I recently received this letter on my Facebook page and thought it was worth addressing publicly in case any of you have had similar experiences. Also because it’s a great example of how to disagree with someone in a respectful, intelligent way.
Hello, my name is Judy. I am 19 year old college student studying Speech Language Pathology with a double minor in Linguistics and Psychology. When your Clique books were first released I was just starting middle school. Like the other 11 girls in my small, parochial grade school, I was an avid reader, constantly anticipating your next book release. However, I was also pale, skinny, middle class and shy–a combination that does not exactly get you many friends in an affluent, private school. Many of the pre-teen girls utilized the vocabulary used in your book. I was called an “Albino LBR” both to my face and behind my back. They also used many of the bullying tactics the characters in your book used on “Claire.” The worst one that I can still remember quite vividly to this day happened right after the release of your first book. “Inspired” by the red paint incident in your novel, girls purposely smeared ketchup all over my seat at lunch. While everyone knew it was ketchup, I was still absolutely devastated and remember running the bathroom and crying. However, I never confided in my parents regarding the abuse, especially my mother who suffered from severe depression for the bulk of my childhood. You might wonder- “Why is this former “LBR” telling me this?” Mrs. Harrison, I have no doubt you are a kind, intelligent woman. You are a successful author who has such a large fan-base of young, impressionable pre-teens. While it is ultimately up to the parent to allow their child to read your books, you have the opportunity to positively affect the attitudes of young girls toward their peers. While these books may reflect teenagers in some affluent, upper-class suburbs, the end message of at least the first few of your novels seems to be “If you kiss up well enough to the popular girls you can become popular and make fun of the girls who aren’t.” I apologize, I actually have not read your more recent books, so I don’t know if this message has changed. I’m just asking you, as a former reader and anti-bullying advocate, to please consider presenting a more positive message and thus empowering young girls to support each other in their goals and aspirations. We need all the help we can get. Thank you for your consideration and have a nice day!
I would like to start by thanking you for sharing your horrific experience with me. It sounds awful and lonely and I know it took a lot of courage for you to revisit it.
I understand why you would hold The Clique series accountable for the awful way those girls treated you. After all, they copied the ignorant behaviors of my characters and mistreated you the way Massie Block mistreated Claire Lyons. I wish you had stuck with the series so you could have seen how Claire triumphed in the face of their bullying. Ironically, she was the most confident, self-assured girl of the bunch. She didn’t have money or designer clothes or a gaggle of “beautiful” friends. She had self-esteem and courage to stay who she was in spite of it all. I’m not saying their abuse didn’t crush her. It did. She was devastated. She started dressing differently and lying to her parents so she could fit in with the so-called cool girls. But she learned quickly that in a many ways that felt worse than the abuse. So she returned to her self and stuck with people who treated her well. Eventually, the Pretty Committee recognized her strength and they all became best friends. Claire didn’t change for them, they changed for her. What if they hadn’t? Claire would have been perfectly happy with her one friend Layne and her ah-dorable crush Cam. She was the hero of the series, not Massie.
I have received thousands of letters and emails since the series began in 2003. Most of them were from girls like you who had some bad social experiences. Most of them said the series helped them understand why bullies bully (insecurity) and said they found strength in Claire and Layne. This was always my intention and I am proud of my success in pulling that off.
I am truly sorry The Clique didn’t help you the way it helped others. This is always a risk when you put something out there for the public to interpret. I hope you were able to find comfort in other ways.
If you have some downtime between classes you might want to check out the series again. Slap a speech pathology text book cover over it and no one will know the difference. And if they do, and someone makes fun of you, hold your head high and ask yourself what Claire would do.
P.S. If any of you would like to share your personal experiences with The Clique series please do so in the comments section. Sharing is caring.