In honor of
tonight's last night's premiere of Gossip Girl on the CW...
First my thoughts on the books (well, the first four books, anyway):
The Gossip Girl series has long been hailed as either one of the best-selling teen series of all time, or the worst thing that could ever happen to YA literature. I can't argue with the first claim, but I completely disagree with the second.
But first, a quick plot summary. The novels take place on the Upper East Side of New York City. These families are the richest of the rich. These teens shop at Barney's. They attend exclusive prep schools. They host crazy parties to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. They wouldn't even dream of going to non-Ivy League college.
When the first book begins, it is October of their senior year of high school, and Serena van der Woodsen has just returned from a year at boarding school. She was the most popular girl at school and rumors are flying about her return (rumors involving drugs and orgies and illegitimate offspring). Her former best-friend, Blair, isn't happy that Serena is back. She had always lived in Serena's shadow, but in her absence, she has taken over the "most-popular-girl-in-school" title. Not to mention that her boyfriend, Nate, has always been a little bit in love with Serena. And that's just the beginning...
I had been putting of reading this series for quite some time, expecting it to be rather inane and badly written. But, the writing is solid (though not brilliant), and the characters have a lot more depth than I had expected. Yes, they do drink alcohol, and they do smoke pot. Yes, they have sex (though, as of book 4, sex is not actually described in the novels). But, at the same time, their actions do have consequences, and they grow and develop as a a result.
I seriously doubt that there is anything going on in these novels that teens have not already seen or heard about on TV, in movies, or from their friends. And I may have said this before, but I firmly believe that reading about controversial topics (rather than observing them on TV), allows the reader time to really contemplate and make their own judgements. And wouldn't most people want their children to grow up able to think critically?
But the weirdest change has to do with the parents. Rufus Humphrey, father of Dan and Jenny, seems to have some secret torrid past with Serena's mother. He's also kind of hot, and the member of a "forgotten band from the 90s", rather than a scruffy editor of "lesser-known beat poets." If you're interested, there is a NY times article which discusses this change (and while I don't agree with some of the assumptions the author makes about teens and their reading preferences, it is still a very interesting article)
I'm definitely interested to see how the series develops. Interestingly, the first episode basically followed the plot of the first book, so I'm not sure how it's going to progress from there. I'm guessing the creators will be coming up with extra plots, and still using things from the later books, but we'll see.
A few more interesting takes on the books and TV series:
Gossip Girl -- Why Alessandra Stanley got it wrong -- a response to the above-mentioned NY times article
"My So-Called Gossipy Life" -- NY Times interview with teen girls who attend private schools like the one in the series.
"Grade-School Girls, Grown-Up Gossip" Another Times article, this one about how preteen girls read gossip mags, and make moral judgements about Britney Spears, et al.
"Return of the Brainless Hussies" a defense of the series from Salon.com
From the blogs:
Bookburger interviews Cecily von Zeigesar
American Libraries and Gossip Girl (from the YALSA blog)
"Teen novels glorify bad behavior" Leila's (bookshelves of doom) response to a rather horrible article.
*Unfortunately, I don't think it's available on itunes anymore