Posted at 5:01 AM Mar 24, 2009
By Kathleen Willcox
Back in the dark ages (the late '80s/early '90s) when I was a tween, I didn't even know it - hell, the gimmicky concept, er, word, hadn't even been invented yet. I was too busy snarfing purple Pixy Stix, sneaking into the video arcade in the mall and dorkily burying my newly be-zitted schnoz in everything from Go Ask Alice to Jane Eyre to The Babysitters Club series to know I was a highly desirable, mobile target for conniving marketers, zany right-wingers and Project Dumb Down USAers who hoped to mold me into a walking, talking, brand-buyin', abstinence promotin,' submissive, robotic little machine.
(And apparently they were all too busy targeting demographics populated with individuals with more than $5 worth of spending power a week).
But now that toddlers have their own 401(k)s and the book publishing industry struggles to remain relevant, the traditional, more heroic goals of book world -- to educate and illuminate with the written word -- have had to be sidelined in favor of flashy, agenda-heavy, wildly superficial compendiums that are all but guaranteed to pad bottom lines and make Betty Friedan cry. Below, we look at the worst offenders and why they'd make good ol' Betty shed a tear.
10. The Private novel set, by Kate Brian
Sloppily plopped in a posh Connecticut prep school, this yacktastic YA novel embodies everything that makes me want to eschew modern society and move to a cave in the woods. The entire series was slapped together via a committee of experts on teen idoldom and socialites; main characters' names include Reed, Upton, Dash, Ivy, Kiran, Sabine and Cheyenne; moral relativism sans existentialism reigns and the message that Faustian, soul-crushing compromise is de rigeur if you want to be a part of the game called life reigns uber alles. Why Betty would cry: the book's "be a cookie cutter" rallying cry creates the kind of problems The Feminine Mystique was written to dispel. 9. The interminable Gossip Girl procession, by Cecily von Ziegasar
Reader, I must confess: I occasionally watch the TV series, but only if I have a bottle (or five) of Two-Buck Chuck and a gaggle of sardonic girlfriends on hand. It's something - like the Miss America Pageant - that one must watch (preferably while slightly inebriated) with other feminists who like to get together and scream at the Idiot Box every once in a while. But I digress. Most tweens (I hope) aren't picking up the Gossip Girl
book series while tipsy and cackling with impotent rage at the hideousness of it all. No. And that's why B would cry. They snap up these books and get sucked into the vacuous vortex until they emerge on the other side, drunk on hollow bling, actually wanting to be the anorectic, overweening, bitchy, drugged-up, satin-bow-wearing, charity ball attending sloppy-seconders von Ziegasar plugs.
8. The Daring Book for Girls, by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz
If playing jacks, hand-clap games, writing letters, putting your hair up with a pencil, telling ghost stories, making daisy chains and playing gin rummy is what passes for "daring" than my 99-year-old Aunt Esther is one ballsy broad. Why Betty would cry: the book was written as a response to The Dangerous Book for Boys, who were encouraged to build a tree house, play sports and learn to make a bow and arrow.
7. The Princess Diaries suite, by Meg Cabot
A New York Times bestseller, this tired trope capitalizes on every stereotypical tween dream in existence: the once dorky, awkward and completely forgettable American peasant outsider is secretly the crown princess of a little-known country and grandma's gonna help her reclaim her tragically lost legacy. Shriek it with me: "MAKEOVER!" Why Betty would cry: Alrighty, so maybe it's too much to ask for a series on a once superficial, vain and label-obsessed It Girl who finds out she's the secretly the descendant of Marie Curie only to don a white lab coat, eschew her Prada pumps and dedicate her life to finding the cure for cancer, but really ... a damn princess? C'mon, now, ref! 6. The entire click-clacking sequence The Clique, by Lisi Harrison
Oh goody, another attack of the ditzy rich middle-school girls! As if combating the nefarious influence of MTV's My Super Sweet 16 and Paris, Lindsay and Nicole weren't enough, now tweens have to fend off a roving covey of brightly hued, craptastic paperbacks (are they all underwritten by high-end brands?) that seem more like paid advertorials in CosmoGirl than original works of art. Why Betty would cry: between the flimsiest princess pink wafts of effervescent plots, incessant mentions of Neiman Marcus, Range Rovers and Chanel relentlessly thud through the grainy pulp, eradicating any chance a reader could take off on a non-sponsored flight of fancy -- so essential to the formation of an original and special inner world, and something girls need now more than ever. But each vacuous series offers its own special set of horrors: the characters in The Clique, for example, show a disturbing degree of disgust for menstruation. How ... aspirational!
5. The entire The Celebutante lineup, by Antonio Pagliarulo
A hackneyed Gossip Girl knockoff, Pagliarulo is too lazy, bored or dim to bother attempting to differentiate between his female "characters" via hair or eye color, so he just throws up his ham-fisted hands and makes 'em triplets. And guess what? Just like their slightly less cookie-cutter models, Blair and Serena, now that the school year's over, Madison, Park and Lexington (yes, they are named after streets, and they do resemble budding street-walkers) also (according to the breathless jacket copy) "are ready to trade in their Birkin bags for bikinis." Unfortch, dead bods always seem to turn up around MPL, temporarily stymieing their snazzy summer plans and providing a nominal plot. Why Betty would cry: this series offers nothing more than a hastily written paean to hot-tubbin' in the Hamptons, shopping in Italy and "partying" at exclusive nightclubs in Manhattan - for 12-year-old readers.
4. Mackenzie Blue, by Tina Wells
This appalling new series was actually dreamed up by Buzz Marketing Group chief Wells to deliver commercial messages - that's right, she offered companies sponsorships of her new "books," which, in addition to whoring for corporate brands, are ostensibly about "Zee" and the zany antics that ensue when her diary gets stolen. Why Betty would cry: it's like finding out that random shady dude in Calculus who always tried to sell you "bud" was a total fucking narc!
3. The entire Ashleys series, by Melissa de la Cruz
Because all that matters is getting popular, staying popular, ditching former "uncool" friends and looking fabulous while you're doing it!! Drop $2,000 on a handbag when you're 12? No problem, lol! Parents don't exist, and neither does any sense of basic human decency. Oh. And there is absolutely. No. Attempt. At any sort of plot. At all. Why Betty would cry: It's Dumb and Dumber with gold lip gloss, sans the, dare I say it, wit. 2. Twilight and its evil spawnettes, by Stephenie Meyer
There is much to ballyhoo here, and even Betty would agree: any book that gets millions of tween girls reading something longer than a text message that also contains references to Shakespeare and the Brontes is worth a hearty "booyah!". But at what price? Unlike the ribald Bard and the bawdy Brontes, there's no room for sex, either covert or overt, in the Mormon Meyer's series - until marriage, when Bella's still a teen. To make matters worse, the Bella/Edward alive/undead youngster/oldster coupling, when it happens, has creepy overtones of rape-incest (she has bruises, and their offspring is so powerful it shatters her ribs while still in the womb). Why Betty would cry: Meyers doesn't give Bella the freedom of choice to control her sex life and once she finally gets her way (she is the one pushing for the sex, after all), she's stuck married, with no college education and a crazy-ass half-vampire baby who spends most of its time sucker-punching her.
1. The Girls' Book of Glamour: A Guide to Being a Goddess, by Sally Jeffrie
Right. Because setting young girls' expectations too high hasn't proved to be a total bust psychologically, intellectually and emotionally, let's crank out a hot pink book that gives your average 11-year-old girl a step-by-step guide on how to become a mythical creature for whom mortality, aging and fat are laughably human traits. Why Betty would cry: Because there is so much more to being a well-rounded girl than "glamour," mini-facials, the ability to accessorize fabulously, and while she's at it -- jazzing up that boring ponytail. I just wonder how many of 'em know it.