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Snarking Nostaligic: Prom Dress by Lael Littke

I delayed posting this in hopes that I could find the fraction of a story I wrote in 1994 called “The Curse of the Silver Teddy Bear” about a cursed necklace with a teddy bear charm.  I’m pretty sure I was ripping off Prom Dress, “Friday the 13th: The Series,” and all the other cursed item media I consumed in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Sadly, while I know it still exists, I have not been able to locate it.  I do promise, though, that I will share it in all its terrible glory one day.

prom dressProm Dress by Lael Littke

Originally Published 1989

Robin is too poor to buy a new dress for the prom.  Then she finds a perfect, beautiful dress in the attic of her mysterious employer’s house.  She “borrows” it to wear to the prom…and dances into her worst nightmare.

Then Felicia finds the dress.  The price she pays for wearing it is more than any girl should pay…

But Nicole is too smart to be caught by the dress.  Isn’t she?  Poor Nicole!

And then there’s Gabrielle, Robin’s little sister.  Did she find the dress?  Or did the dress find Gabrielle?

Can anyone stop the fatal attraction of the…Prom Dress?

OHMIGOD you guys—could this book BE any better?  Maybe, but only if it were longer.  I LOVED it.  So much love I can’t stop with the CAPSLOCK.!!!!111!!!!111!!!!1!!

I hope you guys were all fans of soap operas back in the day because this plot has a lot of run-on explanations that only work if you’re willing to pretend we’re in Salem/Pine Valley/Port Charles.

Robin is a new-to-town gold digging social climber dating the hottest/richest boy in school–Tyler.  Tyler drives a red Trans Am, which I think is supposed to compensate for him saying things like “Between your dancing and your working, I hardly get to see you.  Where do I rate on your list of priorities?”

Alas, Robin must work because Daddy’s dead and college tuition doesn’t grow on trees.  Apparently, though, new houses DO grow on trees.  Right around when Robin’s Dad died, her mother inherited a house from a family member who also died at the same time which is great because they couldn’t afford the mortage on the old house they’d lived in with her dad, and so they moved because this house was free because there are no inheritance or property taxes and who the hell knows—just go with it.  Dad died, they moved, they’re broke–but they live in a mansion next to an even bigger mansion.

gold diggerHe’s talking about you, Robin

How very lucky for all of us that Tyler ‘s girlfriend needn’t slum it at McDonalds.  In the mysterious mansion next door lives Miss Catherine.  She’s an elderly recluse with a scarred cheek from when her twin sister Rowena threw acid on Catherine’s face because Rowena was jealous of Catherine’s hot boyfriend Michael who never looked at Rowena even though Rowena had all kinds of lustful thoughts for him.  Robin is Miss Catherine’s lackey, and her job duties seem to consist of keeping Miss Catherine company and talking about how hot Miss Catherine used to be before “the accident.”

One day Miss Catherine and Robin get to talking about how Robin is going to be in some dance show doing the Charleston and there might be college scouts there to give out college scholarships.  She has to find her own costume–and Miss Catherine has the perfect dress.  All Robin has to do is go upstairs, find the secret closet, and take out the flapper dresses—being certain to NOT TOUCH the white prom dress that JUST HAPPENS to be the only other thing in that closet.  Don’t even LOOK at it, Robin.

Duh, of course Robin looks at it, and instantly wants it. She’s going to be Tyler’s prom date and if she shows up in anything less than the perfect dress, he’ll dump her because she won’t be worthy of being seen with him or something.

The dress was made of deep scallops of creamy lace.  It had long sleeves and a high lace collar.  Like the flame colored dress, it had a dropped waistline, but the two dresses were worlds apart.  While the red one called out blatantly for excitement and dancing the braying of horns, the lace one spoke softly of elegance and muted music and romance.

puffed sleevesWhat girl wouldn’t want to sport this while dancing to Milli Vanilla and New Kids on the block ?

She asks Miss Catherine if she can borrow the Prom Dress.  HELLZ NO, Miss Catherine says.  She got the scar on her cheek while wearing that dress–it’s BAD.    Robin decides that the ends will justify the means and when she borrows the flapper dress, she “borrows” the prom dress.  Did she see a shadow on her cheek when she took it?  Nah, it was just a trick of the light.

Apparently Robin looks smokin’ in the red flapper dress at the Charleston contest.  Tyler tells her that his dad thought Robin was so hot that he’s sending them to a top shelf restaurant before prom, and is going to throw a limo their way.  Robin says she could get used to this lifestyle, and I contemplate that she’s chasing the wrong man–it’s Tyler’s dad who controls the purse strings.

They go to Prom—many more mentions of how the dress is so gorgeous that every girl there is jealous of it and that Robin is so bodacious–and are crowned Prom King and Queen.  But just as Robin is about to take her throne and accept the pinnacle of high school success, the stairs crumble and she falls.  The throne she was about to sit on falls too and lands on her legs and feet, crushing them.

No more dancing for Robin.

Robin is taken to a hospital, where her nurse is a woman named Felicia.  Felicia is a reformed slut who is now in love with a divinity student named Mark.  She wants to grow up and be Mrs. Mark, future minister’s wife.  The first major hurdle in reaching her goal is impressing Dean Goudy at a special dinner he throws for his divinity students.  Apparently the dean evaluates all potential spouses, and if the spouse doesn’t measure up the marriage isn’t going to happen and the student will be penalized for even thinking about dating such an unworthy candidate.  No pressure.

If only Felicia had the right dress…

It was to be a dress-up affair, and the only fancy dresses she owned were bare backed or off the shoulder or spaghetti-strapped.  What she needed was something sweet and demure.

Something like Robin Wilson’s dress.

slutty nun dressSadly, this little number will need to stay in Felicia’s closet.

Felicia asks Robin if she can borrow the dress.  Robin says no.  But during a drugged out dream, Robin’s eyes flicker open and she sees Felicia holding the dress up to herself.

Felicia is looking in the mirror–and thinks she sees a smudge on her cheek.  Gee–is it shadowing or FOREshadowing?  Felicia steals the dress.

Felicia goes to the dinner and is all demure and shit.  But the dress keeps feeling tighter and tighter.  So tight she can’t breathe.  But when she looks in the mirror, the dress looks just like it did–it’s not too tight at all.  But she can’t breathe.  Finally, she excuses herself and goes upstairs to the “bathroom.”  Felicia goes into the Dean’s bedroom and rips the dress off her body.

Oh noes!  Now she’s in her underwear and the dress HAS to get back to Robin tonight because otherwise she’d be a bad person or something.  So instead she steals some clothes from Mrs. Goudy to wear.  But why stop there?  She steals a bag to carry the dress back to Robin.  She tries to sneak out, but Mrs. Goudy shouts that someone is fleeing the house with her BLUE BAG!

Felicia runs for the bus stop and the RIGHT bus just HAPPENS by at the RIGHT MOMENT.  What luck!  She hops on the bus and feels so lost and upset.  Now what can she do?  Telling the truth is clearly out of the questions–it is a FAR better solution to change back into the dress, sneak back into the house, and go back downstairs saying that she had glimpsed a man running off with a blue bag.  NO!  NO!  What she should REALLY do is go to the hospital and return the dress and throw out the clothes and….I don’t know, say that God had taken her from the house to the hospital because she was more needed at the hospital?

Before she can get off the bus, Felicia needs her shoes.  She reaches into the bag for her shoes…and discovers a velvet bag with pearls in it.  I know I leave my expensive jewels in a random bag in my closet instead of a jewelry box or a safe.  Oh NOES!!!

People get onto the bus–and it’s Mark and another guy from the party.  Rather than confess and do penance or say some hail marys or whatever, she says

“Mark.  The man with the cap….  He took it.  He made me take the dress off at the house and he put it in a blue bag that he found in a closet….  He got off a few stops back.  ….  He made me come with him.  He said he’d hurt me if I didn’t come.  He threatened all sorts of awful things.  I didn’t dare call out or anything.  I just did what he said.  I’m sorry he got away.  But I was afraid.  See, I’m still shaking.”

Mark is incredibly dumb and believes her.  He escorts her from the bus, while she plays sad maiden.

The bag is left on the bus.

No more integrity for Felicia.

Nicole is a genius.  Her high school academic decathalon team is taking the exact same city bus to a rival high school for a major competition.  Her foot bumps something under the seat, and she finds THE BLUE BAG.  Inside is the dress and some gorgeous pearls.  It’s just what she needs for the dance that night.  Maybe then her teacher will notice her and become her boy toy and they’ll live happily ever after.

snapeI will open to page 394 any day of the week, Professor Snape….

That night she goes to the dance, and she looks totally gnarly.  She thinks she sees a shadow on her cheek momentarily, and only the dullest reader can’t see what kind of karma is heading her way.

Mr. Waring asks her to dance and they flirt.

School would be out soon; that would end the student-teacher track they were stuck in right now, which of course would never allow dating.  Mr. Waring’s strong code of ethics would never allow it.  But, after graduation, they’d be free to date.  Nicole could help him get over the terrible pain of losing his wife and child, and they could be married.  She wondered if he’d mind if she went to college after their marriage.  Very likely he’d insist on it.  Maybe he’d go back for more graduate work.  Maybe they’d both go to college.

Nicole was thinking happily of a wedding gown very much like the dress she was wearing.

Just then, Nicole sees her frenemy talking to someone and pointing at her.  Proving she’s the Girl Computer with the giant brain, she makes the obvious intellectual leap that the cops must be here for her.  They must have figured out….somehow…that the dress and jewelery weren’t hers.  She runs away and bumps into a very tall pedestal.  The bust of Einstein falls off and smacks her in the head.

Poor Nicole, no more brains–it’s amnesia town for you.

Luckily for Felicia, Nicole is brought to her hospital.  She’s able to put the dress back into Robin’s closet.  She confesses everything to Mark and surrenders the jewelry back to Mrs. Goudy.  Mark dumps her lying ass.

Felicia and Robin have a heart to heart about the evil of the dress.  Felicia thinks they should destroy it–her first smart choice of the book.  Robin persists in being a moron and says it must go back to Miss Catherine.

Robin tells her little sister Gabrielle to take the dress back to Miss Catherine.

Did I mention that Gabrielle thinks that Tyler is totally choice?  Gabrielle loves to play piano and Tyler sometimes accompanies her when he’s waiting around for Robin.  So she jumps at the chance to get a ride home from him, and asks him to come play piano with her.  They could even do a duet FOR ROBIN when she finally comes home.

sister's boyfriendThat boy is mine, yo

Robin finally comes home and it’s so sweet how Gabrielle and Tyler have clearly practiced playing together over and over and over and over.  In fact, they’ve gotten so used to playing together that they’re going to do a paid job playing together.  Playing PIANO—stop with your filthy minds.

Robin takes the garment bag with the dress inside it back to Miss Catherine and confesses.  Miss Catherine begins to laugh hysterically and confesses that it was her evil plan all along!  BWAHAHA–she’s not even Miss Catherine….she’s ROWENA.

“I cursed every stitch of that dress.  I started it for myself, you know.  I thought Michael was going to ask me to the prom.  But I had the birthmark, you see, and Catherine was the beauty.  That was the most important thing in the world to her, just as Michael was to me.  I saw them sneak around together, and when he asked her to the prom I finished up the dress for her, because I knew it was the last time she would ever be beautiful.”

Rowena jiggled up and down.  “When they came home, I threw acid on her face.  But not on the dress.  I didn’t want to ruin the dress.  She was wearing a cloak, so it didn’t get on the dress.  I didn’t want to hurt the dress.  I did it right there, in the foyer, on our little stage,” Rowena gave her a mirthless laugh.  “And after that she was even uglier than I was.”

And just look–there goes Gabrielle to her job, with Robin’s boyfriend….WEARING THE DRESS!!!  Rowena taunts Robin to just let her go, that the dress will punish her sister just as it did Rowena’s so long ago.

Robin suddenly develops a backbone and ethics and struggles to her feet, even though they’re both in casts and she’s supposed to be in a wheelchair, and even standing hurts with the fury of a thousand suns she struggles to the door, screaming even though Gabrielle and Tyler can’t hear her.  As she gets to the door, throws it open, and screams her sister’s name one last time just as Gabrielle is about to get into the Trans Am, and passes out from the sheer pain of it all.

She wakes up in the hospital—her fall stopped whatever tragedy was about to befall Gabrielle.

Rowena was taken away and the full story comes out.  After her stay in a mental hospital post-acid throwing, she was released into Catherine’s custody.  The two women went away and were recluses.  “Rowena” died in a fire, tragically.  “Catherine” came back to the hometown and the old house.  But “Catherine” was really “Rowena”–and the scar was from her gouging out her own birthmark so that it would scar and look like the acid burn.  She was the EVIL TWIN!

evil twinEVIL TWINS….EVIL TWINS EVERYWHERE.

The book closes with an epilogue all in italics.  A woman buys the dresses for her second hand store.  A girl named Natalie goes shopping at said store, and sees the dress.  She’s an aspiring actress and it’s perfect for the upcoming audition.  But it costs too much.  So she slips it into her bag and steals it.

Tomorrow she would wear the dress!

The book ends, and I stand up and applaud.

This.

Was.

AWESOME.

 

Next week we’re back to Stoneybrook.  It’s time for Mary Anne’s book….I wonder if we’ll hear about how her mother is dead?

Snarking Nostalgic: Sweet Valley High #4 Power Play

Hi Guys–Sorry the only pic is the book cover.  I’m on vacation and the internet is unreliable and slow.

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 3.27.16 PMSweet Valley High #4: Power Play

All SVH were written by ghostwriters.

Alternate Title–Why bullying fat women is totally a good thing to do

Hate does not begin to describe the level of contempt I have for Sweet Valley High #4: Power Play.  I don’t suppose a series where ghostwriters seem to have been contractually obligated to mention the twins “perfect size six” bodies in every book was ever going to be sympathetic to a fat girl, but this book is deplorable. (Side note—they’ve since redone SVH to be all hip and modern, which fails about as hard as the BSC updates—and the twins are now described as slender or slim, because a size six is now a heifer in Francine Pascal’s world.)

I read a few SVH book blogs because you couldn’t pay me to go back and read #1-3 to find where Robin is first mentioned, and they say she gets a brief nod in book 3 to set up for book 4. This is Robin. She’s smart, funny, and fat. So fat. Horribly fat. And she wants to be BFF’s with Jessica.

Robin is apparently the new girl in school. She believes Jessica is her BFF, but isn’t happy. Which we learn through the most bizarre conversation between her mother and Elizabeth. Mrs. Wilson says that having the Wakefield twins as her BFF’s is the best thing to happen to Robin since the move to SV, but then immediately flips it around and says that Robin is thinking of quitting school! Why?  Because she’s fat, and because she’s fat no one likes her (even though she’s smart and funny and kind).

Drinking Game I should’ve played to make the book more palatable–drink every time my blood pressure goes up a point.

Robin arrives with Jessica’s dry cleaning. Friendship is Robin running errands for Jessica! Apparently while she’s one of the smartest girls at Sweet Valley, she doesn’t know the difference between friendship and being someone’s servant.

Robin plopped down on the sofa, rummaged around in her purse for something, and finally came up with a large chocolate bar. She unwrapped it and hungrily started munching. (DRINK)

‘You’re really lucky, Liz, having a terrific sister like Jessica.’ The chocolate bar was disappearing fast.  (DRINK)

‘That’s me, all right, lucky Liz,’ she replied dryly, hypnotized by Robin’s rhythmic chewing.  (DRINK)

‘Robin, doesn’t eating that make you’—don’t say ‘fat,’ she warned herself—‘break out?’  (DRINK)

‘Oh, no,’ said Robin, licking her sticky fingers. ‘I never get zits, just pounds. But I just wasn’t meant to be slim like you and Jessica. It’s got something to do with my bones—or is it my metabolism? Anyway, it’s just my sad fate.’

Elizabeth looked at Robin dubiously. She was convinced Robin’s heaviness was due to the way she ate—especially if this was typical.  (DRINK)

Though Elizabeth and Jessica certainly didn’t have Robin’s figure problems, they still watched their diets carefully.

Elizabeth is a concern troll. She doesn’t really give a damn about Robin, but she enjoys patronizing her and the feeling of superiority she gets from being so “nice.” I hate her.

Robin begs Liz to remind Jessica to let her pledge the sorority. Liz decides to help her even though she’s “a lot overweight.” (DRINK) Robin is thrilled and practically dances out the door as Jessica arrives (although god knows the ghostwriter would probably call it shaking the house with each footstep).

Why was that fat wimp pawing at me and gushing all over the place?” Jessica demanded.

Jessica is a sociopath. First she plans to just “forget” to nominate Robin for membership. When Liz nominates her instead, Jessica is furious. She reminds Liz that the pledges must complete certain tasks before they can become members, and immediately sets out to come up with the most humiliating ones possible so that Robin will drop out and she can still look pure as virgin snow. (DRINK.  Forget it–just chug the damn bottle and go buy another one.  This is multi bottle book.)

After Jessica goes over to tell Robin that she’s going to be a pledge, she immediate goes home and, in the best sentence in the entire book, “Jessica was wearing leotards and exercising with Jane Fonda via video cassette.”  She’s scared that she might catch fat from Robin?

Task #1–Run (although it’s described as “lumbering”) around the track five times a day for one week.

Task #2–Robin has to go to the beach in a bikini and play volleyball. Robin doesn’t have a bikini but “it’s a two-piece suit that’s too small, so it looks like a bikini, kind of.” Liz says Robin can play on her team. On Saturday “Elizabeth knew it was going to be a difficult day for Robin—and her” (emphasis mine) because she thinks, just as Jessica does, that it’s embarrassing to be seen with the fat girl.  But she’s a concern troll and a martyr, so she’ll suck it up and be seen with the chubby girl.

Task #3—Robin has to get Bruce Patman to take her to the Discomarathon on Saturday night. Liz bribes Bruce to accept when Robin asks him by promising him an article in the newspaper. “All right. I’ll take her. But I want my picture in, see! A big one. And tell how I whipped that guy at Palisades.” (Is Bruce a small time gangster in a 40’s noir film?) Bruce brings her to the dance (she’s wearing a tent dress, if you were curious), but ditches her loudly in the middle of the floor, saying “Ok, that’s it. I brought you to the dance, Tubby. I’ve got better things to do now. Hey! Anybody want to steer the Queen Mary around the floor tonight? She’s all yours!

Robin leaves the dance humiliated and has a run in with a nerd named Allen Waters. He seems like a decent guy, who saw that she was upset and wanted to see if she was okay. Robin is hysterical, saying “I am a total outcast! I’m ruined!”  Allen convinces her to go back to the gym, and Jessica sweeps over and notes that PBA pledges shouldn’t be seen with their social inferiors. But they still dance (although, since he’s a certified nerd, he can’t really dance) and then he takes her home.

Furious that her scheme to get Robin to drop out of the pledging process failed, Jessica moves onto her plan B. There is a convenient loophole she can take advantage of—during the vote on pledges, if a single person puts in a black stone, she can’t join. All the PBA’s are too scared of Jessica to blackball someone she is “friends” with.  Yet a black stone appears—Jessica had to do it herself.  Jessica decides that this is all Liz’s fault because Liz was the one to nominate Robin in the first place

“It’s a secret vote—and nobody can challenge a blackball. It’s just one of those unfortunate things.” (SOCIOPATH)

Robin disappears for a week.  When she comes back she avoids the twins like the plague, although of course Liz tries to go and concern troll her some more. Liz watches her from afar, and notices that Robin is starting to run on the track every day, and that she’s starting to eat salads.

One day a week or two later Elizabeth almost bumped into her coming down the stairs—and was astonished to realize the transformation that was occurring. The excess pounds were going rapidly, and the Robin who was emerging seemed like an entirely different girl.

Well of course she’s a different girl. Thin girls can have personalities apart from pathetic, desperate to be loved fatty.

“I hope you’re doing it the right way, Robin.”

Robin fixed her penetrating eyes on Elizabeth. “Liz, I may have been stupid about almost everything—the Pi Betas, Jessica, and maybe even you. But if you’re asking me if I’m starving myself to death, I wouldn’t give any of the PBAs the satisfaction.”

Apparently something like 3 weeks after the blackball, there are mid-term cheerleader tryouts, and Robin is trying out. She not only makes the team, but is immediately made co-captain with Jessica.

What the Pi Betas had unintentionally done for Robin certainly was remarkable, Elizabeth had to admit. She had not simply avenged herself by losing weight. Robin had gone through a complete transformation. The old tent dresses had slowly disappeared, replaced with flattering and stylish outfits. The pale face had taken on a healthy glow, and all in all a totally new Robin Wilson was dazzling Sweet Valley Nigh. There were many kids, in fact, who swore she’d just moved to town. They’d never even noticed her before.  (BOOK I HATE YOU.  IF I HAD A PHYSICAL COPY I WOULD BURN YOU.  GHOSTWRITER AND FP YOU HAVE JUST TOTALLY EXCUSED AND LEGITIMIZED JESSICA BULLYING AND HUMILIATING A FAT GIRL.  FUCK YOU.)

There’s still book left to go, but this is the moral of the story. Bullying is good because it’s a motivational tool. Also, losing weight will give you a tan.

Elizabeth goes up to congratulate Robin a few days later and they have a talk. Robin calls it like it is—that Jessica is an awful person. Liz, of course, defends Jessica, even though she knows better than most what a conniving witch she really is.

“You just don’t want to face up to what kind of person Jessica is. She and I were never really friends. I used to pretend to myself that we were because I wanted to believe it was really true. It must have given Jessica a few good laughs.”

Welcome to reality, Robin. Nice of you to join us.

Bruce is panting after the new cheerleader. However, he has no clue that it’s the same girl he was an evil bastard to as the dance. It’s a good thing he’s rich because he’s a moron.  (Sidenote: he’s also a rapist)

The final showdown between Robin and Jessica is yet to come, though. Both go out for Miss Sweet Valley High, and it quickly becomes a two woman race that divides the high school. It even divides the football team!!!!

“The Gladiators’ offensive line and backfield paraded through the lunchroom carrying a big banner: Jessica is Just Right!”

Then the defensive line came through the auditorium with a huge placard: Robin Has Us Throbbin’”

Robin has us throbbin’ has me rolling with laughter. (You know, like us fat girls do—we roll, we laugh.)

At the homecoming game—Robin wins!

It seemed to everyone that Robin had achieved absolute top status at Sweet Valley. She was the football queen, and now she would take her triumphal tour in Bruce Patman’s black Porche.

At least she gives Bruce the metaphorical middle finger and is escorted by Allen Waters.  The Pi Betas invite her to join the sorority and she tells them to fuck off.

The end.

While I appreciate that Robin doesn’t become one of Jessica’s prettier lackeys, I found the book reprehensible. Robin could and should have learned those lessons without becoming the homecoming queen. But somehow, the external transformation of weight loss is what legitimizes her internal transformation. Which is a terrible message.

Yet this is the key message of the multi-billion dollar (annually) industry of weight loss. Losing weight will make you thin, pretty, and popular. You will be deserving of love then. You will be a more confident and BETTER person.  I’ve been to a Weight Watchers meeting–and this is the message they sell, too.

The truth is that fat to thin, thin to fat…you are still you. If you hated yourself fat, you will still have emotional drama and poor self image thin (truth—many women have body dysmorphia). If you had issues with your husband or parents before you lost weight, losing it won’t fix those.

Any girl who thinks about reading this should be handed a copy of Two Whole Cakes by Leslie Kinzel instead.

Next week we return to the warm embrace of Stoneybrook with “The Truth About Stacey”

This week in the world of reading

Every so often, I’m going to want to highlight various news articles I find about various literacy related interests from who’s banning what book to where I bought a cute book-themed t-shirt for the girls.

Things making me very happy this week

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.39.45 PM

(US) Harper Lee has given her approval to e-publish “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is one of my all time favorite books.  Expected publication is July 2014.  Read more here.

(International) The extended trailer for “The Fault in Our Stars” is out.  The movie is being released, and in the face of all the disappointing movie adaptations that have come before it, I am STILL very excited to see this.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.56.28 PM

(USA) Free comic book day is May 3d!  Don’t forget to take your kids to the comic book store and help them get hooked.  Dear parents who get their underwear in a twist over comic books–your kid is reading.  Full stop.  Read more here.

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(FRANCE) Mo Willems is writing in Paris.  Or at least sketching the passersby of the cafe in which he’s writing.  He is one of the household’s favorite author.  If not for the article–watch the video (or BOTH).  He wants you to know that being a child sucks.  Here

 

Things infuriating me this week

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.40.03 PM

(USA) Parents successfully banned “The absolutely true diary of a part time Indian” (one of the most banned books in the US currently–and on my reading list) in a school district in Idaho for, among other things “unChristian content.”  Students at the school organized a petition fighting the ban.  People in Washington raised money and donated 350 copies of the book to a local bookstore to hand out to teens who wanted to read it.  A parent called the cops to arrest (?) the people handing out the free books.  Read more about it here.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.40.18 PM

(CANADA) Someone (a “patron” or “a father’s rights group” depending on your source) attempted to have Hop on Pop banned in Toronto libraries because it advocates violence against fathers.  It was unsuccessful.  Read more here

 

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(UK) There are both international and local efforts forming to ask the British government to reconsider its ban on sending prisoners books.  Read more here and here.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.47.53 PM(CHINA) China has started arresting male/male slash fanfic writers.  Most of them are young women. (slash–homosexual pairings in fan fiction like Kirk & Spock)  Read more 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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

Book Review: Feed by Mira Grant

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 8.03.53 PMFeed by Mira Grant

Rating 4/5 stars

I have a weakness for dystopian YA fiction,and have since I read Pretties by Scott Westerfeld.  I have a new fondness for zombies thanks to The Walking Dead.  Dystopian YA Fiction WITH Zombies?  YES PLEASE!

Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot–in this case, my brother Shaun–deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.  As if we didn’t already know what happens when you mess with a zombie: The zombie turns around and bites you, and you become the thing you poked.  This isn’t a surprise.  It hasn’t been a surprise for more than twenty years, and if you want to be technical, it wasn’t a surprise then.

When the infected first appeared–heralded by screams that the dead were rising and judgment day was at hand–they behaved just like the horror movies had been telling us for decades that they would behave.  The only surprise was that this time it was really happening.

There was no warning before the outbreaks began.  One day, things were normal; the next, people who were supposedly dead were getting up and attacking anything that came into range.  This was upsetting for everyone involved, except for the infected, who were past being upset about that sort of thing.  The initial shock was followed by running and screaming, which eventually devolved into more infection and attacking , that being the way of things.  So what do we have now, in this enlightened age twenty-six years after the Rising?  We have idiots prodding zombies with sticks, which brings us full circle to my brother and why he probably won’t live a long and fulfilling life.

This has to be one of the better openings to a book I’ve run into recently.  I knew I probably wasn’t going to put my phone down until I was done with the book, if it lived up to those first few paragraphs.  It did, and I cheerfully spent the next week or so devouring all 3 “Newsflesh” novels and the 3 Newsflesh Novellas.

George (Georgia) Mason is our main narrator.  She’s a newsie (non fiction news and op/ed piece blogger).  Along with her brother Shaun Mason, an Irwin (named after the croc hunter Steve Irwin)-a blogger who takes risks for blog hits and ratings, and their friend Buffy (Fiction and all things Tech), they run the website After the End Times.  Buffy is actually Georgette (all derivations on George became the most popular names post zombies, in honor of George Romero, whose zombie movies were suddenly like instruction manuals) but in her own words “I’m cute, blonde, and living in a world of zombies.  What do you think I should call myself?”  She’s a Joss Whedon fangirl, and sighs that no one seems to get it.  (Side note, one of the Newsflesh novellas takes place at Comicon 2014 and features a booth of browncoats–referencing the fans of Whedon’s Firefly–Grant is obviously a fellow Whedonite.)

The zombie apocalypse began in 2014 (yay, something to look forward to this year!).  Two viruses (the cure for the common cold and the cure for cancer) combine and infect the world with what becomes known as Kellis-Amberlee. No one gets cancer, no one gets a cold, but everyone turns into a zombie after death.  While the trope of “we were trying to cure cancer and made monsters” is an old one, Newsflesh does it well.  I like the competing viruses setup, and over time we learn more and more about them and how we got from cures to zombies.  Grant is a student of virology and her knowledge shows in the material…and her spin on the trope comes off as plausible.

Zombies, however, aren’t the only danger in a post-Rising world.  The US (where the book is set) has reacted with what feels like a very realistic set of  “safety measures.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 9.29.42 PMsource

Some of the ways the US has given itself over to fear include…..

  • Lots of places have blood tests at the entryway.  All blood tests are rigged to send an automatic signal to the CDC if they come up positive, so that you can be rounded up/shot before you finish amplifying and go on a little terror spree.
  • Public schools require 3 blood tests per day.
  • The government has declared certain towns and the state of Alaska lost.  They are impossible to secure, so you don’t go there (or need permits to go there and understand you’re not likely to make it out alive).
  • There is a law-The Biological Mass Pet Ownership Restrictions–currently under debate to outlaw animals over 40 pounds (the minimum before you can be turned into a zombie–so horses, cows, moose, etc can become zombies, but the average housecat or chicken can’t).
  • Lots of houses have voice prints.  The Mason’s also requires that you read a non sequitor sentence on a pad to prove you still have higher cognitive function.  If you fail, the house’s system will incinerate you.
  • Clothes are washed in industrial grade bleach.  People are also hosed off with bleach.  George is contrary in that rather than accept the inevitable blonde hair due to the bleach, she keeps dyeing it brown.
  • The country is divided into biohazard zones.  Rules are different in each of thezones.
  • Apple has branched out into blood tests, and makes the most expensive/high end ones–because of course they have.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 8.57.05 PMGeorge Cosplay suggestions by Shaylabauwf

George and Shaun are the adopted children of the Masons–originally a Berkley professor and his wife–who lost their child in the early days of the outbreak.  They were some of the earliest blog star to come out of the Rising.  Everything they’ve done since then, including adopting George and Shaun has been done with an eye toward ratings.

Numbers slipping?  Go for a field trip to a zoo.  That’ll get you right back to the top.

After the End Times is chosen to join with the Ryman Presidential Campaign as bloggers.  They’ll be trailblazing as bloggers haven’t ever been invited to be part of the process before..  Although bloggers have become the more reliable media post-rising, official things like campaigns have used the traditional print and video mediums.  Ryman (who comes off in the spirit of all young presidential hopefuls–the JFK/Obama/Clintons) has decided to invite them along as sponsored media.

Since the blogs and website are such an important part of the book, we see Grant talking about  things like blog comments, traffic, editing in a way that feels authentic to the characters and part of the narrative, rather than expository blather.  This is a refreshing change from authors who info dump in the most boring way possible.

Peter Ryman comes off as smooth.

Shaun settled with his back to the wall, affording him the best view of the room.  He may seem like an idiot, but in some ways, he’s the most careful of us all.  You can’t be an Irwin and not learn somet things about keeping your exits open.  If the zombies ever mob en masse again, he’ll be ready.  And filming.

Buffy took the seat nearest the light, where the cameras studded through her jewelry would get the best pickup shots.  her portables work on the principles defined during the big pre-Rising wireless boom; they transmit data to the server on a constant basis, allowing her to come back and later and edit at her leisure.  I once tried to figure out how many transmitter she actually had on her ,but wound up giving up and wandering to do something more productive like answering Shaun’s fan mail.

……

–His tone easy and assured “I’m not going to beat around the bush.  I read your public reports, you op-ed pieces, everything before I agreed to your application.  I know you’re smart and won’t forgive bullshit.  That doesn’t,” he held up a finger, “mean I’m going to be one hundred percent straight with you, because there are some things no reporter ever gets to be privy to.  Mostly having to do with my home life and my family, but still, there are no-go zones.”

The first major campaign covered is an event in a civic center, where Georgia notes that the press outnumber the public two to one because the public doesn’t really like things like political rallies with a bunch of strangers anymore.  Or being anywhere with a large group of people.  We see some of the various segments of the population like the woman who asks him about the Rapture–the zombie outbreak has inspired some to religious fanaticism.  Another asks about the death penalty (especially given that that death penalty is a little different post zombies).  Another brings up public health-because again, this is a different level of priority post-zombies.  And so forth.

However, we see exactly why the public is scared of this sort of event when a zombie outbreak happens post meeting.  None of the alarm systems function correctly, and George is almost taken out among others.  It’s the first in a series of sketchy events that eventually mean our intrepid reporters have a conspiracy to report upon….

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 9.43.55 PMMira Grant’s author picture, which is one of the better I’ve seen.

If you like your books smart, skeptical of the government, and full of zombies, you’ll enjoy Feed and the rest of the Newflesh books….