Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

'The Secret Circle': Teen Witches In ZOMG Love

Just once, gentlest of readers, I would like to crack open a YA novel and see our heroine getting ready for a party. I would like to see her getting HERSELF ready for a party, and then I would like her to look in the mirror and say "damn, I look fiiiiine, as per usual."

But no. Always, it's "the girl in the mirror looked back at her." The girl in the mirror being herself, just the surprisingly beautiful version of herself that her friends and/or Alice Cullen have helped pull together with flat-irons and body-conscious dresses and liquid eyeliner—or, as it happens in our selection here, The Secret Circle, random magical herbs. Drives me batty. What kind of weird destruction of the self is represented by this use of "the girl in the mirror"? What would Derrida say? And then, right, she's always obviously bangin' anyway. It's the Anne Shirley thing, you know? Pale! Thin! Red-haired! Too tall! You know who that also describes? Nicole Kidman. And she's not exactly wearing a bag over her head. Well, actually, if you've ever seen Nicole Kidman in the wild, she does actually wear a bag over her head, and a rash guard, and an umbrella, so as to remain extremely pale.

But, whatever, your heroine probably has "a dusting of freckles" or "slightly too-elfin ears." "Too-elfin," for Christ's sake. Elves ≠ trolls, you know? I'd be happy to see it go two ways.

Way The First: "(Heroine) is a conventionally attractive teenage girl, which is why all the male characters in the book are drawn to her over and over again."
Way The Second: "(Heroine) is pretty cute, but she's got weird cystic acne on her forehead and her armpit fat makes her look weird in strapless dresses, which is why she's slightly awkward and shy."

What I'm saying is, Cassie Blake, our girl, is a fine-looking girl, despite having brown hair. Let's get down to business.

I don't know about your New Year's resolutions, but I always like to have Official Resolutions and one or two that are too embarrassing to share, except for with you. In this case, I realized I can go WEEKS without reading anything besides my Google Reader feeds, and it's time to get real. Real with The Secret Circle. I mean, I have a whole year to actually read that David Grann piece on Guatemala that I'm always recommending to others, right? Better to ramp back up with teen witches in ZOMG LOVE.

Generally, I have found that books with 'secret' in the title are less shitty than one would expect. I mean, who didn't cringe when they first picked up that Donna Tartt book, and then completely adore it for the first… two hundred pages? One-fifty? And just as the subtext of The Secret History was "college is kind of awful and full of juiceboxes who are secretly looking to kill people for kicks," the subtext of L.J. Smith's The Secret Circle is "high school is kind of awful and full of juiceboxes who are secretly looking to kill people for kicks."

Oh, and how awful this high school is. And how familiar! Apparently The Secret Circle is a new show on the CW, which I found amusing, as Cassie's newfound witch-y/bitch-y sisterhood is clear spiritual kin to that one episode of "Gilmore Girls" where Rory gets almost-initiated into the Puffs at her weird WASP-y prep school. Minus the magic, but with just as many candles. (And of course, the CW is plundering another series of L.J. Smith books for "The Vampire Diaries.") The Secret Circle should also be familiar to anyone who read That Other Series of Very Popular Teen Vampire Books, The One That Rhymes With "Highlight," as said series kinda rips off The Secret Circle in numerous places. There's this completely obvious part where Cassie has figured out that this smoking-hot gang of ladies is clearly a coven of witches, and they're all "what do you think we are?" and she's all "you use herbs for things other than salads! you cast spells! you probably have pointy hats!" which is an exact parallel for Bella Swan being all "your skin is icy cold! your eyes change color! you suck blood from mammals! you may or may not live on Sesame Street and enjoy counting things!"

Like many such books, of course, the paranormal aspects are really an afterthought. The important thing is that the secret-circle-of-witches is super popular and clique-y and have their very own cordoned-off portion of the school cafeteria (I am not joking) which boasts a microwave and a juice machine and a TV. Which is when you go online to figure out when this book was written (ooh, a microwave!), only to discover that the cover of the version you're holding is a total reboot for the Twilight generation, and the original was published in 1992 and looks—see above—like a Christopher Pike novel. Which is probably why I didn't read it originally, as Christopher Pike novels terrified me too much to even have on my bookcase and were generally read one chapter at a time and then thrown into the closet.

The more obviously retro-y part of The Secret Circle, at least this first book, is that it makes the non-existent sexual content of the first Twilight installment look like Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss. The closest we get is a "silver cord" between Cassie and Adam, which draws them spiritually closer to each other. It's a total cock-tease. I mean, there was more overt eroticism in The Mill on the Floss (red mist, anyone?)

Books about teen witches, of course, are like catnip for the youngs. Always have been, always will be. Who wouldn't want that? It's mystifying, really, that Actual Wiccans (love you, actual Wiccans!) are so hardcore about WE DON'T CAST SPELLS, OKAY, WE JUST WORSHIP NATURE AND THE GODDESS, because that's the exact opposite of good PR. If I controlled the international society of Wiccans (I know there is no such thing, and that is great), I would run it like Scientology, and would totally keep my members thinking that the ability to cast spells was just a level or two (or about forty thousand dollars in Wicca-classes) away, and then, much like the volcano-thetans, the truth would only be revealed to them when they reached Wicca Clear, at which point they'd be too into it to throw in the towel. Keep them wanting more, I say.


• No, seriously, what would Derrida say? I have absolutely no idea what Derrida says about anything.

• What books and movies and TV shows and longform New Yorker articles do you pretend to have consumed? My parents never let me watch "My So-Called Life," so I've only ever read a bad novelization while sitting in a bookstore when I was sixteen. True story.

• The story opens in Cape Cod, where Cassie is having a shitty time. The worst time I ever spent on Cape Cod involved a B&B constructed entirely from wicker. Why are B&Bs the worst? It's like paying to have sex on a cot next to your grandparents, and then pretending their coffee is decent the next morning.

• It's not just the Anne Shirley thing, right, it's the Jo March thing. You can run your mouth about her "one beauty" all you want, but does anyone think that Laurie was falling in love with an uggo? He was hot, loaded and charismatic. He would totally have had a motorcycle if such a thing existed.

• Do you have cats? If so, what do you call that weird kneading-thing they do? I'm interested to see if it has a regional basis. My friend from Florida says her cat 'makes muffins.' I say my cat 'makes biscuits.'

• Christopher Pike novels, right?

• If you are a Wiccan who actually does cast spells, and are currently feeling like Willow in "Buffy" when she met with the non-spell-casting college group of Wiccans, please tell us about it.

And for next time, we'll read Clan of the Cave Bear—and, speaking of classic, you can CliffsNotes it with Lizzie Skurnick's tribute to same here or here.

Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.

53 Comments / Post A Comment

paperbuttons (#122,671)

For the past five years I have been trying to remember the name of the book I was obsessed with when I was 11 that featured something about witchcraft and "silver cord" connecting two sexy teens.
Ditto the one about the two vampire brothers named Stephan and Damon.
I feel like I can die happy now. There is nothing left of my childhood to investigate.

@paperbuttons I was slightly concerned that I'd be all 'weak!' about the silver cord, and then find out it's setting us up for some hardcore teen witch bondage action in Book Two.

tigolbitties (#2,150)

Christopher Pike > R.L. Stein

Also, speaking of Clan of the Cave Bear, has anyone read the last book in the earth children series? Is it even worth it to get closure or is it terrible?

Auntie Maim@twitter (#178,787)

@tigolbitties IT IS TERRIBLE. And not in an amusing way. It is approximately 20% review of things that happened in the previous books, 30% reused plot points treated as though they've never happened before, and 50% coma-inducing descriptions of cave art.

quatsch (#201,284)

@tigolbitties Yes! Christopher Pike was always more legitimately frightening/intimidating than Jovial Bob, and he shares a name with an Enterprise captain. No contest.

themegnapkin (#201,538)

@tigolbitties IT IS TERRIBLE!!!! I loved the first few books, got kind of bored with the Shelters of Stone, but I downloaded the Audible version of the Land of Painted Caves anyway b/c I wanted to read about Ayla fulfilling her destiny – which is what the series had been leading to, right? WRONG! Totally agree with Auntie Maim, only I would add that in addition to the 20% pointless recap, 30% reused plot points and 50% booooooring cave art, there is another 20% ridiculous drama and characters behaving contrary to how they have been written in the ~20,000 pages up to now. Yes, that makes for 120% of a book, but given its eleventy-billion pages, or, ~35 hours in audio form, I'd say that's about accurate.

tigolbitties (#2,150)

@themegnapkin thanks all! i will be sure not to read the final installment of the series so as not to bore myself to tears!

Diane Shipley (#7,040)

Oh, please watch MSCL! It still holds up and the writing and acting is so good.

I haven't read that Peyton's Place essay everyone raves about, even though I love One Tree Hill (in a current trash kinda way) and it's now offline so I'll have to buy his book, FINE.

The only LJ Smith I've read is the first Vampire Diaries, which I hated, but wow was Twilight coincidentally similar.

Ps: We call it "kneading dough", but that might just be my family.

Piperrr (#201,269)

I used to read YA books to avoid the sex (when I go through a no BF phase I don't want to be all hot and bothered) but that is pointless these days.

roboloki (#1,724)

*call me

Brunhilde (#1,225)

The kitty claws thing, we always just called it "kneading" in the upstate California backwoods.

@Brunhilde So Cal. Same. I didn't know anyone made pastry allusions!

ghadbless (#7,195)

My favorite Christopher Pike book is the one where there are these mysterious murders and it turns out that this girl has *SPOILER* had her soul taken over by a vulture and is now vulture killing everyone for a reason I don't remember.
So good!!!
A couple of years ago I decided to try to read all his YA books, and think I only have a few left. They've started to blend together at this point, but this one really stands out. Because of how she is a VULTURE.
Also, nothing is better than the covers of the early editions of his books. I want to have all my walls painted as Christopher Pike book covers.

Sorry for the rambling but omg I really just love him so much!

The end.

@ghadbless I like 'Whisper of Death,' the super weird one where she is dream-murdered by her own aborted fetus. Who then gets with her boyfriend, the fetus's father. And then she bleeds out and dies on the table, because, uh, maybe it's pro-life? Who knows.

ghadbless (#7,195)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook I love that one too! I think it has suuuuper creepy poems that that one girl had when they're in the dream-abortion world? Oh you know what I mean!…

chevre4evre (#3,871)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook You read my mind! I was trying to remember the name of the Christopher Pike book that freaked me out and it was, indeed, "Whisper of Death." It did not even occur to me at the time that it was anti-abortion — I just thought it was a sad ending? Because accidents happen? So I guess gold star for me for resisting indoctrination?

Babytown Frolics (#201,346)

@ghadbless My favorite Christopher Pike book was the one where two siblings turn out to be part of an immortal race of dinosaurs. That were possibly incestuous? I don't know, all I remember is that it was AMAZING and my mother wondered why I hid my Christopher Pike books when I was always allowed to read whatever I wanted and it was because I didn't want to have to explain that I was reading a book where the twist was that people were incestuous teenaged dinosaurs.

BuffyBot (#201,559)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook That one is so good. You might enjoy this to bypass having to reread Pike books but still reminisce – she's pretty funny and on point (it's old though so never updated).
Personally I forgot all his weird new age ish he threw in his books. I used to skim those parts.
Also we (me and my roommates as my cat growing up didn't do that so I was introduced to it in college) call it baking bread!

Mr. B (#10,093)

OH MY GOD The Clan of the Cave Bear.

I sometimes disbelieve my own memory that this was my required summer reading for 9th grade Advanced English at my conservative Catholic high school in 1993. But oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.

wee_ramekin (#33,118)

@Mr. B What?

Mr. B (#10,093)

@wee_ramekin We were a bunch of wide-eyed 14-year-olds that August, let me tell you.

For the record, I have NEVER READ 'Clan of the Cave Bear,' so this is going to be really exciting.

wee_ramekin (#33,118)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook ***SPOILER ALERT***

It's going to be extremely heavy on the "Look How Ugly This Beautiful Woman Is, What With Her Long, Wavy, Blond Hair, Blue Eyes And Tanned, Fit Form. Good God, Isn't She Ugly?"

Although, to be fair, the author explains this more convincingly than most others do.

Dan@twitter (#201,289)

If you could just tell me how all of this relates to Margaret Mahy, my mental return to middle school (does no one call it Jr. High anymore?) will be complete.

Christopher Pike books were like crack to my 13 year old self. That and the trashy 80's updated Nancy Drews. Did anyone else ever read those? I feel like it might have just been me.

"Remember Me" was my favorite Pike book; girl is murdered and has to figure out who done it from limbo/the Great Beyond/afterlife. "Vampire Diaries" is absolutely horrible to read but sooooo good on TV. Rare case of filmed version improving upon the book. Oh and this is probably not a regional thing (I'm from New England) but my best friend always called the cat thing Happy Feet.

BuffyBot (#201,559)

@Jenn Casinader@facebook Remember Me was my favorite too! Just reread that recently. Murder! Incest! Diabetes! Colorblindness!

The two Christopher Pike books I remember the most (I read every single one that was at the library when I was in middle school) was The Lost Mind (amnesiac girl wakes up next to a dead girl and a bloody knife, was brainwashed by the dead girl's boyfriend with his…magic…hash?) and The Starlight Crystal (girl goes on first near-light-speed spaceship, aliens kill everyone but her, and she ends up drifting in hyperspace for billions of years earth-time and becomes Buddha?). I generally preferred Pike, but RL Stein's Fear Street Saga trilogy/99 Fear Street were A+ (the one where they are making a TV movie of the stuff from the first book and then shit gets real omgggg).

We called it "kneading" when I was growing up, but ever since I found out about calling it "making biscuits" that is what I say because it is adorable.

fabel (#201,544)

I…was obsessed with these books when I was, what, 13? and I'm 24 now but was ashamedly so happy when I heard they made this series into a show. I know it's going to be like every other teenage hormone drama show on the CW, but still.

Also, the Dark Visions trilogy by the same author. SO GOOD

catlington (#201,580)

I thought that I was the only one who remembered Dark Visions! I was obsessed with that trilogy – still have a complete set of the books in storage somewhere. I am happy to discuss it at length with you.

baxlala (#201,585)

@fabel I LOVED Dark Visions. And The Secret Circle…there was another one, too, about a weird board game that sucked some girl and her friends inside of it? And then a beautiful man tormented them? I don't remember exactly, just that I always pictured the beautiful man as Spike from Buffy.

fabel (#201,544)

@catlington Yess I will so take you up on that because I also thought I was the only one who remembered it! I read it so many times the summer I got it that it's practically splitting in the middle (the version I had was like a thick 500 pages because all 3 books were combined? I think it was the collector's edition) But anyway…yeah, I was obsessed with it and totally had a book-crush on Gabriel.

@baxlala yay, you loved it too! And I know what other book you're talking about…The Forbidden Game maybe was the title of the whole series? I do remember the beautiful man was named Julian & was indeed described as looking very Spike-from-Buffy-ish.

catlington (#201,580)

@fabel : Oh my god, I read those books so many times that I can probably still quote passages. Even at the time I knew those books had flaws (but were still pretty good) but even now … LOOOOOVE. I originally had them out from the library a million times, and was overjoyed when I found a set of all three books in an op shop.

Ah, Gabriel. I had book crushes on both him and Kaitlyn. L. J. Smith's books had a curious lack of sexuality that I always found odd – but those two had major chemistry.

Embarrassing to admit this, but I was disappointed to find that DV inspired very little fanfiction (yes, I looked) – but then it did have a very tidy ending and was a bit pre-mainstream internets.

@baxlala : Ah yes, The Forbidden Game! Not one of my LJS favourites, but I got a kick out of it since I always imagined Julian as looking like Jareth (David Bowie) in The Labyrinth.

I wonder if LJS ever finished the Night World series?

fabel (#201,544)

@catlington Same thing, I first discovered it at the library & then maybe ordered it? You're right though, this was kind of pre-mainstream internet. There was Amazon and whatever but no community of commentors to poll about a semi-obscure YA series you were obsessed with!

But yeah, although I liked The Secret Circle and The Forbidden Game, the chemistry didn't match Kaitlyn and Gabriel's. Even when the storyline was trying to build up how she liked the other guy, Rob, I wasn't feeling it– there was more sexual tension in the part where Gabriel just passed close to her when he first comes to the institute (and she doesn't back away because that's what people used to do to her? ahhh) Plus all the parts where she's giving him energy were just hot, in my opinion.

Obviously now I can pick out flaws in the book, but I also totally still love it. I actually never read Night World though– was that the really long series?

Megoon (#201,547)

I call the cat thing "push-push." My friend calls it kneading dough. My mom doesn't call it anything, she just starts freaking out and goes, "awwwwww!!!!!! Awwwwww!!! That's what they do to stimulate their mother's milk!!!!"

BTW my cat will occasionally, while doing push-push, take a little piece of blanket in her mouth and pull/chew on it simultaneously. It's kind of the best.

christopher pike = the best introduction to maturity! (?) if we're talking vampire diaries and also how twilight is the current answer to our teenage paranormal desires, let's talk Pike's THE LAST VAMPIRE series. This is maybe how i first learned the word Krishna, whaaaaaa? YA novels!

porporina (#201,582)

@erin corrigan@twitter That series! So many twists! Now I must re-read it…

fabel (#201,544)

Also, okay– I just call that weird kneading thing that cats do kneading. My cat gets pretty into it though, and then it's like a massage. With claws.

But seriously…Dark Visions trilogy? Anyone? I think the individual books were called The Strange Power, The Possessed, and The Passion, and it was about this group of 5 teenage psychics who spent their last (I think?) semester of high school in this psychic research facility. And there was a love triangle with the main girl, Kaitlyn, and two of the other dudes there. One was all southern gentlemanly and the other was dark & mysterious with a destructive psychic power, which only made him more appealing. Did anyone else read this??

catlington (#201,580)

Replied to you above – I read it, ohhhh yes.

bandg (#201,565)

Christopher Pike…CHRISTOPHER PIKE. Heaven. Clan of the Cave Bear is going to be fantastic. I read it the summer before 6th grade during day camp. I had a friend that was reading it at the same time. We used to skip swimming, sit on the beach and read the sex parts out loud to each other. Our inexperienced minds found them completely hilarious. Haven't read it again since. I am curious if I will enjoy it as much.

Hollye (#167,326)

I must have read some Christopher Pike, but I don't remember. I DO remember the Fear Street Saga series, which were *ahem* R.L. Stine's teen witches in a historical fiction-Salemy setting. I DEVOURED those books around 6th grade, when I was probably much too young to be reading them, and that shit both turned me on and gave me such horrible nightmares. I was convinced I had been accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake in a previous life. I need to get my hands on those.

CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR! Nicole I am so excited. You are going to have so much fun!

Can we do The Face on the Milk Carton series at some point? Please? The second book (Whatever Happened to Janie?) Is the shizzle, and might make you cry. Or maybe that's just an adopted kid thing.

Katie Scarlett (#100,410)

@Hollye OMG The Face on the Milk Carton! Please!
I have red hair and older parents who were/aways paranoid about my safety… ergo I was CONVINCED I was adopted after reading this in 6th grade.

christonacracker (#10,871)

You better follow through on this clan of the cave bear promise or someone is gonna get cut.

oeditrix (#10,234)

Derrida would probably not say much. Lacan, on the other hand, would have a field day.

shawn (#1,859)

That David Grann piece is amazeballs– not spinach at all. Also, I just started watching Vampire Diaries on netflix instant and it too is amazeballs. And the Pike book with the incestuous dinosaurs mentioned above — amazeballs! Finally, making biscuits!

Hooch (#201,592)

I loved/was terrified of Pike novels as a kid! Okay does anyone remember reading a series where a girl moves to a new school, and of course there's a mysterious clique, and it turns out they all turn into panthers? And the main panther guy wants her to be his panther queen or something? This has been bugging me for YEARS! I think it was a series but I only read the first one and I need to know what happens!

@Hollye. I'm actually looking at all of the Janie books on my bookcase now. 27, still got them!

The best of the Pike books were , IMHO, the Final Friends trilogy. The 3 books came in one volume, with blood red edging on the pages. My mum got slightly worried about what I was spending my pocket money on.

Hollye (#167,326)

@Jasmine Kershaw@facebook I still have them too!! 7 years ago I moved from Texas to New York City, and in my UHaul truck full of books, the Janie series seemed necessary to bring along. It's comforting seeing them there on my bookshelf.

chevyvan (#201,691)

@Jasmine Kershaw@facebook FINAL FRIENDS! I STILL HAVE MY BOOKS!

I also re-purchased and re-read the Secret Circle books when they were reprinted in the last couple years. I loaned them to a friend in high school (she needed something to read while pregnant and on bed rest…hahahaha!), and she never gave them back. I was always pretty bitter about that.

Final Friends > Secret Circle > Vampire Diaries (books, that is)

catlington (#201,580)

@Jasmine Kershaw@facebook : was Final Friends the trilogy where the books were called The Party, The Graduation, etc? I must have read those sooo many times – loved them.

TokyoPlum (#201,810)

The author who genuinely scared me as a teenager was Lois Duncan (Summer of Fear, Stranger With My Face, Down a Dark Hall). I remember reading her stuff aloud to my mother and having to stop because she got too scared. (She may have been playing it up for my sake. But maybe not.) I think most of my friends favored R.L. Stine over Christopher Pike, but his stuff always looked more "wooo..ghosties…" scary than legitimate-scary.

fabel (#201,544)

@TokyoPlum Yaaa, did Lois Duncan also write (I think it was called) Don't Look Behind You? Where the main character & her family have to go into witness protection, and the guy they're being protected from shows up at their hotel dressed like a maid or something? & he was described as having almost devil eyes?

TokyoPlum (#201,810)

@fabel Yes, she did–I especially remember that one because it had one of those awesome 80s-era covers with a woman's hand holding a phone and a black-gloved man's hand gripping it from outside the frame.

Her titles were kind of odd, though–Don't Look Behind You? Er, I think I'd be plenty looking behind me if I were being hunted by a devil-eyed man dressed in a maid's outfit.

Bittersweet (#765)

Not buying the "Anne Shirley was actually an attractive little girl" theory, Nicole. LMM does a good job showing us in the first book just how conventionally unattractive and un-Nicole Kidman-like she is, until she blossoms later in puberty.

Remember when Mr. Philipps makes her sit with Gilbert? Ruby Gillis reports that her face was "white, with little red spots on it" before she buries it in her arms on the desk. Not a good look for anyone.

You're probably right about Jo March, though.

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