5 Reasons You Should Watch Master Chef Junior!

Master Chef Junior

by REBECCA, April 21, 2014

First things first, because this is an elimination show, be careful of going to the homepage for the show because it’ll spoil the finale.

See that adorable, food-smeared child holding what looks like a restaurant-quality dessert? Well, whereas usually that would imply that the annoying child just shoved their face in someone’s beautiful dessert, in Master Chef Junior, it means they freaking made it.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking: I hate reality shows about children because they are always either victimized by their parents’ ambition, or independent psychopaths who will surely grow up to be bullies and serial killers. HOWEVER, Master Chef Junior is not like that! My sister and I watched the whole thing a few weeks ago—it’s only seven episodes, so it’s a great mini-marathon show—and it is bloody amazing. So, here are five reasons why you should definitely check it out!

1. Expertise! There are few things I love more than watching people who are brilliant at something execute that thing well. I love cooking shows because you can see every step of what people do: you can see them brainstorm ideas; you can see them make mistakes and have to fix them; and you can see them receive feedback on them. I’m a pretty good cook/baker and I know there is no way I could ever be on a food competition show. I just don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of recipes or the time management skills to cook that fast. The regular Master Chef (a competition of adult home chefs) is impressive enough to me for both those reasons.

mc jr 4When the experts are children, it’s mind-blowing. These are 8-13 year-old kids and they are cooking at the same level as the adults on Master Chef. To see an eight-year-old with professional knife skills . . . well, actually, it’s a little creepy. But, no, it’s amazing. And it isn’t only that they’re experts on a technical level; they’re also incredibly knowledgeable about food, which allows them to create unique, diverse, sophisticated, restaurant-quality dishes. Y’all, it’s seriously amazing!

2. Competitors With Heart! In most competition shows—certainly in Master Chefthe competitors talk a lot of shit. They’re nasty and cutthroat and they refuse to acknowledge the talents of their competitors as if it could, in some way, lessen their own. Not in Master Chef Junior. Almost more surprising than the incredible culinary skill these kids have is their amazingly positive attitudes toward one another. They encourage one another, they say lovely things about each other’s work, they cry when competitors leave because they’re friends, and they help calm each other down when they’re stressed out. I think this was actually my favorite element of the show. I hate to sound all from-the-mouths-of-babes, but it’s incredibly inspiring to realize that at a young age, kids don’t just assume that they have to cut people down to elevate themselves. This also made the show so much more pleasant to watch because there was none of the yelling, complaining, and other garbage that so often goes with the truly amazing cooking.

131004masterchef-junior1_300x2063. Young Adults Rule! There is an episode where the contestants take over a restaurant and have to work in the kitchen, cooking all the food for the restaurant. It’s a real challenge because it’s not just about having the ability to cook. It’s about expecting 8-13 year-olds to work together, take instruction, delegate, move quickly, all of it while being yelled at. And, man, they are amazing. After the diners have eaten their food and raved about it, when those kids come out from the kitchen and they see who cooked it, you can see every one of those diners reevaluating everything they’ve ever thought about what young people are capable of.

4. Appreciation of Food! In a culture where kids are stereotyped as being either picky or addicted to junk food, it is so refreshing to see kids who are delighted by bok choy in a delicate ginger sauce or put fresh arugula on a cheeseburger. And it’s not only about whether these ingredients are to the kids’ personal tastes, but about the appreciation of each ingredient that they demonstrate. They work hard and truly honor food, showing how important it is to give kids access to fresh ingredients. I hope that every person in charge of school lunches, programs that bring food into neighborhoods and schools, and policymakers watch this show and see what kids can do when they’re given access to food and cooking instruction—even if that instruction is in the form of the Food Network.

jrmc_104-elim_03315. Self-Motivation! A few of these kids have family members who have restaurants, but most of them learned to cook from family members or they figured it out for themselves. When the chefs ask them if they’ve ever made things before, many of them speak about how they cook for their families three or four days a week. I love this approach to kids contributing to their families. Rather than just doing chores, this approach allows kids to explore their passions and also be responsible for providing for their families, whether they’re trying out gourmet dishes with exotic ingredients (for those whose families have access and cash) or whipping up homestyle comfort foods and elevating basic ingredients.

And, bonus, if you’ve ever seen chefs Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich on the regular Master Chef then you know that they can be exacting, blunt, and intimidating. To see them interacting with kids is at times funny and at times touching (Graham Elliot is as nice as always).

You can watch Master Chef Junior on Hulu HERE.

In the end, even if you’re not a fan of cooking shows in general, the show has a lot in common with YA novels I’ve reviewed that are about teens with obsessions and skills through which they express themselves or, sometimes, into which they escape. Here are a few.

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The Sea of Tranquility Katja Millay

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay (2012). Two people in pain who find each other and express themselves through their obsessions, Nastya through baking and Josh through woodworking. My full review is HERE.

With or Without You Brian Farrey

With or Without You, Brian Farrey (2011). Evan is used to getting beat up for being gay and used to having parents who don’t understand him. He can deal with all of it as long as he has an escape plan after high school and his painting. Evan has studied the techniques of all his favorite painters and he painstakingly imitates their styles in the expression scenes from his own life. My full review is HERE.

Why Fans of Young Adult Literature LOVE The Voice

The Voice

by REBECCA, October 2, 2013

Obviously, I am talking about myself; I love The Voice with a passion that I usually reserve for soft cheeses in ash rinds. I love it because I love music and great vocalists, but there are plenty of other shows I could be watching were it only good singers I was after. No, it’s the narrative structure of The Voice that makes it so compelling, and its tropes are straight out of YA fiction.

With or Without You by Brian Farrey1. Overcoming an obstacle to get a chance at your dreams is a major trope of YA lit. The Voice milks this trope for everything it’s worth: each singer tells the story of how she got into music—stories of everything from disfiguring accidents, racism, and terminal illness to the deaths of loved ones, brutal bullying, and devastating acts of nature. But what gets each and every one of them through their hardships is the power of freaking music, y’all. Now, I know that probably sounds cheesy (and not in the good, ash-rind sort of way), but there is really nothing that gets me as much as the way that people can transform the horrible, the unfair, and the devastating into art. I did a whole post last year that was a list celebrating YA books that feature characters who use creativity as an outlet because I really think it’s one of the most powerful stories there is. And to hear those stories and then watch these singers come on stage and just annihilate . . . well, it’s pretty inspiring.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills2. Relatedly, unlike American Idol et al, which operate according to a cattle call mentality, where we laugh at as many contestants as we clap for, The Voice is totally sincere. Sure, the coaches make fun of each other good-naturedly, but at the end of the day their genuine passion for the voices they’re hearing is humbling. Relationships between a mentor and a hopeful are definitely the stuff of YA fiction, even though many of the contestants on The Voice aren’t young adults. The show’s sincerity, further, makes it doubly easy for me to feel good about my devotion to it. Where some similar shows either take themselves too seriously or seem to be laughing at anyone who really invests in them, The Voice feels more like the Magic: The Gathering group that met at lunch in your middle school and was legitimately psyched to find other people as excited about getting down to it as they were.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going3. Because the premise of The Voice is that the coaches cannot see the singers until they choose to turn their chairs around for them, the disconnect between what a singer sounds like and what she looks like is a theme on the show with which any YA reader will be very familiar. Dynamite singers discuss the way the music industry has been unwelcoming to them because they aren’t white enough, young enough, thin enough, attractive enough. Over and over, we hear stories of prejudice and bullying that makes the singers feel like their only fair shot is to audition blind, which is what led many of them to The Voice. This is an issue that looms large in YA fiction, certainly. The limitations that we place on ourselves, our talents, and our ambitions based on how others treat us, or how we believe they see us, is at the heart of a lot of YA lit, as is breaking through the ceiling of those limitations.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins4. Once the blind auditions are over and each coach has assembled a team of twelve, the Battle Rounds begin, in which two singers from the same team sing one song in an epic sing-off for the chance to continue in the competition. This is a Hunger Gamesworthy drama that wreaks Machiavellian havoc on the singers, the coach that must make the decision, and the viewer. Forcing the coach and the viewer to choose between two very different, but both appealing, singers is precisely the tension that makes the much-loved/oft-scorned trope of the love triangle so powerful (and so polarizing) in YA lit. It’s intoxicating to know that there is so much talent to choose from, empowering to decide who is worthy of staying, and humbling to have to end someone’s dream. I mean, at least that is totally how I feel every time I’m forced to choose between two really attractive, really talented people who want to date me. Right?

The Culling by Steven dos Santos5. Because The Voice has to be watched in real time (if you have tv, which I don’t) or online (which I do), there isn’t the option to marathon it (my favorite way to watch tv), which is a real shame, because the arc of The Voice is not that of your mama’s reality show. Unlike most reality tv shows, which are episodic and therefore repetitive, there are multiple phases of The Voice, so we watch the singers develop, see their personalities as artists cohere, and get attached to them, just like characters in a novel or fictional tv show, which is a really smart narrative choice. First we’re introduced to the singers’ backstories and fall in love with their voices. This is like the first quarter of a book where we meet the characters and see who’s who. Next, before we’re too, too committed, but after we’ve formed allegiances, we have to watch singer after singer die from exposure, arrows to the throat, poison berries, and tracker jacker stings be eliminated from the competition in the Battle Rounds. But wait! There are steals, whereby some lucky singers are saved and switch teams, shifting allegiances immediately—just like when a character is blackballed by her friend group and has to find another table to sit at in the cafeteria (or my father moves cities and has a new favorite sports team).

Friday Night LightsThen, after the teams have been whittled and stolen down to their very essences, when you think you couldn’t bear to lose even one more person, most of them leave you and go off to college! Ahem, I mean, get eliminated. Because the third stage of competition finds us in the Knockout Rounds, where two singers from a team compete against each other with songs they each choose for themselves. Here singers’ personalities emerge even further and who the judges choose to continue in the competition depends as much on their song choice and vision as it does on their execution. This is the part of the book where a character realizes that she has to be true to herself because even if she succeeds, if she does so on someone else’s terms, it ain’t nearly as sweet. Finally, the Live Rounds shift the power from the judges to the voting audience, changing it from Debate Team to Popularity Contest (there goes the neighborhood) in a display of “taste” that has often been as heartbreaking as having your school cancel its football program, if you know what I mean.

So, it is for these reasons (and more, like, say, awesome music, and the fact that it resurrects Carson Daly from his mid-to-late-1990s MTV Total Request Live VJ past and puts his crooked little face back in the action) that I am totally, unapologetically a fan of The Voice. And, I’d wager, they’re why a lot of YA lit-loving folks love The Voice when they couldn’t care less about shows like American Idol. What do you think? The Voice: love it? hate it? indifferent to it? Tell me why in the comments!

A Little Healthy Competition! A List of Ass-Kicking, Sporty, and Competitive YA Protagonists

A List of YA Reads Featuring Ass-Kicking, Sporty, and Competitive Protagonists

Winger by Andrew Smith The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater Leverage by Joshua Cohen

by REBECCA, August 19, 2013

Now, I know this may shock a number of you, but I am neither sporty nor am I an ass-kicker. No, I’m far more comfortable running up a coffee shop tab than running a mile. I am, however, extremely competitive; I love, love, love being good at things; and I am easily manipulated into trying things when told I will fail at them. Thus, it will be no surprise to learn that I am a big fan of books and movies where people push themselves to be great and triumph over challenges, whether personal or worldly.

The Little Gymnast by Sheila HaighSome recent rad sporty or competitive reads include Andrew Smith’s spectacular Winger, Joshua C. Cohen’s Leverage, and Maggie Stiefvater’s beautiful Scorpio Races. Then, of course, there are classics from my youth, like Chris Crutcher’s Stotan!, and Sheila Haigh’s The Little Gymnast. There’s been a recent spate of sporty YA tv, too: the reality show Breaking Pointe on the CW, awesome Aussie import, Dance Academyand my personal favorite, gymnastics drama Make It Or Break It.

Lucky me, then, because my list of to-read books about such ass-kickers, sportsters, and competitors has recently swollen with the following exciting-looking reads! All blurbs from Goodreads.

Falling Hard by Megan Sparks

Falling Hard (Roller Girls #1) by Megan Sparks (2013). Why is roller derby so freaking badass?!

When Annie moves from London to a small town in the midwest, she struggles to fit in. She gets off to a bad start when she makes an enemy of her school’s queen bee, Kelsey. But she discovers a new passion, the exciting sport of roller derby, and makes friends with the cool and quirky girls on her team, the Liberty Belles. She also meets Jesse, the friendly boy who works at the roller rink, and Tyler, a cute, all-American sports star.

Boy21 by Matthew Quick

Boy21 by Matthew Quick (2012). 

Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in gray, broken Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish Mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, he takes care of his disabled grandfather, and at school he’s called “White Rabbit,” the only white kid on the varsity basketball team. He’s always dreamed of getting out somehow with his girlfriend, Erin. But until then, when he puts on his number 21, everything seems to make sense.

Russ has just moved to the neighborhood. A former teen basketball phenom from a privileged home, his life has been turned upside down by tragedy. Cut off from everyone he knows, he now answers only to the name Boy21—his former jersey number—and has an unusual obsession with outer space. As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, “Boy21” may turn out to be the answer they both need.

Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe

Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe (2013). Basically, this sounds like one of my all-time favorite sporty movies, Blue Crush (2002), featuring a pre-waif Kate Bosworth and a pre-straightened-teeth Michelle Rodriguez.

Blue CrushFor Grace Parker, surfing is all about the ride and the moment. Everything else disappears. She can forget that her best friend, Ford Watson, has a crush on her that she can’t reciprocate. She can forget how badly she wants to get a surf scholarship to UC San Diego. She can forget the pressure of her parents’ impossibly high expectations. When Ford enters Grace into a surf competition—the only way she can impress the UCSD surfing scouts—she has one summer to train and prepare. Will she gain everything she’s ever wanted or lose the only things that ever mattered?

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

 

Stupid Fast (Stupid Fast #1) by Geoff Herbach (2011). This one’s been on my to-read list for a while.

I, Felton Reinstein, am Stupid Fast. Seriously. The upper classmen used to call me Squirrel Nut, because I was little and jumpy. Then, during sophomore year, I got tall and huge and so fast the gym teachers in their tight shorts fell all over themselves. During summer, three things happened all at once. First, the pee-smelling jocks in my grade got me to work out for football, even though I had no intention of playing. Second, on my paper route the most beautiful girl I have ever seen moved in and played piano at 6 a.m. Third, my mom, who never drinks, had some wine, slept in her car, stopped weeding the garden, then took my TV and put it in her room and decided she wouldn’t get out of bed.

Listen, I have not had much success in my life. But suddenly I’m riding around in a jock’s pick-up truck? Suddenly I’m invited to go on walks with beautiful girls? So, it’s understandable that when my little brother stopped playing piano and began to dress like a pirate I didn’t pay much attention. That I didn’t want to deal with my mom coming apart.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11787733-bruised

 

Bruised by Sarah Skilton (2013). 

Imogen has always believed that her black belt in Tae Kwon Do made her stronger than everyone else—more responsible, more capable. But when she witnesses a holdup in a diner, she freezes. The gunman is shot and killed by the police. And it’s all her fault. Now she’s got to rebuild her life without the talent that made her special and the beliefs that made her strong. If only she could prove herself in a fight—a real fight—she might be able to let go of the guilt and shock. She’s drawn to Ricky, another witness to the holdup, both romantically and because she believes he might be able to give her the fight she’s been waiting for.

But when it comes down to it, a fight won’t answer Imogen’s big questions: What does it really mean to be stronger than other people? Is there such a thing as a fair fight? And can someone who’s beaten and bruised fall in love?

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

 

Pointe by Brandy Colbert (forthcoming, 2014). I’ve been burned by feh ballet books in the past, but this one looks particularly interesting because ballet is only half the story.

Theo is better now. She’s eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor. Donovan isn’t talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn’t do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she’s been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

So, how about you—what are your favorite ass-kicking, sporty, or competitive books?

Pitch Perfect, or, How Anna Kendrick Is Taking Over the World

A Review of Pitch Perfect, directed by Jason Moore (2012)

by REBECCA, October 15, 2012

Pitch Perfect Anna Kendrick

Way back in July, as you may remember, I reviewed Step Up Revolution. Before the movie, I saw a preview for Pitch Perfect, which excited me to no end because a.) a cappella; b.) Anna Kendrick; c.) a cappella. So, in my review of Step Up Revolution, I mentioned that it terrified me to learn that Anna Kendrick could sing in addition to her ridiculous skills of subtle, awkward comedy because it seemed to find her poised to take over the world. Now, nearly three months older and wiser than I was when I wrote that review, I have learned that not only can Anna Kendrick sing, she is a Tony-nominated musical performer. To summarize: hot damn, Anna Kendrick.

Pitch PerfectAnyhoo, back to the movie (which is loosely based on a non-fiction study of competitive college a cappella groups by GQ editor Mickey Rapkin). In Pitch Perfect, Anna Kendrick plays Beca, a reluctant college freshman with a chip on her shoulder (divorced parents, poor dove) who really just wants to move to L.A. and be a music producer. She reluctantly joins the Bellas, an all-female a cappella group on campus, to satisfy her father’s promise that if she’ll just try and join in then he’ll help her move to L.A. at the end of the year if she still hates college. Beca produces awesome mashups and remixes of songs, but Aubrey, the type A leader of the Bellas, resists change, insisting on using the same tired songs they used last year. Pitch Perfect follows the Bellas through the stages of competition until finally, before the finals, the group decides to let Beca remix them into a triumphant climactic performance.

I really enjoyed the movie, even though the only other two people in the theatre were TALKING THE ENTIRE TIME WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE THE WORLD IS ENDING IT’S A MOVIE THEATRE SERIOUSLY I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. In spite of a nonsensical Stand By Me pie-eating-scene vomit gag and some questionable jokes, Pitch Perfect is definitely a solid entry into the young-people-develop-senses-of-self-through-competitive-art-making genre. It’s basically a white, a cappella version of 2007’s Stomp the Yard. I’m really interested in why all these movies that are really about finding and expressing yourself through art are framed around winning a competition for that art. Like all such movies, Pitch Perfect is really about Beca and the other Bellas learning to be confident in themselves despite parents’ pressure, social pressure, and the douchebaggery of their rival all-male a cappella group.

Pitch Perfect Anna KendrickI liked Anna Kendrick in this, mostly because she’s so understated in the way she plays Beca, who isn’t really all that likeable, even though she’s quite talented. I liked how she wanted to produce music rather than be a rock star or a singer. Sidebar: I’m a Rebecca, and as someone who has made a 30-year study of the name, I feel confident asserting that 99.7%  people either spell it Rebecca or Rebekah. Therefore, there is no reasonable explanation for the excision of Beca’s second c. Her father is a professor of comparative literature who teaches his daughter German; therefore I refuse to believe that he named her Rebecca and spelled it Rebeca. That would be ridiculous. So, I turn it over to you, Jason Moore, director of Pitch Perfect who also directed three episodes of Dawson’s Creek: why?

Pitch Perfect Rebel WilsonOne thing that actually kind of stood out about Pitch Perfect, in contrast to other similars, was that it’s  quite funny. It was written by Kay Cannon who writes for 30 Rock and New Girl, and there were some definite moments of hilarity (but not the puking—why the puking?). Notable among these are the character of Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), who speaks so softly she can barely be heard, but says things like, I set fires to feel alive; and Beca’s roommate who hates her. The always-wonderful Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins, as the a cappella competition announcers were also a highlight (“Nothing makes a woman feel more like a girl than a man who sings like a boy”). There is a character who goes by Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) who makes a lot of fat jokes but seems to be pretty confident. I couldn’t tell, honestly, where the film came down in terms of fat phobia; the line between people laughing at her and laughing with her is definitely walked, but in a way that I at least found intriguing. I’d be curious to know what others thought about her characterization.

Pitch PerfectPitch Perfect took a little too long to get on board with Beca’s arrangements, so it misses a few chances to present what I was really there to see: awesome mashups and arrangements of songs. Indeed, the best scene—a kind of riff-off version of the improv game “Freeze,” where a category is chosen and each a cappella group tries to riff off the choice of the other, was delightful, but all too brief. Pitch Perfect had it’s Glee-esque moments of portraying the other competitors as cartoonish (a group called the Sock-a-pellas that sing with sock puppets), but it worked with the tone of the film, which is part absurdist one-liners and part running gags. The characterizations feel a bit thin and Beca’s friendship/romance with rival a cappella-er, Jesse, a little unnecessary. Still, while Pitch Perfect may not be, it still mostly rocks (there, that was it—my “pitch perfect” pun, since everyone else is doing it; I hope you enjoyed it). Now, how about them Whiffenpoofs?

Song of the Sea: The Scorpio Races

Review of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Scholastic Press, 2011

By REBECCA, August 3, 2012

The Scorpio Races Maggie Stiefvater Scorpio Races Maggie Stiefvater

characters

Puck Connolly: Lives with her brothers and loves Thisby Island with her whole heart

Dove: Puck’s underfed farm horse, nota capall uisce like the rest of the Scorpio Racers’ mounts

Sean Kendrick: 19 year-old horse trainer who just wants peace and the space to train his own horses

Corr: Sean’s best friend, a capall uisce owned by his boss

Finn Connolly: Puck’s brother, sensitive and hopeful

Gabe Connolly: Puck’s older brother, who threatens to leave the island

hook

Every November, on the shores of Thisby Island, men race the wild horses that rise up from the toiling waters—only one man may win, but many may die, bloodied and broken by their mounts, or dragged under the water with them, unable to resist their otherworldly call. Sean Kendrick is the returning champion of the Scorpio Races, and there is every reason to believe he’ll win again this year. Until something unthinkable happens on Thisby Island: Puck Connolly enters the race—the first woman ever to do so—and although they barely know each other, she and Sean are soon forced to sacrifice everything to pursue the one thing they each desire.

worldview

Free Library of PhiladelphiaFirst, a confession: I read The Scorpio Races nearly five months ago and I have avoided writing about it because I loved the book so much that I knew no review I wrote could express my feelings about it. But, in case there are people who haven’t gotten around to reading The Scorpio Races yet, I feel so strongly that you should deny yourself the great pleasure no longer that I’m sucking it up and slapping together what I hope will be a review not quite so tear-sodden as the library copy of the book I read (apologies, Free Library of Philadelphia patrons: I cried my face off on that book).

Ahem. Now, then. I read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver a few years ago and although I liked the concept and thought the prose was lovely, the story wasn’t really my speed, and I lost steam about halfway through the sequel. I love beautiful prose, though, so when I heard Maggie Steifvater had a new book out—about bloodthirsty water horses, no less—I was really eager to see what this lovely prose stylist did with a story that was a bit more up my alley. My word!: even in the first few pages I was completely captivated by the prose and sucked into the amazing world of Thisby Island.

To put it clearly: The Scorpio Races is simply one of the finest examples of world-building I’ve read. Stiefvater’s touch is subtle and effortless as she evokes what read like only the relevant pieces of a capacious other world. This is fantasy at its finest: I felt as if I were reading a piece of historical fiction about real people who lived in a world slightly different than my own. Thisby Island has its own history and traditions; its own social mores and superstitions (though Stiefvater draws on Scottish and Irish legends of the capaill uisce—flesh-eating horses that come from the sea during storms).

I loved the way I felt dropped into the middle of it all. In the hands of a less talented storyteller, it could have felt info-dumpy, but Stiefvater simply writes as if we are all familiar with the place and time in which the story takes place, doling out details as we need them and allowing the context to reveal them slowly when we don’t (for example, rather than informing the reader that capall uisce is the singular of capaill uisce, Stiefvater simply uses each where it is appropriate, her very vocabulary enfolding us in this other world). And, oh, what a world.

“I am dreaming of the sea when they wake me.

Actually, I am dreaming of the night that I caught Corr, but I can hear the sea in my dream. There is an old wives’ tale that capaill uisce caught at night are faster and stronger, and so it is three in the morning and I am crouching on a boulder at the base of the cliffs, several hundred feet from the sand beach. Above me, the sea has made an arch in the chalk, the ceiling a hundred feet over my head, and the white walls hug me. It should be dark, hidden from the moon, but the ocean reflects light off the pale rock, and I can see just well enough not to stumble on the coarse, kelp-covered rocks on the floor. The stone beneath my feet has more in common with the seafloor than the shore, and I have to take care not to lose my footing on the slippery surface.

I am listening.

In the dark, in the cold, I am listening for a change in the sound of the ocean. The water is rising, quickly and silently; the tide is coming in, and in an hour, this incomplete cave will be full of seawater higher than my head. I am listening for he sound of a splash, for the rush of a hoof breaking the surface, for any hint that a capall uisce is emerging. Because by the time you hear a hoof click on the stones, you are dead” (27-28).

I won’t say much about Sean or Puck, except that they are exactly the kind of characters I love to read about: complex characters with material, emotional, and economic needs, desires, and challenges who are flawed but honorable. Also, it’s no secret that I love obsessoids and monomaniacs. Although neither Sean nor Puck reach an Ahabian level of monomania, its waves certainly lap at their feet.

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

I’ve read several reviews of The Scorpio Races that note two things that are, for me related: first, that the book feels really different from other YA fantasy that’s out there, and two, that the pacing is slow. Second thing first, for me, the pacing was perfect: I was sucked in by the details of the world and the incredibly interesting characters and beautiful prose for the first half of the book, and then sucked in by the excitement and suspense and drama for the second half (then I was reduced to pathetic, weeping, pile of tears at the end; but more about that later). I think the pacing (which I would call measured, rather than slow) contributes to The Scorpio Races feeling like a different kind of book.

I think also, though, that Stiefvater’s treatment of her characters’ desires is a large part of why The Scorpio Races feels different from many other YA novels. To wit: Puck and Sean are characters who have to work hard for their own survival and to support the people (and horses) they love. This means that they are much more focused on practical matters than many YA characters, and that there is little emphasis on friends or the trappings of school-bases sociality. What Sean desires more than anything else is for his capall uisce, Corr, to belong to him instead of to his boss. What Puck desires is to keep her family together.

What this means, above all else, is that The Scorpio Races isn’t a romance (in the genre sense of the term). Puck and Sean’s developing relationship is beautiful and deftly wrought, but it is not Romantic. Their bond is one of necessity and mutual determination—a restrained and clutching need, not a dreamy or lustful desire. In this way, Puck and Sean seem more like a tough old ranching couple than any kind of star-crossed lovers. And it’s stunning to see a teen relationship portrayed that way.

“Sean Kendrick opens the door.

He looks at me.

I look at him.

This close, he’s almost too severe to be handsome: sharp-edged cheekbones and razor-edge nose and dark eyebrows. His hands are bruised and torn from his time with the capaill uisce. Like the fishermen on the island, his eyes are permanently narrowed against the sun and the sea. He looks like a wild animal. Not a friendly one” (137)

As is now nearly a given with successful YA novels, The Scorpio Races has been optioned for a film by KatzSmith Productions, so that Hollywood can squeeze every last ha’penny out of young adults’ allowances (and, of course, my paltry wallet). Let’s hope they don’t completely f-ing ruin it by, among other things, turning it into an insta-love smooch-fest.

personal disclosure

I finished The Scorpio Races on a plane. I was sitting in the window seat and a middle-aged woman sat next to me. Despite the fact that I always confess to crying on trains while reading, I am so not a public crier—and usually when crying at books on trains a discreet tear will slip from under my sunglasses and glisten unnoticed in the sunlight. While reading The Scorpio Races on the plane, six inches from a total stranger, I was crying so hard that tears were streaming down my face and I turned around 90 degrees so that my back was to my seatmate and I was facing the window shade. But I could not stop reading. I was all, “hey, Rebecca, just put the book away and save the last 50 pages for when you get home because otherwise this woman is going to call a flight attendant to have you sedated; there’s a good girl.” But I didn’t listen. It was like the other people on the plane didn’t even exist.

readalikes

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (2011). Daughter of Smoke and Bone is another rich, dark book that sinks the reader right into another world. Tessa and I have discussed its highs (Prague!) and its lows (angels!) at greater length here, here, and here (with bonus Viggo Mortensen)!

Ghost Medicine Andrew Smith

Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith (2008). No, I didn’t just pick this as a readalike because it has horses. Still, though, I’m not sure—not having grown up around horses myself—but it does seem as though horses inspire a certain kind of . . . reverent tone when written about by awesome prose stylists. A beautiful book about friendship, nature, and the things we value by the inimitable Andrew Smith.

Taming the Star Runner S.E. Hinton

Taming the Star Runner by S.E. Hinton (1988). Ok, fine, this one I picked kind of just because of the horses. I love S.E. Hinton! No, but, Travis moves out of the city to live with his uncle, who owns a horse ranch. He is captivated by the horses, though he knows nothing about them, particularly Star Runner, a beast who seems more alien than earthly being. And the girl who rides Star Runner is like no one Travis has ever know.

Procured from: the library, but then I loved it so much that I bought it

First Position: A Delicious Dance Documentary

A Review of First Position, a documentary by Bess Kargman

By REBECCA, May 21, 2012

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

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

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

First Position: a ballet documentary

Michaela!

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

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

First Position: a ballet documentary

Miko!

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

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

read/watchalikes

Bunheads Sophie Flack

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

Say Goodnight Gracie Juie Reece Deaver

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

Every Little Step A Chorus Line

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

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

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

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