Gossip Girl: The Battle Between Truth and Popularity.


von Ziegesar, Cecily. Gossip Girl: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown and Comapany, 2002.

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"Ever wondered what the lives of the chosen ones are really like? Well, I'm going to tell you because I'm one of them" (3).

Gossip Girl is the gossip-mongering writer for her blog gossipgirl.net, and she does exactly what she says - provide gossip on the private school teenagers of New York's Upper East side. The book, Gossip Girl, is the first in the series of books that follow the lives of a group of high school students living the life of the privileged New York social elite. They seem to have their lives and routine down, until a member of their group, Serena van der Woodsen, returns to their New York prep school after being kicked out of boarding school. Rumors fly, helped along by the blog postings of the mysterious Gossip Girl, about why Serena is back and why she got kicked out; (sex scandals, cults, babies, drugs, and venereal disease top this list). Meanwhile, Serena's best friend before she left, Blair Waldorf, is not happy to have Serena back in the spotlight. "At first when Serena had gone to boarding school after sophomore year, Blair had really missed her. But it soon became apparent how much easier it was to shine without Serena around" (21). The group must contend with jealousies, parties, rumors, reputations and affairs, not to mention the looming pressure of getting into college. Added to this mix are outsiders Jenny and Dan Humphrey who, although they each attend prep schools, do not come from quite the same socio-economic background as the others. Dan is content with his station in life, but the younger Jenny idolizes her socialite peers and desperately wants to be one of them. As the characters' lives intertwine and rumors fly, the plot thickens and the mysterious Gossip Girl does not suffer for lack of material.

Gossip Girl is driven more by character interactions and thoughts than by fast-paced plot. It engages reluctant readers (mainly female) who want to feel a connection with characters and be able to get into a book. The omniscient narrator gives the reader a variety of viewpoints and therefore, many opportunities to connect with and/or relate to characters. Every few chapters there is an excerpt from Gossip Girl's blog providing a point of view outside of those of the main characters. Ironically, because the characters are emotionally invested in the story they may be unreliable narrators due to bias, making Gossip Girl, who is a more unattached voice, a more reliable source. The book acts as both a window and a mirror. It provides readers with characters that they can relate to in some way or another, but also gives a glimpse of New York life that most readers have not, and will not experience. the issues the characters face, such as Jenny wanting to fit in, Blair's over-booked schedule to make herself look good to colleges (because "... the colleges aren't going to even look at you without any extracurriculars" (84)), and Nate's struggle over telling a potentially-harmful truth are things today's high school students face no matter what kind of school they attend or where they live.

Because Gossip Girl is part of a series of books (and now a television show), students may be more likely to continue reading the series to see what happens to the characters they have grown to understand or identify with. This could possibly encourage more reading amongst those who may have been reluctant before. However, because it is part of series, this first installment does not stand alone as well as other books do. It's shorter length (approximately 200 pages) makes the text more accessible to readers who may be reluctant to read a larger book, but it also makes it difficult for big character change to take place because there simply isn't time. As a single book, Gossip Girl is more like an episode of television show - some lose ends are wrapped up, but nothing really definitive happens. This may have the desired effect of enticing readers to continue on with the next book as they would the next episode of the show, so long as it does not turn readers off.

The Gossip Girl books have come under fire for their content regarding sex, alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and smoking which is not only found throughout the book, but is a dominant feature of it. Almost every character smokes (both cigarettes and marijuana), and drinks profusely. Their parents not only allow it but provide it, with the view that they, "Could drink whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, as long as they maintained their grades and their looks and didn't embarrass themselves or the family..." (6). Sex is one of the most talked-about topics, and many characters are experienced in it. However, despite the ideological attacks on the books the fact is, they are not telling students anything they haven't heard or seen before in television, movies, magazines, or books. Gossip Girl may glamorize these activities or make them seem more common place than they really are, but it also shows the bad that can come out of these same activities. In short, it is a realistic portrayal of a lifestyle von Ziegesar hopes to portray, aided no doubt by the fact that she lived that same life in high school.



Recommendations for Teachers
Gossip Girl may not be the best choice to teach due to questionable content and lack of appeal to males, but it is an excellent candidate to suggest for independent reading to high school students at the teachers discretion. Students will enjoy reading a book with both characters and situations they are familiar with or can relate to, but in a setting they can imagine and fantasize about. The book lends itself to discussions on point of view, issues facing students (eating disorders, alcohol abuse, sexual pressures, college worries, etc), and character. Following are some ideas for student activities.

Cast the Book - Which actors/actresses do students imagine playing the role of each character? Why did they pick that person? What traits does he or she have that they think corresponds to the character? Compare students' choices to the cast of the television show.

Change the "Gossip Girl" - Write the Gossip Girl blog in the perspective of one of the main characters. How would it change the blog? Students will have to recognize character biases and opinions and show how those would come out in writing the blog.

Comparative Study: Your life VS. Gossip Girl: Compare and contrast a normal school week and weekend from Blaire or Serena's perspective to your own. You could include pictures with your analysis. What's Similar? What's different? This might be interesting to see because even though some students may find Gossip Girl far removed from their own life, many of the same friend issues and pressures in school could be relatable.

Facebook Page: Draw out a facebook page for each character. Include their likes, dislikes, friends, enemies, and make reference to any personal problems that the character has alluded to or could posses.



About Cecily von Ziegesar

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Cecily von Ziegesar attended one of the private schools in Manhattan, New York, and many of the tales told in Gossip Girl have a ring of authenticity to her school days. After leaving school, von Ziegesar went to Colby College, a small, liberal arts college in Maine. After she left college, she spent a year working for a radio station in Budapest. She then returned to the US and studied creative writing at the University of Arizona. She went to live in London for a short while and worked for a publishing company. Upon returning to the US she moved to New York and started working for a book packaging firm which specialized in coming up with ideas for fictional series. It was while she was working there that she came up with the idea for the Gossip Girl. (Information courtesy gossip girl.co.uk ) (Photo courtesy of Observer.com).




Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Below are a few videos. The first two are videos of interviews done with the author Cecily von Ziegesar, the second of which is a video from when she was asked about her book being on the top ten most banned books list. She defends her books as being relavant to todays teens. The third is a trailer for the popular tv show "Gossip Girls" on CWTV.






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