Sunday, October 28, 2007

Anna Godberson/THE LUXE


Elizabeth Holland is the 18-year-old star of 1899 Manhattan high society--perfect pedigree, well-groomed, beautiful, and now engaged to the most eligible bachelor in town. But Elizabeth's engagement upsets the delicate social balances that have been constructed with a lot of hushed-up sleeping around behind the scenes, and everyone--Elizabeth's back-stabbing best friend, her vengeful maid, her besotted little sister--seems to want Elizabeth dead. Will she make it to her own wedding?

In case it didn't carry over into my book description, I'll admit I was rather disappointed with this book. I have an advance reader's copy that I picked up at BEA this year and I was thrilled to get my hands on it--it's like Gossip Girls, they said, only cultured and historical! I haven't read Gossip Girls, so perhaps this book was exactly par for the course, but in my gullible little mind I thought Anna Godberson would be using an established form--the teen society novel--to sneakily teach kids history. That was appealing to me.

So that was my first disappointment--because all the characters spoke and acted essentially like they would today. Periodically someone would say something like "that's not what a Holland would do!" or "well-bred ladies are never fashionably late!" but it all felt a little artificial. Also, the author didn't let any historical research get in the way of her story at all--she didn't take advantage of the potentially intriguing place and time to make setting a major part of the story (I'm left with no visual understandings of any of the Manhattan locales). Even within the framework of a sexy YA novel there was so much the author could have done. But instead we're left with yet another celebration of rich white bitchy girls who have lots of casual sex.

I perceive that last piece as really irresponsible. It's not that I think YA novels need to be preachy or adhere to certain values--it's just that I don't understand the reasons the author chose to glorify certain behavior in a way that is not only not well-written but is counterfactual and encourages (through a veil of fantasy) behavior that is harmful.

The use of casual sex in this book was not only universal (almost compulsory) but it was utterly not erotic. I can understand if an author includes a well-written kiss (or maybe more) to get the reader's blood flowing, but the way sex is used here is, for example, "She opened her kimono" (end chapter). It's basically assumed that if two of the characters (who, by the way, are all teenagers) are having a relationship that they are going to casually sleep with each other--the message I'm getting from this? "Want to keep a man, girls? Make sure you take off your skirt on the first date!" And then this gets back to the whole historical accuracy part. Am I wrong in assuming casual premarital sex was a much bigger deal back in the times when condoms and pills weren't available? Because no one suffers any sleeping-around consequences of any kind. No one fears or thinks of pregnancy or STDs--which even in an adult novel is unrealistic.

There is also an unmistakable vein of misogyny. All the girls in the story hate one another and work actively or passively to bring one another down. Even Elizabeth, who is described as prissy and perfect, is not exactly a nice person. When she is caught in an indiscretion (sleeping with the stable boy) she does not react well and ends up publicly firing the maid who discovered her. On the other hand, the "dreamy bachelor" character, who happily goes around seducing all the main characters without any consequences, who is constantly drunk in public, who has no desire to shoulder any responsibility and has dropped out of Harvard to have more time to enjoy his father's wealth, becomes the object they all compete for, and comes out at the end of the book looking like a tragic hero.

Sorry this review got a little bit rant-like. I'm just disappointed that this is what's being published for teenagers, because I don't understand how it's good for anyone at all. Even if it's a matter of giving them what they want, can't we do it in a way that increases their vocabulary or doesn't sub-consciously put women down any further?

30 comments:

angelle said...

well you know how i feel about YA authors. they have the burden of responsibility. i agree with you on gratuitous sex. it should at least have some sort of function, even if it's just plot function. good thing my little sister didn't read it when i gave it to her.

cyn said...

i know very little about YA, but have started to read some books. it's too bad about the gratuitous sex, i'm taken aback really. but then again, i grew up with debbie gibson, not brit spears.

moonrat said...

i understand why kids want to read about sex--i sure did when i was 11/12/13. i think when i was a kid authors/publishers didn't offer YA readers anything as explicit. whatever, so times have changed, i should get over it.

but the thing i don't get--why does a female writer use it all so misogynistically? girls have so much to fight against in society already--why teach them to glorify this kind of behavior?!

Cheryl said...

I'm with you all--why are we encouraging destructive behavior in an age group that is already so vulnerable to it? Is it wrong to have a heroine who actually bands with other girls and respects herself in the face of unreputable boys?

cyn said...

YA is hard, i think. there's a fine line between writer responsibility and writer's own creative lincense. who knows why some women would write in such a way? maybe these themes arise without them even realizing? or maybe they are just selling gratuitious sex.

and MR, i learned everything about sex from clan of the cave bear series. it was on our reading list in 9th grade. can you believe it. then i read on and WHOA! haha!

there's nothing like teenage hormones.

Leigh Russell said...

This sounds like a thoroughly horrible book. From what you say, I can't find any redeeming features and plenty to rant about. How can this kind of trash be marketed for teenagers? The sex sounds bad enough, degrading and gratuitous, but that apart, to set this conduct in 1899 is a dishonest attempt to cash in on historical fiction. I suggest you take refuge in Edith Wharton immediately. Read 'The Age of Innocence' - clearly bypassed in the book you review - now that's a book worth reading. Let us know what you think of it.

Church Lady said...

Oh, that just irks me--it sounds like this author tacked on a few period elements, but basically it's still a modern teen novel about boys.

I generally don't read YA. It's all over the place. The last one I read was "The Book Thief." That's my standard. Anything else would suck.

moonrat said...

Cyn, I want to take your point here--is it possible that the author didn't even realize she was doing it?

This book really shook me to the core when I read it; I've been thinking about the kinds of depictions of women in popular culture lately (especially popular culture geared toward women) and this particular book has been giving me nightmares. Is it actually possible that the author (and her editors, and her publisher, and her agent) were all so warped by their own misogynistic upbringing that they didn't even realize the themes they were using/allowing to be used? Maybe they actually thought, oo, awesome plot twist!! The best friend turns out to be a bitch! No one will expect that betrayal!! Oo, nice plot twist! The loser guy turns out to be nice!!

Nevertheless. That doesn't make me any happier about the book, at all.

Anonymous said...

I was equally disappointed. I thought you brought up a number of really good points about language usage, casual sex and other happenings. I was hoping to gain more insight into the time period and learn more about history too from the book, but then again what did I expect from a teen book?

moonrat said...

No!! That's the point--you should be able to expect even MORE from a Young Adult book. YA authors have THAT much more responsibility. You have to admit that most of the books that have affected and continue to affect you most profoundly are the ones you read when you were 10/11/12. (Or is that just me?)

I think we have a right to be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading THE LUXE. I loved it. As an adult reading it as a good story, I did not look at how it might affect young adults. I read it as a good story without all the explicit sex found in adult historical novels. I rooted for the heroine to chase her dream against what society expected of her. It reminded me of the movie THE TITANIC. I can't wait for the follow up book.

softballchick10 said...

this is like the BEST book ever! i love this book. at first i was like really confused but once i started reading i couldn't put it down! can't wait for more by anna godberson

blueberry said...

I though thise book was amazing, to say the least. I'm 14, and I understood it completely, and enjoyed it. The casual sex wasn't a big deal to me. I enjoyed reading it, but that does not imfluence my decision on pre-marital sex. I literally could not put this book down, not to mention I am offically reading all of Anna Godberson books. I also though the book reminded me of the Titanic. Was it based around the same time-period? Can't wait for more to come from this author!

Anonymous said...

i really liked this book, though it is expensive... about 20 dollars, it was like gossip girl in 1899 the dramatization of all of the characters was just the icing on the cake and this is one book where cliche's are appreciated... if you want to get the paperback you have to wait until september 2008... but i couldn't wait!!

bookworm said...

Ok, I'm 15, and I finished THE LUXE a few weeks ago. I would first like to ask the people reading this blog not to judge YA lit by your impression of this book. I have read plenty of great bokks from this genre, but I am disappointed to report that I found THE LUXE to be a waste of time. The characters had no depth, and all their shallow arguments simply annoyed me. The "big twist" at the end fell flat for me...it seemed obvious what was going to happen from the first chapter(I mean really...who kills off the main character in the first book of a series?). The girls talk and act like they were straight out of Miss Godberson's other series, GOSIP GIRLS. The least she could have done was spice up the cliche storyline with some historical details! YA literature like this makes me wonder where the world is going...

moonrat said...

thanks for your take, bookworm. it's true--there are tons of smart, fun YA books (a lot of the readers here, even those over 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70, read YA because we like it) and it makes me sad that stuff like this is getting major attention and smarter stuff is being passed over.

Anonymous said...

I thought that this book was really enjoyable to read.
I'm 16 and as for people being bothered about the 'gratuitous sex' there are so many book and movies out there that are far worse and the Luxe didn't have that much of it anyway!
I definately agree that it reminded my of the titanic.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved this book.
You guys are putting to much pressure on it to be historical and what not. Maybe Anna Godberson just wants to write what's in her head. What is so wrong with that?
It's not like she goes into the details or describes the sex. And besides, thats what teenagers do. So what are you gonna do? Sensor the whole thing out?
This book is wonderful and I feel bad you guys cant see it in that light.

Anonymous said...

i am 17 years old and i loved this book. i don't understand what is so bad about the book. yea it can work on the vocabulary but if that is you're issue than you should work on your own because it seems pretty limited. don't trash a book because its not boring. intriguing and engaging. it may not be historically accurate but as far as we know that stuff did happen so casually. i loved the book and every person i talked to loved it as well. don't completely trash on a perfectly good story. sorry but reading these really boiled my blood so i let it out.

moonrat said...

Thanks for all your opinions, especially those who disagree. I posted this review a long time ago, and it's interesting to me that it's still getting hits from internet searches.

I have to stand by my opinion of the book, though. My primary concern wasn't the historical accuracy or the vocabulary, though, and I'm not a moralizer who thinks there shouldn't be any sex or "interesting" plot in a book.

What was most upsetting for me is how much cattiness the book encouraged, with girls back-stabbing and sleeping around in order to get the attentions of boys who (you'll agree...?) really don't deserve them. It sends some pretty clear messages to girls who read it about what they need to do in their own lives, but hopefully you guys (and all the other YA readers who do read this book) are wise enough to roll your eyes and resist them.

Anonymous said...

I'll admit I read and thoroughly enjoyed Anna Godberson's THE LUXE. I felt her historical depictions were relatively accurate, and it seemed clear that she did a lot of research before penning the novel. That said, upon reading your review, I was greatly surprised by the negativity in it, as well as the first several responding comments. Was THE LUXE my favorite book of all time? Of course not, but I still didn't think it was as treacherous as the dissenters made it out to be.

Maybe it's because I am a teenager that I find your idea of what's right and wrong for teenagers to view a little vexing. You claim there's a lot of 'gratuitous sex' in the novel, but I hardly found it explicit at all. In fact, there was a lot less imagery than most other YA novels of similar genre. And when you compare it to adult historical fiction, it seems positively prude. There was hardly any sex at all, and any that occurred was only ever mentioned in passing at most. I don't really understand how the majority of you can find this so abhorrent that you'd call into question the integrity of the author.

Teens today are having sex, regardless of what an author's opinion about the matter is. If there is a contributing factor to a teen's libido it's the people they hang around with. Peer pressure is probably the largest influence, not YA fiction. I think you underestimate the intelligence of adolescents; we (or at least some of us) don't read a book or see a movie, and suddenly go "let me try that just because so-and-so did it." I think that assumption is rather belittling, not to mention grossly stereotypical. All those hormones doesn't necessarily mean we're sex fiends; we still use our brains from time to time.

Also, in regard to the characters, I found them incredibly realistic. I know tons of Lizs and Pennys and Dianas. I highly doubt Godberson was trying to make role models out of her characters, either. If that were the case, they'd all turn out to be Mary Sues. Personally, I find characters who do the right thing ALL the time to be more unappealing than the ones who are flawed. Flawed people are realistic and far more relatable.

So before this becomes completely tangential, I'm going to go ahead and cut off. This may sound a bit rant-ish, and I respect the fact that you all are entitled to your own opinions, but as I sifted through the comments, I read that a lot of you were bashing the book without ever picking it up. At least the reviewer was sensible enough to actually read the material before commenting on it, unlike a majority of you who were all "here, here! down with misogyny!" or whatever the general notion was. I just wanted to give light on the opposite end of the reviewing spectrum.

Oh, and for the record, bookworm, Godberson did not right this 'GOSIP GIRLS' you speak of. If I'm correct in assuming you made a typo, the actual author is Cecily von Ziegesar.

daysandweeks said...

I think your review of this book is a bit misleading. I read this book, and it's sequal, and enjoyed both. Thought they're not completely historically accurate, the story is entertaining and certainly keeps me interested.

Some of your reasons against this book rubbed me the wrong way, though. Saying that all of the characters engage in casual sex just isn't true. Two of them do, but they're not characters made to look admirable, one being the bitchy best friend (whose bitchiness is never glorified) and the other being the drunken bachelor (who is glorified a bit, but also given his share of punishment, moreso throughout the sequal). The other characters that engage in sexual intercourse in the series are in a committed relationship, or at least plan to be if and when their situation allows for it.

If you were looking for a novel that didn't have a theme of girls hating and fighting with other girls, I don't know why you even chose to read this novel. Upon hearing it was like "Gossip Girl", wouldn't that be something one would expect? I've never read the series either, but I'm not oblivious to popular culture so I know about the basic themes in it. "The Luxe" is not the great YA read of the 21st century, but if you're looking for an easy, "guilty pleasure" read, then go for it.

Anonymous said...

I usually research a little on a book I want to try out, and I must say it has put me down. To be brutually honest, I was just attracted to the cover and the summary at the back which gave no hint of what the story was actually about.
I think society is already headed the wrong way about all these nonsense, but that doesn't mean people should add to it by publishing books like this. Well, I'm not objecting to the author publishing this book, its just they ought to put such books into an adult genre to make it more appropriate. You see I bought
book, which is a bit like the plot of Luxe, unaware of the plot and by the time I finished it I was so digusted and it haunted me for days. Therefore, I guess I'm not trying this book.
Really, its just wrong for teenagers to you know what, and I think everyone has absolutely fogotten this. With books like this, people may actually start thinking this is perfectly okay, not tha they haven't already started.

Anonymous said...

All of yall that are saying The Luxe series is bad well yall have no tasate in real books!Dont take it ofensly but that is my opinion.
I personaly think that these books ROCK!
I love Anna Godberson because she is such a good author i never saw any of the things that happened coming.
I can hardly wait for Splendor to come out i hear it is not coming out until 2010 so that is a year away and i think i might die if i actually have to wait that long so i think Anna Godberson better get her pencil moving becasue i want to know what happens next!!!!!
<3
-Annonomous!

Anonymous said...

Well Im not going to say anything bout what y'all think about the book but I just want to say the Slendor is supposed to come out on October 1, 2009!!! Yaya... At least that is what I have heard from more than one sorce

Anonymous said...

This book is rated as high as books like Twilight, The Other Boleyn Girl ect. These are all well written books.

To address all the annoying people who say that she writes about sex as if it is casual. Hmmm Elizabeth has only slept with Will a guy she obviously loved, Dianna lost her virginity to Henry who again she oviously loved, Penelope thought that Henry loved her and allowed herself to be taken up in him. Dianna in another series does have sex with a randum guy but Anna was trying to show mistakes! Dee realised that there would never be the same thing as how it was with her and Henry. ( Lesson) Elizabeth really didnt do anything wrong. Penelope is just one of the many girls who learned the hard way that the guy she loves and has given herself to doesnt feel the same.

These are lessons. Duh. So she is NOT encouraging it. Jeeze read between the lines people.

The books are entertaining and have some historical facts in them but its not a textbook.... If you wanna read that then go ahead.

But don't knock a book that is supposed to be about society problems to entertain a younger generation just because it has to much sex, which you yourself said that it was not explicit or easily visualised, and doesnt have enough history, when all the boys go off to join the war in Cuba ect.

Its really sad that people are forming their opinions on a book based off of this. Read it yourself and I'm sure youll realise that sex is not the main focus. Oh and people who say having sex as teenagers is wrong you really need to look around, it might be wrong if they do every guy they see but this is not the caase with any of the girls. Love is how they based their actions.
"
What was most upsetting for me is how much cattiness the book encouraged, with girls back-stabbing and sleeping around in order to get the attentions of boys who (you'll agree...?) really don't deserve them. It sends some pretty clear messages to girls who read it about what they need to do in their own lives, but hopefully you guys (and all the other YA readers who do read this book) are wise enough to roll your eyes and resist them.


i wouldnt consider everyone hating penelope and her downfall in the third book to be encouraging cattiness, but in the real world you can try to be perfect and nice but every once in awhile girls need to stand up for themselves. But she wasnt encouraging it.

And which man are you talking about who doesnt deserve the girls? are you talking about Henry and Dee? Because they both were slight dissapointments to their family, they both loved breaking the rules, its not a question of whether they deserve eachother its a question if they fit together. Will i think deserved Elizabeth he was a genuine guy just like she was a genuine girl. Teddy seemed like a good guy. I really have no idea what you are talking about.

theres lots of lessons in this book that you percieve as an example of what to do. Well Penelope is an example of what not to do. Elizabeth got a bit of a crapy spot in the end for goiing behind her parents back. Dianna got hurt for not waiting before she knew for sure that henry was hers. hmmmm i would consider these lessons and not encouragment. :)

moonrat said...

Anon--thanks for your comments. And thanks for mentioning specifics--if you check back in, maybe we can talk through them.

I agree, Elizabeth only has sex with William, whom she loves. This episode didn't bother me--except that there's no mention of contraception or concern about it. As much a real problem of sex today as it would have been in 1899. The author could have been responsible and at least addressed it. I would hope I'm not supposed to assume Elizabeth loved William so much she was happy to get knocked up or trustingly absorb whatever STDs he might be carrying around.

But let's leave that one aside--it's the one that upsets me the least. I'm more worried about Penelope, who actually uses sex as a means of back-stabbing her friends. Penelope has no female allies (at least, in this book--I haven't read the others). Instead, she's a catty bitch bent on tearing down all the other girls around her. Fine, she's a villain character; every book needs one, and perhaps she can serve as a moral of what DOESN'T work out. But the fact that she uses sex to get her way isn't exactly an unrealistic scenario; nor is it great (in my mind) to be highlighting a beautiful young woman who's essentially a success in life by stepping on other women and making herself a doormat/sex toy for men.

Last is Diana--how can Henry be set up as a legitimate love object?! He's been totally dissolute, drinking, partying, sleeping around the ENTIRE book. And this is the boy these girls are competing for? That they have to put out for in order to win/keep? What's the lesson about society in that?

I'm definitely not against sex in YA lit--all I wanted to read about when I was a teenager was sex. But what I worry about is specifically *antifeminist* sex in a book that's directed toward teenage girls.

It's true, teenagers are smart and can filter and come up with their own ideas--at least, a lot of them can. But clearly the author didn't realize she was writing a misogynistic book (I'm sure if she did she wouldn't have), and neither did her agent or editor. So why should we expect teenagers to automatically distill negative messages that adults and professionals didn't? In many cases teenagers ARE smarter than adults, but they shouldn't HAVE to be.

Anonymous said...

personally i think this series is prbably the best i have ever read as a young adult i think adults are trying to keep us from what we already know and thats very annoying...i also think anna did a wonderful job on the historical part and for someone who said it was a little artificial uhhh.... ITS SUPPOSED TO BE!!! i think in that age people always went by the rules and if u went against it u were judged. in this book there isnt really alot of sex or anything bad really its just a book about a couple who fell in love but cant possibly be together because of the society's rules. i think u guys should just leave it alone because i have recomended this book to several of my friends and they all loved it and i will continue to recomend it and i will even save the book to give to my children because this is an amazing book

Anonymous said...

this one is for the anonymous person that wrote on december 27and for moonrat the book was not even finnished its only 1 book in the series i have read all 3 thats out and i am anticipating the conclusion of the 4th book and i think there will be a lesson in this book but u cant know the lesson if u only have i part of the story

Anonymous said...

It is really annoying that adults think that because say, a 14 year old girl read "The Luxe" and really liked it (me) honestly think that a girl has to put out to hang on to a man. C'mon. I've known for years that that isn't true, and if it is , the guy doesn't really love you. I'm actually a firm believer in abstinence until marriage, and did not find this book shocking or offensive, because I KNOW WHAT I THINK IS RIGHT and I was just like, "So Diana slept with Henry? She loved him. It's her choice" Just because I read and loved this book doesn't mean I'm gonna model my life choices, values, ethics, and morals on what the characters do. I get the feeling (even from my own mother) from adults that every 14 year old or whatever can't think for herself and decide what is right and in her code of values, and it annoys the crap out of me. The Luxe is written for girls 14 and up, and at this we teenagers are not totally stupid and impressionable. How old are we anyway, like 10? Get over it people. This isn't a banned book, just some mindless fun for entertainment. (But I will say right now Age of Innocence is better and more thought-provoking) And there was sex in this? I hardly even remember it. If I read this when I was 11 it would've gone WHOOSH right over my head. But I will say, I would've like to have seen some guilt or regret or doubt that what they were doing was right, even if they did do it. But rock on Anna Godbersen for giving us smart teens an entertaining, fun, light, mindless read that's not a public service announcement for condoms or is Feminist paraphernalia.