Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl series (Little, Brown) first hit the YA book scene in 2001, touted as fun chick lit for the younger set—Sex and the City for teens. Readers were soon clamoring for the novels in which anonymous gossip columnist/narrator Gossip Girl, aka GG, follows the living-large exploits of wealthy teenage Manhattanite Blair Waldorf and her friends. Not surprisingly, some parents and gatekeepers weren’t too keen on the chronicles of Blair and company, because they often included sex, drug and alcohol use, and salty language.
Now Blair and her friends are graduating, marking the conclusion of the original series. But it won’t be the end of Gossip Girl, or presumably, the controversy surrounding it. With a hardcover prequel scheduled for October, a new Gossip Girl series set in a different high school starting next spring and prospects for a Gossip Girl TV series, the franchise is poised to attract a new generation of fans and perhaps even more detractors.
Regardless of what some adults think of it, GG’s seemingly irresistible brand of small talk with a sexy backdrop has equaled big business. The 11th Gossip Girl title, Don’t You Forget About Me, hit bookstores (and the New YorkTimes bestseller list) in April with an initial run of 300,000, bringing the total series tally to over 4.5 million copies in print, according to publisher Little, Brown. Gossip Girl has spawned one spin-off to date, the It Girl series, and has inspired other series with a similar feel, including The Clique and The A-List, both published by Little, Brown.
As the books have grown in popularity, however, so have some of the concerns about them. The Gossip Girl series ranked #2 on the American Library Association’s 2006 list of the 10 most challenged books of the year. It’s the classic paradox: books that kids want to read are not always books that adults want them to be reading.
“Personally, I love them,” said Danielle Dreger, a young adult librarian at Boston Public Library about the books. “I’m all in favor of having them in the collection and I recommend them to girls who want something light and fluffy that they can read in an afternoon.” But Dreger’s wholehearted endorsement does have a boundary. “I wouldn’t suggest these to someone younger than a freshman in high school,” she said. “At that point, they have already been exposed, to some extent, to much of what goes on in the books.”
Cecily von Ziegesar.
Booksellers are often on the fence about handselling Gossip Girl because of content issues. “I have mixed feelings about the books,” said Joan Dundon, children’s coordinator at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill. “But I’m one from the 'let them read cereal boxes’ school.”
Cindy Eagan, editorial director for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, employs a similar philosophy when she counters objections to the series she edits. “Teenagers who weren’t reading before are devouring these books,” she said. But, she noted, some of the appeal of Gossip Girl may also come from a slightly more serious place. “Cecily is being responsible and honest in these books because she is writing about what she saw all around her in that environment,” she said. “Teenagers are growing up in a confusing world today where there is such a strong focus on celebrities and their lifestyles. I really think these books can help them make some sense of that.”
The latest GG installment finds Blair’s privileged clique at the end of the summer following their senior year. But it’s not really the end. On October 2, readers will get a peek at what Blair, Serena and Nate—the three sides of the pivotal romantic triangle in the series—were up to as high school sophomores. This prequel is the first Gossip Girl book to be published in hardcover. “Cecily had all these ideas about how the characters met and wanted to put them into a long, epic novel,” Eagan noted.
The fall prequel.
Autumn may hold additional excitement for GG fans as well. The prospects for a Gossip Girl series landing on the CW network’s schedule this fall are good; Josh Schwartz, creator of The O.C., recently shot a pilot for the proposed hour-long GG drama in New York, starring Leighton Meester (Surface) as Blair and Blake Lively (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) as Serena Van Der Woodsen. Stephanie Savage, an executive producer from The O.C., and Leslie Morgenstein and Bob Levy of Alloy Entertainment are all on board as executive producers. The network plans to announce its decision on the program by the end of this month. [Ed. note: The show was added to the CW's fall schedule on May 17.]
But even if the show doesn’t go on, the Gossip Girl books will. Beginning in spring 2008, GG sets her sights and site on the Carlyle triplets—Owen, Peyton and Baby—who attend a “regular” high school in New York City, in a new line of Gossip Girl novels. Little, Brown has already signed four books.
Eagan says these forthcoming print projects will maintain the same narrative style, spirit and design of their predecessors. Of course, the new GG class fittingly has a six-degrees-of separation type link to the Waldorf family, and kicks things off by taking up residence in Blair’s freshly vacated Manhattan penthouse. All the better to ease the transition for longtime fans, and simultaneously hook the next generation of readers.