Definitely a “guilty pleasure” kind of book. The text is so easy to read that many many pre-teen girls have gobbled this up — even though I wonder if the adults in their lives might be scandalized if they know their daughters/students/nieces/grandchildren are reading about:
a high school girl who seduces (quite successfully) her English teacher,
another one shoplifts, drives drunk, and is always off the hook with the police because her mother flirts and possibly has sex with the young cop,
another steals her sister’s boyfriends, and,
yet another, *gasp* oh *gasp,* has just discovered that she LIKES KISSING GIRLS! —
and booze, drugs, cigarettes are casually consumed by everyone in the story.
A host of my 6th graders came back from the summer, having read either one book or the entire series, gushed about these books — a blend of Gossip Girls, Sex in the City, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Sorority Row. So I was obligated to read the first one at least. Now I have a lot of questions in my mind but the top one surfaced after finishing reading the “What Happens Next” section in the paperback edition of this book:
Why in the world that being gay is treated on the same level of morally questionable conducts as a “naughty behavior [deserving] punishment” along with initiating sexual relationship with a teacher, shoplifting, and boyfriend pilfering?
I am really having a problem with this backward thinking implication in our time… although, maybe not as surprised as I should have been, given the “moral” climate of the U.S. of A. Granted, all the behaviors in the story are secrets that the girls wish to keep away from their friends and family which is part of the theme of the story. However, labeling lesbianism as a naughty behavior that has to be punished in some way is simply unacceptable in my book.
*FUMING* — What is going on with the world of Young Adult publishing? Are we so desperate in making a buck that there is no consideration of the damage this could have done to young readers? Should a teen or pre-teen girl feel guilty if she realizes that she is attracted to girls? In the same way if she finds herself cheating on tests or stealing goods from local stores? And please don’t tell me that “This is just a trashy book, like candy. Who cares?” Because if we believe that Good books change lives (like many Library slogans proclaim) and that wonderful characters leave positive effects on readers (say in books like Boy Meets Boy, Hard Love, or True Believer,) we cannot deny the opposite as true as well.
Please talk to your young readers who are reading this series and unpack some of the tangled threads!
4 responses to “Pretty Little Liars”
Thanks for raising this issue. The author’s attitude is really dated, and you have to wonder where the editor was in this case.
I feel the same way about sex ed books for teens that put homosexuality in a chapter with incest and sexual abuse. Or in the chapter about STDs.
I’d have to read this to really form an opinion, and to be honest I don’t know that I will, because I won’t read about student/teacher relationships. But for me, based on your description, I’m not feeling any immediate alarm bells. The question for me is how the girl’s possible gayness is treated in the end–what message is the author giving about it? Because the truth is that most teenage girls DO feel a great deal of guilt and shame about that; perhaps even more than one who shoplifts. And other people react with shock and horror, too. It’s okay with me if a book takes the reader on a journey that starts with “this is bad” and ends with “hey, this is okay”.
The comparison that immediately pops to mind is, oddly enough, The Babysitters Club. In the first book, Stacey treats her diabetes like a dirty secret; she doesn’t want anyone to know about it, is sure that her new friends will be mean about it, etc. Once her secret comes out, her friends are cool with it, but Stacey continues to have conflicted feelings about others knowing about it. I would not, however, hesitate to give these books to my niece who has diabetes or her sisters or cousins because there’s some guilt and shame about having diabetes involved.
DOES the book specifically “label lesbianism as a naughty behavior that has to be punished”?
To your last question, yes, in the paperback edition that tells the readers “What Happens Next” — the four paragraphs describing each girl’s “naughty behavior” is preceded by the quoted text in my post. I will have to read the rest of the series to report back how this scenario is finally resolved.
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