I think we may be expecting too much from our teenage romance novels. The New York Times printed an article titled In Novels for Girls, Fashion Trumps Romance. It seems Naomi Johnson, a communications professor at Longwood University in Virginia, recently wrote a dissertation on the alarming number of occurrences of product placement in books written for teenage girls. Now, I will admit the number does seem kind of high (1,553 brand mentions in 1,431 pages of the six books she had read), but in the end, it is much ado about nothing. The books in question come from three very popular series, Clique, Gossip Girl and A-List. Not my cup of tea, but you can’t argue with sales. For the record, the packaging company, publisher, and authors all deny any money was exchanged for the product placement. The authors claim real brands were used to give the books authenticity. I think the obsession with weight, appearance, popularity, and money make the books sadly authentic enough.
But what if brands like Moschino, Jimmy Choo, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc. did pay for product placement in these books? Would that be so bad? If a teenage girl is reading Gossip Girl, she’s not reading it to learn how to make the world a better place. She’s reading it because a bunch of hot girls in cool, expensive clothes are learning the importance of being popular, and judging others for their looks and poor choice of income potential. Would subjecting these young ladies to crass commercialism really ruin the integrity of these types of books, and shatter the reader’s feeble resistance to buy a thing because her favorite character wears, drives, or covets that thing? I say let the publishers cash in.
Now, I’ve never read a single word of any of the aforementioned books, but I’ve read a number of articles on them and there appears to be only one redeeming quality about them. They are encouraging kids to read. There is a movement afoot to have the books banned from schools and libraries. Having read that a mother wants to burn my books because they are “evil,” I am, perhaps, extra sensitive to this never-to-die movement to ban books. Censorship is not the answer. Reading builds better communication skills. It helps foster a love for learning. Reading turns on the theater of the mind and helps kids think and grow with more imagination and greater lucidity. Would you rather they spend endless hours playing games like Grand Theft Auto and meeting creeps on MySpace? C’mon. Keep them safe. Let them read.