Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Friday, January 05, 2007


For reasons that are becoming less and less clear even to me, I've spent the last two days reading a series of pink-covered novels that goes on and on. I had read the first three some years ago for a talk, and am now expanding that talk into an article about how fairy tale motifs and inventive narrative strategies can be an empowering combination in YA literature for girls.

Really. The Princess Diaries. Empowering.

Well, in my defense, I thought so at the time. The first PD book gives us a smart and snarky narrator--ok, she's failing algebra, but she is still pretty smart--with an even smarter and snarkier best friend. She resists transformation into a princess, making it obvious to her girl-readers that such a transformation is a painful and often humiliating process. Her first-person narrative exposes what the omniscient and detached third person narrative of most fairy tales obscures: what the heroine herself thinks about the transformation. And getting to be pretty is just, well, not pretty, in this book.

It was a good talk.

So then I read Speak and Weetzie Bat and decided that similar things were going on in all three of them. The narrative voice is different in WB, and the overt references to fairy tales go under cover in Speak, but in all three a detailed (perhaps obsessive) focus on the trials of female adolescence makes manifest the issues that fairy tales seem to ignore: the pain, the humiliation, and the seeming never-endingness of it all.


I do have to say that the now eight-plus* volumes of the PD weaken my case a bit. Oh, I can really expand on that whole never-ending thing--not one of these novels manages a real "happily-ever-after," after all, and the PD series, by going on and on (and on! She's not even finished her sophomore year yet!) does underscore that point nicely. But the pink covers** and, even more, the annoyingly Bridget-Jones-ish lack of self-confidence and, I have to say, decreasing intelligence, of the main character are wearing on me.*** Melinda and Weetzie, in their novels, aren't rocket scientists, but they do take charge of certain aspects of their lives and move on. Mia, on the other hand, is stuck in the endlessness of the diary format. I really have begun to wish she'd lose her journal and start blogging or something, just to break things up. (And, maybe, to move things along a little faster? Because even the obsessive Mia would have a hard time blogging moment-by-moment, which is how she journals.)

I think there are still interesting things to say about the series. There's actually an amusing Shamela-ish-ness (yikes! her debased vocabulary is rubbing off!) to the moment-by-moment stuff, every now and then. And a funny self-referentiality, as when, in volume VI, she complains about the movie's lack of fidelity to her "true" story. And a clear recognition of the ways that pre-existing narratives form our interpretations of our own realities (the part in volume IV where she tries to take Jane Eyre as a model for her relationship with her boyfriend is a nice effort, though it's pretty weakly done).

But the pink covers are beginning to get to me, as is the fact that there is still one full novel and a couple of "half volumes" that I feel the need to read before I can write about this. Except, of course, for writing about it here, which is helping.

*There are now, I believe, eight volumes and three "half" volumes: the half-volumes seem to detail only about a week or so apiece, whereas the volumes can cover ...well, actually volume seven only covers about a week, though the first few seem to cover a month or so each. The "half" volumes are shorter--about fifty pages--and cheaper.
**About those covers: I bought volumes II and III from a few years back, when I was writing the talk, because they were already in pbk in the UK and even with the shipping charges it turned out to be cheaper to buy those than the US hardcovers. And they are not pink! The titles are different, too, but they are quite clearly the same books. I'm curious as to why they aren't pink in the UK, though not enough to research the issue too deeply.
***The first Bridget Jones delighted me: the whole Pride and Prejudice rewriting, the obsessive detailing of minutiae, all of it. But she's such a dope in Edge of Reason I could barely stand to read it. Anne Elliott is no idiot, but Bridget... I don't know if I can bring myself to read the third one, though I could, maybe, be convinced.

1 comment:

  1. good luck -- hang in there...

    and play ping-pong in between?