Thursday, May 17, 2012
Paul's Review: Gossip Girl
Gossip Girl (Gossip Girl #1)
by Cecily von Ziegesar
I read Gossip Girl because it keeps appearing on the American Library Association's annual top ten list of frequently challenged books. These are books that are challenged by parents and religious groups who want them removed from school libraries and reading lists, often for brief mentions of sex or masturbation. Generally, when I read such a book, I find it to be honest, well written, and moral. Many are written with a young adult audience in mind and are meant to teach teenagers to think critically. They abound with valuable life lessons and are just the sort of books I wish I'd have read back in junior high ... I come away scratching my head, wondering if these parents and religious groups ever read past the offending passage.
Alas, this is not the case with Gossip Girl. I read this slim volume, the first in a series aimed at young adult readers, in six hours. Finishing it, I felt as if I'd emerged from a hellish wait in a dentist's office with nothing to read but back issues of People and Teen Beat. Shallow? My god, if you took out the celebrity name-dropping and references to expensive brand name products, glamorous vacation destinations, and tony Manhattan addresses, what you'd have left would be a pamphlet.
And what would be in that pamphlet? Bitchy WASP prep school girls and their date-rapey WASP preppie boyfriends, gossiping, cutting each other down to size, plotting vengeance over minor slights, drinking, taking drugs, cutting school, lying, having sex, and having intimate parts of their bodies photographed. No wonder this book gets parents and religious groups riled up ... it's nihilistic, bereft of a moral compass, dedicated to greed, vindictiveness, and physical pleasures.
I kept asking myself if there was some joke I wasn't getting. Was I supposed to hate these characters? Were my lips meant to curl in disgust? Is Gossip Girl a subversive tract to be studied by proletarian youth so they'll know who to drag to the guillotine, come the revolution?
Who reads this stuff? If J.K. Rowling's heroes had been Draco Malfoy and his band of pureblood bullies, she'd still be languishing in obscurity. Yet the Gossip Girl books are quite popular, I understand, mainly with young girls. Are girls really this shallow? Well, someone must buy those celeb lifestyle magazines!
I suspect parents and religious groups go after the Gossip Girl books because they depict teenaged kids having sex and taking drugs. Personally, I'm far more upset by the characters' lack of values and the absence of moral direction from the author. Would I want copies removed from the local junior high school's library? No, of course not. But if I had a teenager at home, this is the last book I'd recommend.