Sunday, August 7, 2016

“They’ll either kill each other or make up.” BSC #125: Mary Anne in the Middle (1998)

*Sniff, sniff* This is the last original BSC book that haven’t read.
Mallory is waiting to hear whether she got in to Riverbend, the boarding school she visited in the previous book. When she learns she received a full scholarship, she’s thrilled and definitely plans to attend. However, not everyone is as excited. The Pike kids waver between being marginally happy to thinking that Mal leaving means that she’ll no longer be their sister, while Jessi is beyond angry. She feels that Mal is running away from her problems, abandoning her and her family, and being selfish. The two of them keep using Mary Anne for a sounding board, and push her to the point where she brings the two of them together and forces them to talk to each other instead of her. Then the BSC has a ridiculous We Love Mallory Day to celebrate Mal before she leaves.
In the B plot, the old people at the nursing home get a Christmas party. Again.
Interesting Tidbits
The cover: My only comment here is that Jessi is wearing her watch on her left wrist, which is normal for right handers. (I think my obsession with watches comes from being a lefty and wearing my watch—back when I wore one—on the ‘wrong’ side.) Oh, and that is not a flattering look on Mary Anne.

Mallory is supposed to be helping Mary Anne babysit for the various younger Pikes. Instead, the triplets and Vanessa are off…somewhere…being quiet, and no one thinks that’s a bad thing. Mal’s instead checking out her appearance in the mirror, wondering if she should cut her hair. It leads to a fabulous conversation in which Margo, trying to be helpful, points out that Mal’s face is ‘too fat’ for short hair. When Mal gets upset, Claire tries to soothe her by pointing out she likes people with fat faces…like Barney the dinosaur.
I need to go back and reread chapter 2 in several books until I pinpoint where Boo-boo the cat died and was replaced by Pumpkin the kitten. Pumpkin first shows up in Little Sister #102, but the BSC glosses over it. In #122, which is a Kristy book, Boo-boo is still around, #123 mentions ‘several pets’, while #124 doesn’t mention the Brewer-Thomas pets at all. There’s my answer… RIP Boo-boo. We hardly knew ye.
Jessi’s having a party at her house to introduce her Dance NY friends to her BSC friends. Almost everyone is excited about that, except Mal (who was jealous of Jessi’s dance friends, remember?) and Kristy…who’s worried that there won’t be any sitters available that night. That’s never stopped them before!
Poor Mal. I really do feel sorry for her. I know a lot of people find her to be a hopeless dork—even I do sometimes—but that doesn’t mean she deserves the bullying she’s getting at school. Period.
Once again, Claire is taking both an a.m. kindergarten session and a p.m. session. I’m not sure how that works. I can imagine a school being willing to swing that once—in an emergency—but this is every day for several weeks. Is she really doing the same assignment in the morning and again in the afternoon? Listening to the teacher read the same story? How do they arrange a lunch for her? It’s all so illogical.
“Probably for the first time ever, all the Pike kids were silent.” Probably true and definitely a little funny.
Oo-ooh! Angry Jessi is so manipulative. She knows Mal wants to go to Riverbend, but when she hears that the Pike sibs are less set on the move, she tells them Mal only thinks she wants to go, giving them a chocolate-related analogy, and encourages them to tell her they don’t think she should go.
Mary Anne is the perfect first-person for this story. Not only is she sensitive to everyone’s point of view—to the point where she’s actively flip-flopping on what she thinks Mal should do*—but Jessi brings up the fact that she dealt with Dawn leaving. MA points out that her head knew Dawn had to go, but her heart felt deserted. (*At first she was vehemently opposed to the move. Then, after talking to Mal and realizing how happy she was about it, she supported the move. After talking to the Pikes and Jessi, however, she feels really conflicted.)
I like this: Abby teaches the Hobart boys about Chanukah. James accepts an explanation about the menorah, but wants to know why the Jewish people are celebrating. (That’s pretty cool in and of itself; when I was teaching elementary school, the kids didn’t care why—they just wanted to play with the dreidel and get gelt.) Abby originally says that people celebrate Chanukah so they can get presents for eight days. I’m reminded of the episode of South Park where Stan and Cartman decide to become Jewish to get more presents…
Mal is obviously depressed. Among other things, she tells Mary Anne that she’s considered not telling the rest of the BSC she decided to attend Riverbend: “What if I simply didn’t show up one day?” she says. This is partly based on the fact that she’s so angry at Jessi for not supporting her, but that's the kind of comment I said all the time when I was depressed: No one would notice if I just disappeared.
The title quote is Abby’s reaction when MA schedules Mal and Jessi for a joint job with the Barrett-DeWitt kids. This sounds exactly like all those wacky sitcoms where the kids are trying to get their parents back together. Only Claudia seems to think this could be a bad idea. At this point in the series, Claudia has become the sensible, people-savvy person. I’d honestly listen to her in this case.
Mr. and Mrs. DeWitt are going shopping for furniture…in December…right before the holidays. I can’t help thinking that, with seven kids, they should be strapped for cash. That furniture will make a pretty crappy Christmas present….
Here’s what gets me about this story. Jessi’s friends from Dance New York come to visit, and one of them completely understands what Mal is going through and encourages her to go ahead, because Jessi will come around. That feels like a slap in the face to Jessi, but it’s true. Why doesn’t Jessi point out to Mal that she had the opportunity to become a full-time member of the dance troupe out in New York, and gave it up at least partly because of Mal? Mary Anne brings it up a couple chapters later, reminding Mal of how unhappy she was seeing Jessi making other friends.
Honestly, I’ve always seen Mal and Jessi, like many of the other BSC friends, being friends partly because they like sitting and partly because of some tenuous hold on each other. In the case of these two, they both like horse stories and are oldest children. As they age, that would probably change a bit. They’d probably outgrow most horse stories. Jessi, who’s outgoing and a ham, would probably become friends with theater-acting kids or jocks as time went on. Mal, who’s more introverted, would find friends more into sitting-type activities, like writing and theater-watching kids. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t stay friends, but much like most elementary or middle school friends, they probably wouldn’t be best friends any more. These books, and other series like them, which featured groups of girls with one thing in common, had to create friendships like that. In order to appeal to the widest audience, the stories needed to have outgoing characters, introverted characters, and the girls need to have a wide variety of interests.
Kristy’s mom buys bulk at Cost Club. That’s almost as bad a rip-off as Ricky Rouse and Monald Muck.
Mary Anne is able to very quickly convince the four youngest Pikes that Mal isn’t abandoning them simply by talking to them. If Jessi hadn’t encouraged them in that thinking, they probably would have been supportive from the start. They’re a little hurt still, and worry about missing her, but MA is able to convince them that she’ll come back, and that they can visit and write her letters.
Continuity: Mrs. Hobart brings ‘one of her famous homemade cakes’ to the old-folk’s Christmas party. Mal made a whole point about how awesome Mrs. Hobart’s cakes were in an earlier book, commenting on how her mother always bakes from a mix. (I think that was book #59, when she and Ben switched brothers for the night…)
“I’m staying home and being the ref for the fight of the century.” Mary Anne finds her balls and brings Mal and Jessi together to end this once and for all. Mal admits that it’s very hard for her to leave Jessi—as hard for her as it is for Jessi—but that she feels like she has to do this for herself. That’s all it takes for them to start hugging and (all three of them) to start crying.
Claudia: self-tie-dyed t-shirt cut into beaded fringe, matching beaded jewelry

Next: #126


  1. I really would have loved to have seen this book from Jessi's POV, especially since her last book was 10books prior, and it ended up being her last book ever. I feel like the only reason Mallory got one last book in the end was because the writers realized they needed to conclude her bullying story arc somehow.

    1. I agree, this would have been interesting from Jessi's perspective.