Forests and Teeth and Zombies, Oh My!

A review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Delacorte Press (Random House), 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Carrie Ryan

by REBECCA, December 31, 2012

On the cusp of a brand new year I offer you a book about a world that has been overrun by zombies. Cheers!

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Mary has always believed what the Sisterhood told them: the Unconsecrated that batter the fences protecting their village from the forest beyond will never stop; that their village is the last bastion of humanity and they stay there forever, and marry whom they’re told; and above all else, they must obey the Sisterhood, which makes the rules. But when a stranger from beyond the fence shows up, Mary discovers that what the Sisterhood has told everyone is far from the truth.

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First things first: The Forest of Hands and Teeth has to be one of my favorite book titles of all time, and its sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves, ain’t too shabby either.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Carrie RyanUnlike many in the village, Mary was raised with stories of a time before the Unconsecrated reined, and the ocean, in particular, fascinates her and drives her to want to see the world outside the fences. The Sisterhood has propagated the story that their village contains the only humans left in all the world, but one day, an outsider arrives in the village, causing Mary to question everything she has believed. When she does some poking around she learns secrets that the Sisterhood has been keeping. Secrets that might change everything. Soon after, when the Unconsecrated breach the fences, Mary takes off into the woods with Travis, the boy she loves, Travis’ brother Harry, who loves Mary but whom Mary sees as only a friend, and Cass, Mary’s best friend whom Travis loves. They set off down the path that leads away from their village. It’s a path they’ve looked at all their lives, but where it leads nobody knows. Mary hopes it might take them to the sea. But even if it does, they have to fight their way through or die trying.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth has wonderful atmosphere, and I think the writing is good. It’s divided into two rough halves: the first half in the village and the second half Mary and her friends’ journey through the woods. This is nice because the first half is quiet, with a kind of lurking threat. It’s very claustrophobic, evoking Mary’s feelings of being trapped in her life, and it develops the characters. Then the second half is much faster-paced and plot-driven.

No one remembers where the paths go. Some say they are there as escape routes, others say they are there so that we can travel deep into the Forest for wood. We only know that one points to the rising sun and the other to the setting sun. I am sure our ancestors knew where the paths led, but, just like almost everything else about the world before the Return, that knowledge has been lost. We are our own memory-keepers and we have failed ourselves. (28-9)

The atmosphere is the book’s biggest strength, I think, and Carrie Ryan does a great job of maintaining the book’s tenseness even in moments about other things. For example, nearly all the moments in the book that could be sweet or tender are instead desperate, or paired with disaster:

Harry grins and he drops his head toward me and all I can think about is how I had never wanted Harry to be my first kiss, and then before his lips can land on mine we hear it. The siren. It is so old and so rarely used these days that it starts out with a creak and a wheeze and then it is full-blown.” (6)

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

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is, first and foremost, a dystopia. It happens to be a dystopia with zombies, but it’s definitely a dystopia. As such, it has the familiar hallmarks of the genre: a repressive regime (this one religious in nature) that depends upon the threat of the Unconsecrated (the zombies) to keep the villagers in line, and the obfuscation of the truth about the wider world. It also, unfortunately, has the rampant sexism (despite being run by women) of many contemporary YA dystopias. (I write further about this topic HERE.)

I really enjoyed the book. It succeeds as a dystopia and also as a zombie novel, and it was nice to read something that is legitimately scary but also isn’t straight-up horror. What I didn’t love were the character relationships. As you could no doubt tell from the character cluster above, this is something of a love quadrangle, although the The Dead-Tossed Waves Carrie Ryanromance does not trump the adventure, to be sure. The relationships are a bit awkward, and I didn’t really find myself caring for the characters overmuch. Now, ordinarily, being annoyed by the characters’ youth and romantic follies would make me not like a book, but I want to be clear that I really liked The Forest of Hands and Teeth despite my issues with the characters—liked it and continued on with the series.

One thing that I was particularly pleased by was the ending of the book (no spoilers, I promise). I am notoriously dissatisfied with endings these days, especially the endings of books in series. It seems like so many of them just abdicate any obligation to craft an ending because we know there’s more of the story between two future covers. Not so The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Ryan writes a lovely ending, both in terms of how it satisfies the journey of the book and in terms of how well it sets up The Dead-Tossed Waves.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth has, naturally, been tapped for production and it looks like the movie will be out next year.

procured from: the library

Sharing Our Snacks: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Welcome to another edition of Sharing Our Snacks, in which Rebecca and I each recommend YA brain food that they think the other would enjoy crunching and munching! 

Sharing Our Snacks

I recently requested some recommendations from R, and (among other things) she said:

I’d love to know what you think of Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr. I really liked it (it’s like a short, tight little gem), but don’t remember it that well, in the way some books just skate over my brain. I think you’ll like the writing and the way it’s poignant, but not gushy, but I don’t know whether you’ll find enough to dig into to really like like it.

Well, R, I didn’t just like like Sweethearts, I became smitten with it. I fell in love with it for its mind and I fell hard. Which is funny, because I loved it because it knows how weird and hard love is, and how love operates in friendship, and how hard it is to tell those things apart sometimes.

Sara Zarr Sweethearts

Sweethearts

Sara Zarr

Little, Brown and Company, 2008

review by Tessa

Characters

Jenna Vaughn (Jennifer Harris): transformed herself from a lonely girl that mean kids called “Fatifer” to become someone who no one could make fun of.

Cameron Quick: Jennifer’s only friend, presumed dead

Ethan, Katy & Steph: Jenna’s new friends and first boyfriend, unaware of her past

Hook

Jenna’s past is dead and so is the boy who shared her worst experiences and left without saying goodbye. Only, neither are dead and now Jenna has to deal with what that means.

Worldview

Jenna grows up as a girl who can’t fit in and is vulnerable to those who persecute the vulnerable and perpetuate in building the walls around her, thus guaranteeing that she can’t fit in, and so she ends up with a peculiar worldview.  Between elementary and high school, her life has changed so as to be almost unrecognizable. Her single mother found a good partner, finished nursing school, and moved them to a new part of town, allowing Jennifer to escape classmates with conceptions of her as “Fatifer”: the chubby girl, the girl with dirty clothes, the girl who cries at everything, the comfort-eater, the secret thief of small things, whose only friend left town without even telling her and was rumored to have been run over in California. She sets goals for herself, disciplines herself to fit into “normal” clothing sizes and smile all the time. And it works.  There are new friends and a first boyfriend and things run smoothly.  She tries to leave her sad self behind, but of course everything feels fake to her because she’s not letting herself feel anything.

And she’s never told anyone about who Cameron, her only friend, really was. How he gave her a note that said he loved her. How he built her a dollhouse for her birthday. How he really listened to her. And how on that birthday something scary and strange happened with Cameron’s dad (no, it’s not what you’re thinking right now).  Now that she’s turning 17, this memory keeps returning, little by little.  And as though summoned by that memory, Cameron himself returns. Not from the dead, but from California.

photo by flickr user Bellafaye

photo by flickr user Bellafaye

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

Sweethearts is an intense portrait of a girl’s mind at the intersection of memory and reality, attachment and growth, when she has to figure out who she wants to be from who she thought she was. Zarr succeeds wildly at this. Like a good flaky pastry, Sweethearts  is compressed but has lots of layers to add texture (and lots of butter to add depth of flavor).

Jenna has been repressing her feelings for so long and acting like everything is okay that, although lots of dramatic things are in play in the plot and character development, the narration is not melodramatic. Jenna is not shrill but she is tense and remains in control by assuming the illusion of being calm, so her voice reflects that calm – in fact, she’s stronger than she realizes so that calmness is not all an illusion.

Zarr gets the nervousness of the haunted so right, and then brings back the ghost to make things extra interesting. And here’s where, for me, it turned from a good book into a great one. Because this is not a destined-for-love story. Some of the realest moments are when Jenna is trying to figure out why Cameron is back, how he found her, and how far she should go to help him, and his behavior frustrates her or weirds her out. She wants to be nice to him, be friends with him, but she’s not sure what his deal is or how she even feels about him.  For example, she finds him sleeping in her car one morning and isn’t sure whether to be freaked out or offer him breakfast (both), or when, her family having taken him in temporarily, he doesn’t come home for dinner and Jenna feels responsible for her mother’s worry, and then angry that her mother never worried about her in the same way when she was growing up and alone for dinner.

It all comes back around in Sweethearts, like the past is cycling over and over in Jenna’s head, until she can properly mourn it.  And it’s seeing Cameron grown up and the same but not really that helps Jenna do this. Her experience with the Cameron of now puts into relief the difference between the love she’s play-acting with Ethan, who thinks he’s a charmer but is just shy of being way too possessive, and the terrible complicatedness of real love – not total romantic love, but love built from a bond that is part powerful friendship and part caring in the face of the meanness of life.

“I think about how there are certain people who come into life and leave a mark. I don’t mean the usual faint impression. …And I don’t just mean that they change you. …I’m talking about the ones who, for whatever reason, are as much a part of you as your own soul. Their place in our heart is tender; a bruise of longing, a pulse of unfinished business.”

Just like Rebecca said, “a short, tight little gem”.  And perfect for a New Year’s read, with its themes of growth and its direct style that makes it a quick read that can stay with you.

I also enjoy that the adults in Sweethearts are human, involved (for better or for bad in different cases) in their kid’s lives, and there’s a good stepfather character.

Movie Review: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You

A review of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, directed by Roberto Faenza (2011)

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You

by REBECCA, December 26, 2012

I love love love Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You (my full review is HERE)! So, when I learned that the book had been made into a movie (thanks, mom!), of course I had to see it.

It’s the summer after high school and James is working at his mother’s art gallery in Manhattan. His pretentious sister is dating a married professor, his mother ditched her newest husband during their Vegas honeymoon, his father believes that he should never order salad as a main course in a restaurant because it isn’t manly, and about the only people James can stand are his grandmother and his coworker, John. This is James Sveck’s life, and it’s kind of going to shit.

Someday this pain witll be useful to youSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful To You is a movie that, had I never read the book, I would have thought was pretty charming with a few super good lines. Toby Regbo (who played the young Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part I) is smart, sensitive, teen-hating James Sveck. Regbo is good—he doesn’t overplay the angst, his American accent is great, and he has the perfect pointy little face. Marcia Gay Harden is good as James’ well-meaning but self-absorbed mother and Peter Gallagher is a little too charming as James’ keeping-up-appearances father. And, bonus, Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica on True Blood) is James histrionic sister. Bonus part two, the always delightful Ellen Burstyn is James’ wise and laid back grandmother.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To YouBut . . . well . . . meh. Like I said, it wasn’t bad, by any means. It just didn’t capture the tone or, more importantly, the voice of Cameron’s novel. The novel is written from James’ perspective and his voice is total YA gold. In the movie, voiceover is used occasionally to give the feel of a first person perspective, quoting directly from Cameron’s novel. Despite providing the movie’s best lines, though, the voiceover is too sporadic to completely evoke that strong perspective, making it feel a bit uneven. Similarly uneven is the New York atmosphere. For an NYC-born family in the art biz, the New York that the film shows is extremely touristy, with none of the charm or comfort that a local would experience. Further, in my opinion, the soundtrack (original music by Andrea Guerra) really does the atmosphere a disservice.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To YouThe biggest problem with the adaptation, though, is the shift in the role of James’ therapist from the book. In Cameron’s novel, the therapist is something of an antagonist, in that it is in his encounters with her that we learn about the material of James’ frustration with the world. It’s because of her knee-jerk inane pleasantries and clichés that we have access to James’ perspective: “I see,” James’ therapist says. “I hate when people say ‘I see.’ It doesn’t mean anything and I think it’s hostile. Whenever anyone tells me ‘I see’ I think they’re really saying ‘Fuck you’” (87). So delightful. Anyway, in the film, the therapist is more of a life coach (played by Lucy Liu), and she becomes more like James’ only friend, and he talks her her easily, while running through Central Park and drinking smoothies. This totally changes the dynamic of the characters, making it appear as if all James needed was one random sympathetic chum to talk to in order to be all right with the world.

In sum, this is a cute movie. If you’ve read the book, it’s certainly not as good, but charming enough that you might want to watch it for curiosity’s sake. And, if you haven’t read the book, the movie’s definitely worth seeing, even if it’s not the most standout thing you’ve ever seen. Summary: READ THE BOOK; IT’S SO GOOD!

I’m Doing Backflips Over . . . Leverage!

A Review of Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Dutton Books (Penguin), 2011

Leverage Joshua C. Cohen

by REBECCA, December 24, 2012

characters

Danny: a small fry gymnast, he just wants to fly under the football bullies’ radar long enough to get a scholarship

Kurt: new to school and the football team, he uses his strength to protect him from his past

Studblatz, Miller, and Jankowski: football bullies who make life hell for pretty much everyone

Tina: was in the same youth facility as Kurt, she sticks up for the bullied and wants to support Kurt if he’ll let her

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Danny and Kurt should be enemies, according to Oregrove High’s social dynamics: Danny is a gymnast and Kurt is a football player, and the two do not mix except when the football players are kicking the gymnasts’ asses. But when three members of Kurt’s team take things way too far, Danny and Kurt form an alliance that might be the only way to survive.

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John Orozco

gymnastics!

Danny is a talented gymnast, but is small for his age and tries to stay out of the path of the football team. When he sees the new kid walk into math class bulging with muscle, he thinks he’s found yet another bully. But Kurt isn’t at all what Danny expects: he’s grown his hair long to hide the gruesome scars that mar one side of his face, and he can hardly speak without stuttering. Both Danny and Kurt feel free and focused while they’re involved in sports, but helpless when they aren’t: for Danny, this helplessness is due to his size, and for Kurt it’s due to his stutter and his scars. Studblatz, Miller, and Jankowski are the three biggest, meanest football players at Oregrove High and they terrorize the gymnasts. When they begin a prank war and the gymnasts retaliate, they escalate their bullying to such a level that lives are in danger and Kurt is forced to choose sides.

People, I loved this book! It clocks in at over 400 pages, and yet I really didn’t want it to end. I finished it on Friday and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Leverage is a totally engrossing and totally horrifying story of the power dynamics among the athletes of Oregrove High. This isn’t simply a book about bullying, although it is that as well. It’s a complicated portrait of many different responses to differences in power (be they physical, mental, social, societal, etc.). Leverage is told in chapters alternating between Danny and Kurt’s points of view. Kurt, for me, was the more interesting character. Having been moved around a lot and suffered Friday Night Lightsabsolutely horrific abuse when he was younger, Kurt has built up his physical strength to ensure that he’ll never be at the mercy of anyone else (physically) ever again. The details of his past unfold slowly and subtly throughout the novel, alongside his feelings of intense frustration about his stutter and people’s perceptions of him because of it. I think Joshua C. Cohen made a really good choice to pair the revelation of Kurt’s abusive past with his physical and mental relationship with football, his teammates, and their actions. His character, of them all, feels incredibly well-developed and well-psychologized, without ever edging into the melodramatic.

Danny’s feelings are more straightforward—he’s afraid of being bullied, so he avoids it, even when that means not sticking up for someone else being bullied—but Cohen was smart again, I think, to avoid making Danny the scrappy hero:

“A new round of laughter erupts as dozens of football players’ fingers start pointing at Ronnie and me. We’re the smallest on the team and, they assume, the weakest. . . . Ronnie steps closer like he wants my company, but all I want is to get farther away from him. I hate him at that moment, hate feeling like they think we’re the same. We’re not the same. Ronnie’s a punk freshman who just started gymnastics. I’m aiming for state champion in high bar. I’m going to be a full-ride scholarship athlete one day. We’re not the same” (42-3).

Reading Danny’s character made me conscious of what has become one of the recurring character tropes of YA lit recently: the small or weak kid who stands up to enormous threats despite the near guarantee of being hurt. I mean, I knew that was common but, lest I ever forgot how much power recurring tropes have in the way I view the world, I have to admit that I found myself disliking Danny precisely because he didn’t conform to this brand of self-sacrificing heroism. In fact, I really had to check myself about that, since the last thing I believe I should be doing is blaming the victims of bullying for not being more “heroic”!

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

FootballI won’t say anything about the actual plot of Leverage because I don’t want to give anything away, but Cohen does a really amazing job tracking the way that the football players’ bullying amps up slowly, until it leads to an incident that is so far beyond bullying that it becomes something else. Cohen frames Studblatz, Miller, and Jankowski as creatures that are out of control—creatures whose monstrosity is inherently un-understandable even to themselves. And it’s there that Leverage really got me. Of course it’s useful to examine bullies’ behavior and try and understand what causes it in order to try and stop it (in real life). But Leverage seems to be operating from the more interesting worldview that bullying (in all its permutations) is a natural byproduct of a power differential and, therefore, takes place in almost every social interaction. Some of the gymnasts, including Danny, tease Ronnie for being religious and sincere, and later fail him in a really major way; the football players bully each other and tease Kurt for his stutter, his appearance, his lack of money; Miller’s father bullies him; the football players insult a girl because of her ethnicity; Tina threatens a football player, etc.

In its panoramic view of bullying, Leverage poses questions about aggressive behavior we might not be so keen to answer: Would I beat people up if I were physically stronger? How can we reward aggression in sports and not expect it to spill over into the athletes’ lives? How can we teach the distinction between culturally prized hyper-masculinity and unacceptable aggression? Do I blame the victims for being weaker, or different, or not fighting back? Would I risk my own safety to come to the aid of someone who’s going to be hurt no matter what?

superbowl-cat___02Leverage is also, I must not forget to mention, a sports book (obviously), and it has all the great stuff I love about sports books/movies: awesome action sequences (Cohen was a gymnast and the descriptions of doing tricks really ring true), glorious descriptions of overcoming pain, outrunning fear, and throwing yourself into the fray, and deep investigations of what it means for your body to be the instrument of your success. I love that the alliance between Danny and Kurt is between football and gymnastics: the extremely different types of athleticism and stamina that the sports value are reflected in the characters. Also, hi: gymnastics; get with the program!

Who are the monsters? Who are the victims? Who is implicated? Who is beyond reproach? Who enables? Who helps? Who harms? Who hides? How sure are we of the line between any of these? And how much can any of us outpace the assumptions that others inscribe on us? Leverage barrels straight at these questions and never flinches away from them. Although I found the ending predictable, it was predictable because it was inevitable, which feels better. I can’t wait to see what Joshua C. Cohen brings us next.

personal disclosure

Leverage Joshua C. Cohen

Leverage Joshua C. CohenI was reading Leverage first on a BoltBus and then on the New York subway and because of that could not help but be very, very aware that if you didn’t know this was a young adult book, or a sports book, then its cover really makes it look like it is about fisting. Which is fine, but still, I became slightly self-conscious. Anyhoo, I actually love this cover: it’s so simple and stripped down, and I love how the word LEVERAGE is colored so that RAGE is in red. I like it so much more than the paperback cover (right) but now wonder if they changed it because someone came in and said, hey, y’all, this is a young adult book so maybe we want to move away from the fisting?

readalikes

Girl in the Arena Lise Haines

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines (2009). This compelling book explores a neo-gladatorial society, complete with its culture of violence, through the eyes of one girl who has to fight not only for her freedom but for her family as well.

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.

Stotan! Chris Crutcher

Stotan! by Chris Crutcher (1986). A Stotan is a cross between a Stoic and a Spartan, and their swim coach expects nothing less of them during the intense week-long training. During that week, four friends learn to push their bodies further than they ever thought they could go, and learn about each other in the process. A sporty classic!

procured from: the library

Batman Returns: A Re-Evaluation

Tim Burton’s second Batman movie is seriously delirious, a pastiche of gloom, big ideas, and many well-thought out silly details (like the best Tim Burton movies are) Why did I grow up thinking it was a failure?

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review by Tessa

For sure I saw Batman Returns in the theater. Batman was huge in our house (and still is), and going to movies was a very regular activity.  But Batman Returns never made it into quotable status, and its memory was lost to me, known only as a vague impression of being confusing and too long.  Until this week when I borrowed it from my roommate and rewatched it. Shout out to my roommate for owning Batman Returns!

I admit. It is too long. It’s rambling and there’s no one huge plot to focus on, because the three villains all have different, shifting motivations. There’s nothing really quotable except for one moment where Christopher Walken, in the role of megalomaniacal businessman Max Schreck responds to Bruce Wayne’s civic-mindedness with one comment: “Yawn.”  (Oh, and when Catwoman does a throwaway “Meow” and the Penguin, as part of his dying attempts to kill Batman, pulls the wrong umbrella from his arsenal and gurgles “Uck. I chose a cute one.”)

And no Prince songs, just a midi-style jazzy cover of “Superfreak” and a Siouxsie Sioux song.

But it’s not a flop by any means.  Let me tell you the reasons why it’s worth a rewatch or two.

1. It’s a Christmas movie!

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This is the second movie I’ve seen in as many months that surprised me by being set at Christmas (the other was Gremlins).  No one does creepy Christmas like Tim Burton – as in Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas, snow falls from a black sky onto a world where things go terribly wrong and yet one or two people find each other or try to find their own goodness, among spirals and stripes if possible.

Here Christmas has come to Gotham, but a deformed boy, abandoned 33 years ago and raised in the (itself abandoned) Aquatic World at Gotham Zoo has come back to claim his birthright and find himself etc. He’s a manipulator, though. His first act is to shoot the lights out on the Gotham City Hall Christmas tree, using his gang of Circus Freak thugs br6skelliemoto(including skeleton-headed people on motorbikes, an Organ-grinder, several clowns, and a coldly silent lady with a poodle, pink dress, and sausage curls. Oh, and Max Shreck wants to build a power plant that will actually suck power from the city. And his undead secretary, dressed in a homemade catsuit, is also finding her voice and her voice is semi-homicidal and doesn’t like rejection from Batman.  Can Batman save the Christmas spirit/a mayoral recall election/find love or at least a hookup on the California King at Shrecks department store/weather the withering judgement of Alfred???

2. Penguin, and his perfect grunting

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Danny DeVito is saddled with what amounts to a prosthetic Pac-Man suit. He is adorably circular, instead of spherical. Not to mention his flipper-hands, stringy Ben Franklin hair, dark viscous drool, tiny triangular teeth and aerodynamic profile. And he’s saddled with really gross lines about how his character wants to “fill [Jan Hooks’s] void” — Penguin did not pick up on decency to women in his formative years.  As befits a Batman villain, he gets quips galore, and as a villain who is gunning to be Mayor and win over the Gotham populace, he has plenty of showboat-y lines. Yet underneath all of this is some good acting.  Penguin is an amoral being, sure, but he’s also a boy who was thrown into a river by his parents, and that still shows through. And he’s also sort of a penguin. He eats raw fish with smacking pleasure and when he’s emotionally agitated he lets out these little grunts.  They are amazing. They are subtle!  They really let the feral nature of Penguin show through his scheming persona.

3. Perfectly Stupid Bat Technology

The technology in this movie – made a couple years before the World Wide Web became a thing – relies mostly on radio frequencies, their jamming, and radar tracking. It employs 3 separate types of customized Batmobile radar: walking penguin, swimming penguin, and Duckmobile, all with their own graphics, and with each swipe of the radar punctuated by a “QUAAHHH” which approximates a penguin call, I guess.

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The Batmobile is also equipped with fold-out bars that are precisely the right height to take out thugs on stilts, a giant metal pole that lifts the ‘Mobile up and turns it 180 degrees for when Batman is too cool for a 3-point turn and wants to fart fire on a guy in a devil suit so that he burns up in a painful flaming death.

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But the best technological touch of the movie is when Bruce Wayne scratches a CD as though he were a DJ.  Is that even a thing that happens without specific decks built for the purpose? Wayne just has a cutaway Discman with the Bat logo on it.

4. Blunt Mozart Businessman Hotness

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I don’t know how I forgot this, but Christopher Walken is in Batman Returns. His portrayal of Max Shreck, like DeVito’s Penguin, takes Schreck beyond caricature.  He has lines that could easily turn into Capitalist Pig #1 but he delivers them with a matter-of-factness and even openness that makes him seem almost reasonable. Dressed in Burtonized 30s style 3 piece suits and what can only be termed UltraMozart hair, he still looks hot.  No really!

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5. Catwoman has legit anger

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Oh, Pfeiffer as Kyle as Catwoman. Why did I think you weren’t good at it? I may have been conflating Batman Returns with Halle Berry’s universally-panned Catwoman. I sort of wanted to stop watching the movie and just take pictures of Catwoman, or make gifs. Pfeiffer brings a giddiness to Kyle’s destruction that is captivating.

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There’s a scene where she throws some spray paint cans into a microwave, theatrically slams it shut, and then prances offscreen with her arms crooked up at the elbow and hands floppily waving with excitement. She’s bored with typical expressions of power from male figures, but they keep pushing her off of buildings and out of windows because she’s smarter than they realized or she has the gall to “lead them on” by being attractive and then reject their unwanted proposals of marriage.  The Gotham of this movie is filled with outsized sculptures of male heads, classically posed and holding up the city, so she’s also sort of metaphorically taking on a city held up by the idea of Men and run by Old Patriarchal Families, including the Waynes.  When she loses it and screams and throws things there’s nothing hysterical about it.

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Also, if a genie granted me 3 wishes I might use one to spend a magical night having magically obtained Michelle Pfeiffer’s hairstyle from the holiday shindig scene in this movie – a scene where, incidentally, she dances with Bruce Wayne and reveals her anger at the upper classes – much like the scene in Dark Knight Rises, only better, of course, in hairstyle and in every other way.

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BONUS: The over-the-top sets and costumes

Or, not so much a bonus as a large part of what makes the movie great. It’s really beautiful, with shots that are set up so well that I paused to admire them like paintings.  The crowd gathering at a press conference lit in red and calling to mind George Grosz’s angry, grotesqsue visions of Weimar Berlin.

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The city itself like a Lynd Ward woodcut. Penguin’s cohort arranged like a royal portrait worthy of Velasquez.

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All that matched with some whimsy like a duck-mobile!  The perfection that is Selina Kyle’s pink apartment filled with stuffed animals, cat t-shirts, dollhouses, and her exquisitely tailored sad-executive-assistant suits.

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All of this is why I’ll always love Burton’s Batman much more than Nolan’s. It has rewatchability and imagination, and can play with themes without becoming deadly overserious.  I’m not going to delude myself into thinking that I’ll ever convince Nolan fans of it, but that’s okay. I’m just glad to have rediscovered its charm for myself.

Many more low-grade but still visually stimulating screen shots can be found on my Flickr.

PS: If anyone can tell me who Pfeiffer’s Catwoman voice sounds exactly like, I will love you forever because I can’t figure it out and it’s driving me batty. (get it?)

Dear Diary: A Review of Skim, A Graphic Coming of Age Story

A Review of Skim by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki

Groundwood Books, 2008

Skim Jillian Tamaki Mariko Tamaki

by REBECCA, December 19, 2012

“Dear Diary, today Lisa said, ‘Everyone is unique.’ That is not unique!!”

Skim is a teenage Japanese-Canadian Wiccan goth in Catholic school in Toronto in 1993. Basically, I feel like all I need to do is write that one sentence and everyone will see why they want to read Skim. Skim is written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (cousins!). The writing is dry, it’s thoughtful, it’s lyrical, and it’s a little bit angry; the art is gorgeous: a variety of pen and ink images with sweeping black washes, detailed landscapes, smug expressions, and the kind of minimalism that only the truly self-assured narrative can pull off.

Skim Jillian Tamaki Mariko Tamaki

Skim’s only real friend is Lisa, but as Skim begins, Skim is feeling disillusioned with Lisa, and thinks everything she says is annoying. Around the same time, one of her classmates’ ex-boyfriends kills himself and her whole school falls into a kind of exaggerated mourning. Skim finds herself slowly falling in love with, Ms. Archer, her mysterious, flowy-skirted, tea-drinking rambling-house-living English teacher.

Skim Jillian Tamaki Mariko Tamaki

One of the things I like best about Skim is the way that the words and images are in tension with one another: the words will be bitter and aggressive while the image is calm and minimalist, or the words will be wry and sarcastic while the image is depressing and sad.

“I had a dream/ I put my hands/ inside my chest/ and held my heart/ to try to keep it still”

Also, I really love that none of the characters are pretty—they all have blank expressions and turned-up little noses and wonky eyebrows. It lends the book a level of realism and specificity.

Skim Jillian Tamaki Mariko Tamaki

Skim is a beautiful coming of age story: sexuality, race, body image, gender, spirituality, friendship—this is a book that has it all. I can’t overstate how beautifully paced, drawn, and written this book is. I highly, highly recommend it.

My Top Ten Winter and Holiday Movies!

Severus Snape

by REBECCA, December 17, 2012

Despite global climate change wreaking havoc, this week it is officially winter! Last week was Chanukah and next week is Christmas and that means that even if there’s no snow on the ground it is still time to snuggle in and watch movies and eat things! So, in the hopes of assisting with your snuggling, here is a list of my top ten wintry movies, most of which also feature at least one wintry holiday (and three Claire Danes appearances!). So, break out the blankets and kitties, and let’s watch some movies!

Harry  Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

ANY Harry Potter movie!

Ok, I know this is kind of a gimme, but the Harry Potter movies are straight-up freaking magical and they have so many good holiday moments. My sister and I may or may not have recently watched many of the Harry Potter movies in a row just to enjoy their delicious wintryness and holidayness: snowball fights on the Hogwarts grounds, mugs of warm butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks, toasting bread in the fire of Gryffindor Common Room, feasts in the Great Hall for Thanksgiving and Christmas (apparently Christmas is the only holiday in the wizarding world), and magical presents like a cloak of invisibility (best present ever)! Just the magical mood of the Harry Potter world feels like that fizzy feeling of the day before winter break in school.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Nightmare Before Christmas

The King of Halloweentown, Jack Skellington, discovers Christmastown and falls in love with the cheer, the gifts, and the sparkle of lights. Bonus: this delightful genre mashup is a musical! The scenes where Jack is trying to figure out the chemical and mathematical equations for Christmas cheer are a Dr. Frankensteinian delight.

The Family Stone

The Family Stone

While I’m not generally a fan of the whole bring-your-date-to-meet-the-family-at-Christmas genre, The Family Stone is pretty delightful. Everett (a typically flat Durmot Mulroney) brings his uptight and conservative girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet his large and close-knit family, who all hate her . . . except for his brother, who falls for her. Rachel McAdams is perfect as the honest sister who hates Meredith, and Diane Keaton is perfect as the fierce mama lion who thinks Everett is making a big mistake. Claire Danes appearance #1.

The Ref

The Ref

Denis Leary is a cat burglar; when a heist goes wrong, he has to hold a fighting couple hostage in their own home during an excruciating Christmas with their families. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are perfect as Caroline and Lloyd, the couple who hate each other, and Denis Leary is, as usual, pretty goshdarn funny.

Caroline: How can we both be in the marriage and I’m miserable and you’re content?

Lloyd: Luck?”

Edward Scissorhands

Edward Scissorhands

Tim Burton + Johnny Depp + Scissor hands + black leather + Mary Kay representative + pastels + topiaries + Frankenstein-esque + Vincent Price + Diane Wiest + suburbs + gothic = awesome!

Heights

Heights

Set over one twenty-four hour period in wintry New York City, Heights follows its characters as their paths intertwine. There’s Glenn Close, who plays a famous Broadway actor, Elizabeth Banks as her daughter, a photographer who is engaged to James Marsden, who is torn between her and another. And then there’s John Light, a journalist from London who has come to New York to track down the previous lovers of his famous photographer lover, which puts him directly in the path of everyone else. No actual holidays here, but a huge bonus: my favorite musician, Rufus Wainwright, makes a small cameo!

Home for the Holidays

Home For the Holidays

Holly Hunter has made out with her boss, lost her job, and dropped her teenage daughter (Claire Danes appearance #2!) off at her grabby boyfriend’s house for Thanksgiving as she goes home to her parents’ for Thanksgiving and Christmas with her wacky and screwed-up family. Robert Downey Jr. is awesomepants as Holly Hunter’s brother and Anne Bancroft is dynamite as her troubled and dramatic mother. The sibling chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Holly Hunter is so good! Lovelovelove.

A Midnight Clear

A Midnight Clear

Based on William Wharton’s excellent novel, A Midnight Clear is set in 1944 France where a young group of American soldiers are stationed. On Christmas eve, they come across a troop of German soldiers who wish to surrender rather than fight. Starring Ethan Hawke, Kevin Dillon, Gary Sinise, Frank Whaley, and Peter Berg, this is a dramatic portrait of young men under immense pressure who try and set aside their differences.

The Thing

The Thing

Ok, so it’s set in the Antarctic, but still, it’s snowy and wintry and snowy, and who doesn’t love a horror movie over the holidays?! Starring Kurt Russell, The Thing is the story of a shape-shifting alien that can take on the form of people it kills and can only be killed (this is the best part:) with an enormous blow-torch. A total classic, and one of the few horror movies that takes place in wintry whiteness. Did I mention the blow torches?

Little Women

Little Women

I love this contemporary remake of Little Women: Winona Ryder actually not sucking in a period piece, bratty Kirsten Dunst, baby Christian Bale, the always-awesome Susan Sarandon, and Claire Danes appearance #3. Sisters, writing, singing, ice skating on a frozen pond (probably Walden), many descriptions of scrumptious food, in a classic coming of age tale. The 1933 and 1949 versions aren’t too shabby either.

So, grab your blankets and your cat, compose your cheese plates and your nachos, and meet me on the couch for an epic of wintry watching! What are your winter favorites? Tell me in the comments.

A Boarding School Tale That Packs a Punch: The Tragedy Paper

A Review of The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013

The Tragedy Paper Elizabeth LeBan

by REBECCA, December 12, 2012

characters

Tim Macbeth: a self-aware albino kid who transfers to the prestigious Irving School for the second semester of his senior year

Vanessa Sheller: a popular student at Irving, she and Tim meet cute on their way to school, but she has a boyfriend . . .

Duncan: a year behind Tim and Vanessa, Duncan’s path crossed theirs last year at a critical moment and he is now living with the consequences

the hook

When Duncan arrives at school for the start of his senior year he finds a series of cds in his room recorded by the room’s previous occupant, Tim Macbeth. On those cds, Tim recounts the story of how he first met Vanessa, their secret relationship of whispers and glancing touches and walks through the woods. As the story proceeds, Tim’s and Duncan’s stories begin to converge, approaching the tragic event that changed both of their lives.

worldview

Tim and Vanessa meet when their flight from Chicago is delayed. Tim is extremely self-conscious about his albinism and Vanessa is clearly used to getting what she wants because of her beauty, so they end up sharing Tim’s hotel room for the night, where they connect over playing in the snow. When Tim learns that Vanessa is a student at Irving School, where he is headed for the first time, though, he knows that their connection will never be able to continue, since he’s generally treated like a freak and she’s clearly popular and charismatic.

And he’s right—once they’re at school, Vanessa (obligatory possessive boyfriend in tow) clearly wants to spend time with Tim but isn’t willing to risk her social standing to do so. Tim, who once yearned for new friendships and challenging classes, finds himself living for the moments he and Vanessa steal and never asking for more that she gives him. Tim’s story plays out against the backdrop of a school English class assignment: the tragedy paper, which asks Irving seniors to write about the concept of tragedy as it plays out in life and in Greek tragedies they read in class.

Greek Tragedy MaskThe Tragedy Paper is a beautiful book, but not a subtle one. And I think, actually, that its lack of subtlety is one of its strengths. In a less assured hand the story of a tragedy told alongside the story of writing about tragedy would feel as proscriptive and melodramatic as the drop of a cartoon anvil. However, Elizabeth LaBan manages to turn what could be melodrama into a sincere (and at times realistically banal) excavation of the question of what is tragedy. The meat of the tale is told by Tim via the cds he records after The Tragedy Paper‘s tragedy has unfolded (no spoilers, I promise) and after he’s been thinking about the tragedy paper for nearly a whole semester. As such, Tim recounts his story in terms of the tenets of tragedy itself: its structure, its fatal flaw, and the magnitude of events that precipitate it.

And it’s this notion of magnitude that turned The Tragedy Paper into a dark, character-driven story as opposed to a tragedy itself (and that’s absolutely a positive thing). Tim attends to the seemingly insignificant details of his daily existence from the other side of the tragedy, so he knows which ones ended up being significant even though he couldn’t know that at the time. In this way, he’s the ultimate author, only instead of trying to subtly foreshadow, he comes right out and announces to Duncan (who’s listening) what moments were significant. This builds The Tragedy Paper’s eerie sense of foreboding—the notion that we can never know until later which tiny decisions we make will end up changing our lives, or ruining them. And it’s this sense of tragic magnitude that haunts Duncan, slowly eating away at him all year as he listens to Tim’s story unfold, waiting until the moment he will finally appear in it.

Of course, this all plays out against the backdrop of a boarding school with the typical delights of teachers who really care about the material, arcane rituals and secrets, and a snowy New York winter. And you all know how much we at Crunchings and Munchings love boarding school stories.

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

I think The Tragedy Paper was really Tim’s story, even thought it was given to us through Duncan’s reception of it. As secondary readers of Tim’s story, then, we get to see its effect on Duncan—how he asks out his long-time crush Daisy because he listens to Tim mourn not taking a chance with Vanessa; how he begins to look at his own decisions in terms of their magnitude within Tim’s tragedy. I think, then, that Elizabeth LaBan’s intention was that of many good authors (and some of us paranoid souls): to show the way that each miniscule decision we make propels our lives forward into a new trajectory, and that it is only by looking backward that we can see where the catalysts were. Tim’s story, and The Tragedy Paper more generally, is an excavation of those moments when things change; the moments we can never change, but can perhaps locate on our personal maps—can perhaps point to after the fact and say, there you are. And it is beautifully done.

The Birth of Tragedy Friedrich NietzscheIn terms of character, I really liked Tim. As a narrator (I hope I’ve made clear) he could be really annoying. But he’s extremely sympathetic. Albinism isn’t a condition that I’ve seen portrayed often in fiction, and Tim’s feelings about and actions around his albinism are really interesting and quite understandable. I wasn’t sure whether we were supposed to like Vanessa or not. On one hand, since we only see her from Tim’s perspective, I wondered if we were supposed to worship her as much as he did; on the other hand, since we don’t get to hear her explanation for why she wouldn’t be with Tim, I wondered if we were supposed to dislike her?

Well, I loathed her the way I always loathe characters who care more about their social standing or their calm social waters than they do about other people. I know it’s not smiled upon to admit this, especially because we’re talking about teenage characters, but I have absolutely no respect for someone who thinks someone is awesome and refuses to be seen with them or is embarrassed for anyone to know they like that person. Seriously, I think it’s despicable. Of course, it also produces really great stories, this one included, so it’s totally necessary in that respect.

The Tragedy Paper Elizabeth LeBanDuncan’s a nice vehicle for the story because he’s clearly so affected by it and we don’t get much of his personality beyond it. I could have done without his crush, though, Daisy, because it’s never explained why he likes her so she seems completely generic.

The book’s tragedy, which the story builds toward, works well. It’s not so hideously dramatic that it seems unrealistic, but didn’t feel anticlimactic either. The Tragedy Paper is a very well-written, well-crafted drama with a great protagonist. There is nothing superlative about it, which is what I liked so much: it is not trying to be anything other than it is. In fact, the cover (which I love) would be a great thing to judge the book based on: it’s lyrical and beautiful and tense, but not overblown or flashy. And that’s exactly what it should be.

personal disclosure

I was particularly delighted to read in LaBan’s acknowledgements that she was really influenced by S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders as a young reader. The Outsiders (something of a tragedy paper in its own right) gets a subtle shout-out at the very end . . .

readalikes

The Secret History Donna Tartt

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt (1992). One of my all-time favorites, this is set on a college campus, but feels like a boarding school. It’s also an exploration of Greek philosophy, although with quite different results. I write more about it HERE.

Looking for Alaska John Green

Looking For Alaska, by John Green (2005). Another boarding school tale where a boy falls in love with a charismatic girl. John Green is a master.

The River King Alice Hoffman

The River King, by Alice Hoffman (2000). A creepier, more atmospheric boarding school tale, also about an isolated student who is trying to make sense of what has happened.

procured from: I received an ARC from NetGalley (thanks!) with no compensation on either side. The Tragedy Paper will be available January 8th.

Cover Reveal! Kelley York’s Suicide Watch

by REBECCA, December 10, 2012

Friends, I am so excited to bring you the cover reveal for Kelley York’s forthcoming YA novel, Suicide Watch! You may remember that I reviewed Kelley’s debut novel, Hushed, a few weeks ago and that I loved it! Well, Suicide Watch promises to be just as compelling. So, without further ado, check out this beautiful and (appropriately) moody cover:

Suicide Watch Kelley York

I love that the cover is high contrast black and white in a moment when so many YA covers feature girls in poofy, brightly-colored dresses, and that the title looks like writing on a chalkboard. Here is the blurb of Suicide Watch, newly up on Goodreads:

18-year-old Vincent Hazelwood has spent his entire life being shuffled from one foster home to the next. His grades sucked. Making friends? Out of the question thanks to his nervous breakdowns and unpredictable moods. Still, Vince thought when Maggie Atkins took him in, he might’ve finally found a place to get his life—and his issues—in order.

But then Maggie keels over from a heart attack. Vince is homeless, alone, and the inheritance money isn’t going to last long. A year ago, Vince watched a girl leap to her death off a bridge, and now he’s starting to think she had the right idea.

Vince stumbles across a website forum geared toward people considering suicide. There, he meets others with the same debate regarding the pros and cons of death: Casper, battling cancer, would rather off herself than slowly waste away. And there’s quiet, withdrawn Adam, who suspects if he died, his mom wouldn’t even notice.

As they gravitate toward each other, Vince searches for a reason to live while coping without Maggie’s guidance, coming to terms with Casper’s imminent death, and falling in love with a boy who doesn’t plan on sticking around.

Hushed Kelley York

I love books that explore the friendships that come about as the result of meeting for very particular reasons (you know, The Breakfast Club effect). It sounds deliciously dark and character-based, two of my favorite things.

I would like to read this right now, please!

And, fortunately for me (and, of course, you) Kelley says Suicide Watch will be released this month. So, now you have just enough time to read Hushed before you settle in for a cozy read of Suicide Watch under the mistletoe, if you’re into such things. Smoochies!

Two Middle-Grade Mysteries with Ageless Appeal: “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” and Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire!

whocouldthatbe

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” All The Wrong Questions #1

by Lemony Snicket

Art by Seth

Little, Brown and Company 2012

mr_mrs_bunny_cover

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire!

by Mrs. Bunny, translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath

art by Sophie Blackall

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012

reviews by Tessa

Lately, even with the weather soaring to climate-change induced heights instead of wintery lows, I’ve still been craving cozy reading.  For me that usually means something funny, fast, and in a genre.  I really  hit the jackpot this week and last, with two middle-grade-marketed mysteries that could be read and enjoyed by anyone except maybe for babies, who knows what babies are thinking.

who even knows. from Open Clip Art library

who even knows. from Open Clip Art library

The only thing you have to ask yourself is: do I want to be reading something atmospheric and silly or aggressively silly?  For the former there’s “Who Could That Be at This Hour?”, the first in the All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket (illustrated by Seth) and for the latter, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny, translated from Rabbit by Polly Horvath and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

Seth! Seth! Seth!

Seth! Seth! Seth!

“Twice I almost fell asleep thinking of places and people in the city that were dearly important to me, and the distance between them and myself growing and growing until the distance grew so vast that even the longest-tongued bat in the world could not lick the life I was leaving behind.” (21)

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” brings back Snicket in top form, but this time he delves into his own sad and action-packed past, reviewing all the wrong questions he’s asked throughout his life, and presumably leading to tragedy and further mystery.

We find him, at the opening of the story, (you can preview the first chapter here) in a greasy tearoom at a train station, saying goodbye to his parents at the age of 13 and going to act as an apprentice of some sort to someone.  The mystery begins at once, for he does not get on the train. A woman with wild hair drops a note on his lap, giving him five minutes to meet her out front in her roadster–but he must leave through the bathroom window.  Evidently prepared for this, Snicket finds the ladder stowed in the bathroom and exits, but is not prepared to be whisked out of the city to a new destination.

There’s someone in the city waiting for Snicket to help investigate important things in the sewer system, but there isn’t a way for him to go back. He’s now apprenticed to S. Theodora Markson, ranked 52 on the list of as many people with whom it was possible to apprentice, and on his way to Stain’d by the Sea, a seaside town no longer by the seaside.

Seth's illustrations add to the considerable atmosphere of the book.

Seth’s illustrations add to the considerable atmosphere of the book.

Markson and Snicket pass deep wells where giant needles dip in and out, harvesting ink from frightened octopi, the last of their kind.  A bell rings and Snicket is told to wear a silver mask because of “water pressure” although there is no water around. It’s just a taste of the confounding and lonely things to come. He finds that they will be investigating the burglary of a statue of a legendary sea creature–said to be taken from the home of one prominent family in town by members of the other prominent family, and yet the two families are not enemies.

Along the way there are the usual vocabulary lessons (“bombinating”, “hawser”), dryly specific advice, but not as much advice as the Snicket who narrates The Series of Unfortunate Events dispenses. “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” is about a much less assured Snicket at a much more malleable time in his life.  He’s probably still smarter than his mentor, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t acting a little impulsively and having melancholy adolescent feelings about things, as opposed to the older and more settled in inevitable sadness voice from the previous series of Snicket books. There are even two possible romantic interests and a hint that we will learn about some Snicket family members. For me this meant extra emotional depth in a quick read, just as I had hoped for and expected. The mysteries just keep begetting more mysteries, like a man whose hat is filled with men wearing hats containing ever tinier men with hats and so on. In other words: delicious complications!

Readalikes:

Just go back and re-read Series of Unfortunate Events, as I plan to. Or start on the Mysterious Benedict Society series, by Trenton Lee Stewart, which has a similar tone and feel.

Mr. & Mrs.!

Mr. & Mrs.!

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire! has very little melancholy (unless you’re severely inclined to it) and, perhaps in its place, a lot of silliness. Fierce silliness. Unselfconscious silliness.

I admit that I initially checked this book out because of Sophie Blackall, being a huge fan of her art. And it took me a bit to get into the story, which starts out with the human side of things, explaining 5th-grader Madeline’s world, where she’s the square living with a Canadian commune of benign, marimba-playing, luminaria-loving, monarchy-disdaining hippies (including her parents, Flo and Mildred).  The descriptions came off as odd and forced-whimsical with a whiff of mockery, without being charming. I’ll get to the bunnies and then make my decision, I thought.

Luckily for me, the second chapter introduces Mr. and Mrs. Bunny. They are a couple set in their ways but given to impulse, and with a great bantering style. And the second page of the second chapter stops to note that

“Marmots, of course, were the bane of many a bunny’s existence. With their constant whining and tendency to matted fur, no one wanted to live around a marmot. Except perhaps another marmot. And sometimes not even they.”

a marmot, provided by Wikimedia

a marmot, provided by Wikimedia

I used to make zines for my sister, and one of them had a nice large picture of a marmot. I’d intended to make this an ad for the organization M.A.R.M.O.T. but could not think of a phrase to fill out the acronym. Now, any book that understood the comic possibilities of marmots was one that I would definitely have to read.

Good thing, because Mr. & Mrs. Bunny may not be great detectives but it’s fun to follow them as they bumble along with gumption.  As a couple, they don’t come off as a stereotype of an old bickering married pair, although they have been married for a long time and they do bicker.  There’s something about them that still seems fresh. It could be that they are scatterbrained. It could be that when Mrs. Bunny starts poking Mr. Bunny in the side for emphasis, she continues to do so because it’s fun, and then Mr. Bunny pretends not to notice but saves the retaliatory pokes for later, when she won’t expect it – and later in the narrative where it’s funnier to see brought up again.

It’s also a jumbled world where Foxes can learn to speak English in order to decode recipes for making food of rabbits, where bunnys can drive cars and build villages with freestanding Olde Spaghetti Factories, just like human towns, but clearly have their own bunny priorities like too much fursweating under a waterproof cap, or being called in front of the dreaded Bunny Council.

I laughed and/or smiled many times to myself while reading it, especially for the parts where the ongoing joke about Madeline having a gigantic bottom came up.  I even laughed in public while reading alone at a bar. That alone makes a it recommend-worthy, I think, and the mystery itself is solved in an escalating way filled with madcap rubbery red herrings all over the place.  There’s even a couple phrases of Fox to be learned from it, and also how to hypnotize a marmot.

Readalikes:

M.T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales series (start with Whales on Stilts!) is pretty close in humor, although a bit more absurd.  And you’d do well to also read Maryrose Wood‘s Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, also delightfully illustrated by a talented person, Jon Klassen.

PLEASE LEAVE YOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR WHAT M.A.R.M.O.T. STANDS FOR IN THE COMMENTS. Prizes possible.

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