The BSC Project – #0.5/The Prequel “The Summer Before”

The Summer Before
goodreads.com

And so The Project begins. I was a little apprehensive about reading this book, partly because starting this whole project is a daunting task, partly out of fear that I very well might have roped myself into reading a mountain of books with gigantic print, and partly because I have a deep-rooted fear of commitment that apparently extends to long-term reading projects. I was able put it off for a bit because I had a surprisingly hard time finding this book in my local bookstores, and had to order it online (boo). But once I had it, I couldn’t justify delaying for much longer. Sometimes you just have to do the damn thing, so I jumped in.

This book, a prequel that was actually written 10 years after the original stories ended, is set before the Baby-Sitters Club is officially formed. It revolves around the four original babysitters, Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey. Fittingly, the prequel starts with 11-year-old (!!!) Kristy, a seasoned babysitter (AT 11) who was clearly born to be a boss babe. She is a tough little thing whose vulnerability only tends to show when she is struggling with the harsh realities of her father’s abandonment and her mother’s desire to move on. Then there’s Claudia, the gifted artist with strict-ish parents, a genius older sister (literally), and a kind grandmother who is her best friend and ally. Claudia, almost 12, has a growing interest in fashion and boys, and is afraid she’s outgrowing Kristy and Mary Anne, who have been her closest pals since forever. Mary Anne is trying to grow up, but her controlling/obsessive-compulsive dad is determined to keep her in pigtails, frilly outfits, and a vomitous pink bedroom. She is also struggling to know more about and connect with the memory of a mother who died when she was an infant. And Stacey, still living in New York through most of the book, is trying to cope with a disease her parents want to keep secret (it’s just type 1 diabetes, for god’s sake), and with her former friends who mysteriously start bullying her at school. So, these girls are dealing with a lot. I think most of us can relate to that.

In this book, each chapter is narrated by a different girl, so we get to see how different plotlines play out from different perspectives. For example, we see how Claudia’s blinding infatuation with her new boyfriend (who is 15…while she is just barely 12…) quietly distances her from Kristy and Mary Anne, or how Kristy’s misguided hope for her dad to be a better person inspires sadness, graciousness, and strength in the other two girls. We also see how Mary Anne’s father’s issues (setting down his paper involves adjusting it to perfectly fit the corner of the table) and suffocation affect the way people view Mary Anne. We even get glimpses of how something as simple as Mary Anne’s effortless act of decency towards new girl Stacey makes Stacey feel included and good again after the weeks (months?) of bullying and ostracism at her old school.

I was initially somewhat skeptical of the content, format, and style of this book. However, I very quickly remembered why I loved this series so much. The writing is simple but not overly juvenile, and the quality of the plot far outweighed any issues I might have had with the writing style. These girls are just young people dealing with universal problems, making mistakes, and trying to learn from them. It’s really the small moments that make these characters so lifelike and endearing, like watching Kristy waste her whole birthday, which her mother and brothers try to make really special, wishing and waiting for a dad who never shows up. Or when, at the end of the disastrous birthday night, Mary Anne sits down next to Kristy and wordlessly puts her arm around her friend. Ugh! The bond these girls share is enviable. A major part of what is really fantastic about these books is that they show young girls helping each other out and supporting one another, rather than the tired old tropes of girls constantly in competition for a boy’s interest, or girls putting each other down, or girls fighting over who’s prettiest. These books portray female friendships as they really are: complex, sometimes confusing, and generally pretty rad. It’s this portrayal, rather than some twee or sensationalized, cheap, unreal TV version of how girls treat and compete with each other, that helps make this series so wonderful.

I want more friends like these four little ladies in my life, but making friends as a grown up is as hard now as it was as a kid, if not harder. So until some awesome new lady friends magically appear, I suppose I’ll stick with the ones I find in books. These ones set a pretty good friend precedent, anyway.

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The BSC Project – Mills’s Great Idea

BSC Logo

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was a little kid, I was totally and completely wild about The Baby-Sitters Club. I inhaled it all, from the books (heart eyes) to the short-lived TV series (gold) to the movie (trash). One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories (and Mom memories) revolves around the book series: I must have been around 9 or 10, and I’d already gotten several great Christmas presents, when my mom told me that she and Dad still had the biggest, best present to give me. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get anything else, but then my mom walked in with a GIGANTIC plastic bag full of all of the BSC (Baby-Sitters Club) books she could find, particularly the ones I didn’t have in my collection. I freaked out and generally lost my mind. As I dug around the bag excitedly, I asked, “Are these ALL Baby-Sitters Club books?” I remember her delighted smile as she said, “Yep, all the ones you don’t have yet.” She succeeded in raising a geek; I was ecstatic about getting a bag full of books. Even now I can recall that feeling of intense elation, and I’ll never forget that it was the first time I had the desire to quite literally dive into a pile of unread books and not-quite-literally gobble them up whole.

Then, at age twelve I inevitably entered that dreaded hell, the deepest torture I believed was sent solely to rip me out of childhood and dangle me in that god-awful purgatory, before thrusting me into full-fledged adulthood. I’m talking about that rite of passage known as junior high school. Those were some of the worst years I’ve ever experienced. In junior high, everyone seemed so grown up, and I was really, really not. I wasn’t one of the tallest kids in class anymore (or ever again). Nobody ushered me from class to class. People had boyfriends and girlfriends. Hell, there were pregnant girls in my 7th grade class. Everyone was so cool (aside from the pregnant girls), and here I was, clutching a baby’s book as I buffeted my way through the halls. So I did the unthinkable: I abandoned the BSC, never to visit the hallowed halls of Claudia’s bedroom again.

I had some serious issues putting those books down then, and I still have an issue with that decision now. In an effort to fit in, I let go of something that brought me true joy and comfort, and I picked up JNCO jeans, which brought nothing but utter embarrassment. Also, I don’t think I was developmentally ready to just dump those books, or that part of my childhood. But we all do dumb stuff at that age, and I was no exception. Shocked that I stopped reading my BSC books, my mom questioned the decision and tried to encourage me to pick the series back up again, but I was moody and lacked a basic understanding of my own feelings, hormones, and reasoning. I just wanted to fit in, really, but I had no way to express or even fathom why I felt I had to stop at the time.

So it’s only fitting that exactly 20 years later, as a “mature” adult who generally doesn’t care what people think, I’m choosing to pick them up again. I’ve read such a multitude of books in the intervening years, and have obviously experienced such a shift in perspective between 12 and almost-32, that I’d like to return to the series with fresh eyes. I love reading books for younger people, because I feel like there are great lessons to be learned in them, some that we forget or simply take for granted as we age.

And so, the plan is basically for me to read every Baby-Sitters Club book I can get my hands on. I’m calling this ambitious venture “The BSC Project”. Luckily, I still have all of my original books and they’re in great condition, despite having spent 20 years in a storage shed with tiny spiders weaving colonies in their pages. This is really a way to revisit an old childhood love, and also an honest attempt to relearn some of those lessons I was taught as a kid but could probably stand to hear now. And the 12-year-old in me is also itching to know what the hell happened to those steadfast, fictional friends of mine. 

BSC Bracelet
My BSC bracelet from the ’90s….

THE RULES:

  • The first and most important rule is that I don’t want to have too many hard and fast rules. That’s a surefire way for me to give up. However I will be following a few guidelines, because otherwise I will absolutely quit. I haven’t changed that much.
  • I have to read (and write about) all of the books from the original series.
  • I have to read all of the extra-long Super Specials (which were my favorites).
  • I will read all of the Friends Forever books, provided I can get my hands on them. They are the final installments in the girls’ storylines, and I’ve never read them. I’ll read the prequel too, since Ann M. Martin wrote it, albeit long after the series ended.
  • If I start feeling really ambitious, I might dig into the mysteries too. However I’m not making it a priority to read the numerous spinoffs, like the enormous Little Sister collection, because there are too many issues of them and they are boring. I might pick up The California Diaries that feature Dawn, because I’ve also never read them and they sound interesting; they’re apparently targeted to older kids and are darker than the main series.
  • MAYBE I’ll rewatch the series and the movie. Maybe. We’ll see how I feel. I love the series, but the movie is 90% garbage.

It’s hard to say exactly how many books I’m missing at this point, but I fully expect to spend hours upon hours reading, and to pay exorbitant amounts of money to complete my collection. I’ll do my best to chronicle it all and explain everything as I go along. And I imagine I’ll learn some stuff along the way. There will still be normal-person posts, though, because this is definitely a long-term project and my blog isn’t solely dedicated to this book series. It’s going to be a long ride, but a good one. I can feel it. I’m about to say hello to my (old) friends!

BSC TV Show
wikipedia.org