The New Yorker ran an interesting review of Cecily von Ziegesar's best-selling YA series, the Gossip Girl novels, calling the books "slyly truthful" and "a tour de force of wickedly satirizing the young while amusing them." Always up for a tour de force, I went to the library and read two books in the series. I was appalled.
Why? Not because of too much sex. Actually, there is no sex. The girls keep trying and the boys keep declining (huh?). Nor is there any violence. There is, however, a lot of cruelty, but then the young are cruel to each other, so that didn't bother me.
The values did.
I know how old-fogey that sounds. And it's completely accurate that rich females, whether they're fifteen or seventy, are interested in designer clothes, fabulous parties, and looking as good as they can. But these books, which are billed as a sort of junior version of Sex And The City, feature characters interested in little else, with the exception of getting into Yale because, like, it would just totally suck if they didn't. The Sex and the City women -- even Samantha -- have jobs, loyal friendships (the real charm of the series), rent to pay, parents to deal with, and (eventually) children. Their Manolo Blahniks are grounded in some sort of reality. But the Goosip Girl girls have absent or stupid parents, unlimited credit cards, a casual use of each other to further transient aims, after which friends are discarded or ridiculed or humiliated. As I read All I Want Is Everything, the question I kept asking myself is: Do the ninth-grade readers of this book recognize that Blair Waldorf is supposed to be a satiric anti-heroine? Or do they think that these shallow, selfish, spoiled, and materialistic characters are ideals of how life should be, and could be if only they, too, had fabulously wealthy New York parents?
These books are enormously popular. In the final analysis, I found them a bit boring because they're so repetitive and the characters, for the most part, so uninteresting. But I'm not fifteen. What are these books saying to girls who are?