young adult literature

chamber-of-secrets

2017 Reading List #4: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

It’s probably silly of me to try to objectively review this book knowing my feelings about Harry Potter, but I’ll give it a fair shot.

I received the illustrated edition of Chamber of Secrets for Christmas, and, like last year, my mom and I reread it together, just as we did when first reading the books many years ago.

Again, it was perfect, and the added bonus of Jim Kay’s beautiful illustrations only makes the reading experience more enjoyable. I’m particularly fond of his detailed illustrations of  the Mandrakes and the Phoenix.

These illustrated editions of the series are the perfect way to enjoy some quality time revisiting the series that has forever changed me. Though I am starting to think I need an entire bookcase dedicated to Harry Potter books and their related texts. I guess I’ll have to continue my dreams for a home with a library…

Cursed Child

2016 Reading Lis #46: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Perhaps the quickest version of this post is to say that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child left me feeling… conflicted.

But I can’t really just leave it there.

In anticipation of Cursed Child, my feelings waffled between trying to limit my expectations and really, really wanting to like it. And I did like it. But I didn’t love it. At all.

Here’s my biggest problem: in the scope of all things Harry Potter, nothing can match the magic of the original series. Though I preordered my copy of the play months ago from Amazon, I paid a visit to the local Barnes & Noble midnight release party because I so enjoyed them years ago. None of this experience could be the same. The anticipation I felt was more anxiety than excitement this time around. I didn’t want to read something that would mess with a perfect series.

And Cursed Child doesn’t really mess with the original series, at least in my opinion. Because I see the original seven books as sacred, I refuse to allow something new (that wasn’t even really written by J.K. Rowling) to affect that world. Cursed Child is fine—likable, funny, sweet, somber—but it’s a mere shadow of the original works.

There are many reasons for this, I think, apart from Rowling’s limited input. First, jumping from a set of long and detailed novels to a two-part play is a big leap. The play is comprised of lots and lots of minuscule scenes, and by the end it felt like a Shondaland TV show to me—every scene break had a dramatic cliffhanger that kept the pace moving ever-forward. There’s no time to live in the show’s moments, especially when the expanse of the play crosses decades of time.

Though I might feel different seeing the stage production rather than just reading it, I also felt like the magic was heavy-handed. I’m curious to know how so many of these effects are done (the play contains Polyjuicing, dementors, Time Turning, underwater stunts, Transfiguration, etc.), but it reads like someone trying to cram in as many oohs-and-ahhs as possible before the curtain falls. At its core, Cursed Child is meant to be about the difficulties Harry faces with his son, so I’d have preferred a much simpler play to tell an intimate story.

In fact, the way this difficult relationship is pushed forward is through an odd and complicated overarching plot that I found really unnecessary. For one, when we came to know Voldemort as a villain over the course of seven novels, trying to introduce and conquer a new villain in one play seems doomed to fail. And without giving anything away, I personally predicted the villain and their connection to the characters from early on. The “big reveal” isn’t exactly on par with, say, the revelations of “The Prince’s Tale.”

And speaking of the Half-Blood Prince… I may have been most disappointed by the Snape and Dumbledore cameos (done in alternate reality and via portrait, so no one is resurrected or something equally strange). Though these are two characters I love dearly, they both had beautiful final scenes in the original series, and neither of them felt at all authentic to me in the play. Their individual dialogue was clearly an imitation of the real thing, and I wish they’d remained in the past where their stories belong.

Finally, on that same note, it’s very touchy to revisit such beloved characters and try to make them what readers know them to be already. Harry felt most true in the first scenes of the play, which are just lifted from the Deathly Hallows epilogue, but otherwise, he’s a big drag and kind of bad father. Ron is a caricature of himself—sure, Ron’s always been the most light-hearted of the trio, but he’s also got substance—and Hermione is a leader without having the characteristic bossiness that makes her so endearing.

Okay, I want to stop complaining to talk a bit about the good. The Albus/Scorpius dynamic is very sweet, and I’m glad no one tried to turn it into a second-generation version of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I was very happy to see several young people—people who would’ve been too young to be original Harry Potter readers—quickly walking to the shelves when I went to a bookstore yesterday. I’m glad to know a young generation might be getting excited about the theatre and seeing that very real magic happening live.

In the end, though, I’m much more excited about the prospect of the Fantastic Beasts film adaptations for two reasons. First, J.K. Rowling really wrote the screenplay and I’d trust her with anything, and second, though we’re staying in the Wizarding World, we’ll be meeting an entirely new crop of characters and can’t be disappointed by recreations of people we already know and love.

In 2011, when the final film in the series was released, J.K. Rowling said Hogwarts will always be there to welcome us home. She’s right. But for now, I think I’ll stick to those perfect books she gave us nearly a decade ago.

IMG_1817

2016 Reading List #7: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

So, this post could be one of two things:

  1. I could just say, “hey, I’ve written/said far too many things about my love for Harry Potter in my life, so what’s the point of trying to add anything new?” Or…
  2. I am far to passionate about my HP feelings to keep them quiet, so either quit reading or enjoy a bit of indulgence.

Yeah, I choose option #2.

I received the recently-released illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my birthday in November and immediately had to sit down to read a chapter or two (because it’s impossible not to). But, for nostalgia’s sake, my mom and I decided it’d be fun to read the book aloud together, like we did when I received my first copy of Sorcerer’s Stone for my eighth birthday in 1999.

Because we took this approach and didn’t have any urgent need to get through the book, we took our time reading it.

The more often I revisit this story, the more emotional it makes me; reading about Harry’s visits to the Mirror of Erised and Neville winning the final house points for Gryffindor cause me to have semi-ridiculous reactions. You’d think I might be numb to it by now, but that is clearly untrue.

The fact that this reading was from this brand new edition of the book was a particularly gratifying treat. Jim Kay’s illustrations are beautiful–it’s so fun to take a moment when turning to a new page to examine his intricate work and see a new perspective on the story.

Though I didn’t expect to have so many rereads this early in 2016 (this, Attachments, and Death of a Salesman are all on my completed or current rereads that have made it to this year’s reading list), but this was one I couldn’t resist. In fact, I can already feel myself just itching to crack Chamber of Secrets open. 2016 might mark my next of countless ventures back to Hogwarts. We shall see…

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Book #66: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

I first encountered The Boy in the Striped Pajamas via the book’s film adaptation, though I’d known of the book’s existence for some time. Since I knew the story already, I guess I only have myself to blame for the emotional turmoil I’ve inflicted upon myself.

As the back cover of my copy of the book says, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a story about a nine-year-old boy named Bruno, but this is not a book for nine-year-olds.

Bruno is a young boy living in Berlin in the early 1940s, a clear indicator of what larger conflict will put the book’s action into motion. Through Bruno’s naive sensibilities, we learn that he’s the son of an important Nazi soldier sent to command Auschwitz (which Bruno mistakenly calls “Out-With”).

Bruno, a lover of adventure and stories from the Middle Ages, is an explorer at heart, and after feeling lonely in his new home, is delighted to meet a boy his age who lived on the other side of a fence.

The fact that the story is so innocently told from Bruno’s perspective adds something fresh to a familiarly desolate Holocaust narrative. Bruno doesn’t understand what happens at Auschwitz or what it means to be Jewish, and this ignorance is what makes the story ultimately all the more tragic.

And because I’m apparently in a particularly cruel mood today, I also spent the better part of this afternoon watching Schindler’s List for the first time (not exactly a holiday favorite, but a great movie none-the-less). It was interesting to note the parallels between the two narratives, especially because of the starkly different perspectives. Both a tragedies worth experiencing if for no other reason than to see a horror that we can only hope will never be repeated.

So now that I’ve finished my unofficial Holocaust entertainment unit, I’m moving on to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first nobel, This Side of Paradise, which could be my last read of 2015.

Look for my post on my favorite reading projects of the year in the coming days!

John Green’s Paper Towns and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

In honor of this week’s release of the film adaptation of John Green’s book, I decided the reward myself with a reread of Paper Towns before committing to academic reading as the semester’s beginning looms closer and closer. As it turns out, the experience has given me plenty to think about in reference to my master’s thesis project, so it was really a win-win situation.

Let’s back up a bit. I’m not sure if I’ve written about my MA thesis topic on my blog, so here’s a crash course: I’m writing about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in independent film (click the link for a quick virtual journey to Wikipedia if you don’t know the term). I read recently that John Green said he wrote Paper Towns to debunk the MPDG trope, so I was intrigued to read the book with that idea in mind.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is the book’s MPDG in question, at least in the eyes of her life-long neighbor and the book’s narrator, Quentin Jacobsen. Quentin has been hopelessly in love with Margo since childhood, so when she sneaks into his room late one night and recruits him for an evening of escapades around their hometown, he hopes that there’s a chance of romance. Until Margo vanishes the next day, that is.

Here’s the thing about John Green trying to dismantle any perceptions we have of MPDGs: I don’t think a MPDG is necessarily a bad thing for a character to be. When the term’s creator, Nathan Rabin, first mentioned it in a review of the movie Elizabethtown in 2007 (a movie that is, coincidentally, named for my hometown), he criticized the trope as representative of a specific type of male fantasy, one whose two-dimensional existence works only to help a male character have some personal revelation, and then her purpose has been served. By his definition, MPDGs are “bad,” and I whole heartedly agree that this is a false, fantastical representation of what a female can and should be on screen (if you’re looking for a good example of this, I’d point to Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State, a movie I find rather repulsive).

But this version of the MPDG, in my opinion, is only the basis of the character. It is a foundational archetype, one who can exist in this capacity only, or one who can grow in complexity and depth. This second version (one I’ve been loosely calling the “MPDG 2.0” in early drafts of my thesis work) is the one I’m most interested in, because she is more than a stereotype, though she can certainly embody many of the same basic characteristics.

This is where I see Margo Roth Spiegelman fitting in. Early in the novel, Quentin sees Margo as he chooses to see her; not as a real human girl, but as a projected fantasy that he’s imagined for years. It’s only Margo’s disappearance that makes Quentin start to realize everyone has a different perception of the Margo they know. She is much more than Quentin’s imaginings ever allowed.

It becomes most clear at the book’s conclusion what Green is trying to say about MPDGs when Quentin comes to realize how “dangerous” and “treacherous” it is to think of a person as an idea. Margo sees the same thing in herself, saying she’s a “paper girl” who everyone loves because they can mold her into a different person for their own pleasure. We realize that Margo is more than Quentin imagined, because she is human and exists as something more than the fantastical daydreams of those around her.

So, after lots of thoughts that I hope are somewhat sensical, I have to say this: I think Margo is a MPDG, but she’s a good one. On the surface she’s seemingly perfect and daring and exciting, at least in Quentin’s eyes. In reality, though, she’s human, flawed and insecure like the rest of us. For this fact I thank John Green. If he keeps creating characters like Margo, a pixie grounded in reality, then I’d say young readers are in safe hands.

me and earl

Book #32: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews

Friday was a pretty great reading day for me. I woke up to read the last chapter of Murder on the Orient Express and then immediately dove into Jesse Andrews’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I’ve been anxious to see the film adaptation of Andrews’s novel since it won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so I was happy to find that the movie was based on a book. I bought it on a whim a couple of weeks ago, and since the movie is already in limited release, I figured I’d go ahead and read it.

I didn’t set out to finish the book in a few hours, but that’s exactly what happened. In my first sitting, I read 85 pages without really blinking, which quickly became 150 pages, and ended with the full book at just under 300 pages. Whoops.

The book cover features a quotation from a review that says it begs comparison to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which I’d say is pretty obvious from the title. However, they really aren’t very similar books, and I’d have to say I prefer Green’s to this one.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is told from the perspective of Greg Gaines, a new high school senior who does his best to live life without being noticed. Greg’s mother insists that he befriend Rachel, a girl he kind of knew when they were younger, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia.

It’s a charming and funny story, but I got a little sick of Greg’s insanely self deprecating tone (though part of that might be because I read the book so quickly). The characters are endearing and likeable, but, in my opinion, this book doesn’t pack near the emotional punch of John Green’s works. I’m a sucker for young adult lit, though, so reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was an afternoon well-spent in my preparation for seeing the movie.

The Basic Eight

Book #13: The Basic Eight, by Daniel Handler

When I went to New York in December, my friend and traveling companion Ryan was reading The Basic Eight, and since he laugh aloud many time while reading, I became interested in reading the book for myself.

The Basic Eight is a novel by Daniel Handler, perhaps more famous for his pseudonym, Lemony Snicket, under which he wrote A Series of Unfortunate Events. This novel is more grown up that his series, but it still holds Handler’s characteristic dark comedy that makes his works so fun to read.

A glimpse at the plot: the book presents the diary of Flannery Culp, a young woman telling the story of her senior year of high school in San Francisco in an attempt to prove her innocence in the murder she’s been accused of. Though this might not exactly sound like a book of hilarity, Handler presents readers with entertaining characters and situations that make them forget the dark nature of the story (much like the general story of A Series of Unfortunate Events).

I was a bit slow in my reading, but I’m not two weeks into my semester and the work picked up quickly. Now I turn back to school reading, and I doubt I’ll have too much time to read anything on my own time, but I’ll do my best.