Slices of Life: No Crystal Stair and The Watch That Ends the Night

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

illustrations by R. Gregory Christie

carolrhodaLAB, 2012

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

Allan Wolf

Candlewick Press, 2011
review by Tessa

Characters

No Crystal Stair

Lewis Michaux, headstrong, driven man who wanted to make sure African-Americans knew the history of their people

Lightfoot Solomon Michaux, Lewis’ brother, a famous preacher

Mary Michaux, wife of Lightfoot, disapproving of Lewis

The FBI, wants to keep tabs on this bookseller in Harlem

Malcolm X, a friend of Lewis

The Watch that Ends the Night

The Captain, the Businessman, the Refugee, the Shipbuilder, the Iceberg, the Dragon Hunter, the Immigrant, the Navigator, the Gambler ,the Telegraphist, the Socialite, the Lookout, The Stoker, the Tailor the Tailor’s Son, the Junior Officer, the Violinist, the Baker, the Ship Rat, the Undertaker, the Postman, the Cook…

Hook

The most world-changing bookstore you never knew about, told by the people who were there. The most well-known disaster at sea, told by the people who were there.

Worldview

I chose to review these two books together because they take a similar tactic in dealing with their particular historical investigations. No Crystal Stair calls itself a “documentary novel”, and so I’d call The Watch That Ends the Night a “documentary novel in poems”. Neither are billed as non-fiction, but both explore real historical figures and events. And neither are straight novel or straight poetry, but rather novelistic in scope and varied in voice and structure.

a photo of Michaux’s store, via Harlem World Mag

One of the fun and frustrating things about history is that there’s always another way to look at something.  Even if you were there, a witness to an event, it would often be difficult for you to authoritatively say what happened.  Nelson and Wolf exploit and expand on this aspect of history by breaking their narratives up into voices.

Nelson’s are very much in the talking-head style of a documentary, except written down in paragraphs on the page: “All those black books! I’ve never seen anything like it. The Howard University bookstore had some black books but mainly textbooks. When I walked into Lewis Michaux’s bookstore and saw all these histories, biographies and autobiographies, fliers and posters, it was mind-blowing.” (96).

Wolf’s voices speak in poems. Some are letters and telegrams. Some are free-verse and could just as well be prose.  Some are free verse and let the poetry work for them, playing with imagery, slipping into concrete poetry, and even using lack of capitalization and punctuation to underline the lost voice of a toddler:

“the barber shop is a razor.

the barber

he wants to shave at papa’s mustache.

so i cry.

too many things are gone.

papa is a mustache.

and papa is pockets.

with biscuits. with bullets.

and a pistol. bang. bang.” (180).

Some (the iceberg) have actual rhyme schemes: “James Dobbins (last to die), not jumping clear, / while he himself Hail Marys and huzzahs, / is crushed by timbers as the people cheer.” (14).

What was the book’s intention and was it achieved?

Each author’s use of the documentary style lets the reader into history without letting history fade into the background. Unlike a historical novel, where a character just happens to be at the right historical place in the right historical time, whether by working for a famous historical figure or being the right age/sex to get drafted into war, in these books the characters are there because they already had a part to play, and that is being documented.  The narrative is helped by the leeway that fictional interpretation can give.

it’s the watch that ended the night! get it?? photo by flickr user digiblue

This is most apparent in The Watch that Ends the Night and less so in No Crystal Stair. Any filigree of yearning, ambition, light romance, or life that Wolf gives to his characters serves to make them mourned should they not survive the night. The book would be propelled by a sense of doom whatever Wolf did, but he plays it up in his poems, too, doling out foreshadowing judiciously like a stoker would manage the coals in the furnaces of the ship.  Wolf’s not playing around with any of the facts of what happened,  he’s using his poetic license to play with our emotions.  And in doing so, he’s making the facts stick.

No Crystal Stair is similarly researched and it includes historical asides, photographs, and news clippings.  Better that it does, because it’s telling a story that should be more widely known, but isn’t.  Earlier this year, the New York Daily News published an article about East Harlem getting its first bookstore.  It failed to mention Harlem’s original bookstore (located in the Mount Morris Historical District, as far as I can tell from Wikipedia), which was built and run by Lewis Michaux, despite much struggle on his part.

This was the National Memorial African Bookstore on West 125th Street. It was an institution dedicated to informing black people about their history and the works of their forebears and peers.  Malcolm X frequented it and spoke in front of it.  And it was eventually forced out of its home by developers. The story follows Michaux from his childhood, where he was outshone by his famous brother, a preacher, through his first idea of having a bookstore, through the long years of getting the project off the ground, to its success (leading to a thick FBI file on his activities which was forced to conclude that he was no threat to national security).

photo by flickr user aoyenda

Although Michaux and his family are sometimes not easy to like, he didn’t let anyone give him any guff and it’s plain to see that the man did admirable work and was an admirable person.  And boy, did he know how to speak in a memorable soundbite: “Until the neglected and the rejected are accepted and respected, theres gonna be no damn peace… nowhere! Only a tree will stand still while it’s being chopped down.” (127).

Lewis Michaux was the great uncle of the author, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, who says that she “visited the store only once, when I was fourteen and, regretfully, didn’t realize the store’s significance until years after it had closed and my uncle had passed away” (166).  While Wolf’s research on the Titanic proved challenging because there was too much written on it too soon, allowing for a wealth of rumor, research on No Crystal Stair had the opposite challenge for Nelson, with “nonexistent and conflicting information complicat[ing] the project” (166).  It’s easy to see why Nelson turned to the format that makes up No Crystal Stair, leaving room in the imagination for what could not be verified in research.

However, the research she did do became marred, in my reading, when I found that one of the most affecting personal stories of a bookstore customer was revealed in the endnotes to be a full fabrication.  There was so much to be impressed by with the story of the bookstore that I found myself wishing that it had been left to stand on its own.  The extra story ended up feeling like too much manipulation, a failsafe in case the story couldn’t speak for itself.

Despite that small letdown, No Crystal Stair is a work that should be read and enjoyed by people who have an interest in the history of New York, bookstores, black power, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps stories, or any student that wants to have an especially interesting Black History Month research project. And The Watch That Ends the Night is a great suggestion to fans of the film Titanic, fans of stories in poems, or morbid-minded people who want to get a little weepy.  After these two reading experiences, I hope more authors explore the documentary novel as a form.

Readalikes

 

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village

Laura Amy Schlitz, illus. Robert Byrd

A Newbery Medal winner from 2008, this book uses poems to illuminate the world of medieval England, using 22 distinct voices.

Crossing Stones

Helen Frost

Helen Frost is the MASTER of the novel in poetic voice. This particular book is set during World War I in the American heartland, and has four main characters who do the speaking. Its poems are deceptively straightforward, but trust me, don’t skip the explanation of their structure at the end.

World War Z: an Oral History of the Zombie War

Max Brooks

So, this is a history of things that have never happened.  But it sounds just like what oral histories sound like – a little dry, but exciting because it really happened (please read some Studs Terkel if you don’t know what I’m talking about)! Only this never happened. But there are zombies!

Disclosures & Digressions

I wish there were more R. Gregory Christie illustrations in No Crystal Stair, and more Jon Klassen in The Watch That Ends the Night.  Illustrations 4-evah!!!

The Art of Figuring Things Out: With Or Without You

A Review of With Or Without You by Brian Farrey

Simon Pulse, 2011

By REBECCA, May 28, 2012

WIth or Without You Brian Farrey

characters

Evan: Sweet, talented Evan wants to paint, be a good friend, and a good boyfriend—but all that doesn’t leave much time to figure himself out

Davis: Evan’s best friend, he is so used to being bullied or ignored that he jumps at the chance for attention and empowerment, no matter what the cost

Erik: Evan’s boyfriend, Erik is a sculptor, a nursing student, and a total mensch

Sable: He arrives on the scene and begins preaching a rather extreme brand of gay empowerment . . . but it turns out that’s not all he’s preaching

Shan: Evan’s sister and sometimes ally

hook

Evan and Davis are bullied, beaten-up for being gay, and have crappy parents. But senior year is finally over and all they have to do is get through the summer before they can move to Chicago and leave it all behind like they’ve planned for so long. But Evan has a wonderful boyfriend that he can’t tell anyone about and Davis has fallen in with Sable, a mysterious and charismatic alpha dog, and Evan feels like he doesn’t even know him anymore. Suddenly, the future seems very, very uncertain.

worldview

With or Without You is an amazing, character-driven novel with a totally unique story. Brian Farrey’s prose is beautiful and manages to skip from love to fear to exhilaration without a false note. It’s definitely one of the best YA novels I’ve read, and an important book, too, I think.

Edvard Munch The ScreamEvan paints to escape—he studies the techniques of his favorite painters obsessively, until he can mimic it. Using windows as his canvas, Evan paints ordinary objects in these famous styles, rendering his everyday world through other artists’ eyes. This is how he meets Erik, the best boyfriend ever, who is also an artist—he sculpts with found objects, transforming them into beautiful creations.

But although Erik has been the best boyfriend ever for almost a year, Evan is paralyzed at the idea of telling anyone about him—even Davis. What Evan doesn’t tell anyone is that in that year, he has been remade as surely as the objects in Erik’s sculptures or the objects in his own paintings: for the first time he values himself—physically, mentally, and emotionally. This year of Evan and Erik’s relationship unfolds gradually, in flashbacks. Meanwhile, in the present, With or Without You opens with Evan and Davis getting gay-bashed. In his anger, Davis brings Evan to the first meeting of a group called Chasers, led by Sable, who invites the group to “learn what it means to be gay! Stop being a doormat!”

As Davis gets in deeper with Sable and the Chasers he seems to be constantly in danger and Evan seems to be living two different lives: one in which he is a scared kid, trying to keep Davis safe from the danger he suspects the Chasers of; and another in which he is in a mature, loving relationship that helps him grow and learn about himself. It’s this tension that makes With or Without You so beautiful, though. Evan is slowly outgrowing his old self and it’s an uncomfortable, scary, and joyous process:

“Crying will give him all the wrong messages. Crying will say, Don’t you understand? I’ve been laughed at my entire life and when you express this much confidence in me, it chokes me and I’d run but there’s nowhere to go because you’re the only place I’ve come to know.

I don’t cry. I will later.

It’s an odd sensation to get what you want and still feel terrified. Inside, aspiration accelerates, blurring everything I know. Outside, my face slackens, resolve masquerades as rejection. Erik sees the battle behind my eyes, the uncertainty in my posture. I watch as his shoulders slowly deflate” (88).

what were this book’s intentions? does it live up to them?

Georgia O'Keeffe Ram's HeadThis is a really important book. It is an exploration of relationships, of the terror and thrill of first love, the bittersweetness of outpacing a friendship, and the emotional aftermath of bullying and physical violence. All of this is, of course, enough to make it an important entry into contemporary YA fiction. But it’s the storyline about the Chasers that makes With or Without You really extraordinary.

Without giving too much away, in case folks don’t know what Chasers are, Sable preys on the insecurity, fear, and anger of Davis and the other Chasers, using it to convince them that their problem is that they don’t know what it really means to be proud gay men. To learn to identify with gay history, Sable says, they must learn the phases it went through: revolution, liberation, identification. To learn about revolution, they orchestrate a fight, which Evan participates in to protect Davis.

“‘Now you know how they felt during Stonewall,’ Sable says, propping himself up on his elbows. I follow suit. ‘You know what it feels like to say, “Fuck this shit. I’m sick of it!” You know what it feels like to totally stick it to the people who’ve been sticking it to you forever. And it feels great!’

He shouts the last word and it echoes off the concrete courtyard in front of the observatory. It did feel great. So how can I feel great and still feel like shit?” (193).

Stonewall Inn 1969 Mattachine SocietyIn his quest to teach his followers about what it meant to be gay in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Sable also calls their attention to the ways that gay assimilation is, in his view, the opposite of queer power. “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” Sable asks Evan. “No, let me guess: House. Yard. Wearing some stud’s ‘commitment ring.’ Going out for cocktails with your coupled gay friends, talking about how great it is to be monogamous and happy and shit” (195). When Evan asks what would be wrong with that, Sable replies that “you have been bullshitted by society into thinking that’s what you should want. You see Mommy and Daddy all happy . . . with their house and their kids and they’re a loving couple and you think, ‘Yeah, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. So that’s what I want too'” (195).

I think it is a bit unfortunate that the revolutionary ideas in the book are only in the mouth of Sable. In this way, ideas about non-monogamy, alternative family structures, and radical empowerment that are rarely found in YA fiction are aligned with an extremist villain who uses them in the service of harm. Still, it’s a really smart look at how (for the most part) it isn’t politics or desires that are good or bad, but to what ends they are deployed. In this vein, running parallel to Sable’s “education” about gay life and history, Evan learns about the AIDS epidemic from one of Erik’s patients who is the last of his group of friends still alive, and this education increases his desire to work towards a world safe for love and sex.

personal disclosure

I just really think people will love With or Without You! Great characters, a lovely romance, friend dynamics, a creepy and vaguely cult-y leader, beautiful writing, personal discovery and growth, and a super interesting plot.

readalikes

Punkzilla Adam Rapp

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp (2009). Runaway Punkzilla hops a cross-country bus from Portland to Memphis to see his dying brother for the first time in years. On the ride, he catalogues  his misadventures in Portland in a very unique voice.

Stick Andrew Smith

Stick by Andrew Smith (2011). When Stick’s abusive father finds out that his older brother, Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home for his safety. Stick sets off on a grueling road trip to find Bosten. My full review of Stick is here.

procured from: the library, but then I bought it because I knew I’d want to re-read it.

YA Book Ratings: Just Another Brick in the Wall

Why YA Book Ratings Are Not Just A Terrible Idea, But An Insidious & Sinister One

By REBECCA, May 25, 2012

Censorship by Eric Drooker

As some of you have likely seen, this week has ushered in the threat discussion of whether YA literature needs a rating system. Sarah Coyne, a professor in the “department of family life” at Brigham Young University, conducted a study of the 40 bestselling children’s books on the New York Times‘ list in June-ish, 2008, and found—gird your loins, friends—more than 1,500 “profane words”! For this reason, in addition to her sense that some of these books, were they to be made into movies, might receive R ratings, Coyne believes that a rating system on book jackets should be instituted. To be clear, Coyne states that she thinks “banning books is a terrible idea,” but believes that “a content warning on the back” would “empower parents.”

So, with that in mind, today I want to talk about some of the things that we’re really doing, implying, accepting, and dictating when we implement “ratings systems” and “content warnings.”

Types of Normal1. Normalization. First and most importantly, any system of evaluation or rating necessarily tells us what we are supposed to think is normal. To rate something is to place it closer or farther away from what the person doing the rating believes is normal. If you are a reader, it tells you what you are supposed to be able to handle, what you are supposed to want, or what you are supposed to fear based on huge generalizations that someone has made about the demographic they think you belong to. The words, behaviors, or situations that fall under the category of “content warnings” tell us that we should judge those words, behaviors, or situations as outside the normal realm of what a certain demographic—in this case, the young adult demographic—should embrace. This translates into huge swathes of behaviors, desires, fears, and experiences that readers are told are abnormal, just by looking at the jacket of a book.

More insidiously, what of the things that are tacitly coded as being normal and appropriate because they are not included in content warnings and they do not cause a book to be rated “mature”? Things like fat phobia, limited expressions of beauty, patriarchy, tokenizing, and the choking invisibility and systematic obliteration of many identities, cultures, and worldviews? As if teenagers aren’t already struggling enough with wondering if their thoughts, feelings, desires, and fears are normal! Do we really want to infect even the places they go for answers with judgements about how they stack up to these vague and arbitrary norms?

Speak Laurie Halse Anderson2. Ab-Normalization. Because let’s be honest: it’s not swear words that are really at stake here, right? If we think of which things are going to make the list of “content warning” or bump a book into “mature” territory, we are talking about precisely the things that are most difficult for many teens to think through, cope with, or get help with via other avenues: abuse, gender identity, religious doubt, myriad desires, shitty or controlling parents, incest, drugs, eating disorders, rape, death, passion, obsessive friendships, cruelty, shame. That means that the teenager who was raped last year and is browsing in the Young Adult section in the library might pick up Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and be told by the content warning, “rape,” on the book that what he or she experienced is something that should not be freely talked about, but rather must be warned against. Check out LHAnderson’s awesome blog post on how YA lit about such topics saves lives here and Lucas J.W. Johnson’s post about the YA Saves phenomenon here, including an amazing array of tweets using the #YAsaves hashtag testifying to how books like Speak helped them heal:

#YAsaves

#YAsaves

The Trouble with Normal: Sex Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life Michael WarnerAnd where do we draw the line, anyway? Will “homosexuality” be a content warning, and thus implicitly placed in the same category as “rape” or “extreme violence”? It seems likely that those who would want a ratings system would want it to be. And what about a content warning of “violence” or “crime” on a book about a teenager whose class background puts her in violent situations or necessitates theft or crime to get by? These stories will contain warnings, suggesting to readers that the people who live such stories, too, are to be warned against.

Who Watches the Watchmen?3. Who Watches the Watchmen? And who are these people that decide what is normal and what should be warned against, anyway? And what recourse have we once those ratings or warnings are printed on our books? To say nothing of the detrimental monetary effect that certain ratings or warnings could have on sales by the authors who write wonderful, important, risky books, what of the concomitant pressure on those same authors to write different books? What if publishers, fearing the bottom line, had discouraged Andrew Smith from writing Stick, Tomas Mournian from writing Hidden, Sapphire from writing Push? Everybody loses! Here again, we are in the position of handing over the power to decide what is normal to . . . whom? Industry execs? A morality brigade? A crew of concerned parents? Well, yes, actually: parents.

YA Saves tshirt!4. Parental Guidance. A ratings system is nearly always said to be in service of parents deciding what is appropriate or suitable for their children to read. As Coyne states, the goal of such a system is to “empower parents.” Bypassing the obvious fact that many of the readers of YA fiction are not young adults, the notion that rating systems are about parental guidance has several problems. First (and most foundational), the logic behind such systems suggests that we should only be concerned with kids who a.) have parents and b.) have parents who give a particular kind of shit. (This seems totally illogical, given than so many teens read books looking for answers or ideas about things because they don’t have adults that they feel they can trust.) But this means that it would be a rating system explicitly geared to a specific, small group of people. This, of course, means that such a ratings system would likely be organized around what that small group of people would find desirable and appropriate. And, you know what we call it when one small social, religious, or political faction is able to dictate what is appropriate for the rest? We call it totalitarianism.

Further, what’s really at the root of the notion that we should hand the reins to parents is the extremely conservative belief that children should believe what they were raised to believe rather than making up their own minds; that they should replicate the political and social beliefs of their parents. This nuclear familial structure is, in and of itself, an inherently conservative one and has, of course, had a normalizing cultural force. But the second that it steps outside of itself and begins to dictate art and literature to people outside its structure it has, in my opinion, grievously overstepped.

Crunchings and Munchings! We talk about books!5. We Have the Technology. As it happens, we already have ways that concerned citizens can look at what books contain without emblazoning books with scarlet letters: Goodreads, Common Sense Media & Parental Book Reviews (if one is of that type), and wonderful YA book blogs like those in our blogroll all provide huge amounts of information about books. Further, they contextualize content that ratings systems and content warnings can only ever isolate and stigmatize. So, whether you are a creep who wants to brainwash everyone into thinking like you, a genuinely concerned citizen who wants to suit the book to the reader, or a rabid reader with specific desires about what you read and super self-actualization about your limits, you all want more information, not less. Oh wait, the only one who actually does want less (and easier-to-control) information is the creep.

Comics CodeOne-letter/number ratings or one-word content warnings don’t actually inform—they rather assume. Assume that the powers-that-rate are reading the book the way the readers will. Assume that readers are similar rather than different. Assume that young readers should be warned away from potentially challenging material rather than guided through it or encouraged to read it, think about it, and ask questions about it. Assume that books are quantifiable and summarizable based on content rather than that the reading experience is complex, affective, and personal.

So, for me, what underlies the question “is it time to rate young adult books” isn’t whether or not I think we should help parents buy better birthday books for their kids. What underlies the question is the desire of certain people to tell us what is normal, what is acceptable, what we can handle, what we should want, what we should fear, and whom we should love. And to that my answer is clear: go fuck yourselves.

You're just another brick in the wall

What do you think? Sound off in the comments!

Check it Out: our blogroll

by Tessa

 

One of the supreme joys in life is making lists.  (But not bucket lists, ugh). If you come to our homepage and look to the right (and down a bit) you’ll see that we’ve added a list of some of the blogs we like to look at.  They can be roughly divided into blogs of authors and author/illustrators and blogs about books. I still dig picture books and am a huge fan of comics/graphic novels/art in general, and I tried to represent that.

And fascinating things like Rookie Magazine  get their own category, “Other Awesomeness”.

 

LEGUMES! photo by flickr user Ex-Smith

 

If you hover over each title you’ll see a short description of the content of the sites. I think 99% of these are on my personal Google Reader and they’re one of the reasons that I have so many books I want to read. (Damn you, Stacked and A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy in particular. And Bookshelves of Doom.) (I mean, thank you.)

 

One of the best things about having a blog is interacting with likeminded bloggers, and, scarily and wonderfully, being in close contact with the creators of art and words that are thoroughly transportative and thrilling.  Although I admit that Rebecca is so much better at Twitter than I am.

So here’s our tip of the collective hat to you, INTERNET. I’ll see you around. Tomorrow.

First Position: A Delicious Dance Documentary

A Review of First Position, a documentary by Bess Kargman

By REBECCA, May 21, 2012

First Position: a dance documentary   First Position: a ballet documentary

The Red ShoesWe all love dance movies, right? Center Stage, Dirty Dancing, Step Up, The Red Shoes—the interpersonal competition, the amazing costumes, the tawdry dance-sex, and the use of dance to express the characters’ innermost dreams! Well, I just saw First Position, the ballet documentary that I’ve been looking forward to seeing, and it did not disappoint! But . . . not for any of the reasons that I love over-the-top dance movies.

First Position follows six ballet dancers between the ages of 10 and 17 as they compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, the biggest award- and scholarship-granting competition for young dancers. The documentary follows a dramatic form similar to elimination competitions and the delightful documentary Spellbound, which followed eight kids during the 1999 National Spelling Bee: we meet the dancers, learn their back stories, and follow them through the semi-finals around the world, and the finals in New York City.

First Position: a ballet documentary

Michaela!

The film was totally charming! There are the sweet 11 year-old Aran, the son of a naval officer living in Italy, who trains all day and feeds goats on a mountainside, Joan Sebastian, the 16 year-old Colombian dancer living in Queens who hasn’t seen his family in over a year, Miko and Jules, a brother and sister with a hilarious coach and a very involved mother, and the 14 year-old Michaela, adopted from Sierre Leone as a child, who dances through intense pain, and 17 year-old Rebecca, a blonde high schooler whose car and room are emblazoned with “princess” in glittery pink letters. Then there’s the amazing Gaya, Aran’s Israeli friend who drops in about halfway through the film and kind of steals the show.

Unlike most dance movies, which highlight the drama among dancers,First Position focuses entirely on the personal journeys of the dancers and their individual relationships with dance. I know that I, like many other YA enthusiasts, appreciate when young adult characters are portrayed as the inspiring, amazing, flawed people that they so often are. It was really inspiring, for that reason, to see these teens (and younger) showing such totally wicked commitment and dedication to their art! They were so poised and focused, so mature and just . . . joyous about dancing.

First Position: a ballet documentary

Miko!

The dancers come from all different backgrounds, so we get to experience many different approaches to ballet, from Miko, who is home-schooled to allow more time for dancing, to Rebecca, who was a high school cheerleader. (Also, some of the dancers’ back stories are amazingly poignant, but I won’t spoil them.) Along the way there are snippets of hilarious dance instructors, clueless/very invested parents, and, best of all, a bit of commentary about the roles of race and gender in the ballet world.

What sticks out the most, though, is the inspiring dedication that these young adults are putting into their dance! My sister and I basically stumbled into the movie stuffed full of an indulgent Amada tapas dinner and a few cocktails and we left weeping with admiration and dancing in the subway.

read/watchalikes

Bunheads Sophie Flack

Bunheads by Sophie Flack (2011). This dance novel by a former bunhead follows a year in the life of one dancer in a New York ballet company who has to choose between dancing and having a different kind of life.  You can read the full review here.

Say Goodnight Gracie Juie Reece Deaver

Say Goodnight, Gracie by Julie Reece Deaver (1988). Shy Morgan and outgoing Jimmy have been best friends since they were little kids. Now, in high school, they support each others’ dreams—Morgan’s of acting, and Jimmy’s of dancing. Say Goodnight, Gracie follows their friendship through auditions and skipping school—but can Morgan survive without Jimmy?

Every Little Step A Chorus Line

Every Little Step, a documentary by Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern (2008). This amazing documentary follows the casting of the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. Again, I saw it with my sister and if I made an infographic representing the way we spent the movie it would look like this:

weeping: 50%
laughing: 20%
staring in slack-jawed awe: 25%
sobbing/clutching each other to stifle our sobs: 5%
 

So, have you seen First Position? What did you think? What’s your favorite dance movie/book?!

The Silver Kiss: A Pre-Twilight Vampire Love Story Done Right

A Review of The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause

Dell, 1990

By REBECCA, May 18, 2012

Silver Kiss Annette Curtis Klause

characters

Zoë: feels like she’s floating through life until she meets Simon

Simon: a vampire seeking revenge is drawn to Zoë’s sadness

Lorraine: Zoë’s best friend, loyal but a bit oblivious

Zoë’s mom: dying

Zoë’s dad: sweet and overwhelmed

Christopher: a young boy unnaturally attached to his grisly teddy bear

the hook

Zoë’s mother is dying of cancer and Zoë feels like she’s merely going through the motions, walking through the park alone late at night even though the news reports a string of local murders. Then she meets Simon, a mysterious boy who tries to convince her that he’s a vampire. But that’s ridiculous, right? Because vampires don’t exist.

worldview

Annette Curtis Klause‘s The Silver Kiss is, first and foremost, an atmosphere piece. Zoë’s mother is dying slowly, and Zoë is wasting away right along with her—she can’t eat, she can’t concentrate, and she has nothing to say. So she takes long walks at night and, you know, generally acts like someone whose mother is dying. Simon is a vampire whose own mother was murdered, cursing him to an eternal life of loneliness. When he sees Zoë at the park one night, Simon recognizes her loneliness. She is “pale as the milk of death, thin and sharp like pain” (19).

Stephanie Meyer Twilight Bella Swann Edward CullenThere is no psychic connection (or shocking lack thereof) between Simon and Zoë, no insta-love, and no notion that “vampire” is just another high school clique designation. No romance, really, in the way that we might find it in any of the dozens of vampire-human-love-stories littering Amazon today. When I say that The Silver Kiss is an atmosphere piece, I mean that the feelings of loneliness and despair aren’t there to facilitate romance; they are the story, and the comfort that Simon and Zoë provide for each other is necessary, but can’t stop death or cure loneliness.

Louis Brad Pitt Interview With the Vampire

image: Web Parkz

I first read The Silver Kiss in middle school. So, this was in the mid-nineties, and the only vampire story I had ever read was Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire. Maybe I even read them the same year. In any case, it was a totally unique story, and I was really taken with the horror of being immortal. Of course, in Interview With the Vampire, Rice gets at the pain that immortality can bring, but that book has such a sweeping view of history and a lot of awesome stuff happens, too. But in The Silver Kiss I was really aware of how sad and lonely it would be to be a teenager for hundreds of years.

what was the book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

The Silver Kiss Annette Curtis Klause

Delacorte Twilight-ed the cover!

I think Klause is smart in the way that she constructs this book: there is a plot—a solid, creepy plot—but that plot is the backdrop for the real focus of the novel, which is the way that we can only feel alive when we feel seen and recognized by the people we love and who love us. Simon is stuck permanently at the age that is most dynamic for other teenagers, and he has no one to see him change even if he could. Zoë has the potential for change—she’s growing up; her best friend is moving, etc—but she feels that she has lost the one person who saw her best: her mother. Both turn to each other not out of some swoony, fatalistic romance, but because they see their own loneliness reflected in one another.

Sure, this isn’t the subtlest of relationships, but if you can get past the (realistically, I think) melodramatic language, the comfort they promise each other is poignant and meaningful.

“What puzzled him was why she had panicked when she answered the phone. She must have guessed his thoughts. Her lips tightened, her gaze lowered. ‘I thought it might be about my mother,’ she said. ‘She’s dying.’

It was a terse confession, perhaps in return for his own rambling tale. . . .

‘You’ll let me come again?’

‘Why?’ Her hand went to her throat.

It made him feel ashamed. He stooped to pick up his T-shirt. ‘To talk,’ he muttered. ‘Just to talk.’

‘What have we to talk about?’ It sounded like a denial.

He took a stab in the dark. ‘Death,’ he said.

Her eyes grew large and stricken, but she nodded. ‘Yes.'” (128-9)

Blood and Chocolate Annette Curtis KlauseKlause is also the author of the awesome Blood and Chocolate (1997)—which was made into a very uneven movie with Agnes Bruckner, Hugh Dancy, and Olivier Martinez—about a werewolf who has to choose between staying true to the laws of her pack and her growing feelings for a human boy. I mention Blood and Chocolate because Klause knocked out a vampire book and a werewolf book, both featuring female protagonists, long before vampires and werewolves were YA superfoods, and she did so in the spirit that I most appreciate the conceits: a.) as good old-fashioned genre fiction, and b.) as a meditation on the real conflicts that being different and feeling alone can cause, especially when you’re a teenager.

The bottom line: The Silver Kiss is what you wanted Twilight to be, fifteen years before the genre was glutted. The entire plot line with Christopher (a super creepy child vampire) and Simon is also totally gripping, but I don’t want to give anything away.

personal disclosure

I have a confession to make: as you can see from the scanned-in pic of my copy at the top of this review, I stole The Silver Kiss from the Clague Middle School Library. I know, I’m so ashamed. I apologize to the many other students whose chances to read it were ruined by my inconsiderate actions. Consider this review my way of giving it back to them.

readalikes

Sara Zarr Sweethearts

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (2008). While nothing alike in plot, Sweethearts is also the story of a relationship that is based in deep feeling, but isn’t typically romance-y. Jenna and Cameron were outcasts together when they were friends; but when Cameron disappears, Jenna thinks that part of her is gone for good—for better and for worse. But when Cameron comes back into Jenna’s life, she is forced to face the truth about both of them.

The Hanged Man Francesca Lia Block

The Hanged Man by Francesca Lia Block (1999). Laurel’s father has just died and Laurel is starving herself to avoid facing her feelings and her past. The Hanged Man reminds me of The Silver Kiss in tone: kind of floaty and detached, but beautiful.

So, there you have it! Do you have a favorite pre-Twilight vampire romance? Let us know in the comments!

People are just people, they shouldn’t make you nervous: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Ned Vizzini
Miramax Books/Hyperion, 2006

review by Tessa

Characters
Outside of the Hospital
Craig Gilner, can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t talk, can try to smoke pot to self-medicate since he took himself off of his real medication, Zoloft
Dr. Minerva, an understanding psychologist
Aaron, Craig’s bestie, but doesn’t know about Craig’s problems but does tell Craig in explicit detail about his sexual exploits with…
Nia, girl of Craig’s dreams, dating Aaron
Sarah Craig’s younger sister

Inside of the Hospital
Smitty – day manager
Bobby & Johnny – biggest meth addicts in New York (in the 90s)
Jimmy – It’ll come to ya
Noelle – cute note-leaver with self-inflicted facial cuts
Humble– bald, suspicious of yuppies and yuppie-like behavior
Muqtada – Craig’s roommate. Mostly sleeps and wishes there were some Egyptian music he could hear.
Armelio – “The President”, announces when meals occur.
Solomon – keep it down, he’s trying to rest
Ebony – wears velvet pants
The Professor – convinced her home is full of insecticide (and it may well be)

Hook
Craig Gilner works hard to achieve his one goal of teenagedom: getting into an elite prep school. Then he gets so anxious and depressed he wants to kill himself. What then?

Worldview

Craig Gilner lives in the real world. And in the real world you find the best path to being successful and follow it. For him, that’s getting into the Executive Pre-Professional High School, in Manhattan. Getting in there guarantees a wealthy, healthy life. So Craig studies his ass off and gets in. And then the Tentacles start wrapping around him…

Tentacles is my term–the Tentacles are the evil tasks that invade my life.  Like, for example, my American History class last week, which necessitated me writing a paper on the weapons of the Revolutionary War, which necessitated me traveling to the Metropolitan Museum to check out some of the old guns, which necessitated me getting in the subway, which necessitated me being away from my cell phone and e-mail for 45 minutes, which meant that I didn’t get to respond to a mass e-mail sent out by my teacher asking who needed extra credit, which meant other kids snapped up the extra credit, which meant I wasn’t going to get a 98 in the class, which mean I wasn’t anywhere close to a 98.6 average (body temperature, that’s what you needed to get), which meant I wasn’t going to get into a Good College, which meant I wasn’t going to have a Good Job, which meant I wasn’t going to have health insurance, which meant I’d have to pay tremendous amounts of money for the shrinks and drugs my brain needed, which meant I wasn’t going to have enough money to pay for a Good Lifestyle, which meant I’d feel ashamed, which meant I’d get depressed, and that was the big one because I knew what that did to me: it made it so I wouldn’t get out of bed, which led to the ultimate thing–homelessness. If you can’t get out of bed for long enough, people come and take your bed away.” (14-15).

photo by flickr user kevin dooley

Craig is so anxious and depressed and swallowed up by the chain of events that hypothetically ensure that he ends up homeless that he can’t eat. He can’t usually talk.  He can smoke weed, but sometimes he doesn’t, to see if it improves things.

He can also watch jealously as his best friend hooks up with the seemingly perfect Nia, a girl with shiny hair and impeccable outfits along with a love of sex, and then tells Craig aaaall the gory details.

It’s too much. Craig decides he’s already failed at life and should kill himself.

But instead of doing that he checks himself into the hospital.

What is the book’s intention & is it achieved?

If this book’s intention is to give its readers an accurate view of depression and to show that normal people have it and struggle with it, and how that struggle can go and be a slog but still be hopeful, then it is certainly achieved.

“It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint–it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out.  They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed -ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.” (3)

Craig’s a great voice, and if you want to get granular, he’s also a great teenage boy voice.  He’s got facets.  The book opens with him at his worst. When the book opens, he’s at his lowest point. By the reactions of his friends and family it’s easy to tell that he looks blank to them. But because we’re in his head, we hear the self-flagellation of a depressed person. The anguish and the self-deprecation, and all the things Craig would like to say if he could make himself.  The loneliness of not being able to say things.  The hopelessness of feeling like each decision is a bad one. The frustration of not being able to do something so simple as feed yourself.  But couched in black humor–Craig’s funny and he has a loving, supportive, dry-witted family.

That’s the first part of the book.  Then Craig checks himself into an adult mental ward (the youth wing is being renovated) at the hospital a few blocks down from his apartment in Brooklyn.  And finally meets people who admit that they’re struggling with similar things.

“I look at Bobby’s deep-sunk eyes. I get the feeling–I don’t know how I know the rules of mental-ward etiquette; maybe I was born with them; maybe I knew I’d end up here–but I get the feeling that one big no-no in this place is asking people how they got here. It’d be a little like walking up to somebody in prison and going ‘So? So? What’s up huh? Didja kill somebody? Didja?’’

But I also get the impression that you can volunteer the reasons you got here at any time and no one will judge; no one will think you’re too crazy or not crazy enough, and that’s how you make friends. After all, what else is there to talk about? So I tell bobby: ‘I’m here because I suffer from serious depression.’

‘Me too.’ He nods. ‘Since I was fifteen.’ And his eyes shine with blackness and horror. We shake hands.” (198-9).

That’s where things begin to change for Craig. By putting himself somewhere with simplified choices, he frees himself up to experience a little happiness again. Some spontaneity.  He re-learns that there are other options in life, and he discovers how to be creative again.  (See Rebecca’s People Creating Things list for other books with this plot point.)  All this, even though the people in the ward can be a little weird and unpredictable, and the whole thing is scary.  He still manages to find a cute girl to have 15 minute dates with.

creative representations of thought! this is apropos, just trust me. photo by flickr user foolish gold.

And that’s why It’s Kind of a Funny Story is such a wonderful book. It has balance.  In the first part the extremely realistic knowledge of severe depression is balanced by the natural humor of Craig’s voice. At the hospital the hardness of mental illness isn’t shied away from. Craig’s roommate Muqtada never showers and can barely get out of bed. Craig’s friends find out he’s in the hospital and tell him so in an extremely unsympathetic phone call. Jimmy, a man who was admitted with Craig, is so messed up he only repeats certain phrases, until he debuts some new ones that reveal how terrible his life must have been.

But Craig doesn’t get a terrible plot arc that ends up with him relapsing once he leaves the hospital, or staying on the ward for months and months–we see it in other characters, so it’s in there, but this isn’t YA Problem-Fest. Jimmy’s problems don’t become the maudlin emotional climax of the book. Instead, it’s built like a really great pop song.  In fact, in its denouement the rhythm and bittersweetness of the prose reminded me very much of certain Regina Spektor lyrics. Compare:

“I haven’t cured anything but something seismic is happening in me. I feel my body wrapped up and slapped on top of my spine. I feel the heart that beat early in the morning on Saturday and told me I didn’t want to die. I feel the lungs that have been doing their work quietly inside the hospital. I feel the hands that can make art and touch girls–think of all the tools you have. I feel the feet that can let me run anywhere I want, into the park and out of it and down to my bike to go all over Brooklyn and Manhattan too, once I convince my mom.  I feel my stomach and liver and all that mushy stuff that’s in there handling food, happy to be back in use. But most of all I feel my brain, up there taking in blood and looking out on the world and noticing humor and light and smells and dogs and every other thing in the world–everything in my life all in my brain, really, so it would be natural that when my brain was screwed up, everything in my life would be.” (442-3).

“No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again” – On the Radio, Regina Spektor

 

Readalikes

Honestly? Will Grayson, Will Grayson. And not just because we just discussed it.

Otherwise I’m drawing a blank. Anyone have any good suggestions?

 

Disclosure/Digression

This is what Craig’s dog looks like: 

I don’t intend on seeing the movie adaptation of this. Normally I don’t care if the movie and the book are different, but nothing about any of the characters reminded me of Zach Galifianakis. As much as I love his other stuff. I don’t want him invading this book with his personality.

I got this book from the library, in ebook AND paper form

Finding My Inner Greaser

An Homage to The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Viking Press, 1967

By REBECCA, May 14, 2012

Ponyboy The Outsiders S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders S.E. Hinton

My much-loved copy of The Outsiders

It’s been 45 years since a teenaged S.E. Hinton (whose publishers encouraged her to go by her initials to avoid alienating her male readers) published The Outsiders, and Hinton has just announced that she will release an e-book version of the novel.

I first read The Outsiders when I was 11, in 1993. I know because “11 years” is written on the inside of the front cover in the careful, round cursive I remember using that year. I originally found it in the library, where I spent two afternoons a week while my mother did aerobics at the Y across the street. I trawled the stacks, running fingertips over the plastic-wrapped spines, then took that day’s findings to the lobby of the Y to meet my mother, reading only the first page of each selection to decide which I would read first.

Stay gold knuckle tattoo

Image: openeyedtattoos

I don’t remember how many pages of The Outsiders I read before I realized that I needed to buy my own copy so that I could read it over and over without the attentive librarian or my parents commenting on how I was checking out the same book multiple times. I do remember scooting into the bookstore next to the grocery store when I next went grocery shopping with my mother, though, and slipping the slim paperback into my pocket before she could see. I was secretive, and stingy with the things that mattered, afraid that sharing would diffuse them. And The Outsiders definitely mattered.

It wasn’t the story, or even the writing style that so captivated me. It was a quality that Hinton’s characters had. Something that I hadn’t experienced much yet—couldn’t have experienced much yet, as a middle class, white kid with a wonderful family, living in a liberal college town—but that screamed at me from the pages.

I wouldn’t have known what to call it then, but it is a very particular kind of honor. An honor that comes from knowing that you will be misjudged but doing what you feel you must do anyway; knowing that your actions alone are not enough to change the world but acting nonetheless; loving whom and what you love despite the threats and harm that result because of that love.

Stay Gold tattoo

Image: flickr user Erin Polito

I wanted to be like them—to fight for the things and people that I loved. But, although I might not have known to call it honor, or been exactly sure of how to describe the gender, race, and class politics that inflect it, I had a sneaking suspicion that something more than my socioeconomic background or my gender stood in the way of my ever being like Dally or Ponyboy. Cherry Valance says it best: “‘It’s not just money [that separates Socs and greasers]. Part of it is, but not all. You greasers have a different set of values. You’re more emotional. We’re sophisticated—cool to the point of not feeling anything’” (35). “‘That’s why we’re separated,’” Pony responds, “‘it’s feeling—you don’t feel anything and we feel too violently’” (36).

If I didn’t even want anyone to know how deeply a novel had affected me, could I ever express the depth of my feelings the way Ponyboy does the first night he meets Cherry?: “‘It ain’t fair!’ I cried passionately. ‘It ain’t fair that we have all the rough breaks!’” (40). I sensed there was a correlation, somehow, between having it rough and being able to express strong emotions. Or was it that without a family that was invested in your happiness it simply became much easier to admit to unhappiness?

So maybe I wasn’t a greaser in that way. But maybe, I thought, the honor I saw in Hinton’s greaser characters wasn’t tied up only in such transparent personal emotionality. Maybe writing could be honorable, too. Maybe it could save people in a different way than Johnny saves the kids from the burning church, or Darry saves Pony and Soda from being put in a boy’s home. And if that was the case, maybe I could express things through my writing that I could never say out loud without feeling terribly awkward and exposed.

Stay gold wrist tattoos

Image: flickr user CharlieOxenFree

In 1993, the idea that I, a kid living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, could ever hope to communicate with the person who wrote my favorite book was totally unthinkable. Sure, I knew people wrote fan letters, but I was never that person. After all, what could I possibly write that would express to S.E. Hinton what her book meant to me? And how could I tell something so personal to a total stranger, even if I thought she might understand? I know now, of course, that writers thrive on just this type of letter, but that kind of hyper-personal fannishness embarrassed me.

When Tessa and I started this blog, one thing that was totally new to me was Twitter. I got the hang of it, slowly, but what repeatedly blew my mind about this chatty new world was the proximity of authors to readers. On a nervous whim, like picking up a phone to call a crush and hesitating over that last digit, I searched to see if Hinton was on Twitter. When I saw that she was, I wasn’t sure what to do. I mean, I wanted to be her as a kid—how could I reconcile that kind of deep respect with 140 characters of potential banality?

Stay Gold ankle tattoos

Image: flickr user Jonny Medina

More to the point, what do I do in this new, close world where expressing what we “like” is just how many of us communicate, to say nothing of sharing what we love? Where, in all this closeness, do I put the pieces of myself that have slouched to the movies with Pony and Johnny and daydreamed through the first feature? The pieces that have tensed in fury on Dally’s behalf and thrown imaginary punches at assholes, bullies, bigots, and anyone who looked at me wrong when I walked down the street? The pieces that always wanted two older brothers—or maybe wished that I could be one? The pieces that so badly wanted a gang of my own that would always have my back?

When I look at my copy of The Outsiders that I first read when I was 11, dog-eared, the edges rounded by re-reading, the idea of experiencing the greasers’ story electronically seems foreign—a little . . . Soc-y, maybe? But maybe not. Maybe the ability to get The Outsiders at the touch of a button, without sneaking into a bookstore or hiding the number of times you’ve checked it out from the local library is the best thing that could happen. In any case, as Ponyboy might remind me, I guess you can read The Outsiders pretty good from an e-reader, too.

Doctor, the Experiment Is A Success!: Red Fox

A review of Red Fox (Experiment in Terror #2) by Karina Halle

Metal Blonde Books, 2011

By REBECCA, May 11, 2012

Red Fox Experiment in Terror Karina Halle


NOTE: This is the second book in the Experiment in Terror series. You can check out my review of the first book, Darkhouse, here.

characters

Perry Palomino: A kick-ass (no, really, she knows martial arts) lady with a lonely heart,  a yen for adventure, and a seemingly limitless collection of concert tees

Dex Foray: Mustachioed ghost hunter and all-around delightfully infuriating enigma

Maximus: An old friend of Dex’s who shines some light on Dex’s mysterious past

The Lancasters: Owners of the ranch in Red Fox where Perry and Dex want to film

Bird: Rancher and all-around good guy, Bird is Perry and Dex’s guide to life (and death) in Red Fox

the hook

Perry and Dex survived shooting their first episode of Experiment in Terror and are now off to the little town of Red Fox, New Mexico where a Navajo couple are being tormented by scampering animals, a rainfall of stones, and the mutilated corpses of farm animals. Things between Perry and Dex are as . . . tense as ever, and now there is an old friend of Dex’s thrown in the mix. Will he come between them, or make them closer than ever? And why does trouble seem to follow Perry wherever she goes . . . ?

worldview

My cat, Dorian Gray, haunted by Red Fox

Yay, Perry and Dex are back! So, if you read my review of Darkhouse, the first book in the series, you know that I love Perry and Dex. When I finished Darkhouse, I smashed up against the terrible realization that I would now have to wait a week for the second book to be delivered once I feverishly ordered it. My apartment sounded something like this: “Gaaahooonooo! Idiot! Why didn’t you—gah! Damnit, Rebecca! Damn you, Karina Halle, for making me addicted” followed by a plaintive “mrow” from the cat as I slammed the book down in desperation.

And Red Fox is, I dare say, even better than Darkhouse. The characters are more solidified and their interactions have bigger stakes. Perry has finally been offered a promotion at work, but gets fired when she asks to work part time to accommodate filming the show on the weekends, so she’s feeling a bit fragile and pathetic. Dex is still dating Wine Babe Jenn, but clearly just as taken with our gal Perry as ever. Halle is truly a master of the I-love-you-you-total-infuriating-asshole-I-hate-you dynamic and it’s pure delight. With a healthy helping of terror, of course. The tip to film in Red Fox comes from Dex’s college friend (and former bandmate), Maximus, a tall, strapping, redheaded, flannel-wearing ghost whisperer. Dex and Max have had a falling out, causing tension among the three of them: tension of the hey-there! variety between Maximus and Perry, and the I-know-what-you-did-in-college variety between Maximus and Dex, even as Perry and Dex’s sexual tension grows astronomically.

Leap Year Amy Adams Matthew Goode

Hmm, we seem to be married . . .
Image: nerdgirltalking

This all plays out against the exciting backdrop of what Will Lancaster thinks are poltergeists on his ranch in Red Fox. Halle totally evokes the creepiness of the rural, Southwestern setting with its long stretches of dusty road, sudden animal encounters, and treacherous rocky landscape. As it seems clearer and clearer that they are not dealing with poltergeists but with something out of a Navajo mythology, the threats to Perry and Dex come from all sides. But that just means they have to scoot closer together. In bed. Because they have to pretend to be married for the sake of propriety like in that movie Leap Year with Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. Just saying.

what was the book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

Fox

I am scary
Image: Nicole Duplaix, Nation Geographic

Where Darkhouse seeded the notion that maybe, just maybe, Dex is mental and shit is all in his head, Red Fox lets you know he’s mental and that it’s not all in his head. Dude, Red Fox is scary—and it ain’t just the ghosties! One of the things I like the most about this series is the way that Halle weaves together all the different scaries instead of relying only on the supernatural. So, you’ve got your supernatural scary, sure, but then there’s also the fear of loving someone who may not love you back; the fear that people you trust may betray or even kill you; and the terrible garden-variety fear of encountering a bunch of drunks in a bar of an evening. Red Fox is the total package.

“My eyes flickered open. Something had woken me up . . . Then I felt something brush up against my foot . . .

I took a deep breath and slowly turned over.

I felt the life being sucked out of me.

There was an animal sitting at the foot of the bed, just six feet away, on top of my feet . . .

It was a fox. I couldn’t see it clearly but I knew that’s what it was. A fox, about the size of a collie, sitting on its hindquarters, ears creating a pointy silhouette. It looked right at me. Its eyes were a hazel color but they didn’t glow like a normal animal. They locked with mine. It was like looking into the eyes of someone I knew.” (90)

personal disclosure

So, I’ve been reading this series like a madwoman, y’all—it is addictive and each book just keeps getting better! When I was reading Darkhouse I was careful: I relegated my reading to daylight hours because I live alone and have super gruesome nightmares anyway, so I didn’t want to totally freak myself out. Then, with Red Fox, I couldn’t make myself stop when it got dark, so I huddled under a really big blanket and made my cat sit with me so I wouldn’t be too scared. By Dead Sky Morning, the third in the series (review coming soon!), I was reading it at 3am during a violent thunderstorm right before I went to bed. And that, my friends, is the spiral of addiction. Cheers.

Perry Palomino Red Fox Experiment in Terror

BONUS! This just in: after you read Red Fox, you can check out Halle’s re-writing of one of the scenes in the book from Dex’s perspective posted here on What the Cat Read!

10 Reasons Why the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie will always be the best.

by Tessa

Hey dudes. I don’t have a book review today. I’d like to take some of your time to address a Topic in Classic Teen Movies.

Michael Bay recently told TMNT fans to “take a breath and chill” about his plans to do a new take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… mythology(?).  (If you haven’t heard the newest rumors, he’s changing the title to “Ninja Turtles” and making them into aliens and not mutants).

I’m chill, Michael.  I’m just going to calmly point out why your movie will probably never top the 1990 version. For me. Based on your track record as a director.  Just a calm personal assessment of my tastes vs. your perceived tastes.

1. HENSON, no CGI

CGI may be cheaper, but it’s harder to give it any soul.  Jim Henson rules. Case closed.  I don’t think M. Bay’s turtles will give us a more fun or realistic moment than this dance:

2. Rad and Funky Soundtrack (reminiscent of Labyrinth in some places)

including terrible rapping over the end credits (it’s by Partners in Kryme)

Nowadays, movies have innocuous composed scores with moneymaking “soundtracks” featuring songs that never even get into the movie, except for one blustering, sounds-like-everything-else rock song that plays over the credits.  Where did all the funky synthesized horn sections go?  The made-to-order raps? The first time I really noticed this was the Nickelback song on the end of the Spiderman movie.

3. Normal “hot” April, not Megan Fox April

Hey look! April looks her age. She looks like she shops for clothes and hair products on the budget of a news anchor from a lower-tier station. She’s relatable. She’s sort of goofy.

We all know what Michael Bay thinks leading ladies should look like.  He’s interested in creating extreme worlds filled with only the most beautiful people.

hence Megan Fox & the model with 2 last names, and Kate Beckinsale in Pearl Harbor, etc. etc.

4. Romantic interest is kind of assholey libertarian guy in sweatpants

At one point Casey Jones mistakes “claustrophobic” for “homosexual” and gets offended.  It’s so stupid. Why did I have a crush on him as a kid? I guess I’m just into long hair.

This is probably not too far from a current Michael Bay romantic lead. But I think Casey Jones is more authentic of a character. Because I’m being contrarian. He’s a guy who’s into vigilante justice and thinks his misogyny is just good gentlemanly manners.  He never stops wearing sweatpants. Never.

5. Enemy wears sparkly pants

Speaking of pants.  Shredder rocks the glitter.  Shredder will probably be all molded rubber a la Batman or futuristic Teflon/plastic armor.  Sparkly polyester spandex is much more practical for being a ninja.  It also shows that he’s confident with his self-presentation because real men can wear anything and still be vengeful tyrants whose plan to rule the NYC black market involves being the mob boss of a bunch of teenage hooligans.

6. Tiny animated turtle saying “RADICAL RADICAL RADICAL”

self-explanatory.  This will definitely not be part of the origin sequence for the new Ninja Turtles because it is not serious or corny. It is pure joy.

7. Old NYC

I can see this place being dangerous, full of people living on the margins. A place where you can watch your TV on your fire escape and have it stolen out from under your nose. A place where mutant turtles live in the sewers and occasionally go to movies disguised only in fedoras and trench coats that barely cover their bulging green calf muscles.  The class divide is just roiling beneath the surface.

Today? Not so much. My new stereotypical view of New York City is that it’s full of rich people and no one is allowed to show art that is in any way made of cow dung.  Mutant Turtles would stand no chance here.

8. Sam Rockwell

Will Sam Rockwell be in the New Ninja Turtles movie? I guess it’s possible.  And he’s usually great in whatever he does.  But he won’t have the vital naivete and attitude of youth, like he does in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Rowr.

9. Farm interlude with voiceover and terrible drawings


Do you think that for even one moment Michael Bay would stop an explosive spectacle of alien turtle action to have some downtime on an old farm:

where the characters can catch a break from their enemies and commune spiritually with their lost Rat Master through a campfire:

with unexpected voiceover narration by April who has decided to document everything earnestly-drawn colored pencil??

NO.

I feel sorry for the children of today because this was my favorite part of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And they will not have such an interlude.

10. Fights where you can actually see what’s happening instead of first person shaky-cam fighting.

I’m so over shaky cam fighting. I’m looking at you, Hunger Games. Most directors these days seem to disagree with me, and Michael Bay is no different.  The action in Transformers was basically a CGI explosion of shaky silver and grey things rushing around.  I’d rather watch the classic Henson-created Turtles fight their way around old NYC, because I can actually see what’s going on when they fight.

All screenshots captured by me. More are here.

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