Friday, March 28, 2014

Ready Or Not by Meg Cabot

Title: Ready Or Not
Author: Meg Cabot
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WARTY!

This audio CD is read by Ariadne Meyers and she does an acceptable job, but is occasionally annoying.

Ready of Not is a sequel to Meg Cabot's best selling All American Girl Samantha Madison lives in Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia). Sam's in high school and is pretty much your typical YA fictional juvenile, self-obsessed, teen girl, I'm sorry to report. I was hoping for better. The big difference here is that she's dating the president's son after having, in volume 1, saved the president's life. I haven't read volume 1, so I'm going only on this particular sequel. And yes, I'm listening to this while I wait for a more entertaining audio book read to arrive at my library, otherwise I doubt I would have picked this up at all. It did initially sound interesting though. It isn’t.

The dire lack of realism bothered me immensely. I cannot believe, given how close she is to the US "royal family" that there isn't even a hint of a Secret Service presence somewhere, somehow, in Sam's life, but apparently there isn’t. I dunno: maybe the Secret Service actually doesn’t care about who the presidential children date, but I find that hard to believe given how easy it would be to use the 'love interest' of a president's son or daughter to influence or manipulate behavior, or even to threaten the presidency.

I have to wonder seriously about people who write novels like this one, and even more so why this kind of writing is so popular. Obviously girls of a certain age really like to read this stuff, and this makes me sad, because then I have to ask: is there nothing going through young minds other than sex (if the character is a guy) or guys (if the character is a girl)? Yes, this ignores gay relationships, but then, so too does all-too-much YA fiction, except in rather insulting token form. And do YA writers never feel any need to offer alternatives, to enlighten, to inform, to encourage changed behavior, to educate? That really bothers me, because if we as writers are doing nothing beyond pandering to the lowest common denominator, then what differentiates us from parasites?

Cabot renders Sam as a gigantic fan of Gwen Stefani for reasons which seem to me to be more projection of authorial tastes than realism, but in 2005, Stefani was still a popular artist so this isn't unfeasible. Sam also works part time at a video tape rental store, which really dates this novel, but again, it’s not entirely outrageous even though VHS's death-knell had long been rung by 2005 when this novel is set.

Sam's older sister is a cheerleader and a guy magnet so, cliché to the max there. Her kid sister Rebecca, is super smart, so once again we have a special case kid in Sam, because she's so ordinary. Special because you're ordinary? Hmm. Sam is also a special case because of her action in saving the president, yet this seems not to have impacted her life. She herself claims that nothing has changed, yet everyone is paying attention to her. Is she so dumb she doesn’t notice this? For example, one time in school, she's talking on her phone to David, the president's son when there are, for unrelated reasons, cameras in the school, and suddenly everyone goes quiet, the cameras are all turned on her, and they're all listening in. This seemed ridiculous to me, especially since it didn’t seem to faze Sam at all. Yet despite this, there is not a single paparazzo chasing her around.

Sam is also a teen ambassador to the United Nations. This evidently came about in the previous novel, but if the only reason for it was her saving the president, that's pretty pathetic. So this story kicks in when David invites Sam to join him for Thanksgiving dinner at Camp David, the presidential retreat (where he goes when he's being attacked?!). For unexplained reasons (other than that she's a moron, maybe?), Sam becomes convinced that David invited her solely because he wants to have sex with her. Why only she, and not her entire family, was invited goes unexplained.

I have no idea how Sam can be so utterly air-headed, so this is where this novel really got on the skids for me. The problem was not that sons of presidents never think about, or even never have, sex, but that I honestly couldn’t believe that any presidential son could possibly have an interest in someone as boring, vacuous, and shallow as Sam. Unless, of course, the son was at odds with his president dad, and wanting to rebel. But given the options he has, could he not have chosen someone a little more substantial to employ in his rebellion? And why would he choose a girl who saved his dad's life if he was rebelling? It would make a much more interesting story if he'd taken up with the daughter of the guy who sought to assassinate his dad! Now there would have been a novel!

Worse than this is that her older sister sells herself out as the brainless cheerleader stereotype when she buys into Sam's delusion and provides her with contraception, but apparently supplies no good sex advice along with the tools. This makes no sense on several levels. Sam is ambivalent about having sex (hence the novel's title), which is smart, yet she wants to go fully prepared for sex! In a way that's smart, but in other ways it’s dumb.

I mean, if she's ambivalent, she needs to say "No!" until she's not ambivalent, and it seems to me that while effective contraception is always a good idea, her sister's choice isn’t, and Sam's taking it along anyway suggests that she's willing to be compromised even if she's not on-board with this plan. This struck me as really dumb behavior on her part; it read (listened!) as being very confused and also confusing. I can see what Cabot is trying to do here, but I'm unconvinced that this is the best way to present this situation to a young audience - especially since the most important part - discussing this frankly with her intended partner - is entirely skipped.

Once I’d decided how I would rate this novel, I went out and read some reviews (positive and negative) to see if I’d missed anything that I ought perhaps to have considered. In general there was not, but what really struck me in a few of the negative reviews was the significant amount of hypocrisy in evidence. Several of them went beyond reviewing the novel into reviewing the author, accusing Cabot of having an agenda (which was to promote teen premarital sex)! I found it hilarious that not a single one of those reviewers ever considered that they themselves had a religious agenda which they were promoting.

I don’t have time for religion, which to me is no better than a bad fantasy novel. I do agree that keeping children safe and healthy is of prime importance, but the only proven way to do this is to educate them and continue to educate them, and this means being realistic about the way things actually are. You're not going to get anywhere if you put on religious blinkers and try to pretend that things are in real life like they were in old fifties TV shows, where the family is white, and completely respectable, and irrepressibly happy, and there's one boy and one girl, and every problem is solvable in thirty minutes - and there aren't even toilets in the house! Get real!

Teenagers have sex. It’s a fact of life! They're not going to stop. Nor are they going to run-off and start having sex simply because they read a bad Meg Cabot novel. If you think otherwise, you're delusional, period. Those with a Christian religious agenda seem to have completely (or conveniently) forgotten that we ran things their way for close to two thousand years and their religious agenda failed dismally. Christian "love" failed to prevent war, and indeed promoted many. It failed to prevent pregnancies in unmarried women. It failed to prevent women being abused. It failed to prevent children being abused. It failed to prevent diseases from spreading. It failed to keep children safe from exploitation, and from having their life put at risk or prematurely terminated.

These people seem to have forgotten that it was under religious rule - indeed because of religious rule - that we had the crusades and the inquisitions, and that we hung witches and burned heretics. I flatly refuse to go back to those days.

Nor does it make sense to lecture a girl that she must never have sex until some guy puts a ring on her finger. Marriage is not a protection against a guy running out on you. It does not guarantee that a guy will be faithful to you! There are no guarantees. Even going into it with the best of intentions, a couple can fall out of love. Those pushing this agenda are deliberately ignoring divorce statistics. There is no magic solution, and it's the height of dishonesty to pretend that they have a solution in their blind belief system.

The only thing you can do with kids is to raise them in the most loving environment you can, whether you're a happy married couple, a single mom or dad, or two dads or two moms. It makes no difference. You need to keep them as healthy as you can - which includes getting them their appropriate vaccinations - and giving them the best all-around education you can. You must refuse to shy away from some difficult questions they may ask. Keeping them ignorant is not an option and offers no protection. Once you've done all of this, you need to trust them, and that's it. You cannot live their life for them.

Blaming authors like Meg Cabot for the ills of the world is brain-dead and displays ignorance of the real facts of life. Blame her for putting out a badly written novel if you must, as I do, but she's not responsible for the way in which we, as a society, raise our kids, or for the behaviors of those kids when they reach teen-hood.

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