InkWell reader J.K. alerts us to this article in the Arizona Republic (very easy registration requirement). The subject: Your teen or tween daughter’s recreational reading material. Reporter Heather Salerno writes:

“The latest novel by Cecily von Ziegesar opens something like this: Blair and Nate are naked in bed, smoking cigarettes and not caring that the open blinds in Nate’s luxurious New York City town house expose them to neighborhood Peeping Toms. The doorbell rings. Nate’s pothead friends have popped by, and soon the guys are doing bong hits on the roof.

“Von Ziegesar’s ‘Nobody Does It Better,’ the seventh installment in her best-selling ‘Gossip Girls’ series, seems like it should share shelf space with Jackie Collins and Danielle Steel. But her books can be found in the young-adult section, aimed at tweens and teens who are scooping up the often-racy adventures of von Ziegesar’s privileged, Prada-clad high schoolers….

“In many of today’s teen novels, boys and girls are blase about sleeping together. Drugs are part of the social scene, and kids party all night and still get into Ivy League universities. And, of course, they’re dressed in La Perla lingerie and Manolo Blahnik mules.”

Wow–that’s a long way from the material on the library’s Young Adults shelves when I was a kid. I started reading Young Adults stuff when I was 10, after I’d exhausted every single book on the children’s shelf at our local public-library branch. Back then, though, I didn’t have the opportunity to take in tales of rich adolescents doing dope clad in nothing but their Manolos. Instead, during pre-adolescence I devoured Maud Hart Lovelace’s beautifully written turn-of-the-century Betsy-Tacy series, in which the themes were more like: Would Betsy end up with Joe, her poor but brilliant aspiring-writer high school sweetheart, or would she fall for the glib class rich boy? Would she buckle down, do the research, and win the senior essay contest, or would she try to coast along on her verbal talent alone?

Apparently, however, says Salerno, such material is deemed too bland for today’s middle-schoolers:  

“The authors of these books defend their work, saying that today’s teens are too sophisticated to respond to a puritanical, preachy tone.”

“[Von Ziegesar], who is 35 and who has two small children of her own, says that few mothers have complained about her books’ naughtiness.

“‘They say, “I’m just thrilled that my daughter is reading,” she says. “I try not to think about my readers as 14-year-old girls. I don’t want to write down to them. I just want them to have something fun to read.'”

I love that “I’m just thrilled that my daughter is reading” excuse. Why not just just buy her a copy of “Hustler” and be done with it? And by the way, there’s nothing “puritanical” or “preachy” about the still-in-print Betsy-Tacy series, which richly evoke small-town Midwestern life. And Lovelace never shied away from economic reality: her novels featured boys forced to drop out of high school to help support their families and smart girls for whom college wasn’t an option because there was no money. Even when Betsy and Joe do marry in the very last novel in the series, the two talented but penniless young writers still have to figure out how to make a living. No one ever hands Betsy a pair of Pradas.