The daughter of M, a dear colleague, is about to celebrate her thirteenth birthday. In celebration I went out to buy her a couple of books as a present. I've done so every year since M and I began working together. I don't often socialize with co-workers, but M is a delightful exception, and her daughter, whom I'll call Violet, is a good egg.
Until this year, choosing which books to give has been no problem. More often than not I wrapped up new copies of old favorites–Laura Ingalls Wilder, Roald Dahl–and sometimes later discoveries like Karen Cushman (author of Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice).
Thirteen is a big birthday. I decided to move out of the kid lit section and into the hitherto unexplored stacks labeled "Teen Readers." M told me that Violet is fond of Meg Cabot's "Princess" novels and so I thought perhaps I'd pick up something in that line.
An hour later, I staggered away from the "Teen" books bent double under deep misgivings about what's being fed to young readers by modern publishing. The available stock at Barnes and Noble leads me to conclude that:
- Teenaged boys do not read books any more. If there were, let's say, 500 works in the section, perhaps ten were not explicitly aimed at girls.
- Girls who read are encouraged to pursue one of three paths: princess, witch,* or slut. Should she find any one role limiting, she can blend them to become (for example) a slutty princess, or a royal witch.
- Whatever she wishes to be, she is taught that life's chief goal is to get a boyfriend, whether she has to buy him (princess), put a spell on him (witch), or wiggle her skinny ass until he capitulates (slut).
- All girls have three tools with which to nab the boyfriend: connivery, sex and submission. This last is true even if, according to Debrett's Peerage or similar, she outranks him.
- A girl can either have the boyfriend or her own life/interests, but never the two at once.
- Meg Cabot's idea of being a royal princess appears to be modeled on the life of Tori Spelling, except that instead of living in a big house in Beverly Hills one lives in a big house in a fictional country in Europe.
- Most girls in "Teen Readers" books probably could not point to Europe on a map if it were lit up and flashing. But it doesn't matter, because being smart turns boys off and if you are smart, you better hide it.
- I saw three books with non-white teen girls as their chief characters. One girl was a slave, one was marching to Selma, and one was having a baby and getting over a heroin addiction.
- Crowned in a Far Country: Portraits of Eight Royal Brides by Princess Michael of Kent
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
- Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie
Maybe if they sit on her shelf for a while, she'll get curious and step away from the Meg Cabot.** Maybe she'll discover there's more out there than the latest crap designed to groom her as a docile consumer of The Rules, Bridget Jones, and He's Just Not That Into You.
*I don't mean a practitioner of Wicca. I mean Lindsay Lohan, but with the secret power to give her nemesis a giant zit, and make Jeremy ask her to the prom.
**I realize this is a snobbish thing to say, especially as Meg's Princess has a boyfriend and I don't. Perhaps I should read the books myself, and learn.