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!
One of the most buzzed-about books of the summer, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker raises the question: what would happen if the Earth’s rotation suddenly began to slow down? Narrated by 11-year-old Julia, the novel explores not only the ramifications of this global disaster but also how it affects the already tumultuous time between childhood and adolescence.
I read this book several weeks ago and held off on blogging about it because, frankly, I was disappointed. But I realize now that perhaps I just went into it with the wrong expectations. As a reader who adores sci-fi and fantasy literature, I felt that the earth’s slowing rotation and its effects were extremely underdeveloped. I wanted more information about why it happened, good descriptive passages about the effects it had on life all over the planet, and to feel the sense of danger and dread that should have been felt with this sort of catostrophic event. But that’s not really the focus of this book, and if you go into it prepared to practically ignore the science of it all, it becomes a better story.
The Age of Miracles is really a coming-of-age story about Julia, who just so happens to live in a time when the earth’s rotation is slowing. It’s a novel about growing up and the changes that come along with it no matter what kind of crisis is happening in the outside world: friends still grow apart, bodies still change, your parents still don’t understand you. The passages focusing on Julia’s feelings and her relationships are beautifully written. Walker quickly draws the reader into Julia’s story and makes you care about her; you’ll want to jump right into the book and punch the bully who picks on her at the bus stop right in front of the boy she likes. Overall I would recommend this book if you’re looking for a nicely written coming-of-age story in a unique setting, but aren’t too concerned about sci-fi elements.
I just finished reading a five book series that totals over 5,000 pages, so I decided it was time to take on something a little lighter. There are a few books from my childhood that even as an adult I find myself going back to often. The Giver by Lois Lowry is still a book that I mark among my favorites. If you’ve never read it, it’s a story about a boy named Jonas who lives in a futuristic society where everything is under strict control in order to promote “Sameness”. Your jobs and spouses are chosen for you, people don’t really have emotions, and they no one can even see colors. Even though it’s a great book to read as a kid, I love it more reading it as an adult because I can see the deeper meaning behind the story. I also recently re-read a book that I haven’t touched since I was too young to remember, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. In this sci-fi/fantasy novel, Meg’s scientist father goes missing, and as she enlists a cast of unique characters in order to find him, she discovers that his work will take her to places she never imagined.
A few days ago I realized that, shockingly enough, I never got around to reading Katherine Paterson’s Newbery winning novel Bridge to Terabithia when I was a kid. It’s about a boy and girl in the fifth grade who are sort of outsiders, but they form a close friendship through their creation of a mythical land called Terabithia. It was a really quick read, but it’s powerful and packs an emotional punch in the end. Fans of the Narnia series will enjoy the made-up land of Terabithia, while fans of more realistic fiction will enjoy the friendship between Jesse and Leslie and seeing how much Jesse grows as a person because of Leslie. There’s a good chance that I’ll be revisiting this one in the future.
Do you have any books from your childhood that you revisit often? Or any children’s classics that you regret never reading?
People! Why haven’t you been watching this show? It is one of the best shows on television – ever. And now this ratings-challenged, critically acclaimed show is gone (episodes originally aired on Direct TV; now showing on NBC, the final season is nearly over) Fortunately, the library has the DVDs – learn from the error of your ways and watch Friday Night Lights now.
Let me make this clear right from the start – Friday Night Lights is not about football. OK, sure, there are several scenes with shots of football games, and life in Dillon, Texas seems to revolve around the local high school football teams and the lead character is a football coach. The truth is, this show is about people – how they live, how they fall into and out of love, how they care for other people, how they try to be the best they can with what resources they have. For the younger people, it’s about how you think high school is the be-all and end-all of your life, only to realize it’s barely the beginning and you have some decisions to make that will affect the rest of your life. For the older people, it’s about how those decisions have shaped you and how you’ve learned to live – or not live – with those decisions. It’s poignant and funny and sad and beautiful – kind of like real life.
Brilliant acting (especially Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton), innovative photography, compelling story lines and characters that you can love and understand (even if you think they’re making dumb decisions), Friday Night Lights is both classic and modern, showing us who we are and what we are capable of. The fifth and final season does not disappoint and includes a bittersweet reunion of many of the characters from previous years. Also included in the DVD is a heartfelt retrospective of the series – there won’t be a dry eye in the house after watching this.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby starts off with the first of many top five lists. Rob Fleming, the owner of a vintage record shop in London, has just been dumped by his longtime girlfriend Laura and is assuring himself that it will be okay because he’s been through at least five breakups in the past that were more earth-shattering than this one. This leads to a sort of odyssey as Rob decides to track down these five women and figure out what exactly went wrong and what the meaning of it all is. Along the way he finds a new friend (and maybe a bit more) in a sexy American singer, deals with his financially-struggling business, and generally spends a lot of time joking around with his friends in the record shop.
Hornby is great at writing about people who are passionate about music. I’ve read two of his other books, About A Boy and Juliet Naked, and in each you can really feel how much music means to the characters, and it makes you care a little more about music as well. There is a lot of witty banter between the guys in the record shop, and Rob has a very sarcastic sense of humor, so it’s definitely good for a laugh even if it has a lot of serious moments as well. I found myself becoming very frustrated with Rob while reading this book because as he meets each ex-girlfriend to figure out why they broke up, it becomes increasingly appalling that he just doesn’t get it. Nevertheless, you’ll be rooting for something to go right for him in the end. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, and I’m planning to take home the movie starring John Cusack tonight!
Every night before bed, I try to catch the newest episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. So I was surprised and excited when I saw that one of my favorite Daily Show correspondents, Samantha Bee, had just come out with a book of humorous essays about her life. In her new book I Know I Am, But What Are You?, Bee covers everything from her upbringing by her Wiccan mother to teaching her friends about the birds and the bees using her Barbie dolls to trying to come up with the perfect gift for her husband and failing miserably. I was reading this book on a road trip to Chicago and found myself laughing out loud and sharing passages with my sister and husband, who couldn’t help but laugh out loud themselves, particularly at the passage where she described her son wanting to put the family cat in his mouth in order “to be kept safe forever in a protective human boy suit.”
Though she stays out of the realm of political humor that she is famous for on The Daily Show, Bee has no problem finding hilarious situations in her own life to write about. One of my favorites is her story of how she met her husband, fellow Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones: they were both in a traveling stage production of the childrens cartoon Sailor Moon, complete with anime-style outfits and a lot of very displeased children in the audience. You don’t have to be a fan of The Daily Show to enjoy this book; you just have to be looking for a good laugh.
As soon as I discovered that the first chapter of Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake was about her collection of plastic ponies, all gifted to her by past boyfriends, I knew I was in for a random and hilarious read. The book is a collection of humorous essays about Crosley’s life, including everything including her quest to find out the true meaning behind her name, starring as Mary in the camp Christmas play despite the fact that she’s Jewish, and her brief stint as a vegan.
Crosley’s essays are witty and relatable. I know that as a child of the ’90s, I appreciated her chapter-long ode to the computer game Oregon Trail. Because really, didn’t we all watch our oxen die as we tried to ford the river? Though some of the essays didn’t seem to go anywhere and forced me to do a bit of skimming, for the most part the book is very entertaining. One of my favorites was the story of her first real grown-up job in publishing and the suddenly evil boss she had to deal with. Her solution? Decorate a giant sugar cookie in the image of the boss’ face and give it to her. If you’re looking for a good laugh, Sloane Crosley’s book is for you.
Years ago, I enjoyed reading Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It was funny and quirky and self-revealing, with some darn good writing suggestions along the way. Her new novel, Imperfect Birds, is a work of fiction, and thankfully so, as it’s characters ring painfully true.
As the story opens, seventeen year-old Rosie Ferguson is ready to enjoy the summer before her senior year of high school. She’s smart –a straight-A student; she’s athletic - a former state-ranked doubles tennis champion; she’s great with the kids at her volunteer job, and she’s beautiful to boot!. But Rosie also has a knack for driving her mother, Elizabeth, crazy. She’s also quite adept at manipulating the truth and Mom seems more than willing to believe her lies. By the time school starts again in the fall, there are disturbing signs that is Rosie is not only abusing drugs, but that she is also making very dangerous choices, forcing her parents to finally confront the obvious.
As a parent myself (though thankfully no longer of teenagers) there were times when reading this made me vaguely uncomfortable. Had I, like Elizabeth, been too trusting when my son called to ask if he could spend the night at a friend’s? Hmmmm. Still, there’s a message here for both teens and adults, and the novel does end on a very hopeful note. Readers will also note the familiarity of characters and themes from the author’s previous works, such as Rosie and A Crooked Little Heart.
Jill Murray has been able to cobble together a pretty good life for herself and her daughter – by working a collection of part time jobs and by scrimping and saving she has managed as a single Mom to her daughter Anastasia for seven years, ever since her husband Seth abandoned them. It hasn’t been easy – he took all of their money and disappeared, forcing Jill and Anastasia to spend several months living in her car and, while they now have a small house and plenty to eat, they bypass even small luxuries. Still, Jill feels she’s making progress and that they’re happy. And then Seth shows up unannounced, wanting to be a father to Anastasia and to try again with Jill.
In Seven Year Switch by Claire Cook, Jill must deal with her own anger, with her daughter’s desperate desire for her father, with opening her heart to someone again, to letting go. Written with humor and grace, all of the characters are complex and real and it’s easy to put yourself in their shoes and understand their actions. You’ll be moved to tears sometimes, but you’ll also laugh out loud with this charming and heartwarming read.
Let’s face it. What most graduates want (and get) is money. Hard, cold cash. Not microwaves, techno gadgets or pillows for the dorm, but dollars with which they can select their own microwaves, techno gadgets and pillows for the dorm.
Still, if you’re looking for something a little more meaningful or sentimental, there’s plenty of inspirational, faith-based guides available. Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life comes to mind. It’s subtitle is, “What on Earth am I Here for?” so it’s appropriate for any age group, not just graduates.
If you’d rather pick a more secular title, something that has credible advice, but with a short enough format that most teens will still actually read it, try Maria Shriver’s And One More thing Before You Go. It’s only 61 pages long and has 10 quick chapters, including these topics:
- Learn from your mistakes
- Have a little gratitude
- Keep a childlike quality
Interestingly enough, it ends with advice from teenage girls to their moms. Hmmm, perhaps that’s really the intended audience all along!
A final suggestion is What I Know: Uncommon Wisdom and Universal Truths from 10-year olds and 100-year olds. by Roger Emerson Fishman. This small, square gift book has lots of photos and could be enjoyed by both young and old.