Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why I'm Throwing Away My Meg Cabot Books

Once upon a time, a 16 year-old Emmy went to see The Princess Diaries on the big screen. Though she never dreamed about being a princess (no, she grew up a tomboy and dreamed about playing soccer), she loved the story. So she started reading and collecting the novels written by Meg Cabot. She was away from the Church, educated in liberal Los Angeles public schools, and was never properly catechized so she read the books focusing on the love story between Mia and Michael. 

When the author (Meg Cabot) got a website and started giving advice to young women when she (Emmy) was 19 and 20, she thought it was great. She continued to read the books even after her reversion. She felt she had invested enough time to see where the series ended. So she got to the last book in the series at age 29... and felt like she had wasted her valuable time. 

At 30, when the Great Book Purge began, she remembered those words a close friend said to her the last time she considered throwing the books away: "But you have the complete series! Don't you want to pass them along to your daughters when they grow up?" The answer this time was a big fat "NO!" So she decided to write a blog post about this topic and here she is now.

Can I stop speaking in third person? Phew! lol. But, really, all of that is true. I did watch the movie based on the series and I did love it. In fact, I still occasionally watch it and its sequel which is nothing like the book. Disney made the films so of course it's a lot cleaner than the books. However, as much as I loved the books as a teenager into my early 20s, I can't say the same anymore.

I've been re-reading the books in the series because I decided to throw them away. No, I'm not even donating them. They're going in the trash bin. The reason I decided to re-read them was because I honestly forgot how the series began. I thought "well, maybe I could keep a book or two for my future daughters" but after going through the first 5 of the 10 (the 11th book is the first and only adult book in the series and it was pretty explicit), I've decided to stop reading them because they just keep on getting worse and worse. My friend's words keep replaying in my mind: "But you have the complete series! Don't you want to pass them along to your daughters when they grew up?" The answer still is: NO!

If you haven't read the series and are wondering if I'd recommend them, well, you can guess what the answer is. If you want to know why, please keep reading. If you're a fan of the series and are having an issue with my objections -- or are planning on reading the series for yourself and don't want any spoilers -- please stop reading because I'm about to give away major spoilers and, yes, I'm going to say why I don't like them.

Re-reading the books from a Catholic point of view, especially as an older person (I don't know if 30 is still considered young adult despite looking and feeling younger than my years), I just couldn't stop objecting to the topics in the series. The deeper I got into the series, the more disturbed I became. 

Mia loves to obsess over her love interests. "Well, all teenage girls do that," you may argue. Not like Mia. She bemoans how her first crush mentioned doesn't sexually harass her. When he turns out to be a cad, she moves onto someone else and then obsesses over him... for the rest of the series. Sure, she dates other guys since they do break up before getting back and staying together, but it's almost always just about Michael. You know how Twilight's Bella Swan is obsessed over Edward "I Spark, I Brood" Cullen? Almost that bad. It's just not a healthy way to look at romance. It's more about how she feels and what would make her (and her hormones) happy. Sure, her friends do try to snap her out of it in their own ways, but Mia's so consumed in her love/lust for Michael that it takes a while for her to see that there's more to life than lusting over your crush/boyfriend.

Morality is seen as subjective. Mia lies. A lot. She only wants to stop lying "or think of better lies" whenever she gets in trouble due to them. And sometimes lies get you out of things you don't want to deal with so, yay lying! Sex is also seen as something you just do. They do touch upon how it seems to a more emotional thing for women than men but that's about it. Mia obsesses about getting to second (then third... etc) base with Michael. Some relationships do seem healthier in terms of the give and take (and not just physically) but, overall, I wouldn't recommend any young women looking to the series for love advice.  
Religion is frequently looked down upon. There's a chapel and Sunday services mentioned in fourth book but it never states what religion she is. She only says that she gets caught writing her obsessing thoughts about Michael in her journal during a service. God's name is misused a whole lot.

I could go on and on about on my objections to the book but you get the gist... and I only got through half the series before calling it quits. The thing is, this is not the only series of Meg's that I have... and will be throwing away. 

The Mediator series is about a high school girl, Suz, who is a -- you guessed it! -- mediator. That is, she can see and talk to ghosts. She helps them "cross over" to the "other side" and there's a lot of scary scrapes she gets into in the process. Sure, there's a priest mentioned in the series -- another mediator who helps ghost cross over -- who is the principal at the Catholic high school where Suz attends but the theology is all wonky. I actually got rid of the sole book I owned of the series (though I read the entire thing thanks to the LAPL) after my reversion because of how uncomfortable they made me felt. Forget the paranormal stuff (there's some real sinister stuff in the books) and the wonky theology (which, in all honesty, I don't remember much of). Suz gets into a relationship with a male ghost who lives in her old room (yep) and some chapters can get pretty steamy for a human-ghost relationship. This gets steamier after (spoiler alert) her hunky ghost boyfriend somehow becomes a flesh and blood human being after being dead for several centuries. Seriously. Um, pass.

Other books includes: a girl saving the president's son from being assassinated, a typical HS girl who helps an actor, a book on how to be popular, etc etc. Hate to say it but I'd rather my future pre-teen and teen daughters not get any ideas from them.

The only book I'm keeping of Meg's (without much objection) is Avalon High. I love this book. Not only does it appeal to my Medieval/Arthurian legend geek side (oh yes, that side exists) but it's something I would have no problem passing along to a future daughter of mine. The heroine is a typical teenager so there are some whiny moments but she's a lot more balanced and closer to the Hermione Granger-type heroines in YA literature. Sure, I would have to explain to my future girls that reincarnation is not a real thing (the book talks about how King Arthur and other figures in the legend are reincarnated time and time again) but I'd focus on some of the other lessons (selflessness, courage, etc.) in the novel.

I'm not saying Meg Cabot is a bad writer. I've actually enjoyed reading her books... but it's the content that I cannot keep. She herself is a nice lady. I met her a couple of years ago (actually, over a decade ago) and she was so encouraging (she even wrote me a letter afterwards) that I appreciate her as someone who is positive with others. 

I'm not a massive fan of the advice she gives her readers, that's for sure. Besides her books, she kept (keeps?) a blog in which she once told a girl that sleeping with guys was fine because it was like trying on a pair of pants -- she had to find one that fit before committing to it. Who wants their teenage daughter to receive that type of advice? I sure don't!

If you like her books and don't have any objections to them, that's totally up to you. I'm not going to judge you for it. However, for me and my "prude" ways, I'd rather not keep anything like that on my bookshelves. Yes, I spent a lot of money completing the series... but that doesn't seem to matter anymore. And, okay, I will keep just ONE of the Princess Diaries books in the spare bookcase in my book cave but that's only because a good friend of mine went through a lot of trouble sending it from Scotland while she was studying at St. Andrews'. They used to release the books in the UK before the U.S. so she sent me a copy before it came out here. However, I won't read it and will only keep it as a reminder of my friendship with her (going on 12-13 years now). 

I posed this question earlier on Twitter but would love to hear from those of you not on Twitter: for those of you who consider yourselves more on the "traddie" side of Catholicism, what are your opinions of paranormal YA novels? Like the ones I described by Meg Cabot, the Mediator series? Would you let your kids read it? Would you have any objections to them? 

Also, for those of you who have read the Princess Diaries series novels, would you recommend them to a future generation? Not looking to debate anyone, just genuinely curious is all :)

Anyway, I'm going to go indulge in some more non-Catholic books (the list is long) since I have only a week before Lent (and my Catholic books only marathon) begins. :D

I hope y'all have had a great week thus far. :D

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D


angelsteph said...

I definitely agree with your assessment of her books. I, too, read all of the books through college and early adulthood and recently have been reading the last one.

I couldn't quite put my finger on why I was having such a difficult time getting through the last book, but you have beautifully articulated my issues with it. I just can't get as into it as I could when I was younger but I have also changed a lot emotionally and spiritually since then.

Now that Lent is less than a week away, I'm thinking I will put it aside and pick up a Catholic book to read instead. I might not even go back to it. I wouldn't recommend them for a younger generation.

When my husband and I are ready to move this summer/Fall, I will definitely consider which books are worth saving and I just don't think they are. Thanks for your perspective. It really made me think.

AnneMarie said...

THIS. I was probably about 10 or so when "Princess Diaries" came out, and I fell in love with the movie. I still really like that movie and the sequel. Naturally, when a bookworm like me discovered that there was a series of novels, I wanted to read them. Thankfully, my parents are very discerning with literature, so my mom read the first couple books out loud to me and skipped over the objectionable stuff...there was a lot of skipping haha. I can't remember how far into the series we got, but it wasn't very far. They just aren't good, wholesome books. I have nothing against secular books-I read secular novels all the time!-but these did just end up being not worth the time or effort. I quickly learned to stick with the movies, which are much better. Honestly, for my teen years, I typically avoided the "teen" section of the library like the plague-is it any wonder there are so many problems in the world when we feed girls this garbage???? Of course YA romance books appeal to girls-the covers and/or titles are all about lust, romance, etc-and what girl doesn't want to be loved and cared for?

On paranormal YA novels...I think that many people seem to forget that the devil is real, and that you don't want to mess with him-so many paranormal novels (judging from the plot premises or backs, since I try not to read the books themselves) seem to turn paranormal activity into a more casual matter. We have this preoccupation in our culture with demonic activity, and I don't think we should spend as much time focusing on it-after all, the devil really likes attention! Yes, creepy things can be really fun, but I think that the paranormal fiction often drifts into the "let's read about creepiness and exult the bad stuff," realm. I personally am fine with reading "Dracula" (which has a lot of sacramental awesomeness, even though Stoker wasn't Catholic) and staying away from the modern, "oh, let's play around with ghosts" stuff.