"It's Not Easy Being Mean" is the latest installment in "The Clique" series - hot literary news for girls 12-years-old and older.
But for the life of me, I can't understand why, because most of the main characters are girls I'd never want for friends. And I don't think my daughter would have either when she was 12.
Picture ultra-rich, ultra-spoiled 7th-grade girls, whose main goal in life is to be popular and pretty. They call their clique The Pretty Committee and that about sums up their ambitions. Life for the PC is a whirl of designer fashions; the book name-drops shamelessly. If Prada, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Earnest Sewn and the like mean nothing to you, then get thee to a Vogue, and start brushing up your designer-speak.
Would all these names go flying over the head of the typical 12-year-old reader? Probably. But that's probably not enough to keep them from wanting the stuff, just because Massie and her friends make it all sound so cool.
The seventh book in the saga of Massie, Kristen, Alicia, Dylan and Claire finds the slim plotline turning around the search for a key that unlocks the school's legendary secret room for the ruling "alpha" clique coming up in 8th grade.
Claire is the outsider in the bunch. She's accepted in the PC, but doesn't quite fit in to their level of income or fashion sense. As such, she's a stand-in for the reader -- who most likely doesn't live on an estate, get driven around in a chauffeured Range Rover and deck herself out in designer fashions. Her own anxieties about fitting in with Massie and her friends undoubtedly mirror most of the readers' own struggles with peer pressure.
She brings a touch of reality to what is otherwise pure fantasy. Rich 13-year-olds who pretty much do whatever they want, without parental supervision. Classes, homework, after-school activities, church, family gatherings -- the warp and woof of most middle-school girls' lives are barely an afterthought for the PC. They'd rather hang out at the mall, spending on their gold American Express cards at Nieman Marcus and BCBG.
And if you're not like them, then they will scorn you as a hopeless LBR (Loser Beyond Repair.)
If author Lisi Harrison has a gift in writing these novels, it's her uncanny ear for the chatter of her characters. The shorthand, inside jokes and sometimes affected "Valley Girl" pronunciations are all detailed in the dialogue: "Ehmagawd. ah-dorable. ah-mazing. heart that. point."
I mean, like, it can get sort of ah-noying.
At first, it's easy to hate this book and the shallow materialism that these characters embody. On the other hand, they're so impossible to take seriously that you have to laugh at them. These girls are so 13-going-on-30 (Cleavage? How many 13-year-old girls have cleavage?) that it's easy to forget that they're supposed to be children. Lord knows where their parents are. Other than Claire's mom, parents are scarcely mentioned. Where are Massie's parents? Who knows? Who cares? It's much more fun without them.
The humor in the characters and ludicrous situations are the strength of the books. Harrison can be subtle in her sarcasm. Too subtle for the age of her readers? Here's an example. the girls are at the mall, and the subject of public school comes up:
"They hate private-school girls there. They think we're spoiled."
"What do they know?" Dylan pushed back her cuticles with the corner of her American Express gold card.
If middle-school girls are able to pick up the irony in that sentence and laugh at Massie and her foolish friends, maybe that's a better way for them to deal with the real-life peer pressure facing them at school.
That seems to be Harrison's approach. She has said that she bases her books on her own memories of trying to fit in, of being insi