The Clique is the latest in a line of children’s series that try to duplicate, for girls, the attraction that Bridget Jones knock-offs hold for women: frivolous, irreverent, with lots of catty remarks and shopping. Thirteen year-old girls buy Clique books as fast as the author can churn them out, and their presence on the New York Times Bestseller list suggests that they’re also selling outside that demographic. Indeed, the series was recommended to me by my brother, and though his age must not be mentioned I can tell you he is not thirteen — nor a girl.
We Clique readers get lots of vicarious pleasures. We get to be members of the most admired set at a prestigious private school. We get to shun others who aren’t as rich or witty as us – or really, anyone who’s different, anyone with a soul. We also get to shop. In one memorable scene the girls chip in to buy their leader, Massie Block, a little present for no special occasion, and an outsider sees the price tag with astonishment and shame: 750$ for a halter top. Brand names are dropped as often as possible.
What fascinates me about these books is their almost complete lack of moral fibre. These girls are mean – I mean mean – and, far from getting any kind of come-uppance, they’re rewarded for it. If there’s any lesson here at all, it’s: claw your way up the social heap, do anything it takes and never look back. For instance, in one book, the Clique does horrible things to humiliate Claire, a new girl into whose company they’ve been forced by circumstances and their parents. But rather than erupting into fits of traumatized tears (which is what I would do if the in-girls placed their sleeping bags in a circle and forced me to sleep in the corner while they insulted me) or mustering her dignity and finding other friends, Claire fights them with their own methods; in short she turns their sneaky, lying, mean ways back on them – and, as a reward, they let her in the group. How about that as moral training for thirteen year olds! And it seems to be the basic formula: in all the books the girls experience set-backs, but nothing that can’t be dealt with by the liberal application of massively bitchy behaviour. My favourite book so far shows us Massie temporarily deprived of credit cards and forced to find a job by her parents. She manages to make a ton of money by insulting people, and then garner a ton of prestige by stealing. That’d be the stripped down version of the form. Only usually the girls don’t actually have to steal, being rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but what the hell, it adds some spice.
But what’s really interesting is the tiniest note of class critique that pops up once in every book. It goes by quickly, but it’s just enough to make a thirteen year old uncomfortable. Check out this scene:
The Blocks’ Southampton Estate
Monday, June 15th
When life gave Massie lemons, she made lemon-mint spritzers. Or at least, she sipped them.
After a long, brain-numbing swig, she set the tall glass in the cup holder of the portable pedicure chair, powered off her white iPod, and wiggled her toes. It was a subtle “hurry up” hint, aimed at Rita, the famed “poolside polisher,” who, after an hour, was just starting to apply the first coat of Chanel’s Black Satin. With exactly five hours left to find a jobby before her mom forced her work at the beach club, Massie was starting to panic.
Rita quickly lifted the tiny black brush off Massie’s big toe. “Stop squirming!”
Massie rolled her eyes at the drugstore blonde’s dark roots and then sighed.
“Gawd, you’re so lucky.”
Rita lifted her blue-colored-contact eyes. “How am I lucky?”
“You have a job you love.” Massie adjusted her white Tom Ford wrap sunglasses. “Did you always dream of doing peoples nails?”
“Oh yeah, sure. It’s a real dream job.” The chubby older woman clipped a stray cuticle from Massie’s toe, then snickered, revealing an uneven row of top teeth.
“Well, I need to find mine.” Massie checked the time on her iPhone.
The chapter goes on. Massie has an inspiration and decides to switch polish colours. Rita sighs and reaches for the cotton balls. Finally, after Massie’s done some stuff with the phone:
Massie jumped off the chair and pulled the blue foam wedges out from between her toes. “Rita, I gotta go find Isaac. I have a meeting in Manhattan. Can you come back tonight after dinner and finish up?
Rita rubbed her tired eyes. “How about tomorrow?”
“I can’t tomorrow. I have a jobby!” She beamed, and then waddled away on her heels. “See you at seven!”
From Massie, by Lisi Harrison, Little Brown and Company, 2008.