I recently finished the extraordinarily good Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and as much as I’d love to talk at length about my love for that book, Lexie already beat me to it. Shucks. So, instead, I’m going to write about my second favorite young adult novel about a red-headed social misfit published this year – Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s OCD, The Dude, and Me.
Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in (has there ever been a young adult book about someone well-adjusted? Would anyone want to read it?) Diagnosed with OCD, she attends an alternative high school and has to see the school psychologist to work on her social skills. With no friends and a rotten self-image, Danielle’s energy goes into rearranging her snowglobe collection, writing and reading, and pining for her crush, Jacob. That is, until she meets Daniel, a fellow outsider who introduces Danielle to the cult classic, The Big Lebowski and they find themselves at Lebowskifest (something that I’m happy to report is real), a place where Danielle finally feels like she belongs.
Vaughn chose to introduce Danielle diary style — through her school essays, journal entries, and email exchanges– to great effect. Witty and sarcastic, Danielle steadily grows up as the year passes. As she gains confidence, she becomes more likable — a concept that may be inspiring to the self-deprecating among us. Fans of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky should pick OCD, The Dude, and Me.
Twenty years ago Gary King (Simon Pegg) led his four best pals on a “Golden Mile”pub crawl to celebrate the end of their adolescence. Since then, they have all seemingly moved on with their lives and have found varying levels of success. Well, all of them except King, who has never even tried to change.
Simon Pegg is always at his best in films he wrote with Edgar Wright and The World’s End is no exception. Foul-mouthed and drunk, Pegg’s King is delightfully unlikable and yet, it is easy to see why his friends are all willing to join him for one more pub crawl in their hometown of Newton Haven. King and his friends (each with their own royal pun moniker) Andy Knightly (Nick Frost), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) are all drinking their way toward the storied pub, The World’s End. When they arrive in Newton Haven, there are subtle changes to the town that seem to be for the better. But as the night progresses, the changes seem to take a turn for the sinister, and the friends find themselves increasingly in danger.
A huge fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I went into this movie expecting to love it and was not disappointed. I might even say that it was my favorite of Pegg and Wright’s British bromances disguised as sci-fi and action spoofs. This movie is funny all the way through, and I’m hoping that it only gets better with repeated viewing.
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is delightful! I was smitten with this charming, smart middle grade novel from page one. DiCamillo (Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie) is joined by illustrator K.G. Campbell to bring to life Flora Belle Buckman, a natural-born cynic in the body of a tween girl. Armed with an extensive vocabulary, an abundance of comic book knowledge, and an eye for the truth, Flora makes for a wonderful heroine.
But she wouldn’t see herself as the hero of this tale. The hero (I mean, superhero) is Ulysses, a squirrel who acquires the abilities to write poetry and fly after being sucked up by Flora’s neighbor Tootie Tickman’s Ulysses Super-Suction, Mult-Terrain 2000X vacuum. The story that follows includes a terrifying cat, temporary blindness, a shepherdess lamp, an unexpected villain, a giant doughnut, and much more.
While this comic book/chapter book hybrid is funny and silly, it is also very sweet. The examination of changing mother-daughter dynamics as girls grow up is so beautifully executed and subtle that readers may not notice it until they’ve finished reading. Flora and Ulysses is a great read for loyal readers of Kate DiCamillo and fans of Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead and Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (or, really, anyone!)
I read Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (inspired by Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Sister Act II: Back in the Habit ) when I was sixteen and wanted to be a writer. Then I read it again a few years later when I still wanted to be a writer, but was faced with the reality of paying bills and making career decisions. It always amazes me how much a book can transform you, but also how much your perception of a book can evolve as you change. I’ve never stopped wanting to write, but I have become much more aware of the things that I’ll probably never say.
“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.” – Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
So, since it is National Novel Writing Month, I thought I’d make some reading suggestions for my fellow writers-in-waiting out there. There are plenty of style books and how-tos saturating the market, but some of the best manuals for writing come from writers themselves. They’re filled with humor and pragmatism, and may help you learn to find your voice, rather than your marketing plan.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White
Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction edited by Will Blythe
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
Why I Write by George Orwell
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Lifestyle blogs are the ‘thing’ right now. Young House Love, Perfectly Imperfect, Smitten Kitchen, and Pioneer Woman are all written by bloggers who are getting famous simply for letting readers into their homes (I like to think of them as still life reality stars.) The best bloggers combine a sharp wit, unique voice, beautiful photos, a glimpse at the personal, and easy to follow how-tos. Many of these bloggers have published books that you can check out from the Davenport Public Library, so stop by and check them out!
Young House Love by Sherry & John Petersik
Apartment Therapy Presents by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan
The Sprouted Kitchen by Sara Forte
Joy the Baker Cookbook by Joy Wilson
The Perfectly Imperfect Home by Deborah Needleman
The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
Design Sponge at Home by Grace Bonney
Bored and restless on a hot summer night in Red Hook, Brooklyn, 15-year-olds June and Val decide to take a pink raft down to the docks and float out into the bay. The next morning, Val is found unconscious under a pylon, but June remains missing. Her absence becomes a catalyst for new relationships and a weight for the residents trying to find a way out.
Red Hook, Brooklyn has become the butt of a lot of hipster jokes in the last couple of years, and along with the gentrification of the neighborhood and the devastation caused by hurricane Sandy in 2012, Red Hook has found itself in national headlines. Pochoda’s examination of this historic neighborhood takes place right on the cusp of this change. Visitation Street is about a specific place at a specific time, but feels remarkably universal. Most young people are reaching to move beyond the circumstances to which they’re born, and as young people from across the country move to newly cool Red Hook, many of the long-term residents of Red Hook are looking for a way out.
Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street presents the voices of this urban, changing neighborhood in the midst of tragedy. I often speed through books I like, wanting to find my way to the conclusion. But in Pochoda’s debut novel, I took my time. I genuinely liked Fadi, Cree, Val, Jonathan, Ren, and Monique — flaws and all.
There comes a point in most people’s lives when they begin to realize that they’re finally an adult. For me that moment came the first time I re-watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and I realized that I sympathized more with the adults and Ferris’ sister than Ferris. Since that day, I’ve noticed a trend in my entertainment sympathies. I watched Easy A and my favorite characters were Olive’s parents (hilariously played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci). I’ve been re-watching The Cosby Show, and my affinity has swayed from Theo to Clair.
So when I watched The Way, Way Back, I was expecting the same. Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash*, the writers of the Oscar winning The Descendants screenplay, this is a smart, funny movie about the pain of growing up and the fear of becoming the wrong kind of adult. Liam James is remarkably and heartbreakingly convincing as Duncan, a 14-year-old spending the summer with his mom, Pam (Toni Collette) at her boyfriend Trent’s beach house. Trent, played by a surprisingly unlikable Steve Carrell, is the aforementioned wrong kind of adult. He is obsessed with the “supposed to” in life, caring more about things and image than people. When Duncan finds a job at the local water park, he begins to meet people that have chosen a different path toward adulthood (and have reached it in varying degrees).
There are a lot of reasons to recommend this movie. The supporting cast — Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, AnnaSophia Robb, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, and the scene stealing Allison Janney — is fantastic, and the movie is hilarious. But I loved the movie because of how much I cared about Duncan. Teens are often portrayed as arrogant and reckless or completely socially inept nerds, but most kids live somewhere in the middle. James’ performance and Faxon and Rash’s writing helped give me a chance to root for the teen again, which is almost like reclaiming my youth.
I’d recommend this movie for fans of Little Miss Sunshine, Crazy Stupid Love, or Adventureland.
*The Dean from Community has an Oscar!
I picked up It’s a Disaster because I saw David Cross on the cover, and went in with low expectations (I mean, he was in all three Alvin and the Chipmunks movies). The cover on the dvd looks cheesy (a shame, since the theatrical poster is so fantastic) and the premise seemed a tad forced:
Four couples meet for Sunday brunch only to discover they are stuck in a house together as the world may be about to end.
But I was pleasantly surprised. Julia Stiles, America Ferrera, David Cross, and Erinn Hayes are all fantastic in this dark comedy. Written and performed with the pacing of a play, It’s a Disaster is for fans of live theater and comedy shows.
What makes this movie stand out from other independent comedies is the fantastic build-up. The first part of the film is paced slowly and leads the viewer to believe that this will be a standard examination of the relationships of people in their thirties. As the story progresses, there are a smattering of twists and surprises (some much more surprising than others) that help build on the film’s twisted sense of humor. Don’t be surprised if you’re left asking, how would I react if I knew I only had a few more hours to live?
Fans of The House of Yes, Igby Goes Down, and Election or anything featuring David Cross should give this movie a try.
Grandpa Frank is just a grandpa and he doesn’t seem to like anything (except pickled onions), so how could his grandson possibly talk for a whole minute about him in front of his entire class?
In The Frank Show by David Mackintosh, Frank’s grandson is nervous about presenting about his curmudgeon grandfather during show and tell. Especially since his friends have exciting people to introduce, like Fay’s cousin who “tells you if your bag is too heavy at the airport” and Hugo’s stepbrother who’s sports car has an eight-ball gearshift knob.
The Frank Show is the perfect example of a picture book that seems to have been written more for adults than for kids. I see the jokes flying right over younger kid’s heads, and not many children are going to spot Edgar Allen Poe and his raven in the illustrations. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend this book — because it is fantastic. Mackintosh’s illustrations are funny and child-like, filled with subtle references and jokes. This story is as much about the generational divide as it is about taking people for granted — both topics rarely explored in picture books. Grandpa Frank’s exaggerated stories and cranky advise are entertaining, and his grandson’s fears are completely understandable. Seriously, pick up this book. You won’t be disappointed, unless you’re Frank. I’m sure he’d say that they don’t make them like they used to or something as equally crotchety.
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s Genius tells the story of Ted Max, a genius weighed down by expectations and overwhelmed in his interpersonal relationships. Once a promising quantum physicist, his life seems to have come to a halt. He cannot think of any new ideas at work and is facing losing his job at a think tank. His wife has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and he doesn’t know how to interact with his budding genius daughter and future frat boy son. And to make matters worse, his crotchety father-in-law won’t tell Ted the secret that Albert Einstein entrusted him with when he was “Bert’s” bodyguard. With no relief in sight, Ted begins to see himself unravel.
There has been a biographical graphic novel trend in publishing the last few years, but despite Albert Einstein’s strong presence in this graphic novel, this is not a biography. Seagle uses Einstein as a memory or an absence in Ted’s life. Kristiansen’s absorbing, lush pastel watercolor illustrations pair well with Seagle’s sparce and straightforward text, and make Einstein’s presence known throughout the novel. There is a sense when you read the book that you’re able to see some of the beautiful inner thoughts of a quantum physicist who has a difficult time voicing his feelings. I was much more touched by this book than I expected, and really felt Ted’s frustration with trying to live in the present when the future beckons and the past haunts. Ted many not be an everyman, but I think that most of us struggle with similar worries and heartbreaks.