Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pride and Prejudice Continued

Jane Austen has long been a favorite of readers and as readers become writers their fandom expresses itself in new fiction about favorite characters. And thus we have Darcy and Fitzwilliam. I was walking through the library on my way to pick up Looking for Alaska, when I spotted this book and I couldn't NOT pick it up. In high school I read a lot of Austen fanfic (here actually), and therefore love the idea of Colonel Fitzwilliam getting more spotlight.

In this novel, we picked up after Darcy and Elizabeth's wedding. They are in typical newlywed bliss. Enter Fitzwilliam who tries to get Darcy to reconcile with Lady Catherine De Bourgh to no avail, at least yet. Fitzwilliam sees Darcy and Elizabeth in such bliss that he wonders if he too should settle down, but maybe he should take care of some of that PTSD first.

Meanwhile Elizabeth becomes pregnant. And Darcy begins to flip out because of course he lost his mother when Georgiana was born. Add to that some more conniving of Caroline Bingley. And you have their plot. All in all very satisfying even though I don't know why Elizabeth and Jane are so distance, especially when Bingley and Darcy were such good friends.

Fitzwilliam's story is a little more dramatic with an American widow who is in jeopardy of losing her son to her mother-in-law, and Fitzwilliam being very dense about why that would bother her. Ugh. It was annoying that Fitzwilliam could be so insightful in the Darcy/Lady Catherine problem but so oblivious in his own life. I suppose it's normally that way.

Regardless, it's another cute story--not destined to become a classic, but worth an afternoon. Fans will love the fiery Elizabeth scenes and be very glad Lydia only gets briefly mentioned. And it has a very lovely epilogue with Darcy and Fitzwilliam as old men. Fans will not be disappointed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rapunzel's Wild West

Shannon Hale of The Goose Girl and Princess Academy fame teams up with her husband, Dean, and a completely unrelated Nathan Hale to creating a retelling of Rapunzel in the Wild West. Rapunzel's Revenge is less cowboy than it is desert so those who don't like Western should not be alarmed. You'll probably think it's cute anyway.

And overall it's cute. It's a rather massive graphic novel, clocking about 140 pages so there are parts that get a little drawn out. But there's lots of action, a Jack and the Beanstalk crossover, and awesome hair as lasso action. After the dystopia of Ship Breaker, I was probably a little fizzed out on people slaving in harsh conditions while others relax in luxury. You can only take so much. But it's worth checking out, especially if you want to check out this "graphic novel" thing without getting too weird. ;-)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ship Shape

The ice caps have melted. There are category 6 hurricanes called "city wreckers". And we've run out of oil. It's a brave new world, folks. Welcome to the world of Ship Breaker.

In the land of "have-nots", we meet Nailer/Lucky Boy. He works light crew on marooned oil tankers stripping out copper, aluminum, and other precious metal we can no longer mine. It's hot, dark, dangerous work. And when a duct gives away, Nailer finds himself swimming in an old oil pocket. In most cases, this would be considered a lucky strike. A pocket of oil, if he can keep it a secret from boss man, could set him up for life. But he has to get out first. It's a fight for life he wins, but he loses the oil. Still his high sliding father (a crystal meth addict) decides to keep him around a little longer.

In the land of "haves", we meet Pima/Lucky Girl. She earns her nickname by surviving a city wrecker in her posh boat (while the crew all dies). But she'll need more than luck to keep away from her uncle who wishes to use her as a pawn to force her corporate big-wig dad to hand over his company.

When her uncle's goons enlist Nailer's dad to help, they both flee to find someone still loyal to Pima's father. Pima has to learn quickly to survive in a non-gilded world. Nailer wrestles with loyalty and wonders if he's destined to be the lethal killer like his father. Can good actually triumph in a world that has fallen into such evil?

If dystopian novels like The Hunger Games leave you begging for more, check out Paolo Bacigalupi first novel. It's crazy intense. And frighteningly plausible--okay probably not. I hope not? Ugh. Anyway, this afternoon I was watching a train pass and briefly wondered if I could hop trains like Pima and Nailer do. If that's possible, what else? ;-)

Good book. A little unsettling end. (No nice bow, but it's in the way of happy.) And it will make you think.

Dystopia

This week in my YA lit class, we're discussing dystopian fiction--stories like The Hunger Games, Chaos Walking, Uglies which image a world utterly broken and chaotic until the main character shakes up the system, the world view, etc. to discover that there's a better way to live. I suppose there's many reasons to like dystopian fiction--it has the possibility to non-stop action, it's so much worse than the world right now that you're kind of glad when it's over, it has fun times with high-tech gadgets and imagines things like iPads as passe and quaint (le sigh). But I'd like to suggest an alternative reason to read dystopian fiction.

I'm also reading Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. It's based on the National Study of Youth and Religion which conducted several thousand surveys to find out what teens think about religion and Christianity in particular. The findings were that Christianity is okay and even viewed pleasantly, but it doesn't matter much. So this book is all about how youth leaders and other concerned adults (that's me) could work to change that impression. One of the concepts discussed is how faith develops through events of detachment--unfamiliar and unsettling settings help create an environment where change and learning can occur.

So meshing the two ideas, I posit that dystopian fiction creates that unfamiliar and unsettling situation that has some familiar elements to secure the reader, but otherwise it creates this concept of detachment virtually, by getting the reader involved in the story, so that they can learn about concepts such as the horrors of pursuing beauty at the expense of thinking (Uglies) or how we are entertaining ourselves to death (Hunger Games). By showing these extremes and making the reader uncomfortable in that environment, we can then pull back and talk about our own addictions to the pursuit of endless physical youth and relentless entertainment.

I'm not certain enough to share these thoughts with my class just yet, but I think there's something to the idea. Or maybe I'm just looking for more excuses to indulge in my favorite genre...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Because I Could Not Stop for Death

Honestly, I'm not a big poetry fan, but The Book Thief kept bringing "Because I could not stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson to mind. In it, the narrator, Death, tells a story which he picked up while gathering souls. It's the story of a young girl, who steals books in Nazi Germany. At first it's something to connect her with her brother whose death first brought the book thief to Death's attention. Then as her foster father teaches her to read, it becomes life, an escape, a statement. Liesel, the book thief, lives through the horrors of World War II and survives literally because of her books. It's a powerful, complicated story about the good and evil present in the daily lives of Germans. So

1) Read it for the interesting perspective of German life. While there's a Jewish persecution subplot (and the book is honored for its portrayal), more poignant are Liesel and Rudy's views on Hitler's Youth, Hans's stand against joining the Nazi party, the rationing and bomb sirens as the war escalates. Rarely do we hear of this side of the war, that there were innocents who died in Germany too.

2) Read it for the characterization of Death. Death is a great narrator. Alternately sympathetic and gruesome, we get glimpses of Death's life(?) as he ferries souls to eternity. He remembers the separate times he encounters the book thief outside of the story she wrote. He remembers when he has encountered the ones she loved. He adds his own color--oh the color--to Liesel's story until it becomes so much more than a diary of a little book stealer.

3) Read it for the words. Zusak personifies words in such a fabulous way. They tumble out of Liesel's mouth and roll to a stop at Rosa's feet. They fly, they sneak, they grow larger and looming. As words take on a stronger meaning in Liesel's life they do so much more in the story. Indeed, Hitler's use of words swayed a country. (I got that from the King's Speech.) So too Liesel discovers that she can harness the power of words. I totally want to go back and write a college paper on this book.

Anyway read it. It will probably make you cry, but in a good way.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Twilight in Comics

You've read the books; you've seen the movies. What's next for the Twi-hard?

The Graphic Novel of course!

Illustrator Young Kim has taken Stephenie Meyer ever-popular series and created a beautiful graphic novel. If you aren't a fan of Twilight or of graphic novels, you might want to skip this one. However, if you appreciate either, you'll enjoy wiling away a couple hours with this book. It stays pretty tight to the story line, and puts pictures of someone other than Robert Pattinson in your book imagination. (Gratefully appreciated in my case.)

Volume 1 takes the reader up through the meadow scene of the first book, so we get to see Kim's vision of how vampires sparkle. Seriously disappointed in the movies. Pretty okay in the graphic novel. Still a fan of Buffy where vamps spontaneously combust in the sun.

Meyer approves so that's something. And some of the pages are truly beautiful. My only complaint is that the characters are so stylized that I had some trouble telling them apart. Full-color might have helped, but I realize that's pretty expensive to do.

Also for fans, it's not a word-for-word retelling. There are some scenes where the illustrator chose to let the frames tell the story. To veteran graphic novel readers, this may be no big. But for me, I miss some of the exposition.

Check it out if you're so inclined!