Holy anger management, Batman!
I’ve read about some fictional mean girls, in my day, but Rita Williams-Garcia’s Dominique from Jumped takes the crown.
It got me thinking about mean girls and the role they play in YA fiction.
About four years ago, mean was really in. Gossip Girl hit its zenith and every time I took my then ten-year-old daughter clothes shopping, I was accosted by those snarky Happy Bunny shirts. The kind with the smiling or scowling white bunny rabbit saying stuff like “You’re stupid…go away,” and other unsavory snittery.
My daughter thought the shirts were hilarious, but because she was hitting middle school age, when being haughty and obnoxious can be at its peak, the shirts disgusted me.
I saw the humor in them, sure. But because they seemed to be specifically targeted at an age-group that needed no help being obnoxious it offended my sensibilities.
Now that she’s in high school and can better understand the sarcasm, bitter wit behind such things, I’m more likely to allow a snarky tee or two. Although, lately she’s been more in a Peace, Love and Soul mode.
Mean shirts aren’t her thing. Mean isn’t her thing, period, and never has been. But there are mean girls out there and thus it would be disingenious not to portray them in YA fiction.
While some may say that real-life mean girl behavior, like this reported by the NY Times, could be blamed on fictional portrayals I say pish and shaw!
No matter how you feel about mean girl depictions, to deny their existence (and well before TV or books put them on stage) is akin to digging a hole and sticking your head in it.
I think mean girls in fiction are meant to represent the very real fact that – not everyone is going to like you. And sometimes the reason people dislike us may be totally nonsensical.
The basketball-loving, take no guff Dominique, of Jumped, is by far the scariest and most dangerous example of a mean girl. She’s the type that scares not only students, but faculty. The type that needs therapy and nurturing and lots of it to squash her inner demons.
But, then there are girls like Blair Waldorf of Gossip Girl who are mean only because they’re so insecure the only way they’re able to boost their self-esteem is to shred someone else’s. When you break it down, Blair is less a bonafide mean girl than a passive-agressive frenemy.
Jessica Johnson, the mean girl who shows her face in So Not The Drama and That’s What’s Up! of my Del Rio Bay series is yet another example of someone using meanness as a shield. Jess is a misguided, materialistic wannabe who uses haughty snobbery to hide the fact that she’s scared mindless she’ll be replaced in her clique by a student whose parents have the “proper” prestige and purse size.
Sophie, of Just Listen, is nothing more than a kid desperate to find someone to cling to. Her need to befriend kids older than herself and her eventual obsession with a leech of a boyfriend, smacks of middle child syndrome gone horribly wrong. She wants attention and gets it by treating others like dirt (negative attention is attention all the same, right?).
When readers meet these fictional bullies, they’re able to process how the story goes down in a safe haven – their own mind. It’s allows them time to ask themselves how they would manage in a similiar situation. What they’d be willing to put up with as this person’s target or in some cases, as their friend.
I mentored girls at a local high school for six years, I know first-hand that the scenario played out in Jumped happens way more than it should. But, as evidenced by the above examples, mean girlerly exists in many forms.
I’d like to see more African American teen books tackle the topic – especially in realms where it doesn’t lead to violence, as the mental and emotional torture these girls cause is as hurtful as physical harm.
If you know of others, please pass along titles of “brown” mean girl depictions in the comments below. Remember to leave the book title and author name.
Paula Chase Hyman is the author of the Del Rio Bay, YA series. Her latest release is, Flipping The Script (Dafina 2009), the series’ fifth and final book. She was never a mean girl, but played one on TV.