Saturday, June 02, 2007
Our book today is Cecily von Ziegesar's "Gossip Girl," a controversial and much-maligned little opus that is hugely popular with its legion of teen readers.
The maligning is mostly done by educators, parents, and miscellaneous disapproving book clerks, and after reading the book, we here at Stevereads aren't entirely sure this wasn't our lady authoress' intention.
The novel concerns the raucous life and times of a small group of over-privileged girls on the Upper East Side. They complain (there's a slightly more accurate word, one that sounds like 'itch'), they sleep around, they quote, tote, and promote a veritable bestiary of brand-name accessories, they largely deplore their largely absent or oblivious parents, they smoke and drink and most of all, as you might have guessed, they gossip.
Hence the book's title, a title it shares with an online web-page quoted throughout the novel like a cough syrup-swilling Greek chorus. Our anonymous Gossip Girl is nothing if not discreet: she uses only single letters to identify the various members of her jet-setting peer group as she notes their doings about town. Here's a sample excerpt:
"B,K, and L all in 3 Guys eating fries and hot chocolates with big fat Intermix bags under the table. Don't those girls have anywhere else to go? And we thought they were always out boozing it up and partying down. So disappointing. I did see B slip a few splashes of brandy into her hot chocolate, though. Good girl. Also saw that same wigged girl going into the STD clinic downtown. If that is S, she's definitely got a bad case of the nasties. Oh, and in case you're wondering why I frequent the neighborhood of the STD clinic - I get my hair cut at a very trendy salon across the street.
Q: dear gossip girl,
are u really even a girl? u seem like the type 2 pretend to be a girl when u'r really a 50-yrs-old bored journalist with nothing better 2 do than to harsh on kids like me. loser.
A: Dearest jdwack,
I'm the girliest girl you'd ever want to meet. And I'm pre-college, pre-voting age too. How do I know you're not some fifty-year-old bitter dude with boils on your face taking your angst out on innocent girls like me?
You know you love me,
This was the point in the novel when we here at Stevereads became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that 'Cecily von Ziegesar' is indeed a 50-year-old man, Not a journalist, and with no boils on his face (a redunancy anyway, in our experience), no: imagine instead that one of the real-life fathers of our wayward protagonists knows his way around a word processor (or better yet, the gay 50-something brother of such an individual). Hell, given the word choices and individual diction, we can practically name the brownstone.
And it couldn't matter less. The most important thing to know about "Gossip Girl" is that it's been thoroughly Hester Prynned. For the crime of expressing entirely natural feelings, this wonderful little book has been consigned to the dock, pilloried as advocating a dangerous, hedonistic teen lifestyle. Pilloried for corrupting the youth of Athens.
To which we say: what a load of sheep-dip.
Not only is this book a hugely addictive reading experience (which is, it always needs to be pointed out, no mean feat), it's also from its first page to its last surprisingly trenchant social commentary. These girls (the boys are mostly handsome and clueless, the way all right-thinking preteen girls like their boys) not only comment on each other, endlessly and ruthlessly, but the narrative endlessly comments on them.
What arises from this meta-commentary is one observation before all others: this book, this innocent little book, in no way endorses the vapid, substance-abusing lifestyle of these jaded young ladies. In fact, through its relentess, barbed descriptions of the hollow nature of their lives, the book is counting on its readers to end up condemning what they're reading about.
But then, that's the key to the furor around "Gossip Girl": trust, The sad and simple truth is, most educators, parents, and worrisome book clerks drastically underestimate the incredible tensile strength of the average teenage girl's intellect.
We here at Stevereads can tell you something about teenage girls: they're much, much smarter, tougher, and, ultimately, cooler than most of their would-be protectors are willing to imagine.
The one thing they hate, the one thing they hate in unison despite having nothing else in common (except for how lame 'High School Musical' is, that is), is being talked down to. The books written for them? They want from those books the exact same thing that every single reader of this blog wanted, when they were teenaged: the real stuff, unwatered, preferrably served up to them over their protectors' objections.
This sleek, smart book is largely a book for them, but we can all enjoy it and maybe learn from it. We here at Stevereads urge you to read it (there are bargain volumes available for less than 5 dollars), to enjoy it, and maybe even to learn from it.
You know you love me.