September 21, 2006


Queen B. By Laura Peyton Roberts. Delacorte Press. $15.95.

Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. By Rosalind Wiseman, with Elizabeth Rapoport. Crown. $25.

     In fiction, there are ways to work with, or work around, the Queen Bees of middle and high school: those super-popular, top-of-the-heap girls who are always surrounded by a court of admirers of both sexes, who become prom queens and homecoming queens and queens of just about anything else that interests them (usually not including academics).  In real life, though, the Queen Bee phenomenon is rather more complicated than in novels, and its implications are a good deal more difficult to handle.

     Laura Peyton Reynolds created an endearing heroine named Cassie in The Queen of Second Place.  Now she brings her back in Queen B, which is filled with much typical high-school angst and social uncertainty.  But Cassie is a good deal more interesting than most protagonists of books of this type, and Reynolds has a much more interesting way of telling Cassie’s story.  Cassie, the Snow Queen runner-up, is determined to progress from “B” to “Bee” – Queen Bee, that is – while holding onto her new boyfriend, Kevin, and somehow managing to get through the school’s talent show, which she doesn’t really want to direct.  Cassie doesn’t realize it at first – although readers quickly will – but her insecurities and basic good-hearted nature are not the ingredients of a Queen Bee.  When Cassie misinterprets Kevin’s attentions to a new girl, and as a result ends up kissing old friend Quentin, the worry is so thick you can cut it with a knife.  This is not Queen Bee territory.  Yet on and on Cassie soldiers, through chapters called “Bonfire of the Minivanities” and “Cupidity” and “Anger Mismanagement,” trying to negotiate all the happenings in her own life while paying some attention to her family as well (her brother is lovesick and her father wants to become a househusband).  In the short final chapter, Cassie decides to “Let It B,” or maybe B+, which is just fine for her – and very entertaining for readers.

     Far less entertaining are the real-life Queen Bees and their male counterparts, Kingpins.  Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees & Wannabes explored the Queen Bee phenomenon and the world of those who, like the fictional Cassie, never quite make the “A” list.  Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads is a sobering followup look at the kind of peer pressure and emotional insecurity that return adults to the days of seventh through 10th grade and create tension-filled conflicts.  Wiseman and Elizabeth Rapoport (who edited Queen Bees & Wannabes) fill the new book with real-world examples of bad parenting from the same sorts of ego-stoked (and ego-stroked) people who never really grew up during or after high school.  Unfortunately, these people are often in power positions in the real world (example: the coach who, when the team is losing, singles out your child to yell at); and their egos tend to get unhealthily wrapped up in what their own children are doing (example: the mother who composes nasty E-mails to your child because she thinks she can write them more cuttingly than her own child can).

     Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads starts by exploring the way school-age groups persist into adulthood (“Mom Cliques” and “Dad Totem Poles”), gives a number of examples of egregiously bad behavior by self-absorbed parents, and then – most valuably – shows how to handle a variety of situations that are likely to arise.  The simplest suggestions here are the best.  For example, if you don’t want to volunteer for an activity, don’t say you can’t do it because you work – everyone works, either inside the house or outside it.  There are also ideas on handling parties (including what to do when your child insists on inviting someone you can’t stand), discussing drinking and drugs and sex with kids, going out of town and leaving them alone, and many other issues.  In these scenarios, the “Queen Bee” elements tend to disappear behind solid but unremarkable advice – but reemerge when you have to consider what, if anything, to say to another child’s parents about drinking, drugs or sexual activity that you have discovered.  Not all the solutions here will work for every family, and none of them is as neat or trouble-free as solutions in fictional Queen Bee stories.  But Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads can be helpful for parents trying to negotiate the minefield of an adulthood that sometimes seems not different enough from middle or high school.

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