Andrea Peyser of the New York Post has a problem with this, because it's all-out political indoctrination. Admittedly, the entire article is (I hope) tongue-in-cheek, and it's clearly op-ed rather than ~serious journalism. But come on:
Barbie, the feminists long complained, gave girls body issues.
But she never attempted to politically indoctrinate me.
I'll stick with the thin girl.
This is clearly supporting the weird pervasive belief that "neutral" is white, male, upper-class, heterosexual, and (for lack of a better term) not-homeless, and the only way to not be "politically indoctrinating" is to enthusiastically support what's already there. But I don't actually disagree with that point, because I do believe that everything produced- whether it opposes or supports the status quo- is inherently political in some form. The choice of what to make visible and what to leave hidden is ALWAYS political. I also believe that literature is by its nature subversive, and that a piece of fiction which doesn't reflect any ideology is probably not a particularly good piece of fiction.
So I don't disagree with Peyser for some of that. I think American Girl is working very hard to politically indoctrinate its consumers. I think she's kidding herself if she believes Barbie isn't working equally hard to do the same. I know that this is a world where people ban books about gay penguins and Harry Potter ~promotes devil worship or whatever, but come on, expecting a series of books designed to teach kids about issues in history to be apolitical? Really?
In the article, Peyser briefly explains the plot ("Gwen's father walked out on the family. Her mother lost her job... Gwen's mom lost her grip. Mother and daughter started bedding down in a car."), and then extrapolates from it the meaning AG is trying to convey:
For starters, men are bad. Fathers abandon women without cause. She's also telling me that women are helpless. And that children in this great country, where dolls sell for nearly 100 bucks a pop, are allowed to sleep in motor vehicles. But mothers don't lose custody over this injustice. Because, you see, they are victims, too.
I don't see where the immediate connection is, entirely. First you accept as a given that rich/white/heterosexual/male/not-homeles
For the record, I read Bastard Out of Carolina in tenth grade, because I'd read Cavedweller, and loved both of them and would recommend them with very few reservations, but I am PRETTY SURE I would want my eight-year-old learning about abandonment, homelessness, and victimization from American Girl instead.
In short, sometimes I want to go to my parents' house, drag my American Girl dolls out of storage (I had Molly, Samantha, and an American Girl of Today), and use them to beat people over the head until they stop being stupid about kidlit. Is that wrong?