Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Do you think I have a strange fixation on stuffed animals?" BSC Friends Forever #11: Welcome Home, Mary Anne (2000)

I can't explain how much I love this book. It's not a fine piece of literature that will stand up to all tests of time, but it is a nice nod to a number of plots from across all of the BBC-universe. I sort of wish it were #12 so that just the final super special were left after it.
Mary Anne's new house is ready, so the Spiers move in. Dawn and Jeff come to spend the summer with their mom and step family, and they bring Sunny with them. Sunny's mom just died, as is plotted in the California Diaries, and everyone decides she needs a change of scene. However, she's acting up in true California-Diaries-Sunny fashion. Eventually, she and Mary Anne have a heart to heart about the similarities and differences between their stories: although both lost their mothers to cancer, Mary Anne has no memories of her mother, while Sunny had thirteen years with hers. Mary Anne helps Sunny realize that being in Stoneybrook is just running from her problems, and she goes back to California.
Meanwhile, Jeff is having a hard time with change as well. While Mary Anne got to see the new house be built and Dawn at least had seen a little of the construction, Jeff hadn't returned to Stoneybrook since the old house burned. He's being difficult and basically throwing ten-year-old style tantrums about everything. He and Mary Anne talk about how difficult she found all of the changes as well, and Jeff learns that not all of his friends have abandoned him like he thought.
Interesting tidbits
Let's talk about the cover for a second. This is the first time anyone besides the Original Four has appeared on a FF cover. Part of me wants to know which girl is Dawn and which is Sunny.

Sharon-itis: keys in the fridge or potted geranium. (In the dirt or where? I'm intrigued by that one.) Three pairs of shoes, wrenches and apricot facial scrub in the kitchen.
I'm not going to recreate the whole description of the house, but it sounds very cozy. In keeping with the fact that the place used to be a barn, everything has a country feel that would be very popular these days. There's a wood stove and the old barn door now opens into the kitchen, and everything is one big space (except, as MA points out, for a bathroom.)
The first time I read this, I hadn't read the California Diaries yet. It made parts of the plot a little confusing, but less so than I expected. There's a bit of MA summarizing some of the plot of the CD, but mostly, the way Sunny behaves and the way Dawn deals with her outlines a lot of the plot for me. (If you haven't read those books, Sunny became very flighty when her mom got sick; she ran away from home and skipped a lot of school. It was her way of dealing with it. She also doesn't visit her mother much, because she wants to remember her like she was when she was healthy, not when she was ill. But that, and Sunny's closeness to Carol, causes friction between her and Dawn--who visits Mrs. Winslow often.)
It's really weird for me for Jeff and the triplets to be emailing each other. Not just because I'm still picturing 1988 when I think of this series, but also because they're TEN. I guess I think of ten year olds as being little kids, much like the BSC do. (I know Mal also has an email address, but that's a school email, which to me means it's monitored. Mal even said in the last book that they don't give the girls at Riverbend full internet access. I'm just assuming the Pikes aren't as on top of their kids' internet activities....)
Jeff postulates that the new house/old barn smells like hay and spider webs. Rather than ignoring that and letting him find out for himself, Mary Anne wonders (inside her head, to her credit) if spider webs actually have a smell.
I like that Mary Anne realizes her jealousy of the Dawn/Sunny relationship right off the bat and acknowledges it to herself. Too many of these stories have the characters basically knowing their emotions but then acting like they don't know. (I'm thinking of Dawn in #60, when she was jealous of Richard and Mary Anne the whole time but kept ragging MA's 'look' instead of addressing the real cause.)
The title quote is Sunny's take on a dream she had, in which she married her childhood teddy bear. Is that better or worse than when I dreamt I ate a Care Bear?
Sunny mentions Logan and the break up to MA, who then starts freaking that he might be at the pool, where the girls are going to spend the day. However, a short time later, she starts wondering how, exactly, Sunny knew she and Logan had broken up, or how much else about her life Sunny knew. Yet MA never questions the fact that she knows all about Sunny's mom's death and Sunny and Dawn's fight. Obviously, Dawn likes to talk about her bestie with her other bestie. (Although, she didn't give MA all of the details about Sunny, because she doesn't know about how Sunny ran away from home in CD#2.)
Sunny's so high energy that she wears MA out pretty quickly. I can see why; MA is an introvert and spends a lot of time alone/essentially alone, reading, watching movies and doing needle crafts. It's her refueling time. Sunny's more of a constant movement person. But MA doesn't consider that Sunny's overdoing it because then she doesn't have the energy to stop and think about her mother as much. (She also doesn't consider that supporting Sunny doesn't mean having to do every exhausting activity Sunny comes up with. She can bow out gracefully once and a while.)
I thought back to the CD books for a while, trying to remember whether this actually happened in that universe. It doesn't; Mrs. Winslow dies in book #12 and Dawn actually goes back to CT in, I think, #14? I mostly remember that they're planning a surprise going away party for her and she keeps spoiling their plans. ("It looked like you were bowling. I hate bowling.")
I'm going to repeat: I really hate when the BSC members try to correct their sitting charges' grammar. (Claire's five. Does it matter if she uses pronouns correctly?)
Oh, and Margo's the only Pike kid who likes vegetables at this point. She's usually the one who is so picky that she ends up making herself a peanut butter sandwich instead of eating what everyone else eats, so that seems weird.
"And while I'd had lots of time to work through my feelings about the fire, Jeff was having a delayed reaction." Yup. That sums up the whole Jeff plotline in one sentence. And unlike Mary Anne, who responded to the fire by fighting with her dad, keeping secrets and getting grounded, Jeff actually comes out (about a week into his visit) and flat-out tells MA everything that's bugging him.
"I hadn't been on a date with anybody but Logan in a long, long time." Who else did she ever date?
OOOH! Dawn brings up the idea again that Sunny's endless energy and enthusiasm is a cover to prevent thinking about her mother. But then MA points out (to herself) that they can't make Sunny deal with her problems; she has to choose to deal with them. Love it! Spoken like someone who's had their own fair share of trauma and therapy.
Cole, whom Sunny flirts into a group date (he's supposed to be MA's date), introduces the girls to his two friends, Alex and Jason. Those are the names of Ducky's best friends from childhood: suicidal Alex and Jay, nee Jason, who tries to set Ducky up with a girl.
Speaking of Ducky...WWDT? Sunny starts talking about how many zits one of the guys on their group date had. Dawn interrupts her and says, "What would Ducky think" if he heard you talking like that? And Sunny simmers right down and apologizes!
MA runs into the Pike boys while she's in her bathrobe and gets all embarrassed. Well, at least she wasn't running around in her bra and panties! Anyway, the worst response she gets is Jordan going, "Woo, woo!" Which I think means he was catcalling her a little. Both funny and inappropriate.
I thought there was a lot more to the Jeff story than just him crying at MA in the Pike house and then decorating his room with the Pikes, Sunny and his sisters.
When Jeff is happy again, he and the rest of the Spier-Schafer clan start reminiscing over dinner, and MA realizes that Sunny feels left out. I spent a number of years having holidays with a family that wasn't really mine, so I understand that. It's nice that MA caught on, even if she didn't know how to handle it at first.
When Sunny suggests that the three girls sneak off to New York, Dawn is so surprised that she stops the hammock suddenly and sits up--and Mary Anne nearly falls out. This is one of those rare occasions that I wish these books were a TV show instead. (Yes, I realize there actually was a television show. I've never seen it; we didn't have cable when I was growing up. I actually own one of the VHS tapes but don't have a working VCR.)
I like this Dawn better than the Dawn from the middle of the BSC series. She's back to being an individual, and she's much calmer and more mellow than she used to be. This Dawn wouldn't change herself for a boy like old Dawn did (twice). She's also the one who insists that if they're going to go to NYC without telling any adults, they need to tell SOMEONE. So they tell Stacey. That way, if the girls don't come back, when Richard starts calling everyone, Stacey can admit they went to NYC.
When Dawn finally calls Sunny on some bullshit, she's not 100% fair about it. (I like that, too, because it's continuity from the CD series.) Dawn and MA agreed to go to NYC (and do a lot of other things they didn't want to do) because it was easier to play games Sunny's way. However, when Sunny refuses to leave and head back to CT on time, Dawn calls her selfish and points out that she's been getting her way ever since her mother died. It's not the time or the place for the conversation, but Sunny almost forces her into the confrontation. Dawn really does need to work on telling Sunny this type of stuff before she gets to the exploding point, doesn't she?
Heh. The three of them make it back to the Spier house just in time, and MA expresses relief...and then the ghostwriter throws in a PSA about it was stupid and unsafe for them to have even gone in the first place, just in case some reader decided to use the book as a suggestion.
Huh. I totally didn't notice this the first time around. Back in chapter 9 or whenever, Jeff burst into tears in the Pike kitchen. He let MA pat his back and then told her why he was upset. Byron came in as he was calming down and stood in the doorway and listened. When the right time came, he piped up and encouraged Jeff that the two of them were still friends. (Although, he's a ten year old boy. He actually just said that he'd be glad to help Jeff decorate his bedroom, and so would his brothers. But it served that purpose.) Later, in chapter 14, Sunny breaks down in Dawn's bedroom. She lets MA pat her back and then tells her why she is upset. Dawn comes in as she was calming down, stands in the doorway and listens. When Sunny say she doesn't know how to tell Dawn she needs to go back to California and her father, Dawn pipes in that she doesn't have to. It's a nice parallel.
Mary Anne marvels at how Abby knows just what to say to Sunny, then reflects that Abby lost her father just a few years ago and knows what Sunny is going through more than MA does. (I, on the other hand, had to rewind to figure out whether Abby and Sunny had ever met. They have, in SS#14, but I really didn't remember at first.)
At the end of the story, the Spiers hold an open house and call it a going-home party for Sunny. MA can't wait to show her friends her room...only to learn that they've pretty much all seen it already. Jeff offered a tour to all the guests for 25 cent...35 if they want to see his room, too. MA and Dawn take it to mean that he's back to his normal self. MA is, too--she finally feels like she's at home, and back to a stronger version of her usual self.
My favorite random scene in this book? Right before Sunny and Dawn get into a fight in NYC, Mary Anne sees a drag queen wearing a prom dress.
Mary Anne: t-shirt and shorts; khakis and white shirt (who does she think she is, Lena Kaligaris?)
Dawn: long skirt and tank top
Next: SS#2

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