Happy Indie-pendence Day! Celebrate with a Free Book!

I’m celebrating the fabulousness of indie and small press books today along with the folks at The Indelibles’ blog.

Image  One indie YA worth checking out is IRENE ROSE’S CHARCOAL AND HOT CHOCOLATE 

  Image because it features the awesome couple you are about to meet below.  But first, a little about the book itself

College life is a breath of fresh air for 20 year old Ellie Baylor, a painfully shy but beautiful art major. She has her canvas and charcoal and that’s more than enough. Her choice to go to school far from home and the watchful eye of her strict parents seems like the perfect thing for smooth sailing into an easy life. But when River Daniels, a charming artist with eyes the color of hot chocolate, asks her to join him in a project for class, Ellie may get more than just an A. She might find out how to live.

So let’s meet Ellie and River.  I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with them recently, and here is what they had to say about life, love, and art:

(1) It’s always exciting to meet a young couple in love –and it took you guys long enough! What do you think was holding you back?

 Ellie – Well, for me, it was my parents. I mean, I was what you might call “sheltered.”
River – “Sheltered?” Understatement of the year.
Ellie- Oh hush. I’m not that sheltered.
River- Okay. (laughs) I just had to convince this beautiful girl that she could let me love her. (kisses Ellie)
Ellie- You’re pretty sweet. And a little cheesy. But yeah, I just had to come into my own. River helped me get there without losing me. I became me, I guess.

(2) Would you say you’re able to express some of your feelings better through your art than your words?

Ellie and River- Art. (both laugh)
River- Go ahead.
Ellie- For me, definitely art. I don’t have to talk then.
River- My canvas is definitely a place I’m not shy or awkward. I can get my point across without having to worry about saying the wrong thing in the wrong way.
Ellie- Damn. That was a good answer. What he said.

(3) How is your art similar to or different from one another’s?

Ellie- Um, I definitely am a hybrid. My drawings usually mean one thing much have real shapes in them. Realistic impressionism I guess you’d call it.
River- You made that up. There’s no such thing.
Ellie – I’m an artist. We create.
(both laugh and River kisses Ellie’s cheek)
River- First, she’s a drawer, I’m a painter as far as favorite medium. But yeah, I like to put the impression of something there. Ellie is much more literal with hidden meaning in her art.

(4) What drew you to each other? (Pun unintended!)

River- (blushes) Ellie is very attractive. (nervous laugh) But she was so quiet and shy but then she had this artwork that screamed at you. I had to unravel the mystery that was Ellie Baylor. Then once I got to know her, everything I found out about her made me fall in love with her. She’s bright, funny, a little weird about the 90’s TV and 80’s movies, but you know- quirks.
Ellie- Okay, Kerouac. I swear. You should see his copy of On The Road. Literally taped together, notes in the margins, highlighted. It’s ridiculous. And he works in a bookstore. They have new copies, you know?
(both laugh)
Ellie – I noticed River right away. He’s…well, look at him. (River blushes) But he’s so talented and nice. There was no way I could say no when he asked me to do the project with him. And he was always there for me. He’s genuine and I love that about him. He accepted my friends and my difficult family. And his family is great too.

(5) Do you guys have a song (as in “they’re playing our song”)?

Ellie- The song I think of when I think of River is “Ice Cream” by Sarah McLachlan.
River- See? 90’s.
Ellie- It’s just such a perfect representation of my feelings. I love him more than my favorite things even though where I’m at is chaos.
River – When I think of Ellie I think of “Home” by Phillip Phillips. That’s it in a nutshell.
Ellie- But do we have a song?
River – The theme from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
(both laugh)
Ellie- I was thinking “If You Leave”.
River- From Pretty in Pink? No way. No 80’s movie anthems. (laughs)
Ellie- “Kissing you” from R&J then.
River (kisses Ellie) That works for me.

Awwwwww.  These two are almost too cute together.  See how they finally got that way by entering to WIN A FREE E-COPY! Leave a comment below about why this book sounds awesome OR an artist you could see yourself crushin’ on (Dali! That mustache!) You have until July 10 to enter.

But if you can’t wait that long — and I don’t blame you — you can buy Charcoal and Hot Chocolate on Goodreads, at Amazon, and on your Nook. Also at Kobo!  And you can meet Irene Rose (aka Angi Black) on Twitter.

Grab a copy and check out the fireworks within!  Happy Indiependence Day and happy reading!


New Blog

If you’re looking for my blog, it’s moved to World’s Oldest Fledgling at http://www.tumblr.com/blog/stephaniewardrop

Bumped and Thumped: Commodifiying Teen Pregnancy

Megan MacCafferty, popular author of the Jessica Darling series, released two books this April*about a not-so-distant future America in which a worldwide virus has wiped out most of the population’s fertility by the time they’re eighteen years old.  This makes fecund adolescents a hot commodity and provides the source of the books’ satire.

McCafferty’s heroines are Melody and Harmony, identical twins separated at birth and living vastly separate lives. Harmony lives in Goodside, a fundamentalist Christian community with Amish and Hutterite overtones, where she has been just married to Ram — after years of spinsterhood, at age sixteen, she was considered a failure at her duty as a female, marrying and producing children.  She was taught by her adoptive Ma to live for “JOY: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself third.”  She “has God” and lives an irreproachable life, except for the secret non-consummation of her marriage, but she wants to find her sister, and so runs on the day after her wedding night to Otherside, where Melody lives the life of an upscale Surrogette who has been hired out to a couple to produce their baby with a Reprofessional.  She’s been raised by her adoptive parents to be perfect surrogate material — she’s Princeton Academy educated, athletic, attractive, accomplished — and when she scores the hottest Repro around, Jondoe, her status as teen queen is set.  Nevermind that she doesn’t really want to “bump” with Jondoe (get it? He’s a John Doe, but in this world, sperm donors are celebrities, and Jondoe appears to be as big a “fame gamer” as any).  Or that she would sort of like to bump her best friend, Zen, who is smart, cute, funny, and principled but too short to make it as a Repro– bumping with him is not an option according to the rules of Melody’s world.  For teen in her world, relationship are about sex, and sex is about procreation (for fame and/ or money),  so it’s not only recreational sex that is out of the question — love is, too.  Until a twin switcheroo puts Harmony in Melody’s place and Jondoe falls for her.  The first novel ends with Harmony running back to Goodside, ashamed of her attraction to Jondoe and convinced he’s just used her to get the job done, while Jondoe pleads with Melody to help him find Harmony and his unborn child.

Thumped begins with Harmony cutting off her braid in defiance of her order and about to give birth to twins that she and Ram will pass off as their own (as we discover, Ram’s been hiding a secret himself).  But when she’s about to be excommunicated and have her twin girls taken from her, she runs to Melody in Otherside. Melody has been sporting a realistic “fun bump” (even better than the preteens wear to pretend to be  “preg”) and shilling all sorts of products as the hottest of the Hotties, the season’s number one preg teens as she secretly plans to support Zen’s plan for revolution.  As the deceptions get sorted out, often quite humorously, McCafferty shows an America which has gone from commodifying sex while simultaneously commodifying abstinence (see the purity movement and their rings) to commodifying the thing that liberals and conservatives fear alike:  teen pregnancy.  Harmony, Melody, and Jondoe come to recognize how they have been exploited by a system (including their parents and teachers) that sees them more as breeders in some nationwide human  puppy mill than as individuals, as kids.  It’s a disturbing premise to be sure, and McCafferty presents it in a satirical way that does not detract from the seriousness of her critique.  She captures the language of this world so well as it morphs from its origins in corporate product speak to teen slang but maintains the same focus on the hyper-importance of products, whether  they’re ProPreg Bars or uteruses or fetuses.  Everything and everyone can be bought and sold here to support a seemingly wholesome ideology of serving God or the nation —  and it’s not hard to find parallels in our real world to the one Melody and Harmony try to escape.

*Bumped was re-released in April, actually.

I’ll follow you into the dark

This week’s trending topic in YA lit responds to Meghan Cox Gurdon’s “Darkness Too Visble”, an article in the Wall Street Journal that questions why it is “considered a good idea” that “contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity.”  And while I may not add anything new to the discussion, as a writer, academic, and mom I feel I have to weigh in.

Gurdon begins her essay with the story of Amy Freeman, who left the store empty-handed when she was confronted by shelf after shelf of “lurid and dramatic covers” at her local Barnes and Noble.  “`It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff'” she is quoted as saying, and Gurdon warns her readers that while we may foolishly think the YA we read as teens was dark, we were coddled by the literary equivalent of warm milk and a baby blanket compared to what’s out there today.  (And before I will get into the argument for and against this position, I would just like to say that if Ms. Freeman and others are wondering why so many dark books are featured at Barnes and Noble,here’s the answer:  that’s what Barnes and Noble buys. And as I have explained in previous posts, there is not a simple correlation between what B&N buys and what the public wants, so we can’t just say these books are in the stores and in publishing queues because that’s all the public will read).

I first reacted to this article by thinking Gurdon reminded me a lot of Marge Simpson, who advised her thoughtful, troubled daughter Lisa to smile even if she were feeling sad, because that’s how everyone can tell what a good mother you have.  Marge may not be the most enlightened parent, but like most of us, she wants what’s best for her children, and she thinks protecting them from the dark realities of the world as long as possible is a good step in that direction.  No doubt Gurdon and Freeman feel the same, and who can blame them?  We can respond to the ugliness of the world, a world in which “kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings” occur just as in YA lit, by either pretending it does not exist and shielding our children from this grim reality.  Or we can acknowledge it and try to change it even as we equip our kids to deal with it.    

But Gurdon is not simply concerned about reality and protection; she makes a much more disturbing argument, I think, when she declares that reading such dark material “has to do with a child’s happiness, moral development, and tenderness of heart” and that what’s at stake here is “entertainment” that “does not merely gratify taste . . . but creates it.”  The “calculus”, as she puts it, seems to work like this:  A teen reads about vampires and violence and doesn’t necessarily want to run right out and be a vampire or commit mayhem, but s/he does develop a taste for books about vampirism and mayhem.  And any time you start arguing about — or worse, dictating — taste, you get into a dangerous area, rife with prejudice and elitism, certainly, at the very least, with subjectivity.

She attempts to historicize the YA genre, saying it was invented in 1967 by S.E. Hinton and grew in the late 1960s and 1970s, “mirroring the tumultuous times.”  I remember spending much of those tumultuous times in the children’s section of the Reading Public Library, where I witnessed a grey-haired, dainty librarian, who always sort of scared me, practically grab a book from a young adolescent’s hand and forbid her to read it, raging that it was “too bold”.  (The book was called Leo the Lioness.  I still remember the title and cover because I was intrigued, but too cowed to read it, I guess).  It was hard in those days to bridge the gap between children’s books and adult ones.  I thank God for Richard Peck and Judy Blume who showed me a world I could relate to, as opposed to the worlds presented by writers like Alexander Dumas, whose The Count of Monte Cristo we were assigned in 8th grade.  I think I am the only one in the class who actually read it  and if anyone out there from the Exeter Twp. Senior High School Class of 1983 wants to set me straight on that score, I’d appreciate it, because when I found out no one else read it I felt like the biggest dork. And feeling like a dork was a big  thing back then.  I’m not saying that Dumas has nothing to say.  Of course he does.  But he didn’t help me with the issues I dealt with everyday the way Blume and Peck did.  Reading about what kids did in those books did not make me want to run right out and do what they did.  Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret made me wonder why so many girls were dying to get their periods, but helped me understand that some saw this as a major marker in their lives, and  another whose title escapes me helped me understand why sometimes boys would awkwardly carry their books in front of their crotches.  Go Ask Alice, which Gurdon cites, certainly did not make me want to run off to San Francisco and take drugs and be raped by a jewelry shop owner’s creepy boyfriend.  In fact, it showed me that if you do drugs or get drunk, you get incapacitated and bad things can happen to you.  It also cured me of some of my generation’s romanticization of hippie culture.  These were entertaining reads and they taught me valuable lessons.  And when I read about troubled adolescents, in books like I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, I saw a spectrum of mental illness that put my own depression in perspective.  To read about a girl who suffered from some of the same emotional issues as me did NOT make want to follow suit. It did not “normalize pathology”, as Gurdon warns.

And this is where her argument gets ugly for me.  She looks back on Judy Blume’s young lovers in Forever as “losing their virginity in scenes of earnest practicality”, so teen sex in and of itself is not pathological or vulgar to her.  But Lauren Myracle*, whom Gurdon scathingly notes was hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “`this generation’s Judy Blume'” is “grotesque” for telling a story of meth use, the savage almost-murder of a gay young man, sexual assault, and “`bag hags'”, “heterosexuals who engage in gay sex for drugs.”  While acknowledging that Myracle’s work is “not unusually profane”, Gurdon laments that any adult objecting to depictions such as these will be shunned; “let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks `censorship’!” she wails.

Do the characters and practices in Myracle’s book have real-life counterparts?  Yes.  Should all kids be reading about it?  That depends on their age and maturity level — and that is exactly what makes the issue of monitoring YA books so complicated, because it is up to individuals, parents and readers, to decide what is acceptable.  And if we decide that kids should not read about rape, or violence, or murder, or drug addiction, or cutting, or anything else that’s  unseemly because we believe these are not  the real problems of most “real” kids, that is somewhat erroneous and certainly places those kids who do deal with these issues in the category of being not real, or not worth acknowledging as such.

Myracle’s series of books in textspeak (TYTL, TTFN, and L8R G8R  ) have earned a lot of flak from angry parents, one of whom referred to her as “Satan”.   They are ingenious in their use of texting as both a frame and a language for the story and present real characters engaged in real discussions about the things that are of real importance to them.  When I read the first one, I’ll admit to being a little shocked by the reference to female ejaculation in the first pages.  Will I recommend it to my eleven-year-old?  No.  But she loves the Love Ya Bunches and Twelve series.  And if she reads TTYL and gets to that part in a few years, I hope she’ll ask me about it, much as I cringe at the thought of having to explain it.  Because as so many people have said so many times before, it’s not like these kids aren’t getting sex and depravity and profanity everywhere else.  Gurdon is right to note that the language in media and YA novels has taken a turn toward  the profane. But if such language is disturbing to adults, I don’t think it is to kids.  And maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe it’s okay that so-called “bad words” have lost their shock value.  Kids know not to use them in most social situations.  But they also know an F-bomb is not destructive if no one notices or cares that it’s been dropped.

As everyone knows, we live in a media-drenched world.  Right now any kid flipping through the cable channels will see discussions about Congressman Weiner’s weiner and whether he texted a photo of it (encased in tighty whities) to a girl with a Twitter account.  They’ll see communities devastated by tornadoes and talk shows in which people loudly reveal the sorts of things no one would have admitted in private let alone shouted from a public forum.  Is it right, is it good, is it healthy?  Probably not.  But I would argue that YA writers deal with these issues in much more sophisticated and sensitive forms.  They provide a space where a younger reader can examine these issues vicariously, and maybe find a way to deal with it in the real world, as so many readers of Laurie Halse Anderson’s books like Speak and Wintergirls can attest.

This is why I think Suzanne Collins’ “hyper-violent, best-selling Hunger Games trilogy” is wonderful, and maybe even necessary.  It’s a dystopian look at a world that is not that far removed from ours.  It’s a response to reality tv and a growing class divide, one couched in a page-turner of a story that might make readers question how far removed shows like Fear Factor and Survivor are from televising human hunting parties in which only one teen can survive. Or how far-fetched it would be to imagine a world in which the few rich people in the nation see everyone else as their minions to toy with until they cease to entertain.  We watch Charlie Sheen rant about being a warlock and find that entertaining without once thinking, “Someone should get that guy to a hospital.”  We watch women compete for the privilege of receiving televised liposuction and nose jobs so they will be worthy of marrying someone.  Now, that’s dark.

In a tweet response to the WSJ, Libba Bray says it all so much better than I do:

Books are, at their heart, dangerous. Yes, dangerous.

Because they challenge us: our prejudices, our blind spots.

They open us to new ideas, new ways of seeing. They make

us hurt in all the right ways. They can push down the

barricades of “them” & widen the circle of “us”.  And when

one feels alone–say, because of a terrible burden of a

secret, something that creates pain and isolation, books

can heal, connect. That’s what good books do. That’s what

hard books do. And we need them in the world.”

  • maybe it all started here.
    For a good timeline of “edgy” teen books, check out  the site for the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, The School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison
* Full disclosure:  I had the pleasure of teaching with Lauren Myracle at Colorado State University and she is a lovely person. There is nothing satanic about her at all.

Marketing. Period.

A week ago, as the mom of a tween girl,  I got some information in the mail from Kotex announcing their new line of sanitary pads (nice euphemism) for tweens.  I found no coupon as expected, so I was a little confused.  But rather than provide a discount on their products, the folks at Kotex were offering to help me “prepare for the talk” and letting me know that the average age for girls experiencing their first menstrual period (or menarche) has dropped dramatically in recent years, hitting some as early as at the age of eight.

I reacted, briefly, with the horror intended.  How do you talk to a second grader about this?  How do you tell her to put down the Fairy Secret Barbie and listen to you tell her about the many years of cramps and bleeding that lie ahead of her — without freaking her out?  Kotex is there to help and suggests planning a day for the talk and maybe also doing something girly to commemorate it, like a day of mani-pedis and then shopping for Kotex’s new line of tween pads!  The three moms on the online video, sponsored by Kotex and Disney, offer lots of other suggestions and stress the importance in no uncertain terms of having the talk (and, presumably, some Kotex pads in the bathroom cabinet) .  If your daughter’s hit the age of eight, ladies, she’s ready to blow.  And until Mattel introduces Menstrual Barbie, it’s up to you to get her through this.

This corporate suggestion is at least somewhat admirable.  Since the days after the female camaraderie of the Red Tent, women have absorbed the idea through various cultural and patriarchal messages that their periods make them unclean, dangerous, and, at best, are just plain icky.  Whether it’s the Curse, Your Monthly Friend, or the Visit from Aunt Flow, it’s not something most women look forward to, and the idea of explaining this entry into womanhood to our daughters is quite daunting.  (Mine looked at me in disbelief.  It seemed like too raw a deal for her to be true, despite my best efforts to make it seem empowering and affirming).

So the good people at Kotex have found a way to make your first period fun, the KotexU tween maxi pad, with a smaller fit, “designed with flair”.  These pads, as you can see, sport stars and hearts on their traditional white exterior and the wrappers come in fun colors!  The stars are outlined in blue and the hearts in purple.  

I don’t know if they change color like the straws at Friendly’s when they contact fluids, but certainly a red hue added by said fluid to the stars will create a patriotic tableau, of sorts,  as your tween moves proudly from all American girl to all American woman.  But do the purple hearts mark them as casualties of patriarchy?

While Kotex’s website emphasizes the earliest age on the scale of menarche onset — one of the moms in the video has a menstruating eight-year-old, and I don’t doubt that — it also acknowledges that that range  actually covers the ages of nine to sixteen.  I have heard, as many people have, that periods are coming earlier due to chemicals in our environment and bovine growth hormones in milk.  There’s a bit of a mild panic about “precocious puberty”, which Paul B. Kaplowitz and Stephen Kemp, writing for Medscape Reference at emedicine.medscape.com, define as the “appearance of physical and hormonal signs of pubertal development at an earlier age than is considered normal.”

But  my search for statistics or studies about menarche hitting early elementary school girls didn’t reveal much evidence of this.  According to the sociology site http://www.thesocietypages.org, the average age of menarche is slightly over twelve, and womenshealth.gov agrees that twelve is far more typical than eight for the onset of menstruation.  An article on the site for the National Center for Biotechnology and the National Library of Medicine , written by two researchers at Johns Hopkins, also finds menarche occurring most commonly between girls aged twelve to thirteen.  And in 1982, the New England Journal of Medicine noted the “secular trend of earlier age of menarche”, but it did not present that age as earlier than twelve.

So is this just a  ploy on the part of Kotex, grabbing for a market that may be developing, trying to get brand loyalty for their products as early as possible? That’s quite likely, though there is laudable information on their website concerning information for girls and their moms about the physical changes of puberty and a discussion site about “Demystifying Unhealthy Media Messages” for girls.

I’m not sure how many girls are going to jump on this bandwagon, though.  My daughter thought fancy pads are pretty silly, especially when you consider what will happen to them.  Maybe younger girls will be attracted to the funky designs and start wishing they were menstruating even earlier than Judy Blume’s Margaret (Are you there God?  It’s Me, Kotex).  Talking honestly about how our bodies change as we grow is obviously a good thing. However, marketing products like this to mark those changes commodifies them in ways that I can’t imagine are good at all.

Image of Trotula of Salerno, who wrote a medieval medical guide for women

The Tweening of America, or The Week Justin and Jonas Hijacked Grownup TV

I  thought it was just us, at first.  I thought that my husband and I were unique in totally surrendering our entertainment choices to our children. It happened little by little.  Instead of hearing NPR or the Clash when I’d start up my car, Raffi or Elmopalooza would blast out of the speakers.  I learned that I prefer starting my day with Sesame Street, in a happy multiculti world where everyone gets along with one another and can count to five in several languages, rather than watching the depressing reports on the news, and I grew to like PBS kids shows like Arthur even more than my kids did.

But soon kid entertainment became my entertainment.  Any punk /rock cred I may have ever had is gone; the last concerts I’ve seen were Laurie Berkner and the Jonas Brothers.  The last movies I’ve seen in an actual theater and not through the magical confluence of Netflix and Wii were Despicable Me and Megamind, and I have a date with my son to see Rango when it comes out because the only way I can get any Johnny Depp in my life is to hear his voice come out of an animated chameleon — at least until Pirates 4 comes out this May.  I knew when I had kids I would not spend my Saturday nights out in bars or clubs or smart restaurants.  But I didn’t know I would spend them watching  iCarly or True Jackson, VP (two funny shows, actually) or, worse still, Big Time Rush, and then collapse into bed exhausted or, maybe, stultified.  (At least I still have a grown up vocabulary).

And it turns out it’s not just me, because other parents have admitted to the same devolution of their entertainment (devolution? remember Devo and Mark Mothersbaugh?  He now scores lots of kids’ shows and appears drawing funky things on a whiteboard on Yo Gabba Gabba). And this week, the teenage dreams came for the shows we grownups hold as a beachhead of sorts against the tweening of America:  Justin Bieber returned to CSI and Nick Jonas appeared as a narcissistic brat rocker on the new Matthew Perry vehicle, Mr. Sunshine.

Now, I don’t  really think the tweens are taking over and preparing to hold the whole world hostage, binding us tightly by silly bands, for two reasons:

First, most parents of tweens probably didn’t let their kids watch CSI last night and both CSI and Sunshine are on after 9:00, when most tweens are or should be in bed.   (Guilty admission:  my daughter likes The Office and it’s acceptable enough family fare for me to skip the bedtime battles with her brother and let them both stay up on a Thursday night to see what “that weird looking guy”, Dwight Schrute, is going to do.)  Because while Nick and other 24/7 kid networks solved the problem of what kids can watch after 5PM, there’s still a lack of things kids and adults can watch together, with the exception of those optimistically-named talent shows like American Idol and Live to Dance (I watched the latter and was torn between rooting for Kendall and the brilliant and comical tangoing pair of DeAngelo and Amanda).  Such shows have proliferated for this reason of shareable viewing, I think — the only other alternative is Wipeout, if you have a high tolerance for watching adults in wetsuits being pummeled by padded rotating paddles or jettisoned by machines with names like the Ball Buster.  My seven-year-old loves it, but if it weren’t for the commentary of John “Skunkboy” Henson from Talk Soup I’d be wishing the show’s Strike Zone would take me out, or at least strike me insensible.

And second, the tween stars’ appearances  on these shows mark, more likely, their bid for respectability as serious multi-talented performers, or they provide a means for them to invite those fans at the top of the age demographic to join them in the next phase of their careers —  though I doubt that Justin Bieber is going to be the next Ray Liotta when it comes to playing charming psychos.*

The first inkling  this sweeps week that the networks were going to leave it to Bieber occurred on Tuesday on Glee, a family-hour show that is not really family-hour fare, as I’ve discussed in earlier posts.  Bieber did not grace the halls of William McKinley High with his adorable golden mop of hair, but the similarly blond and mop-topped Sam (Chord Overstreet) made a bid to win back the heart of Quinn (Dianna Agron) by donning a purple hoodie and singing “Baby” to her.  The girls loved it so much the other males in Glee Club, except Finn (Corey Monteith), wanted in, and the Justin Bieber Experience was born.  (Puck even covered his Mohawk with floppy bangs attached to his hoodie).  Even though they didn’t want to like him, or even acknowledge him, the men of the glee club were forced to recognize that Bieber is a force of nature that no girl can resist.  The tunes are just too catchy, the hair too perfect, the smile just too adorable.

On Wednesday, at the request of Matthew Perry**, Nick Jonas played a teen rock star with an enormous sense of entitlement and the show took a shot at the Biebs by making the jerk teen rock star’s hit song “Baby No Baby.”  (Check out a clip at  http://perezhilton.com/2011-02-17-nick-jonas-on-mr-sunshine-abc .) Perez thinks Nick “shines”, and Nick does put his sourpuss expression to good use here as a brat who boasts “`I cancelled a concert in Toronto once because they couldn’t find me a spicy enough crabroll.  And I hate seafood.”  Lines like that and “`Here’s the problem:  I wasn’t parented well and I’m very rich and that’s a brutal combination'” can make even a novice actor look great, as long as he delivers them right, and Nick’s got experience in the  Theat-uh (Les Mis), so it works.  Next month, tweens can decide if he’s a better actor than his brother, Joe, as they duke it out at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards for Best  Actor (against the the Sprouse twins, Dylan and Cole). While Disney dropped Jonas LA, despite its being in the Top 5 programs in the tween (9-14) demographic, Joe Jonas also hit the sitcom circuit back in August as the son of Valerie Bertinelli’s character on TVLand’s Hot in Cleveland.  This show made fun of Justin Bieber, as well, making me wonder why these Jonas guys are so anxious  — Joe’s character corrects Betty White’s for thinking Bieber is a girl, but Betty remains skeptical (“They keep saying it, but I’m not buying it.”)***  You can watch dueling clips of the boys and vote on your fave JoBro’s acting skills at http://www.buddytv.com/articles/remote-patrol/joe-vs-nick-which-jonas-is-the39418.aspx if you can’t wait til March 1 to vote on nick.com/kca.

Finally, on Thursday, there was Bieber himself, back on CSI as troubled teen Jason McCann, out to avenge his brother’s death that occurred in the season opener.  He played a member of a radical group accused of bombing a police funeral in both episodes, with an airtime of two minutes in the premiere expanded to four or five minutes in last night’s episode.  As has been widely reported, the Biebs’ character goes out in a hail of bullets, but both before and after, his hair remains perfect and the bruise on his cheek does little to mar his adorability– it looks more like some inexperienced makeup artist applied too much blush and chose a shade  too dark.

So while it may make you scream like Bieber below, the tween stars are ready to make their mark on “grownup” pop culture.  Miley’s finished filming  a movie in which she plays an FBI agent (who goes undercover in a sorority house) and her (former) Disney cohorts are making their own forays into the mainstream.  Funny or Die’s “F-Bomb of the Week”  featured Joe Jonas, and while he didn’t literally drop the F-bomb, the other actors did (as well as the word “bitch”, though Joe warned them not to go there with a cautionary, “Dude!”).  Joe looked abnormally scruffy in this video he uploaded as part of his bid to be a comic star, and this more masculine, more adult scruffiness seems to be the wave of the future, marking the end of squeaky clean and the beginning of something a little more grownup.  (After all, Justin Bieber’s girlfriend, Disney wizard Selena Gomez, has reportedly taken off the purity ring).  I’m not sure yet who the new, more mature heartthrobs will appeal to, so stayed tuned. We may have no other choice.

* According to Marc Malkin’s blog on today.msnbc.msn.com, Bieber’s costar George Eads called the Biebs a “cool kid” but noted that “he has a lot to learn” about acting, even though he was “fine for what he was doing there. . . It’s CSI. It’s four or five lines, it’s not a Rubik’s cube.”

** TV Guide‘s website reports that Nick got the call from Perry while on tour.  He “`walked back into the bus and . . . [his] brothers were like “What happened to Matthew Perry?” They thought he had died, and [Nick] was like, “No, much better than that. He asked me to do the show.”‘”

***Reportedly, Joe found “`watching Betty knit. . . just so adorable'”, according to MTV.com, and if Joe had to be a Golden Girl, he’d be Rose, though he seemed a little insulted by the question (not to mention unfamiliar with the show).

Mastertween Theatre: Nick’s House of Anubis

Nickelodeon’s House of Anubis is on hiatus this week, so I thought I’d get in a quick post about a series that has captivated many of the fifth-grade girls I know*.  Based on a Dutch-Belgian series (Het Huis Anubis), House tells the story of an American girl named Nina Martin who begins classes at a British boarding school and stumbles into a mystery surrounding treasures from King Tut’s tomb that may be hidden in the students’ dorm house  that involves possible mummies’ curses, kidnappings, sacrifices, and an elixir of life that prevents people from aging.  It’s the first Nick offering filmed outside the US , made in Liverpool during the summer of 2010, and provides American Nicksters with a good Brit-based soap/thriller, a sort of Masterpiece Theatre lite.  Like most Euro shows, its episodes come in 11-minute installments, and Nick has been showing two back-to-back, usually five nights a week.  This week, they’re letting the tension build as we wait to discover how Nina and her cohorts will solve the mystery after the only person who could help them has passed away.

The theme song gives us our first clue that this is not going to be a scare fest.  There’s no weirdo Dr.Who-style music or some kind of bizarro take on Egyptian sounds — just an upbeat tune that tells us we’re in for more of a romp than an exploration of the dark side.  (Perhaps the conspiracy theorists at vigilantcitizen.com should have waited to the hear the theme, if not to watch the show itself, before declaring it a dangerous means of luring impressionable American tweens into the world of the Illuminati that presents an “evil agenda” and represents “an abomination in the Lord’s eyes.”)

The show focuses on the eight students who live in Anubis House and offers realistic teen delights and dilemmas alongside the mystery — in fact, several of the students are not even aware that there is anything creepy going on in the basement of Anubis House (weird pseudo-Egyptian rituals with people in cloaks and dog masks?  Quite possibly. We’re waiting to see).  Mick, for instance, just wants to survive academics long enough to embark on a sports career, Mara wants to be liked (especially by Mick) as more than the house brainiac, Alfie is obsessed with aliens, and Patricia, at first, just wants to know why her friend Joy suddenly left school.  The first two to catch on to the mystery are Nina and Fabian and are encouraged by the addled Emily from the local nursing home, who turns out to be Sarah Frobisher-Smyth, the daughter of two of those involved with the opening of King Tut’s tomb.  When her parents died (presumably of the curse associated with the opening of the tomb), Sarah came to live in the home that became Anubis House, along with a slightly sinister young boy named Victor Roddenmeyer, who is now the housemaster for the students.  But why does he look as young as he did in the Twenties, while Sarah has aged?  Victor’s a malevolent sort, to be sure, and not just because he makes the kids go to bed at ten — he just may kill and preserve stray cats and seems to be the master of spooky ceremonies in the basement held with other faculty members like the headmaster, Mr. Sweet, and an English teacher, Ms. Andrews.

Francis Magee, well known to Brit TV watchers for his role on the long-running soap Eastenders, makes a wonderfully creepy Victor.  As many viewers have pointed out on message boards about the show, not all the actors on House are as convincing in their roles. Nathalia Ramos, who played teen model Dakota North on True Jackson, VP,  is rather wooden as Nina and as Patricia, Jade Ramsay seems to be working under the assumption that if she says everything really loudly and with great emphasis, it will take on some kind of import. But Eugene Simon brings some spark to the snarky Jerome Clark, who seems aloof and even cold but just may reveal hidden depths of sensitivity if he can get over his parents’ abandoning him at school, and Brad Kavanagh’s Fabian Rutter is the sort of kind, supportive, low-key and handsome boyfriend many viewers would want for themselves.  While her character is a bit schizophrenic — typical blonde mean girl one episode, sweet ditzy friend in the next — Ana Mulvoy Ten’s Amber Millington is probably the most amusing character, and a favorite of the girls I know who watch the show.  She schemes to get Mick back from Mara, believing that someone as pretty as she is deserves a boyfriend who gives out as many gifts as Mick does, but she’s also somewhat helpful as the founder of the sleuths’ group “Sibuna” (Anubis backwards) and seems dead right that Victor has to be the head baddie because “he has such evil hair.” The odd kids out, at least at first, are the students of color, Mara Jaffray and Alfie Lewis, and many viewers can relate to the struggles to fit in and be accepted that lead them, at times, to allow others to take advantage of them.  Consequently, we’re  happy when the smart, reserved Mara ends up with two suitors (Jerome and Mick) but we hold little hope that Alfie will either win Amber’s heart or discover the aliens he is convinced have taken over his school.

Check out the trailer at http://www.nick.com/videos/clip/house-of-anubis-promo-N13071-01.html and catch House of Anubis next week, two episodes at 7 EST.  It’s fun, a decent mystery, and an excellent introduction to the breadth and variety of English accents.

*This blog has been on a sort of hiatus as well, not that anyone has noticed.  Since I started it in part to establish a "web presence" and provide a sort of "platform" for myself as a YA writer, I thought I ought to get back to a little YA writing myself.