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Archive for the ‘Movie Tie-In’ Category

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick  silver linings

Pat Peoples seems like the sweetest man on earth, but for some reason he’s coming home from a mental institution to live with his parents—in his mid-thirties—and he completely loses it when he hears Kenny G music.

Pat thinks he has been away for a few months. Actually it’s been four years. He thinks that he is experiencing “apart time” from his wife, and that if he can control his temper (‘it’s more important to be kind than to be right’), and stay on his rigorous exercise program and lose weight, he will win her back. Because, after all, his life is like a movie created by God. It will have the silver lining of a reunion with Nikki.

In trying to understand Nikki, Pat is reading all of the books that she teachers to her high school English classes. He’s surprised at how negative and depressing they are. As a former English teacher, I laughed at Pat’s comments on books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They don’t have the kind of silver linings Pat expects form life, the kind that ought to be examples for kids.

At home, the silver lining also remains hidden. Things are not going as Pat planned despite hours of daily weightlifting, regular visits with a psychiatrist, and all that reading, Nikki isn’t back on the scene. But another woman, who at first seems like a nymphomaniac but is grieving in her own dysfunctional way, is following him on his long runs. Meanwhile, the mood of the Peoples household, and particularly Pat’s father, swings with the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Pat’s dad is emotionally distant and unforgiving.

So where’s the silver lining? It’s not the one Pat was looking for, but it’s there. And I loved going on the journey with Pat to find it. Good, heartwarming stuff that embraces dysfunctional people of all kinds.

High school housekeeping: I’m always hoping that high school students will read adult books because they often (though certainly not always) juggle more issues, have more challenging vocabulary and less certain endings—like real life. I think Silver Linings Playbook is a good choice for moving into adult fiction. It’s just slightly longer than the typical YA fiction, but shorter than much adult fiction. It’s funny. You’ll like the main character, the story, and the pace. You’ll like that you can compare it to the movie. In addition, Matthew Quick writes YA fiction as well—and we have his stuff in our library. He was a high school teacher at one time, and has a good sense of what entertains and informs you. As mentioned above, The Silver Linings Playbook has a humorous vein about the books read in high school English classes. I really think it would be fun to have a ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ class and read this novel first, then read all the novels mentioned in it—and compare students’ reactions to the book to Pat’s reactions.

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When we think of summer reading, we think of books we choose because we like them—books for fun.

In the past I’ve read long lists of YA books over the summer and have encouraged you to read some of them as well. This year I think I need to feed my soul with some not-so-light adult books that probably don’t have wide teen appeal. I will also be reading some books about bullying—both the cyber sort and the in-person attacks. (I listed choices in a recent post.)

Since I think you should pick some fun reads for summer, I hope you’ll read some YA books that are soon to be movies. Reading the book before you see the movie provides a good opportunity for you to compare and contrast two works; it’s a great way to think at a higher level without even realizing that your brain is working.

 Win-win.

 So many good teen books are coming as movies in the next few years. Here are some that I’ve read and reviewed:

 2013:

Catching Fire

(Second book in the Hunger Games trilogy)

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

The Great Gatsby

(OK, it’s an adult book, but teens read it in school, it’s short, and it’s great—

romance, betrayal, mobsters–all the stuff teens love)

2014 and possibly 2015:

Divergent

Graceling

The Knife of Never Letting Go

(first book in the Chaos Walking series)

Incarceron

The Maze Runner

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

The Fault in Our Stars

(Yea! It will star Shailene Woodley as Hazel. No word on Gus yet.)

Coming as movies soon, but I haven’t had the chance to read the books yet:

Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Tunnels by Roderick Gordon

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austen, of course.)

Actually, I have had the chance to read this one,

but I didn’t like it, and I quit after a few chapters.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Have a great summer reading on your own and at the theater!

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team of rivals

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I know this is a long shot, but I’m hoping

there’s a student who will take me up on this.

Summer reading for the truly motivated!

 While the focus of Team of Rivals is on Lincoln’s political acumen and on his relationship with his major political rivals turned advisers and friends, there is a lot of interesting discussion of their personal lives. This is a sort of group biography of the men who steered the country through the Civil War, and of the women who influenced them.

Many of the men discussed in Team of Rivals were prominent candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 1860. Several of them were better known than Lincoln, particularly William Henry Seward. None of them thought Lincoln would secure the nomination. Yet it was their own rivalries that made Lincoln’s victory possible, as delegates who didn’t want a certain prominent candidate to be nominated would throw their votes to Lincoln.

I admit to knowing little about the Civil war period. This book was a thoroughly enjoyable way to learn about the lives of Abraham Lincoln and the men in his cabinet, of their relationships to family members, and in turn the influence those family members had on the direction of this country. Even more interesting—and instructive—was seeing how Lincoln was able to take all these rivals of his (and of one another) and pull them together in his cabinet—a team whose diverse opinions were crucial to Lincoln as he navigated one of the worst periods in U.S. history.

Once Lincoln had established his cabinet, William Seward, as secretary of state, thought that he would be running the country, with Lincoln as his puppet. But over time, he understood Lincoln’s political genius. The two became great friends. So, too with Edwin Stanton. Stanton had disrespected Lincoln when he was a lawyer working in Springfield, refusing to meet with or even talk to him after engaging him to work on a trial in Cincinnati, and calling him a ‘long-armed ape.’ Yet Lincoln later made Stanton his secretary of war. Stanton became a good friend and is the man who said, on Lincoln’s death, “Now he belongs to the ages.” In addition, the escaped slave, abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass came to respect Lincoln after meeting him to discuss freeing slaves.

Unfortunately, Salmon Chase, Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury, could never put aside his jealousy of the president. Chase seemed to have no loyalties to friends and people who had helped his career (so it wasn’t just Lincoln), but he did stay loyal to anti-slavery platforms. His behavior appears to be wholly motivated from a desire to be the president—even at the expense of Lincoln’s policy and reputation. He always felt that he was more deserving of the presidency than Lincoln, and he let others know it. He was fond of submitting his resignation when he didn’t get what he wanted, but was surprised on the fifth submission that Lincoln accepted it. However, Lincoln later appointed Chase to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. According to Goodwin, Lincoln had a “singular ability to transcend personal vendetta, humiliation, or bitterness.” It is this as much as anything else that makes him a great man.

Another man who comes off poorly is General George McClellan, who couldn’t take action in leading Union troops into battle, yet blamed all his faults on others, and particularly on Lincoln’s leadership.

Deeply revealing of the political climate of the time is the role of the women in these men’s lives. I enjoyed Francis Seward’s abolitionist stance and the letters she wrote to her husband and friends about what brought her to the cause (the immorality of slavery, the pathetic situation of slaves that she saw as she traveled). Not all whites sympathetic to slaves held these same views. Many Northerners and Republicans (the party of Lincoln) held that slavery would naturally end as society became more urban and industrialized.

Kate Chase, daughter of Salmon Chase, was the beauty who was at the top of the social pecking order, the girl everyone wanted to admire or court. She was so popular that Mary Lincoln was sometimes jealous of her. And yet her marriage and subsequent life was tragic.

Mary Todd Lincoln sounds better in Team of Rivals than in the few sources I’ve read before. She appears to have suffered terrible migraine headaches, and this affected her responses in social situations. She does hold more grudges than Lincoln, but to be honest, just about anyone in the world does. (His ability to let go of past hurts is nearly superhuman.) Team of Rivals also discusses the over-the-top spending habits Mary is now so famous for. However, Goodwin also catalogs the necessary improvements she made in the White House, which had been left to fall apart. Mary wasn’t very good at controlling her image in the press—she did much good, such as regularly visiting hospitals to care for wounded Union soldiers. Her work went unnoticed while the wives of other Politicians were lauded for the same activities. And, of course, her grief over the loss of her children—eventually three of her four boys—had to be a major factor in her bouts of depression.

While this point may seem just a sidebar in the evaluation of the book, I think it’s valuable. The deep grief suffered by so many of these ‘major players’ on the national scene changed all of them, for better and for worse. Lincoln suffered the deaths of his mother, his much-loved sister, and two of his sons (another died after Lincoln was assassinated). Chase lost several wives and became dependent on his elder daughter to be his social coordinator. The Sewards lost a daughter. Others close to the Lincolns lost their sons and husbands in the war. That the death of young wives and children was so commonplace in the mid-nineteenth century is important to remember. People learned compassion or they learned to be unnecessarily mean.

Since Team of Rivals covers such an important period of the country’s history, it includes insights on many of the significant issues and legislation of the day, particularly legal wrangling over slavery—the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment, and more. Some of the events are shocking. Abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner, while railing against the expansion of slavery, verbally attacked senators who supported it. Congressman Preston Brooks later physically attacked Sumner, feeling that he was defending his relative’s honor. The idea that one man could cane another, nearly to death, right on the Senate floor, boggles the mind. Interestingly, this beating rallied the anti-slavery forces in the country.

This is such a great book on every level—the political, social, historical and personal. Not only that, but it includes many of the funny stories Lincoln was always telling—full of folk wisdom and often making his adversaries see the value of his point. The only thing that will keep you from reading it is the length—over 900 pages. While about 150 pages are endnotes and indices, that still leaves 750 pages. Even students who are good readers and enjoy history may not be able to find the time for such reading, especially if they are memorizing thousands of facts for AP tests!

Would you be willing to read this one over the summer? You won’t be disappointed. During the school year, you might make a deal with teachers who require about 200 pages of outside reading per quarter. Ask them if you can use Team of Rivals for biography as well as other nonfiction, and then as a free choice. That will cover at least 600 pages. I think any teacher would love the idea that you’d choose to read this book and enrich your education. By the time you get to Lincoln’s death, you will be so moved by his story that you’ll be hoping it won’t happen, even though you know it’s a historical fact. You can’t ask for more from a work of nonfiction.

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beautiful creatures  Ethan’s family has lived in Gatlin, South Carolina, “the epicenter of the middle of nowhere,” for generations. The town is full of history and superstition, as Ethan believes can only happen in the South. The neighbors are obsessed with the Civil War, which they call (like many Southerners) “The War of Northern Aggression.” His dreams of a mysterious girl become reality when he begins his sophomore year at Stonewall Jackson High and sees Lena for the first time. And this new girl is special—not only is she a break from the extraordinary boredom of the town (finally!), but she has extraordinary powers.

Lena’s big problem seems to be that she is old man Ravenwood’s niece. As the relative of a shut in who makes ‘Boo Radley look like a social butterfly,’ she is prejudged as a social nobody. She plays the haunting song of Ethan’s dreams “Sixteen Moons.” She also comes to school in a hearse. But much worse is in store for Lena than being shunned by the cheer squad. She’s a Caster (think ‘witch’) and has no control over whether, on her sixteenth birthday—coming soon—she will be changed to dark or light, good or evil. If she goes dark, she won’t retain any compassion or love for others (that, of course, includes Ethan). It’s what happened to Lena’s cousin, Riley, a year earlier. And Riley is one scary witch.

Ethan is energetic, funny, and escapes the boredom of his town life through books. If he were a girl, you’d call him sassy. I related to him immediately. It’s fun that he narrates the book because Gothic romance almost always has a female narrator.

I’m pretty late in realizing that Beautiful Creatures was becoming a movie. I ran out and got a few more copies for each of my schools, and then read it as quickly as possible. I usually have complaints about Gothic/fantasy books because they repeat themselves so often, but not so in Beautiful Creatures. It’s a long book, but we regularly get new information and the story moves along. It’s true that a few big scenes are pretty straight steals from Stephen King’s Carrie (another big dance gone wrong!) and the “Harper Valley PTA” song, but I enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the setting. When people act out of character, there is a reason, revealed in the book’s climax. The fact that it’s multigenerational—information about Casters and Seers comes from aunts, uncles, grandparents—adds to the fun of the mystery and gives us more people to worry about when the spells and supernatural evil starts flying.

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road  One of the comments you’d never see in a professional book review is “The book is graphic enough to appeal to high school guys.”  I hate to admit it, but this is something I think about when I’m reading. Research shows–and anecdotal evidence at Colony High backs up that research–that high school boys rarely read, almost never when they have the choice.

This summer I read a great book–and I mean great in every sense—a literary masterpiece, a stunning work of fiction, an insightful look into a bleak future, a beautiful rendering of the father-son relationship. And–ta da–a book graphic enough that it will appeal to high school guys.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is the story of an unnamed father and son who are making their way to the sea in a post-apocalyptic world. “A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions” have left the world barren. Animals are dead (or long ago eaten by the few remaining people), plant life is scorched and roads are melted. The air is always gray with ash, as is the snowfall. The sun is blotted out and winter arrives early. All living people are scavengers—and with little left to scavenge, most are cannibals as well.

In a world that is virtually hopeless, it is amazing that McCarthy can wrench the heart of his reader with the love of the father and son. The father has often told the son that they are “the good guys” and while they have to be on a constant alert for others (who might capture and eat them), they would never do such a thing themselves. Though starving and exhausted from their trek, the son reminds the father that the two of them “carry the flame.”  The son always wants to do well, including helping other people. The father knows better and is more wary. Understanding that he is dying, he saves two bullets in his gun so that he can take his son with him.

Some of the situations McCarthy envisions are horrific (people imprison others and eat them limb by limb, cauterizing the amputations) and yet all strike the reader as inevitable in such a world. Too often, I’ve read reviews that describe a new novel as a ‘tour de force.’ After reading the book, I assume that the reviewer was the author’s best friend. The Road is one novel that deserves the praise.

(Another review that I wrote pre-Chaffey but am linking to QR codes. Originally posted in 2007.)

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I’m curious about why so many YA books—popular ones anyway—are about dystopias, lousy futures worlds where everything is wrong, the opposite of utopias. In the YA version of dystopia, the adults have sold out the kids. They have wrecked the world and are using the kids, mercilessly, either as experiments in making the world better or as scapegoats for the ills of society. As our current trend in American society leans to ‘helicopter parents’—those who hover over and meet every whim as well of need of their children, I wonder if teens’ understanding of the havoc we wreck on our environment and the potential this has for their futures is the fuel behind this trend.

Two books that I’ve just read on dystopias are The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games.

In The Maze Runner, Thomas wakes up in an elevator, very groggy and with no memory of his past—no sense of family, home, nothing. He’s not sure how old he is. He learns that he is in the Glade, an area surrounded by a vast maze with moving walls.  About sixty boys live in this new home, with one new boy being deposited each month in the elevator. All are in the same predicament with no memories, no idea why they are there or who has done this to them. Life there is so bad that when Thomas asks questions, the only answer he gets is a sort of ‘You’ll see.’

Although the constant use of ‘you’ll see’ and ‘you don’t want to know’ is probably meant to add suspense to the novel, it actually pulls like a weight attached to the reader. Many pages in, you feel that you are not moving forward—you’re just reading the same thing over and over. However, there’s enough that’s strange and weird in the book to keep you going. Each night, doors from the maze open and hideous “Grievers”, half live, half mechanical, come out. If a boy is stung by one and manages to survive, he goes through a torturous changing that brings back some of his memory. Because of this, the boys are desperately looking for a way out, running the maze during daylight and mapping out the changes in the walls, looking for a pattern.

Soon after Thomas arrives, so does the first girl in the Glade—and with her the beginning of the end. The boys must find a way out to the world of the Creators, not knowing if their chances there are any better.

In The Hunger Games, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen provides for her family—a twelve year old sister and a mother—after her father is killed in a mining accident. The family lives in a future nation, Panem, which is situated in North America. There, the Capitol demands punishment and yearly sacrifice from the twelve districts that had once rebelled against it. And here again, the sacrifice is children. Each district has a yearly lottery in which one girl and one boy, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, is chosen to participate in The Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers when her twelve-year-old sister is chosen. The unlucky boy, Peeta, is someone who had helped Katniss years earlier.

Taking place in an arena where the environment is controlled, the games are a fight to the death. Yet the pregame object is to make a good impression on the audience (all citizens of Panem are forced to watch) and accrue ‘sponsors,’ thus increasing the changes of winning the games. This is a sort of “Survivor” gone bad—and believe me, the book is an indictment of our love of reality TV and our predilection for violence. There are stylists for the contestants and the deep irony that these kids are treated to dizzying elegance and luxury just before they are sent out to kill one another, while many, especially in Katniss’s District 12 (formerly Appalachia, an area of the country synonymous, for centuries,  with extreme poverty) have been days from starvation.

Peeta has always cared deeply for Katniss and this increases the suspense. Only one contestant can survive. What is the pair to do on this shifting moral ground? If you wonder about the difficulties of being fully human and fully present in the face of so much evil in the world, you’ll love this book. Then again, if you just want something that’s fast-moving and action-packed, you’ll love it as well.

If you like The City of Ember, The Giver or The House of the Scorpion, I think you’ll enjoy both of these books. If you are short on time and have to pick one, make it The Hunger Games, which is a better piece of writing and a tighter story.

(I posted this on Colony Library Lady in 2009. I just realized that it wasn’t here. I’m adding it so that the classroom flyers for QR codes for “Books into Movies” will work! BTW–several guys commented on that 2009 post that they liked The Maze Runner better–maybe it’s a gender thing. All three of the Maze Runner trilogy are out–The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure are both available in our library, so you could read straight through without having to wait!)

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Movie Tie-Ins: The Help by Kathryn Stockett     help

As I mentioned earlier, I read Worth Dying For because I wanted to try a Jack Reacher novel. If you read my post, you know I didn’t like it very much. As I was thinking the other day about good books for movie tie-ins, I was reminded of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Since the movie was so popular—and award winning—you might have already seen it. This is a book that makes an easy transition to the screen. Whether you’ve seen the film or not, you’ll enjoy the read. If a teacher asks you to write a compare/contrast of a book made into a movie, The Help is a good choice.

Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny are the protagonists who alternately tell their stories. It’s 1962 and the three women live in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter has just graduated from college (Ol’ Miss) and comes home to her parents’ farm. Her close friends quit college and got married. They have one or more children. But Skeeter’s a bit frustrated as a ‘new’ adult who is being told what to do by her mother. She wants to be a serious writer, and, as many people come to feel at this age, she is realizing that her values aren’t the same as those of her longtime friends.

Skeeter can see how her friends treat their help—the Black women who take care of their children, clean their houses and cook their meals. (Since the white women in this novel don’t work outside the home, and seem to do absolutely nothing in the home, I wasn’t surprised that they filled their lives with gossip and backstabbing. If life doesn’t have any drama, people are sure to create some!) Aibileen and Minny are the help. Aibileen is great with kids—she’s raised seventeen of them. She is slyly boosting the self-confidence of Mae Mobley, whose mother, Elizabeth (a friend of Skeeter’s), is pretty lousy with kids. Unfortunately, Aibileen’s own son died a few years earlier, and she is grieving. Minnie appears to be the opposite of Aibileen—she tells it like it is and has been fired more than once over her comments. She has five children of her own and a husband who is a drinker and wife abuser. She’s known as the best cook around.

The three women embark on a book project. They recruit other maids to tell their stories—to shed light on what it is like to work in white women’s homes and to care for children who will later treat them as inferiors. All the while, Skeeter is wondering what happened to Constantine, the Black woman who raised her, but disappeared just before Skeeter came home from college.

I’ve seen professional reviews of this book that say it will prick consciences. I don’t agree with that. I think that it’s a book that feels safe because the treatment of the maids is now considered heinous, and readers can be smug when comparing themselves to Hilly, Skeeter’s truly awful (and possibly one-dimensional) friend.

Still, outside of a few details that I couldn’t come to terms with—the issue of toilets on Hilly’s lawn was one (Skeeter wouldn’t have jeopardized those Black men’s very lives with such a stunt, and they would have been too afraid to participate anyway)—The Help is an achievement. We care deeply about the characters, we worry about the setbacks in each of their lives, and we are filled with anxiety over the suspense. In short, we are immersed in Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. We’re stunned by what is considered normal, by the way people treat one another. And glad for changes since then.

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