Monday, December 15, 2008

Ena Selmanovic on Selling Unhappiness

Congratulations Ena Selmanovic, 13, for 1) completing a five-day intensive summer workshop during which she polished a stellar piece of journalism, 2) reading it aloud at Housing Works Book Store and at Book Culture this fall, and 3) for publishing it in Teen Ink's online magazine!

Selling Unhappiness
By Ena Selmanovic, 13

Tween girls of all shapes, colors, and bank account sizes will be flocking to stores this fall when a movie based on the #1 bestselling young adult book series, The Clique, by Lisi Harrison, is released in DVD.

When I think about The Clique, it’s a thumbs down. Yet I’m hooked. It’s about a group of 12 and 13 year old snobby rich girls living in Westchester, New York that go to a private all-girls school and live in mansions. Claire, the only girl readers can relate to, moves in with Massie—the leader of the clique—and she and the rest of the clique look down on Claire. Claire eventually becomes part of the clique, though she’s never one of their own—she wants to be, but she’s not rich or snobby.

The disconnect for me is the fact that girls that I know in middle school do not dress and act three times their age. We do not carry around Louis Vuitton and Coach bags; we carry Jansport backpacks or shoulder bags. No girl I know gives her group of friends a name like “The Pretty Committee”. If I did that in my real life, I would not be popular: I would be a wanna-be. No one I know has $500 and up to spend at a regular trip to the mall. At my school, no one worships a single group of girls!
Young readers say that since The Clique, they definitely read more—a key selling point for parents. If I were a parent, I would rather have my daughter not read and spend time with her friends than get lost in The Clique world. Dr. Mary Pipher, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Reviving Ophelia, a book about the life adolescent girls says: “Many strong girls have found protected space in which they could grow…Protective space can be created by books…It’s a blessing.” I find protective space in many different things, including books, but The Clique hasn’t provided a safe place for me.

If this world exists, the readers are all outside of it! The Pretty Committee (TPC) thinks that everything revolves around them, and in the book, it sort of does: their parents and chauffeurs do anything to please them, girls at their school follow their clothing trends, and their thick aura commands strangers to notice them. At my own school, not one group is on top. Reading this makes me feel like I’m on the bottom, an LBR (TPC lingo for Loser Beyond Repair). Maybe there are people like this, but I don’t need to know them. Why should they set my standards? If these girls existed, I wouldn’t be attracted to be like them. But in the books, I am.

Then why do we read it? We could be contemplating Pride and Prejudice or reading Hoot or a classic or a Newberry Award Medal book or something worthwhile! The Clique has spent 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold over four million copies. Why? Why do we like it? Why do I like it?

It’s addicting. We love the way the characters are devilishly clever with their comebacks, their confidence, the way they ignore what hurts them. We love reading about people that have everything at their fingertips—wouldn’t that be awesome? We love the group of friends—the actual clique. Oh, sure, they whisper and text behind each other’s backs and care more about themselves than others, but—wow, they sure have fun together. I want to go to Starbucks with them. I want to hang out at their huge houses and laugh with them. Couldn’t my friends and I all go to designer stores and get our hair done together—can’t everyone be jealous of us? We love peeking into the life we wish we had, the characters we wish we were. But when we imagine ourselves in that life, we get an icky feeling, like eating too many sweets. I look around the room I share with my sister. It doesn’t have a vanity, a mannequin, a new computer, or walk-in closet. No intercom system to communicate with my housekeeper. There’s that jealous aftertaste.

Author Lisi Harrison says:

“I do, however, think the message I’m sending IS a good one. I am not saying ‘snobby, mean, pretty, rich girls’ are what we should strive for. I am saying the exact opposite. By using extreme characters and extreme situations I’m hoping you’ll realize how crazy our behavior can be. And come awn (sic). We all do it. After all, I write what I see. But my dream is that soon, I’ll see a lot less of it. And if these books help by making you take a look at the way you and your friends treat each other and yourselves, then maybe my dream will come true.”

But is writing about “snobby, mean, pretty, rich girls” in extreme situations an effective way to show it’s wrong? Imagine you are a typical girl who likes to shop, listen to music, and spend time with your friends. Then you stumble across The Clique books and realize that you have so much more to learn: What is a Moschino mini? My make-up from the drugstore isn’t good enough. What are Jimmy Choo sandals, BCBG dresses? I didn’t know I was supposed to read Vogue, Elle, and Seventeen regularly! You’re suddenly an outsider looking in. What you have isn’t good enough. You are not good enough.

The author says that she writes what she sees. But how does she know that she’s not part of the mechanism which creates the problem in the first place? And, on the other hand, not all studies substantiate the author’s observations. CLIKITS(TM), a children’s toy company, sponsored a national survey of 1,500 girls ages 7 to 14. Some results include: 75% of girls like themselves the way they are, and 87% think people like them for who they are. 95% believe they are good people, and 82% of girls are bold enough to buy clothes they like even if their friends don't care for the style. Does the author really know us (girls)?

So what the author’s trying to say is that these books will help us? After reading her books, I, for one, am not helped. The only thing she’s succeeded in is getting me to buy another book. I’m not a better person. She is selling me unhappiness. So, in the end, I’m jealous and miserable, and The Clique author, Lisi Harrison, gets a pile of money. And I regret to admit, she’ll be getting my $15.99 for the DVD this Fall.


new-in-bayarea said...

Thanks good post

Sarah Jane said...

Sounds like this is right up there with that TERRIBLE show on MTV, something called "My Super Sweet 16". It's poison. But I guess I'm old enough (lucky me) to be as disinterested as I want to be.

Mrs. C said...

Found this site via BloggerBuzz; love it--much delicious text; nom-nom-nom.

hambone said...

Great postings!

Steven said...

It is awesome to see young folks writing.

Anonymous said...

WOW. Very impressive!

Don'tthinktwice said...

I wish I was that articulate in middle school.

I like that the author criticizes the series while admitting her addiction.

Excellent work.

Caylie said...

I love that style of writing!

Guin said...

I really enjoyed that essay. I agree with the author - and I think that was so impressively written (especially for a 13-year-old). I can't imagine where this writer will be by the time she graduates college.