The XX Factor

Inside the YA Hit Machine

Ever wonder who deserves the blame-or praise-for unleashing Gossip Girl upon the world? Next week’s issue of The New Yorker has the answer : Alloy Entertainment, the juggernaut of young adult fiction. Alloy’s not only responsible for the Gossip Girl series, but also its clones The A-List ( Gossip Girl moves to Los Angeles), The Clique ( Gossip Girl goes back in time and winds up in middle school), and The Insiders ( Gossip Girl gets a sex change)-as well as series like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the best-selling murder mysteries Pretty Little Liars .

Unless you’ve worked in YA publishing, you’ve probably never heard of Alloy. That’s because Alloy is a book packager: They conceive and execute book projects-from the text to the covers-and sell them to publishing houses like Random House or Simon & Schuster, who release them under their banner. Alloy is also heavily involved in film, web, and TV projects; every book they create is a platform for cross-media exploitation.

Rebecca Mead’s profile is a fascinating, how-the-sausage-gets-made look into how these books get written (produced?) by committee; it’s kind of like getting a peek into the Mad Men writers’ room. But though Mead nods to Gossip Girl writer Cicely Von Ziegesar’s “mixed feelings about her reputation as as an author of books that even girls who don’t like to read like to read,” the article doesn’t really tackle the central cultural question here: Are these YA books-which are engineered to give young readers exactly what they crave-good because, hey, they’re getting kids to read? Or are they insidious because they’re stuffing them with the literary equivalent of Frankenfood?

I tend to fall in the good-for-you camp: I was a big fan of Sweet Valley High and other potentially brain-rotting serials as a kid, and they not only served as a gateway to other, more “nutritious” literary fare, but they also fostered a sense that pleasure-pure, sugar-rush pleasure-was part of the reading experience. If I were a parent, I’d want my kids to feel the same way. Plus, some of these books sound really fun: I’m intrigued by the upcoming Wish series and the Rushdie-eqsue Midnighters .

Any DoubleX readers fans-or detractors-of Alloy titles? Have you read any that were spectacular?