Saturday, April 08, 2006

Not As Bad As It Could Have Been

I'm sure everyone is dying to know what I think of the three girls' series everyone was in such an uproar about after Naomi Wolf wrote about them back in March. Well, I am finally ready to weigh in on one novel in The Clique series by Lisi Harrison.

To get right to the point, if Best Friends For Never is any indication, this particular series for the younger end of the teen girl spectrum will only harm the morals of those girls who have already been corrupted by materialism and greed or are so incredibly impressionable that they probably would be harmed by anything they read. One reviewer referred to the book (the second or third in the series) as "soap operatic fun," and the characters do remind me of the dramatic and demanding teens I remember from my mother's soaps.

Best Friends For Never is the story of Maissie, a wealthy, cruel snot, and Claire, a sort-of-poor and sort-of-noble girl next door. The girls are brought together by their parents, who are friends. Claire's family lives in the guest house on Maissie's family's estate. Claire very much wants to be friends with Maissie, though I can't imagine why because, as I mentioned, Maissie is a cruel snot.

I have to admire making a character as unlikable as Maissie a focal point of a book. And I think we are supposed to believe Maissie is quite awful. Conventional wisdom says readers won't want to relate to an awful person. Perhaps teaming her up with Claire gets around that problem. Claire is there for us to relate to.

I also think this book has a traditional moral code under all the nastiness and greed. Occasionally we see that Maissie is still a child. Candy is a big symbol for innocence here, one associated with Claire who enjoys eating it. But Maissie on occasion breaks down and eats some, too. This witchie girl's main confident is her dog, and the fact that the communication can go only one way isn't lost on her. The two girls attend an exclusive school (How does Claire's family afford that?) whose initials are OCD. Kids in the upper grades and middle school probably won't realize that that also stands for obsessive compulsive disorder, but adult readers should. Maissie is definitely a compulsive shopper, buying more than she can possibily use and maybe more than she even wants. A beautiful classmate who has had plastic surgery just happens to be really dense. She can fix her face, but not her mind. And at the end, Maissie loses the contest she has entered and the boy she wants. She doesn't come out on top. For the time being, that is, because those plot lines are left up in the air. If all the books end like this, The Clique is more of a serial than a series.

The moral code may not be apparent to all readers because, while the book isn't badly written, it's not really well written, either. Changes of scene are marked by announcements of location and time, much like journal entries. This means there's no transitional material. The characters are all stereotypes right out of teen movies. Many of Maissie's friends are interchangeable. Claire is a confusing character, always missing her more innocent friends back in Florida and recognizing what Maissie is but wanting to be part of her crowd, too. We don't really see what there is about Claire that would attract a wealthy boy from another private school to her rather than Maissie. A great deal of the description in the book is limited to the names of products. The girls wear Jimmy Choo boots and carry Coach bags, for instance. For the thousands of readers who have only the vaguest idea of what the various brands are, that's no description at all.

I think this particular volume in The Clique series could have been a satire or could have been a really good book on the humanity of a nasty girl. At any rate, I don't think it's going to do many girls a lot of harm.

If you want to read something interesting, go to the Amazon listing for Best Friends For Never and read the 50 plus reviews from readers. Most of them read like book reports or reader responses.

And now I have to go on to The A-List.

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