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LuxKen27 ([personal profile] luxken27) wrote2015-04-20 06:13 pm

California Diaries | Oneshot: The Freshman Essay

Title: The Freshman Essay
Fandom: California Diaries (Baby-sitters Club)
Universe: Post-canon
Genre: General
Rating: T
Word Count: 7,027
Summary: Jill Henderson reflects on her traumatic eighth grade year for the annual Freshman Essay at Vista.

Link: AO3

Written for [personal profile] isabelquinn, for the 2015 [personal profile] cadiaries_exchange.

When [personal profile] lucida posted about starting up a California Diaries fic exchange, I was pretty much all-aboard from the get-go. I, too, believe that the CA Diaries deserves more fic, especially given the rich tapestry of the canon and the new characters that were introduced for this BSC spinoff series. The hardest part for me was actually coming up with prompts about what sort of fic I'd like to see. Prompts are not my strong suit, which should be obvious from my five-prompt tables for the Summer Mini Challenge. Nevertheless, I managed to come up with the requisite amount to sign up for the exchange, and was blessed when I matched with prompts I actually felt I could write!

Jill Henderson was a character from the original BSC series, originally the fourth member of the We ♥ Kids Club along with Dawn, Sunny, and Maggie. She was summarily shunted out of the CA Diaries series to make way for Amalia and Ducky in a way that I felt was really unfair to her, so it was a pleasure to explore *her* side of the story as to why she drifted apart from her friends.

The first thing I had to do was re-read Dawn Diary 1, the first book in the CA Diaries series, to refresh exactly what had happened. The premise of the series is that the middle school building at Vista has become overcrowded, and the school's answer to this problem is to move the eighth-graders to the high school building. A neat way of getting around the BSC time warp, but a little ridiculous on its face. Really? Why not just let them become high school freshmen? Since Vista is K-12, it's hard to believe that this move between buildings would be as traumatic as its described, but okay.

Jill is portrayed as a very babyish character, much more immature than her friends, still clinging to childish interests and lacking the ability to keep her mouth shut. The turning point comes when Dawn, Maggie, and Sunny sneak away from her slumber party in order to attend a party that turned out to be a trap set by the upperclassmen to humiliate the incoming eighth-graders. Jill's inability to "be cool" about it is the straw that breaks the camel's back; Dawn and the others are basically just looking for a reason to drop her after that. They find it, and Jill is more or less neatly excised from all of their lives.

Knowing that I wanted to write Jill-centric fic, I went ahead and compiled a Complete Guide for her character. Her character is dismantled as the BSC regular series progresses (it was being written in parallel with the CA Diaries books when the latter series started). She basically starts out as an East Coast version of Mary Anne, and ends up as an overgrown baby-sitting charge. It's a bit disgusting, and disheartening, but there's a reason I consider the post #100 books to be a weird AU, LOL.

Anyway! Slowly but surely the idea of writing about the arguments from Jill's perspective percolated, and I tried to come up with an alternate explanation for Jill's behavior that felt authentic to the character I knew from the early/middle part of the BSC series. In looking at the whole of her character arc, I found a familiar theme: fear.

Jill is resistant to change, especially sudden change, and she deals with it by regressing a little into her childhood comforts. Who can blame her? She's already had to deal with a lot, the biggest of which are her parents' divorce, and her father subsequently leaving. There is no mention of him at all in the books, but given the fact that she lives the furthest away from school and is reliant on a single mother to support her and her sister, chances are good that she's dealing with a fair amount of stress at home - and people already under stress are reluctant to take on more.

I can understand why she freaked out over the idea of moving to the high school - most people have the entirety of eighth grade to get used to the idea of becoming minnows again, and suddenly that's snatched away from her. That, plus the ways in which her closest friends are changing and drifting away from her, is a lot for her to handle. Wanting to cling to the past and the way things were instead of forging ahead into the future is her way of coping with it. She returns to her security blankets, even as she realizes how doing so puts strains on her friendships. She sees it, but she doesn't like what's happening, and she doesn't really know what to do about it, which just adds to the stress of it all. When the situation coming to a breaking point, it does so in spectacular fashion.

Losing her entire social circle in one fell swoop is difficult for Jill. I wanted to focus on her friendship with Maggie because they were the closest of the W ♥ KC, with a strong intimation that theirs is a best friendship. The fact that Jill pops up again in Maggie's Diary 3 supports this notion as well. Sunny and Dawn pretty much drop Jill like a rock, but Maggie isn't so quick to follow suit. She might not perceive Jill as a best friend anymore, but she's still there, hovering on the edge of her universe. She does a really nice thing for Jill in her final book (inviting her to the set of Love Conquers All), which I took to mean that they still have some sort of friendship.

I also wanted to explore the idea of a friendship between Jill and Ducky, and it was a lot of fun to write about their dynamic, especially given how close Ducky and Sunny are. But there's something about Ducky that I think Jill would find very comforting. Its the same reason the other girls find his presence comforting: he's older and wiser and a lot of fun to be around, but he is very sensitive to their subtleties. His crusading for his viciously depressed BFF Alex shows the depth and sincerity of his empathy.

I like the idea of Ducky and Jill interacting and becoming friends. There might be another fic or two coming out of that before I'm finished :) In this fic, Ducky is the one who orchestrates the mending of Jill's and Maggie's friendship, which I think makes a lot of sense. Maggie had a really rough time of it, and I could see Ducky wanting to rally all of the support for her that he could - including her old BFF Jill.

It's Jill's friendship with Maggie that makes *her* the popular girl of her new clique of friends, a unique role reversal I thought would be an interesting consequence of her being dropped from the Dawn/Sunny/Maggie circle. Everyone trips all over themselves because of Maggie's proximity to celebrity culture, and for a bunch of burgeoning teenyboppers, I can see how Jill's one degree of separation would be enough to elevate her to idol status =) I also thought it gave Jill a good excuse to indulge in her teenybopper crush on Tyler Kendall, and to bug Maggie about it even though she knows what a sore subject it is with her.

Ducky is also very into celebrity culture, but he has the ability to be much more cool about it, LOL. I can see him using that scene in the cafeteria, when Jill rushes up to Maggie and begs for Tyler's autograph, to his advantage - especially when he catches wind of Jill's remorse in being the one to break the news that Maggie and Tyler made the gossip pages the day after their big date. I can see him being the one to urge Maggie to include Jill as one of the extras she invites to the set. I can see him bringing them together again, because he of all people knows how important friends can be when it comes to emotional support.

Since Jill just sorta pops back up in Maggie's last major storyline in the canon, there was plenty of room for interpretation =) Plus I couldn't resist giving Ducky as big a part as I did because I just love him ♥

I really tried to bring back all the elements that made Jill Jill, instead of focusing on the babyish characteristics that were really overplayed by the time this series launched. I brought back her love of surfing and nail polish and baby-sitting and list-making, and really tried to weave it into the background of the story. I like the way I did it, and so did my recipient, so yay! Characterization has always been very important to me.

I thought the idea of writing an introspective essay would fit right in with the other unorthodox assignments Vista seems to give (the compulsory journalling, the 8th grade autobiographies). Freshman year would be the right time for it, too, even if the eighth graders had stayed in the middle school building. In the end, it was a much easier story to write than I was anticipating, and it was a real joy to get into Jill's head and look at the canon from her perspective. It's one of my favorite things I've written this year, and it makes me happy that [personal profile] isabelquinn seems to have enjoyed it, too ♥

As per usual with exchanges, mine is the longest and least popular offering of the collection, which is a bit disheartening, but oh, well. As long as the person it was intended for enjoys it, that's really all that matters!

Many thanks again to [livejournal.com profile] snarky_imp for the beta read. I don't tend to use beta readers but this was really a pleasurable experience =)