (a 7-year-old) is so good with a computer.  Which is kind of dated, because now everyone assumes that kids are better at computers than adults.
  • I’m wondering how big Kristy’s house really is.  I remember an early book where she said it had ten bedrooms.  But they have at least two guest rooms in this book (one for Sharon/Richard and one for Mary Anne/Dawn).  This  means there are at least 11 (Watson/Mrs. Brewer, Nannie, Charlie, Sam, Kristy, David Michael, Karen, Andrew, Emily, and 2+ guestrooms).  And I think that’s without expanding to the third floor.
  • Apparently, Karen’s not just allowed to have a pet rat, she’s allowed to take him out of his cage and let him run around in the house for exercise.  She keeps him confined to one room, but that seems a bit freaky to me.
  • A bunch of the kids the girls sit for gather at the Braddocks to work on the history of the club, and Haley says they can use their computer.  But then Mrs. Braddock offers to type up the final version.  If they’re writing it on the computer, what’s left to type?  Maybe she’s just editing for them?
  • David Michael, Karen, and Andrew say they’re going to build a Lego house large enough for Mary Anne’s family to live in.  Which I would normally think’s a silly idea, except recently I read about this, which I think’s kind of cool.
  • When Mary Anne bikes to the site of their house, she mentions passing various peoples’ houses and thinks about how well she knows this town.  The only weird part’s when she mentions the Hobarts’ house.   Because I’m pretty sure that’s where Mary Anne lived for 13 years.  If you’re reminiscing, wouldn’t you call it your old house.
  • I’m sure it’s unrealistic to have a contest about baby-sitters in a teen magazine, I would think one for kids/parents would be more likely, if anyone was going to do it.  But I love the concept because it lets us get all sorts of references to past books.  If it was a TV show we’d be getting clips, but it’s a book, so the closest we get are snippets from the BSC notebook.  It looks like they’re actually taken word-for-word from the original books.  We get one about Jackie Rodowski being a walking disaster, one about the Barrett/DeWitt kids making up instruments, and one about Buddy Barrett making baskets for one of their Thanksgiving charity projects.
  • If I didn’t know there was a Friends Forever series after this, I probably wouldn’t have liked that we didn’t find out if Mary Anne moved away.  I like closure.  But I definitely wouldn’t have liked finding out she was leaving.  I always hate when TV shows end with all the characters are separating.  Even if it’s done for a happy reason, or is about starting a new path or whatever, it still seems sad to me.
  • In the final essay Kristy writes about how much they get back from baby-sitting, and how she doesn’t care if they win because they already have so much. It’s totally cheesy and sappy.  But I kind of like that.
So, I was originally saving this to be the last entry in the blog.  But, like I said last time I'm now going to do the Friends Forever books.  I can't not read them after I've gone back and read everything else I missed as a kid. Look for that soon, I am going to try and go in order with them.