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Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-Sitters Club #4 Mary Anne Saves the Day

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.07.14 am

Mary Anne Saves the Day

Ann M. Martin

Originally Published February 1987

 

If you recall, book 3’s co-plot (along with Stacey’s DIABETES) was about how the Baby-Sitter’s Agency honed in on the BSC’s turf and they had to throw down?  That the BSC proved that they were the superior sitters because of how awesome they were?  Even though they were younger, they were more mature?

Well, screw that.

BSC 4 is basically one long fight between the sitters so that Mary Anne can become friends with Dawn.  Without a massive war, she’s so timid that she would never do so otherwise.  There’s also all kinds of slut shaming patriarchal bullshit with her Victorian era Dad, but we’ll get to that later.

The book opens with exposition about the club and how it works as Kristy and Mary Anne walk across the street and are greeted by Mimi’s pleasant Japanese accented voice.  I’m starting to think we need an ongoing counter of how many times Mimi is referred to quickly followed by the words Japanese, quiet, soft, and accent.  Mimi asks Mary Anne how the scarf is coming along because of course Mary Anne knits like all good little girls on the prairie.  (Sidebar, this was before the hipsters claimed knitting for themselves–it’s supposed to be emblematic of how repressed and old fashioned Mary Anne is.)  Blah blah blah Kristy’s parents are divorced and her mom is engaged to a MILLIONAIRE.  Blah blah blah Claudia is an artist with flawless skin and a junk food addiction.  Stacey is from NEW YORK CITY and has diabetes.  It’s like BSC Bingo.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.02.09 amHere, I made a BSC bingo card for you

Why the book-long fight?  It’s all that bitch Mrs. Newton’s fault for having a baby.

“Yes,” Kristy was saying.  “Yes…  Oh, Jaime and Lucy.”  (Claudia and Stacey and I squealed with delight.)  “Friday…six till eight…  Of course.  I’ll be there.  Great.  See you.”  She hung up.

From there it devolves to Claudia is a job-hog (not like it’s her phone line and she has to do extra work or anything), Stacey has plenty of friends back in NYC and doesn’t need them, Mary Anne is a big baby, Kristy tells Mary Anne to shut up and she yells back at Kristy, Stacey’s diabetes are called dumb, and Mary Anne loses her shit on everyone.

Maybe I am shy,” I said loudly, edging toward the door.  “And maybe I am quiet, but you guys cannot step all over me.  You want to know what I think?  I think you, Stacey, are a conceited snob; and you, Claudia are a stuck-up job-hog; and you, Kristin Amanda Thomas, are the biggest, bossiest know-it-all in the world, and I don’t care if I never see you again!”

The rest of their argument is various retreads of this.  Book 4–have you read books 1-3?  A huge fight was also part of the plot of book 1.  There are over 100 books left to go–let’s not retread plots already.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.18.02 amWithout the introduction of Dawn’s mom, this would have been Mary Anne’s future.

As has been well established, Mary Anne’s mother is DEAD.  Of what?  Who cares!  We do find out that her name was Alma, though, which fits with the weird time-warp parenting style of Mary Anne’s father, Richard.  Since he acts like one, we’re just going to call Richard “Dick” for my own amusement.

Dick, having been left to raise this freakishly female creature, has decided that his worth as a father is to turn out the perfect Victorian/Edwardian era daughter.  Christian Grey had fewer rules for Anastasia—Life with Dick is 50 Shades of Patriarchal Bullshit.

  • She must wear braids at all times
  • She must dress well for dinner
  • She mustn’t say naughty words like gross, hey, and “a long list of other words”
  • Must have perfect table manners
  • Her room is pink and white, which are appropriate girl colors
  • The only picture in her room is Mary Anne and her parents on her Christening Day
  • The only artwork in her room is Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Wonderland prints

The relationship between Mary Anne and her father is so disturbing on so many levels.  Clearly, Mary Anne is supposed to be filling in for the “woman of the house.”  She cooks, cleans, is supposed to be dressed nicely for dinner and ask her father about his day.  She’s supposed to know what cases her dad is involved in at court and care about them deeply.

We also see the first mention of religion in the books.  Apparently, Dick asks God to watch over Alma before every single meal, which even Mary Anne thinks is overkill.  She mentions praying at night.  I’m not sure if the super strict is supposed to be tied in with religion, but it’s all kinds of Lurlene McDaniel’s level religiosity and appropriate female behavior (6 months to live review is here).

What does Mary Anne want in life?  To sometimes wear her hair differently, and to have a kitten poster and an NYC poster in her yellow and navy colored bedroom.  Also, to babysit a bit later, sometimes.  UNREASONABLE.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.36.27 amEnter Dawn

Since Mary Anne is fighting with her friends, she needs to find a seat in the cafeteria.  She sits down next to some other friendless loser, who turns out to be Dawn who is new in town.  Because Dawn is from California, she is blonde and health conscious.  She’s also a pretentious hippie and future vegan who shames the rest of us, but that develops over future books.

Mary Anne decides to befriend Dawn to get back at Kristy.  As they’re talking, Kristy looks over and is jealous, so Mary Anne really builds is up, going so far as to agree to hang out at Dawn’s house the next day after school.

Dawn’s mom Sharon is a flake.  She puts shoes in the freezer and can’t focus on a task for more than 5 seconds.  She’s like the polar opposite of Mary Anne’s Dad.  Gee, that’s interesting.

Dawn tells Mary Anne that they moved to Stoneybrooke because her parents divorced and her mom grew up here.  Hey, so did Dick!  What are the odds that they knew each other?  Is anyone thinking of that movie Parent Trap?  If not, Dawn and Mary Anne actually sit down and WATCH THE PARENT TRAP to get it into your mind.  Gee, I wonder what Martin is telegraphing here.  Maybe they could watch The Odd Couple next?

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.54.30 amI don’t think this is the kitty poster Mary Anne had in mind

BSC meeting, y’all.  Said meeting is hostile, lots of sticking out of tongues, hostility, blah blah blah.  Except Kristy isn’t there!  She blew off HER club.  When confronted about it, she suggested that the four of them take turns on phone duty during club meetings and the rest are at their homes.  Each girl can take whatever jobs she can handle offered to her during her shift and then has to call the others to find a sitter for the ones she’s not.  I wonder how well that will work?

On Mary Anne’s first day as the sole representative of the BSC she lines up a job with the Prezzioso’s–possible the only family in Stoneybrook that is more uptight and formal than hers.  For an afternoon at home, Jenny Prezzioso is wearing “a frilly white dress trimmed with yards of lavender lace and ribbon, matching lavender socks, and shiny black patent leather Mary Janes.  her hair had been curled, and was pulled back form either side of her face by barrettes from which long streamers flowed.”  Her parents call her Angel.  Yes, she IS a spoiled brat, how did you guess?

Mary Anne’s Dad loses a case, so obviously Marry Anne picks that moment to push for later baby sitting times, no braids, etc.  Dick shuts her down.  She’s emo because now she’s fighting with him, too.  Mary Anne goes to Mimi for soft spoken accented advice.  At some point in the conversation Mimi calls Mary Anne “My Mary Anne.”  I gasp at the outrageous faux pas.  Claudia overhears this and goes ballistic (AS WELL SHE SHOULD.  WTF, MIMI????).

The next time Mary Anne is the BSC, Claudia stays in her room and plays her music super loud.  Like I said, as they proved in Book 3, the BSC is a totes professional organization.  Then a series of phone calls come in forcing Mary Anne to call Kristy multiple times, culminating in the arranging of a joint babysitting job at the Pikes for herself and Kristy.

I’ll spare you the details but the Pike sitting job boils down to Kristy and Mary Anne only communicating via a passed message through all the Pike kids.

Mary Anne gets back from the Pikes five minutes late, and asks her dad for a later sitting time so she wouldn’t be late.   SHOCKER–Dick says no.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 12.13.16 pmGet to the point about Sharon and Dick

 

Dawn and Mary Anne go through Dick’s old yearbooks.  Not only did Dick and Sharon know each other, they were involved.   They find Sharon’s yearbook and Dick’s note to her.  Wow, if only things had been different, they’d be sisters!

That weekend Mary Anne babysits bratty Jenny Prezzioso, who morphs into high fever Jenny.  As this is the pre-cell era, Mary Anne has to call around, but can’t track down the parents.  After trying everything, she calls Dawn and then 911.  An ambulance comes to take Jenny to the hospital with Mary Anne.  Dawn is going to call and leave messages for Jenny’s parents (because again, no cell phone to call from while in the ambulance or while at the hospital).  The doctors are caring for Jenny when the parents arrive with the mom in hysterics for her ANGEL.  Mr. P gives Dawn and Mary Anne major cash for doing such a great job and drops them off at Mary Anne’s house.  What the hell did we do before cell phones?

Mary Anne and Dawn are looking at pictures in Dick’s albums.  They are magically seated such that Kristy looks over and sees them together.  Mary Anne puts her arm around Dawn and sticks out her tongue at Kristy.  Dawn catches her in the act and storms out when she realizes that Mary Anne has been using her to get back at Kristy.

Mr P calls Dick and tells her how awesome and mature Mary Anne is.  Mary Anne brings up those small things she wants and gets a later sitting time, the agreement that she can sometimes wear her hair down, AND that she can put up a poster on her wall.  Drunk with maturity, she writes Dawn and Kristy apologies for being such a bitch for the past 13 chapters.

Before the sitters can come back together, they have to ruin Jamie Newton’s birthday party.  Which serves his mom right for provoking the fight in the first place.  In fact, Mrs. Newton has been nothing but trouble since book 1 with her pregnancy and her spawning and her looking for responsible older sitters.  She dares to ask “one of them” to go check on the baby–which NATCH starts a fight.  Things escalate until punch is everywhere.  Way to prove that vaunted maturity, ladies. After the party Mary Anne orders everyone over to Claudia’s house and forces everyone to make up.

That night Mary Anne asks her dad about Dawn’s mom.  It’s all Romeo and Juliet–they were in love, her family didn’t approve, blah blah blah

Chapter 16–SIXTEEN!!!  WHAT BLASPHEMY!!!—Dick and Sharon finally meet again when she drops Dawn off at the house.  Stares and starry eyes, and he asks her out.  Mary Anne introduces Dawn to everyone and she is inducted into the BSC

Book Review: The Good Women of China by Xinrin

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.49.29 AMThe Good Women of China by Xinran

Rating 4/5 stars

I read a different book by Xinran earlier this year–Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother–that ripped my heart out and left me sobbing at various points.  I approached this book with caution because of that.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother tells one woman’s story per chapter.  Eventually, so does The Good Women of China.  However, the start is much slower, and less engaging.  I picked up and put this one down a few times, easily distracted by other books.  However, once I got to roughly 1/3 of the way through the book, I was sucked in and found myself crying time and time again.

Xinran was, for a time, a presenter of a highly popular radio show in China in the 80’s and early 90’s called “Whispers on the Night Breeze” which focused on the stories of everyday women (or rather, that is what it evolved into).  This is the source material for this book and others.  The stories she shares are most often those of her generation and that of her mothers–the generation that were children during the cultural revolution, and that of the mothers of those children.

My bachelor’s degree is in History.  I have a deep attachment to learning about race, class and gender history.  The thing about studying women’s history, though, is that for every fascinating and empowering story about women, there is often a much larger number of truly depressing stories.

One of the most common experiences that occurs in women’s history, and in this book, is that of rape.  To the point where I would firmly caution that this book needs a trigger warning for rape.  Girls are raped by their fathers.  Girls are raped in the cause of “re-educating” them during the Cultural Revolution.  Girls are raped in the chaos after an earthquake.  Girls who wish for death after rape, who are institutionalized, whose mothers commit suicide after they are raped. 

It is also the story of how a moment of deep change–the Cultural Revolution–impacted not just the wealthy or the well born, but the every day woman as well.  These are stories we almost never hear.  The Japanese expatriate who was in China to teach at a university, and is jailed as a counter-revolutionary.  The daughter of wealthy capitalists who gets to her family’s home too late–they have fled to Taiwan–and has to pose as the illegitimate daughter of her aunt, hoping that the truth will never be revealed.  The women who began an orphanage after their own children were killed by an earthquake–an earthquake the government didn’t find out about for weeks because there was no modern means of communication in the impoverished mountain villages.  A woman who was separated from her love by duty to the party, only to find him again 40 years later—and that he’d married after being told that she was dead.  Weaved throughout the other stories is Xinran’s.  Her parents were accused of being counter-revolutionary, and she and her brother were brought up by the party.  Peasant children were taught to insult them, and treat them as subhuman.  Her deeply complicated relationship with her parents, and with her own past is shown as the book progresses.

We also see Xinran’s growing dissatisfaction with trying to toe the party line as a media representative.  Stories must be edited, others not told (no need to embarrass the party with a story about highly educated women being given to party elite as new wives, or the village wives they left behind).

As an American, I learned very little modern era Asian History in any of my classes.  I was vaguely aware of how Mao had gained power, but I had no context for what that looked like for a woman living in China.  Xinran lends us those voices, which when paired with other resources can help paint a more complete pictures of the experience.

If you have an interest in Asian History, in women’s history, or in women’s studies, this book is definitely one you should make time to read.  But allow yourself to read as fast (can’t put it down) or as slow (too emotional, need a break) as you need.  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy read.

Book Review: Dark Witch (Cousins O’Dwyer #1) by Nora Roberts

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.16.42 PMDark Witch by Nora Roberts (Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy #1)

4/5 stars

Nora Roberts has written over 200 books.  I have read at least 100 of those.  I suspect that if I were to sit down with a list and start checking off titles, it’s closer to 150 or more.  One of my closest friends, Brandy, introduced me to Roberts in 1996 with the Dream Trilogy (still a favorite today, if a bit dated).  I immediately devoured as much of her back catalog as I could get my hands on, and read every new release and out of stock re-release for the next 10 or so years.

I’m still a huge fan of her “in death” series written as JD Robb, and read those the day/week they are released.  However, over the past five to eight years, I’ve hit a wall with Roberts.  Her work is still solid…it’s just that as a fan of her work for almost (gulp) two decades it’s also predictable.

While I’m not gasping in shock over a plot twist, Roberts does still pull off an enjoyable read.

While Roberts typically opens a paranormal with a glimpse into the mythology she’s weaving, Dark Witch breaks that with an extended view (2 chapters) into the origins of the Dark Witch and why we’re now dealing with a trio rather than a single descendant of Sorcha.  Part of this is because she’s setting up a fairly  complex backstory between Sorcha (and her descendents) and Cabhan (and his), but it also makes for a nice change of pace.

We then flip forward to modern day Ireland, where Iona-our token American-has arrived in Ireland.  One of the unique twists on this series is that while Iona is new to her powers, she’s known the family legends her entire life.  There is no shocking reveal.  More refreshing is that the entire town knows–there’s no need for subterfuge amongst the magick working characters and the non magickal characters (to use Robert’s preferred spelling).  Because there isn’t, it’s also not a major plot point either way and therefore is easily dispensed with.

Iona is welcomed into the family by her cousins Branna and Connor.  She secures a job at a local stable headed by her assigned love interest Boyle.  The stable is owned by Branna’s (obvious) former lover Fin.  Connor’s (obvious) eventual love interest Meara also works there.

While the who’s going to end up with who is obvious, I enjoyed the path of seeing how Iona and Boyle would end up together, what would push them apart and so forth. I get the feeling that Roberts might well have pushed the resolution of the couple back into the second book, but couldn’t because of genre conventions and that the next book won’t be telling the Iona/Boyle story.  Without going into spoilers, I will say that the wrap of the I/B relationship was rushed and bit dissatisfying.

There is no hint at the Connor/Meara relationship in this book, but without reading it, I can tell you that in book 2 there will be a reveal that at least one of them has pined for the other and the other will be shocked by it.  I will be less interested in this relationship than the other two.  This is a pattern of her trilogies and I know what I’m in for.

Most interesting by far, and why she’s also saving it for book 3 (note, I haven’t actually read the flap copy or anything relating to the other two books, I just know the Roberts pattern) is the Branna/Fin relationship.  They are the former lovers who have broken it off.  That reason is that just as I/C/B are Sorcha’s descendents, Fin is Cabhan’s descendent–something he didn’t find out until after they were a couple.  He has chosen to align himself with the O’Dwyer cousins, but he and Branna are not buddies, and they’re not over one another.  His choice to align with the good side rather than the bad feels like a new (or newer) plot point for her, and one I appreciated.

The pacing of the book is fairly solid.  I didn’t get distracted by other books in my reading queue.  However, I didn’t feel the need to stay up half the night to finish it, either.  Apart from the rushed ending with regards to the I/B romantic relationship, I was happy with the backstory we’ve gotten in this books, the growing friendship/familial relationships that grew in this books and where the plot will go over the next two books.  I’m not running out to read book #2 before I read anything else, and there’s no rush–book #3 isn’t out until Nov 2014–but I’ll buy it and keep it on my kindle as my next “palate cleanser” book.

If you’re an established Roberts fan, you’ll find it fairly standard Roberts paranormal fare.  Worth noting–as with anytime Roberts feels compelled to write “spells” you will sigh at the often bad rhymes.  It’s not her strong point.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.57.25 PM

The bigger question is what does this book/trilogy have to offer someone new to the genre/new to Roberts?

Do you like paranormals?  Do you enjoy witches and magick being thrown about not just in a fantasy/historical setting but in modern day Ireland?  If not, move along.

The reasons that I like Roberts as a Romance novelist are that she writes good characters.  She doesn’t write one dimensional stock characters (although read enough work and you do see patterns).  Her women are complex, and they are active participants in the story and in their love life.  Iona goes over Boyle, rather than wait for him to come a knocking and notice her.  Obviously this is a romance book, but the relationship between I/B is A plot rather than the entirety of the plot.  The paranormal side isn’t just filler–it’s a genuinely interesting story on its own.

Roberts takes the time to research to the point where she can write convincing jewel thieves (Honest Illusions among others), cattle ranchers (Montana Sky), homicide police officers (In Death series of 30+ books and others) or a horse riding instructor (as in this book).  I appreciate that Roberts doesn’t phone it in.

The sex scenes are okay.  I’m not the best barometer because as an erotica author, I tend to read (and write) far more explicit scenes.  That said, they’re not boring or trite either.

I don’t know that this is the first Roberts book I’d hand a new reader of hers, but that’s about personal bias rather than the quality of this book versus another. For the record, my favorites include the Dream Trilogy, The McKade Brothers, The Quinn Brothers, The MacGregor Family, and the In Death series.  Individual title recommendations are Honest Illusions and Sweet Revenge (incidentally both feature jewel thieves).

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitters Club #2 Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

This week we’re going back to Stoneybrook!  Pull out your hidden junk food and pretend it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 5:30 pm.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 3.28.20 PMClaudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

by Ann M. Martin (not ghostwritten)

Published October 1986

Kirsten Dunst’s first job was modeling for the little blonde girl on this cover.  She says “I was a child actress/model.  I did it strictly for the money.” Given her enthusiasm, I’m guessing she has the cover framed and illuminated in the middle of her living room.

*****

Claudia wishes she could be in her room reading a mystery and eating candy, or dreaming about Trevor Sandbourne, or painting.  But no, she had to do her Math homework because her parents are facists.

At least Mimi is the one helping her and not Janine the NERD.

Mom has no accent (neither does my father, who also came to the United States as a small child) but Mimi has this pleasant, rolling accent that reminds me of a ship at sea.  And she is polite, polite, polite never speaking a harsh word.

Cultural sensitivity wasn’t really a thing in the 80’s, huh?

Mimi helps her with her homework, and sits for Claudia’s painting . They chat about the mystery book Claudia is reading and Halloween.

Claudia asks Mimi why she and Janine aren’t besties.  Mimi tells her that it’s because she’s a bitch who avoids and complains about her sister–except Mimi’s polite polite polite about it.  But that someday they’ll be friends.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 10.47.08 PMI wouldn’t hold my breath.

Claudia calls Stacey.  Claudia is all swoony over Trevor, the poet.  Stacey is still gaga for Sam Thomas (Kristy’s older brother).   Boys are sooooooo dreamy.

The next day at schools the girls have a three page discussion about a boy named Alan Gray.  They go on at length about a trick Kristy played on him and how now he feels the need to bother her all the time.  So they’ll be hooking up by the end of the book.

Mary Anne is “flipping through the Stoneybrook News.”  Because seventh graders casually read the newspaper when hanging out with their pals.  She shrieks, and drops the paper.  OHMIGOD you guys–Phantom Phone Caller On Rampage In Mercer!  Mercer is the closest town to Stoneybrook!

“Well it’s still 20 miles away,” I said

Wait, what?   Are they surrounded by 20 miles of virgin forest?  It’s Stoneybrook, CT, not Storybrooke, Maine, FFS.

The Phantom Phone Caller calls the house to see if anyone answers.  If not, he goes and steals their jewelry.  He apparently doesn’t take anything else, so your diamond encrusted chairs are safe, millionaires.

Claudia gasps because a few nights ago, the phone rang and no one was on the line!

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.04.11 PMHe wants your handcuff earrings and key necklace, Claud

EMERGENCY BSC MEETING Y’ALL.

The girls decide that the best way to handle a suspicious situation is to stack cans in front of the door or window on the inside, so you’ll know if he’s entered the house

Then there is the elaborate phone message system

  • If you think he’s in the house CALL ANOTHER BABYSITTER and say “have you found my red ribbon?”
  • The other sitter will say “No, the blue one.”
  • If you know he’s in the house and your are in danger say “Now I’m in for it”
  • If you’re not sure there’s trouble say “That’s okay”

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.19.28 PMBEST.  PLAN.  EVER.

 

We can’t get too hung up on this whole Phantom Phone Caller/Home Invasion thing–The Halloween Hop is coming up.  Claudia wants Trevor to ask her.  But–sigh–he doesn’t even know she’s alive.  “Faithfully” by Journey swells in the background.

Chapter 5 is all about a sitting job at the Newton’s, but there’s no entry.  I don’t know why I care, but I do, and I thought you should all know.  Everything is going okay until Claudia sees lights going on and off in the house!  The phone rings, but stops before she can answer it!  Then there are footsteps!  Claud peeks through a convenient hole in the fence and looks straight into another eye!  OHMIGOD IT’S THE PHAN—Kristy.  It’s just Kristy.  Kristy was looking for them, and the lights going on and off were all her, going through the Newton’s house looking for Claud and Jamie.

Not to bash your ribbon strategy, ladies….but maybe you should add lock the front door to your list of burglar management strategies?

Another night Claud is babysitting at the Marshall’s.  She creeps herself out and calls Stacey.  They’re talking about the Halloween Hop and boys when…

I definitely heard footsteps in the garage.  “Stacey, Stacey,” I said urgently.  “Have you found my b-I mean, did you see my–Have you found my…my…”

“Your red ribbon?” whispered Stacey.

“Yes!” I gasped.

“Yes, I did.  I mean, no, I found–I…”

“Did you find my blue—Oh, no, Stacey, someone’s at the garage door.  I can hear the knob rattling!”

“I’m going to call the police.”

“Claudia?” called a deep voice.

It was all I could do not to shriek.  “He called my name!” I yelped to Stacey

“Claudia,” said the voice again, “we’ve misplaced the house keys.  Can you let us in, please?”

That red ribbon plan doesn’t seem to work well under pressure.  Also, between two adults who presumably used a car to go somewhere (since Stoneybrook is surrounded by 20 miles of forest), why don’t they have a house key?

GASP!  Just as Claudia is about to leave, the phone rings, but when Mrs. Marshall answers, there’s no one there!  Does Claudia mention The Phantom Phone Caller?  Of course not.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.30.30 PMAt least this guy had the courtesy to talk to you before he committed a crime….

Kristy babysits Karen and Andrew.  Karen has new theories about Morbidda Destiny and her spooky spells.  At bedtime she insists Kristy read her new book “The Witch Next Door.”

Watson, I’m going to judge you for this.  If you’re trying to convince Karen that Mrs. Porter isn’t a witch, buying her a book called “The Witch Next Door,” isn’t going to help matters.

Watson’s house is huge (still waiting for the first time they call it a mansion), and Kristy is jumpy.  She gets a hang up call and then calls Claudia…but doesn’t even think about using the ribbon code.  She doesn’t remember it.  Ladies and gentlemen, your Founder and President.

Then there’s a tapping at the door!  IT’S MORBIDDA DESTINY!!!!!  Or, you know, Mrs. Porter, who is returning Boo Boo after the cat was eating a mouse on her porch.  Although Boo Boo’s so vicious that Mary Anne was explicitly warned not to touch him, he’s obediently sitting in Mrs. Porters arms.  Guys, Karen is on to something.  Mrs. Porter is a witch.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.44.16 PM

“He bothers me just by living!  Alan Gray is so horrible whenever he’s around me, that he’s all I can think about.” —- Kristy

Stacey suggests that Kristy ask her hot older brother Sam for help with this whole Phantom Phone Caller thing.  Kristy retorts that she’d never ask him for help.  He’s girl-crazy!  I mean, my god, last week he took some green-tipped hair, lace gloves with the tips cut off Freshman to the movies!  It’s just not a BSC book without Kristy being thoughtless.

Stacey starts to cry because didn’t Sam like her? (Remember how he called Stacey a “foxy chick” and she called him a gorgeous hunk?)  Stacey, this is only the first of a zillion older men you’ll have your heart broken by.  Get used it to it.

Claudia moans that the dance is only four days away and Trevor hasn’t asked her to go.

“I think you should talk to him,” said Kristy.

“I think you should ask him to the dance,” said Stacey.

I gasped.  “No way!  This isn’t the Sadie Hawkins dance.  I can’t ask a boy to go with me.”

“In New York we did it all the time.”

“Well, this isn’t New York, this is little Stoneybrook.  And I am not asking Trevor Sandbourne to the Halloween Hop.

Stacey should take her own advice and ask Sam out.

Claudia should remember that second wave feminism brought about women CEO’s, astronauts, and the ability to ask a boy to a non-Sadie Hawkins dance.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.04.46 AMMary Anne pouts as she’s reminded, yet again, that she doesn’t live in NEW YORK CITY.

Shit just got real, people.  The Kishi’s neighbors the Goldmans were just robbed!  Goldman because Martin was being ironic years before hipsters discovered irony.

Shocker, Mary Anne is suspended from baby-sitting.  Given that the robbery was right across the street, I’m surprised Mary Anne is allowed to go to school without her dad.

That night–in yet another babysitting job without an entry at the start of the chapter–Kristy and Claudia babysit for Jamie and his hellion cousins.  Same M.O. as book 1–the parents leave, and the cousins go nuts.  Kristy, being Kristy, puts two fingers in her mouth and gives an ear piercing whistle, which puts an end to the shenanigans.

Suddenly things get scary…not one, not two, but three phone calls without someone on the other end of the line.  Several bangs as trashcans are knocked over.  A shadow runs away from the house!

The girls thankfully skip the ribbon nonsense and call the police.  The cops show up and go looking for the intruder, and show up minutes later with Alan Gray.  Kristy has a lot to say about this.

“Alan Gray, you darn, sneaking rotten–“

….

“Alan, you are a rat!” she exploded.

They find out that every call without a person on the other end of the line at one of Kristy’s sitting jobs was Alan.  He knew where she was because he kept peeking at the BSC notebook.

“Son,” said Officer Stanton in a more kindly voice, “what did you want to ask her?”

….(he mumbles, baby sitting charges tell him to speak up…

“I wanted to know if you’d go to the Halloween Hop with me.”

If I were Kristy, my eyeballs would have fallen out of my head about then.  But Kristy just said, “Oh gosh is that all?  Of course I’ll go with you….Thanks.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.20.44 AMAlan Gray knows how to woo a woman

After the sitting job, Claudia is in her room eating junk food (because of course) when Janine knocks on her door.  She saw the police cruiser on her way home.  Claudia is touched by her concern, and they talk.  Janine hides candy, too!  Bonding moment!  I’m sure that this will make it all worthwhile when the Kishis have to have their home fogged to kill the ant infestation.

The next day at school, Claudia is approached by Trevor, who has gathered up his courage and asks her to the Halloween Hop.  He was behind all of the calls when Claudia was sitting because Alan told him where Claudia would be.  Martin wasn’t getting paid enough to give him a different plot.

Claudia, much like Kristy, is completely unfazed by the whole stalking thing.  She happily agrees to go to the dance with him.  I feel the urge to stage an intervention and explain healthy and unhealthy relationships to all four of them.

The Halloween Hop was terrific.  Now I know we’re in a fictional universe–no middle school dance is ever terrific.  Ever.

Claudia got an 86 on her math test!  Her parents are so proud that they skip explaining that a B is an Asian F.

The Phantom Phone Caller was found trying to rob a mansion in that town 20 miles away (10 books more and it would’ve been in Watson’s neighborhood).

Life is great.  Several babysitters have earned in the neighborhood of 15 dollars over two weeks worth of baby sitting, and they clink their diet sodas together.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.31.26 AMTo attend the Alan Gray/Trevor Sandbourne School of Seduction call 555-2934

Advanced courses taught by Edward Cullen

Next Week–Sweet Valley High #4-Power Play (aka that one where the fat girl becomes thin and popular–I have a lot of FEELINGS about that book).

Book Review: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 3.46.36 PMCharlotte’s Web by E.B. White

5/5 stars

Ellie likes read alouds–she likes picture books, and she’ll sit in for her sister’s board books.  But over the past year and a half, we’ve slowly started to introduce chapter books into the read aloud repertoire.  This past week we finished “Charlotte’s Web.”

First I’ll let Elanor talk to you about the book.  This is a longer video than the past two have been, and I provided more scaffolding.  Given the length and complexity of the book, Ellie needed support.

In reading chapter books to Elanor, I’ve had the opportunity to look back at my childhood.  Some books like Fantastic Mr. Fox are much scarier, others are badly written (see my snarking nostalgia column), and some books–like Beezus and Ramona–are just boring.

Charlotte’s Web is sadder.  So. Much. Sadder. than I remembered it being.  Reading it as an adult, and knowing what’s coming makes you so much more alert to nuance.  More than once, I felt choked up or found myself blinking back tears.  Prepare yourself accordingly.

As a child, I don’t know that I appreciated the richness of the language that White uses throughout the book. Words like salutations, injustice, and languishing are a welcome change.  You won’t find overuse of the word “said” as you do in other children’s literature.  It is a joy to read.

I remember appreciating that he didn’t dumb the book’s vocabulary down just because kids were going to read it–or the subject matter.

Wilbur’s life is in danger from the first chapter, and the reader knows that Wilbur may actually end up on someone’s plate.  Few expect Charlotte to die.  I’m relatively sure that this is the first book I read in which I lost a beloved character.  Some kids will need preparation–others may surprise you.  I was a bit concerned about reading it aloud to Elanor–she’s a really sensitive little girl–but she was fine while I was tearing up during Charlotte’s death scene.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to show Ellie the animated and live action versions of Charlotte’s Web so that she can give you her opinion about which she liked best.  I’ll introduce the idea of faithful adaptation so that she can evaluated if they are faithful.  I don’t really remember if the cartoon is terribly faithful, but I do remember loving the music.  I’ve never seen the live version so I have no idea what I’m in for.

I think five is about as young an age where this is a good real aloud.  The upper limit of the age depends on the purpose for which you’re reading it.  This is a book that belongs on any bookcase, whether you have children or not.

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitter’s Club #1 Kristy’s Great Idea Chapters 9-12

I’ve uncovered a great deal of nostalgia for these books among my peers, so when I decided to start the blog, I was thrilled for the excuse to reread and snark them.  I snark with love, friends–I’m still a total fangirl.  So let’s drop what we’re doing, put on our nostalgia goggles, and pretend it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 5:30pm.

Part 1–Chapters 1-3 can be found here

Part 2-Chapters 4-8 can be found here

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 5.54.50 PMKristy’s Great Idea

By Ann M. Martin (she wrote the first 36)

Chapter 9

Stacey’s turn.  We see Stacey’s entry in the notebook at the start of the chapter, and we learn that Stacey dots her i’s with hearts.  I know I’m not the only one of us who did that in middle school as well.  Which leads to the question of would I have done that if I didn’t read the BSC or did I do it because I read BSC books?  It’s disturbing, really how much of my life Martin/Lerangis influenced, and how much I still remember about these books.  Shouldn’t I be using that portion of my brain for something more useful?

Stacey says she had a fine time with David Michael in the entry.  Kristy does my snark for me by telling us that the strumpet Stacey had a fine time flirting with her older brother Sam.

Guys, Sam is 14 and in HIGH SCHOOL.  Stacey is 12 and in MIDDLE SCHOOL.  She’s got to be one hot piece of ass for a 14 year old to date down like that.  Two years?  That’s just shocking–as shocking as the exact same age gap between my husband and myself.  Sam and Ravi are cradle robbers, yo.

Kristy introduces David Michael and Stacey and then rushes off to babysit–LOL–the St. Bernards.

Five minutes after Kristy leaves, Sam gets home.  Sam labels Stacey a foxy chick.  She refers to him as a gorgeous hunk.  I repress the urge to go make out with my Wesley Crusher poster.

Kristy tries to figure out what on earth Sam saw in Stacey and vice versa.  We get a paragraph of Stacey’s outfit, and Kristy thinks it was babyish.  Also babyish is the fact that was drinking milk at the time.  What is wrong with Stacey?  Girl hates junk food and isn’t an alcoholic?  Freak.

Sam is wearing a radical t-shirt that says “I know you are but what am I?” immediately triggering this scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure in my brain.

Kristy admits that Sam is pretty cute.  Now, I’m an only child so I’m only guessing, but isn’t it kind of icky to find your sibling hot?  Can we invent/invoke the “Flowers in the Attic” rule?

Sam and Stacey do this gorgeously classic teen flirting that actually feels kind of authentic to me until David Michael interrupts and asks for a twinkie.  Stacey gives him one, and then Sam offers to split the other one with her.  Stacey says no, and Sam compliments her on how hard dieting is (OHMYGOD BOOK STOP WITH THE DIETING TALK).

Stacey suggests to David Michael that they play Candyland.

Heck, I’ll play, too,” said Sam.  “We can have a championship series.  First one to win two games is the Candy Land Champion of the Universe.”

You’re going to play?” David Michael’s eyes widened.

“Yeah, sure.”

“But you nev–“

“Hey, little brother, your shoe’s untied.”

David Michael, quit cock blocking Sam.  He’s working here!  Stacey has to be seriously foxy for anyone to willingly play Candy Land, much less multiple games.   Inventing new rules and throwing the game to make the torture of Candy Land end are my only tools for enduring the hell of that game.  No one over the age of seven would ever do that without an ulterior motive.

I’m pretty sure this is another dead end plotline.  Book 8 is Boy-Crazy Stacey, and there are multiple books on the same variation of the theme of Stacey likes older guy, nothing happens.  Because NOTHING that isn’t PG happens in the BSC–no making out, no second base, and no teen pregnancy.  In real life Stacey and Sam would’ve been playing tonsil hockey in the kitchen while David Michael played nintendo.

The only version of Candy Land that they’d be playing is Strip Candy Land?  Oh crap, now I’m trying to figure out how to play strip Candy Land—see what you’re doing to me, book?

Worth noting–I stumbled into a dark corner of the internet and found out that the BSC fanfic writers don’t think that Stacey and Sam belong together.  There is a serious amount of Stacey and Charlie stories.  Even the fanfic writers realizes that Sam is too young for Stacey.  I predict she will grow up to be the trophy wife of a Wall Street banker twice her age.

BSC Stacey dollI can’t help but notice that the Stacey BSC dolls is sporting less blush than the Kristy doll was–What’s up with that?

Chapter 10

Mary Anne has beautiful cursive writing.  Now you guys see why she’s the secretary (although Stacey’s has always seemed more legible to me, even with those annoying hearts over the i’s.)

She totally does a passive aggressive number on Kristy in the entry–

“I think Kristy would really like them if she ever baby-sat for them.  Are you reading this, Kristy?.”

Question time-do we think that Mary Anne ever really grew enough of a spine that she would be more than the mom who volunteers for everything at school and then sends out emails saying “If any of you could find the time in your busy day to volunteer for the next field trip, because I’ve done the last five, that would be so great…”?  Or, once she goes to college and breaks free of Kristy’s shadow, does she totally vamp up and bust out of her shell?  She is the first one to land a serious boyfriend (Book 10–This totally makes sense when you learn that MA is based on Ann M Martin).  Maybe she upgrades the part of herself that got the sassy haircut and splurges on tight miniskirts.  Does she become a exotic dancer?  She does have all that experience with pigtails, plaid and playing shy.  I see it going either way–what do you think?

Here is what you’ve been waiting for–we finally get to meet Karen and Andrew!  Karen got all the personality for both of them.  Andrew is just sort of a formless lump of age three following around behind someone else…and stays that way for the rest of the series.  Karen has always struck me as swinging wildly between hysterically adorable (hence why she got her own spin-off book series of 128 books–way to milk the franchise, Ann!) and beyond annoying.

We get our next set-up for the eventual discover that Watson is a MILLIONAIRE

Mary Anne says Watson lives in a very pretty, big house.  I guess he has a lot of money.  He’d have to, the way he throws it around, buying Chinese food right and left and taking my mom out on dates almost every night.

I need to stop the review to go die of laughter.  Watson making it rain with dollar bills at Panda Express.  Just picture it.

Anyway, the house is large, and Andrew and Karen have neat rooms.  And toys.  Mary Anne had never seen so many–gigantic stuffed animals, dolls, a train that you could really ride around the backyard, cars, bikes, a playhouse, costumes to dress up in.  It was incredible, kind of like being in Toys “R” Us.

Cue Annie singing I’m gonna like it here.

Boo-Boo the cat is a demonic spirit housed the body of a cat almost big enough to be bordering on the size of a mountain lion.  He bites.  He scratches.  He chewed THROUGH A DOOR.  Everyone warns Mary Anne to stay away from him because he’s vicious.

“Whatever you do, don’t touch him,” added Watson

Golly, guys…I feel like this might be setting something up for later….

Karen tells Mary Anne that their parents are divorced and that their mom is getting remarried.  Hey Watson, you know that having your ex remarry when you’re still single or dating mean that THEY WIN, right?  What are you going to do about it?

Karen then babbles on about god knows what–my eyes starting glazing over, just like Mary Anne’s.  Until Karen tells us that the witch lives next door, and I groan.  Because oh my hell this story line needs to go die–it is funny in one, max two books—but it is a running theme for the next 20 years.  MAKE IT STOP.

“Its Mrs. Porter, and she’s an honest-and-truly witch.  Mrs. Porter isn’t her witch name, though.  Her witch name is Morbidda Destiny.  The big kids on the street told me so.  And she eats toads and casts spells and flies to witch meetings on her broomstick every night.”

If you need me, I’ll be hiding in a closet.  This is exactly who my Elanor will be in a year or two.

Mary Anne strongly considers telling Karen she needs to up her meds, but chickens out.

BOO-BOO IS IN MORBIDDA DESTINY’S YARD, Y’ALL!!!!   MARY ANNE HAS TO GO AND GET HIM!!!!  Wow, who could’ve seen that plot twist coming?  (Although, Ann—Two sub plots about escaped pets in one book?  L-A-Z-Y)

Mary Anne is meekly trying to coax Boo-Boo back toward her and away from the flowers.  Mrs. Porter, who is a bit of the crazy eccentric old lady (okay, so Karen has an eeensy point when you look at her from pov of a 6 year old) starts screaming at the cat and waving a rake at it.  That actually works and Boo-Boo runs back Watson’s yard.

Mrs. Porter shook her rake after him (Boo-Boo).  “Rapscallion!” she cried.  She headed for her house.  Mary Anne could her her mutter things like “Children and pets” and “Darned nuisance.”

Let’s play “What did Mrs. Porter REALLY say” in comments.

Mary Anne then has to explain to Karen that Rapscallion is not a magic spell.  I’m dying of laughter over here…but mostly because it’s not me (yet).

They go in and have an uneventful rest of the day.  Boo-Boo calms down before the Thomas family moves into the house.  I’m guessing Mrs. T required that Watson put him on kitty prozac or got Boo-Boo a regular catnip dealer?  I don’t recall a book titled “Kristy, the Demon Cat, and the trip to the Emergency Room for 105 stitches,” but I could be wrong.

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 9.35.05 PMtagged “when you have to baby-sit Karen Brewer”

Chapter 11

BSC meeting on Wednesday.  Mrs. McKeever calls to ask for a sitter for the two most atrociously named St. Bernards in the world (Buffy and Pinky are the names of your miniature poodles, not your miniature pony sized dogs, even if you’re Martha Stewart).  I appreciate the girls’ restraint in not saying “HELLZ NO,” instead explaining that they’re not pet sitters.

Phone call number two is a new client, Mrs. Marshall.  She has 2 little girls.  The girls ask if they have any pets.  A plot hole opens in the space/time continuum and Kristy says that some people are surprised when they ask this–to which I reply exactly how many calls have you gotten off screen?  Because I count three adults calling about 4 baby-sitting jobs, AND if you’d asked McKeever that question the first time, we would’ve only had one runaway pet subplot.  They have a non demonic cat.  Oh, and you’ll have to give Eleanor her ear drops. Maybe it’s age, and maybe it’s just really lazy writing but I can see this plot twist from a mile away–who thinks something will go wrong?

Claudia gets the job because Stacey is mysteriously busy that night.  Maybe she’s using that 10pm curfew to go out on a date with your older brother Kristy?  Nah, she’s just MYSTERIOUSLY busy.  I can’t quite figure out how this could relate to her SECRET DIABETES, so I’m sticking with my theory of date with Sam Thomas.

You know what would be super fun?  Let’s figure out how much money we’ve made at all our sitting jobs!  $26.75?  WOOHOO! Let’s blow it on a pizza party and junk food instead of all those other things we said we were going to buy with our baby-sitting money.

I’m sitting here bitterly contemplating that my average sitting bill on a Saturday night is $60-75.  Even with the almost 20 year cost differential I begin to dream of finding a middle school student I can totally underpay to watch my children.  Or of the day that’s roughly 7 years away when I can underpay Elanor to watch Rhiannon.

Where were we?  JUNK FOOD, AMIRITE STACEY?  Stacey?  Stacey?  Oh, right….  Stacey lies and says she’s going to New York and won’t be around anyway, so it’s no big deal, they should have their pizza party, OKAY?  Every sits there baffled that Stacey’s feelings were hurt that they never remember this really important thing about her because they’re such good friends.

Kristy gets home and WATSON IS THERE.  She notes that this is the third time he’s had dinner with them in the last week.  When do you see your children, Watson???  Cheapskate didn’t even bring food this time–he’s there for leftovers!  Couldn’t he at least have brought food for Kristy to refuse to eat again?

Worse, Mrs. Thomas tells Kristy to go upstairs and put on a dress.  Long time readers of the BSC will understand that Kristy putting on a dress is roughly equivalent to my degree of enthusiasm for taking my children on long haul flights from Singapore to Boston (36 fun filled hours in economy and random airports door to door–WOOHOO!)  Her brothers have also been told to dress up.

Mrs. Thomas and Watson have news, ya’ll.  Brace yourselves.

“Mom,” I said, “will you please tell me what’s happening?  Why is everything so fancy?”

“Because we’re celebrating.”

“With leftover SpaghettiO’s?”

“It doesn’t matter what we eat.  I just want us feeling festive.”

“Why? What are we getting festive about?”

…..

A few minutes later, we were sitting around the dining room table, which looked almost as fancy as it does at Thanksgiving.  Mom had spread out a green tablecloth and put a white runner over it.  We were eating off our good china, and everyone had a wine goblet.  Mom and Watson were the only ones with wine in their wine goblets though.

….

“Something very special happened today,” she (Mrs. Thomas) said.

I drew in my breath.

“Watson asked me if I would consider getting engaged to him.”

Full stop.  Watson asked what?  Pussy.  Grow a pair and ask her for real, dude.  PUT A RING ON IT.

Further, if you’ve got such momentous news, class it up a bit from spaghetti and gatorade–at least get McDonalds or something!

Finally, is there a real reason to break the news like this if Mrs. Thomas wants to think things over or discuss it with her kids?  Especially given that Kristy will explode why are you telling them with Watson there?  You lose like five hundred parenting points.

Kristy freaks out.  Because of course she does.  Anyone who has been reading the book for the last 108 pages could’ve told you that was going to be her reaction.

Kristy freaks out hard enough that the plot hole space/time continuum re-opens and changes Kristy’s meal from spaghetti and gatorade to fried chicken and twinkies.  (Did Scholastic get some sort of product placement deal with Twinkies?  Because they’ve been mentioned with some regularity in this book.)

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 11.32.25 PMThe space/time continuum has broken to the point where the BSC of the future is giving you side-eye

Chapter 12

Apparently Stacey actually had a legit trip to NYC with her parents on Friday, because the whole family left early that day.  Her parents are okay on the permissive/playing along scale but I don’t think they’d take her to NYC just to let her continue to hide her diabetes–that’s taking the subway to crazytown, and I don’t mean Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Kristy, Claudia, and Mary Anne decide to play the whole pizza party thing by ear because Stacey might come back in time for the pizza party, even though she’s made her feelings clear that she’d rather wear ugly clothes forever than go to a pizza party.

Saturday is one of those days.  David Michael has the stomach flu.  Mrs. Thomas is pissy (probably because 1-sick kid means drama, 2-Kristy is being a bitch about the potential wedding, and 3-because she’s thinking FML).

Kristy then spends FIVE PAGES on the phone.

Mary Anne calls Kristy sobbing that her dad says she needs to save her money for things like college and clothes (he’ll come to regret that last one down the line when she starts shopping at Rave instead of GAP) and can’t use it for a pizza party.  She doesn’t want to be a charity case, so she’s not going.

Claudia calls upset that her parents got a letter that she’s not working to her potential and they flipped out so no parties for her.  Claudia points out that multiplying fractions is irrelevant to real life and that school is stupid.  (I have a magnet that says “School prepares you for the real world, which also sucks.”  I think Claudia might need that more than me.)

Kristy calls Stacey’s house because ??? and is surprised when Stacey’s Mom answers the phone.  Damn you 2003 one hit wonder.

I introduced myself to her and asked for Stacey.  There was a pause, then it sounded as if Mrs. McGill might be covering up the mouthpiece of the phone, and then she got back on the line and said, “I’m sorry, dear, Stacey’s not home.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed.  “Where did she go?”

“Well, sh’s…um…she stayed in New York with friends, Kristy.  She’ll be back tomorrow night.”

Liar.  Even Kristy can figure out that something bad is happening in Oz (sorry guys, I’m in a music mood today.)

The phone then rings and it’s Mary Anne ratting out that she JUST SAW Stacey. Something fishy is definitely going on.

Kristy calls Claudia and they gossip about Stacey too.  Why is Stacey so MYSTERIOUS?  What is she HIDING?  (For fuck’s sake, it’s diabetes…I’m losing my freaking mind over here)

Mrs. Thomas yells at Kristy to get off the phone and I genuflect in gratitude.  Seriously, Kristy, get off the phone.

The phone rings.  Mrs. Thomas looks like she’s going to lose it. When it turns out to be Watson, and she begs him to take her away makes kissy noises at him.

Then she turns to Kristy and tells her that Watson needs a sitter for Karen and Andrew.  Right now.  HOLY SHIT–ALL THOSE TOYS ARE TO MAKE UP FOR THE FACT THAT HE NEVER SPENDS TIME WITH HIS FREAKING KIDS.  She’d have them dropped off at the house, but they could get David Michael’s illness.  Kristy thinks it through, and realizes she’s the only one available.  She looks at her mom, and knows there’s no worming out of this–she is going to baby-sit Karen and Andrew.

Where’s Kathy when we need her?

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 10.04.03 PMTV Show Kristy says “WHUT?”

The final chapters can be found here.

Divergent Book Vs Movie (Contains Spoilers)

When you turn a book into a movie, there are several outcomes–from least to most rage inducing

  • It is a faithful adaptation (To Kill A Mockingbird, animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas, animated Charlotte’s Web)
  • It’s a reasonably good adaptation, given the limitations of the medium (Some of the Harry Potter movies, Hunger Games, Gone With the Wind)
  • I like it even thought you’ve diverted from the book/guilty pleasures (Devil Wears Prada, First Wives Club)
  • Meh (Twilight, some of the other Harry Potter Books)
  • It was a good movie until you fucked up some major component of the book (Nanny Diaries, Johnny Depp version of Willy Wonka, The Golden Compass)
  • What the HELL was THAT?  It had nothing to do with the book! (Ella Enchanted, World War Z, Johnny Depp’s Alice in Wonderland, live action How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

 

This post contains spoilers.  You’ve been warned

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 10.16.24 PM

Sigh.  I have feelings about this movie, people.

I saw Divergent on Tuesday.  There were moments when I was really pleased with the movie and got sucked in.  Then there were the moments where I was just plain confused–WHY are you doing that, THAT didn’t happen, your sequencing is way off–and I wanted to yank out my phone and start blogging using my wordpress app.  As it was, after the movie was over, I sat in my car and sent myself an email with over 30 bullet points.  While finishing a reread of the book in the last day, I’ve sent myself another 8 or 9 bullet points.  There is a LOT to talk about.

I should confess that when I originally reviewed Divergent on goodreads I gave it 4 stars out of 5 (like it, don’t love it).  I’m not sure if upon rereading it for the second or third time I’m seeing more of the bigger picture issues, or if I really just dislike where the sequels went such that I’d probably give it a 3—a “meh” rating–at best.  Maybe having seen where the movie went with the source material also lowered my enjoyment of the book.  I don’t know.

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 10.17.46 PM

Before we get to the stuff that pissed me off, let’s talk about the things that were actually done well.

Maggie Q as Tori Wu was great.  I would’ve liked to see a bit more Tori, as she does play a slightly larger role in the book than she does in the movie and she has a large role in Insurgent (which will be out as a movie next year), but I was pretty pleased.  I liked Q’s intensity as Tori, and I thought she did a really good job of being conflicted between wanting nothing to do with Tris and wanting to help her because of what happened to her brother (killed for being Divergent).

I also like that they cast Zoe Kravitz as Christina.

Persons of color are often absent from books, and they are often absent from movies–particularly in visible roles.  Even when a character is a person of color in the book, people can be asshats about the casting of that role–I’m looking at you people who were shocked and upset that Rue was played by an African American girl.  In fact, we see a lot of actors of color in the Divergent movie—unfortunately apart from Tori, Christina and Max (leader of the Dauntless)—they are all in the background.

The character of Uriah was effectively absent from the movie apart from his name on the board.  In the book he is explicitly a non-white character and I would have been curious to see if they cast him as such. **Edited to add–my friend Johanna says there’s announcements that he was cast and played by an African American actor in the movie, but most of his scenes were cut.  Worth noting–in the book Roth specifically describes him as having “golden skin” (pg 152). Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t recall seeing any/many Latinos.  ***

I was watching to see if there was any racial coding of the factions–did I see African Americans in Erudite?  Was Dauntless the only faction with non-white members?  As they are the “violent” faction, I was a bit worried going in if we were going to see disproportionate minority representation–making it not unlike middle America’s notion of what a gang would look like.  But I saw persons of color throughout the factions.  An over representation of white people for certain–but we at least had people of color present–and it’s pathetic that that is noteworthy.

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 10.17.24 PM

In the first third of the movie my hopes were reasonably high…

I loved the way they did Chicago and the former Lake Michigan.  The skyline as they panned in or out at various points.  The way the buildings look when Tris is zip lining.  The “something bad happened, but it’s still being lived” in vibe was great.

I really liked the visuals of the different factions in the first 20 minutes of the movie.  They did a good job of communicating the essence of each faction during the opening–such a good job that the exposition was sometimes overkill. (Although, why didn’t the Erudite wear glasses–I loved that detail in the book–that they all wear glasses as an affectation.)  The moment when the Dauntless members jumped off the train before testing was exactly the image I’d had in my head–right attitude, dress, and contrast to the other factions.  Although they didn’t exactly stay true to the book (kids not sitting with their parents), the visual of the five factions at the choosing ceremony was great.

The scene pictured above (Tris jumping off the roof) was well executed.  Apart from the fundamentalist vibe wardrobe was clearly going for when dressing Abnegation women in the movie (when they wear grey, but t-shirts and slacks–neither Tris nor her mom wear dresses in the books), I liked the visual of Tris as the first initiate to jump.  I enjoyed the dramatic tension as she convinced herself to just jump.

While they put it out of order, I thought the scene where Four throws the knives at Tris (who has taken Al’s place) was good.  Visually it worked, tension-wise it worked, and the actors did a great job with it.

Call it a weakness for a good gun fight (you can take the girl out of the US, but you can’t take the US out of the girl, I guess) but the scene where Tris and her mom are shooting together against the mind controlled Dauntless is AWESOME (except for the moment where her mom looks over at Tris shooting and smiles instead of focusing on who you should be shooting–out of character from how she’s portrayed in the book).

But let’s face it–a few good scenes and some pretty scenery don’t make up for some serious flaws in the adaptation

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 12.48.02 AMTris, Four and the attempted rape

I realize that this is already being talked to death, but I need to go here too–The almost rape in the fearscape.

In the movie, Tris and Four have sexual tension and there’s one make out scene, during which Tris says she wants to go slow.  This is a lame, weak portrayal of the complexities of coming from Abnegation where this sort of affection is very private compared to the book, but fine.  Then we get to the fearscape.

One of Tris’s fears is portrayed as Four.  He starts to kiss her and she gets scared and says no.  He then throws her to the bed in a forceful move that we know means he’s going to rape her.  She kicks him in the balls and fights him off, defending herself.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

For comparison, this is the scene in the book, after a long build up of a slowly budding romance and some kissing.  The quotes scene below is from the fearscape and needs to be shared in full.  Tobias is Four’s real name for those of you who may not remember.

And then Tobias is standing in front of me.

But I’m not afraid of Tobias.  I look over my shoulder.  Maybe there’s something behind me that I’m supposed to focus on.  But no–behind me is just a four-poster bed.

A bed?

Tobias walks toward me slowly.

What’s going on?

I stare up at him, paralyzed.  He smiles down at me.  That smile looks kind.  Familiar.

He presses his mouth to mine, and my lips part.  I thought it would be impossible to forget I was in a simulation.  I was wrong; he makes everything else disintegrate.

His fingers find my jacket zipper and pull it down in one slow swipe until the zipper detaches.  He tugs the jacket from my shoulders.

Oh, is all I can think, as he kisses me again.  Oh.

My fear is being with him.  I have been wary of affection all my life, but I didn’t know how deep that wariness went.

But this obstacle doesn’t feel the same as the others.  It is a different kind of fear–nervous panic rather than blind terror.

He slides his hands down my arms and then squeezes my hips, his fingers sliding over the skin just above my belt, and I shiver.

I gently push him back and press my hands to my forehead.  I have been attacked by crows and men with grotesque faces; I have been set on fire by the boy who almost threw me off a ledge; I have almost drowned–twice–and this is what I can’t cope with?  This is the fear I have no solutions for–a boy I like, who wants to…have sex with me?

Simulation Tobias kisses my neck.

I try to think.  I have to face the fear.  I have to take control of the situation and find a way to make it less frightening.

I look Simulation Tobias in the eye and say sternly “I am not going to sleep with you in a hallucination.  Okay?”

Then I grab him by his shoulders and turn us around, pushing him against the bedpost. I feel something other than fear–a prickle in my stomach, a bubble of laughter.  I press against him and kiss him, my hnads wrapping around his arms.  He feels strong.  He feels…good.

And he’s gone.

After the simulation, she and Four are outside talking, and she confesses that this was part of her fearscape.  He tells her that he’s a bit nervous too, because he’s also a virgin.

Almost rape is a common literary (and other forms of entertainment) trope.  The almost-rape is solved by the hero swooping in (usually followed by him comforting the just almost raped heroine with sex because that totally makes sense) or in the more straw feminist/”girl power” scenes the girl fights him off.

There is so much wrong about using rape or attempted rape for dramatic tension.  There are times when a rape is part of and crucial to the narrative.  However, most of the time I’ve seen it used it is “near rape” and it serves no other purpose than the virtuous heroine narrowly escaping it.  Which adds to the incredibly problematic cultural narrative of who “deserves” to get raped and that those who haven’t earned their rape can fight off the attacker.  This is a subtle perpetuation of rape culture and it pissed me off.  I can go on about it, but this article sums it up better than I can.

Tris fighting off a would-be rapist (her boyfriend as would-be rapist) is not empowering or a further show of her strength.  The invocation of the visceral fear of rape that every woman is taught from a young age is cheap.  Every woman is taught to fear rape–because there’s a 20% chance she will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.  Using that fear for entertainment, when it’s not even close to the narrative they’re drawing from  is just offensive.  I had to restrain myself from throwing something at the screen.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 12.49.15 AMUnder developed characters–aka I didn’t give a shit about Al in the movie

In the book version of Divergent, the character of Al is incredibly powerful.  He is by far the largest of the initiates.  He is physically larger.  There’s a throwaway line about how he must need to shave already–he’s more physically mature.  But that outward largeness–the implied power and strength–aren’t real.  He cries, audibly, every night.  In his first fight, he knocks his opponent unconscious easily, but then feels terrible about it–that it’s an unfair advantage, and that he didn’t join Dauntless to be a bully.  After that he stops fighting back, allowing his opponents to knock him down.  He only manages to get into the second phase of training because of Edward and Myra leaving Dauntless after Peter stabs Edward in the eye with a butter knife (we’ll get to Edward in a minute).  He lets Tris take his place when Eric is going to make Four throw knives at him and if he flinches, he’s out of Dauntless.  When they start having to face their fears, it makes him start to crack.  He likes Tris romantically, but is rebuffed.  He is a visibly ticking time bomb.

In the book when Tris is attacked, it isn’t some random attack.  It is Peter and one of his lackeys–both furious at her ranking and out to get her, and Al who is lashing out against her who represents both everything he wants and everything he can never be/never have.  After the attack he apologizes and she threatens his life.  He then commits suicide.

It is emotional, and tragic and you ache for him as the reader.  I found Al to be the most compelling character in the book, and I really would love to read his story.

In the movie he isn’t that much larger, and he looks superficially close to the character who plays Will–and both are minimized to the point where I didn’t always remember who was who until they started speaking.  The actor doesn’t have that overly large physicality to him in height or comparative maturity.  He serves as window dressing for the Tris’ friend group.  His fight isn’t memorable, and you never know why his rank sucks.  You never hear him cry.  So his motives for being part of the trio who attack Tris are totally blank.  When he commits suicide, it’s really not that much of a thing.  You don’t get to know him well enough to care that he dies.

This is a common problem with the movie.

Edward is totally absent, which means the screenwriters just wrote themselves into a corner, given that Edward plays a large role in Insurgent and is also in Allegiant, and everything about him in those books relates back to his time as a Dauntless initiate with Tris and Peter.  Peter stabs him in the eye with a knife before Edward has the top ranking and Peter is number 2.  Is he just never going to show up?  Is he going to show up but have no reason or a totally different backstory?  What’s up with that?

Uriah is missing (again, apparently he had a role, but his scenes were cut) and he’s the bridge for Tris to bond with the Dauntless born initiates and to forge a stronger tie with Dauntless.  We have the ziplining scene, but no understanding of why she’s there but none of her friends are.  She’s just there and it’s a random scene they kept in because fans would’ve been pissed if they hadn’t kept it in.  (Another scene they kept in, but were crap about was the ferris wheel–they’re up, but no understanding of why and then completely skipping over Four turning it on and Tris riding it down).

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 1.10.50 AMNo one is supposed to know what Divergence is, but EVERYONE talks about it

Okay, so in the book we learn that Divergence is a huge secret.  Few people have heard of it.  To talk about it is to risk death.  In 400 pages, the word “Divergent” only shows up 43 times, but only 9 times in the first 15 chapters, and 19 of those times in the last 10 chapters (6 of those in a conversation with Jeanine Matthews in chapter 34 alone).  Thank you Kindle search function.  By the end of the book you figure out that Eric has suspected Tris of being Divergent the whole time, but it’s done without using the damn word blatantly every third paragraph.

If I were to sit in the movie theater and tick off every time someone used the word divergent or someone talks about divergence, I assure you that I would hit triple digits plus.  For something NO ONE is supposed to talk about, EVERYONE talks about it.  Random guards in the Dauntless compound talk about it.  People come right out and ask Tris if she’s divergent.

“One of my friends told me he was tired of hearing the word divergent in the movie—because it was never explained except that you know she’s like a sparkly unicorn”
They tried to give these long pseudo philosophical and often nonsensical explanations for why it was bad

–My friend Johanna

They completely botch the way that Erudite and Dauntless are working together to hunt Divergents/go after Abnegation by HITTING YOU IN THE FACE WITH IT IN A MILLION WAYS THROUGHOUT THE MOVIE until everyone just looks dumb for not knowing that it’s happening. Everyone seems to know what divergence is, it doesn’t come across as that big a deal.  In the book it’s portrayed as scary, dangerous–almost superpower-y.  That it is your secret identity–no one knows what it is.  That you will be executed for it.  it’s not something guards at Dauntless are joking about.  Here they keep telling you to keep it a secret, but then it seems to be something of an open secret that divergents exist and it should be a secret because….they can’t control you…and we care because…..?

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 1.26.02 AM^^How I feel about the movie in a nutshell ^^

There is so much more I can go into.

  • The way they ruined the ending of the movie because they felt the need to give Kate Winslet a bigger role.
  • The addition of unnecessary tech like the stingy bullets and the magic screen of ranking (instead of paintballs and a chalkboard as in the book)
  • How when they under-develop the existing characters, they added another 10 initiates for reasons unknown.
  • The chasm has no visible river, so instead of a river slamming up against Christina in the hanging off the chasm scene, there just drops of water from the pipe above.  She hangs for seconds instead of minutes, making a scary scene kind of pathetic.
  • Four trains Tris to act like a Dauntless in the simulations in the movie.  This is not in the book—in fact, in the big fear scape every single problem is solved by Tris like a Divergent.
  • Eric throws Tris out of Dauntless before capture the flag in the movie and then just lets her back in?  WHUT?  Never happens and it’s so way out of character that it’s baffling-why did you do that, writers?
  • Why were so many scenes moved around?  I don’t think it really streamlined the narrative or did anything useful.

Should you go see it?  If you’ve got nothing better to do and aren’t going to have to pay a babysitter, or have a friend who really wants to see it—I guess?  There’s not much else out right now that I can recommend higher (although the number of US movies we get in SG is pretty small compared to what you have available in the US).  Will I bother seeing Insurgent/Allegiant?  Not in a theater–maybe if they’re on the in flight entertainment on a long haul flight and I’ve nothing better to do?

Divergent the book–3 (at best) out of 5 stars  (my goodreads review is here)

Divergent the movie—As a movie B-/C+…..as an adaptation C-/D+

Your turn–what did you think?  Argue with me in comments!