“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”-- George R. R. Martin

Monday, April 22, 2013

Speak: The Movie

I chose to watch the movie Speak.  Partially because I wanted to compare the movie and the book and partially because I wanted to see how they interpreted the book into the movie. Overall, I did not really enjoy the movie.  Mostly, I don't like Kristen Stewart as an actress.  As I was putting the movie into the DVD player I commented that this might be the best role for her since she only has to be depressed and not speak.  But, then she spoke:(

I had a really hard time seeing the emotions I felt when I read the book while I was watching the movie.  I felt like they glossed over the emotions and made them less.  The parents were less unhappy, Melinda was less unhappy, her ex-friends were less mean, the boy was less beastly.  It felt like it had been processed and made foggy.  One of the things that made the book wonderful was the way the emotions came out in everyone, the movie is missing that.

One of the things I loved about the book was the symbolism of the tree Melinda had to make for art.  This also seemed to be glossed over.  We don't see how making the tree is freeing to her.  By the end of the movie it almost seems like she is happier because school is out, not because she has grown as an individual. That could also just be the way Kristen Stewart played the part.

I think they could have made a much better movie, I was disappointed in the final product -- not because it didn't match the book, but, because they took the emotions and growth of Melinda out of the movie, which was the whole point of the book! I could sit here and nit pick everything that was different from the book, but, that is not what I should be looking for when watching an adaptation.  I wish the would have done a better job, because this movie could have been amazing!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sex A Book for Teens by Nikol Hasler

When I saw Sex A Book for Teens by Nikol Hasler in one of the first few chapters of our textbook, I was sold, to at least look at it for my non-fiction read.  Once I saw the cover, I never looked at another non-fiction book for this post.  I loved the sub title of An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex and Safety. I also thought it would be good for me to read it since my children are coming up on the age when they are going to have more questions and I thought it would be good to look at it from an unbiased and hip perspective.  I also thought I would learn some new lingo so I would know what the heck they are talking about when they asked me those questions. 

Anyway, the book was pretty uncensored, actually, very uncensored.  As an adult, I learned a lot I did not know. The book starts out with a chapter on Your Body, then Sexual Identification. It moves onto some more interesting information with the chapters on Masturbation, The First Time, Foreplay, and Oral, Vaginal and Anal Sex. Then, they talk about Protecting Yourself and Birth Control.  They finish up with Dating and Relationships, Kinks, Fantasies and Fetishes, and Communicating About Sex.  At the very end they have an appendix with all sort of websites and phone numbers to help with further questions. Once I finished the book I wanted to move around the chapters a bit, I thought it would be better to have the "Dating and Relationships" and "Communicating About Sex" chapters more near the beginning -- maybe after the first two chapters.  I also think the "Protecting Yourself" and the "Birth Control" chapters should have been before all of the chapters about sex specifically.  I could see a teenager reading the book until they got through the sex chapters and then putting it down, missing all of the great information in the final chapters, and the information in the 4 chapters I would move closer to the front is very important for a teenager thinking about having sex to know!

Overall, I thought this was a great book for teens, and I plan on keeping it around my house for those times when my soon to be teens need it.  I liked how it talked about all kinds of sex (straight and homosexual) and the strange things people like to do without sounding judgmental.  Each chapter had a Q&A section at the end and sometimes those were even more informative than the chapter itself, all of which were extremely informative. The book interjected humor throughout -- reading this book without the added humor would have been painful for me, let alone a confused teen.  I really think this would be a good book to have in libraries and schools, often these kids cannot turn to their parents for answers and need to find out the truth about sex somewhere that isn't their misinformed friends!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

I have been putting off this post for awhile. Why? I am not really sure how to write a review of this book. 

The book is American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.  It is really a wonderful graphic novel full of a rich story and great pictures.  Synopsis wise, it is three separate stories, or maybe they aren't separate? I honestly cannot tell you more without giving away the whole book and the twists at the end.

This book will be great for young adults who love graphic novels, young adults who don't love them, adults trying to break into enjoying the graphic novels and really anyone who has ever done something they regret. What I pulled from this story, and what I think young adults will, is that when you do something/say something to someone, it can have a lasting effect on their lives and the choices they make.

Even though it is told with a Chinese main character, I feel that any person of any nationality will identify with what the characters have done and the choices they have made.   I hope you go out and pick up this book, I would recommend it for sure!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Beaslty by Alex Flinn is a remake of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. The beast, Kyle, is a handsome, smart, rich, self absorbed, jerk of a high school boy. Lindy is a cute, smart, nice, scholarship student at Kyles' tony private school. Kendra is the witch disguised as a high school girl who places the beastly spell on Kyle at a school dance. The spell causes Kyle to look on the outside the same as he looks on the inside, ugly. He has two years to find true love, or he will remain a beast forever. After he changes, his absentee father hides him away in his own house with a housekeeper named Magda and a blind tutor named Will. Kyle goes through the first year of his beastly existence hiding out and surviving. He is not happy and feels like he will never find true love when he is so ugly.

Kyle then becomes obsessed with roses, especially since his rose has just lost a petal. He builds a greenhouse in his small backyard and begins to grow beautiful roses, spending all of his time in the greenhouse tending to the roses. One night, someone breaks into the greenhouse. The person happens to be Lindy's father. In exchange for the damage he had done to the greenhouse and the roses, he offers Kyle his daughter. Kyle, thinking this is his only chance at meeting the girl who could love him says to bring her. He furiously works for the ext few days to make the girl a dream room. During all of this outward change, there is an inner change happening as well. Kyle is realizing that he is not the only person in the world with problems.
Lindy comes, and she is not happy. She rightfully feels like she has been kidnapped and locked in a cell by this guy. This makes Kyle angry, he wants Lindy to love him so the spell can be reversed. Many things happen, but, I don't want to spoil it, and I think we al know how it ends.

I loved this book. The story was of course a classic, with new modern details added to help young adults realize the story is still relevant to their lives. The author did a wonderful job with this adaptation. I especially enjoyed the humor she interjected into the book. I know I will be reading more books written by Alex Flinn.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wren is a historical fiction book set during World War II in both England and German occupied France.  The two main characters are Maddie (Kittyhawk) and Queenie (Verity).  They are both young women who are involved in fighting the war, Maddie as a pilot and Queenie as a spy.  The first section of the book is the story from the point of view of Verity, the second part is from the point of view of Maddie.  Both sections overlap a bit, with information coming out in different ways from each girl.  Verity is writing her story as a way to give her German captors what they want and Maddie writes her story on an old flight log while she hides from the Germans. 

When I was about a third of the way through this book I was done. I did not enjoy the writings from the point of view of Verity.  It seemed like she was just giving it all up to the Germans, and when we know the Germans are the bad guys it is hard to read about them learning all of the secrets of the good guys.  Verity lays everything out for the Germans, sometimes to the point where you wonder why she is telling these stories.  I kept going, and in the end I was glad I did.  Maddie's voice came into the story and lightened it up.  She helped to clarify some things and really just helped tie some things together and played a very central role in the ending.  I would go into more detail, but, with multiple plot twists, surprises and shocking revelations, I cannot without giving away some important things.  All I can say is, read it, try it out, push thought the first section, get to the end and then re read the first section again.  Pay close attention to the details, they are super important -- this book is filled to the gills with little hints and foreshadowing.

As a historical piece, I was impressed, I am sure not all of the details are true, but, many seem to be, and the ones I checked out really were.  The author also helps us out at the end of the book - she debriefs us on how she came upon the idea for the book, what research she did and she even talks about what things she did that she knew were not true.  As a reader I appreciated this, I love knowing what I can look back at as new knowledge and what was just there to be part of the story.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a realistic fiction book set in Melinda's freshman year of high school.  From the beginning of the book you know that something happened to Melinda before school started, but, you are not sure what.  You do find out early on that the reason other students dislike her is because she called the police at a party during the summer, getting many in trouble with parents, or even arrested. As the book progresses it drops hints about what happened until you find out the full story near the end of the book.

The book deals with how Melinda is dealing with the issue that happened in her past and how she is finding her new self growing out of her past trauma.Something that I think all teenagers can appreciate.  We all have something in our past that is our defining moment -- it may not be as traumatic as what happened to Melinda, but, it is something we have to deal with to move on with our lives.

One of the big symbols in the book is the tree. Her art teacher, Mr Freeman, provides her with one of her sanctuaries within the school away from the stares and whispers of her fellow students. He also assigns everyone a specific item to make art about for the entire year. The item is picked randomly by each student, and Melinda picks a tree out of the hat. She doesn't quite know what to do with the tree and tries many different ways to express the tree in an art form. In the beginning of the book, her trees are sad and pathetic, very similar to the way she herself is feeling. As the book progresses and Melinda finds herself again, the trees progress more and more, until in the end when she confronts her past trauma, she can produce a tree that is just perfect. The tree is homely looking, but, it is just perfect for where she is at and who she is as a person at this point in her life. "It isn't perfect and that makes it just right" (198). This realization and the completion of her healing and her tree enables her to tell someone about what happened to her.

Another symbol in the book is the closet she discovers in the school. This closet is an old storage closet that she finds one day when she is trying to hide. The closet symbolizes her need to hide from fellow classmates, teachers, herself and the person who hurt her. It also symbolizes herself. When she finds the closet, she thinks; "The closet is abandoned -- it has no purpose, no name. It is perfect for me" (26). She feels that she has been abandoned by her friends from middle school, by her parents who are always fighting and by herself since she allowed this bad thing to happen to her. As the year progresses she fixes up the closet to be another sanctuary. About the time she realizes she doesn't need the closet anymore, the "beast" finds it and hurts her in it again. At the same time, people nearby hear what is happening and stop the "beast" from doing any harm. This incident also enables her to heal a little more and makes her more open to telling someone about her trauma.

In the end, Melinda realizes that she did not make what happened to her happen, she also realizes that people do care about her and are there to help her. She begins to see the value she has as a person and I think she will continue on to grow from this past experience in ways she never would have.

I think this book is an excellent book for Young Adults, both boys and girls. Reading it I was pulled into the story, having never experienced what Melinda has I could not even come close to the emotions of someone who has actually lived through her experiences, but, it still touched me on a very deep level.  Mostly, I was just imagining if something like this had happened to my daughter, how I would feel as a parent, and how I would hope that I would not be as blind as Melindas' parents.
I know some of the topics will be tough for parents to handle, but, I think the author says it best at the end of the book with her note on censorship:
"Contemporary young adult literature surprises some people, because it is an accurate reflection of the way today's teenagers talk, think and behave. But these books must be honest in order to connect to the teen reader. America's teenagers are desperate for responsible, trustworthy adults to create situations in which they can discuss the issues that are of the highest concern for them. Reading and discussing books is one of the most effective ways to get teens to think through and learn about the challenges of adolescence."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z is a fictional book that sells itself as an oral history of the Zombie War. The author of the report does not ever reveal who he is, just that he worked for the government and could not leave out the human factor of the stories he was told when he went around and debriefed everyone involved in the war. He felt the human element is what made the survivors of the war who they were and the current state of the world the way it was. So, in order for the human factor to be told, he wrote this book.

I went into this book with mixed feelings. I had first seen it when I was waiting in line to checkout at Hastings. The back cover made it sound interesting and right up my alley -- I love fantasy books that could actually happen. There is an element of reality in them that makes it easier to believe the premise. I also checked out some reviews online, and it seems you either love this book, or you hate it. And, if you hate it, you really really hate it.

So, I started this book with trepidation. But, I ended up really enjoying this book!

The stories are told in sections, almost in chronological order with many different voices telling their part of the story. The book starts out with various people remembering how they first heard about the Zombies or Z's. It continues on with how the world found out about the infection and then the climax of the great panic when the zombies seemed to overtake the world. The book continues on with how the US and the world overcame the invasion of zombies and then ends with how the US and the rest of the world is recovering from the war.

Most of the stories told by the people the author interviewed are short, and interspersed with questions and comments from the author. They seem to jump around from place to place and often times, if you don't pay close attention, seem to not be connected at all. I could see how that would bother some readers. I really enjoyed it, it kept me interested, and if I didn't like a personality I would be soon reading about it from a different perspective. The author did a wonderful job of giving each person he interviewed their own personality, as the book progressed I could remember what that person had said in a previous section by just their tone and personality. I also enjoyed how at the end, if he could, the author had each person he interviewed talk about how they were doing now and how they saw the future playing out. He also did an excellent job of getting many different opinions and many different players interviewed.

One of the things about the book that just amazed me was the amount of detail that went into the different scenarios, battle plans, weapons, communities, ways that people fled, the ways that different governments handled the zombies and so on. The amount of time and thought that Max Brooks had to have put into the book as whole just amazed me. Most of the weapons and the ways that people reacted are not based on anything we currently have, or currently have experienced. They were all made up in his mind. I am sure this is something that is common in many fantasy books and movies, I know that a lot of those writers made up whole universes, languages and hierarchies.

Max Brooks also avoided many of the stereotypical zombies that are in culture today. He stuck with some pretty basic premises and really left it open to interpretation how the zombies even came to be. There was no explanation of how the zombies were created. I thought that was interesting at first, but, once I thought about it, leaving the information out fit within the premise of the book. It was written soon after the end of the war, while everyone was still rebuilding, so the information about how the zombies were created was not available yet, but, they did mention that they were trying to figure it out so they could keep it from happening again.

I also liked how he didn't tie up the end in a pretty bow. There were still zombies. There were still hot zones. There were still issues. But, the country and the world were looking forward and an end was in sight. I really felt like this added a sense of reality to the whole book. In real life nothing is finished with a pretty bow.

All in all, I think this book could actually happen. I think our government would try to hide zombies and I think they would cut corners hoping to stop them for cheap. They do this with many things currently, from war to education. I don't see how a zombie infestation would be any different! The fact that it could actually happen makes me think this book would be an excellent choice in a high school class. It would open up conversation about politics, emergency preparedness and many other aspects of our world this book brought into play. If the american government teacher was open to it, you would even do a joint project between the classes. It would be fun to set up a situation similar to the book and figure out how the society would function. It also has zombies, and right now, everyone loves zombies. They are the vampires of 5 years ago and the wizards of 10 years ago.