A few years ago I was preparing to give a talk at Crestdale Middle School to an auditorium full of mothers and daughters. At the time, The Clique novels were causing a lot of controversy. Middle school girls were doing anything they could to get their hands on a copy. Ah, the forbidden fruit! The girls wanted to read the books even more once word spread that moms and librarians alike were freaking out over what was between The Clique’s covers.
Before my talk, I visited my local bookstore to see what the stir was all about. Browsing the Young Readers wall, clearly marked ages 12-15, I was surprised at the sheer number of series like the Clique that were out there. Below are the titles of some of the books I picked up, along with their taglines:
The Clique: The Only Thing Harder Than Getting In, Is Staying In
Pretties: What Happens When Perfection Isn’t Good Enough?
Gossip Girl: Welcome to New York City’s Upper East Side, where my friends and I live, play, go to school, and sleep – sometimes with each other.
It Girl: There Can Only Be One It Girl
7 Deadly Sins: Commit Them All. (Including the books Gluttony: Too Much Is Never Enough in Sin City and Greed: Why Can’t You Have it All?)
Noticing a trend? These books are hitting a level of sexuality and adult themes that I found shocking. But beyond that, there was something more subtle and insidious happening. Books for teen girls today still capitalize on the number one fear of adolescents, being normal, which was certainly a theme Judy Blume favored, but the big difference is that today’s reads put way too much emphasis on being perfect. Which leads me to wonder, is perfect the new normal?! Boy, are we in trouble.
But as I was looking at the wall of shame in my local bookstore, a really nice thing happened. I landed on the Judy Blume books. What a comfort it was to see them there. When I was a young girl, Judy Blume’s books were the ones my friends and I read under our covers at night, eager to get to the “racy” parts which were usually not much more than making out. Here is the tagline from the Judy Blume book I picked up among The Clique and all the others:
Forever: Is There a Difference Between First Love and True Love?
Sigh…Call me nostalgic but that is the kind of question young girls should be pondering, not “What happens when perfection isn’t enough?”.
My own 6th grade daughter has read “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” seven times. It holds a permanent spot on her nightstand and when she’s in between books she cutely asks “Will you hand me Margaret tonight?” It’s become a lullaby of sorts. Thanks, Judy.
PS: Some fun facts about Margaret. 1) Did you know that “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” is in the top 100 books most frequently recommended for banning from libraries? This is due to it’s open discussion of sexuality / puberty and the main character’s religious indecision. 2) Sawyer on the TV series Lost was reading a copy of Margaret on the beach. He disliked it, calling it “predictable” and complaining there was “not enough sex.” Ha!
Michelle is the founder of the website Michelle in the Middle providing relief to parents as they help their kids navigate the tricky middle school social scene. Hang out with her on her site anytime and here every Sunday.
Also, Michelle offers “Group Therapy: Parents Helping Parents” a weekly feature where parents can get and give much needed advice. Read about it here.