No Revolution, But Inspiration Nonetheless: Step Up 4!

A Review of Step Up Revolution, directed by Scott Speer (2012)

By REBECCA, July 30, 2012

Step Up Revolution

Sean and Eddy (Ryan Guzman and Misha Gabriel) are the leaders of The Mob, a flash mob dance crew in Miami, and work in a luxury hotel by day. When the property developer of the hotel where they work threatens to buy the land where they and their friends and families live, they use dance as a weapon to fight back. Along the way, Sean meets Emily (Kathryn McKormick), an aspiring dancer and (you guessed it) the daughter of our evil empire-builder, who joins forces with them.

Oh, Step Up franchise, I haven’t cared about any of your characters since Channing Tatum in 2006, but damn do I like your style. The short story is this: Step Up Revolution‘s dancing and effects are pretty awesome; the rest is total garbage, but that’s cool because it’s the dancing that we care about, right?

Well, actually, not quite. When I first saw the preview for Step Up Revolution, I held out a smidgen of hope that there might be something truly . . . revolutionary about a crew of performers taking advantage of our technology-obsessed culture to reach an audience so large that their art could change people’s lives for the better.

Step Up RevolutionDid I hope in vain? Not entirely. In fact, the movie opens with a truly gorgeous instance of flash mobbery that models the amazing ease with which workaday public spaces can be transformed into theaters of expression with even the most basic recon into how these spaces function. It is a breathtaking show of the power that a group of individuals can have over their environment when they work together toward a common goal, and I actually found myself tearing up a little at the notion of groups of teenagers watching this movie and being inspired to use its tactics in their own communities. It’s a truly inspiring scene.

This early promise, however, and with it much of my joy in The Mob’s tactics, stagnates into such a lockbox of capitalist Hollywood formula that even the dancing feels like it’s been calibrated to dazzle but not to surprise. While there are beautiful scenes of dance magic and trickery (taking over an art gallery and an upscale restaurant), rather than having a message, The Mob stages their flashmobs in the hopes of getting enough hits on their Youtube channel to win a monetary prize. While members of the mob will surely benefit from the money, this (frankly disappointing) goal makes it difficult to really care about their performances as anything more than beautiful dancing. Which is fine, except that:

Step Up RevolutionAlthough the premise of the film rests on the audience rooting to save the culturally diverse neighborhoods that Bill Anderson’s property development will destroy, The Mob is a multi-ethnic group in which only the two white dudes (Sean and Eddy) have more than a few lines of dialogue (this is painfully exemplified in the tattooed, Latino artist who is literally mute). And, the privileged Emily exoticizes Sean’s neighborhood (“people actually live here!”) and suggests that the reason Sean can “break the rules” is that he has nothing to lose, etc.

Step Up RevolutionIt is Emily, though, who, upon learning of her father’s dastardly plans, tells The Mob that art for art’s sake isn’t enough anymore—that it’s time for “protest art” that has a message. When they begin using their art to actually fight for something, The Mob’s dancing becomes far more interesting and they inspire loyalty and gratitude from the folks in the neighborhoods they are trying to save.

Basically, then, it comes down to the standard questions (both about the film itself and the art within it): can art that is made for capitalist gains ever detach itself from those chains? can something that achieves positive change for suspect reasons be detached from those reasons? are politics and selling out mutually exclusive or inextricable? I’m tempted to be a bit generous and say that, rather than simply being a big mess, Step Up Revolution draws attention to the ways in which sometimes it is unlikely people and situations that produce the tools of change. Certainly, any revolutionary ground that The Mob gains in its victory against Anderson is blotted out when The Mob’s success against a capitalist take-over collapses into an offer from Nike to capitalize on it.

Step Up RevolutionStill, Step Up Revolution was, for me, a success (albeit a qualified one) of political affect. That is, while I was watching it, I felt buzzed with the potential that its tactics could have; I felt hopeful that people would be inspired to use those tactics positively. Say what you will about how such feelings of political affect dissipate the moment we step away from the color-saturated, tune-drenched movie theater, I choose to hold out hope that teenagers seeing the movie might still cut through the bad dialogue and predictable plot to the core of The Mob’s stated message: placing art in the public forum forces people to listen to voices to which they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed.

Anna Kendrick and Kristen Stewart Twilight Jessica and BellaIn other news, I was treated to the preview for what will clearly be another filmic gem: Pitch Perfect, starring Anna Kendrick, about a college a cappella group that needs a new image. Number one, the a cappella group is called The Bellas and I can’t help but suspect a subtle Twilight reference (the preview for Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 came on right after Pitch Perfect, reinforcing this connection in my brain). Number two, the fact that Anna Kendrick can sing as well as being a genius of awkward comic timing makes me think that she may be poised to take over the world.

So, did you see Step Up Revolution? What did you think?

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Re-Read: The Child Queen & The High Queen

A Review of The Child Queen and The High Queen, by Nancy McKenzie

Del Ray, 1994

By REBECCA, July 27, 2012

The Child Queen Nancy McKenzie  The High Queen Nancy McKenzie

hook

Guinevere lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin Elaine in Wales; she’s adventurous and really only wants to ride her horses. Her cousin, Elaine, however, wants nothing more than to be chosen as the bride of the newly-widowed high king—Arthur of Camelot. When a chance encounter places Guinevere in Arthur’s sights, neither girl gets what she wants: Elaine is bitter and bereft, and Guinevere terrified of losing first her freedom and, later, her love for another horse-lover. You guessed it: Lancelot.

why am i re-reading these?

Queen of Camelot Nancy McKenzie I first read these around the time the came out, so I was around 12, and I read them about a million times for the next few years, when I was going through a bit of an Arthur-Guinevere phase. I loved the intricacy of the history/mythology of Arthurian stories and how differently each author would characterize the familiar figures, all of which stemmed from reading these books by Nancy McKenzie, collectively called The Tale Of Guinevere and King Arthur (apparently she doesn’t get an honorific) and re-released in one volume called Queen of Camelot (in which she does). In high school, I was a really big historical fiction fan, among other things, and I think that McKenzie’s books were something of a gateway drug for me: it was the richness of this other world that captivated me, much in the same way that world-building in fantasy or science fiction can transport me. As a result of reading these, I went on to be totally obsessed with all of Sharon Kay Penman‘s books, which I highly recommend for any historical fiction fans out there.

I wanted to re-read this duology because I’m not so much into historical fiction anymore, and in nearly all realms I absolutely couldn’t care less about royalty. So, I wanted to see if this world still worked its magic on me, or whether I was distracted by the . . . romanticization of the mythos of it all.

do the books hold up?

They do, actually. The things that I most appreciated about the books remain untouched by a broader view of the world and literature! Those are:

Gustave Doré Idylls of the King

Gustave Doré’s gorgeous illustration of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King

1. Arthur is an amazing character. Now, I am not swoony about princes/kings in the slightest—in fact, I can think of few things less appealing than being partnered with someone who is not only used to being deferred to all the time but also is licensed to go to war at any moment should others fail to defer. And, granted, Arthur is used to being deferred to, and he does go to war. But, he is a wonderfully complex character driven by a simple trait: pragmatism. I know that may sound kind of boring, but I think the majority of pragmatic characters are portrayed as being in some way lacking in compassion, complexity, desire, or subtlety—as if the only way to maintain a pragmatic worldview is to be devoid of emotion, which I think is totally inaccurate.

Rather, Arthur is the finest version of the character: he had greatness thrust upon him young, and with it came an immense sense of responsibility, the sense (rightly so) that he has the opportunity to change the world. He is even-keeled, passionate, and honest, about both his desires and his expectations. And in this way, McKenzie cuts through the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triad that has always seemed like something of a Gordian knot to me in other renditions: simply put, both Guinevere and Lancelot love and revere Arthur more than they do each other. And, in this telling, that reverence is rightly placed.

2. Extremely deftly-constructed characters with psychologically-complex motivations. My favorite thing about The Child Queen and The High Queen is that McKenzie’s characters are motivated by their own psychologies and, thus, they read into the motivations and actions of other characters in ways that are accurate for their own characters. So, Elaine is childish and selfish, which means that she assumes childishness and selfishness of others; Guinevere knows Elaine is childish and selfish, but she, herself, is mature and stoic, so despite her knowledge of what Elaine is, Guinevere misjudges her in a critical moment. Further, a lot of the discussions between Arthur and his knights and Guinevere involve Guinevere explaining the behavior of Arthur’s perceived foes in ways that he and his knights don’t see, etc. (Of course, there are moments of this that read as your typical “men are warmongers; women show them another way” trope, but it’s realistically done, given the time period and military traditions).

Gandalf

I like to imagine that Merlin and Gandalf are best friends who discourse on the peskiness of humans while playing magical chess across the ages.

3. Freaking Merlin, y’all. Do I believe in fate? No. Do I love the shit out of some wizards, prophesies, curses, and destinies? Hell yes, I do. I’ve always found the relationships between wizards and their chosen mortals really compelling. And kind of hot. They’re such a power struggle, you know? Merlin can see the future, so he thinks he knows what he’s talking about; Arthur knows people and has might, so he thinks he knows what he’s doing. Merlin has ultimate knowledge, but he chooses (?) to use it to keep this really hot, honorable guy safe and make his name live throughout the ages? Arthur is a super strong, charismatic king who can do anything he wants, and he goes practically catatonic with despair when Merlin is harmed or he thinks he dies? It’s hot. Anyhoo, Merlin. Creepy, for sure. And awesome.

4. Mordred! I hope I’m not spoiling the story for anyone, but it turns out that Arthur was tricked into getting a bastard son on his half-sister (it happens, okay?). In many renderings of the story, Mordred is framed as a traitor who ruins Camelot and Arthur’s dream of a united kingdom. In The High Queen, though, Mordred is a super interesting character who is actually kind of a bastion of proto-radicalism in terms of envisioning an actually united kingdom—as in, a kingdom that includes the tribes that other kings have previously thought of as “barbaric.” Mordred wants trade and mutual learning with these tribes rather than war or assimilation, and Guinevere shares his vision. It is this political difference—or perhaps more accurately put, a difference in what Mordred and Arthur believe people are capable of—that finally drives a wedge between father and son. And it’s so well-handled. McKenzie spends a really long time building up their relationship and showing why they have this difference of opinion.

Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton

Accolade, by E.B. Leighton

The most significant difference in my re-reading of The Child Queen and The High Queen was my memory of Guinevere. When I first read the books, like I said, I was 12 and in the books Guinevere is 15 when she marries Arthur, so I felt like we were pretty akin. At the time, I really liked her—I mean, sure, she speaks in an oddly formal way, but, I mean, it’s the 5th century; and, sure, she’s said to be the most beautiful person who ever lived, but she’s not vain or anything. So, when I re-read the books, I imagined to still identify with the compassionate, generous, smart Guinevere I remembered. It was kind of strange, then, to find, at least in The Child Queen, where she’s between 8 and 20, that Guinevere reminded me less of a really together, precocious girl, and more like Ender Wiggin from Ender’s Game: kind of preternaturally strategic and able to bury her feelings. I don’t mean this as a bad thing; she simply felt different to me as a 30 year old than she did as a teenager. And, of course, now that I’m an adult, I wanted to sit Guinevere, Arthur, and Lancelot down and say, “hey, friends, you don’t all have to be miserable, guilt-ridden, and horny all the time; you can just all three be in a relationship together and everybody wins!”

All in all, this was a delight to reread and I’d definitely recommend The Child Queen and The High Queen for anyone who is interested in historical fiction, epic fantasy, or anything to do with Arthuriana.

what are my other favorite re-tellings of the Arthurian legend? i’m so glad you asked

The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1984). Such a totally different vision of the mytho and the characters than McKenzie’s, The Mists of Avalon is told from the perspective of the women who are rarely mentioned in stories that foreground Arthur and the knights of the round table.Okay, I know, I know, it’s obvious, but it really bears reflecting on: this book is so good and magical that a dear friend of mine has read it like 20 times but has still never read the last chapter so that she can believe that it doesn’t end. Done.

The Winter King Bernard Cornwell

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell (1997). Book 1 in the Warlord Chronicles series, The Winter King is all about the military and political aspects of King Arthur’s campaigns. I really like military history and am interested in this era’s military-political history in particular. This is definitely more about Arthur, Lancelot, Mordred, and the other dudes, but what it lacks in characterization it definitely makes up for in plot and action—super exciting.

Excalibur John Boorman

Excalibur, directed by John Boorman (1981). This star-studded cast is only barely outshined by the intense weirdness of this adaptation, which literalizes the magical elements of the myth, such as humans disguising themselves as animals. Pretty freaking delightful.

procured from: my home library

And you, gentle reader? Were you a closet Arthur geek? An out and proud Arthuriana lover? Never quite saw the appeal? What are your favorite versions of the story? Tell us in the comments!

La isla bonita: Burn for Burn

Burn for Burn
Siobhan Vivian & Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters
Lillia, good little rich girl whose world is coming unhinged
Kat, music-loving loner who won’t stand for being called trashy
Mary, suffered more than anyone on Jar Island knows, except for a certain golden boy
Rennie, head cheerleader who only wants to cheer for herself
Reeve, carefree stud . . .or is he?
Alex, nice & popular boy who’s always scribbling in his journal
Nadia, the little sister of Lillia, coming up in the social world of Jar Island High

Hook
Mary, Kat, and Lillia all have their own perfectly good and just reasons for wanting revenge. But you know the old saying about good intentions . . .

Worldview
Island life is like living in a bubble. The differences between rich and poor, outsider and insider, socially visible or invisible, are heightened by the geographical fact of being trapped on a small piece of earth surrounded by water. There’s nowhere to go so alliances are stronger, almost tribal.  But it can also be suffocating.

Jar Island is no different. The popular kids like Lillia, Rennie, Alex and Reeve may have stuck together since the 9th grade, but they want to break free of the island as much as Kat, who dodges rumors and insults daily, due to a really nasty ex-best friend.  Some of these kids are second or third-generation islanders, and some were summer families who decided to stay year round. The new girl, Mary, is actually an islander who had to leave and feels like she has to come back to prove to herself that she’s strong enough to face her past.  This tightly woven world of secrets, friendships, petty hatreds, and not-so-hidden personal ambition is the perfect fodder for the revenge enacted in Burn for Burn.

 

photo by flickr user jlbruno

 

What is this book’s intention and is it achieved?

I won’t say much about this because Burn for Burn comes out in September and I don’t want to spoil it for any reader.  Han and Vivian have written a solid work of realistic fiction, filled with characters that hold their own.  There’s a hint of something else there, too, that will doubtless be examined more in the next books in this trilogy.  But for the most part, this is a world of teenagers who exemplify the problems that appear when you have to grow up — especially if your parents are the lenient kind.

I feel like we all know how cruel middle-school age kids can be, and we’ve probably all been cruel in our time (and hopefully we now regret it).  Maybe in bigger communities the taunters and tauntees can disappear into the crowd and find their own space. Not so on Jar Island.  Now that the teens are in high school, social roles have gelled, and whoever is stuck on either side of the line either tries to forget and get on with their plan to get off the island, stews about past grievances, or stirs up trouble.  If this sounds like a typical teen drama, it’s not.  The kids themselves may think of their peers in 2-D terms, but in the main there’s a background to each of them.  That’s what makes the web of revenge so sticky.

The setting of Burn for Burn is the most seductive part of the book for me – it begins on a ferry! There are beaches and probably houses with shingles worn down by the sea air, and poolhouses, and lilac bushes, and all kinds of one of a kind hangouts that tourists and locals alike love – ice cream shops, crappy Italian restaurants, bakeries, and marinas.

It’s a big relief that the book doesn’t let us off at a cliffhanger, but it doesn’t tie everything up.  It’s a satisfying start to a series that acknowledges the giddy excitement of getting what you want and the sick feeling of watching it spiral out of control.

I received this book from: the publisher, in ARC form, with no compensation on either side

Film Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

A Review of Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin, (2012)

By REBECCA, July 23, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Beasts of the Southern Wild for months, now, and I am thrilled to report that it did not disappoint.

The film is based on Lucy Alibar’s one-act play “Juicy and Delicious.” Hushpuppy (played by Quvenzhané Wallis, who was only 5 when she auditioned, and beat out thousands of other Louisiana locals) lives with her father, Wink, on a Louisiana island called The Bathtub, on the wrong side of the levy. Hushpuppy’s mother left years before, and her father (played by Dwight Henry, another first-time actor who happened to own the bakery next to the casting offices where director Behn Zeitlin often bought bread) is ill and drinks all the time. When violent storms threaten to flood The Bathtub, many locals pack up and head out, leaving a small cadre behind, who have to survive in the wake of the flood, which kills animals and plants, and floods their homes.

Beasts of the Southern Wild Hushpuppy and the AurochsHushpuppy narrates the film and both the script and Wallis’ performance are haunting in their emotion and simplicity, as is Dan Romer’s score, which reviewers have compared to a kind of stripped-down Arcade Fire. Guided by her voiceover, we experience the events of the film through Hushpuppy’s eyes: after her teacher tells the children about the aurochs, great beasts trapped under the ice, Hushpuppy incorporates the aurochs into the landscape of The Bathtub, finally identifying as a beast herself in sympathy with them; when Hushpuppy hits her father, we see him fall down, as if the fury and hatred she feels toward him actually have the power to slay him. Beasts is magical realism, then, inasmuch as Hushpuppy’s reality is our access point to this world.

Waterworld Kevin Costner

Waterworld

More interesting, though, are particularities of the film that aren’t magical but are composed from a hodgepodge that seems almost post-apocalyptic: Hushpuppy and Wink putter through the floodwaters in a boat made out of the bed of a blue pickup truck atop floaters, grabbing fish straight from the water for food; they live in ramshackle huts that appear to be constructed of layer upon layer of detritus gathered from their surroundings; in the evenings, they drink and socialize with the other denizens of The Bathtub, eating crabs, shrimp, and crawfish by the bucketful and knocking back liquor as the waters lap their feet.

Despite its overwhelming critical success (it won this year’s Grand Jury Prize in drama at Sundance) Beasts of the Southern Wild has been criticized for what some see as a kind of cultural tourism in which the lives of poor Southerners are exoticized and made magic, rendering them curiosities instead of complex characters. While I recognize the impulse behind this critique, I found the film’s genre—a kind of magical realism meets regional adventure piece—to argue against it. Rather than using Hushpuppy, Wink, and the other inhabitants of The Bathtub to generalize about a group of rural Southerners, Beasts uses the intricacies of the region itself to portray one particular coming of age story. Throughout the film, Hushpuppy works to make her personal mark and archive her existence, drawing her story on the wall of her cardboard box hiding place and speaking it to us in the voiceover: “In a million years,” she tells us, “when kids go to school, they’re gonna know that once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild Hushpuppy and WinkSimilarly, Beasts has also been held up as an example of a director aestheticizing poverty, as the film finds exquisite beauty in scenes dominated by dirty, broken places, and muddy, hungry people. This critique is by no means a new one, and rests, it seems, on the troubling assumption that just because a place is poor it is necessarily immune to beauty. Further, this critique seems to reveal an anxiety on the part of viewers that they might find the suffering of others beautiful, be it Wink’s ever-further protruding cheekbones that catch the dim light like a wood carving in Beasts, or those of the concentration camp prisoners in Schindler’s List. Rather, the cameras of Beasts’ director and cinematographer seem to unfailingly find precisely the beauty of The Bathtub and its inhabitants that makes Wink and the others who stay cling so ardently to their home, despite the attempts of all forces to drive them from it. It is beauty, yes, but a fierce and treacherous beauty that betrays all attempts to control it—a sublime beauty, like the cleaving of the immense glaciers that Hushpuppy imagines frees the aurochs from their icy prisons.

Beasts of the Southern WildNot tourism, then, nor aestheticization, but a kind of joyful tramp—as only children can—through the mud connecting Hushpuppy’s home, her school, a much-maligned rescue center, and a floating paradise of catfish and women that brings Hushpuppy a kind of peace, finally allowing her to return to The Bathtub on her own terms rather than her father’s, a pack of fierce and loving girlfriends around her.

At its most explicit, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a critique of the institutionalized blindness to the populations of certain regions and the hypocrisy of rescue-efforts that value the lives they would choose for those people over the lives those people choose for themselves. More subtly, though, it’s a story of how we make our own homes and our own histories despite—or perhaps because of—the attempts to obliterate them. Does it have moments of sentimentality? Yes. Echoes of other films with innocent or young protagonists? Sure. But Beasts is very much its own movie. I highly recommend Beasts of the Southern Wild, whether you’re in it for its politics, its story, its beauty, or its characters.

 

Ride the Roller Coaster of YA Lit!

A List of YAmusement, Part II

By REBECCA, with critical input from THE INIMITABLE JP-G, July 20, 2012

Carousel

As I said in Part I of YAmusement, I want there to be a whole amusement park full of rides based on awesome Young Adult novels! I mean, who would choose to go on regular carousel when they could go on the Tithe carousel with its Nine Inch Nails-inspired carousel music? NO ONE I WOULD WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH, that’s who. So, because it was too much awesome for one post, here is Part II of List of YAmusement!

 

6. Flowers In the Attic Tower of Terror

Flowers In the Attic V.C. AndrewsI’m not ashamed to say that I would ride the Hades out of any Flowers In the Attic ride. This one, I think, should be like the Tower of Terror, only it’s set in the mansion of Foxworth Hall. As the elevator rises, you see the opulent setting of the ballroom, go up through Corinne’s room, with its many party dresses and pearl necklaces, then higher and higher, until you end up in the attic, where you are dropped off amidst the detritus of kid’s toys, a chemistry set, ballet records, powdered-sugar doughnuts—you know the drill. Finally, when you can’t stand being up there anymore you climb out the window and into the second part of the ride, which drops thrillingly to ground level, as if you were the Dollanganger children escaping to safety!

 

7. The Secret Circle‘s Crowhaven Road Swings

The Secret Circle L.J. SmithAs I have made clear in my review, I adore L.J. Smith’s The Secret Circle books. My first thought was to do a ride that tied in with the Salem Witch trials, but, really, no schlocky theme ride could possible capture the magical, delightful feeling of reading The Secret Circle books. Nothing could! Except, perhaps, the glorious sensation of being suspended and flying! So, I think it should be a swing ride. The swings are one of my favorite amusement park rides, especially when they aren’t full, so you can pretend you’re up there by yourself. The Crowhaven Road Swings will have Black John’s huge crystal skull in the very middle, against a backdrop of the magical elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Then the swings will be divided into the colors that correspond with the aspects of women that the girls celebrate in their Hecate ceremony in book three: red, for passion (Faye), orange, for beauty (Suzan), yellow, for courage (Deborah—I LOVE YOU, DEBORAH!), green, for wisdom (Melanie), blue, for inspiration (Cassie), purple, for compassion (Laurel), and white for purity (duh, Diana).

 

8. Uglies Hoverboard to the Smoke

Uglies Scott WesterfeldWhen I first read Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, I basically pictured the trip to the Smoke as an amusement park ride, so I will be thrilled to make it come to life in our YAmusement Park. The hoverboards will work just like the ones in Uglies—they’ll run above metal. Your feet will be locked in, like a snowboard, so you can’t slide off, and there will be special track looping and twisting about 50 feet above the whole YAmusement Park so the route for the hoverboarders to fly takes them over all the rides. Then, when they get near the end of the track, there will be a place where the track breaks open and the hoverboarders’ footholds automatically unlock, dropping them into one of two places (you get to choose when you first lock your feet in): either into a refreshing pond for a dip, or onto a plushy air mattress.

 

9. Sideways Stories From Wayside School Wacky Mini-Coaster

Sideways Stories From Wayside School Louis SacharThere have to be a few rides specifically geared toward the middle graders. In Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories From Wayside School (which taught me about absurdism as a child) Wayside School has accidentally been built with its 30 one-room stories stacked on top of one another, and bizarre things are happening in every one of them, especially the 13th floor. There is no 13th floor. So, this mini-coaster would wrap around and go through the different stories of Wayside School (with a brief stop in the cafeteria for a snack, if you’re truly brave!). It has little cars that seat 2-4 people, and will start in the playground and twine up through the school, with small hills and twists throughout. The mini-coaster will end up on the 30th floor, in Mrs. Jewls’ classroom, where each car will then get to choose its own adventure back down. You can choose to take a bumpy ride down through the non-existent 13th floor, climb out Mrs. Jewls’ window and float down like all the stuff the kids throw out the window in the book, or take your chances on the huge carpet slide that runs down the stairs of the whole school!

 

10. Dangerous Angels Light Show & Concert

Dangerous Angels Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia BlockThis would be an event that would take place after dark in the park at the center of the amusement park. There would be an organically-designed concert shell so that the music would carry through the whole park. The park has lots of huge old trees that we can creep through or climb or recline under; there are art nouveau benches scattered around, and plenty of space on the luscious grass to spread blankets. Along the outside edges of the park are food carts selling every kind of food you can imagine, and drink carts selling everything from ginger ale to the whizziest, sparkliest cocktails you can imagine. As the sun sets, the first strains of music begin—bands covering all the best seventies and eighties punk that Weetzie loves, and doing super rearranged versions of the songs, too. Then, when it’s fully dark, The Goat Guys will take the stage, and play until they can play no more. While they play, we will frolic, climb trees, stuff our faces, make out, and then fall, exhausted, onto our picnic blankets, where we’ll stare up at the sky, where an epic light show (Pink Floyd Laser Light Show, eat your heart out!) will flicker through the trees! And if we happen to fall asleep there all night, NO PROBLEM, because at my YAmusement Park, why wouldn’t you want to stay for another day?

There is no end to how glorious our YAmusement Park can become!

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

by Tessa

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is the only fanfiction I’ve yet read. I have enough trouble keeping up with original works of fiction and a suprisingly scant history of being obsessed with something enough to track down more iterations of it and its characters.  However, if my friend James recommends something to read I’ll usually try it out, because he’s thoughtful that way – he’ll have actually considered my tastes in relation to the work that he’s recommending.

James is into reading about a lot of things, and rationality is one of those subjects.  He also blew through all of the Harry Potter books in a couple of days a few years back. Then he found out about Eliezer Yudkowsky, rationalist, researcher of Artificial Intelligence, founder of the Singularity Institute, autodidact, friend of hedge-funder/venture capitalist Peter Thiel, and author of a massive piece of fanfiction based in Harry Potter’s Universe.  It is, as far as I can tell, massively popular and has been translated into ten languages so far, by volunteers.

fan art by Zerenity @ Deviant Art

The premise of Yudkowsky’s story is that Harry Potter did not grow up in a cupboard under the stairs, bullied by small-minded, imagnation-averse Dursleys. He grew up the adopted son in the very happy Evans-Verres household and learned about science fiction, philosophy, science, and anything else he was interested in knowing.  This happened because Petunia begged her sister, Lily, to make her pretty.  She was dating a man named Vernon and knew that she wanted more in life, so she begged and begged until her magical sister used a potion to give Petunia beauty and, therefore, Petunia believes, a leg up in life.  So Petunia stopped hating her sister and herself, and when Harry was dropped on her doorstep she raised him lovingly.  Of course, in a household with a science professor at its head, she couldn’t say anything about magic. So the acceptance letter from Hogwarts is still a surprise.

Instead of running from the letter, Harry and his stepdad discuss with his stepmother why magic can or can’t be real.

“. . . some part of Harry was utterly convinced that magic was real, and had been since the instant he saw the putative letter from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Harry rubbed his forehead, grimacing. Don’t believe everything you think, one of his books had said.

But this bizarre certainty… Harry was finding himself just expecting that, yes, a Hogwarts professor would show up and wave a wand and magic would come out. The strange certainty was making no effort to guard itself against falsification – wasn’t making excuses in advance for why there wouldn’t be a professor, or the professor would only be able to bend spoons.

Where do you come from, strange little prediction? Harry directed the thought at his brain. Why do I believe what I believe?

Usually Harry was pretty good at answering that question, but in this particular case, he had no clue what his brain was thinking.”

You can see that from the start this is a more curious Harry than the one we know.  Yudkowsky uses the characters and world that J.K. Rowling made up, changes a basic fact about Harry’s life, and sets him out to explore the very things that Yudkowsky has dedicated his life to. . . but in a magical universe.

So, Harry doesn’t just accept the money his parents left him. He figures out the exchange rate. And bargains to get more than McGonagall wants to give him.

Harry doesn’t just accept magic. He has to figure out how it works.

Harry doesn’t accept the House system at Hogwarts, or the bigotry against Muggles. He tries to change Draco’s mind by introducing him to the concepts of the Scientific Method.

Harry can be really annoying at first because he spends so. much. time. infodumping about science, scientific method, skepticism, scientific history and science, but it’s worth waiting for him to settle into Hogwarts and for the other plot points to start their machinations. Yudkowsky is still not done with the school year and he’s on Chapter 85. There may be no real mention of the Philosopher’s Stone yet, but we do have military theory, a trip inside Azkaban, a murder trial, and more to read about.  I’m totally and utterly hooked on the interpretation that he’s creating, even if I still don’t get some of the science that Harry knows inside and out.

HPMOR works because, even if it pokes fun at the inconsistencies in Rowling’s magic / emphasis on Quidditch / structure of the Hogwarts school system, it knows the power of her story and manages to capture some of it.  Yudkowsky has to be a fan, otherwise his fanfiction would be all snark and no heart.

It’s available free (of course) online, in RSS, EPUB, PDF, and more.

What If Young Adult Books Were Amusement Park Rides!?

A List of YAmusement, Part I

By REBECCA, with critical input from THE INIMITABLE JP-G, July 16, 2012

Coney Island the Cyclone

I love amusement park rides, especially roller coasters. But, most of them aren’t very . . . interesting. Instead of Pirates of the freaking Caribbean, I want there to be an entire amusement park filled with rides and attractions based on young adult fiction! So, here is the half of a list of young adultishness that would make wicked awesome rides:

1. Ender’s Game Laser Tag

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardSo, obviously, this would be the best game ever! Who cares about bumper cars when you can shoot people? The battle room is the heart of battle training in Ender’s Game, and every time I read the book I’m more convinced of how fun it would be (I mean, if it were a game; not if I were going to become an unwitting instrument of genocide). This laser tag space would be a simulation of the battle room. Each player would get a laser gun and a vest showing which army (team) they belonged to, and they would be released into a big room where they could float. Then they’d, you know, battle. I’m excited to see how they render the battle room in the Ender’s Game movie . . .

2. The White Witch’s Sleigh Ride from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch burns some serious rubber in her sleigh. I mean, sure the thing has luscious furs and scrumptious Turkish Delight sometimes, but really it’s like the White Witch’s evil steed. So, this would be a roller coaster where each car was a 4-person sleigh and the tracks are made to look like glittering ice. Jets of cool air would blow onto the riders from the sleigh and the tracks to make it seem more wintry. And there would be a camera that automatically takes your picture at the apex of the biggest hill; the track above the heads of the riders will be rigged so that in the picture it looks like each rider is wearing a big, sparkly White Witch crown.

3. Harriet the Spy Hide & Seek

Harriet the Spy Louise FitzhughHarriet M. Welsch is one of my favorite characters ever (I even went as her for Halloween one year in college), and as a kid I, too, used to love creeping around places I shouldn’t have been. But, unlike Harriet, I was always too afraid to spy on actual people because I was scared to get caught. Harriet the Spy Hide & Seek would take place on a set with several locations through which the Harriets would roam and the Spycatchers would pursue them. The goal for the Harriets would be to escape the space, and the goal for the Spycatchers would be to catch one. There would be several ways that Harriets could escape, like an elevator shaft, as when Harriet spies on the rich lady who never gets out of bed, and a rooftop skylight, like when Harriet spies on the man who makes the birdcages.

4. Tithe Carousel

Tithe Holly BlackOne of my favorite images from Holly Black’s Tithe is of the carousel horse that becomes enchanted. I love carousels, especially really ornate, gilded, old ones, and I especially like the ones with all different animals on them. As a kid, I always wanted to choose the highest animal on the carousel, but I didn’t want to hurt any of their feelings. So, the Tithe carousel would be extremely ornate, but a little bit faded and busted (it is a New Jersey horse, after all), and it would have all different kinds of animals: horses, of course, but also wolves and lions and bears and octopi! And, of course, the animals would move as if they were alive, and the carousel would move a little faster than they usually do. The music would sound like classic carousel music rendered by Nine Inch Nails.

Here I am with my sister, The Inimitable JP-G, on a carousel we came across in Paris a few years ago!

5. Divergent Dauntless Test

Divergent Veronica RothI’m definitely not a Dauntless by nature, but I would sure as hell participant in some safe Dauntless shenanigans! This “test” will begin with a climb up to the top of the old Ferris wheel, like Tris does when she’s scouting during capture the flag (only you’ll have a rock climbing harness); when you get to the top, you climb into a car and ride the Ferris wheel down to the ground. Then, you follow the path into the busted building and take the elevator to the roof (I mean, I’m not climbing stairs at my amusement part; this is supposed to be fun). When you get to the roof, you get into a fabric sling, and then you get tossed off the roof and you sail down along the cable in a zip line (omigod, I’m so excited about that part) to ground level. Once you’ve caught your breath, you board the train to take you back to ride’s exit. When you see the exit, you jump off the train! And land on lovely cushiony softness so you can’t actually die.

So, what do you think? Would you come to my YAmusement Park? Read Part II of the list here!

Happy Friday the 13th!: Dead Sky Morning

A Review of Dead Sky Morning (Experiment in Terror #3) by Karina Halle

Metal Blonde Books, 2011

By REBECCA, July 13, 2012

Happy Friday the 13th, Crunchers and Munchers! Both the fear of Fridays and the fear of the number 13 have been around for a while. Put them together and you get a whole new slew of folks with what is know as friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga is the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named) or paraskevidekatriaphobia—that is, fear of Friday the 13th. Apparently one effect of this phobia is the loss of between 8 and 9 million dollars in business on Friday the 13ths. Notable people who died on Friday the 13th include Chet Baker, Tupac Shakur, and Julia Child—now that is the cooking show with a theme song that I want to see! Here’s a bit of horror in honor of the day. Read on, if you dare.

Dead Sky Morning Karina Halle Experiment in Terror

NOTE: This is the third book in the Experiment in Terror series, so you should read the first two books first! They are amazing! Here are my reviews of books 1 and 2: Darkhouse and Red Fox.

Also, Karina Halle wrote a short story called “The Benson” that is Experiment in Terror # 2.5 that can be read between Red Fox and Dead Sky Morning. You can download “The Benson” for FREE here, although it’s certainly not necessary to understanding Dead Sky Morning.

characters

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

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

Ada Palomino: Perry’s fashionista little sister with questionable taste in boys

and more creepies that you’ll have to read about . . .

hook

The weekend of her 23rd birthday finds Perry and Dex filming the next episode of “Experiment in Terror” camping on an island off the coast of British Columbia that used to serve as a leper colony. Perry is haunted not only by spirits of lepers past but also by an “anonymous” commenter on the EIT website who seems to hate her. Dex . . . well, it turns out that Dex has his own problems, and they’re spelled J-E-N-N.

worldview

As I mentioned in my reviews of Darkhouse and Red Fox, I began the Experiment in Terror series attempting to guard against freaking myself out by only reading them during the daylight hours. While that worked for Darkhouse, by the time I was halfway through Red Fox I knew I’d be reading once the sun had set. By the time I got to Dead Sky Morning, I was reading it in the middle of a freaking thunderstorm (that was back in the Spring, before the East Coast turned into a tropical wasteland) at 3am because IT’S SO GOOD I COULDN’T STOP!

Dead Sky Morning is the darkest of the three books so far and, as you know if you read the first two, that’s really saying something. For one thing, Perry has admitted her feelings for Dex to herself. That means that she (and the reader!) is able to absolutely marinate in the feelings of simultaneous attraction (love) and repulsion (he has a girlfriend and still flirts with Perry) that Perry feels for Dex. So, already the backdrop for the supernatural part of the book is a little tortured. On top of that, the majority of Dead Sky Morning takes place on D’Arcy Island, so Perry and Dex are totally alone, upping the sexual tension/torture factor astronomically.

D'Arcy Island

D’Arcy Island

At the turn of the century on D’Arcy Island, Chinese lepers were contained and then abandoned by the government (no surprise there), which dropped off supplies (and coffins) every now and again, but finally allowed some 50 people to die and then tried to cover it up. Needless to say, that’s a lot of potential creepyness for Perry and Dex to mine for the next episode of “Experiment in Terror.” However, when their boat is sabotaged, stranding them alone on the island, Perry and Dex get a lot more than they bargained for.

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

Holy rotting corpses, Batman, Dead Sky Morning is amazing. Intention #1: to write a super scary book. Success! Intention #2: to make me fall more in love with Perry and Dex than ever before. Success! Intention #3: to up the stakes in their relationship to the point where I wanted to rip my own face off because I couldn’t immediately start the sequel. Success! Well played, Ms. Halle. Well played.

So, firstly, I think the plot in Dead Sky Morning is the most interesting so far. The true story of the abandoned lepers, the lack of available info on the history of the island, and the revelation of what went on there are all captivating. Halle also does an amazing job slowly and subtly building the creepfest atmosphere of the island itself, not to mention it’s, er, otherworldly inhabitants.

“Now that D’Arcy Island was close enough to make out the little details, the nausea I was feeling down below was starting to creep up my throat again.

It looked like any other island that you’d see in the Pacific Northwest. But the strange part was, you knew it wasn’t. Even if no one had told me what had gone on there, the feeling of dread that washed over me, the animosity that just reeked out of the island’s pores, was unmistakable.

. . . From what I could see it didn’t look like much was out there. We were close to the island but not close enough to be hitting any rocks. But the water was rippling like a few opposing currents were working the surface.

. . . We were pretty much in the slight cove and the shore wasn’t too far away. I could make out the individual branches of the fir trees, the glowing green of the ferns nestled at the bottom sparkling in golden rays of sunlight, the smooth shapes of the rocks that made up the shoreline. Seagulls darted to and fro and with the sound of the motor at a minimum, I could hear the waves rolling the rocks in a rhythmic manner. It seemed so peaceful, so idyllic but . . .

Someone was watching us” (114-116).

Alongside the battle to film material for the show and also not die, Perry and Dex slowly come apart at the seams. Perry starts acting like she’s wearing the ring of doom around her neck (nerd alert), picking fights with Dex and generally being bloody, and Dex, for all his promises to keep Perry safe, is acting as if he thinks maybe it’s Perry  who’s crazy. Seriously, the stakes are really raised here, and Perry and Dex’s relationship is put to many a test.

personal disclosure

So, after wanting to punch myself in the face after reading books 1 and 2 in the series because I didn’t plan ahead and therefore had to wait to read the next installment, I went ahead and ordered the 4th Experiment in Terror book, Lying Season, right when I started Dead Sky Morning so that it would arrive in a few days, just in time for me to take it on vacation. This was both so that I could read it immediately, and also because I wanted to capitalize on sharing a room with my mom, thus lessening the fear factor. But, but, but, Amazon totally screwed me and delayed shipping Lying Season until I’d already left on vacation, depriving me of a desperately needed sequel and leaving me totally high and dry on the book front when I unexpectedly finished my plane book on the first day of the trip. This led to me wandering the streets of Charleston begging people to help me find a bookstore. Anyway, it was bad news, even though I eventually found a bookstore, read Emma Bull’s wonderful War For the Oaks (you can read my review here), and got to have Lying Season waiting for me when I got home. But still, it was stressful. The point is: do yourself a favor and learn from my mistakes.

readalikes

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (2009). First of all, such a totally awesome title. Mary lives in a fenced-in clearing in the forest where she and the other townspeople keep watch for when The Unconsecrated come. If they break the skin, you’re infected and become one of them—the only way to keep safe, the Sisterhood insists, is constant vigilance. But when The Unconsecrated breach the walls, Mary learns that their little clearing isn’t the last stronghold on earth; there is a world beyond these trees . . . if she can only reach it.The Marbury Lens Andrew Smith

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith (2010). When California teenager Jack dons the strange glasses given to him by a stranger in a London pub, he is transported to Marbury, a war-torn land where he must fight for his life and the lives of his friends. Love, love, love—my review is here.

Locke and Key Joe Hill Gabriel Rodriquez

Locke and Key, volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2008). This graphic novel tells the story of Keyhouse, a New England mansion (on Lovecraft Island, in case you weren’t sure horrible things were going to happen) where doors open into different worlds. After the Locke family patriarch is brutally murdered, his bereft family returns to his childhood home and begins to delve into its mysteries. Gorgeous color!

procured from: bought

Re-Read: Remember Me by Christopher Pike

Remember Me / Christopher Pike

Pocket Books, 1989

review by Tessa

Characters

Shari Cooper, green eyed ghost

Jimmy Cooper, diabetic sleepwalker brother

Mary Parish, housekeeper for the Coopers and a surrogate mom to Shari

Amanda Parish, quiet and lovely girl who may be leading Jimmy on

Jo Foulton, Shari’s best friend and bestower of annoying nicknames

“Big” Beth, frenemy of Shari and Jo whose birthday party is the site of Shari’s Death. Well-endowed in the chest.

Dan, Shari’s vain, rich boyfriend

Jeff Nichols, not the biggest fan of Shari

Peter Nichols, dead brother of Jeff & spirit guide to the light

The Shadow, scary between-world presence

Garrett, drunk detective

hook

Shari Cooper went to a birthday party and ended up a ghost. Before she can move on, she wants to know how it happened, and who pushed her off of a balcony.

Why are you rereading this?

It seems like most of the people I know were really into Goosebumps growing up. Or at least into the intro to the TV show where the dog barks in rhythm to the theme song (it really is something).  R.L. Stine is a great guy and all, but I have to disagree that he’s the be-all and end-all of adolescent horror books of the ’90s. In my estimation, that title will always go to Christopher Pike, who is so much more of an enigma, anyway, and therefore gains mystery cred.  Pike doesn’t even have a photo on his publisher’s author page, whereas R.L. Stine has a whole website with embedded music.

Pike’s competition was the Fear Street series by Stine (which came before Goosebumps--I was reading my older sister’s books and so never found that younger series as appealing) and had, in my memory, a more epic scope. Stine’s stories were the equivalent of slasher flicks and Pike’s were menacing mystical mysteries, closer in tone to Stephen King and John Saul than Stine could hope for.

At least, that’s what my memory is telling me.

It’s time for me to track them down and re-read them to find out if I’m right.

I started with Remember Me because it’s one of the first Pike books I read. . . and I recently had to withdraw it from my library because the cover is so terrible that no one was picking it up – that’s a professional guess:

Does the book hold up?

I’m pleased to say that it did hold my attention.  Shari’s narrative voice reminded me of Sookie Stackhouse’s comforting way of oversharing her every thought and observation, often digressing into low-level life philosophies. However, while after 10 books Sookie starts to repeat herself and ramble, Shari is younger, bitchier, and more honest–being dead makes one a little more objective about their life–and she’s only got 230 pages to roam around in here.  I remember being absolutely gripped by the fact that a ghost was narrating her own murder mystery. A ghost who says things like

“Beth was sort of a friend of mine, sort of an accidental associate, and the latest in a seemingly endless string of bitches who were trying to steal my boyfriend away.”

Shari has the kind of character tics invented to give a character something to repeat so that you can remember who they are, or to slip in an important plot point in a “subtle” way. It’s not the most accomplished way to build character, but it gave me a nice wave of nostalgic feeling for that era in YA writing. Shari has dark blonde hair that just breaks brushes in two! And she’s green-eyed, but her brother thinks her eyes are brown.

Remember Me takes its time building up the suspense. We know Shari is dead from the first sentence, but she doesn’t actually die until page 56.  Pike takes his time getting Shari out of her house, letting her talk to her brother, her housekeeper/mother figure over cake, talk to the reader about her boyfriend’s “dashing” body and how she loves to think about sex (she makes it sound wholesome and red-cheeked of her, but also shallow), get into the boyfriend’s car, go over to her best friends’ house, talk to her best friend’s mom, get back into the car, and finally get to the fatal party . . . where the guests bitch at each other, open presents–Daniel, Shari’s boyfriend, gives Beth diamond earrings, ahem–hang out, cheat on each other, etc.  Then Jo, the New-Agey best friend, sucker everyone into a game of fortune-telling using the human body as the medium.  Which leads to talking to a presumed-present spirit through Shari’s body, put into a hypnotic trance via a fake funeral.

The fortune telling and the trance still put a prickle through the back of my neck. I hadn’t remembered them being so elaborate, so full of foreboding and soul-searching:

“Jeff was getting awfully heavy awfully fast. ‘But are certain things in our lives dstined?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ Jo said. ‘It’s very clear this time.’

‘Is the force that we understand as God directly answering these questions?’ Jeff asked.

‘No,’ Jo said, and she seemed disappointed.

‘Is there a God?’ Jeff asked.

‘Yes,’ Jo said.

‘Is he as we imagine him?’ Jeff asked.

‘No,’ Jo said.

‘Is there life after death?’ Jeff asked.”

Once Shari is killed, the mood of the book turns to her exploration of shock, grief, and bewilderment, and her determination to find out what happened.  She eventually confronts questions like Jeff’s in her own way, but the story doesn’t leave its readers wallowing in the implications of the afterlife. We have a murder to attend to, and to solve it we need to slip in and out of dreams, figure out a family history worthy of the daytime soaps, and learn a little about diabetes and colorblindness. That’s all I’ll say in case you don’t want to be spoiled.

Having said that, maybe you can guess where this book falls on the

This book falls squarely in the pink, I’d say. Shari is dead, she has to go into the light, there’s a thing called a Shadow chasing her that pulses with terror, so we have acknowledged paranormal activity. Yet it doesn’t go totally woo-woo. 95% of the book is set on Earth, for example, and deals with real-world people.

Which Pike should I read next?

I’m thinking Chain Letter. I hope that if this were published today it would have a blurb describing it as “off the chain!”

Until next time, Pike Pals!

10 Reasons Why Switched At Birth Is Totally Worth Watching

ABC Family’s Switched at Birth Exceeds My (Meager) Expectations

By REBECCA, July 9, 2012

Switched At Birth ABC Family

Again and again the Netflix robots would suggest that I watch an ABC Family show called Switched at Birth; again and again I would ignore them. I mean, sure I totally gave five stars to Make It Or Break It (and wrote a glowing review of it here) but that didn’t mean I wanted to watch some schlocky soap opera knockoff! Right?

Well, actually, it kind of did mean that.

The premise is this: Bay Kennish has grown up in a wealthy and privileged white family with an older brother and a private school education. Daphne Vasquez has grown up with her Latina mother and grandmother in a working class neighborhood; she went deaf at a young age and attends a deaf school. The two families discover that Bay and Daphne were (everybody!) switched at birth, and thus begins the difficult negotiations of everyone involved.

I began Switched at Birth with the lowest of expectations—it was a total I’ll-watch-20-minutes-of-this-while-I-eat-breakfast endeavor. But . . . um . . . I was a little bit hooked. I mean, obviously, it’s no Make It Or Break It or Pretty Little Liars, but, well, ABC Family is rocking my world these days, folks. So, here you go. Here are 10 reasons why Switched at Birth might well prove worth your while. (Switched at Birth is available on Netflix and Hulu now.)

Downton Abbey1. Worlds Collide! I am a big fan of the worlds collide phenomenon. This can take many forms but nearly always produces delightful drama. You’ve got your called-upon-to-do-something variety, like in Downton Abbey or The Princess Diaries, when someone is put in the position of being obliged to something they never expected. You’ve got your random-people-trapped-together variety, like in The Breakfast Club, 12 Angry Men, or The Parent Trap! Switched at Birth is of the meet-the-parents variety, like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, The Family Stone, or Father of the Bride. Obviously many of the following categories fall under this one, but let’s just say that an ex-pro baseballer and an ex-alcoholic hairdresser don’t actually have much that they agree on.

2. Deaf Cultures. As you might imagine, there are things that are wrong with the show’s portrayals of deaf communities and some of the actors’ sign language (or so I’ve read), etc. Still, it is one of the only tv shows in history to ever feature not just a deaf character but multiple deaf actors (and this is what finally convinced me to start watching it). Daphne’s character (played by Katie Leclerc, who is hard of hearing and has Ménière’s disease) both signs and speaks, and her best friend Emmett and his mother, Melody, who are deaf and only sign, are played by Sean Berdy and Marlee Matlin, both of whom are deaf. For me, the spectrum of experiences that these characters can portray was the most interesting part of the show. There is plenty to say about this—check out Jace Lacob’s article about deafness on the show here.

3. Class. The Kennishes are rich (dad was a pro baseball player and now owns a chain of carwashes—living the dream, yo) and the Vasquezes struggle to get by. So, class is a constant issue for Switched at Birth, whether it’s giving a gift or talking about college. Bay and her brother are privileged in every way and it’s really nice to see a show that points up the kind of assumptions that come with such an upbringing and the way they’re challenged when Bay is suddenly around people who did not grow up wealthy. For example, Bay can’t understand why a guy she starts dating wouldn’t want her to give him a wad of cash to fix his truck, and the Kennish parents seriously stick their feet in their mouths talking to Regina (Daphne’s mom) about why she “chooses” to do things certain ways. The most dramatic expression of this occurs when the Kennishes wonder whether it might have been Regina’s negligence (she used to be an alcoholic) and/or her economic situation that caused Daphne’s childhood meningitis to render her deaf. A very satisfying representation of what might actually happen if you had two families from very different class contexts trying to raise their kids.

Bay Kennish Switched at Birth4. Bay! Bay Kennish is played by Vanessa Marano—you may know her as Luke’s surprise daughter on Gilmore Girls. She has both moments of extreme spoilt obnoxiousness and delightful sensitivity and I like me a well-rounded character. She’s always felt like the odd one out in her family—she’s an artsy brunette in a sea full of blondes who wouldn’t know a Redon from a Rodin from a writing desk. She does Banksy-esque graffiti around town and dresses really cute and has luxurious hair and a vulnerable-seeming lisp and she learns sign language and I just like her even though she’s a drama queen.

5. Daphne! It’s rare when a show has two main characters that are (sometimes) in opposite camps and I like them both. Daphne is super sweet and cheery, but she’s also very no-nonsense and honest. If Bay is a drama queen, Daphne’s a stage manager: she tries to understand everyone’s point of view and be respectful of them, but in the end she’s gonna do what she’s gonna do. What I like most about Daphne’s story arc I won’t tell you because I don’t want to spoil anything. Let me just say that sometimes even sweethearts get pushed too far, mkay? Also, for like 85% of the time she’s onscreen I was looking at Katie Leclerc and thinking, “how is it that you are not related to Evangeline Lily?” Right?!

Emmett Sean Berdy Switched at Birth6. Emmett! Emmett is described on the show as a “deaf James Dean”—he rides a motorcycle and wears a leather jacket, but he’s been besties with Daphne since they were little kids. He is a sweet guy, but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly and when hearing people act like idiots about his deafness he totally messes with them. He plays the drums and becomes (kind of) friends with Bay’s brother when they drag him in to sub for their drummer at the last minute. Badass. Major drama between Emmett and his mom (Marlee Matlin), Emmett and Daphne, and Emmett and Bay. He’s definitely one of my favorites.

7. Ethnicity. When Bay finds out that she’s not white but Latina, she becomes fascinated by trying to figure out what that means for her and her art. She is also troubled by what she suddenly realizes are some very real prejudices that she hears her parents and grandmother voice. Having never thought much about race or ethnicity (she attends private school where class completely eclipses either), Bay is finally in a position to think about how they affect her personally. Since Bay is an artist, she also looks to long-time idol Frida Kahlo for some guidance. For Daphne, her ethnicity has always been deeply connected with where she grew up. When she moves out of her old neighborhood and some of her old friends learn about the switch, they think she’s not the same person anymore.

8. Identity. The question “what if” hangs heavy over Switched at Birth, and is asked in many contexts. Daphne wonders if perhaps she would never have been deaf if she’d been raised by the Kennishes; Bay wonders what her art would have been like if she’d had a different life, etc. At times these musings are a bit trite, but the moments where the question isn’t spoken but rather stumbled upon are the strongest. Especially between Bay and Daphne there are some great moments that involve guilt, jealousy, desire, curiosity. Basically, this show takes the classic teenage search for identity and turns the volume up on it.

Blue Crush Kate Bosworth Michelle Rodriguez9. Creator Lizzy Weiss. I should have known that Switched at Birth would be kind of good the second I IMDBed it and saw that creator, writer, and producer Lizzy Weiss is the genius behind the screenplay/story of Blue Crush, one of my fave oceanic movies of all time. Kate Bosworth is so badass in that movie! Oooh, ooh, omigosh, not to mention that Michelle Rodriguez is in Blue Crush (before she got her adorable teeth fixed)—Michelle Rodriguez who was later on Lost with Evangeline Lilly. Coincidence? Who knows; I don’t think the creators of Lost quite figured that detail out.  Also, Lizzy Weiss wrote an episode of that MTV show Undressed—remember? The one where that dude couldn’t have sex with his girlfriends without his sock puppet talking about it? Yeah.

Blue Crush

10. ABC Family-ness. This is, above all, a really easy, visually-appealing, highly-consumable show of the variety in which ABC Family specializes. I don’t know how exactly the network went from being an arm of the evil Pat Robertson empire and then a wimpy Disney mouthpiece to having awesome original programming like Pretty Little Liars, Make It Or Break It, Kyle XY, Bunheads, and Switched at Birth, but all I can say is: this one-time hater is a total convert. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that maybe if ABC Family had answered my prayers to make L.J. Smith’s The Secret Circle series into a tv show then it wouldn’t have totally sucked and broken my heart.

So, what do you say? For those of you who’ve seen Switched at Birth, have I just publicly humiliated myself? For those who haven’t, are you intrigued? I can take it!

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