Tag Archive | book blog

And Tango makes a banned book

I’m crossposting this from my expat blog because the subject of book banning is worth addressing more than once.

Expat Bostonians

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Dear parents who challenge this book

I too, am a parent.  I too have had my children bring over books that I am not comfortable with them reading at their current ages.  The difference between you and I is that I tell my children to put the book back because it’s not right for our family,  while you choose to tell ALL children that they may not read the book.  Your family’s “just right” books don’t trump mine.

You argue that it is oppositional to your faith.  I would counter that all religious texts are oppositional to mine.  Yet I am not asking the library to remove children’s Bibles because they have no place in my faith.  Your faith does not trump mine.

You say that this book promotes a “homosexual agenda.”

  • Firstly I am curious what you think a homosexual agenda is.  I’ll let you in on a non-secret–I’m…

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Book Review: Cast Member Confidential by Chris Mitchell

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.51.36 PMCast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied Memoir by Chris Mitchell

Rating 3/5 stars for the casual reader

1/5 for those Disney fans who don’t want to sully the brand

5/5 for those who enjoy the peek behind the mask

Last week when I reviewed Spinning Disney’s World, I promised that we’d get to the memoir with sex on property, hijinks and a very different view of life under The Mouse from Ridgeway’s rarefied PR office.  This is a memoir that will give you that peek. There are a few others, but this was the most enjoyable.

Just as the reader has to keep in mind that Ridgeway was intent on keeping both the man and the brand Snow White (sorry, I had to), it is worth noting that Mitchell defines himself as anti-establishment.  At times he tries a bit too hard to convince us of that fact.  To his credit, Mitchell seems far more aware of his bias than Ridgeway, and he does make fairly self aware statements throughout the book to that effect.

One of the things that made Spinning Disney’s World such a tough review was the lack of a narrative.  Mitchell does us the favor of both giving us a sequential narrative, and one with a central theme.  After his mother’s cancer diagnosis (and his parent’s attempt to hide it from him–he finds out from his older brother) he effectively decides to run away to Disney and hide in the magic, playing Peter Pan/Lost Boy in the Magic Kingdom.

Nobody has every died at Disney World (again, no page #’s, so I’ll cite percentages throughout the review–2%)

Mitchell uses this piece of Disney lore as a framing device at both the opening and close of the book.  At the start of the book, he’s told that bit of lore by Nick Elliot–Former X Games Champion turned skateboarding monkey on the Tarzan float in a WDW parade.  (I’ll address that bit of lore at the end of the review)

The narrative shifts to Mitchell’s personal life a short time later–within a very short period of time he is fired from his job, his girlfriend dumps him for a friend, and his brother tells him that their mother has cancer but that he can’t tell her that he knows.  Mitchell’s reaction to all of this is to run away to Disney World to put his professional sports photography skills to use….as one of those guys taking pictures of families with Disney Characters.

“Your job will be to work with the characters.  You’ll take pictures of Minnie and Mickey and Winne the Pooh and Tigger and anybody else our beloved guests wish to meet.  And you’ll try to capture a moment on their faces that doesn’t look like desperate misery, and then you’ll sell the photos back to them at a very reasonable price” (said to Mitchell by his Boss Orville 7%)

Mitchell begins his time at Disney trying to find “The Magic.”  He submits to a haircut approved by “The Disney Look” employee handbook.  He removes piercings.  He shaves.  He tucks in his uniform shirt, and leaves the chain wallet and sunglasses at home (or at least in his employee locker).  He learns to identify Cast Members by their uniforms (photographers like himself wear Khaki uniforms in the Animal Kingdom, for example).  He learns the “Seven Guest Service Guidelines,” such as “(4) If you sense that a guest is a having a less-than-Magical moment, provide immediate recovery any way you can.”

The Never Never Land that Mitchell was seeking when he ran away to Disney does seem to exist.  Or, at least, it is possible to exist in a Disney bubble.  Rather than debate the 2000 election, Cast Members were arguing  passionately over whether Maria in “The Sound of Music” or Mary in “Mary Poppins” was Julie Andrew’s greatest role. (22%)

However, he still doesn’t get off to the best start.  He likes to make snarky comments, only to realize too late that (at this point in the book) the people he’s making them to, and the context in which he’s making them get an icy reception.  You shouldn’t really crack jokes about Mickey getting “a call from his Hollywood agent who just cast him in a movie with Jessica Rabbit” to someone who uses phrases like “oh my ears and whiskers” as part of their everyday conversation.(10%)  Don’t tell a woman who took a job as Pocahontas after finding out she can’t have kids as a way to be a special part of kid’s lives  that “Children are idiots.” (11%)  Even when you just saw someone kick Mickey as hard as they can, you don’t ask that person if they’re okay by their “real” name (21%)

Eventually though, he begins to integrate, then gets a bit too comfortable.  Backsliding begins with snacking on property (38%).  Temptation comes knocking when he begins to do “out of character” photography–Goofy blowing a smoke ring (39%), Mickey picking Minnie’s Nose (39%), Chip and Dale in a 69 (42%) until Mickey Flashing Tit gets the girl in question fired–the tit in question has a very individual tattoo.(73%) .  He has sex on property with a girl who plays Chip on a bunch of boxes of Disney t-shirts backstage at Epcot (41%).

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.34.18 AMA sample of “out of character” photography (found via google/reddit)

Mitchell’s world is populated by characters as colorful as any dreamed up by Disney, although they are hardly what Walt had in mind.

  • Brady is a character actor–Mike Wazowski, Pooh and Roger Rabbit.  Offstage, he’s a bit of a sociopath.  Eventually Brady will rope Mitchell into kidnapping a dog (30%) and taking “medication” to Cuba (81%).  But first, Brady will give Mitchell his first peek into the dark side of working for Disney–an after hours party at an apartment complexes (referred to as ‘the Disney ghetto”) owned by Disney where cast members live.  The party as described by Mitchell is one party Alice in Wonderland esque drug fantasy and one part orgy drenched in alcohol.  (15%)  Brady also becomes Mitchell’s tour guide and translator in the backstage rules and workings of the parks.
  • Johnny works in PR.  A NASCAR and beer enthusiast, Mitchell answers an ad on a cast member bulletin board to become his roommate. (22%)  He’s also a chickenhawk–an older gay man who loves a different younger man every week. (38%)  By the end of the book, he’s trying to become the next Lou Pearlman by creating his own gay-themed Boy band called “Boy Banned” (86%).
  • When Mitchell first meets Calico (50%) she is playing Ariel.  Orville (his boss) tries to warn Mitchell off of her, but he doesn’t listen.  At first there’s no discernable reason why.  She seems like a sweet vegetarian who cries over her Wish kids and wants to be a wedding planner.  Then she starts speaking in a British accent, eating meat and missing dates when she’s cast as Cruella DeVille. (80%)  She lies to Mitchell, claiming she’s been diagnosed with cancer.  He overcompensates, doing for her what his mom won’t let him do as he’s not even supposed to know about his mother’s diagnosis. This all culminates in Mitchell catching her cheating on him with another cast member, telling her sexual partner “You’re a miserable, naughty little puppy!” in her fake British acent.  (93%)

Rather than evoke “true patriot” or “great man” Walt Disney narrative used by Ridgeway, Mitchell says that Walt was–

A product of Midwest values and Industrial Revolution savvy, he learned how to make money the old-fashioned way: from children. (24%)

If you are looking for behind the scenes dirt, there’s plenty dished

  • I used to think that characters were immune to the smells of the outisde world, but, in fact, it was exactly the opposite.  Any scent that drifted into the head stayed i the head: cigarette smoke, perfume, garlic breath.  Passing gas inside a costume was to be avoided at all costs.  The stench was trapped inside the body untilt he character bent down to hug a child, then blew out the only opening in the suit–the mouth.  Within a week, I’d lost count of the number of times I heard a child turn to his parents and say, ‘Eew, Pluto has doggie breath!'” (25%)
  • Cast Members sitting around coming up with Disney themed porn titles (34%)
  • Sex on Property (mentioned starting at 40% and then throughout the book from there)  I used to work at the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum in Boston in the late 90’s and it seemed that everyone hooked up somewhere on property at least once.  I never had sex on property–but I did know every inch of space that the cameras didn’t see.  Do I think a ton of 20 something Disney employees are going to hook up on property?  Abso-fucking-lutely–pun intended.

Just as Mitchell begins his memoir with the rumor that no one has ever died on property, at the 91% mark, he sees an older employee’s heart give out.  He’s reprimanded for ruining people’s “magical experience” on property because kids saw Mitchell administer CPR.  He gets into a massive fight with his manager and quits/is fired.  After attending the funeral of his fellow cast member, Mitchell is having brunch with  two fellow employees and the following conversation happens.

“….I found this amazing, magical place where nobody ever dies, like the Bermuda Triangle, only in a good way, and I actually started to believe that I could settle down here.  I honestly thought I had it in me to be a lifer.” (Mitchell)

Marco looked at me, puzzled.  “What are you talking about?  People die at Disney World all the time.”

I shook my head.  “There’s never been a death at Disney World.  Even Walter.  The paper reported he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.”

Marco and Orville exchanged a look.  Orville took a deep breath before he spoke.  “Nobody’s ever been pronounced dead on Disney property because that’s Disney’s policy.  If somebody passes away at one of the parks, the body gets loaded into the alpha unit and pronounced dead in transit.”….”Hey, don’t look so sad.  I didn’t mean to upset you.”

In reality, I wasn’t at all that surprised.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I knew that was the case the whole time. What really threw me was my apparently innate talent to deceive myself into believing the most absurd fantasies: that I could escape reality in an amusement park, that I could continue to live a life unexamined. …. I ran away from my mom when she needed my support the most.  I was a shallow, self-centered bastard. (95%)

Mitchell drives back to California, shedding his Disney self as he goes–changing his ring tone, re-inserting his labret piercing, and so forth.  He finds out his mom is now in remission.  The book fades to black with the family watching, and him falling asleep to Disney’s Peter Pan. (100%)

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Makes for a cohesive, tight, and convenient narrative, doesn’t it?  Boy loses girl and job, finds out Mom is sick, and runs away to Disney World.  Boy loses job and girl friend,  runs back to CA, and mom is well.  The “no one dies on property” rumor is ash is just one more piece of Disney misdirection to bookend the narrative.  All very slick.  Too slick for me, as a critical reader, to take at face value.

Let’s start with that whole “no on ever dies on property” rumor.  According to snopes, it is false.  But does that mean that situations like the one described don’t happen?  Probably not–it wouldn’t shock me that in general the policy is to have the person declared DOA at the hospital, but it isn’t true that it never happens.

Like Ridgeway, Mitchell takes his artistic license too far at times in a way that calls everything into question.  Do I buy that the greeter died on property but got a DOA at the hospital–maybe.  Do I buy that Calico was a bit method?  Sure.  The extent to which Mitchell describes, though?  Especially given the perfection of the timing for everything to fall apart at the precisely correct moment?  Smacks of artistic license.  It’s all a bit too perfectly timed in an After School Special  “Very Important Lesson” kind of way.

Exactly how much exaggeration is going on?  How much of an axe does Mitchell have to grind?  Hard to know.

Both of the Disney books are skewed.  Mitchell is the E True Hollywood Story to Ridgeway’s Travel Channel documentary, so to speak.  When put head to head, which you’ll like better is up for grabs depending on what kind of mood you’re in.

Book Review: The Three Little Pigs by Susanna Davidson (Georgien Overwater, illustrator)

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 7.59.36 PMThe Three Little Pigs by Susanna Davidson, Georgien Overwater (illustrator)

Rating: 3/5 from Elanor

Here is Elanor’s second book review.  Please remember that she is only five, and that she’s new to summarizing and presenting material.

In the end, the only real differences betwixt versions of The Three Little Pigs is how it ends.  For parents who are worried about “scary ending” you should know that this is one of the versions where the wolf climbs on top of the brick house and then comes down the chimney.  The Pigs have boiling water ready to go and have some Wolf Soup.  Or, as we say in my household–bad choice, bad consequence.

We got our copy of the book as part of a 50 book set from Usborne–all soft cover copies of stories from The Three Little Pigs to The Wizard of Oz.  I don’t know that I would make much of an effort to find a specific edition of The Three Little Pigs as a parent, but this is a reasonably good version.

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!

 

 

Book Review: Silly Sally by Audrey Wood

silly sallySilly Sally by Audrey Wood

Rating: 4/5 Stars (me)  5/5 (Rhiannon)

On Friday I posted Elanor’s first book review.  Her younger sister, Rhiannon (age 2) saw me videotaping Elanor, and insisted that she do a video review of a book, too.  She worships her older sister, and anything that Ellie does must also be done by Rhi.  So I humored her and was pleasantly surprised by what Rhi did on camera with her book.  Obviously it’s not a review, but I think it demonstrates her love of the book.  Ellie and I were first introduced to Silly Sally in a parent/child class in 2009 and added it to our library.  The book has been a hit with both children.  I didn’t give it a rating from Ellie as I don’t really remember what she thought of it.  I do recall reading Silly Sally with some amount of frequency with Elanor–but not the near nightly reading that Rhi insists on.

Silly Sally is a really fun book told in a rhyming scheme (Silly Sally went to town/walking backwards upside down and so forth).  On the way to town she meets a pig (who dances a jig) a dog (who plays leapfrog) and so forth.  But she falls asleep!  How will she get to town now?

Unlike The Little Rabbit Who Liked to Say MOO (see link above), there isn’t a grand moral or lesson here.  It’s a silly book that my littles have loved.  It’s great fun to act out.  As you can see in Rhi’s video we often dance a jig (or at least wiggle dance while seated), have a stuffed animal leap frog over the book, and so forth with each animal.  When there is tickling we tickle.

I picked up a Silly Sally felt story telling set at a teacher store a few years ago.  Within a month we’d lost several of the pieces, so it has been retired.  Far more practical if you have a little who loves Silly Sally are the coloring pages offered as free downloads on the official Audrey Wood website.

Silly Sally is on my list of (board) books I would typically purchase for a second birthday present.  Although E and R both enjoyed it before age 2, it was around age 2 that they really began to interact with it.  Elanor (5) doesn’t pick Silly Sally as a read aloud anymore, but she’ll happily sit and listen if I’m reading it with Rhiannon.  I think it’s best for those littles between 1 or 2 and 4.

Book Review: The Little Rabbit Who Liked to Say MOO by Jonathan Allen

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 11.18.09 PMThe Little Rabbit Who Liked to Say MOO by Jonathan Allen

Rating 3/5 stars (me) 4/5 stars (Ellie)

Elanor has been watching a lot of Reading Rainbow lately.  This is a children’s tv program that showed in the US from 1983 through 2006 resulting in 155 episodes.  At the end of each episode, three children review books that they’ve read.  Elanor has been fascinated by these segments, and when I suggested she review a book for me, she was eager.  I will warn you in advance that this is Elanor’s first attempt at reviewing a book and her summarization and presentation skills are in line with a five year old who has never done this before.

I like The Little Rabbit Who Liked to Say Moo.  It’s a cute story that shows kids it’s okay to step outside the boundaries of what they’re supposed to do and to try new things.  Calf is surprised that Little Rabbit likes to say “moo.”  But when Little Rabbit asks him if he likes any other noises, the calf says that they like “baa.”  This brings over the lamb, and so forth.  At the end of the story, each of the baby animals reflects that they have fun saying the other sounds, but that they like their own noise best.  Except Little Rabbit–who reveals his very favorite sound on the last page.

I’d put this as a book that’s best for age 2 through maybe 6.  It’s a simple repetitive story that the younger kids can follow.  Kids like making the sounds along with you, which is what makes it a fun read aloud.  The illustrations are cute. There are no rhymes, which can make it (and the other Allen books) a nice break when your brain is about to fry from rhyming overload.  Personally, I would’ve picked up Little Rabbit because we like Jonathan Allen’s books in general and “I’m Not Sleepy” in particular.  Given my choices, I would’ve read it aloud a few times and then moved onto a book that I enjoy reading aloud more (or rereading) like Mo Willems–Mo Willems is always good for a dramatic reading.  But in our house the kids pick the books (or at least pick 2 of the 3 read alouds per night) so I read what I’m asked to read.

Unlike a “Llama Llama Red Pajama”–which I consider an essential addition to a home library–Little Rabbit only needs to visit your home from the library.