Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Belonging" in YA Fiction

The theme of belonging to a certain group is an extremely common one in young adult fiction, because so many teens can identify with the feeling of wanting to fit in. In fact, I don't really have to narrow this down to YA fiction, because wanting to belong is something anyone can identify with, regardless of age.

Divergent has, at its core, the idea of self-identification. I'll let the summary from Barnes & Noble's website explain this to you: "[S]ociety is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue [...] On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives." There is an element of choice in this division, so the teens have some power over where they belong.

The easiest example when talking about outcasts in YA fiction is our good old friend, Harry Potter.

Hello again, Harry.
He goes from being the weird, quiet kid who lives under the stairs and has no friends to being the Chosen One of the wizarding world. He still doesn't really fit in for a long time, constantly learning things about this strange new-to-him world. Even in the last book, he doesn't know the same things an average wizard of his age knows; Ron is shocked to find that he's never heard of the Babbity Rabbity stories.

"Stupid Muggles."
But even on a much less epic scale, nearly every teen book touches on the theme of belonging in some way. You can hardly throw a book* in the teen section of any bookstore or library without hitting another book that relies heavily on the conflict that arises from problems with cliques or outcasts or trying to fit in.

*Please don't throw books. It makes librarians and bookstore employees upset, and hurts the books.

Stories set in high school hold some more obvious, literal examples of cliques and either trying to get into them or stay out of them. There's even a series called The Clique by Lisi Harrison. Its tagline is, "The only thing harder than getting in is staying in."

Clique Boxed Set #1 (Clique Series)

So why are we so compelled to read about losers and outcasts, whether they ultimately wind up fitting in or staying the way they were?

I've been told by some people that it's because avid readers identify with the "losers," but I have to disagree. No, not because that's kind of insulting to avid readers like myself, but because lots of different types of people like to read lots of different types of things. Most of the self-identified avid readers I know are not fond of the Twilight series, and Bella makes an excellent outcast who belongs neither in the human world (for knowing about the Cullens) or the vampire world (because of that whole mortality thing).

Or in Hollywood, for her emotional range
I think everyone, at some level, identifies with the outcast kid. If it was only the people inclined to read who enjoyed stories about protagonists who "don't belong," then movies made from books like Harry Potter and Twilight would have died a quiet, dusty death in the box office, being viewed only be the biggest fans of the books.

No, instead, I think it's because outsiders make better characters. If, instead of living with the Dursleys, Harry had grown up in a magical family, he would have been fully aware of... everything. Instead, he needs help to understand the magical world he has been dragged into, so he becomes friends with more interesting people like Hermione and Ron, and we learn about the world along with him. There would be no reason for someone to explain how Gringott's works if Harry had grown up in Godric's Hollow.

Just another day running errands
If Melinda in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak had real friends that she could feel comfortable around and talk to, there would be no story there. Just, something bad happened to a girl at a party but thanks to the support of her friends and family, she reported the incident, the boy was punished by the legal system, and she went to therapy for a while, learning to channel her emotions into creative pursuits like sculpture and painting.

Is it too mean to make two jokes in one post
about Kristen Stewart's emotional range?
Nobody* wants to read about a well-adjusted teen. We read fiction to hear about problems and conflicts and issues without having to face them ourselves. That's the point of fiction.

*"Nobody" in this case meaning "a small enough fraction of the book-buying audience to prove to publishers that catering to them would be a waste of money."

The easiest way to give issues to a fictional teen is one of the easiest ways for a real teen to develop them: being an outcast trying to fit in.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Favorite Fairy Tales

As a bit of a carryover from last week, when we reviewed "Hansel and Gretel," this week we'll be choosing our favorite fairy tales. (This is not to be confused with the time we picked our favorite myths.)

One of my favorite fairy tales is called "Clever Hans." It's from the Grimm collection, and is therefore German in origin. (If you couldn't tell by the fact that our protagonist is named Hans.)

The story goes that every day, Hans asks his fiance Gretel for a gift, and every day she gives him something, which he treats improperly.

First, she gives him a needle. He tucks it safely away in a haystack. His mom scolds him, of course, saying he should have stuck it in his sleeve.

Gretel then gives Hans a knife, which he sticks in his sleeve, but his mom said it should have gone in his pocket (proving that Germans are, in fact, kinda weird).

Next, Gretel gives Hans a kid (as in a goat), which I feel is a poor choice, given that he can't even properly take care of inanimate objects. He puts the kid in his pocket (somehow) and it suffocates, leading his mother to say he should have led it on a rope.

Which is precisely what he does with his next gift: a ham. Dogs follow him and eat the ham. Depending on which version you're reading, his mother either tells him he should have carried it on his head or under his arm.

His next gift, a calf (demonstrating extreme negligence toward animals on Gretel's part) is carried in this way, giving it ample opportunity to kick him and run away. His mother, in her infinite wisdom, tells him he should have tied the calf up in the barn.

Finally, proving that Gretel is a complete idiot, she gives Hans herself, leading to her being tied up in the barn. And you might think it ends there, but a suffocating goat wasn't nearly gory enough for a German fairy tale... Hans' mother says he should cast his adoring eyes at her, so he plucks out his livestock's eyes and throws them at Gretel.

The ending, which likely should have come several paragraphs ago, is, "And that's how Hans lost his bride."

It's silly, it's weird, and I'm not entirely sure what lesson I'm supposed to learn (other than the proper care and keeping of needles, knives, goats, hams, calves, and fiances).

Side note: Have you ever heard of that horse who can do math? You give him a math problem and he stamps his foot to answer. So you show him "4+3" and he stamps 7 times. His name was Clever Hans. I'm not sure if they named him before or after the hoax was found out, but it was before, it was a wonderful example of foreshadowing. The trick is, the person showing him the equation stops him to praise him after the right number of stamps. It's called the "Clever Hans effect," contributing to studies in the observer-expectancy effect.

My favorite fairy tale is much different, and generally more well-known.  And while the Disney version is the first I fell in love with, the original tale is one I adore and even wrote a retelling of it for a fairy tales class.

That's right; I'm a big, huge, stinking fan of Beauty and the Beast.  Surprisingly, the Disney version isn't TERRIBLY far off from the original tale, though there definitely are some major changes.  For instance, the Beast is actually very nice, and when Belle's father shows up at the castle, Beast gives him food and shelter (though her father never sees the Beast.)  It's only when her father takes a rose for Belle, that the Beast appears and threatens to kill him.

Also, Belle has two sisters, who are greedy, selfish and nasty.  After all, someone has to be in the fairy tale.  They're happy Belle is shipped off to the Beast (or rather, that she volunteers to go in her father's place) because she was always so much more beautiful than them.

When Belle gets to the castle, the Beasts treats her with nothing but kindness, giving her riches and anything that she's ever desired in her life.  He asks her to marry him every night, and every night she refuses.  Not because she hates him, but because she only sees him as a friend.

It's only when she leaves to see her family, and doesn't come back when she promised (due to the trickery of those sisters), that she realizes her love for the Beast (who is dying of heartbreak.)  She returns, tells him she loves him and he turns into a handsome prince.  They live happily ever after, the end.

Now, sure it's not as gruesome as some of the others, but it's one of the few fairy tales out there where the girl doesn't have to be saved by a prince.  Belle, in fact, does the saving.  She is a woman who comes out on top and does what she inevitably thinks is the right thing to do.

Of course, there are still the elements of "she needs a prince to be happy" kind of thing, not to mention the mean, nasty characters of the book are both women, but it's one of the few fairy tales that puts women in a much better light, which really makes me like it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Young Authors

We are always talking here on ReviewMeTwice about writing and getting published.  While neither of us have (officially) been published ourselves, we like to encourage you as much as possible. 

This week, we're reading Divergent by Veronica Roth.  Roth is only 24 years old!  And she had her first book published at 23.  She's is incredibly young for an author but by no means terrible at what she does.  Today I'm going to show you that it doesn't matter at what age you write, you can still put out some amazing books.

S.E. Hinton wrote probably one of the best and most moving YA lit books.  And there are few who haven't read The Outsiders.  It's really a heartbreaking tale about kids pulled into gangs too early.  Despite the fact that all of our characters are criminals, we can't help fall in love with Ponyboy, Soda Pop, Darry and all the other Greasers.

But did you know that, not only is Hinton female (something I didn't realize for years) but she was only 16 when she wrote the book!  It was two years later (age 18) that it was published.  It was based on what she had seen every day at her own school, proving that you should write what you know.

Who hasn't read this heart wrenching story of Anne Frank, the girl who captured our hearts by simply writing in her diary.  It was amazing to see that, despite living in constant fear of being caught, Anne Frank still managed to be a teenager and do things like crush on boys.

However, Anne Frank was only 13 when she wrote her diary.  And while she never really intended it to be publicized the way that it was (and her book is a little different from the others I'm presenting, because it's the only non-fiction), that didn't stop this book from being a staple in literature.

Whoever said that ADD and dyslexia was a hindrance?   It certainly didn't seem to be for Dav Pilkey, who has both but still manages to bring us these silly fun tales.  A story about two kids who managed to hypnotize their principle and make him believe he was Captain Underpants (a character they created.)

Pilkey actually created Captain Underpants in elementary school, when he was forced to sit outside for his bad behavior.  The series was published when he was just 21 years old and has since become a silly, fun series for kids.

Mary Shelley managed to defy all odds with her book Frankenstein.  Women authors were few and far between in the early 1800s, but even more interesting was her age when the book came out.  She was only 19 when the book was published and has since become a wildly loved and widely recognized book.  Even those who haven't read it know what "Frankenstein's Monster" looks like.  Though the 1931 version of the film is probably the most famous, there have been countless adaptations to film and plays.

While I haven't read the book personally, The Black Stallion is another loved book that was turned into and even more loved movie.  About a boy and a horse who are dependent on each other for survival after a shipwreck, this book teaches about love and trust and triumph.

The most surprising part about all this is that Farley was only 26 when the book was published.  What's more, he was still in high school when he began writing it.

Eragon is a heroic and loving tale about a boy and a dragon.  Eragon, having found and hatched a dragon egg, is forced to flee from his home when the evil king comes looking for the dragon (for only the King has dragons.)  He seek out a rebel group in hopes of helping them defeat the king.

Paolini wrote the book when he was only 15 years old.  When he was finished with it, his parents self-published his book.  It wasn't until 2003 (age 18) that the book really took off, becoming the third best-selling children's book that year.

These are just a few of young published authors.  While being published young is rare, it's by no means impossible.  So pick up that pen, put it to some paper and let the words flow.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Veronica Roth

This week we're reading Divergent, a book that's been on our radar for quite some time.  It's been cropping up all over the place, so we thought we should read it and tell our faithful readers what it's all about.  So today, I'm talking about it's author, Veronica Roth.

This is Veronica Roth, as she feels she looks in everyday.

Roth went to Northwestern University and majored in creative writing.  She was actually writing Divergent while in school!  She was 22 when Divergent was published, surprisingly young for an author.  She is current 24 years old and her third book (the last in the Divergent series.)  She was married to Nelson Fitch, a photographer, in 2011.

Not a lot is out there right now about Roth, probably because she's such a new author.  Divergent is being made into a movie, we know she has two books out and is writing a third, and also has a collaboration out called Shards & Ashes.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

By Its Poster: Hansel & Gretel

There are hundreds of different covers for the various publications of the fairy tale "Hansel & Gretel," to the point where it would be unreasonable to try to analyze even a fraction of them. To that end, instead of "By Its Cover" this weekend, we will look at the film Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters by its poster.

(Note: This is not a before-and-after evaluation, because I haven't seen the movie.)
Can I just say that it's produced by Will Ferrell and leave it at that? Oh, I can't? Fine.  I wouldn't have said anything.  I already assume it's awesome because it's Will Farrell.
Surprisingly, the first thing I notice on this poster is the crossbow that is almost out of frame. I've been thinking a lot lately about archery in film, because it's huge. The obvious example to point to is Katniss in Hunger Games but you also have dozens of others, from the classic Legolas in Lord of the Rings, to the obscure Kevin (in We Need to Talk About Kevin which didn't emphasize nearly strongly enough the fact that he chose a bow instead of a gun in order to stand out as a unique individual in the competitive field of school shootery).
The weaponry combined with the red blood-spatter-style text of the title serve to show us that this isn't your kindergartener's fairy tale. In fact, the plot summary from Wikipedia tells me that this is like the modern-day sequel to the fairy tale: this is our same old bro-sis combo, grown up and killing witches.
The second thing I think when I see this poster is, "Wasn't that guy in 28 Weeks Later?" because I still haven't seen The Avengers and he's also Hawkeye.  I knew it was Hawkeye!*
The internet seems to be confused as to the official MPAA rating of this film. (Some places say PG13, some say R.) Well, there should be no confusion: the official movie site says it's rated R (for those same reasons) and the trailer on the site is labeled "for mature audiences only." The trailer.)
It's hard to tell a likely rating from the poster alone. It looks like, "Oh, haha, the little kids from the familiar fairy tale have grown up and hunt witches now" which could be PG, or PG-13 if they swear about it and show blood, or R if they have "strong fantasy/horror gore & violence, brief sexuality/nudity, and language." Which, apparently, they do.  Look at the knockers on that chick.  You really think there won't be nudity?  

Which actually brings me to a semi-legitimate point that, do you ever notice that our main characters, especially our POSTER characters, are all beautiful, perfect and slim?  Because, think about it, if Hansel and Gretel were fighting monsters, don't you think they'd have a few more, oh I don't know, scars?  And, quite possibly, less limbs.  It's a huge commentary on OUR society that these are the people we continually choose to put on posters.

(Kind of like Hansel and Gretel the fairy tale is more of a commentary on German culture.  It's almost like I'm making connections, or something.)

*We feel that this is an appropriate time to tell you everyone has a super power.  And Cassy's is the uncanny ability to tell you the previous movie(s) an actor has been in by a mere glance. Alex's has something to do with grammar.

Friday, January 25, 2013

ReviewMeTwice- Hansel & Gretel by The Brothers Grimm

This week, you may have noticed that our blog is a little eclectic.  First we're talking about fairy tales, then movies.  There is a reason for this.  Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters came out in theatres this week.  So Alex has kind of been covering the movie half of it and I have been covering the fairy tale half of it.  However, we decided to dive into the actual fairy tale (Brothers Grimm version.)

We specify the version because I, personally, know of at least six of them.  The Grimm Brothers wrote two of these versions (H&G and The Juniper Tree), so we want you to know exactly which one we decided to look at.  In reality, they're all very similar.  Kids left out in the woods, find a house made of food, almost get eaten by a witch before killing her and returning home.  It differs slightly on the witch front, but essentially, it's that.

So what is it about this fairy tale that made the Grimms find it and include it in their book of tales for children?  The thing about fairy tales are that the characters are meant to be very flat, very black and white so that the reader can easily insert themselves.  Fairy tales were also often told to teach lessons.  And the one in this tale?  If you have the food, you have the power (also, STRANGER DANGER, but come on.  That one is obvious).

Ok, maybe food = power wasn't EXACTLY what the teller was going for, but think about it.  H&G's mother denies them food to keep as much as possible for herself.  They are drawn to the gingerbread house and captured, due to food.  Hansel holds some of that power when he pretends that he's not fattening up, denying the witch food, and inevitably, even the witch becomes a metaphor for food when she's thrown into an oven.

It also teaches about resourcefulness and cunning.  Hansel leaves the white pebbles so he can get home.  He tries to leave a trail of bread to do the same.  It is he who tricks the witch into prolonging his life and then thinks to ask the duck to help them cross the river.

So fairy tales, all good, right?  Not really.  Hansel & Gretel, like most fairy tales, is incredibly misogynistic.  Hansel seems to do all the thinking in this book and all Gretel does is cry (because clearly that's all women can do.)  And the evil mother and witch are both females, giving the indication that males could never have such malice (in fact, the father doesn't want to let his kids go.)  All the females in the story are dead by the end, except Gretel, whose one act (shoving the witch in the oven) doesn't even reflect that well because it's the only murder in the tale (albeit of a evil witch, but still.)

Fairy tales serve good and bad purposes, but you must also keep in mind, fairy tales are old.  Most of them reflect values of a different time, a different era.  They're still fun to read and do send some important messages.

Remember how on Monday, I told you that Jakob Grimm didn't set out to create a timeless collection of children's stories, but instead a volume of folk tales, fables, and other stories passed down through generations that would assist him in studying the evolution of the German language and culture?

Although they've become children's entertainment for us, these began as stories for anyone in that culture, usually - as Cassy said - serving as a cautionary tale designed to convince members of that society to conform to what they, as a whole, considered appropriate behavior.

Fairy tales give stepmothers a bad rap. I've had a few of my own; they really don't do things like convince your dad to abandon you in the forest, or refuse to allow you to attend the prince's ball (then cut apart your stepsisters' feet to fit them into the golden slipper). This probably comes from the idea of using fairy tales to teach cultural moral lessons: Divorce was frowned upon, so literary stepmothers were used to demonstrate this by doing terrible things to the fathers' beloved children.

In general, "Hansel & Gretel" is a pretty tame tale. The most gruesome part is that the witch burns to death in her oven while screaming in agony. That really isn't so bad. No, really. You should read the original "Snow White." Or better yet, the original "Cinderella" (in German, Aschenputtel). You also have the dad who is weirdly easily convinced to abandon his children in the forest because if he doesn't, the whole family will starve to death.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Was the Book Really "Better"?

You might think that, because I'm a bibliophile and a librarian, I'm the kind of person who always leaves the movie theater grumbling that "the book was better." I'm not, and there's a very good reason why: books are an entirely different medium from film. It's like comparing apples and oranges.

The apple is film, because it takes less effort to consume.

It's easy to see why certain changes and omissions are made. The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies would be impossibly long if they filmed the story line-by-line from the book.

Anyone who tells me this could have been improved
by the inclusion of Tom Bombadil will be fed to the Balrog.

But then you have instances like I Am Legend. I'm not talking about the 1964 film (The Last Man on Earth) or the 1971 film (The Omega Man). I'm talking about the 2007 version with Will Smith.

A man wearing leather clothes and holding a rifle walks alongside a dog on an empty street. A destroyed bridge is seen in the background. Atop the image is "Will Smith" and the tagline "The last man on Earth is not alone". Below is the film's title and credits.
That's the one.

I haven't seen the aforementioned older film adaptations, but I feel like they had to be closer to the book than this one, because I'm pretty sure The Avengers had more in common with Richard Matheson's novel than this film did.

Tony Stark would wither and die without ladies to woo, though.
Let's look at what the novel and film had in common (now would be a good time to stop reading this post if you want to avoid spoilers):
- The main character is named Robert Neville.
- There are zombie-like creatures caused by a disease outbreak. They can be killed by stakes to the heart, or sunlight exposure.
- Neville's wife and daughter die(d).
- Neville has a canine companion at some point, for some reason.
- Neville runs across a living female at some point, for some reason.
- Neville makes an attempt to understand/cure the disease.
That's it. Those are the only things I found in common between the book and the movie. That sounds like enough, right? Well, let's look at some of the differences:

The setting. Book: LA. Film: NYC.
No big deal, really. This is one of those understandable changes. We like to see post-apocalyptic movies set in New York. I suspect it's because NYC is so full of national icons, and part of the fun of post-apocalyptic movies is seeing familiar landmarks in ruin.

That was the driving force behind the majority
of Cloverfield's ticket sales

The bad guy. Book: Ben Cortman is a former friend of Neville's, turned zombie-creature, and he tries to evoke a response from Neville on a nightly basis, torturing him psychologically (in an attempt to get a chance at torturing him physically). Film: No Ben Cortman; just anonymous hordes of zombie-creatures.
I feel like Cortman's presence is one of those things that sets this zombie story apart from a lot of other zombie stories. Sure, some of them touch on the idea of seeing former acquaintances or loved ones zombified (28 Days Later comes to mind, with the girl's father succumbing to Rage right before their eyes) but this one interacts directly with our protagonist on a regular basis and contributes significantly to the story.

This is not Ben Cortman. This is the nameless 'leader' of the bad guys.

The dog. Book: The dog is a stray who wanders, hungry, near Neville's yard. Neville coaxes it closer with food and water, fears for its life (was bringing it closer a good idea, with Cortman leading zombies to his door every night?), and mourns its disappearance when it leaves him. Film: It's the family dog and has a horribly sad death scene that makes more people cry than every Oscar winner combined.
Okay... I get this, too. While the book's dog is subtly touching and tear-inducing, the film's version is better at evoking a stronger emotional response from a wider audience. This is how you adapt a story element to your medium.

Changing the dog's story was worth it just to have this still.

The ending.
I won't go into detail about the endings, because if you haven't seen/read one or the other or either, you should do so on your own without my interference. But suffice it to say that the film's ending is a pathetic cop-out that takes no risks and is not interesting in the bloody least, whereas the book's ending was a well-written surprise with a real message to deliver.

No, wrong, stop it, no no no, wrong, no. Just... no.
I know it probably sounds like I'm hating on the film version, and I'm really not. Remember? I said I enjoyed it. It's like an alternate universe version of the novel. (Which is how I think of it to keep myself from being too confused.)

But realistically, books and movies are different methods of story-telling, and should be viewed as such. That's why screenplays are not just a reformatted copy of the book. They have their own authors (who, yes, can sometimes be the same author who wrote the original text).
So, what if you like the movie better? Well, I can't really say I blame you. Movies have a lot of advantages, particularly for a mass audience.

Music. If you don't already realize the impact music has on a movie, start paying attention. There's music in scenes you probably never noticed the music in. Obviously, musicals rely heavily on music, but so do all other movies.

That's why John Williams is the man.
Even the absence of music is important. It can make a creepy scene creepier, an important scene more important, a lonely character lonelier, and a loud noise louder.

Imagery. This doesn't apply to readers with vivid imaginations, but there are a lot of people who just don't mentally translate words to images well. They read something like the pages-long description of Mordor in Lord of the Rings and see separate pieces: strongholds, towers, Mount Doom, a bunch of orcs running about. But in less than a second, Peter Jackson can just go, "This," and show you what it looks like, and you get it.

Pictures: I've heard they're worth a thousand words.
In Tolkien's case, it's more like 5,000 words.
He's wordy, is what I'm saying.
If you aren't the kind of person who imagines what something looks like in great detail while reading (like me, usually) then movies can fill in that visual gap for you.
Time. It's a sad truth, but if you ask someone why they don't read more books (or any books, I guess), they'll usually tell you it's because they're too busy and don't have the time.
Movies are typically limited to a couple hours or less. Books can take days to finish, depending on the book and your reading speed. If we're talking about movies that have been released to DVD or Netflix or whatever you use to watch movies at home, you can also usually multitask while you watch it; not often true of books. So if you want to hear a certain story, the movie is usually your less time-consuming option.
There's an exception to every rule.
So I guess my point is, whenever you find a movie - like I Am Legend - that is completely different from its book, or one - like Harry Potter - that tries to get as much of the source material included as possible but has to make some changes for practical purposes, keep in mind that books are not movies and movies are not books. It's fun to see a director/producer/actor's take on existing material, and if you don't like it, the book is still there for you to enjoy. (Or they'll remake it in a couple years anyway.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Favorite Books into Movies

This week, since Hansel & Gretel is getting turned into a movie, and we're talking about the fairy tale, we thought adaptations would be appropriate to bring into the mix.  So today, it's favorite book/movie combination.

A Walk To Remember was one movie that I saw in which I hadn't read the book first.  I saw the movie and, if you've ever seen it, you'll understand why I bawled like a small child when I watched it.  It's about a girl, Jamie, diagnosed with Leukemia, and she falls in love with a boy, Landon... who then essentially helps her complete her bucket list. 

Why the cry, you may ask?  Well, he helps her do things like "be in two places at once" (they straddle the state line.)  She wants to get a tattoo, so he gives her a temporary one.  She wants to see this star, so he builds her a telescope to do so.  And, just when you think it can't get anymore heartwarming, when her father tries to tell Landon to shove off, Landon tells her father that he's not going anywhere, that he plans to stay with her until the end.

It's sweet and heartwarming and sad and just when you think you can't cry anymore, Jamie's father tells Landon that "[he was] her miracle."  Seriously, if you don't cry during this movie, you have no heart.

The book was also very good.  It kept pretty closely to what the movie had been.  It's nice because the book fills in a few gaps that the movie didn't put in (mainly for time.)  However, at the end of the day, I preferred the movie.  It went into more detail about her bucket list than the book did and I liked the things they chose for the movie than the book.  But they're both good, both amazing to read/watch and, probably, my favorite movie/book duo.

It was really hard for me to pick between two choices this week. I really love V for Vendetta. But I only recently read the book, and having done so, there are a lot of things different between the book and the movie that I'm not sure I love, so I have to go with my go-to feel-good movie: Little Women.

I watch this movie around Christmas every year, because it feels Christmassy (despite taking place over at least a decade). I also watch it several more times throughout the year. It's a comfort thing.

I first saw the movie when I was in elementary school, but I didn't read the book (by Louisa May Alcott) until I got a Kindle a few years ago. (It was free to download, so I really didn't have any excuse not to read it.)

The book and the movie feel the same. Not every scene from the book is reflected in the movie and not everything in the movie is directly from the book, but it gives me the same feeling, and I love that.

The book uses a sort-of framing device of a book called The Pilgrim's Progress (which I want to read but haven't gotten around to). The girls each receive a copy from their mother, and it drives them to better themselves of their own volition (instead of being told to).

Winona Ryder plays my favorite character in this film (Jo, who I think I may have been in another life), plus she's Susanna Kaysen in Girl, Interrupted, another of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations.

Her acting is the only reason I feel like I should be
eating an orange when I'm writing. Seriously, I do.
On top of that, you have Susan Sarandon as Mrs. March, and if she isn't just the best mother-role actress ever... Plus you have a young Kirsten Dunst as Amy, Claire Danes as Beth, and Christian Bale (pre-Batman, pre-on-set-freakout) as Laurie. They all work really well together and were perfectly cast.

Like Cassy said above, the book is nice because it fills in some gaps and adds extra information, but the movie is cohesive enough to give you a complete story.


Tell us in the comments (or Tweet it to us @reviewmetwice): What's your favorite book-to-movie adaptation?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Tale of Fairy Tales

Fairy tales have had a long history, both oral and written.  Today, fairy tales are fun, sometimes cautionary, tales for kids.  They're usually fun and romantic (think Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.)  And, thanks to Disney, they usually have happy endings.

See?  Don't they just look Oh-So-Happy?

But the truth is, Fairy tales were meant to teach lessons, and in a not so pretty way.  Let's look at Bluebeard, a fairy tale created to teach people (women in particular.  Fairy tales are ridiculously misogynistic) not to be overly curious.  Charles Perrault wrote one of the most known and it consisted of a woman who married a very rich man with a blue beard.  He had many wives before her but no one knew what happened to them.  He went on a trip and told her that she could enter any room in the house but one.  Curiosity got the better of her, and she opened the door to find all of his dead wives.  Bluebeard found out and told her that she would have to die because he disobeyed her.  Just before he killed her, her brothers showed up and kill him.  Not exactly a story they would turn into a fun loving Disney movie.

What a wonderful guy, don't you think?

Just because Perrault's was the most well know, doesn't mean that his was original.  Fairy Tales were oral stories, for centuries, before they were ever written down on paper.  And in fact, most of the tales we know and love today are very watered down versions of the original.  In one version of Sleeping Beauty, there are any where from 15-20 euphemisms for sex.  In Snow White, the queen dies from dancing in red hot iron slippers.  The Little Mermaid had her tongue cut out and was turned into sea foam.  Even Hans Christian Anderson, whose tales were thought to be some of the most original, weren't.  He stole a lot of his material from oral stories, or stories that he had heard in his youth.

So why are fairy tales so popular today?  And why are they so different?  A large part of that is Disney.  They've taken the stories, bent them to their needs and made them kid friendly (after all, seeing the evil queen from Snow White thrown off a cliff was scary enough.  Imagine if she had died from dancing in red hot shoes.)  Also, the perception of children has changed.  The Grimms changed a lot of the endings to their stories because kids were starting to be protected from that kind of thing.  Previously, children were exposed to a lot more than they are today.  There are very little gruesome ideas we expose our children to.

Fairy tales are fun and fun to learn about.  They're rich in history and you can trace them all over the world.  Every culture has them.  It's just an interesting way to see how we're all connected.

Edit:  This article was recommended by one of our readers, "The People Watcher."  It gives some more fairy tales and some of their original endings!  Thanks for the info!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Brothers Grimm

This week, we're reading a fairy tale! And of course, it is a fairy tale penned by none other than the Brothers Grimm.

First things first: their names. Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm. (I've already learned something! I never knew their names before.)

Guess who these guys are!

Jakob was older, with a birthday of January 4, 1785, and Wilhelm was born February 24, 1786. They had four other siblings as well (who I'm pretty sure, no one has ever heard of.)

Jakob developed an interest in medieval poetry and became private librarian to King Jerome of Westphalia, giving him a large salary and lots of free time. After Napoleon fell, the true ruler of Hesse returned, and did not want a librarian. Jakob took a low-paying job as public librarian in Kassel (where Wilhelm was secretary).

Jakob's scholarly work started with a focus on grammar (because that's what all the cool kids study). His goal was to write not a manual of correct usage of German, but a natural history of the German language. The first volume was published in 1812, but the really good stuff was in volume two, published in 1822. His discoveries about the theory of sounds were incredibly exciting to the kinds of people who get excited about discoveries relating to the theory of sounds.

Umlauts: More exciting than you ever thought possible.
There was a third volume published in 1831 that continued the work of the second (building the German language from its basic root words) and the fourth volume was never finished, but it concerned syntax.
The brothers moved to Gottingen in 1830 and began teaching in addition to their other scholarly work. Jakob published Deutsche Mythologie in 1835, which was his attempt at collecting the pre-Christian German religious beliefs using poetry, fairy tales, and other folklore.  As we will mention a lot this week, the written fairy tales that we have now aren't original.  They came from hundreds of years of oral story telling.
Guess what that became?

They worked together on a series called the Deutsches Worterbuch starting in 1854, which was another linguistic work. It was also not supposed to be a usage manual, but more of an attempt at slowing or indeed stopping the deterioration of the language.
So you may be wondering: If the majority of their work was nested comfortably in the realm of linguistics, why are they best known for their fairy tales?
Well, that Deutsche Mythologie was a biggish deal. Philologists of the time looked down their nose at things like that. Fairy tales were firmly rooted in the realm of children, and were not "worth" studying in any serious scholastic pursuit. The Grimm brothers cast aside that prejudice and studied them anyway, implicitly arguing that they held important information that was necessary to document and consider in any valid conversation about a culture.
Says more about German culture than schnitzel and beer

They thought that collecting these stories in written form was important to keeping them alive and passing them on (in addition to learning from them in an anthropological type of way) and they were undoubtedly correct. The Grimm brothers' versions of these tales have become canon; they define the fairy tales.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

By Its Cover: Unwind

Yesterday, we reviewed Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Today, we'll take a look at its cover(s).

This is the cover found on Shusterman's website

First Impressions
Looks pretty scary, right? Not the pop-out-and-spook-you kind of scary, but the tense, unsure-of-one's-future-or-whereabouts kind of scary. The color scheme is ghostly. Someone is definitely in peril. And I see a faint fingerprint, which - based on what I know from the book's summary - is probably supposed to be a commentary on individuality.

And if you'll indulge the graphic designer for a moment, I think the font choice for the title is really unusual. It's the kind of font I would normally associate with supernatural romance-action stories, possibly set at the turn of the 19th century. The font used for the author's name seems more appropriate, but we shall see.

After Reading
The cover is spot-on. There's suspense, there's scary stuff, there are cries for help... everything.

The title font is still way off, though. There are no eloquent, dashing werewolves or vampires or other supernatural creatures with ruffled shirts and monocles wooing ladies with many petticoats. I think I'm off topic.

Alternate Covers
The cover on the left is the one on the copy I read. It's very similar to the one discussed above, but I think the thin, staggered-height font is more fitting. It looks slightly futuristic, and it's offset just enough to make you mildly uneasy. It's exactly right.

I'm not sure about the effect of switching the hand from the left side to the right side; it was probably just a necessity of layout. (You'll notice, the image is flipped, so the one from Shusterman's website is the right hand, whereas this one is a left hand. Make of that what you will; I think it's insignificant.)

I really like the cover on the right. It's reminiscent of surgery and it clearly indicates that the main focus of the book is on the parts that make up a whole. It's stark and clean and white, like an operating room ought to be.

I don't love the tagline in the bottom right corner, though. (If you can't make it out, it says: "Three teens. One terrifying process...") That just feels like it's trying too hard to make you understand that this is disturbing. Like an overwrought voiceover on a horror movie trailer. Maybe the cover designer thought the tagline was necessary because the light blue and white color scheme looked too happy.

I had the same cover that Alex did (the one above and on the left.)  I got the impression of someone being trapped, trying to escape.  And, honestly, that's what really came about.  These were kids who had no choice, who were trapped in a destiny.  They were also running, always trying to escape, to make their own destiny.  All they wanted was to have a future.

I think the cover was very complimentary to the book.  It gives you that intense, trapped feeling which, I think, is exactly what the book is about.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Review Me Twice: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

This week, we read Unwind by Neal Shusterman. The basic premise goes as follows: There was a big war in America about abortion, and the two sides came to an agreement called the Bill of Life, which decrees that abortions are illegal, but children between the ages of 13 and 18 can be "unwound," which means that 100% of their organs will be harvested and used for transplants, ensuring that they don't "die," but instead "live on in a divided state." This book follows a trio of kids scheduled to be unwound.

Why do I love this book? Two big reasons. The first is that it really doesn't matter what you think of the abortion debate; it doesn't take sides. Example: one of the Unwinds says something about having a right to their own bodies. You can see that as siding with women who want/need abortions, or you can see it as the kids having a right to live; it works either way, and better yet, it doesn't matter at all.

Second reason: Chapter 61. It gives some much-wanted details about the unwinding process, and it's extremely well-written, and that's all I'll say, for fear of spoiling it for anyone.

The only negative thing I can say about the book is that I saw a lot of things coming. This is extremely unusual for me. I don't try to figure out what's going to happen next in books or movies, because I know that if I sit there long enough, it will happen anyway, and I prefer the surprise if I can have it. I'm not saying that any of this ruined the book for me; it's just an experience I'm unaccustomed to.

I lament the fact that I have so much reading to do for upcoming reviews here on the blog, because I am terribly interested in reading the sequels.

As Alex mentioned last week, this blog affords me the opportunity to read things I would never pick up previously, or never really know about, for that matter.  Unwind is something that I probably would never have picked up on my own, but I am eternally grateful that Alex decided we should read it... because it was absolutely fantastic.

Unwind... while it touches on abortion, that's not really what it's about.  It's about choices.  It's about the person that you are.  It's about knowing what it fundamentally right and wrong.  During this book, you realize that unwinding is wrong.  Shusterman doesn't have to tell me that it's wrong; I can feel it in my gut as I read his words.

Imagine you're sixteen.  You have your whole life ahead of you.  You have friends, you have a family you love, dreams that you want and things that you want to do in your life.  And then your parents can't afford you or they decide you're too much of a trouble maker or even something as simple as they don't like the choices you're making or the future that you might have.  You might not have a future anymore.

I have to admit, there is a LOT of commentary in the book about hot topics.  Shusterman, for instances, makes a large commentary on the blind ignorance of religion.  One of our characters is sent off as a tithe.  His parents had ten kids and so Lev was sent off as a "contribution", to give back to the whole.  Yet only the extremely religious are ok with unwinding their kids.

It was a commentary on the world as a whole.  Unwinding was supposed to be a scare tactic to bring the end to a war.  Instead, it ended up being a solution to the end.  And some horrible things were agreed to, like the fact that the person being unwound was to be awake during the process.

This book is so powerful and moving and... intense, I can't describe it in a review.  I can't describe to you the wonderful writing or the incredibly dynamic characters or how this book will really make you assess your beliefs.  Pick this book up.  Seriously.  What are you still doing here?  I told you to go read it, right now.

My bottom Line 5 out of 5

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