Sunday, July 17, 2016

“You’ve been watching too many daytime dramas or something.” BSC #119: Stacey’s Ex-Boyfriend (1998)

I’ve never read this one before, and I’ve kind of been dreading it. Teen/pre-teen literature has a very hit or miss history with the subject of depression. Most of the books either come across as preachy, and/or feature someone who attempts suicide and is saved at the last second. (As much as I love the California Diaries, they fell straight* into that trap.)
*No Ducky-is-gay pun intended, y’all.
Stacey notes that Robert’s been depressed for months and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. He hits every stereotype for depression, from pushing away friends to giving up previously loved activities. Stacey tries to fix him but finds she’s just dragging her own emotions down. Finally, she asks an adult for help, and gets told that she can’t handle Robert’s problems on her own. She urges him to seek help himself, and he does.
Interesting Tidbits
The cover. Robert looks like he’s about twenty. Also, I know depression is hard to draw, so to speak, but his emotionless, blank stare isn’t too terrible at expressing it.

I know I sorta made fun of the foreshadowing of this book in M#33, but I’m actually glad they did that. It allows Stacey a chance to point out that Robert has been down, out of sorts, and bored for at least three months at this point. (They keep describing him as being ‘bummed,’ which is making me picture Robert as a surfer for some reason.)
Claudia’s outfit is so bad, I have no words.
Stacey’s shocked when Claudia suggests Robert could be using drugs. I know from an article I recently read that AMM wanted the series to be more edgy but the publishers wouldn’t allow it. (She said she wanted all the BSC members to have a secret—MA’s mom was dead, Kristy’s dad took off, etc.—and she wanted Stacey’s dad to be in prison for embezzlement. When that was denied, she gave Stacey diabetes instead.) I think this is the closest that the BSC comes to someone having a drug problem in the series. There’s #87, where the ‘bad girls’ are drinking, and #74, where some of Kristy’s teammates smoke, but nobody tries pot that I can recall, or any other drugs.
When Robert says that he doesn’t see the point of everything, Stacey tries to force him. Because, you know, that works so well. He says life’s just the same old, same old. Be glad you figured that out at thirteen, kid. At the time, the baseball team (starring both Logan and Robert) is gearing up for ‘the big game,’ and Robert quits just days before the game. If that’s not a giant warning sign, I don’t know what is.
Seriously…Mr. and Mrs. Pike drop five of their kids—everyone but the triplets—plus all three Ramsey kids off at the strawberry picking place. They give Mal twenty dollars, but make no other instructions to the children (except, don’t eat too many…which Claire ignores. She throws up on Mal’s shoes.) It would have made more sense to find out approximately how much a ‘little green basket’ of berries costs and then tell them how many baskets they can pick. Instead, the kids go overboard, challenging each other over who’s going to pick the most, and throwing berries around. They end up picking thirty dollars in berries and needing extra money. No adult ever comments on the fact that Claire was eating as she’s picking or that the others are wasting berries, and you know they didn’t pay for the thrown/eaten berries.
I like how insightful about people this book makes Claudia. As an artist, she’s naturally observant about the world around her. She points out how Robert is trying to alienate Stacey like he has all his other friends. Stacey hadn’t even realized that Robert didn’t talk to anyone else anymore.
Robert is a textbook case of depression: in addition to quitting the baseball team (giving up activities he previously loved), he lost all his friends, only focused on the negative (how pointless everything is), and is flunking out of school.
To this story’s credit: Most television shows showing a depressed character follow a very simple format: everyone ignores/misinterprets all the symptoms of an unhappy individual and only sees them after the person is dead/attempting suicide. (Facts of Life, Beverly Hills 90210, even Degrassi High**) For example, a girl who shows up for the first time in that episode gives Tootie a necklace and tells her how much she’s appreciated Tootie making her feel welcome at the school. She then goes back to her dorm and swallows a massive amount of pills, killing herself. Tootie wonders how she didn’t know the girl was depressed. But Stacey, although she’s not sure how to help Robert, keeps trying. She won’t let Robert push her away, like he’s done everyone else in their lives. It starts alienating the other members of the BSC, but like she did with Tess in #111, Stacey is convinced she knows best and is going to ‘save’ Robert. She takes on his problem as her own. It is a lot less cringe-worthy this time and a lot more noble, because, unlike Tess, Robert actually does need help.
**Regular readers of this blog know how much I love Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High. I will give them some extra props because one girl actually did notice something was off about the boy who committed suicide. Oh, and unlike the other two shows I mentioned, the character was a familiar one whom the audience knew, and the repercussions of his death played on through pretty much the rest of the series.
So, after nearly every family in the neighborhood has picked more strawberries than they can eat (and Linny, in addition to Claire, ate so many berries he was sick), Kristy decides that the best solution to strawberry fever is…a strawberry festival.
OMG…Kristy goes into a CHAT ROOM to look for strawberry-related ideas, with Linny helping her. Not only does that bring this book into the digital age, but this was obviously before all the warnings to kids not to post in chat rooms and other places without an adult. I can picture Kristy posting something like this:
           Hi, I’m Kristy Thomas, president of the Babysitters Club in Stoneybrook,
Connecticut! I’m with one of my favorite babysitting clients and we want ideas on how to have a Stoneybrook Strawberry Festival. What do you recommend?
PS For a great babysitter, call KL5-5555!
Great idea, no? Well, great idea for calling out child predators to her whole name, location and phone number, at least. (Can’t you just see a modern version of the BSC advertising on Craigslist?)
Stacey’s supposed to be writing her ‘self-portrait.’ Didn’t she already do that? The BSC has been in eighth grade for so long, they’re repeating assignments now.
Stacey calls a radio show, asking for help with Robert. Of course, Dr. Gupti gives her all the right answers, but best part about it is this: She changed her name, and Robert’s, and the sport he’d quit, so that no one will recognize the situation. The phone rings a moment after she hangs up and it’s Claudia, laughing and calling her by her fake name, but agreeing with the advice. (Janine apparently enjoys Dr. Gupti’s show, although it’s largely relationship advice and doesn’t sound like something she’d like.)
The title quote is part of Robert’s rant when Stacey tells him he needs to ask for help.
YES! Claudia spelling, to lighten up the Robert drama! Toosday, nevur, meny, strabarries, shure, agian, festivul.
So Robert talks to his baseball coach, and he’s magically improved? To be fair, he isn’t 100% back to the way he used to be, but he actually goes to the damn ‘strabarry festivul’ and then has a good time at a random dance with Stacey. I guess it could be worse; no one died in this book.
Claudia: zebra striped leotard, leopard spot overall shorts, tiger stripe scarf, lizard scrunchie, giraffe earrings
Next: Mystery #35 and an extra-special extra book. You all seriously owe me for actually reading this crap.

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