Category Archives: On Literature

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi

started: December 8, 2017 | finished: December 8, 2017

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is a memoir chronicling Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during the Iranian Revolution in the 1980’s. Told through the use of Satrapi’s own illustrations, the reader is shown the loss, sacrifice, and fight that comes with such a tumultuous time through the eyes of a child.

I have to admit, I’ve never been very drawn to middle eastern stories. I don’t know if it’s a race thing or if it’s an oversaturation that I never really shook off after the early 2000’s, which, coincidentally, is when this book was originally published and probably why I never read it at the time. Either way, I’ve always avoided the topic due to lack of interest. When the Read Women group voted on Persepolis as the December group read, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m glad to say that I was entirely engrossed in this book. I finished it in a day, which isn’t hard considering the medium and reading level, however, I’m usual pretty good about taking my time with graphic novels so I can spend more time in them, but this book reads so fluidly that it was hard not to just keep reading.

Back in the early 2000’s after 9/11, when the Middle East broke through America’s blinders, I honestly got sick of hearing about it very quickly. It probably didn’t help that I was in middle school, going into high school at the time and had “more important” things on my mind than world relations (I’ve never cared that much about politics anyways), so I zoned out whenever the Middle East came up. So, while some of the information covered in Persepolis I knew, a lot of it I didn’t and the parts that I did already know, my knowledge was very surface level. Though, honestly, it’s always one thing to hear about these generalized events, it’s something entirely different to hear it from the perspective of a child who lived through it and was affected by it. As well, the inclusion of the small things that changed, such as censorship of not just media, but even history, the regulations of women’s fashion, the outlawing of parties, all helped to show just how oppressive and even claustrophobic things had become. My only issue was the ending, which felt kind of anti-climactic for me. It didn’t ruin the book, but I felt kind of left in the cold there at the end.

I love Satrapi’s parents. They were political and intellectual without being didactic and I love the way they encouraged learning in her without being overbearing. They really helped to show the contrast between Iranians who were modern and those who were traditional. I also really liked Satrapi as a child. She was inquisitive and headstrong, refusing to lie down for anyone.

I realize that I can’t really ask much in terms of writing style from a young adult/middle grade book, let alone a graphic novel (though, if Neil Gaiman can pull off lyrical prose in a graphic novel, then no excuses), but, as a writer, it’s hard for me to not notice it and the writing in Persepolis was bare. I wouldn’t say that it was bland, but just bare. I do feel that the writing could have gone a bit deeper to really drive home the darker points in the story.

Much like the writing, I felt the art could have been more detailed, especially with how bare the writing was. I know, I know, it’s a young adult/middle grade book, and I did enjoy the simplistic style, however, I do think it would have been possible to keep the simplistic style and make it a bit more detailed. There were even a few frames that showed that Satrapi does have the skill to add more detail, and I just would have liked to see that more throughout.

(rounded down for goodreads)
I really did enjoy this book, though I’m not sure I enjoyed it enough to buy it…maybe I did. I’m still not sure. I’m glad I read it. I enjoyed reading it. And I learned a good amount about a period of history and a part of the world that I hadn’t previously known much about. However, I don’t think it’s a book that I will be drawn to read again or, at least, not over and over again. It is a good book, just not one that I feel I need to rush out and buy so I can keep it on my self.

A Darker Shade of Magic

by V.E. Schwab

Started: April 25, 2017 | Finished: May 14, 2017

In a world where there are four parallel Londons, White, Red, Grey, & Black, Kell, a powerful kind of magician called Antari, comes into possession of an object that must be returned to its home: Black London, a place that is rumored to no longer exist. The idea behind this book is fascinating and I wanted to love it, but I was left feeling absolutely, entirely, and frustratingly underwhelmed.

The story was entertaining enough to hold my attention, but I was never interested enough to be enthralled by it. To put it another way, I was never bored, but I wasn’t floored either. I do think this is an interesting concept (one I had been exploring myself long before hearing about this book) and would like to see this as a movie if only to see the world and the magic, but the world and the magic may have been it’s only saving grace.

I can’t say that this wasn’t a unique story. Like I said before, it has an interesting world with well paced world building, however, I found myself not really caring all that much about the events that were happening. The only reason for this that I can come to is the characters…

As with everything else in this book, the characters weren’t awful, but, at the same time, I just didn’t care. I had a hard time connecting with them and I don’t really know why. I keep trying to figure it out and I can’t. The characters felt real and relatively fleshed out, but I honestly couldn’t have cared less about them. The only characters that I really felt anything for were Holland and the kid guarding the door towards the end, and even then it wasn’t enough to make me cry for either of them (and I cry easily, so that’s saying something). For Holland, this may have been because his sympathetic side was never fully fleshed out. He was treated like a villain with hints of sympathy and not much else. Had we gotten a chance to explore more of the story from his point of view, maybe it would have made his story a bit stronger.

I can say that I did not care for Lila one bit. By that, I don’t mean that I hated her, but that I literally didn’t care at all about her or her problems. This might be because Lila clearly didn’t care about her own life or problems either. If she doesn’t care if she never returns to Grey London, why should I? If she doesn’t care if she gets hurt, why should I? If she doesn’t care about running headfirst to her own death, why should I? Not that a character like this can’t be successfully written. Schwab just missed the mark.

One final note on character: while I admired Shwab’s attempts to create a female character who rejected female gender roles, it felt forced and lackluster, and it was the only thing in this book that made me actually feel something, though it wasn’t what Schwab wanted me to feel. Everything Lila did felt more like one more reason for the reader to nod and say, “She’s not an average girl. How revolutionary!” She doesn’t wear a dress? How revolutionary! She carries weapons and is categorized as a cutthroat (something we never actually see, by the way)? How revolutionary! She wants to be a pirate? How revolutionary! I get it. Now who is she as an actual person and not as a check mark in your diversity list? It doesn’t help either that I would have been fine with it had Schwab not also fallen for the “women who like being women are bad” trope that is so easy to fall into with these sorts of characters. I find tomboys and masculine women in entertainment as refreshing as everyone else, but when they constantly belittle and think less of women who aren’t opposed to their own femininity it rubs me the wrong way.

First, so I can get it out of the way: there were so many typos in the edition that I read, especially towards the end. I just…you’re better than that, Tor.

Other than typos that should have been caught before being okayed for printing, just like everything else in this book, the writing was lackluster. It was shallow and underwhelming. I was rarely transported or got lost in the writing. And this is the part that just really confused me. Over and over again, I keep seeing/hearing people saying that the writing is amazing and beautiful, it blew them away and it’s “unique and a breath of fresh air” (yes, that is an actual quote that I came across). I don’t get it. Did I miss something? Did I read an abridged version? Did I read the wrong book? Have none of these people read an actual good book before? I mean, seriously, this book was just…basic.

I really don’t like talking about “show don’t tell”, so instead I’m going to steal from Emma Darwin and call it “evoke don’t inform”. While the world building was great, the characters weren’t and that’s because I was mainly informed that these characters had certain characteristics, but Schwab never allowed them to evoke those characteristics. Basically, she told me who they were, but I never really saw it. Especially Lila. I was informed time and time again that Lila was a cutthroat, but all she ever evoked was a scared little girl who thought she was tougher than she actually was. Which would have been fine if every other character wasn’t so surprised that this “cutthroat” who hasn’t actually cut any throats was scared about something. We saw her run more than we actually saw her fight. It was the same with Holland, I was informed that he was being forced to to go after Kell and the stone, but he never evoked any conflict or concern about doing so up until the end.

I was informed about a lot of things in this book, but the conclusions that I came to from what I was being shown rarely matched what I was being told.

I won’t go too far into this one, because, at this point, I’m just repeating myself, but yet again, it wasn’t horrible, but it also wasn’t great. I saw what was being described, but my reaction was constantly, “All right then.” I only stopped to fully absorb and admire a description twice through out the whole book, something that I did three or four times just in the prologue to A Game of Thrones. I think the most interesting description in the whole book may have been of Holland: “Perhaps it was the way he seemed to be made more of water and stone than flesh and blood and soul.”

I’m still not entirely sure how to feel about this book, even a month after having read it. I’m starting to wonder, though, if my lackluster feelings towards the story came from the fact that nothing felt pushed far enough. There were parts of the story that wanted me to feel something, but they just sort of suggested that I feel it rather than forcing me to. Everything emotional danced on the edge rather than taking the plunge and exploring it entirely. This left the book feeling shallow. I wonder if the events within this novel would have been more interesting if more focus would have been put on some of the darker elements of the story. If we had seen more of Holland and White London. If we had seen more of the stone really possessing Kell like it did towards the end. If we had actaully seen Black London instead of being told about it. The idea behind this story is interesting, but I feel as though Schwab was unwilling to push any further in order to really take the story where it needed to go. The result was a story that I was only half invested in and characters that I only half cared about.

On a final note: this is supposed to be an adult book (as evidenced by the V.E.), but the entire thing read so painfully like young adult. I’m not saying that young adult books can’t be good, but they just aren’t for me. I’ve yet to read a young adult book that has left me breathless. I don’t know what it is, but they just always seem to be holding back which just leaves me entirely underwhelmed and this book was, unfortunately, no exception.

Other Books in the Series:
A Gathering of Shadows — DNF – I read the first chapter and realized that I just didn’t care enough about these characters or this story to continue reading.
A Conjuring of Light — not even gonna bother.

On Shakespeare

I have a confession to make: I hate Shakespeare.

Well, truthfully, I don’t hate Shakespeare, I hate reading Shakespeare. I feel, and have always felt, that Shakespeare isn’t meant to be read. These are plays, after all — they’re meant to be performed and observed. Those who know me off the internet might be sick of this comparison by now, but reading Shakespeare is honestly like literature students 500 years from now reading the script for Die Hard or Jaws and trying to get a critical analysis from it. Except that might actually be possible since Jeb Stuart and Peter Benchley (the screenwriters for Die Hard and Jaws respectively) actually included action cues in their screenplays so you’re still capable of knowing what is going on outside of the dialogue. Which reveals my true gripe about reading Shakespeare: There is very little to go off of that isn’t dialogue. There aren’t even cues for how a line of dialogue is meant to be read. Add in the fact that the average person, including the all mighty lit major, isn’t exactly fluent in Elizabethan English and, well, it’s not hard to see why Shakespeare is required for most literature programs and not optional (because no one would take it otherwise).

“But why is Shakespeare so important to begin with,” I’m sure every Lit major has asked at least once in their academic career. First: thank the Romantics. During the early 19th century, Shakespeare’s plays were beginning to be so over done on the stage (with those damn costumes, sets, and sound effects) that the Romantic poets and critics (the original hipsters) began to spread the idea that in order to “truly” understand Shakespeare, one must read his plays rather than watch them. Were they wrong? Not entirely. There is a group called Actors From the London Stage who utilize this same ideology. Each play casts only five actors, no set dressings, and minimal costuming. The result is mind blowing. When you strip away the costumes and the set dressing, focusing only on the actors and the performance, you really can see why Shakespeare is so popular. After experiencing a stripped down performance, it becomes a bit easier to appreciate the great bard. But, this is still approaching the work the way it was meant to be consumed: through performance. Due to Shakespeare’s lack of action or dialogue cues, reading a Shakespeare play without having ever experienced it performed puts the reader at a severe disadvantage. If you’re not accustomed to reading Elizabethan English, trying to decipher what is being said while also trying to make out what exactly is supposed to be happening results in even the most dedicated of students zoning out and not absorbing any of what they had just read. Unfortunately, most literature departments are a bit slow in adapting to the current times (which really shouldn’t be a surprise since most of us who hold degrees in literature or English still read physical books, study dead dialects, and have our heads firmly planted in the past), and, because of this, still blindly hold on to the Romantic mindset when it comes to Shakespeare. Which is why you, my darling, fresh faced lit majors, are still required to read Shakespeare rather than watch it.

This does not however, mean that I think Shakespeare isn’t important when it comes to literature, which brings us back to the original question: Why do we still study Shakespeare? Well, other than the wonderful Romantics (can you tell that I have a very strong love/hate relationship with them?) there are three reasons that I have personally come to for why Shakespeare is required knowledge for literature majors:

    1. History

    If you aim to become an expert in any field, it’s always smart to know the history of that field. In knowing who came before you and how they attributed to your field, you will be better equipped in contributing to the field yourself. When you know what has already been done you’ll know how to build off of that and form your own path in the field. It’s also important just to know how your field has grown and been shaped over the years in order to become what it is today. For literary analysis, that means not only knowing the history of literary analysis, but also the history of literature itself.

    Though, this doesn’t entirely answer why Shakespeare. There were other published and successful writers during the Elizabethan era, namely Christopher Marlowe, who was also a playwright, and the poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt, who is said to have been the first English poet to use the sonnet form. Granted, Marlowe died young (29) and had only written seven plays at the time of his death, plus his most famous play, Doctor Faustus, is unfortunately only second in the Faust adaptations, Goethe’s work being the more well known of the two. As for Wyatt, though, from what I’ve interpreted, he wasn’t very shy about his writing and study of literature, his work wasn’t actually published until fifteen years after his death, which might explain his diminished popularity (though his time in the Tower of London for “allegedly” having an affair with Anne Boleyn couldn’t have helped his reputation either). At the end of the day, however, Shakespeare wrote a total of 37 plays in his lifetime, plays that were regularly performed. No other writer, playwright or otherwise, came anywhere near this number, making Shakespeare, arguably, the most accessible of the Elizabethan writers.

    2. Literary References

    Because of his breadth and popularity, it is difficult to not cross paths with a Shakespeare reference as a literature student. From T.S. Eliot to Aldous Huxley, you will more than likely find yourself with at least one reference to Shakespeare per semester. And believe it or not, Shakespeare references don’t stop at literature, they’re in films, music, and even Disney. Like it or not, Shakespeare is a very strongly ingrained part of the English speaking culture. Hell, just look at wikipedia’s list of references to Ophelia; not the play, Hamlet, but the single character, Ophelia. The amount of times you will come across a title, quote, or story line that directly references Shakespeare makes learning Shakespeare important.

    Now, before anyone says, “but why is that important?” or “what if the author just liked that name/phrase?” No. Just. No. If you want to study literature, or even writing and storytelling for that matter, you need to dump that mindset now and hard. Make it cry into a gallon of ice cream and netflix binge watching. If an author references something it is for a reason, and that reason is to make you think about what is being said a bit deeper than you initially would. If an author references Hamlet, consider why. What is the author trying to say by bringing up Hamlet? I guarantee you it’s not because that’s his favorite Shakespeare play.

    3. The Human Experience

    Let’s go back to the Romantics and the Actors From the London Stage. There is a reason the Romantics decided to remove Shakespeare’s stories from the over the top stage performances, why that same method works so well for those London stage Actors, and, hell, why Shakespeare has stuck around as long as he has in general: Because when you strip away details of Shakespeare’s work you’re left with stories that are as universal and timeless as the Grimm fairy tales.

    Take Hamlet for instance: strip away the setting, the time period, and the character’s various titles, and what you’re left with is a story about a man who returns home for his father’s funeral only to discover that there is more to his father’s death and descends into madness while trying to avenge him. Though it’s one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays (OH. MY. GOD. The soliloquies! I could strangle myself with those soliloquies!), there is a reason why Hamlet is so iconic within our culture: it’s a story about lies, intrigue, madness, and deceit, but, more importantly, Hamlet, at it’s core, is about people dealing with tragedy. This can be said about every Shakespeare play, at the end of the day, they are simply stories about people being people.

Admittedly, when I first graduated high school and entered into college, I detested Shakespeare and was not shy about it. Whenever his name came up I rolled my eyes in disgust. It wasn’t until after I had finished my AA and went back to school for my BA (a full four years after high school) that I finally started to appreciate Shakespeare as a storyteller. But, I’ll say this here and now, it wasn’t reading Shakespeare that brought about this change. It was watching the plays performed by the Actors From the London Stage that finally opened my eyes. The first performance I went to, I did so begrudgingly. My Shakespeare professor was offering extra credit to anyone who went to the performance, and since that professor was notoriously bullheaded when it came to Shakespeare, I needed all the help I could get. So, I dragged my friend, Nich, along with me to see Othello, entirely prepared to be equal parts bored and confused. Admittedly, watching five actors play approximately twenty characters simultaneously took a bit of getting used to, but by Desdemona’s death I was holding back tears amongst the moved to silence audience, and as the play ended I was one of the first to stand during the standing ovation. I — a not at all closeted Shakespeare naysayer — was cheering for a Shakespeare performance enthusiastically. And Nich and I have done our best to show up every time the Actors From the London Stage come back to UTSA.

I say all of this because, as long as there will be literature degrees, there will be Shakespeare classes, and those classes will most likely be required, meaning they will be full of students who don’t want to be there. But I assure you, my darling, fresh faced lit majors, there is a purpose in being, at the very least, familiar with Shakespeare, and, if you can find a way to strip the play down to its base, you’ll find a timeless story about people being people. So, while it may be boring, tedious work, it has its merits. At least it’s not Chaucer in Middle English.

The Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly

The Book of Lost Things is the story of a young boy named David growing up in London on the brink of the second World War. The story begins with the loss of David’s mother and the struggle he has with his father falling for a nurse named Rose. After a while of dating, Rose becomes pregnant, driving David’s father to marry her. To escape the war David and his father move into Rose’s family home in the country.

Once at Rose’s, David begins to experience strange things, beginning with hearing the books in his room talk. Soon he begins to have black outs, during which he sees glimpses of another world. One night he hears his dead mother’s voice calling to him from a hole in the garden wall. As he is investigating the hole, a fighter jet comes hurtling towards the garden. Just as the jet crashes into the ground, David crawls in through the hole in the wall.

David comes out on the other side through a hole in a tree that enters into the world that he had seen when he would black out. The first person he meets is a woodsman who tells David not only of the horrors of the land, but also about a king who owns a book called the The Book of Lost Things that just might be able to get David back home. So, the two set out to find the king. On the way David grows from a scared, naive boy to a young man who realizes what it really means to care for someone and that life isn’t always fair, but that doesn’t mean that you can blame those around you for it.

The Book of Lost Things is a beautifully written book with fairy tales woven perfectly throughout it. John Connolly is a master story teller whose characters are wonderfully written, each with their own number of vices as well as their virtues. I like that David begins as a bit of a brat, even if he has his reasons. I also like that he acknowledges his flaws and eventually learns from them. I like that there are no true villains and no true heroes, for even the heroes have their pitfalls. I loved the characterization of Rumpelstiltskin, or, in this realm, the Crooked Man. I loved his mythos and I loved his motives. I loved that he was simply a creature trying to survive, even if it was in such a horrible way.

I loved Connolly’s integration of fairy tales, and especially the way that the children’s understanding of the stories changed the world. I also loved that Connolly’s changes to certain fairy tales had their reasons, he didn’t just change them for the hell of it. As well, I loved Connolly’s voice through out the book. He pulled off that fairy tale voice without going over the top or getting to that point of the “okay, we get it” feeling. The part that I really appreciated, though (and this might just be a nerdy thing specific to my obsessive interest in fairy tales and folk tales), was the inclusion in the back of the book of the origins of the fairy tales and what each fairy tale’s presence represents.

The Book of Lost Things is a wonderfully written story and an exciting read, which was a nice change of pace from the more real-life style books that I have been reading as of late. I actually got to a point where I couldn’t read it during my lunch anymore because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop once I started. This is definitely one of those books that left me wondering why more people haven’t heard of it. So my recommendation is to read it and if you’ve already read it then recommend it to your friends, your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, the person sitting next to you on the bus, whoever you can. I want this book to be as popular as Twilight! Lord knows, we need some actual literature to seep its way throughout society’s kindles/bookshelves/library cards.

The Girl With No Shadow

by Joanne Harris

The Girl With No Shadow (called Lollipop Shoes overseas) is a sequel to the popular novel Chocolat. This is possibly the first book that I’ve come across where the sequel is just as good, if not better than, the first. Once again we are graced with Joanne Harris’ amazing talent for storytelling as well as her outstanding handle of the English language. However, what makes this novel so much better than the first is the depth and conflict not just between the characters but within them as well.

The Girl With No Shadow brings us back into the lives of Vianne and Anouk Rocher, however, things have changed since we last saw them; Vianne is now terrified of her powers and forbids Anouk from using them as well. She has moved them, and new addition, Rosette, to Montmarte, where Vianne, now Yanne Charbonneau, is determined to live a normal life by any means necessary.

In enters Zazi, a witch con artist who wants Vianne’s identity and her talented daughter to complete the picture. With the use of glamours and cantrips she pulls impressionable Anouk, who is frustrated with her mother’s new found normality, into her clutches and begins training her in a new kind of magic.

What sets this book apart from the last is the amped up level of mysteries that have been worked into the story line. Who is Zazi? What made her who she is? What happened to frighten Vianne into abandoning her care-free lifestyle? What is the truth behind Vianne’s birth? Will Zazi succeed at winning Vianne’s life and will she get Anouk as an added bonus? Harris succeeds in not only answering each of these questions, but then bringing up a handful more in the process.

Another difference is the addition of a new voice. This book is told from three perspectives rather than two; Vianne’s, Zazi’s, and Anouk’s. At first I felt like Anouk’s point of view was more of a hindrance and didn’t add a whole lot of weight to the story, but as the book progressed I was pleasantly proved wrong. Anouk acts as a go between for Vianne and Zazi. Through Anouk, you see how Vianne’s new life truly affects her world and at the same time Zazi’s mastery of manipulation.

The book is beautifully writen, amazingly told and so much more fun than the first. If you loved Chocolat and have been itching to hear more from Vianne and Anouk, definitely check out The Girl With No Shadow


by Joanne Harris

Chocolat is a beautifully written story about how a single kink in a chain can shake the whole machine. Vianne Rocher is a beautiful woman with a nomadic past who decides that it is finally time to settle down with her daughter in a small village in the French countryside. Most of the villagers greet her warmly, however a few choice members of the village, including the local priest, object to her presence, as well as the chocolate shop that she has opened across the square from the church. The book enters in the midst of a Mardi Gras festival and takes place through to Easter, highlighting the struggle between Vianne’s secular life style and the strong influence of the church over the village. Through out the story Vianne changes several of the villager’s lives, every one for the better, even if they’re not aware of it. The moral of Chocolat, deep down, is how we each affect each other, even if it is in the slightest.

Joanne Harris’ prose is beautiful and whimsical. The characters are written with such care and detail that it’s hard not to feel for them by the last page. Even Caro, Muscat, and Francis, who are presented as villains are, in truth, just wounded people, trying to make the best of their miseries. The book is written in journal format and switches between Vianne and Francis’ narration of events. I love that Harris doesn’t tell one event through both eyes, but instead tells it from one and continues the story with the other. My only gripe with the book, and it’s only one, is that the narration continually jumps from past to present tense. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so it might not bother anyone else. Plus one could probably argue its existence with the excuse of the journal format. It’s just something that I noticed and had a hard time getting used to, but it doesn’t deter from the story at all (in case you share in my nit-picky pet peeve).

Little known fact (even amongst those in my day to day life), I have a weak spot for canal/river boats. I’ve always loved the idea of living in one and traveling the canals of Europe and the UK. I just think it would be lovely. So all the descriptions of the river people with their boats and parties really captured my heart ablaze for a world I yearn to inhabit. On that note, all of the talk of a nomadic life style, tarot cards, visions in fire, the winds changing, it all caught that nomadic part of my heart on fire and made me ready yet again to take to the road.

In the end, Chocolat is a wonderful story that I would recommend to everyone looking for a timeless story written with beautiful prose, that will captivate your imagination and wanderlust.

By the way, I plan on reviewing the film adaptation, however, I am going away for a few days with my family for Spring Break, and most likely won’t have time to sit down and watch it until sometime next weekend. Also, my aunt has lent me the sequel to Chocolat, The Girl With No Shadow, which I will be starting on our trip (we’ll have lots of driving time, so hopefully I will get through a good amount).

Books to Film – White Oleander

Based on White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Directed by Peter Kosminsky
Starring Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Renée Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn, Billy Connolly, Patrick Fugit

Where does a mother end and a daughter begin?

The film adaptation of White Oleander is how film adaptations should be. A tool to capture the feel of a book, not just the story. Creating a visual companion to the story the reader is already in love with. Peter Kosminsky did a beautiful job bringing the book to life.

While the film does differ from the book quite a bit, a fan of the book won’t find themselves yelling at the screen about what parts were left out or skimmed over. The most significant change is the number of years and number of placements Astrid goes through. The book takes place over six years, from the summer Astrid is 12 until she turns 18 and can leave the foster care system. Within these six years Astrid goes through six different placements; Starr, Marvel (& Olivia), Amelia, Claire, MAC, and ending with Rena. In the film they cut it down to three placements in three years; Starr, Claire, & Rena. They don’t count MAC as a placement though Astrid is placed there twice. Initially I was a bit annoyed by this. In the book, each placement teaches Astrid a new lesson. Each placement builds up to the final confrontation with her mother. Giving Astrid a new tool to use against her, to pry herself away from her and to eventually show her mother that she is a person and not just her daughter.

However, the way that Kosminsky sets up the story, picking and choosing the most significant lessons, it allows for the story to still be told but in a more visually pleasing and understandable manner. Astrid begins her journey by being placed with Starr. While Starr’s does seem to rush by at lightening speed (Astrid & Roy’s relationship is more hinted at than stated. If you didn’t read the book you’d be left wondering what the hell just happened. There are a few scenes of the two making eyes at each other, Astrid goes to the construction site, asks if everyone is gone, then Starr is running into Astrid’s room with a gun. It’s a bit sudden) you get the gist that Astrid is lost and is searching for something that her mother cannot give her, their tapestry is beginning to unravel. Astrid is placed in MAC with the explanation that there are just too many kids and Astrid needs special care due to the gun shot wound. MAC sets up Astrid & Paul’s relationship. There is a wonderful scene added in where Astrid and Paul sneak away from a group while they are out. It is here where the comic book store is introduced and the two have a brief discussion on art vs cartoons/comics (By the way, I don’t know if it’s just because he’s in my head, but the clerk at the comic book store reminded me a little too much of Noah Antwiler aka Spoony One. Again, I have no idea why, he doesn’t even look that much like him.) which cuts to the two sitting on a pier drawing people that are nearby. It shows their relationship growing and that Astrid is learning how to trust again. Then Astrid is placed at Claire’s. Again, Claire’s seems to go by a bit faster than expected, but I don’t think you would really notice this unless you had read the book. However, like with Starr, you get the gist: Astrid discovers what it means to be cared for then her mother takes this away. Astrid is sent back to MAC where she avoids everyone, even Paul. Paul leaves for New York and Astrid chooses to be placed with Rena. While, again, Rena’s is rushed over (Astrid’s relationship with Yvonne is non-existent and Sergei is never even mentioned) you get the gist: Astrid has been hardened and is now ready to face her mother head on. Then comes the final show down between Astrid and Ingrid. The entire conversation is a paraphrased version of what is in the book, and it is perfect, Lohman and Pfeiffer did a phenomenal job. You can feel the tension between the two. The film comes to a close at the trial, Paul and Astrid are waiting for them to call her in to testify. Court lets out and Astrid is told that her mother asked her lawyer to leave Astrid alone. The film ends with Astrid’s suitcases and a voice over about how her mother was denied the appeal but still received fame for her artwork and Astrid’s connection to her mother now that Ingrid has let her go.

Throughout the film, the only change that really bothered me was the decision to make Claire a blond. While they did try to circumvent this by making her more of a dirty blond with subtle brown streaks, it still doesn’t make much sense to me. Not so much that I will bitch and complain through out the entire film, just enough to tell you guys about it ;). In my mind, Claire’s being a brunette set up the foil to Ingrid perfectly. Claire was soft, sweet, & timid. Her brown hair makes her average. Beautiful, but average. Whereas, Ingrid is hard, critical & sharp-tongued. She is described as the most beautiful woman most people have ever seen. Ingrid’s appearance alone is striking & unique, where as Claire takes something that everyone has and makes it beautiful.

However, there were two subtle changes that I actually really liked. One was the decision to make Ingrid an artist rather than a writer. The reason for this was that it would be more visually interesting to see Ingrid painting or creating an art piece rather than writing. While at first I wasn’t happy with this decision, really, Ingrid is shown actually working so little that it doesn’t make much of a difference. Plus it brought about one of my favorite lines; as Ingrid is brushing Astrid’s hair and showing Astrid her latest work, Astrid says that she likes the piece, Ingrid asks her why she likes it and Astrid can’t say, to which Ingrid says to her, “You can’t be an artist if you don’t see. Why do you like it?” For some reason this line has resonated with me and every time I find myself in front of a piece of art I stop and ask myself why I like it.

The other was the fact that Paul gets a chance. In the book Astrid stays with him more because he is broken like she is. It almost sounds like she doesn’t really love him as much as just wants someone around to keep her humble or to keep her from forgetting what she’s been through. Whereas in the film, she loves Paul. When she goes back to the comic book store and finds that he has been writing her all along, you can see the glow on her face. She is relieved that he remembered her. Again, when he comes back to help her through the trial she is so happy to see him. She watches excitedly as the bus pulls up and the shot holds on the door of the bus as you wait to see him walk out. You can feel her anticipation to see him again. It’s a great scene and I wish that love was presented more in the book.

In the end, I obviously think the book was better, but not by much. The film, though missing a lot, took what it needed in order to tell the story and translate the feeling that you get while reading the book. This was my first introduction to Alison Lohman and Patrick Fugit, who have both burrowed a soft spot in my heart. I adore Lohman’s voice and you get to hear it at it’s best in White Oleander with a monologue in both the beginning and the end. Michelle Pfeiffer is spectacular as Ingrid, I can’t imagine anyone else playing her. Though I have a feeling that some might not like Renée Zellweger’s role, she does it magnificently, flawlessly pulling off the softness and anxiety of Claire. The score is hauntingly beautiful, reminding me of a music box. Most of all, I appreciate Kosminsky’s choice to film from Astrid’s perspective. Most of the shots are from over Astrid’s shoulder or following behind her as she moves down the hall. It feels organic and like you’re there witnessing her story. Which is the feeling that the book creates; it is Astrid’s story from her point of view. To be told any other way would be a betrayal to the book.

White Oleander

by Janet Fitch

White Oleander is the story of Astrid Magnussen as she struggles through the foster care system after her mother is sentenced to jail for killing her boyfriend. Throughout the story, Astrid not only grows in age but also as an individual. She starts off as a child without a voice, so accustomed to her mother influencing it, and ends discovering who she is as a person separate from her mother, with a voice of her own.

Janet Fitch writes with a grace and a beauty that is more poetic than typical prose. She has created a world of characters with strengths and flaws distinct to each one. she is an author who can find beauty in the most harsh or even mundane of realities.

Ingird is a beautiful yet harsh character that I’m sure was fun to write. She has a harsh tongue and a claustrophobic idea of beauty, but she expresses each with such eloquence that it is hard to not be drawn to her. Astrid, on the other hand, is quiet and observant. She sees the beauty in flaws, warming up to the most flawed of the bunch. I have to say that one of my favorite characters is Claire. She is the perfect foil to Ingrid. Soft, timid and kind to Ingrid’s hard, severe, and critical. While Claire comes off as weak, she obviously cares about everyone and everything around her which acts as the best lesson for Astrid: Care but not so much that it overrules your life.

I first picked up this book some point in my Freshman year of High School. I was hooked from the first read through. Every time I reread this book I find a new lesson which pertains to the overall issue in my life at the moment. This is what I love about this book; no matter where I am in my life, I will find something in this book that will help me, be it a character, an event or even just a passing quote. White Oleander is one of my favorites and will be for a long time to come.

My review of the White Oleander film adaptation

The New You

by Kathleen Leverich

The New You by Kathleen Leverich is about Abigail Hunter, a girl who has just started her first day in a new school wishing she could be anyone but who she is. After what she feels was a humiliating day she hides in the phone booth rather than boarding the bus with the other students. While hiding, she searches the Yellow Pages for “New Identities” in hopes of finding a place that will provide her with a new self. To her surprise she discovers a store called “The New You”. In a rush of hope and excitement Abbey takes the subway to the shop she hopes will change her life. Instead she finds a closed hair salon which is occupied by three twenty-something year old women. Before Abbey can leave however, she nearly faints and the three women let her stay until she is feeling better. One thing leads to another and the women decide to give Abbey a new hairstyle, one that she (thankfully) loves much more than the one she had (personally, I wouldn’t trust three chicks I just met to have a go at my hair all willy-nilly, but whatev’s, to each their own). After a chapter’s ado over Abbey’s new hair, she is sent home where she finds herself alone and she collapses into bed. She awakes to find that she has been in bed for a few days due to the flu. She is told that she did not actually visit “The New You” and that she came straight home in a cab. The next day she discovers that the route she took is out of order, the neighborhood doesn’t exist and there is no shop called “The New You”. In school she is coaxed by a teacher to tell the dream to the class. This strikes the interest of some of the other students and by the end of class she finds that she now has an identity. Two of her classmates begin speaking to her and strike up a friendship, inviting her to hang out at the mall with them before she gets her hair cut. The book ends at the mall where Abbey discovers the truth behind her dream and her new identity.

The New You is a good book, not brilliant nor the best I’ve ever read, but still good. Definitely more for a younger crowd, say Junior High age or younger. It has a neat sort of Sci Fi/Time Travel twist to it, though I guess that is up to the reader to decide. It can be predictable at times (I guessed the “twist” pretty soon off the bat) and the writing can be a bit stiff at times. I would definitely recommend this to kids entering their teen years, who, like the main character, are searching for their own identity. It has a good moral without being didactic and holds the interest pretty well. All in all, it was a good, fast read, probably better for a younger crowd, but still worth the read.

She’s Come Undone

by Wally Lamb I just finished this wonderful book today. It’s depressing at times but still amazing. You really do fall in love with Dolores and keep reading in hope that something good will happen for her. There were a few times when I kept thinking, “God, nothing good is going to happen for this girl, and nothing good is going to result in this book. I don’t need to be reading something so utterly depressing.” But I kept reading in hope that something good was going to happen and it did. I think it was harder for me because the things she kept experiencing were things that I can all too easily relate to. But then again, that’s what made it just that mush better. When Dolores starts taking night classes and she says that they had to sit in a circle and introduce themselves, I couldn’t help but laugh and ask in amazement why, if they’ve been doing that since the 80’s, no one has declared it dated or useless and stopped doing it. Also, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of pride when I could understand Lamb’s references to the 60’s and 70’s. My parents raised me well, I guess. What I loved the most, though, was the way it ended. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I love stories that end right rather than perfect. Stories that end with a happily-ever-after and a little bow on top, all the loose ends neatly tied in place feel forced to me (COUGH Lost COUGH). I love when a writer just ends the story, the characters are still living and trying their best to get by. Nothing is perfect, but nothing is terrible. Because that’s the way life is; we live our lives the best we can until the day we die. Perfect things can happen but life will continue after that, be it good or bad. We all continue living and that’s the fact of the matter. Anyways, that’s how this book ends; right. Her life isn’t perfect, but she’s not miserable. She is, for once, happy.

Of course I have to bring up the author, Wally Lamb, who is in fact male. The fact that he was able to pull off such a female voice is extraordinary. So much, that had their not been a picture in the back of Lamb, I would have assumed it was a pen name. Who knows, maybe it is and some woman out there has pulled one over on us all.

Though this book can get depressing, the pay off is totally worth it. Lamb writes with a beautiful flow that breathes life into every one of his characters. Definitely worth a read.