Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Clique is not Anne of Green Gables. Also, water is wet.

Today, ABC News has an article about Lisi Harrison's Clique series that's not fantastic, but it's not bad, either: The Clique: Chick Lit for Teens and Tweens.

At least this one gets the "o hai there iz books for teens published after 1945" out of the way early, in the first section, titled "Not your mom's childhood books." It reads:

Status means everything in the books. And the mean girls rule.

"Anne of Green Gables" this ain't.

No, really?

I confess, I am a bad YA librarian. I have read exactly one of the Anne of Green Gables books and that is all I plan to read. Why? I don't find them interesting. I read it when I was that "perfect" age to read them and I found Anne's life dull. I couldn't relate to her. I'm a city kid and I couldn't picture anything idyllic about life on a Canadian farm. My lack of reading Anne aside, though, this is another case. Here, the authors are trying to compare two completely dissimilar books and make them seem similar because 1) they don't know anything about YA literature other than Anne and The Triumvirate That Must Not Be Named or 2) they think all books about teen girls must have similar themes or 3) they want to get a book in there that their target adult audience will have heard of and has possibly read or 4) all or some of the above or 5) none of the above (but I wouldn't bet on it).

I think the authors of the article are missing something major. Yes, status is important in the Clique series and the mean girls rule, but this is hardly the first appearance of the mean-girl-rule in YA literature. Blubber, anyone? How about Daphne's Book? Although they get media attention now, mean girls have been around in YA literature for decades, giving their classmates hell. I think what the big deal is surrounding the Clique books, though, besides the fact that we now have the technology to make millions of books in a print run if we want to and can therefore reach a much larger audience, is the fact that the Clique books are some of the first to make the mean girls seem almost sympathetic. In their ostentatious behavior, Massie, Dylan and Alicia really show that money can't buy happiness. When the girls go to battle, in the end it comes down to their wits, not their wallets. If we think back over teen books that feature a mean girl, I would say that a good majority of them (just my educated guess, no statistics here) paint the mean girls as someone who is entirely unsympathetic, perhaps in the author's attempt to make us root for the main character.

The attempted humanizing of a mean girl was one of the big failing points, I felt with Marcella Pixley's Freak, a book that really gets what bullying is about...until the last ten pages. During the last ten pages, the main character, Miriam, sees that the mean girl might be treating her badly because of problems at home. I think this is supposed to make us feel better about Miriam's treating her nemesis with kindness, but to me it felt very manipulated, an attempt to make us understand why the mean girl was mean and show how good and virtuous the fairly unlikeable Miriam was. It's not that I don't think a mean girl could have dimension, but the last ten pages is not the place to put it in. In opposition to this, Harrison shows us from the get-go that the mean girls at the center of the Clique series have both hearts and insecurities. Beyond the drama, I think that is what makes the Clique novels fun to read.

The rest of the article is actually fairly uplifting, interviewing Lisi Harrison and describing times when she's visited groups of girls and talked to them about how life is a lot more than just labels. I do have to say hooray for that. It's just that there's so much depth in the genre that the mainstream media doesn't get, depth they could get if they would actually hire someone to write who did research into YA lit besides The Triumvirate That Must Not Be Named. One would think that if teens are the leaders of tomorrow that the media says they are, someone would acknowledge that their books go beyond labels and romance.

No comments: