Let me start by saying that I’m in favor of kids reading.
Let me also say that, even as a kid, I hated it when adults told kids what they were and were not old enough to read. In third grade, I petitioned the principal at St. Domitilla School to be allowed to read Nancy Drew books, which had previously been reserved for grades 4 and up.
Finally, I am not squeamish. I have watched the Spike TV show “Deadliest Warriors” with my sons and felt a kind of guilty pleasure.
I say all this to prove that I don’t make the following statement lightly:
“Gossip Girl, Psycho Killer” may have the most vile and repugnant premise of any book aimed at teens I have ever read. In terms of egregious and perverse violence, it exceeds many M-rated video games.
Start with the cover, which is a reimagining of the original 2002 “Gossip Girl” book by Cecily von Ziegesar. Three fashionable, cool, laughing teen girls, but this time one of them holds a chef’s knife and all are covered in blood.
Don’t take my word for it, read this scene from Page 60 for yourself:
“Serena raised her hand. The girl lunged for the STOP button, hoping to depress it and get to the lobby before it was too late. But when she reached it she found that her right hand was no longer attached to her wrist. Soon her pretty auburn scalp was no longer attached to her head, nor were her piercing gray eyeballs attached to their sockets.”
Let’s recap. “Gossip Girl, Psycho Killer” is a mash-up of the story that launched the series of books following the lives of Upper East Side rich girls and BFFs Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf. The novel series spawned the very popular CW series of the same name, which is in its fifth season. In the original book, the girls engaged in over-the-top antics involving alcohol, drugs and sex, which one could argue were merely hyperbolic representations of normal teen pursuits.
This time the friends have taken on a new vice: murder. Actually, competitive murder. When Blair, who dreams of ways to kill people, realizes that Serena has actually done it, she’s mortified. Mortified that she has fallen behind Serena, that is. Blair “could come up with something way more impressive than exploding eyeballs. . . . She would excel at killing, just as she excelled at everything else,” von Ziegesar writes on Page 52.
So what prompts a publisher to produce such a book and recommend it for ages 15 and up?
“We wanted to do something that would be over the top, and we felt like vampires, zombies had already been done,” says Cindy Eagan, executive editorial director of Poppy, which publishes the “Gossip Girl” books.
Apparently the idea that vampires and zombies aren’t real but serial killers are didn’t occur to anyone associated with the book.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, von Ziegesar echoed the idea of mass murder all being in good fun.
“It’s not just like gratuitous violence or whatever. . . . And it’s also always funny.” I found the discussion of whether the blood would show in the carpet after each killing hysterical.
And finally, there’s the old chestnut nod to how smart kids are today. And, by extension, how dumb their parents are.
“We know that teens are smart and they get it,” Eagan says during a phone interview.
I’d love to believe that. I’d love to know that kids are so smart that they always understand satire. But parents of teenagers know one thing: Their incredibly smart, able kids are also capable of being stupid and clueless.
Do I think that kids reading this book are at risk of becoming serial killers? Not really. The real problem is that the idea of kids killing other kids over trivial matters isn’t all that unbelievable.
At Bowie State University last month, a 19-year-old allegedly stabbed her 18-year-old roommate to death because the volume on her iPod was too loud.
When that’s the real world our children live in, why would we want them reading fiction that glorifies violence and, perhaps, cleaves far closer to reality than it ever intended?