Chapter 1: dawn, sunny and dating
Beginning as a childrens book series which spanned over 15 years, spawning three spin-offs, TV series, a movie and a Netflix reboot, ‘The Babysitter’s Club’ was and still is particularly embraced for the variety of female characters for young readers to identify with. Unlike many franchises, men were very much the token characters in the BSC, with the focus being the girls, their various friendship dynamics, and the issues they encountered growing up.
The fandom is relatively small in terms of fanworks, however it’s surprisingly active considering it’s longevity.
As one would expect, there’s a predominant focus on femslash due to the potential for various pairings, as well as queer subtext (a popular community for recapping the books, bsc-snark uses the tag ‘rampant lesbianism’!)
The creator, Ann M. Martin is gay, and it’s long been speculated as to which characters might share which of her personal characteristics and experiences, which she admits to applying to several - for example, she notes in an interview how she adores holidays and treasures her baby blanket, traits assigned to Sunny; how she was afraid as a child of foxes under her bed, a fear Dawn relays in ‘California Diaries’; and how she adores scary books, similar to Dawn and Sunny.
Dawn Read Schafer
Dawn was introduced very early in the BSC as moving to Connecticut from California after her parents divorce. She eventually moved back to California to be with her father and brother, as well as to help her best friend, Sunny, after her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her time there was covered in the 15 book spin-off ‘California Diaries’.
Dawn is not a popular character amongst fans, with characteristics of being ‘independent’ and ‘free-thinking’ that slowly become Flanderised and were difficult to mesh with coming of age tropes. Dawn can also tend to clash with other characters, particularly and ironically those she’s closest to – her stepsister Mary Anne, and her best friend Sunny Winslow.
'She stands up for what she calls her "alternate life-style." Maybe that's why she's our alternate officer.' – Dawn and Dating
Dawn doesn’t date often (an early book from her POV mentions how Kristy and Mary Anne don’t date, while Claudia and Stacey are ‘boy crazy’. Dawn reflects that she’s ‘deciding’ on boys) and the connections she makes with males are often centred around finding boys with similarities to herself (she’s initially interested in Travis, the boy she admires in ‘Dawn and the Older Boy’, because he’s from California and likes health food, and her fantasies about her crush, celebrity singer, Pierre X, include buying health food with him) or becoming more confident within herself (in ‘Dawn’s Big Date’, she carries around a photograph of herself, intrigued by how she looks after a makeover.)
Dawn can, like Sunny, pursue older boys and be the aggressor (there’s a neat parallel of Dawn embarrassing the more withdrawn Lewis Bruno with a sexy postcard, and Sunny making a shy boy blush ‘fire engine red’ with her flirting,) however as her character develops she becomes less and less interested in boys, instead focusing on her friendships and interests, such as environmentalism.
In California Diaries, she mentions the only thing she’d miss about a ‘date kind of party’, which she’s glad not to attend, is ‘flowers’, and she and her friends Maggie and Amalia suggest that the best scenario would be if the guys ‘bring the flowers, then go home.’ In a similar metaphor, she and Kristy discuss 'R-Rated movies' and how they look forward to watching them 'someday', but how the experience itself will probably be an anti-climax ("I bet we'll finally (see one) and after it's over we'll go, 'So what?' ")
Both Sunny and Dawn can be narcissistic, reflecting on how attractive they find themselves and people sharing their characteristics. At one point, Dawn is described as being a ‘silken-haired beauty’, which she recalls with a winking ‘Hey, (the newspaper reporter) said it, not me!’ Likewise, Sunny tells her diary: ‘So Brock said...he would love to sit with us because he couldn’t resist my melting smile and deep, sexy eyes. Well, he said yes, anyway. He just thought the rest.’ She also develops a crush on a surfer, Carson, as ‘we’re so alike, it’s not even funny.’ It seems relevant within this context to mention how physically alike the girls are – Dawn makes much of all her Californian friends having the same hair colour as her, describing Sunny’s as a ‘gorgeous strawberry blonde.’ Sunny even notes that Dawn picks her out outfits like 'lacy, white dresses' that would look good on Dawn herself.
Control is also a key issue for Dawn’s relationships. Travis tries to control her appearance (when his girlfriend compliments him, saying he’s turned Dawn into a beauty, she snaps back ‘I was already a beauty!’), and her pursuit of Lewis in ‘Big Date’ is secondary to the power struggle between Dawn and Mary Anne over what boys find attractive. (This becomes a long-running issue for them, where Mary Anne uses Dawn’s single status to make her feel inferior, while Dawn uses Mary Anne’s reliance on her boyfriend Logan as a reason to isolate her from their friendship group.)
Dawn’s mother forced her and Jeff to move across the country, and her scatterbrained absentmindedness meant Dawn often relied on her, so it seems Dawn associates control and loved ones reliance on her help on some level with love. When she daydreams about Pierre X, she mentions how she’d ‘lay down ground rules for (him) to follow’ and how she’d ‘manage his career’.
This comes across very strongly in her relationship with Sunny in later books, in which she attempts to ‘help’ Sunny by reprimanding her; while Sunny, who was raised by the more laid-back Winslows, recognises that to her, love is ‘let(ting) me make mistakes.’
Sunshine Daydream Winslow
Sunny Winslow is introduced as the most minor of minor characters. Dawn’s childhood best friend, she’s basically described as a carbon copy of Dawn, who enjoys the same hobbies and dietary tastes, and resembles her physically. Like Dawn’s key words in the famous introductory ‘Chapter Twos’ of: ‘California Casual’ and ‘not caring what people think’, Sunny tends to be mentioned in earlier BSC books as: ‘outgoing, fun loving, and independent’. Sunny is slowly developed in extra materials such as ‘Dawn’s Portrait’, the ‘BSC Mysteries’, ‘BSC: Friends Forever’ and the ‘California Diaries’ series.
“You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you can find a prince. Or a princess.” – Sunny and Dating
With regards to the opposite sex, Sunny’s interesting – she’s described as ‘boy crazy’, but she has less emotional attachment to dating than almost any other character, except possibly Kristy Thomas and Abby Stephenson.
While characters such as Mary Anne and Stacey go through a phase of seeing boyfriends as personally affirming, and while Dawn learns in two separate books about not changing herself in order to attract boys; Sunny is extremely swift to shut down boys acting possessively, and in fact, calls them out on sexist double standards and attempts to control her.
She dates often but not seriously, and while she loves to flirt, she seems to view boys not as serious prospects for emotional intimacy, but more bolstering her self-esteem with the challenge (she likes ‘older guys’ and Dawn mentions in an early ‘Mystery’ that it’s ‘frustrating’ for Sunny when she can’t ‘distract’ surfer guys from the waves) and to distract herself from her mother’s illness.
Sunny is never jealous of other girls in terms of boyfriends, and expects other girls to lack this attachment, and in both ‘Dawn and the Surfer Ghost’ and ‘Welcome Home, Mary Anne’, she decides first how Dawn and Mary Anne feel about guys (‘You’re going to be an awesome couple!’) and then when they should stop (“I know it might be hard to cut him loose, especially since he’s so nuts about you…I know how you are about hurting people’s feelings. But we’ll figure out some way for you to let him down easy.” Mary Anne protests, and Dawn laughs: “Forget it, Mary Anne. No matter what you think, Sunny’s made up her mind.”)
In ‘WH, MA’, she seems to be pursuing boys by proxy for Mary Anne by way of an attempt to comfort the latter after her breakup with her long-term boyfriend, Logan, and the language is very much centred around her pleasing Mary Anne (albeit in a solipsistic way) rather than viewing boys as a comfort or viable solution to loneliness.
If anything, Sunny centres Mary Anne as the physically appealing partner: ‘She eyed me. “That suit looks great on you. Can you take that hat off, though? Your hair’s so pretty.’ Mary Anne is also referred to as a ‘precious jewel Sunny (is) showing off’, while the boys are dismissed quickly after an evening, with Sunny describing them as physically unattractive after Dawn calls one ‘cute’ and seems ‘upset’ at the idea of dumping them.
There’s been much discussion of the gay coding of the California Diaries character Ducky McCrae.
However, much of this coding also applies to Sunny, who’s often linked with queer culture.
From Sunny’s first chronological appearance, she’s repeatedly associated with rainbows, decorating her room with them and receiving a set of wooden rainbow bookends as a gift from Dawn.
It’s mentioned how her father’s bookstore stocks poets such as ‘Whitman, Adrienne Rich and Baudelaire’, while Sunny herself drops a reference to Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, as well as mentioning enjoying a kd lang song.
Sunny’s mom is strongly pro LGBT rights, which is mentioned during her funeral, as well as contributing towards Sunny and her father’s choice of church for the event, as they state it to be ‘accepting of all kinds of people’ and ‘not judgemental.’
Dawn mentions how excited Sunny is by the celebrities that visit Maggie’s house, singling out Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder as two she’s most envious of Maggie for meeting.
Sunny also ‘squeaks’ when the WLKC club have their own brush with fame, and a ‘gorgeous looking woman’ is assigned to make over the girls before their on-camera appearance.
When Sunny misses school to go to the beach, she notes how she can’t ‘stop staring at (weight lifters) bods’, but that only ‘most of them’ are guys. She also notes that the bathing suits of both male and female bladers ‘show practically everything.’
When she’s in Connecticut, she’s desperate to see New York after reading an article about city shopping with a ‘guy and girl’ who look ‘impossibly sophisticated and exotic’ and she describes them as ‘the coolest’. In New York, there’s an apropos of nothing reference to her watching a male shopper dressed in a pink prom gown.
She’s also best friends with Ducky, who feels she understands him in a way the other girls don’t, in part because he and Sunny both 'want to be someone else'. Hints laid out as to Ducky’s sexuality, such as Amalia’s boyfriend James referring to Ducky ‘not being Sunny’s type’ are somewhat ambiguous as they apply in some ways to Sunny.
Sunny mentions how she can tell anything to Ducky as he won’t ‘judge’ her, while her relationship with Dawn is more complex and can’t necessarily withstand such honesty.
When the group attend a concert, it’s mentioned that Sunny and Ducky are dancing and that the club is one in which ‘girls danced together, guys danced together, people drifted…and dance with people they didn’t know.’
In Ducky’s Diary Three, Ducky becomes concerned that Sunny may have feelings towards him. They’re very close, particularly as Dawn is still in Stoneybrook, and their other friends Maggie and Tyler, and Amalia and Brendan are couples. Upon Dawn’s return, she and Brendan seem to think Ducky and Sunny like each other.
As one would expect from an outsider POV, it’s not clear what Sunny’s feelings are, as Ducky debates whether he’s over-analyzing her behaviour (or potentially causing it with his own worry.) She seems flirtatious, and Ducky obsesses when she laughs at his jokes, but also when she seems distracted or doesn’t respond. Eventually after they go to the movies together, Sunny kisses him. The next day, Ducky is nervous about his own lack of a reaction, and Sunny reassures him ‘Relax. It was just a kiss. You were in the right place at the right time, that’s all. Nothing personal, okay?’ pats his arm, and winks at him.
Ducky reassures her she’s important to him, which she jokingly replies ‘Silly boy. I better be. Now stop brooding. Or I’m not going to ask you out to play with me again.’ Ducky thinks this is a sophisticated response, but recognises that she seems hurt.
Ducky discusses the matter with Dawn, although he’s initially afraid to, as he sees Dawn as more Sunny’s friend than his. Dawn asks if there’s any ‘chance’ for him and Sunny. When Ducky confirms there isn’t, Dawn says ‘It’s too bad. But I do understand, Ducky, more than you think.’ The intention seems to be a subtle reference to his sexuality, but as Dawn and he aren’t particularly close; it’s interesting to view this as insightful into Dawn – what common factors does she share with Ducky that might give her insight into his view?
It’s interesting to parse Sunny’s motivations here, also. Has she become physically attracted to Ducky (it seems less likely, since she laughs when he jokingly asks her if he’s ‘pretty’, to his offence)? In the last book featuring her, WHMA, she expresses a desire to ‘move forward’ – is this her attempt to break her old pattern of dating without emotional attachment, in favour of a boy ‘not like other guys’ and adored by both her family, including her late mother, and her friends? Is Sunny lonely without Dawn and surrounded by other couples, and mistaking friendship for more; or is she genuinely casual when she acts as if physical intimacy is impersonal to her?
We don’t find out, although Sunny is upset and tells Ducky she ‘hate(s) myself for kissing you, because I should have known something like this would happen’ (again – is this a reference solely to Ducky’s sexual preferences, or to Sunny becoming involved with a friend, or both?), and that she’s noticed Ducky detaching and distancing himself from her. Ducky tells her his upset has been about his own reaction, and that he’s terrified of ruining their friendship. The plot-line concludes with Sunny returning to her tougher front, telling Ducky not to get ‘all mush-brained on me’, and theorising ‘That’s probably why I kissed you in the first place – the mush factor of summer.’
Chapter 2: the pairing: pre-California Diaries
'The girl I’d been waiting for — longing for — finally climbed out of the backseat.'
Dawn/Sunny: Pre-California Diaries
Dawn and Sunny are extremely alike, not only in their interests (many books mention how they’re both fans of surfing, ghost stories, health food, and babysitting) but also in character, appearance and even name (Dawn’s father nicknamed her ‘Sunshine’ as a small child, and Dawn mentions in her first BSC Mystery how she and Sunny have always felt a ‘special bond’ and ‘destined to be soul sisters’ because of this similarity.)
There’s a strong feeling of intimacy with this friendship, in terms of longevity, but also with how comfortable they are with each other.
Dawn’s housekeeper and Sunny’s mother prepare Sunny and Dawn’s favourite foods respectively when they’re over; and Jeff, Dawn’s prepubescent brother, struggles to get along with his step-sister Mary Anne, but in contrast, casually jokes with Sunny. Sunny usually goes to the airport with Dawn’s family when Dawn arrives or leaves California, and throws Dawn farewell parties when she goes to Connecticut for an extended amount of time. Sunny and Dawn can communicate wordlessly, guess what each other are thinking, and at one point, Dawn describes Sunny as the person she’s known longest outside of her parents and grandparents.
Sunny is mentioned in the first Dawn book, and chronologically the series can be hard to parse, with the series set in a never-ending eighth grade. However, a series of ‘Portrait’ books were released delving into individual characters formative memories, and Dawn’s explores her first meeting with Sunny.
This book, released relatively late in the series, creates a fascinating new angle on Dawn. In the early BSC books she was introduced as an ‘individual’ who doesn’t care what others think, and this book explores how, actually, prior to meeting Sunny, she didn’t hold a lot of the views about issues such as environmentalism and health food that she later grows to embrace. In actual fact, it’s meeting Sunny and the Winslows that has the biggest formative effect on Dawn’s character as we come to know her.
Dawn recalls how she wants a best friend who lives nearby her, as her friends Jill and Maggie aren’t local to her neighbourhood. A home is sold to a couple, and the realtor tells Dawn they have a little girl. Dawn adorably skips all the way home; and while waiting for the new family to move on, begins walking past the empty house four times a day, and locating Oregon on a map, imagining her new friend travelling across the country to meet her.
Dawn is, as mentioned above, surprisingly self-conscious at this young age, and is disturbed to see that the new neighbours, the Winslows, are ‘weird’, arriving in a camper van and wearing ‘long dresses that look like nightgowns’. They don’t appear strongly wedded to gender norms, and Dawn’s ‘horrified’ to see Mr. Winslow as well as his wife and daughter hugging and dancing on their new lawn, to the moving men’s laughter.
Dawn is stunned to learn that the girl’s name is Sunshine, her dad’s nickname for her, and has a ‘spooky feeling’ as she approaches the family.
Mrs. Winslow asks her to carry a spider plant inside.
Rather sweetly, gardening seems to be become a theme of Sunny and Dawn’s relationship. At the beginning of the portrait book, Mrs. Winslow talks about her ‘healing’ garden. In a very early BSC book, Dawn talks about potting spider plants, and in Sunny’s first appearance in a book, she too has a spider plant. Sunny and Dawn unite to design a garden on an abandoned lot in a B plot of a BSC book. Later, both Sunny and Dawn gift Mrs. Winslow with plants while she’s in hospital; Sunny drops around flowers from the Winslow's garden when Dawn’s baby sister is born; and when Sunny stays with Dawn and Mary Anne after her mother’s death, she insists on helping Sharon garden.
Dawn is scared of the plant at first. She’s also unnerved by the Winslows lack of a television, their diet of health food (at this point, she prefers ‘grilled cheese and tomato soup’) and that they ‘thank the earth and sea’ for their meal.
Dawn doesn’t think she can be friends with Sunny, and wonders what Sunny would think about her favourite show, 'Sesame Street'. However, in the absence of a better option, she wanders over to Sunny’s house. The Winslows’ water bed, Sunny’s tie dyed bedspread, decorations (a poster saying peace and a hand painted cardboard rainbow) and her wooden toys further disturb Dawn, who pities Sunny for not having a barbie doll, and is disgusted by Sunny’s mangy-looking, ratty stuffed crocodile, Captain.
Sunny suggests she teach Dawn Morse code (a parallel to Kristy and Mary Anne’s flashing torches in code through their bedroom windows) so they can have a secret language when school starts.
Dawn is uninterested, and Sunny as underwhelmed with Dawn’s plastic toys as Dawn was with her’s. They play outside, but Sunny doesn’t like the 3 year old Jeff and his friend playing with swords as it ‘encourages violence’ and says ‘We have to stop them by suggesting a peaceful game.’
Dawn’s unimpressed, as she ends up playing with Sunny and the younger children, something she wanted to avoid.
This is again, significant – Dawn in her first book appearance ‘Dawn and the Impossible Three’ mentions how she loves health food and dislikes children playing with guns. Here we see it may be Sunny that prompts Dawn not only to embrace these ideas, but also babysitting as an interest at all.
This is made even more interesting by Dawn’s tendency in mid-series books to become easily swayed by others into adopting their ideas (such as ‘Dawn’s Big Date’ in which she relies on magazines in order to learn how to be ‘attractive’ to boys) as it’s the only example of this characteristic of Dawn's resulting in a positive result (not only her friendship with Sunny, but her developing the ability to disregard others opinions that eventually becomes the foundation of her character.)
Sunny gives Dawn her Morse Code chart, and suggests they play together tomorrow. The next morning, she asks Dawn to come over and tie dye. Dawn’s excited, despite herself, but is embarrassed to see the Winslows are going to do this in the front yard, and that other neighbours are watching, and exits, to Sunny’s disappointment.
Dawn tries to avoid Sunny, but Sharon, her mom, offers to help Betsy and Sunny with a ride to the department store.
On the way over, Sunny identifies clouds as indicating storms are due.
(While Dawn seems a relatively high academic achiever, Sunny’s characterisation wavers on this point – it appears as if she can attain good grades with focus, but doesn’t show the same level of focus as her peers even prior to her mother’s illness degenerating. However, this book introduces Sunny as having a particular interest in practical knowledge and a calmness in emergencies that crops up in later books, as well as, as Dawn puts it, 'always knowing the perfect thing to say'.)
Dawn is humiliated by strangers staring at Betsy and Sunny’s ‘long hair and hippie clothes’, and tries to shake Sunny by looking at plastic toys. However, Sunny follows her, ‘lecturing about garbage’.
The storm causes the store lights to go out.
Dawn is near tears, but Sunny calls out ‘Dawn, stay where you are. I’ll find you’, and uses a light up toy as a flashlight. Sunny takes her hand and suggests they find a clerk.
People around them are impressed by the girls bravery and cleverness. The lights come back on, although Dawn nervously decides to stick close to Sunny.
The clerk suggests checking the next floor in case Sharon and Betsy are there, and Sunny thinks they should tell another clerk in case their moms return. Mrs Stazio, the clerk, is impressed by Sunny’s quick thinking.
Dawn is tearful, but Sunny remains calm. When she sees men in overalls, holding tool boxes, she asks who they are.
The clerk explains they fix elevators, and Sunny thinks their mothers must be in a stuck elevator. Dawn worries about possible catastrophes, such as her mother being harmed.
(This is also mirrored not only in Sunny’s later rescue of Dawn’s step mother Carol, in a mall, but also in their approach to crises - Sunny’s outwardly calm attitude in ‘California Diaries’ towards her mother’s illness strikes emotional Dawn as selfish. Dawn has a history of 'falling apart' as she puts it, in a crisis, and has a similar issue with Claudia in a Super Special where they're stranded on an island, and she finds herself envious of Claudia's ability to cope.)
Sunny pounds on the elevator door in Morse Code, and her mother responds, assisting the repairmen. More strangers admire Sunny, and Dawn notes that none of them are judging her for her strange clothes. ‘I was proud to know Sunny. And thanks to her I wasn’t frightened anymore… Finally I was calm enough to think of what I could do to help.’ Dawn suggests her father call Mr Winslow at his job, as well as Jeff’s friend’s parents.
When the elevator opens, Sharon says Betsy reassured her, staying calm and sensible in an emergency. The families go to dinner, and when Sunny asks Dawn to ride with her, Dawn wonders about being seen in the camper van, before deciding:
I realized that I didn’t care anymore what other people thought of the Winslows. I liked my new neighbours.
…I felt lucky that I had a good friend who lived on my block. In fact I was beginning to think that Sunshine Daydream Winslow was just about the most interesting, smart, resourceful girl I’d ever met. Maybe we would be best friends after all.
A later chapter set in fifth grade mentions how the Winslows acclimated somewhat to the more traditional neighbourhood, but remain close to the Schafers.
This also begins a minor theme of Dawn/Sunny and the constellations:
“Did you ever wonder what’s pouring out of the Big Dipper?” Sunny asked me.
…“Maybe meteors,” I said.
“I think it’s pouring out love,” Sunny said.
Sunny appears to strongly associate nature and the constellations (which she knows by heart) with emotional comfort – when she skips school regularly due to her mother’s condition, she often plays truant at the beach, describing sun as a ‘depression cure’. Dawn tells her she needs a ‘vacation’, and she suggests ‘...Venus?’ When her mother’s illness has progressed to it’s final stages, she ‘decided I need to see the moon…and smell the night air’, and she and Dawn sit outside in her garden that night, comforting each other.
Finally in Sunny’s last BSC appearance, she flirts with a boy, Jason, by talking about a film they watched, set on a desert island, and how romantic she finds ‘the full moon, the crashing surf’. Later, Dawn yawns, and Sunny ‘stares’ at her, asking: “You’re not tired, are you? I thought we could go outside. There’s a full moon tonight, you know.”
Dawn describes how she coped with an emergency of her own, thanks in part to the example of her mother, as well as Betsy and Sunny. Sunny ‘proudly’ tells their teachers and school friends about Dawn’s heroism.
At the book’s end, they offer to read each other’s autobiographies. Dawn’s a little nervous:
Sunny said, “Dawn, when you read my autobiography you’re going to learn things about me that I’ve never told you.”
“So are you,” I said. “I wrote about something I did that I’m not proud of.”
“Me, too. I hope you’ll still like me after you read it.”
…I realized that what she read wouldn’t change her feelings toward me. And that nothing she wrote in her autobiography would make me change mine. In fact, I was pretty sure that we’d be better friends than ever…
A later Super Special, ‘Babysitters Remember’ also mentions Sunny – in this case, when Dawn’s parents divorce, she escapes to Sunny’s to avoid the rows. She compares the separation from her father to her separation from Sunny, asking her mother if she’s going to ‘take Sunny away, too?’
Dawn’s overarching plot in the Babysitters Club is her indecision over whether to stay in California with her father, stepmother and brother; or Connecticut with her mother, stepfather and stepsister. This is introduced fairly early, in ‘Dawn on the Coast’ and Sunny is hugely enthused by Dawn’s potential return, repeatedly saying how much she hopes Dawn will choose California. Dawn is reluctant initially to discuss the issue, lest Sunny ‘persuade’ her to stay.
However, she eventually decides to take six months in California. Within this time period are two BSC books, and two Mysteries. (Sunny is also mentioned in a Super Special with a reference to Dawn's desire to 'have a bi-coastal sleepover – both groups of my friends'.) These add little depth from earlier books, apart from small grace notes, such as establishing how much Sunny relies on Dawn (or conversely, how much Dawn believes Sunny relies on her) – when Dawn discovers her father is engaged to his girlfriend, Carol, she decides to go back to Connecticut, stealing his credit card and booking a flight in secret. She feels ‘awful’ lying to her friends, and imagines Sunny in particular will be ‘hardly…able to speak through…tears’ when she discovers Dawn’s left.
(Interestingly this becomes a reversed theme in 'California Diaries', with Sunny becoming the one who ‘runs away’ from her problems; but while Dawn calls her on this a lot in 'CD'; here it’s Maggie who’s irritated by Dawn’s lie, while Sunny and Jill are mystified, but also ‘sympathetic’ and ‘relieved’.)
It’s also established that Sunny differs from Dawn in that Dawn genuinely believes in the supernatural, while Sunny is more pragmatic, despite enjoying scary books and films. (This is an interesting foreshadowing for their eventual experiences with death – Sunny as the one who’s mother is terminally ill is forced to separate myth and reality earlier than Dawn, who believes that Mrs. Winslow will eventually recover.) We also see that Sunny doesn’t want to admit to being spooked, and this desire to disguise her emotions comes back to haunt her and Dawn’s friendship.
At this point, the girls have a very egalitarian friendship, and it’s mentioned how they spur each other on in turn when they’re disheartened and ‘stick together like glue’. Likewise, while earlier it’s mentioned that Dawn fears Sunny will be able to persuade her to stay in California, here she ‘talk(s) Sunny into seeing things my way.’
This also begins the introduction of Sunny’s habit of flirtation. In ‘Dawn and the Surfer Ghost’, Sunny tells Dawn a local surfer, Thrash, likes her. Dawn denies this, but admits ‘He’s a neat guy…isn’t he?’
Sunny, who can be fairly cavalier about safety (both her own and others) and who encourages the pursuit of boys at all times, is actually fairly staid when it comes to her friend’s relationships. She’s the first to shut down Amalia’s boyfriend when he’s abusive to her, and is in tears when he spreads rumours about Amalia.
She encourages Mary Anne and Dawn to attend a triple date with her, but at the first sign of interest from the other girls in their dates, decides ‘we’ll dump (the boys’.)
Here, at Dawn’s shy question about Thrash, Sunny is unusually sensible, warning her friend ‘You better not get mixed up with him’ as he has a reputation for fighting.
After Thrash disappears, Sunny gives Dawn a ‘curious look’, asking “Hey, you — you didn’t have a crush on him or anything, did you?”
Dawn notes that Thrash ‘hadn’t been my type’, but that she’d given up on telling Sunny that, as Sunny convinced herself Dawn was ‘madly in love with Thrash.’
In ‘Dawn and the Halloween Mystery’, the situation is reversed, with Sunny ‘blushing’ and telling Dawn ‘don’t be silly’ when Dawn tells her a shop clerk ‘like(s) you.’ Here, Dawn then takes the negative tack, pointing out he was cute ‘but a little old’. Dawn notes how confident Sunny is speaking to boys, and how she flashes the clerk ‘another one of those irresistible smiles.’
Dawn also describes Sunny as boy-crazy, but agrees with her assessment of the boys running track at their school as cute, and they trade favourites:
“How about that guy with the black hair?” I said. “I love his ponytail.”
“I like the blond one better,” said Sunny.
However, neither seem particularly interested in boys beyond appearance – when trailing a teenage suspect who turns out to be comically saintly, Sunny sighs and dryly comments ‘He’ll make some girl a fine husband one day.’
In ‘Farewell Dawn’, Dawn, having recently discovered Mrs Winslow has lung cancer, talks about how she ‘longs’ in her ‘heart’ to be in Palo City. She calls Sunny, who answers jokily reading a surf report. Dawn reflects how Sunny is always joking, and how she flirts, but it’s so ‘friendly’ she makes it seem okay. (This is especially tolerant for Dawn, who’s easily embarrassed by flirtation and physical affection – at one point, she shares a car with her stepsister Mary Anne and Mary Anne’s boyfriend, Logan, and feels awkward at their holding hands.)
Sunny’s concerned at Dawn calling in the day, but Dawn reassures her she was just missing Sunny and wondering about her mom. Sunny is ‘thoughtful’, but also ‘quiet’ and ‘unsure’ when she talks about her mother’s condition.
Dawn wishes she could be with Sunny in person to put her arm around her. Dawn voices this, saying she would like to be in two places at once, and Sunny says she understands, as wherever she is, she wishes another her could be at the beach.
(This exchange also kind of foreshadows 'California Diaries' – Sunny tries to shield her feelings and uses humour to deal with her mom’s by then terminal condition, and spends a lot of time at the beach instead of in class.)
Interestingly, Dawn’s decision to move back is punctuated with two inclusions: Jeff mentions he saw Sunny talking to a guy who was giving her a surfing lesson, and Dawn wonders who it was, and why Sunny didn’t mention him the other day. (There seems little point in including this detail, in that the boy’s identity is never revealed, except to show the beginning of Dawn’s concern about Sunny's well-being cloaking itself in an interest in Sunny’s love-life.)
Likewise, breaking the news to Mary Anne, she’s afraid her stepsister will see the move as Dawn preferring her California friends, which Mary Anne does seem to, and her feelings seem to be in part coded as a break-up:
“…We wouldn’t be cool enough for you after your fabulous time in California. Sorry we’re so boring now. Sorry I’m such a drag compared to everyone in California…Is it like I was fun for awhile but now you’ve moved onto the next thing?”
The story in Connecticut resolves with Dawn writing a letter to Mary Anne in which it’s telegraphed how she and Sunny’s viewpoints will come to differ: ‘Sunny says everything is going along fine, but you know Sunny’s idea of fine.’
In 'Dawn and Too Many Sitters', Dawn returns to Stoneybrook, but has doubts about leaving while Mrs. Winslow's condition is still poor, and because Sunny, who comforted her through her parents divorce, is now in 'her own time of need'. She also describes Sunny as her 'number one friend of all time' - in earlier books Dawn debates whether her closeness to Mary Anne, her friend and stepsister may mean more to her than her friendship with Sunny; while later books firmly re-establish Sunny in poll position. Sunny notices Dawn's reluctance to leave and hugs her, reassuring her that she and her mom 'will be here when you come back' and Dawn notes how 'we cockeyed optimists stick together', however, she, Sunny, Jack and Carol are tearful, promising to call every day and hug frequently at this separation, which Dawn describes as 'our little love-fest.'
In the last released BSC book mentioning Sunny prior to 'California Diaries' and the BSC's concluding miniseries 'Friends Forever', Dawn talks about how Sunny's sent her a braided friendship anklet, that Dawn touches while she writes, 'thinking of sun and sand and feeling close to Sunny.'
Chapter 3: dawn, sunny and the california diaries
This series is by far and away the deepest exploration of not only Sunny and Dawn’s characters individually, but also their relationship, which begins to fracture in this series.
We begin with Dawn’s first diary, which mainly sets up the conceit for the series (introducing new characters and establishing that Dawn’s grade will be housed with upperclassmen, lamp-shading the ‘older’ mood of the BSC spin-off.)
Dawn establishes how close she and Sunny have been (including how her heart ‘broke’ when she had to leave Sunny in California after her parent’s divorce) but how Sunny seems ‘wild(er)’ and less interested in old pastimes like babysitting since her mom got sick. While Sunny is still confiding in her friends and visiting her mom frequently, Dawn feels Sunny is ‘impatient’ with her and their other friends. Dawn, too, struggles to remain as supportive as she’d like to be, and is irritated by Sunny’s desire to act adult as well as judgemental of how Sunny and her mom interact. She also feels as if she can’t confide in Sunny as much as she used to, and that she doesn’t always know what to say when Sunny brings up her mom.
Dawn ultimately feels torn between childhood, as represented by her friend, Jill; and impending adulthood, as represented by Sunny, and the description of this is fairly sensual: ’…I’m like Sunny, wanting to surge forward and get on with things. Impatient for whatever is coming. Not even caring what it is. Just wanting to experience it, taste it, live it.’
The girls attend a party with upperclassmen, although both refer to their preparations of packing ‘makeup and clothes’ as similar to planning ‘a business trip’, suggesting that they may have mixed feelings about the aforementioned impending adulthood. On arriving at the party, Dawn and Maggie are nervous, while Sunny is keen to drink punch and talk to people.
In this book, we see the seeds planted for the more dysfunctional edge of this relationship – Dawn can be controlling, and an issue that begins for her in this diary is Sunny’s bodily autonomy, particularly with regards to what she wears and how she acts around boys. She initially orders Sunny not to get any more piercings (it’s mentioned in multiple books how Dawn admires piercings and miniskirts as a fashion choice, so this is clearly specific to Sunny) and is furious when Sunny gets her navel pierced.
When a ‘very cute’ guy at the party offers Sunny a cigarette, Dawn recognises Sunny is torn, as she wants to be ‘cool’ as well as attractive (she ‘turned on an absolutely charming smile’) but for obvious reasons, doesn’t want to smoke.
Dawn interjects: ‘She doesn’t smoke. Her mother’s dying of lung cancer. Thanks anyway.’
Dawn admits to herself that she provokes emotion from Sunny, including shock (neither of them had said out loud before that her mother is dying), and horror at Dawn’s rudeness, as well as amusement.
Perhaps this statement is what causes Dawn to decide to back off, and she allows Sunny to separate from her and Maggie, resulting in Sunny getting very drunk.
There’s a fascinating interlude here specific to Dawn’s characterisation, in which she notes how mature the high school girls look, with ‘lots of makeup’ and ‘tight dresses’ showing off their ‘D-Cup breasts’. While Maggie and Dawn wait for Sunny to recover enough to walk home, they get pushed in the pool, and Dawn notes how Maggie’s ‘ample…bra(less) chest’ is hugely tempting for a nearby boy, who ignores another, older girl’s ‘tantalisingly clingy wet dress’.
The diary ends with Sunny and Dawn still friends and engaging in mutual exchanges (Sunny won’t ‘let’ Dawn walk into school ‘hanging her head’; while Dawn breaks Sunny’s defiance with a reminder that they broke the law, causing Sunny to guiltily mutter ‘I know, I know, I know.)
Sunny’s first diary furthers the conflict between her and Dawn.
Sunny relies on Dawn’s friendship, but is frustrated by what she sees as Dawn’s ‘distant’ attitude and inability to fully understand Sunny’s situation. (Dawn believes ‘positive thinking, holistic medicine and herbs’ could still aid Mrs. Winslow’s condition.) She also fears burdening Dawn with complaints:
I actually thought about calling Dawn. For about a second. Like, she would really be thrilled to hear me at this hour, complaining about the same old stuff.
She’s angry with her parents, particularly her father, and is irritated by Dawn’s criticising her own stepmother, Carol, but tacitly defending Sunny’s parents as the ‘nicest, most centred people (I) know.’
Sunny is under pressure on several fronts, as her teachers begin to note her distracted attitude. She’s not sleeping, and dwelling on her problems exacerbates her insomnia; but adopting a carefree attitude makes her feel guilty and isolates her from her friends. She wants to appear confident and fun-loving, but Dawn (and Maggie, perhaps for different reasons) is repelled, seeing Sunny’s attitude as disloyal to her parents.
Dawn is also unnerved when Sunny flippantly jokes about their teacher – when her friends ask her what she was doing in the principal’s office, Sunny quips ‘You didn’t hear about me and Mr Dean? It’s serious.’ Ducky bursts out laughing, while Maggie zeroes in on Sunny’s absence, asking why she looks ‘burned’, however Dawn blushes and gives Dawn ‘weird looks’ for the rest of the day.
Sunny begins to skip class in favour of the beach. She meets a surfer called Carson, and while she believes herself infatuated with him, it seems clear the attraction for Sunny is that he ‘listens without lecturing’ and he lives a life free from painful emotional ties.
She does however compare his eyes to Dawn’s and Ducky’s, saying: ‘anyone who looked into Dawn’s eyes would see her optimism and strength. Catch Ducky’s glance for a second and you think: compassion, sense of humour.’
Dawn and Sunny argue over Sunny’s attendance. It’s clear that Sunny is beginning to resent Dawn’s lectures (she defiantly writes ‘I do NOT feel guilty’ in her journal), but also their former closeness, as she calls Dawn: I was really missing her.
However, Sunny’s mother is hospitalised while she’s absent from school. Dawn, in a remarkable show of bad faith, seems to assume Sunny knew her mother was hospitalised prior to heading to the beach, while Sunny is alarmed, as her mom was at home that morning.
Dawn is furious that Mr. Winslow asked her where Sunny was, and she calls Sunny a liar (this is fascinating, as Jill and Dawn’s friendship ended in the preceding book in part because Jill felt it was unjust she had to lie to her family for Dawn, Maggie and Sunny; but here, Dawn has taken Jill’s part, while Sunny represents Dawn herself’s argument.)
She states that she doesn’t ‘know’ Sunny anymore, while Sunny thinks that this is correct, in that her current priorities are her parents and her self, with Dawn ‘way down’ the list, with her ‘screaming’ not helping her cause.
Dawn threatens that Sunny won’t have friends if she ‘keeps secrets’ and ‘turns her back’ on her friends, and says that Mrs. Winslow is happy to have Dawn care about her, implying that Sunny doesn’t.
This foreshadows the developing plot in future books in which Dawn and Sunny once more switch places. ‘California Diaries’ are interesting, as even when Dawn and Sunny come into conflict, they’re often paralleling and mirroring each other’s flaws and problems. Here, Sunny begins to withdraw from visiting her mother as Mrs Winslow’s condition advances, and Dawn tries to fill her role as ‘second daughter’. At the same time, Dawn finds it difficult to bond with her stepmother, Carol, who begins permanent bed-rest due to pregnancy complications, while Sunny is happy to assist Carol, who she adores.
Sunny decides to run away with Carson, however, he refuses, believing she’s too young and better off at home. Ducky rescues her from Venice Beach, and while Sunny expects Dawn to yell at her, Dawn instead cries about how worried she was, and hugs Sunny. Sunny notes this ‘felt good. Really good.’ She admires Dawn for her self-control, and when Dawn shows her concern, Sunny concludes ‘I’ll take what I can get.’
However, the diary concludes with Ducky being the only friend still speaking to Sunny (Maggie refuses to, while Dawn ‘is…acting weird’)
Dawn’s second diary begins as the fracture of her and Sunny’s friendship is fully formed – Dawn is ‘lonely, tense and sad’ as she and Sunny aren’t speaking.
She reflects that the only time she felt this badly was when her parents divorced, and that she hated leaving Sunny, missed her the whole time, and that Sunny was the main reason she moved back to California. She reminisces:
‘We used to do absolutely everything together. We could finish each other’s sentences. The phone would ring, and I would know it was Sunny before I picked up the receiver. I could walk into her house anytime and feel like a member of the family.’
However, now she believes Sunny has become a ‘different person’.
It seems clear that both Dawn and Sunny are jealous of each other, Dawn because of Sunny’s place in her own household (including sharing Dawn’s room) and growing closeness to Carol, who Dawn dislikes; and Sunny because of Dawn’s visits to Mrs. Winslow.
Both are pretty clearly being unfair to the other - Sunny complains when Dawn accompanies her to the hospital, but also when Dawn attends without her; while Dawn seems to view criticising Sunny as a genuine method that will ‘help her’ face that she’s ‘letting down (everyone)’ and ‘acting (terribly)’.
(I do wonder if the BSC’s almost cult-like attitude towards in-group dynamics has perhaps altered Dawn’s interpersonal approach. I mentioned in a previous chapter how Dawn’s family situation promotes her need for control as a way of expressing love; and the BSC very definitely went through phases in which they would express their concern for individual members by policing them until they stopped whatever behaviour was objectionable. It could be in a Stoneybrook set book, this tactic would successfully ‘fix’ Sunny.)
Likewise, both tend to view situations as black-and-white, and unilaterally decide it’s someone else’s fault when problems arise.
The series can get repetitive here, not only due to the lather-rinse-repeat structure (Dawn’s 2nd and 3rd diaries reuse a format: ‘Dawn misses Sunny. Dawn is disgusted by Sunny’s behaviour. Dawn reminds herself, or is reminded by Carol or Ducky, to be patient and understanding. Dawn’s sympathy turns to anger again quickly.’) and contrivances to keep the girls apart until Sunny's Diary Three, which details her mother's death; but also because the second volume of Sunny’s diaries covers several of the same events.
We do at least see a Rashomon style retelling of some events – for example, Dawn is hurt when she attempts to call Sunny after their argument, and Sunny doesn’t reply. Dawn ‘begs’ Maggie to tell Sunny ‘I want to talk to her’, but Maggie reports back that Sunny joked about how she’ll need Dawn to make it up to her with jewellery and ‘personal servitude’.
However, Sunny tells the story with the added detail that Maggie asked what’s wrong between Dawn and Sunny, and Amalia then telling Sunny that Dawn has been ‘dissing’ her ‘in front of everyone.’ Similarly, Sunny describes Dawn’s message as a curt ‘Call me back.’
This plot-line also develops how Dawn, Sunny and Ducky need to be needed.
There’s little conflict between the girls and Ducky, as he’s able to aid them with practical support such as rides, as well as his, to them, unique perspective as an older male. Sunny is also able to help Ducky by getting him a job at her father’s bookshop.
It seems significant that Sunny, who feels ‘useless’ at home, where her father is expectant rather than pleased at any domestic tasks she completes, and she’s not sure how to comfort her mother; responds most positively in the midsection of this series to Carol and Ducky, who allow her to help them as well as helping her.
A big conflict between Dawn and Sunny seems to be that both want to be the ‘hero’ or ‘saint’ as they’re referred to, and when one won’t let the other help, they almost project that desire onto the closest person to their friend (aka, Mrs Winslow and Carol.)
Dawn is also contemptuous of Sunny’s burgeoning friendship with Ducky. It’s not clear how much of this is due to her genuine growing mistrust in Sunny’s character, and how much is Dawn’s jealousy and inability to parse what Ducky offers as a friend that she lacks.
It almost seems like projection that Dawn invests herself in the idea that Ducky is being used by Sunny as a chauffeur, and takes a sense of ownership over their growing friendship by viewing it as something she’s allowing by not telling Ducky what she sees as the truth about Sunny.
(This continues in later books, where Dawn threatens Sunny out of criticising a date by saying ‘I’d hate to have to tell Ducky what you said.’)
The choices made to recap certain events in both diaries, but not others perhaps adds to this, as on a Doylist level, it was probably made in part to avoid repetition; but on a Watsonian level, it makes Dawn even less sympathetic, as she details at length how Sunny endangers her stepmother, Carol, leaving her on bedrest and allowing a pot on the stove to boil; but doesn’t mention how prior to this, Sunny saved Carol’s life while Dawn was at the mall with Maggie.
There’s also a fixation that crops up here with Dawn slutshaming Sunny.
It could be in part due to conservative mores on behalf of the writer(s) but it seems significant that while Maggie’s first diary also mentions Sunny’s ‘reputation’ disapprovingly; Ducky and Amalia view Sunny’s clothing choices and confidence with boys as positive traits. (Likewise, Carol, Sunny’s mother figure, is amused rather than concerned by Sunny’s ‘many boyfriends’.)
It also seems very Sunny specific, in that Dawn in both past and future books has admired revealing clothing and sexually aggressive behaviour; and this could be demonstrative of Dawn’s expectations of what appropriate stress reactions are (when Mrs. Winslow passes, it’s mentioned that one of the first thing she asks is ‘Why are you angry? I thought you’d be sad.’) drawing a parallel between her and the more childlike Jill, who visibly enjoys criticising Sunny’s dating (her ‘eyes sparkle’ as she asks whether older boys ‘go to her house’) and who also enrages Sunny, when she asks after her mother’s death if Sunny ‘misses’ her.
However, the level of lavish detailing of outfits (‘tight, short shorts and a halter top that shows off her navel ring’) and the fury Dawn expresses at Sunny spending time with boys not only in favour of visiting her mother, but also Dawn herself: She ‘saunters by, arm in arm with some hunk,’ so enraptured that ‘when they passed my locker, she didn’t even look at me’ does suggest room for a subtextual reading of Dawn’s jealousy here.
(This isn't the first time descriptions used in a Dawn POV have used lavish detail while describing female character's appearances. Dawn's chapter in the Super Special set at Camp Mohawk talks about her room-mates almost primarily by assessing their looks ('...Charlene is pretty, but not in a model-ish way. Just in an outdoorsy, healthy way. You know, like those soap commercials?...Amy — She's not exactly pretty, but she's not bad-looking, either. Her eyes are kind of close together and her nose is pointy, so she looks a little like a bird. But she's got beautiful red-blonde hair (more red than blonde) and perfect skin. I think she's very smart.')
Dawn also seems to realise on some level that her anger towards Sunny, while valid, is not entirely about Sunny herself, but how Dawn feels ‘lost’ without her best friend in her life. This seems clear when Dawn becomes nervous at the idea of sitting ‘in the backseat near her. I didn’t know what I would do or say’ and realises just ‘imagining the scene made me feel angry at Sunny.’ Ducky suggests Dawn is angry at Sunny for ‘not being there when you need her’, and although Dawn rejects this idea, she does wonder: ‘What is wrong with me? Why am I so angry at Sunny?’
Diary Two at least concludes with Dawn reflecting touchingly on how nervous she’s become around Sunny (‘…I tried to forget about Sunny. But I couldn’t… My head was pounding and my mouth felt dry. Just being near Sunny was making me nervous. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to act…I feel an ache in my heart whenever I think of (her). I lost her and I shouldn’t have.’) and how she doesn’t have ‘the courage’ to reach out.
She lists to herself conversational starters she dismisses as ‘lame’ such as asking Sunny about work, or exams, or asking her over for a soda; and she makes deals with herself that if Sunny responds to her in a small way, that she’ll return the gesture.
She spends time with Maggie, but realises that she and Sunny shared a ‘deeper’ closeness than she shares with Maggie; and she’s disturbed when exams finish, as if Sunny fails her math class, this will ruin their ‘shared dreams’ to graduate together, spend the summer in Europe, and be college roommates.
At the end of the chapter, Dawn realises she’s leaving for Stoneybrook for the first time without saying goodbye to Sunny.
Sunny’s second diary takes us back to before their estrangement, describing how Sunny was staying at Dawn’s house.
Sunny is grateful for Dawn letting her stay, however, both view each other as negligent of their respective mother figures.
Dawn visits Sunny’s mother after Sunny forgets a visit, and Sunny is bothered at what her mother must have thought.
Dawn’s irritation with what she sees as Sunny’s ingratitude causes her to withdraw from Sunny, and bonds together Sunny and Carol; which only causes the girls to compete over Carol as well as Mrs. Winslow.
Sunny looks up to Dawn, seeing her as ‘perfect’ and ‘better than me in every way’, and it does cause a reader to wonder if Dawn is herself trying to further this impression of herself as capable with no vulnerabilities (for example, many Dawn books have dealt with her struggling to get along with her stepmother, Carol. However, when Sunny comments: ‘You still don’t like her, huh?’ Dawn stonewalls her by saying ‘Of course I do. She’s my stepmother…You have a big imagination, Sunny.’) whether to set an example to Sunny or to not burden her with any more problems.
They also struggle to share space (an issue that’s cropped up for Dawn prior to this, when she shared a room on holiday with Kristy, and admits to being 'neater than usual. On purpose.') as well as with her stepsister, Mary Anne) with Dawn feeling as if Sunny acts like the ‘host’ not the ‘guest’ and telling Mrs. Bruen ‘I see enough of Sunny’; and Sunny feeling like she’s ‘freeloading’ (an opinion shared by her father) and therefore even more desperate to assist Carol, only pushing Dawn’s nose further out of joint.
As Dawn observes Sunny with boys in her chapter, here we see Sunny is ultra-aware, even with her boyfriends, as to Dawn’s reactions, and in some cases purposefully interacts with the guys in order to ensure Dawn is watching and angered by it:
…When Brock drove up, Dawn’s mouth was hanging open. I saw it. She was staring out her living room window.
…I just smiled at him and touched his hand. As if this kind of thing happened to me every day. And I said, “I’m on if you are, Pete.”
Dawn was staring fiercely into her locker. I know she wanted to give me one of her tsk-tsk looks. Too bad.
…I gave Pete a kiss, put my arm in his, and walked with him down the hallway. Slowly. So Dawn could watch our every step.
Again, it’s hard to sympathise with either at times - Sunny hides her emotions, assuming that people ‘don’t want to hear’, despite them begging her to confide in them; and offers to do tasks for the Schafers while at the same time complaining that she feels like treated like a ‘slave’.
Meanwhile, Dawn expresses her concerns for Sunny’s welfare solely through the medium of criticism, so that when she actually has a reason to be angry about Sunny’s behaviour like endangering Carol and accidentally starting a kitchen fire, it’s cheapened somewhat by the fact she’s already lectured her for crimes as varied as ‘not (having) a good excuse’ for skipping a quiz; dating a boy without ‘talking it out’ with other boys and for pretending they’re late on April Fool’s Day.
Sunny at least seems to try to repress urges like wanting to to tell Dawn to grow up, and instead tells herself: ‘I shouldn’t blame Dawn for the bad mood I’m in…I shouldn’t be angry. I am not angry.’
She also reflects that they could trade families, but that she wouldn’t wish being a Winslow on Dawn, which seems to suggest that on some level, while she resents Dawn for it, she does recognise that Dawn truly doesn’t understand what she’s going through in the way that Ducky and Carol, who are older and more emotionally mature, can.
They finally estrange themselves after an argument. Dawn accuses Sunny of lacking ‘guts’ because she doesn’t ‘face (her) problems’, telling her she doesn’t care about anyone but herself, and that she only enjoys time with Carol when there’s ‘something in it’ for her.
Sunny argues back that instead of spending time visiting Mrs. Winslow, Dawn should spend time with Carol herself, and Dawn tells Sunny that Sunny has a mother and she should ‘count her blessings.’
Sunny concludes ‘Dawn and I are over’ and at the novel’s end, they’re able to converse without arguing, but they ‘don’t say much. I like it that way. I think she does too.’
She also visits her mother, who comforts her. Sunny reflects that it makes it harder to have a visit with her mother when Mrs Winslow is engaged and having a relatively good day, as her hopes rise, despite the fact that her mother’s condition is at this point, terminal. She expresses that she’s trying to protect herself by ‘forming a shell’ and detach, knowing the pain that lies ahead.
The last two diaries of Dawn and Sunny’s in the Diaries series are particularly emotionally fraught.
Dawn’s diary mainly centres around a concert she, Sunny, Ducky and Amalia attend, the week that they learn Mrs. Winslow’s chemotherapy is stopping.
It takes a very close reading indeed to see the vulnerabilities of Dawn’s character at this stage, to be honest (a podcast recapping the California Diaries uses as their summary for Dawn: Diary Three: ‘Is Dawn Schafer history’s greatest monster?’!)
The chapter begins as Dawn notes how bored she is, and how she’s furious at Sunny, but also misses her. She sits in her room, looking…across at Sunny’s house, and she wonders if Sunny misses her, or whether ‘this doesn’t matter to her just now.’
She tries to avoid Sunny and visit Mrs. Winslow only when she’s sure Sunny won’t be there.
Dawn is irritated when she finds out Sunny visits Carol and her new baby Gracie, partly because Sunny leaves as soon as she hears Dawn approach; and partly because Sunny is visiting Carol when she could be visiting Dawn or Mrs. Winslow.
Carol tells Dawn Sunny is dealing with things in her own way, and Dawn retorts: ‘You mean she’s avoiding things in her own way’ and that she’s the only who visits Mrs Winslow.
Carol reminds her that the situation isn’t the same for Dawn, because Mrs Winslow is not her mother, and Dawn ‘spitefully’ thinks ‘And neither are you’ for a ‘little teeny split second.’ Carol tells Dawn she needs to give Sunny time, and that they will be friends again; and when Ducky thoughtfully says he’s glad Sunny has Carol to talk to, Dawn becomes tearful (presumably in part because she wishes Sunny could talk to her still.)
Ducky invites Amalia, Dawn and Sunny to see a concert with him. Dawn has a crush on the lead singer, but is torn, as she doesn’t want to be around Sunny for an entire evening. She ‘obsesses’ about the Sunny dilemma, and hints to Ducky that he should uninvite Sunny due to Dawn’s ‘extreme discomfort’.
Ducky suggest Dawn talk to Sunny, saying that they ‘should be’ friends again and Sunny needs her.
Dawn sees Sunny, but can’t bring herself to call out to her, and feels ‘small and mean’.
She does however, reach out to Sunny when she bumps into her at the hospital, however, she inadvertently offends Sunny by commenting that Mrs. Winslow ‘likes the company.’
Sunny sneers ‘I’m sure she does, Pollyanna’, and Dawn exits.
Dawn reflects, in an odd choice of language, that the idea of going to the concert with Sunny makes her ‘squirm. And shiver.’
Carol explains that Sunny is withdrawing from people for fear she’ll lose them like her mother, and while Dawn thinks Sunny is ‘mean’, she decides to be brave and reaches out to Sunny in another interaction she obsesses over, as if planning a date:
A thousand thoughts swirled around in my head. I could ask her if she wants to go to the hospital together to visit her mother. (No, she would HATE that.) I could say, “Glad we’re going to the concert.” (Very lame.) I could invite her over. I could ask her if she wants to go shopping. Finally I said, “Can I call you tonight?”
Sunny frowned slightly. “Uh, sure.”
I felt like a dork.
The date metaphor continues as Dawn spends over an hour debating when to call Sunny, hoping when the phone rings it’s her, and ‘hyperventilating’.
Sunny is flat and non-communicative, and Dawn cries when she hangs up the phone, wondering why Sunny doesn’t want to ‘make up and be friends again?’ and angrily decides Sunny has ‘had (her) chance.’
(Interestingly, Sunny and Dawn’s diaries use a lot of similar phrases, despite being written by different writers and ghostwriters, one of these being ‘it’s all her/his fault’, ‘I feel old’ and ‘You’ve had your chance.’)
That night Dawn thinks: I tried to forget about Sunny but she kept me up all last night. I could hardly sleep. I couldn’t keep not bringing it up or Sunny and I would end up together in the backseat of Ducky’s car for sure.
Dawn decides Ducky is going to ‘have to separate us’, and Dawn will play music so ‘nobody will be able to talk’. She suggests to Ducky that he arrange for Sunny to get a ride with someone else (Ducky hilariously is just like ‘…Why would I do that?’) She asks Ducky three more times, but he laughingly refuses, and Dawn agrees to come, especially as Ducky tells her he’s glad she’s trying, and how important it is to him that all his friends be happy, and that Dawn and Sunny make up.
Directly before the concert, the Winslows tell Dawn that Mrs. Winslow’s chemotherapy will be stopping, and that Sunny knows. Dawn follows Sunny, who enters and seeing Dawn with her parents, exits upstairs. Sunny sits on the top step of her stairs, but refuses to talk about the news with Dawn.
That evening, Sunny makes snipey jabs at Dawn, greeting her with: ‘Did your dad have a nice talk with Ducky?’ (as Dawn seems the only attendant that evening with a parent concerned about the club environment the concert is held in). Ducky blares his music in response, and Sunny continues ‘Careful, Ducky. Dawn’s father might hear and make her stay home.’
However, Ducky jokes, and is happily excited to spend the evening with ‘just me and my girls’. Dawn notices Sunny ‘flashe(s) Ducky a…lovely smile’ and realises that the evening is as important to Sunny as Dawn, albeit for different reasons.
The girls stay silent on the way up, although while queuing, Sunny continues to snark at Dawn.
Dawn is concerned, as Sunny talks about buying a bracelet off older concertgoers in order to buy liquor. She exits to call her dad to let him now she’s arrived, and Sunny mock-solicitously asks if her daddy ‘decided’ she could stay.
Dawn then takes the conversation to DEFCON one, by ‘smiling sweetly’ and saying she’s ‘so sorry that (your father) is so wrapped up in your mother that he doesn’t care what you do.’ Sunny opens her mouth (whether to respond or out of shock isn’t clear), and poor Amalia and Ducky ‘just stare’ at Dawn.
A friend of Ducky’s brother, Rick, interrupts, thankfully, offering to get them drinks. Dawn decides she ‘doesn’t have to worry about what Sunny and Amalia did’ as her father will only see Ducky and her at the end of the evening.
Ducky asks for a coke, but Rick tells him to live a little, and Sunny agrees ‘Friends don’t let friends drink alone.’
Ducky ‘looks interested’ and accepts.
Dawn would like to join them, but knows if her dad found out, he’d be furious. She carefully eyes Ducky and Sunny, who sip their drinks, and when offered, accept Rick’s shots.
Dawn is concerned about Ducky, but also worried as he promised her father he wouldn’t drink, and is the only one who can drink them home. However, she doesn’t want to make a fuss in front of Amalia and Sunny, and she thinks Ducky ‘sounded…and looked fine’, so decides to ‘not let any of this ruin my evening…’
Ducky and Sunny have another shot, but by the end of the evening, Ducky looks ‘tired’.
Dawn asks him how much he’s had to drink, and Sunny sarcastically counts the glasses, saying she had three shots and Ducky two, and asking for a calculator.
However, when Dawn mutters ‘Oh, shut up, Sunny’, Sunny does.
Ducky jokes with Sunny, and Sunny copies Dawn as she reprimands him ‘This is serious!’ Amalia tells Dawn to take some time, and when they return, Dawn asks Ducky if he can drive. Ducky agrees he’s in no condition to.
Dawn and Sunny bicker:
“Dawn, quit telling me what to do!” she cried.
At first I couldn’t think what I had told her to do. Then I remembered telling her to keep her voice down.” I don’t tell you what to do,” I said.
“You’re always telling me what to do – how to dress, how to act, who to hang out with, to visit Mom more often, to be more responsible.” Sunny’s list went on and on.
It went on for so long that I lost interest and tried to get back to the matter at hand.
While Dawn is initially angered by Ducky, thinking her dad will have to drive to collect them at 2am because of her ‘bad judgement in trusting Ducky’, she’s quickly distracted into switching all responsibility onto Sunny.
Sunny is horrifed at the prospect of calling Dawn’s father, saying it would be humiliating, and ordering Ducky to drive. Dawn’s worried, knowing that Ducky probably would drive if Sunny begged him to, and takes Ducky’s keys. Sunny tries to pry them back, scaring Dawn, but gives up, saying she’ll take a bus home rather than be embarrassed by getting ‘lectured’.
Dawn tells Sunny and then Amalia that Sunny can’t go home by herself, and Sunny tells Amalia and Ducky they can come with her and let Dawn go by herself. Ducky refuses to leave Dawn alone to wait, and tells Sunny not to go, while Sunny insists nobody can tell her what to do.
Dawn asks if Sunny is somehow immune to danger and Sunny, rather self-destructively, says ‘…That isn’t what I said. I said that nobody can tell me what to do.’
Ducky interjects some ill-timed humour, saying that technically he can tell her to ‘walk home’, but she doesn’t have to listen, and fleetingly Sunny looks ‘hurt’ before scowling and insisting on the bus station.
Ducky refuses, and Dawn and Sunny bicker whether or not buses are even running (Amalia, bless her, just rolls her eyes.)
The situation resolves with Sunny losing her temper with Ducky, telling him he’s ‘a wimp. You never stand up for yourself. You don’t do anything. No wonder your friends are a bunch of thirteen-year-old girls. Guys think you’re a dweeb, and girls your own age don’t even look twice at you.’
(This rant draws a parallel with an exchange Dawn had with Mary Anne when she announced she was leaving , as does the relationship context - Dawn was shouting at her stepsister, while Ducky views Sunny as a sister of his own:
“You act like you’re just poor, sweet Mary Anne who wouldn’t hurt a fly. You’re never to blame for anything. That’s because you never do anything! You just react to what’s happening around you, you never act. You never start anything. Well, I’m not you. I act!”)
Sunny tells Dawn and Ducky she’s no longer friends with them.
Dawn oddly, seems non-reactive to this personally, but is horrified at Sunny saying she isn’t friends with Ducky, and thinks that if Ducky had said the same to her, she’d see it as insulting her in the most hurtful way possible.
Ducky and Dawn’s relationship is interesting, they rarely interact independent of Sunny, who’s either present or the focal topic of discussion; and when they do, Dawn is often confused and irritated by Ducky’s low moods and meek attitude.
However, she and Sunny both seem to view Ducky as an ethical paragon, and deserving of better treatment than either themselves or their female friends.
Here, Ducky and Dawn switch roles, with Dawn reassuring Ducky that Sunny didn’t mean what she said, and Ducky feeling injured. Dawn tells Ducky Sunny gets crazy sometimes, asking if he knows about her mom and the chemo. Ducky nods, but ‘we both knew it wasn’t an excuse for (what) Sunny had just said.’
Funnily enough, while Ducky isn’t phased by Jack Schafer’s ‘lectures’, Dawn shares Sunny’s embarrassment and is furious at her father for reprimanding Ducky over his drinking.
Similar to Sunny pushing away her friends, it seems evident that Dawn is projecting rather wildly onto Sunny so as to avoid losing her image of Ducky as a moral arbiter, as well as her own image of herself as the victim in their dynamic.
Here, she reflects that they were being driven home because Sunny causes all the mess(es) ‘lately’ and Dawn winds up ‘cleaning up after her’, which seems a radical interpretation of the text, being as it erases not only Dawn’s choice in recognising that Ducky was breaking her father’s rules but choosing not to call him on it as he ‘looked fine’ and out of embarrassment in front of Sunny and Amalia; but also Ducky’s responsibility as the eldest and only driver in deciding to drink. It also ignores that Dawn’s shot at Sunny about her parents was easily as vicious as Sunny’s rant at Ducky.
Dawn, accurately, reflects she doesn’t understand Sunny, but she still wishes they were best friends again.
At school, Dawn says she’s mad at Sunny, and Ducky should be, too. Ducky is ‘hopeful’ when Amalia tells him Sunny won’t stay mad, but when Sunny snubs him, Dawn thinks she could ‘kill’ Sunny.
Hearing that Mrs. Winslow has been hospitalised once more, Dawn recognises it must be horrible for her, and Sunny; but that she doesn’t have sympathy for Sunny, as she refuses to make her ordeal easier by letting the others be her friends again.
Ducky hangs around outside Sunny’s house, and tells Dawn he thought Sunny relied on him, and that she wouldn’t turn away from him like she did Dawn.
Dawn discovers Mrs. Winslow will no longer be going to hospital, but will be receiving round the clock nursing, as the end is very near. Dawn realises she never really believed Mrs. Winslow would die, even after the chemotherapy ended. Carol suggests Dawn call Sunny. Dawn cries, saying it’s no good and she’s tried talking, but Carol explains that it may be different now, as ‘now it’s real’.
Dawn can’t sleep that night, all she can think about is Sunny and her mother.
In the morning, she tells her friends ‘Sunny really needs us right now’, and they agree to rally around her and stick with her through the worst, no matter what her reaction.
That evening, Dawn sees Sunny crying on her back stoop. Sunny sees Dawn, but doesn’t speak, or leave. Dawn puts her arm around Sunny, and after a while, Sunny stops crying and says ‘I guess you heard.’
Dawn doesn’t know what Sunny wants her to say, but she offers that she didn’t understand at first, but now she does, and she cried for a long time.
Sunny tells her they don’t know if Betsy will live weeks or months, but that there are nurses rotating shifts in their house.
Dawn says: ‘It must be horrible’, and Sunny agrees, and apologises.
Dawn says it’s okay, although she isn’t sure it is. She does think she ‘knew it would be okay. Eventually.’
Sunny says she knows she’s been… and Dawn suggests ‘Mean?’ thinking that she knew Sunny was hurting, but she wanted her to know she hurt Dawn badly, too, and that it wouldn’t have mattered so much if Sunny hadn’t been her best friend.
Sunny asks if she has been mean, and Dawn insists: ‘Sometimes’. Sunny apologises, saying she’s really missed Dawn.
Dawn says she missed Sunny too, but Sunny kept pushing her away. Sunny acknowledges that. Dawn thinks that it must mean something that Sunny is confiding in her now, and that Sunny missed her, and needs her now:
I decided I was willing to try on our friendship again. I’d been without it for so long that I’d forgotten just what it felt like, only that it used to be wonderful.
She offers to forget ‘the last few months’ and asks Sunny promise her something. Sunny warily asks ‘What?’ and Dawn replies that next time Sunny’s ‘sad or upset, instead of disappearing, call me. Or come over.’
The chapter concludes with Dawn and Sunny, arms around each other, going into Sunny’s house to see Mrs. Winslow.
In Sunny: Diary Three, the main focus is the death of Sunny’s mother, Betsy. Sunny is numb, and Dawn finds her and ensures when they’re at school that they sit alone in the cafeteria rather than with others, as well as that Sunny eats.
The night before Sunny’s mom passes, she and Dawn meet in her yard, unable to sleep. They reminisce about doing the same thing when they were small, and Dawn brings up a memory about Betsy, before Sunny cuts her off. Dawn reacts well with marked improvement:
For just a second Dawn looked wounded, but then her face changed. “All right,” she said.
I am so, so glad that Dawn and I are friends again. I have my best friend back, the person who always understands me. I can’t believe that I almost lost her. Only your best friend could understand everything you mean when you say just two words, like “Not now.”
Sunny’s mom asks her how she and Dawn are getting on, and Sunny reflects that it’s nice to talk to her mom, telling her ‘Dawn and I are friends again…It’s like before anything happened. Like old times.’
While relatives are visiting, Sunny thinks randomly to herself that she would love to watch an old movie, to just kick back with Dawn and an enormous bowl of popcorn, sit up for hours laughing and crying and imagining.
She then wonders if there’s something wrong with her for ‘fantasising about watching movies with Dawn at a time like this’, saying she’s ‘some kind of aberration.’
Sunny’s mom reminds her ‘Take care of Dawn a little too, and she’ll take care of you’, and that she can go to Carol for anything, and telling her daughter she loves her, passes away.
Dawn asks Sunny why she seems ‘angry’ rather than ‘sad’, and Sunny orders her to leave her room. Sunny tearfully tells Carol she ‘didn’t mean anything (I) said. I want to talk to Dawn.’ Carol lets her know that she shouldn’t be too hard on herself over her feelings, but that her friends want to be there, but not always know the best way to help her.
We don’t hear from Dawn’s perspective on the argument, but when Sunny later tells her Jill asked ‘Do you miss your mom?’ Dawn calmly describes that as a ‘thoughtless question’, so it might be that Dawn, too, perhaps with guidance from Carol, reflects on how to react to bereavement.
Amalia, Ducky, Dawn and Maggie visit Sunny. Dawn stays the night before Betsy’s funeral. Paul offers to let Dawn sit with Sunny during the service. Sunny wants to beg Dawn ‘PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE sit with me. I need you. You’re like my sister. You HAVE to sit with me’, but resists, and Dawn agrees ‘Of course I’ll sit with you, Sunny. I’ll do anything you want.’
Sunny painfully insists if Dawn wants to sit with her family, that’s okay, but Dawn says she’ll sit with Sunny, to which Sunny lets out a huge breath of relief and thanks her.
That evening, she and Dawn talk about Mrs. Winslow, and she explains that she wants Dawn to tell the story she started to the week before, as her mother’s only been dead two days, and she’s already afraid she’ll forget her.
Dawn talks about how Mrs. Winslow took them both out one day, leaving pennies on sidewalks to delight passersby.
At the funeral, Sunny feels ‘safe’ with her friends around her, especially Dawn who hurries to put her arms around Sunny when she sees her. They hold hands through the service.
Sunny returns to school, making efforts to eat, to concentrate in class, and to allow the others to sit with her instead of insisting on being alone. Dawn and Ducky make efforts to see her socially, and even set her tasks when they shop, which aids her. Dawn reassures Sunny when she feels guilty over feeling joy that her mother wouldn’t have wanted her to feel bad, and Sunny accepts that she’ll ‘just feel however I feel.’
Dawn comes with Sunny, her father and her aunt to scatter Betsy’s ashes. They visit the place where Mr. Winslow proposed, which Dawn finds ‘beautiful’, and when Sunny can’t carry Betsy’s urn, Dawn bravely does so, her hands shaking. They discuss what Betsy told them:
Dawn said to me, “Your mom told me to take care of you.”
“She told me to take care of you too.”
“She just wants us all to take care of each other.”
The last California Diary not already discussed is Maggie’s third diary, which mentions how Sunny talks about her mother loving to laugh, and Dawn reaching out to squeeze Sunny’s hand.
Chapter 4: post california diaries and the future + fanwork recs
Post California Diaries: ‘Welcome Home Mary Anne’
This book, of the BSC ‘Friends Forever’ series, presenting slightly deeper explorations placing itself squarely between the YA California Diaries and the children’s series BSC, deals with Mary Anne, Dawn’s stepsister’s perspective of Dawn and Sunny’s visit to Stoneybrook.
Mary Anne is an interesting character to choose for insertion into this dynamic, as she's more emotionally sensitive to others feelings than either Dawn or Sunny, and therefore seems to be a positive influence in soothing any issues they may still be struggling with.
Mary Anne is nervous about Sunny’s arrival. She likes Sunny, but she’s worried – that Sunny will be upset after her mother’s recent death; as well as that it will be hard to see Sunny and Dawn together, as they’re ‘closer than ever now.’ She also wonders if Sunny will be bored, as she has a feeling California is more exciting than Connecticut.
When Sunny arrives, Mary Anne thinks she’s ‘pretty’ and that she looked ‘the same, but different.’
Sunny is energetic, and Mary Anne describes her as ‘up for anything’, and Sunny announces she’s psyched to be there, and that she wants to see and do everything, as she’s never ‘been anywhere before.’
Mary Anne and Sharon show Dawn and Jeff the new house. Sunny is enthusiastic about it, causing Sharon and Mary Anne to smile and ‘even Dawn (to soften.)’ Sunny knows it’s ‘easy for me to say’ (that she likes the new house) as she never saw the old one, but she laughs ‘Can I stay forever?’
Sharon accidentally says that Sunny’s parents wouldn’t like that, before correcting herself to ‘your dad’.
Dawn takes Sunny’s hand for a moment, and their eyes meet. Sunny gives Dawn a tiny smile.
Sunny offers to help Dawn pick out room furnishings, and suggests places for her possessions, beating Mary Anne to it. There’s a nice parallel of how Dawn helped Mary Anne redecorate her room at the beginning of the BSC when they met, and now at the end of the series, Sunny’s helping Mary Anne and Dawn redecorate the new house, uniting California and Connecticut.
Mary Anne feels awkward as Dawn and Sunny unpack, and observing how they communicate without words (Sunny nods towards a bookshelf, asking permission to store her mom’s old journals.)
In the morning, Sunny tells Dawn and Mary Anne about a silly dream she had about marrying her teddy bear. They all crack up.
(Another little theme for Sunny in particular seems to be weddings – when her mother passes, she gives Sunny her wedding dress, saying that she knows Sunny might not want to get married but she’s always looked forward to that day, and ‘dreamed’ of Sunny wearing it.
When Sunny shops for a date, she notices Dawn picks out a lot of ‘frilly, lacy, white dresses’ for her that she feels would suit Dawn herself better.
In her dream here, she mentions she was ‘wearing a white dress and everything. Dawn was one of my bridesmaids,’ and when she, Mary Anne and Dawn are at the mall, they all try on veils as ‘Rita’s Bridal Shoppe.’)
Sunny observes that Mary Anne doesn’t sound excited about swimming, and asks if she’s worried Logan will be there. Mary Anne is concerned once she considers the option. Mary Anne doesn’t like that Dawn told Sunny about her personal life, and is worried that Sunny will try to match-make her.
Mary Anne accidentally brings up Mrs. Winslow when she sarcastically asks Sunny if she’s heard of ‘skin cancer’. Dawn catches her eye, nodding ‘as if to say, Sunny’s right. Don’t worry.’
Mary Anne reflects that her guilt is what pushes her to go along with Sunny flirting with a boy on her behalf. Dawn is impressed:
“Whoa,” I heard Dawn say under her breath. “Sunny’s good, isn’t she?”
She was so good it was scaring me. I could have spent every day for a month at the pool without a guy approaching me. But all Sunny had to do was smile and make eye contact. It was as if some force field were around her that drew guys in.
Mary Anne wants Sunny to be happy, but is exhausted. She asks Dawn if she can ‘make her stop’, but Dawn says ‘Once Sunny gets in this kind of mood, there’s no stopping her’ and shrugs: ‘What’s the old saying? If you can’t beat them, join them? I guess we might as well follow her example.’
It’s significant here how much Dawn has grown since Mrs. Winslow’s death. While in ‘CD’, she tried to alter Sunny’s behaviour, here, she accepts that controlling Sunny won’t work, and chooses to join her on activities she’s comfortable with. When the girls practice diving, Sunny jokes that Mary Anne and Dawn are ‘babies’ for using the low and medium boards, Dawn cheerfully agrees: ‘Goo-goo. Then that’s what I am,’ without becoming defensive or angry.
Mary Anne confides in Dawn that she struggles to keep up with Sunny, and Dawn reflects that’s she ‘kind of used to it’ but can recognise that Mary Anne is tired out. Mary Anne wonders if it’s a little ‘weird’ because of Sunny’s mom; and here, Dawn appears to have truly embraced a more non-judgemental way of being. Dawn looks upset at the mention of Betsy, and Mary Anne apologises, but Dawn reassures her she knew what Mary Anne meant, but explains that it’s Sunny’s way of coping.
Mary Anne asks her if Sunny talks about her mom, but Dawn says that they talk about unserious topics like their friends at home, or boys at the pool; and that she doesn’t know whether Sunny is avoiding the subject or trying to move on. (It’s significant how she appears to have completely accepted that while she may not know Sunny’s feelings, she no longer doubts that they exist at all, as she once did.) Mary Anne and she agree to support Sunny, and Dawn suggests: ‘She’s kind of fun when she’s like this. Hanging out with Sunny can be like taking a ride on a roller-coaster.’
Sunny comes up with colours for Dawn and Mary Anne’s rooms, and Mary Anne notes that Betsy’s artistic style must have rubbed off on Sunny. Sunny also has gained enough emotional literacy to recognise that she offended Mary Anne by saying her room ‘needed more personality’, and Mary Anne in turn, gives her credit for this and is happy to ‘get malled’ with her.
Sunny and Dawn attend a horror movie together, and Mary Anne feels a little left out.
Mary Anne is nervous about the group date with Cole and his friends, but Sunny tells her she has ‘nada’ to be nervous about. Dawn throws a t-shirt at Sunny, saying she’d almost calmed down Mary Anne, but Sunny grins and shrugs, saying ‘Calm is overrated.’
Mary Anne notes that Sunny’s energy distracts her from her nerves, but sees that Dawn is ‘losing patience’ as she’s worried that Sunny is only happy on the surface: ‘I know there’s a lot of pain underneath it all. When is that going to come out?’
Mary Anne feels sorry for Jason, Sunny’s date, as he’s visibly blushing when he says hi to her. After the movie, Sunny flirts with him, and there’s a little return of the Dawn/Sunny dynamic of the California Diaries:
I saw Dawn nudge Sunny under the table, and I knew just what that meant. It meant, Sunny, leave the poor guy alone!
Sunny knew it too. But she couldn’t seem to stop. She flirted with Jason until I thought he was going to turn the colour of a fire engine. And every time Dawn nudged her, she just cranked it up a notch.
That evening, Sunny raves over Mary Anne’s date with Cole, and Mary Anne feels guilty over the effort Sunny has taken. However, in the morning, Sunny says she can tell now that Cole isn’t right for Mary Anne. When she refers to the boys as ‘losers’ and makes fun of the zits on one of their faces, Dawn tells Sunny: ‘Don’t be mean. What would Ducky think if he heard you talking like that?’ Sunny quietly agrees, and Mary Anne is glad to see there’s someone Sunny cares about pleasing. Mary Anne giggles at Sunny’s description of Alex, and Dawn says she doesn’t want to ‘have to tell Ducky (what you said)’. Sunny rolls her eyes, telling Mary Anne she needs an older guy, and recounting her experience with Carson. When she ‘dreamily’ recalls him, Dawn is incredulously, arguing ‘You’re not saying he would have made a good boyfriend for Mary Anne, are you?’ They gossip about Stacey’s boyfriend, Ethan, from New York, and Mary Anne tries to explain that she’s not looking for a boyfriend; but Sunny tells her it’s her ‘fondest wish, to see you with a terrific new boyfriend’.
(It does cause one to wonder if this is the way that Sunny relates to girls she’s not as close to as Dawn – Dawn herself observes that neither of them were ever as close to Maggie as each other; and Sunny irritates Maggie in Maggie’s Diary One by trying to match-make her with boys. It seems that both Dawn and Sunny disapprove of the other dating, but in contrast, Sunny wants to see threats to her friendship with Dawn, no matter how much she likes them as individuals, as safely coupled up.)
Sunny and Mary Anne share a moment after a family dinner as Sharon, Richard, Jeff and Dawn reminisce about meals they’ve made, including a Mother’s Day cake. After Sunny’s regular call to her dad, Mary Anne asks after him, and Sunny wonders if she should go back to be with him, as he’s all alone. Mary Anne tells her he understands she ‘want(s) to be here with Dawn’, and Sunny explains he’s so busy with work that she’d probably not see him frequently anyway.
Mary Anne awkwardly tries to let Sunny know she’s there to talk to, but Sunny ‘firmly’ says she doesn’t want to talk, and warns Mary Anne off being ‘goop(y)’.
Mary Anne realises she can’t force Sunny to open up, and that she has no right to push her into anything she wasn’t ready for, and while she understands not having a mother, she may not understands Sunny’s different situation (e.g. Mary Anne’s mother died while Mary Anne was in early infancy.)
Sunny plans a trip to New York, alone, for the three of them. Dawn is ‘wary’, and Mary Anne points out that on previous trips, they had a ‘plan’ and ‘permission’.
(This is such a nicely observed example of two differing and equally understandable perspectives from ghostie Ellen Miles here – Sunny is understandably dismissive of torturous, long, drawn out parental decision processes; having spent a year having all familial decisions delayed by her mother’s illness and father’s job, and the California Diaries notes how even a day spent alone without permission initially caused her huge guilt. Mary Anne is understandably injured, fairly recognising that this doesn’t apply at all to Sharon and her father Richard, nor her very close relationship with them.)
Dawn tells Sunny to ‘stop pacing and listen to me’, and Sunny grins and obeys, answering: ‘Yes, ma’am.’
Dawn agrees she’d love to go to New York and ‘show you all the major landmarks’, but suggests they wait for the weekend and make it a family trip. This is absolutely monumental in terms of Dawn’s development – instead of dismissing an idea she’s not convinced by, she suggests more palatable additions to the plan.
Sunny, too, is very swift not to sound as if she’s criticising Dawn’s family, saying ‘You know I adore your family. They’ve been wonderful to me. So don’t take this the wrong way. But that is so not what I’m talking about.’
Dawn folds her arms and asks that Sunny tell her what she’s talking about. Sunny lightly teases her ‘You don’t have to get all bent out of shape. Come on, this is about fun.’
Dawn uncrosses her arms, saying ‘I like fun. Go on.’
Sunny explains that she’d like to see the real New York. She exits to get a magazine, and Mary Anne and Dawn wonder what she’s up to, however, Dawn is now the more tactful one, warning Mary Anne ‘Shh. She’s coming back.’
Sunny shows off the cool teenagers in her magazine, and Dawn admits they’re cool. Sunny explains that those kids live in the city, and know where the interesting places are, saying they don’t hang out an ‘any boring old mall.’
Interestingly, Dawn is more protective of Connecticut, despite leaving it; stiffly saying ‘I didn’t realise you were so bored with our mall’, while Mary Anne, who lives there full-time, is more understanding, agreeing that ‘of course’ she wouldn’t want to spend every day there. Dawn and Sunny endearingly compete over who knows the most about New York (Dawn ‘quickly’ says: ‘I knew that, I’ve been there!’ about a particular spot) and Mary Anne realises Sunny has convinced her and Dawn without them even noticing.
Sunny tells the girls she ‘really need(s) this’, and meeting Mary Anne’s eyes, tells her ‘I’m not going to beg, but it would mean a lot to me if you guys would agree to go.’
Dawn gives Mary Anne a tiny nod, and they agree.
On the train, Mary Anne is slightly nervous, but Dawn’s ‘catching Sunny’s enthusiasm’ encourages her to relax. She also feels better knowing Sunny is also afraid of things, as she notes Sunny’s fear of the subway.
(This is a sweet parallel with Dawn’s first visit to NYC, where she was frightened to leave Stacey’s apartment; as well as showing a similarity between Sunny and Mary Anne, who was an extremely excited tourist on her first visit, memorising places much as Sunny does here.)
Sunny says this is the place to find Mary Anne a ‘city boyfriend’, as she compliments a guy in shorts: ‘Nice tattoos.’
The girls get the giggles as they visit a restaurant wildly out of their price range, and Mary Anne reflects in a particularly romantic metaphor that ‘Sunny – and the city – seemed to have cast a spell over me.’
Later that afternoon, Sunny suggests they attend a club that night. Dawn says they need to leave in order to get home on time. Dawn and Mary Anne exchange a glance, knowing Sunny is stubborn when they ‘force…issue(s)’, and Mary Anne suggests they shop, then leave.
Sunny comes up with more diversions, and reminds Mary Anne that the pool, their alibi, doesn’t close until late. She says ‘If you guys want to spend your time worrying, that’s fine. I’m going to enjoy myself.’
Dawn turns red, and she calls Sunny by her full name in a ‘deathly quiet voice’.
Sunny teasingly answers ‘Yes, Dawn Schafer?’ and Mary Anne swiftly identifies that ‘a big scene was coming’.
Dawn and Sunny are in their private zone, and ‘both ignore(d) me’.
Dawn orders Sunny to leave, and Sunny refuses, saying she’ll be ‘fine alone’.
This is immediately familiar to previous arguments the pair have had, especially in Dawn’s Diary One and Three in which Dawn does leave Sunny alone.
Dawn goes redder, and refuses: ‘I’m not leaving you in this city on your own. We came together, and we’re leaving together.’
Sunny airily refuses and Mary Anne realises she has no experience in handling Sunny, and ‘let(s) Dawn do the talking.’
Dawn loses it, calling Sunny the ‘most selfish person I’ve ever met’ and talking about how ‘my family and I have humoured you for the last two weeks’ and that they’re being ‘paid back’ by her dragging Dawn and Mary Anne into ‘doing something we know is wrong’.
Again, these are old habits of Dawn and Sunny here – Sunny purposefully isolates herself from the group and denies responsibility for her actions; while Dawn scapegoats Sunny and reminds her she’s not part of Dawn’s family.
Sunny points out that until now, Mary Anne and Dawn were ‘having a blast’, and Dawn says that Sunny’s been getting her own way since her mother died, ‘turning white’ as she does so.
Mary Anne interjects, but ’Dawn didn’t even seem to hear me. She was looking at Sunny.’
Dawn tells Sunny she has no right to mistreat others, and that things can’t always go her way.
Sunny says in a ‘hard voice’ ‘You think things go my way?’ to which Dawn whispers ‘That’s not fair.’
They return home and both Dawn and Sunny stomp around, Dawn exiting to collect Jeff and Sunny to their room.
Mary Anne hears Sunny crying, and comforts her, reflecting that Sunny is crying about all of her life, her mother’s death, her father’s workaholism, and ‘what had happened between her and Dawn.’
To give them both credit, Sunny apologises for taking advantage of Mary Anne’s desire to humour her by dragging her to New York; and Mary Anne points out she could have refused.
Dawn and Jeff return, and Mary Anne assumes Dawn is still angry.
Sunny decides she needs to return home, as she’s in a ‘holding pattern’ and needs to move forward. Mary Anne reflects that this probably will be good for Sunny, but that she will genuinely miss her.
Sunny wonders how she’ll tell Dawn; but Dawn is at the doorway, and says ‘You don’t have to.’ She hugs Sunny.
Their fight was over. Neither of them had to say a word. It was just understood.
The Schafer-Spiers host a goodbye party/housewarming, and Mary Anne reflects that she doesn’t feel left out anymore, even when Sunny and Dawn discuss California, as she and Sunny have bonded themselves.
Mary Anne ‘teasingly’ asks Sunny if they should have invited Cole and his friends, and Sunny apologises, saying Mary Anne is doing just fine without a boyfriend: ‘Don’t rush into anything, okay?’
Mary Anne feels ‘proud’ of Sunny, who’s facing her feelings. She recognises Dawn and Sunny need ‘a little time alone to say goodbye’, and goes to bed. Sunny goes to wish her goodnight, and thanks her for her help. They talk, and Mary Anne is unnerved at odd creaking noises. Sunny reassures her it’s the house ‘settling’ and that hers does the same. (This is also a lovely callback – Dawn noticed her new house creaking early in the BSC series.)
In the morning, Dawn and Sunny chatter in the backseat about plans for their summer.
Dawn and Sunny, post series
It appears from 'Welcome Home, Mary Anne' and 'Ducky: Diary Three' that both Dawn and Sunny learnt in some ways more positive ways of dealing with each other – Sunny, while manically distracting herself from grief in 'WH, MA', shows a marked improvement in sensitivity, realising when she’s offended Mary Anne after a stray comment, and apologising, as well as recognising Mary Anne’s reluctance to see Logan even before Mary Anne herself does.
Likewise, Dawn is far less defensive over minor issues, and when Sunny suggests an idea Dawn isn’t convinced of, suggests tactful additions to the plan rather than mooting it altogether. Dawn has also accepted to an extent Sunny’s desire to protect herself from turbulent emotions, telling Mary Anne that she takes Sunny’s lead when discussing Mrs. Winslow, and showing a real acceptance of Sunny’s process, as Mary Anne recognises Dawn doesn’t ‘fight (Sunny’s energetic ways)’ but ‘work(s) around it’, even enjoying it. When she begins to lose her ‘patience’, she confesses it’s out of worry, a much more sympathetic portrayal than in California Diaries, and her patience is measurably increased from previous books.
Both girls have become more careful and wiser about taking risks – when they go to NYC, Dawn suggests they tell someone where they’re headed in case of emergency, and the trio agree a place to meet if separated; suggesting they’ve learnt from their disastrous experiences before when they separated.
They also reconcile without the need for apportioning blame that they may have previously insisted upon.
The 'California Diaries' themselves, however, suggest an unfinished feeling (The 'California Diarist' podcast mentions how there's a sense of desire in a reader for closure regarding Dawn and Sunny's friendship that isn't quite achieved) as well as a lack of a true sense of equality - while Dawn takes on a truly supportive role in Sunny: Diary Three, to the extent of accompanying her friend as her mother's ashes are scattered; it can rankle for a reader that this story, like most in the series, is about Sunny apologising for her behaviour; while Dawn evades responsibility or admitting any regret for some fairly shocking statements; and this focus on Dawn's anger over her sadness can mean the Dawn books lacked the sense of catharsis the Sunny ones perhaps provided.
Chronologically, 'Ducky: Diary Three' is the last book to feature Sunny and Dawn (and Dawn herself plays a very minor role in the last BSC book, 'Graduation Day') and although it ends on a hopeful note, with the girls friends again, and Dawn toasting the year ahead and all the good things that will occur in it; it's a little anticlimactic to finish with outsiders POVs of Dawn and Sunny.
But that of course, is why we have fanfiction!