Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday Words: Hunger Games Movie Thoughts

All last week at work, I was running a Hunger Games trivia contest in the library. Friday morning I came in to see bleary-eyed students who had been up late but completely happy for two reasons: 1. spring break was about to begin and 2. they went to a midnight viewing of the movie Hollywood just hasn't been able to get enough of for the last few weeks and months. Now these kids are die-hard fans. One of them even insisted I give him harder trivia questions because my initial ones just weren't challenging to someone as enthusiastic about the books as he is. And so even though I've been reading the reviews from critics, it was the opinions of my teenage students that I was most anxious to hear.

The conversations all went something like this:
Me: So did you go to the midnight showing? How was it?

And then they would burst into descriptions of the costumes and the sets and the characters and the actors and the action. And when I asked if the movie lived up to the book, the general response was, "well, they obviously couldn't put everything from the book in the movie, but it absolutely did the book justice."

I kept all of this in mind then on Saturday night when I went to see the movie for myself (yes, I was rocking my Mockingjay pin - you know you're jealous!). The lights went down, the film rolled, and I was transported. Or more like Gary Ross had stuck a camera inside my head and brought my imagination to life.

I'm one of those people who is very critical when it comes to book-to-film adaptations. With Harry Potter, it took time for the more modern style of films 3-8 to grow on me and really accept that things wouldn't and couldn't be the same. This time around, though, I have no such complaints. Any changes that were made, I'm happy to accept for a few reasons:

1. Suzanne Collins, author extrodinare of the series, helped write the script. If she was okay with changes, then why shouldn't they be fine with me?
2. The things that were left out were things that I couldn't even fathom how they could be translated to film, such as Katniss' internal dialogue. But viewers still got an incredibly strong sense of what she was thinking and feeling, in my opinion. The amount of feeling Jennifer Lawrence was able to convey with her eyes alone was breathtaking - totally and completely Katniss.

All in all, I LOVED it. I think that a lot of interesting and dynamic choices were made, and the final product really captured the world that Collins built up well - my students were absolutely right when they said they felt the movie did the book justice. The casting in particular was spot on. Everyone did such a fantastic job giving voice to the characters so many people have come to cherish and identify with over the past few years. I have to admit I was particularly struck by how Josh Hutcherson's portrayal of Peeta was so close what I had in my head. It was brilliant, these actors were brilliant, and I cannot wait for what comes next.

That being said, I still feel like, as with most book-to-film adaptations, if you didn't read the book you'll be a bit confused. As I always say, read it first!

Also, for any teacher folk out there who might be reading this blog, last spring I had to do a project about connecting the novel to curriculum. You can view the final product of that assignment here.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. What were your thoughts? Comments welcome below and as always, happy reading!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Airplane Amore: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Little Brown/Poppy, 2012

In honor of the fact that I'm currently traveling myself, I simply had to put up this review. The timing is too perfect to pass up.

I feel the need to start off by saying that I am not one of those girls with a predisposition to squee. I never really have been, and I guess I'm just wired differently.

However, there is a very short list of books that have been able to do it. Books where they are just so incredibly cute and on the surface, simple love stories, but there's actually a lot more going on and makes happily ever after that much sweeter and you just can't help but squee. Jennifer E. Smith's latest novel has just joined that list for me.

Hadley has been dreading this day for the last few months because it's the day where she must fly to England and participate in her father's wedding to the woman he left her and her mother for, a woman Hadley's never even met. It's hardly a fun situation to be in, and as if grieving the way of life you lost and hating this new one being forced on you isn't crappy enough, she misses her flight by four minutes and has to wait for the next one.

Then comes Oliver, the cute British boy she meets while waiting at the gate and who ends up sitting next to her for the seven hour flight. And what a difference four minutes and the next 24 hours makes.

Any fears I had about this just being some kind of fluff piece were immediately cast aside. I could not get enough of this story and my heart strings were constantly being pulled as I learned why Hadley's parents split up and how she was trying to navigate her feelings about that and her new, unexpected, huge feelings for Oliver as well. The connection between these two is sweet and honest, and their conversations felt very real and genuine. They are each dealing with their own troubles, but when they are with each other, even though they've only just met, they both feel like they can be totally honest with the other in a way that is both frightening and thrilling. Though the whole book takes place over the course of 24 hours, Hadley does show growth as a character and it felt very real - had I been in her shoes regarding her family situation, I don't know if I could have done what she did. And Oliver is just what every crush should be - he's smart, a bit nerdy, a bit self-deprecating, funny, attentive, but still flawed that just make him more human in my eyes.

If you are a huge fan of Stephanie Perkins like I am, then I cannot recommend this book enough. As soon as you finish, you'll want to buy a plane ticket, miss your flight, and hang out in an airport, too.

Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading!

Jennifer E. Smith's Website
Jennifer E. Smith on Twitter

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday Words: Too Much Talk?

So in case you've been living under a rock for the last few years, or at least months, the newest YA book series-turned-film phenomenon is upon us with Suzanne Collins' epic story, The Hunger Games. On book shelves around the world since 2008, the film adaptation of the journey of a teenage girl who becomes a contestant in a televised fight to the death (literally) will be hitting the silver screen nationwide on Friday.

It's easy to understand the comparisons that are being made to Harry Potter and Twilight in terms of the phenomenon we're currently witnessing - everywhere you turn there are magazines, posters, merchandise, teeshirts, news articles, and of course, the books are still around and being devoured by readers young and old.

But is it all just a little too much?

I know some of you are probably crying out, "Blasphemy! She must be an evil citizen of the Capitol! Throw her into the arena!" but please hear me out.

Now don't get me wrong, I am VERY excited for this movie. I re-read the whole series in recent weeks. I did sport my Mockinjay pin to my last meeting at library school and to work the last few days. I even got my Panem citizen ID card (according to which I am a warehouse manager in District 8). I am PUMPED for this movie, and I am especially excited because unlike so many other film adaptations, the series author was actually involved in writing the movie script. But it's like how they tell you that too much sugar will rot your teeth, or that if you gorge on something, you'll hate it in the future. Are we going to get sick of seeing the beloved Mockingjay symbol everywhere? And I'll admit that after hearing some of the stories that the Potter, Twilight, and now Hunger Games actors have shared about some of the truly crazy fans they've had to deal with (like the ones Josh Hutcherson said drove from Chicago to his family home in Kentucky, head to toe in clothes with his face on them, and creeped on his Christmas), do people take it too far?

Just some food for thought. I'd love to hear any comments you all have and as always, happy reading!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

(Un)Common Enemies: Legend

Legend by Marie Lu
Putnam Juvenile, 2011

The Republic of America is a nation that demands order and excellence. The western portion of what was once known as the United States, it is also at war with its neighbors, the Colonies. On the one hand we have June, a girl born to a good family. She has a loving brother who has cared for her ever since their parents' tragic death, she's a military prodigy, and she's being molded by the nation's elite. On the other hand we have another 15 year old, Day, the country's most wanted criminal. Born into one of the poorest neighborhoods, he has no qualms with stealing from the people who have ruined his life. When June's beloved brother is killed, Day is the prime suspect, but as she investigates the death, June starts to uncover dangerous secrets about her beloved Republic and that there's more to Day than anyone could have realized. In turn, Day is dealing with a crisis of his own and is shocked that he's drawn to the Republic's favorite daughter and that she could be the one to help him. These two may actually have a common enemy who would prefer that they destroy each other.

I knew very little about this book before I bought it when the Breathless Reads Tour came to Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois a few weeks ago. I'd seen it getting good reviews from other bloggers and a variety of other sources and that it was being recommended to fans of The Hunger Games, so I decided to give it a shot. Readers are in for an entertaining and fairly intricate ride with Lu's debut novel that sets the bar high.

Alongside the fact that I found the premise to be promising, I loved flipping through the pages of the book and seeing right away that the story is told using dual narrators: Day's chapters are printed in gold ink, June's in black. I personally love authors who can successfully use this in their story telling - it's very easy for the tale to feel redundant if not done well, but Lu masterfully utilizes June's and Day's voices, weaving together a full and rich picture of the events unfolding in their lives. Each of them have a distinct voice and perspective. I felt tugged back and forth as they each told their side of the story and was empathetic to both of their situations and the question of why they do what they do.

It is also evident to me that Lu has spent quite a lot of time thinking about the world she has constructed, providing interesting details about everything from funeral dress to the repercussions of what happens when all ten year olds in the country take their Trials, a test that will determine a person's role for the rest of their lives. I had no problems visualizing Lu's Los Angeles - she has a gift for imagery.

My only criticism of the story is while the world building was excellent, I felt lost in terms of backstory and geography. Day and June both discuss that the Republic is at war with the Colonies, but I was unclear as to where exactly the dividing line was, especially since other states are mentioned and I didn't know what side they were on. And were the mentioned Patriots simply people from the Colonies or just anyone who disliked the Republic's practices? I also was a bit unclear as to why they were fighting. Perhaps this is common knowledge to the characters or it will be revealed in a future novel, but knowing even some of the ideological differences between the Republic and the Colonies would have been helpful to me (for example, like the way the major differences between the five factions are made known in Veronica Roth's Divergent).

These were minor things in the grand scheme of things, however, and they will not deter me from continuing to read this series. In fact, it makes me want to read more.

So if you like dystopian fiction, cunning and bold characters, and learning the dark secrets of evil governments, I highly encourage you to pick up Legend. You will not be disappointed, and I can personally vouch for the fact that Marie Lu is awesome - she's a great speaker and really nice, too, signing my book in gold Sharpie and happily posing for a picture.

Comments welcome and as always, happy reading!

Marie Lu's Website
Marie Lu on Twitter

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wednesday Words: Changing with the Seasons

Here in Chicagoland, we are currently experiencing what can be best described as a phenomenon. We're not even halfway through March and it's been in the upper 70's for the past two days.

It usually snowing around this time.

So as I've been lucky enough to wear skirts to work and leave my jacket at home, driving around with the windows down, I've been thinking about how my reading choices seem to be reflecting the weather as of late.

To say I've been reading my fair share of dystopian and dark fantasy for the last month or so is a bit of an understatement. I reread all three Hunger Games novels in anticipation of the upcoming movie. I devoured Legend by Marie Lu. I inhaled The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices. None of these are books for the faint of heart, nor exactly do they invoke a lot of images of sunshine, rainbows, and relaxation. They're tense. They're gritty. They can be as gray as a winter sky.

It could be that I just want to mix it up a little, but I feel like this current infusion of sunshine is one of the reasons I found myself picking up The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and why I'm eyeing my copy of Lola and the Boy Next Door on my bookshelf, wanting to reread it. These are contemporary, lighter fiction that the covers and titles alone make me want to go "aw!" Next on my to-read list is Please Ignore Vera Dietz which is back to being more serious, but there's no evil government aspect


Anyway, this is my book thought of the day, blog readers. Is there a correlation between the weather and your reading choices? Or do you bust out your favorite beach reads year round?

Comments welcome and as always, happy reading!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Careful Cons: Uncommon Criminals

Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society, #2)Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter (Heist Society #2)
Hyperion, 2011

Have I been on a bit of an Ally Carter kick lately? Yes. Am I at all embarassed about it? Absolutely not. I cannot wait for Gallagher Girls #5 Out of Sight, Out of Time, to come out in a few short days and I consider my reading as many of Carter's novels as I can get my hands on in the last few months making up for lost time. When the library I work at finally got in our copy of Uncommon Criminals, the second installment in the Heist Society series, on a Friday afternoon, I was delighted that the students had already gone home for the weekend because it meant I could take this home and read it guilt-free. I couldn't get enough of this story and promptly returned it and put it on display for check out Monday morning.

Uncommon Criminals picks up a few months after where Heist Society left off. Katarina Bishop, now fairly well known in the art theft world as "the girl who robbed the Henley," has had plenty of jobs keeping her busy around the world. Only rather than pulling them with her team of fellow teenage criminal masterminds, she's been doing it alone in her quest to be a bit like a modern day Robin Hood, tracking down pieces that were stolen by the Nazis during WWII and returning them to their rightful owners. So when an old woman approaches her about wanting Kat to steal the Cleopatra Emerald, which she says was stolen from her parents who had originally discovered it, Kat isn't surprised. Just a few things to keep in mind: Kat's crew (especially the boy she can't quite admit to herself she has a crush on, the amazing Hale) isn't too pleased at her dissappearing acts, the emerald hasn't been seen in public in 30 years, and the Cleopatra is severely cursed. And Kat does not want history to repeat itself this time.

The series is building momentum nicely in this reader's opinion. Most of the characters we got to know in the first book are back, and these globe-trotting teenagers lead interesting lives that kept me entertained. While what I said previously about the first book that sometimes I felt like I couldn't keep up with what was going on remains true this time around, unlike before I didn't really mind so much. The not knowing is the point. This whole world that these books explore is all about having secrets and keeping them. There are a lot of things that Kat doesn't know, and I believe the reasons readers don't get to know more is because neither do the characters. The more I think about it, the more I like that fact about this series. Is it a little frustrating at times? A little, but in an exciting way that makes the ending when all the pieces do come together more satisfying than if you had seen it coming.

Carter has a knack for creating stories and worlds where things are hardly what they seem and having characters that are both tough and vulnerable at the same time. Uncommon Criminals is a fun read for an afternoon when you want to get away.

Comments welcome and as always, happy reading!

Ally Carter's Website
Ally Carter on Twitter

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wednesday Words: To Be Read

When I was an English major in college, there were certain expectations that came along with being in that department. Cite your sources. Present your arguments clearly and be able to support them. Those went without saying, but there was also an expectation of what books we had already read, either in high school or in other courses.

My English 301 professor operated under the assumption that everyone in class had already read Jane Eyre and therefore many of his examples and analogies incorporated that text. However, somewhere along the line, I hadn't. It wasn't required reading in my high school and then once I got to college, they figured most of us had read it before. Finally after a few weeks of confusion and hoping he would start using examples from other texts, I went and got a copy of Jane Eyre and read it on my own on top of my required course reading so I could actually know what my teacher was talking about.

The more I browse library shelves and talk to other book lovers, the more I find that I have serious gaps in my reading history. Usually on this blog that's in reference to the fact that I'm a little late to the YA party, but I'm here now and trying to catch up. But this time, I'm thinking more along the lines of canonical literature - those books that people assume (and usually, rightly so) that people who have English degrees, have their teaching certificate for English, or are librarians (and I'm all three) have read them. Some books on my Goodreads "to read" list that I'm kind of embarrassed to admit I haven't read yet already are:

  • Catch 22
  • The Bell Jar
  • The Sun Also Rises
  • More by Shakespeare. Nothing specific, just MORE
  • On the Road
  • The Iliad
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Anna Karenina
And so on and so forth. And so, I think the time has come for this blog to spread its wings just a little bit. Is this still going to primarily be a place where my love for YA literature is overflowing? Yes, but there are still plenty of books out there such as some of the ones listed above that would still be incredibly good for teens (really, all of us) to read because they have value. 

So my questions for you, dear readers, are these: 
1. Are there any books where you've always meant to read them but still haven't?
2. What other books am I missing that should really be on this list?

Comments welcome (really, I love getting them otherwise I wouldn't ask for them!), and as always, happy reading!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

It's About Choice: The Mockingbirds

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Little, Brown Books, 2010

As part of my job as a TA in a high school library, I keep track of what we're keeping on our "New YA" shelves. As someone who already has an impossibly long to-read list, this is a dangerous job because I get swept up in the covers and blurbs and my list continues to grow and grow. One book in particular that has been continually grabbing my attention was The Mockingbirds by first-time novelist Daisy Whitney. It's premise made me a little nervous, to be honest, in that it takes on a delicate issue and deserves to be handled with care and I was afraid of what would happen if it didn't, but in my efforts to expand my reading palate, I finally checked it out and I'm so glad to have done so.

Alex is a junior at the prestigious Themis Academy, the "piano girl" with dreams of going to Julliard someday. But starting from page one, something's not right. She's naked in bed with a boy she doesn't know and she has no recollection of what happened the night before. Eventually her memories start to come back and her friends help her fill in the gaps, and the truth becomes clear: Alex was date raped. Unfortunately, the administration at Themis refuses to believe or acknowledge that any of their "perfect" students would ever do anything wrong much less commit this kind of heinous act. So when Alex doesn't feel like she can go to them and she doesn't want the attention that would come from going to the police, she instead turns to the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students dedicated to protecting their fellow students and righting the wrongs students commit against each other.

My apprehensions were due to the subject matter, but Whitney handles Alex's feelings in a way that felt very real (and her author's note at the end of the text explains why). Alex struggles with how the situation came to be, if it was her fault, if it was really a crime, and how she wants to deal with it. I found myself transported back to my own high school days and situations both I and my friends were in or knew about - scary, but real. The Mockingbirds have a system in place that kept me interested and that I wanted to believe in, especially since as the details of Alex's attack become known, it becomes more and more obvious that this boy should not get away with what he has done.

While I felt like I really understood Alex and how her conflicting feelings ate at her, I would have liked the other characters to be slightly more fleshed out and the pacing to slow down just a bit since the story spans several months. Also, as someone who works in a school, I was troubled by the fact that, with the exception of Alex's piano teacher, the instructors and administration at Themis were totally clueless outside of academia. I understand this was necessary in order for the premise of the book to work, but I can't help but be a bit worried now that should any of my students ever need help, they might not speak up. Teens, victims, anyone - if this happens to you or someone you know, I encourage you to tell someone. There are trained professionals who want to help you. I am grateful for the author's note and the list of resources people can access if they or someone they know is the victim of sexual assault.

That being said, I want to reiterate how glad I am that I finally read this. This is a solid debut by Whitney and a story I'd encourage any of my students to read. The references and tie-ins to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird were well done and made me go dust off my own copy of the novel which I haven't read since my own freshman year of high school. Whitney captures an authentic, vulnerable teenage voice that is believable. Not since Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak have I read a YA novel that addresses rape so well, and I look forward to the sequel, The Rivals, in bookstores and libraries now.

Comments welcome and as always, happy reading!

Daisy Whitney's Website
Daisy Whitney on Twitter