What I’m about to say sounds really cliché and may be a little too revealing of my character, but here it is: the Baby-Sitters Club shaped my childhood. I read every. single. one. of those books, including all the spin-offs: Little Sister, Super Specials, Mysteries/Super Mysteries, Friends Forever, California Diaries (except the ones starring Dawn’s presumably gay friend Ducky – the nine-year-old me was creeped out that a high school boy would hang out with 8th graders [and actually, the 23-year-old me is too]).
I devoured these books when I was younger, literally reading and rereading at least one novel a day. No one else I knew read them as voraciously as I did, which made me feel really weird and obsessive growing up. So I was extremely pumped to read a post from last week’s Jezebel, An Open Letter to Ann M. Martin, which was written in the voice of the least talked about character, Mallory Pike.
Mallory was always really interesting to me. She was the only character in the series that got continually shit on and was never given the chance to redeem herself. She was pitiful and also my least favorite character. AMM states in a recent interview that she hasn’t put any thought into what Mallory would be like today, which would help explain why I only remember Mallory as the redheaded girl with the 8000 siblings and a huge nose that she was always trying to hide with her huge glasses frames. I used to read descriptions about her (remember how the character descriptions and motives were always revisited in chapter 2 of every book?) and wonder why Claudia or Stacey didn’t step in and help tame some of her hair frizz. But there was just something about Mallory that made people not want to reach out. I feel like her tween awkwardness should have been something I identified with. I should have rallied with her and cheered her on while she tried to pull herself up out of the depths of her raging insecurities. But I didn’t. I hated her. I thought she was so exceedingly lame that she didn’t deserve an iota of my attention. Clearly, AMM felt the same way.
This leaves me wondering what Mallory was supposed to represent in this series. The idea was that you strongly identified with one of the characters: Kristy if you were sporty, Claudia if you liked art and were forced to repeat 7th grade, Stacey if you had diabetes. But what was Mallory Pike? Were you a Mallory if you hated your life? Please, we all did. That’s called preteen angst. But no reader wanted to acknowledge their own self-loathing. The point of reading these books was to create a fantasy you. No one fantasizes about being the most hated member of both their family and their group of friends.
So this, combined with AMM’s dismissal in her interview, leads me to my theory on Mallory. I think Mallory was supposed to represent that person you were not supposed to turn out like. The one who’s always down on her luck and always having the worst day of her life. All the characters faced horrible tribulations; half of the characters had a dead parent for Christ sake. But Mallory’s family was nearly perfect. Her whole life was nearly perfect. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at her frowny boo hoo face, which was so pronounced that whenever she was in a scene it was all you could see on the page. She seemed to create problems for herself just to have something to talk about. What is that? That’s not the girl power Kristy was trying to instill when she started this club. Sure, half the point of creating this thing was to create an excuse to hang out with your friends. Also, Kristy was really bossy and this was a good way to control her friendships by making herself president. But still. All of these girls, even little old Mary Anne, had a sense of independence and power over their surroundings.
Mallory had none of that initiative that drove all the other girls to establish their strong senses of identity. And instead of cutting her some slack, AMM let her wallow in her own misery. The club was unresponsive to Mallory’s problems because Mallory wasn’t willing to help herself. She was content in her self-pity. We were supposed to hate her because we were supposed to not turn out like her. And that was the most important lesson of AMM’s books: people will forget about you if you don’t assert yourself as something – ANYTHING. Go out and get what you want. Don’t complain about the obstacles you face, because there will be a lot of them. Don’t be like Mallory Pike.