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Private: a series by Kate Brian

Last week, an interesting discussion began circulating in the kidlitosphere about the quality of today's teen fiction -- specifically mentioning the Gossip Girl series (and it's read-a-likes). The discussion began with this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, in which Christopher Palsay uses two examples, Gossip Girls and Beautiful Disaster (published by MTV press) to basically claim that

"Over the last five years, teen fiction has taken a nosedive right into the toilet."

There have been several responses to this claim -- my favorites being Leila Roy's:

Um, no. Gossip Girl et al -- that's just a fraction of what's out there.

A few current authors of contemporary teen fiction to check out: John Green. Cecil Castellucci. Maryrose Wood. Sarah Dessen. Deb Caletti. Rachel Cohn. Chris Crutcher. David Levithan. Gail Giles. Brent Hartinger. Lisa Yee. M. T. Anderson. Markus Zusak. Sara Zarr. Ellen Wittlinger. Pete Hautman. Meg Rosoff.

Those are just a few off the top of my head. Some write books that are geared more towards middle school-aged students, some write books that are geared towards older teens. Most of them write primarily realistic fiction, which is what Mr. Paslay seemed to be concerned with. Read them and discover that basing an opinion of an entire genre on two books is maybe a little bit rash.

And Brent Hartinger's (on the ASIF blog)

When people say things like "Teen fiction has taken a nosedive right into the toilet," they seem to me to exposing their ignorance. They don't know the genre. When other folks advocate banning books, and challenging books based not on context, but on "naughty" words and lists of "inappropriate behavior," they're creating the conditions where this rich, wonderful, diverse genre just might go away.

Teen lit is in the middle of a genuine Renaissance, folks. But have you studied the Renaissance? The conditions that created it were so fragile, and the movement itself was so transitory. It ended, and it ended badly. Likewise, this teen lit Renaissance will not last forever. And when it goes, it will be the fault of the literal-minded Puritans so determined to "protect" children, people who see literature not as a breathing, changing organism, but as a collection of stuffy, unchanging museum pieces.

But I thought this would be a good time to review Private, and its sequels Untouchable and Invitation Only, as they fall into the same genre as Gossip Girls* and The Clique.

Private is the story of a teenage girl, Reed Brennan, at a prestigious boarding school. Reed, a sophomore, is a scholarship student from a small-town in Pennsylvania, and she is blown away by the wealth and privilege of her schoolmates, and especially of the Billings Girls, a sorority-like group of girls who live in their own mansion on the campus. She decides, almost instantly, that she must be a Billings Girl, and that she will do anything to become one, even if it means acting as a slave to these rich girls. But the Billings Girls, as rich and beautiful as they are, have their own secrets. Not to mention Reed's boyfriend, Thomas, who has issues of his own.... (I won't really go into plot details of the second and third books because that would give away too much from the first book)

I really don't know what to make of these books. They are definitely enjoyable -- and Brian's writing is easy to read. I do wonder about the morals, however. All through the first book, I kept waiting for Reed to realize that the things she was doing were wrong, or to have to face the consequences -- but it never happened. It seems though, in the second and third books, that she is beginning to think for herself more (rather than blindly following the orders of Noelle -- the Billings Girls' leader), so that may develop even more in later books.

And you know what, we don't need morals in every book we read. Teens have been taught morals, by their parents and teachers, by books, by movies -- and they know right from wrong. (That's not to say that they never do anything wrong, or that some are not more guided by their morals than others, but that they know what's right). And they (and we as adults) enjoy reading about wealth and corruption, without needing to be corrupt themselves*. As a society, we even seem to take some sort of perverse pleasure in watching the rich and famous as they struggle with their personal lives, which is where the appeal lies in a series like this. So, while Kate Brian's Private may not be the most wholesome of reads, it is a fun series, and I will be very interested in seeing how it develops.

*I haven't read Gossip Girls, but I do have the first book checked out, so I'll let you all know what I think!


Little Willow said...

Private definitely has a dark side. "Glass-licker" is a believable term for them to use, I think, because it's condescending and nearly swearing, and also completely indicative of what she was perceived to be doing the first time they caught sight of her. These girls are NOT nice, and readers know that from almost the very beginning, so at least it isn't a huge revelation but rather one of those things were readers just want to KICK her and make HER realize it too! I certainly do!

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