Monday, October 09, 2006

This Is A Young Adult Book I Wouldn't Recommend

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, by Jennifer Allison, appears to be aimed at a 9-13 year-old audience. Here's how it introduces its protagonist, in the first sentence of the book:
In the back row of Mrs. Weinstock's eight-grade English classroom, Gilda Joyce chewed on a lock of her dark hair and pretended to listen as her classmates described their plans for the summer on the last day of the school year.
"A lock of her dark hair"? This is the language of the pot-boiler romance, and that the author would resort to it at the very first mention of the heroine is a very bad sign.

The next young teenaged character introduced, the distant cousin Juliet Splinter, gets a similar treatment in the first paragraph of chapter three:
She was a very pretty thirteen-year-old, but she looked more like an eleven-year-old, since she was extremely small. Her long, fine hair was nearly as light as corn silk, and the pallor of her white skin belied her sunny California surroundings. If you looked into her icy gray eyes, you would probably decide right away that this was not a girl you could make friends with easily.
The author gives plenty of other information about this girl's situation and character, enough to make this aestheticized description superfluous, and, again, this external evaluation in the guise of description is a romance-novel writing crutch.

Then, in chapter five, we meet the amiable (if rather nosy) secretary of Juliet's father. Summer
put a grat deal of effort into her appearence. Her green eye shadow and toenail polish perfectly matched her tight green T-shirt, upon which the word AQUARIUS glittered in sparkly rhinestones, and her bleached-blond bands constrasted sharply with the dark hair on the rest of her head. She wore Capri-cut, hip-hugger stretch pants that revealed a pierced belly button and a taut, suntanned stomach.
Okay, Summer is presented as a character-actress, but the trend is already becoming clear.

Then we read, two chapters later, what Gilda Joyce, would-be Harriet the Spy, considers necessary spying equipment for her trip to San Francisco:
typewriter & lots of paper, notebook & pens, The Mater Psychic's Handbook, Ouija Board (just in case), fishnet stockings, pendulum, strand of fake pearls, binoculars, red lipstick, giant handbag, makeup kit (for disguises), fake fingernails, bug spray, crucifix, flashlight, Polaroid camera, suntan lotion, cat's-eye sunglasses, heart-shaped sunglasses, blond wig, dictionary, thesaurus, leopard-print jacket (for evening), evening gown (for seances), blue jeans, T-shirts, miscellaneous accessories, bikini, stilletto pumps, giant hoop earrings, underwear (West Coast style).

This is supposed to be the packing list of a girl in eighth grade: twelve or thirteen. This is supposed to be the packing list of a nerdy, smart, independant, and slightly odd 12 year-old girl. No, this is a Miss Preteen Magazine "Undercover You!" centerfold.

I know that young girls like to play dress-up, and of course I did too. It's the commodification I object to here. Grace doesn't just pack "big sunglasses"; she knows the difference between "heart-shaped" and "cat's-eye." Summer doesn't just wear tight pants; she's wearing a complete Gap catalogue of descriptors. Juliet isn't just small and pale; she's very pretty, with corn-silk hair and icy gray eyes. It's like these girls are playing dress-up under the commanding eye of some dark, handsome hero of a Harlequin Romance.

I couldn't read much further, even to distract myself. How on earth would I keep a daughter of mine from such material?

4 Comments:

Anonymous I don't pay:

No keeping them away, but bury in the context of reading many many other things

10/10/2006 06:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve:

What IDP said. Bury her in Uglies and Caroline Stevermer, if not A Princess of Roumania. (And man, the fan-ficciness of that prose.)

10/10/2006 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger fortuna:

Hmm, wherever did you find this book?

10/10/2006 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

You two are right; The Babysitters' Club was available to me as a kid, and I may have even read a couple of them, but my parents had enough better books around that I never got too sucked into their gestalt.

Fortuna, as the pig to the truffle, so a Jackmormon to the trashy novels in any a bookshelf.

10/10/2006 03:59:00 PM  

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