Saturday, August 25, 2007

Reading Together: Blondechick's Choice

Blondechick enjoys listening to books on tape while she cleans her room, paints her nails, tries on outfits or organizes her closet--and our library has a whole shelf of Meg Cabot books on tape. Meg Cabot, if you don't know, is the writer of the popular Princess Diaries series, but she's also written a number of stand-alone novels.

--Including one called Pants on Fire, and it was that that title that made want to research Meg Cabot a bit more. The Princess Diaries movies were fun and not too objectionable, so I had assumed the books were probably fine--but were they?

The online reviews were basically positive. Lots of teenage girls reviewed them, and they described them as moral and encouraging to girls to make good choices. A few adults had some concerns, but they sounded, on balance, okay.

Still, I knew I ought to read a couple for myself. Blondechick was preparing to return three Meg Cabot audiobooks to the library, when I asked which one she thought I would enjoy the least. She smiled and sheepishly handed me Pants on Fire (snoopily, I had already picked that one out of the group ahead of time). "There's nothing really bad in it, Mom, but you won't like all the kissing."

And that, friends, about sums up Pants on Fire. The title, incidentally refers to the grade-school taunt, "Liar, liar, pants on fire," and one of the nice moral messages it conveys is all about being honest. The main character has told so many little lies that she can't keep them straight, and it's only at the end of the book, when she decides to 'fess up and tell the truth in a number of situations, that everything gets straightened out for the best.

One of her little lies involves an old faithful boyfriend that she just can't break up with because he's such a popular jock and they've been a couple so long. But she's cheating on him by kissing another boy (a theater guy!) out behind the dumpster at work, and then an old flame moves back to town--a bright but unpopular boy who has become "hott" in the interim--and she has more choices to make.

While these books are quite entertaining, I wouldn't have encouraged Blondechick to read them if I had read them first. My main concerns are that they just feed the boyfriend/girlfriend flame and that they're from a secular moral perspective, not a Christian one. On the subject of sex before marriage, for example, the main character is a "good girl" with strong convictions, but her best friend is not a virgin.

I've also started one of the later Princess Diaries, Princess in Training; in it the main character, Mia, is a "good girl," and a "mean girl" plants the idea that now that her boyfriend is in college, he'll pressure her for sex and she better be ready to give it to him. Another character opines that you should never have sex until you've dated for a certain number of years, and then only on prom night. Most disturbing is when Mia's mother admits that she had sex before marriage with a boy she remembers fondly.

I'm pretty sure the book is headed for a nice moral ending, and for girls with no other guidance, these might even be really helpful in shaping their choices, but for younger Christian girls who aren't facing that kind of pressure, these books introduce situations that I would think most Christian parents would want to avoid. I think they are realistic, though, and they could provide a jumping-off point for some good discussion with an older daughter who may find herself facing some of these viewpoints at school or from her friends.

They are VERY entertaining and fun to read. Both Pants on Fire and the Princess Diaries are written in the same style--inside a teenage girl's head, complete with all the latest slang and technology. iPods and laptops abound, as do expressions like "hott," "making out," and a new one to me--"makking." (I'm not sure how it's spelled, but it means making out--which meant nothing more than kissing in the books I read.) Characters carry on instant-messaging conversations and text-message each other on their cell phones. The books are so engaging that I felt like I had a teenage girl's voice in my head for days after I finished one! And I have to admit, they sure "took me back" to my own teenage years.

Blondechick assures me that the foolishness in Meg Cabot's books are just that, to her, and she knows better than to get herself into those kinds of situations. She likes them because they truly are fun reads, and the main characters do change and learn from their mistakes and make the right choices ultimately. She likes books about "girls like me;" she never has been drawn to books about "old-fashioned girls."

Bottom line: If your daughter is begging to read Meg Cabot, you really should preview them yourself and discuss them with her. But don't worry--you will enjoy them! Provided you can overlook a little youthful foolishness....

Updated to add: Anyone with a more well-informed opinion on this author, I invite you to please leave your thoughts in the comments!


Julie said...

If you read her new book Jinx, I'll be curious to hear what you think. I think that one contains vampires... I haven't read it yet, but it's on the bestseller list already--just came out a couple weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

FYI, Meg Cabot's adult books do not follow a Christian moral perspective. I too made the mistake of thinking that the author of the Princess Diaries would be a "safe" read-for myself, but not so. The characters are still silly-as adults--and jump into bed with various men (usually only when they are "in love," but not always). I didn't find them uplifting or very enjoyable. What is cute in a teenage book, is irritating about 20-30 year olds, who you would hope would know better.

marye said...

thanks for this review! I have a couple of voracious readers and I cant keep up with thier reading!

Carrie said...

This was a FABULOUS review! Thank you so much for sharing! I have to say that this is a review that makes me feel like I got a good picture of the author and her works. I don't feel like you were smashing her or promoting her but giving a basic review which helped me immensily. I've been curious about those books. I don't think I will read them after reading your review, but I don't feel like I'm walking away with a prejudice against them. Just the knowledge that I probably wouldn't enjoy them. Thanks! I'll be back. ;)

Corinne said...

Thanks for the review. My girls love the Princess Diaries movies, so I would have made the same assumption as you did. Good to know.

Erin said...

Ditto what Carrie said - GREAT review. I really enjoyed reading it, thanks. :)