What do you do when your daughter reads books you hate?
When I found a Gossip Girl book spilling out of my 14-year-old daughter's ratty school backpack, I wanted to throw up. After all, I've long railed against this particular series the sex and shopping exploits of rich Manhattan private school girls to anyone who'll listen.
Now, in the grand scheme of things, you might think that reading a racy paperback isn't up there with, say smoking a joint or creating an explicit MySpace page or watching too much America's Next Top Model. And you'd be right. But it hurts nonetheless. I've edited book coverage at EW for many years, and my husband is a schoolteacher; we've read to our children from the time they were babies. Both were precocious readers: When she was only in second grade, my older daughter had already earnestly plowed through all of the available Harry Potter books (an impressive feat for a seven-year-old). And now she's reading Gossip Girl?
At first I tried to tell myself it's a phase. After all, she'd read Baby-Sitters Club novels too, way back when, gobbling them up the way I did Nancy Drews. But Baby-Sitters Club books are innocuous. Nothing but vapid sitcoms in book form. They're not my favorites, but there are worse. (To think that when I was growing up, Judy Blume was considered racy!)
Where do I start? Where can I start? Are the messages in a Gossip Girl novel any worse than those in an issue of Teen Cosmo? (Which, by the way, she doesn't read. At least, not that I know of.) Or from an evening of network TV? I don't have any ready answers. I'm not worried that my daughter will rush out and emulate the behavior of these characters: I just hate that she wastes her time reading about such people.
You might say, Take the book away. Don't let her read things like that. Well, I can't. I don't believe in censoring books. Period. End of story. As a high school freshman and a straight-A student, my daughter can make her own reading choices. Not that she'd listen to my suggestions anyway. A year ago I could hand her The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Club, knowing she'd read it and like it; now she turns up her nose at my offerings. She's still a wide-ranging reader, though, devouring everything from fantasy to Agatha Christie, and returns to her old splayed, dog-eared favorites, J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket. One of her favorite novels, by Sonya Somes, is written in blank verse.
The two of us talked (or, rather, I talked) about Gossip Girl. Why does she like them? ''They're easy to read,'' she shrugged, clearly not wanting to be drawn into the conversation. So what to do? We have a house full of wonderful books. The shelves are crammed with them; great teetering piles booby-trap most rooms. She knows full well the pleasure of plucking an unknown title from the stacks and browsing, waiting to see if it grabs her. After a lot of soul-searching, I know that the most I can do as her mother is keep talking to her and make wonderful stuff available. In fact, I casually threw The Road From Coorain and I Capture the Castle on the coffee table last night. One day, sooner or later, she'll find them.
What do you think of the Gossip Girl series? What are some of the other books, TV shows, movies, and music that your children enjoy that you'd rather they not?
For more of Tina Jordan's thoughts on current children's books, see Kids' Corner.