Archive | September, 2014

RED BAND SOCIETY, Filmex International, Amblin Television, ABC Studios

18 Sep

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Episode 1, “Pilot,” Premiere September 17, 2014, FOX TV

GENRE: Teen Drama

HONORS: None Known

REVIEW: Leo has cancer (and a missing leg). Emma has anorexia. Dash has Cystic Fibrosis. Charlie’s in a comma. Life in the pediatric wing has a lot of illness and death—but plenty of drinking, smoking, drugs, and sex too. This dramedy show’s the human side of sick kids, with all their failings and normal teen behavior, while revealing the complexity of human emotions at any age when disease is in the picture. The red bands of the show’s title bring the group together (like Henry V’s “band of brothers”) and gives them a sense of lifelong community, no matter how long that life might be.

OPINION: On the coattails of The Fault in Our Stars, Red Band’s pilot episode feels like a sanitized version of illness and hospitalization. The kids are all played as marginally sad but ready to goof off and have fun in their spa-like surroundings (egged on by some creepy older guy in the “Adult Ward.”) There are moments of sweetness: the night before one character is about to get a cancerous leg removed, he wants a quiet dance with a pretty girl. But other characters are brittle and expected, like the horrible cheerleader who needs a new heart or the tough-as-nails nurse who’s really a pizza-buying softy. Parents and family so far are an afterthought, but maybe that’s how most teens, even sick ones, think. This show could grow to be interesting but it feels like there are a lot of “procedures” in its future to make that happen.

IDEAS: This show could be part of a broader survey of “sick-lit” resources and could spark a debate on the value of such content to kids who are dealing with critical issues, and those who are not. Does watching an anorexic character encourage healing or cause more stress for a person with the disease? It would be interesting to get a young adult perspective.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF GLOBAL WARMING by Francesca Lia Block (Henry Holt and Co., 2013)

17 Sep

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GENRE: Fantasy

HONORS: 2013 American Library Association Rainbow Award Winner

REVIEW: After the Earth Shaker, Pen’s life is as ruined as the city of Los Angeles. So when a mysterious man shows up to her devastated home with a van, food, water, and a map, she has no choice but to embark on a journey to find out what happened to her family. She gains new friends, loses an eye, and falls in love. This story of giants and butterflies, of mysteries and magic helps brave Pen learn about her strength, her sexuality—even her origins.

OPINION: Told in a lyrical prose that has a way of being boldly descriptive yet simple, this ode to The Odyssey is part parable, fable, love story, and mystery. Author Block is known as a master of the fantasy genre and this book shows why: she creates another world within one that’s familiar, filled with fantastical creatures and situations, but all grounded in basic humanity. Pen is a powerful badass, but loyal to a fault as she picks up the strays of this new world (Hex, Ash, Ez), never forgetting her brother Venice and the time she calls “Then.” Block’s clever interweaving of Homer’s epic poem, her sly reference to another fairy tale (the book’s namesake Love in the Time of Cholera), and her beautiful connections to a range of artworks make this a book to be enjoyed on many levels.

IDEAS: It would be a very interesting juxtaposition to read this book along with The Odyssey and Love in the Time of Cholera to compare the writing, themes, and times each writer lived in. It would also be interesting to read a progression of books by the author over time to see if any of her themes are carried over or how she has changed as a writer.

IF I STAY by Gail Forman (Speak, 2010)

15 Sep

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GENRE: Realistic Fiction

HONORS: 2009 NAIBA Book of the Year Awards

REVIEW: Mia has just about the most perfect life a seventeen-year-old can have. She has a great relationship with her reasonably cool parents, a brother she adores, a promising future as a cellist, and a boyfriend who couldn’t be more perfect. Until the morning it all falls apart. In a horrific car accident, her entire family is wiped out and she is left on the brink of death. But there’s a twist. Mia watches herself—comatose in her hospital bed—as she recounts memories of her life, leading her to realize she has a choice: she can let go and join her family. Or she can stay and live a life she never expected.

OPINION: A powerful premise saves this book from being a ho-hum problem novel, and takes it to a deeper level. There are no easy answers for Mia—even when her grandfather heartbreakingly gives her permission to just “let go,” Mia is conflicted. Leaving brings her back to the family she loves. But staying lets her live out her life’s promises. And really, aren’t all seventeen-year-olds in the process of “letting go” of their younger lives and family dynamics? Mia’s amazing pre-accident life seems a little too good to be true, but her choice wouldn’t be so complex without that perfection. Overall, it’s a moving story of life and change death—and deciding what’s important in between.

IDEAS: This novel could be an interesting jumping off point for philosophical discussions of death and what it means to die. It could also be a companion to other books (like Sophie’s Choice) where characters had to make hard choices in their lives and help young adults realize there are never black and white answers in the complexities of life.

NOTHING CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks (First Second Books, 2013)

13 Sep

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GENRE: Graphic Novel

HONORS: None Found

REVIEW: At Hollow Ridge High School jocks, cheerleaders, and nerds face off in a battle that reveals working together can sometimes mean everyone wins. Brainy Nate and sporty Charlie have known each other for years, but aren’t what you’d call best friends. And when Charlie’s cheerleader ex-girlfriend wants new cheer uniforms and the Robotics club wants to go to the big robot competition, Charlie’s thrown in the middle of an epic batter of wills, robots, calculating cheerleaders, and controlling geeks—even as he’s facing his own battle of wills at home with the repercussions of his parents’ divorce.

OPINION: A simplistic storyline fraught with misunderstanding and one-upmanship, this truly feels like a traditional story set in current times. Take out the robots, add a go cart, and you have Archies comics, circa 1955. And maybe that’s the appeal for teens—these are simple problems with clearly resolved answers. There’s no ambiguity here. Just a happy ending where everyone wins. And amid shelves stocked with books full of confusion, complexity, and pain, young adults probably need a few books where everything ends up going all right.

IDEAS: This graphic novel appeared on the QP for reluctant readers and it would serve this audience well. It could also be a part of a “cliques at school” lesson as an example of what can happen when different groups work together.

I AM J by Cris Beam (Little, Brown, 2011)

11 Sep

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GENRE: Realistic Fiction

HONORS: None Found

REVIEW: Most teens deal with body image. But what if you felt that you were born into the wrong body altogether? Jennifer’s parents and friends see a female, but J sees the “him” that no one else does. He must confront his feelings about his best friend Melissa, work through his issues with his mother and father, and find his masculine place inside a feminine body as he tries to transform his life along with his gender.

OPINION: Sensitive writing has created a complex anti-hero in the character of J. He is unwavering in his view of himself, even when author Beam drops hints of uncertainty in his motivation about transitioning. Others may question his identity, but J never does. The subplot of Melissa and her cutting give a more traditional view of body image issues that felt distracting here; but perhaps Beam is saying that everyone has issues that go deeper than the surface (including the story’s “villains,” J’s resistant parents). Overall, though, this is a thought-provoking book that gives a glimpse into the world of teenage gender identity that has seldom been mined.

IDEAS: Many times in this book, J had to correct people who had misconceptions about transgender versus transsexual. Which makes this book an invaluable resource for teens studying LGBT issues, gender politics, and identity—or teens who are struggling with gender dysphoria themselves.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, Mr. Mudd Productions and Summit Entertainment, 2012

8 Sep

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GENRE: Teen Drama

HONORS: Teen Choice Awards, Favorite Drama 2013, People’s Choice Awards, Favorite Drama 2013, GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film, 2013, National Board of Review Awards, 2012 and numerous acting/writing awards

REVIEW: With a screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, author of the book of the same name, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is the story of the cool side of the weird kids—teens from the “land of misfit toys” as Sam (played by Emma Watson) refers to the group of Goths, gays, and other social outcasts new freshman Charlie falls into when he returns to school after a mysterious absence. Charlie finds a tenuous home with this welcoming assortment but even acceptance and possibly love can’t erase the issues from his past he has pushed down deep into his psyche and must find a way to deal with.

OPINION: Logan Lerman as Charlie is a sweet, likeable character and Ezra Miller as Patrick is mesmerizing—moving beyond supporting character and becoming the most interesting person in the story. All the teen topics are covered here—drugs, depression, suicide, not fitting in, sexual orientation, promiscuity—and even a few that aren’t typical teenage fodder, like sexual abuse, but deft writing and acting make it interesting and believable. Charlie’s ultimate revelation is a bit confusing in its careful subtlety and seems to be a second ending to the rest of the story, but overall this movie was a step above a “teen movie” and was simply well done movie anchored by teens. I only wish I would have read the book first because I have a feeling it’s not a “teen book” either.

IDEAS: Since this movie is actually set in the late 90s, it could be a nice “then and now” companion to an 80’s movie like The Breakfast Club that deals with similar teenage issues but was created in an earlier era. It would be interesting to compare how the complex issues facing teens are dealt with in each film.


SKINNY by Donna Cooner (Point, 2012)

7 Sep

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GENRE: Realistic Fiction

HONORS: None Known

REVIEW: Ever Davies is fat. Really fat. Obese. And the little voice in her head—cruelly named Skinny—never lets her forget it. Ever’s story is a loose retelling of Cinderella, if Cinderella was overweight and underwent lap-band surgery. As Ever transforms because of her operation, she realizes weight wasn’t her real problem, it was listening to that voice in her head that convinced her she wasn’t good enough to live happily ever after.

OPINION: This Cinderella story feels overly simplistic and forced with writing that is clunky and expected. On the plus side (pun not intended) Ever’s surgery is explained in detail, along with some of the problems that her quick fix entails. But ultimately the reader walks away thinking that weight loss was the answer to make Ever’s life perfect—she gets the part in the play as well as her “Prince Charming.” But the strikes here are many—clichéd characters, hackneyed dialog, an insensitive book cover, and a confusing revelation creates a book with no gravitas—a big miss for a subject matter that could have used it.

IDEAS: This book feels like its written for a younger audience—girls in the 10-12 age group—due to it’s less complex writing. But gastric bypass surgery is a pretty advanced topic and should be a last resort for teens, so it should be used as a health topic with caution.

SKIM by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books, 2009)

2 Sep

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GENRE: Graphic Novel

HONORS: Ignaz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel, 2008, Best Book, Doug Wright Awards, 2009

REVIEW: With a bleak black and white illustration style, this graphic novel follows the equally bleak life of Wiccan “witch” Kim “Skim” Cameron as she navigates the complex world of an all-girl’s high school. After one girl’s boyfriend kills himself, the student body goes on a witch hunt of sorts for other teens who might be in danger of harming themselves. And sullen Skim and her mean friend Lisa are on the list. Skim’s troubles are amplified even more as she falls in love with her female English teacher.

OPINION: Poor Skim seems to be an observer in her own life—she’s lost and disengaged from her family, her interests and her best friend, leaving us with a gloomy and hopeless feeling about her prospects. When someone (Ms. Archer, her teacher) shows her a little attention, she desperately clings to the feeling of love she so sorely wants in her life. Overall Skim truly captures the feeling of alienation the teenage years can foster—perhaps a little too much. I was relieved when this book was over, much like I was relieved when my teenage years were over. Which might make this a completely brilliant exploration of the awfulness of being a teenager.

IDEAS: This book holds a lot of possibilities—it could be part of a “women in graphic novels” selection or be part of a grouping of books about teens just discovering their sexual orientation. It’s been compared to Lolita—maybe it could be a good compare and contrast companion to that classic novel.