Review: The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Delacourte

Release Date: March 6, 2018

Synopsis:

the beauty that remainsMusic brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death wants to tear them apart.

Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect.

But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.

Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Beauty That Remains is–as you might guess from the title–is a rather beautiful book. It follows three distinct POVs: Autumn, whose best friend died in a car accident; Logan, whose ex-boyfriend died by suicide; and Shay, whose twin sister died after a battle with cancer. These are all different and distinct perspectives; Autumn is quiet and wracked with guilt; Logan is angry and turning to alcohol; and Shay is dealing with increasing anxiety.

And, of course, the stories begin to intertwine in a satisfying way, surrounding an important, now-defunct band of the local music scene. I loved how music influenced all of the characters, whether it was listening, viewing, managing, singing, creating, reviewing…it’s very much the world I’m in right now and so I loved the atmosphere Woodfolk created.

I really liked the inclusion of the social media of the dead characters at the beginning of each chapter. As someone who has experienced how social media has reacted to the deaths of friends and family, it really resonated, as did the various other inclusions of social media. These kids are YouTubers, bloggers…that’s the world we live in.

Shay was maybe my favorite character; her anxiety was so relatable, and I loved how her friends stepped up to help her out. Logan worried me at first he was so troubled and had some really negative perspectives, but everything ended up being addressed in this therapy and along his journey. Autumn I didn’t grow as attached to, probably because she was more internal. That said, the various relationships–family, friends, and romantic–and how those changed over the course of the story was really well done.

This is a quieter, very character-driven book, but I found it very compelling as the characters grow and the threads come together. By the end, it appropriately felt like a healing process.

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Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Genre: YA fantasy/fairy-tale

Publisher: Flatiron

Publication Date: January 30, 2018

Synopsis:

hazel woodSeventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Well, I’m back. I had a LOT of reading to do for school and also have been sick, so I wasn’t able to read much else. Now it’s spring break, and I finally finished my first ARC of 2018, so here we go! Disclaimer: I received an eARC for Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I think The Hazel Wood is a book that works for me in pieces, but not as a whole. There are about three parts to this novel. The first, which I found quite gripping, was a combination of Alice’s backstory with her mysterious fairy-tale bestseller grandma and mysterious happenings to her, culminating in the disappearance of her mother to the “Hinterland,” the place from the fairy tales. Then she goes to Ellery Finch, a rich boy from her school who knows about her grandmother and even managed to read a copy of the book once, and they try to track down the Hinterland while avoiding supernatural forces stopping them. This section dragged more for me. And finally, as you might expect, they reach this fantasy world.

I won’t spoil, but something did happen in between the second and third sections described above that made me lose investment in the story because it came across as negating a lot of what the novel had put time and effort into, making a good chunk of the book inessential for a cheap plot twist. Of course, it’s not all as it seems, but I’m not sure I found the conclusion is all that satisfying, either.

Otherwise, the fairy-tale world section was enchanting, disturbing, and definitely the most interesting, and even though it seems to come in at a bizarre place in the novel, it’s definitely the resolution. Of course, that means there’s a lot of exposition to swallow. That said, there were some good twists, great descriptions, and really interesting metafictional aspects that made me like the concept (the mysterious book of fairy-tales) even more than I did at the beginning.

Albert’s overall writing style was great: there were plenty of great turns-of-phrases, figurative language, creepy sequences, and pop-culture references. Like others, I found Alice frustrating, but the plot ended up explaining some of this so I can’t really complain, I suppose, though I really wish I got to see her develop more relationships. I rather liked the ending…I understand there is going to be a sequel now (perhaps a trilogy?), but it’s written as a stand-alone and I think it can be read that way because it wraps up neatly. I frankly don’t think this is a series I’m interested in reading more of (which is no surprise if you know my lack of interest in series).

2017 Reading Wrap-Up, Favorites, and 2018 Plans

I’m behind because I was busy doing the 2017 TV and music wrap-ups (and also I left out The People vs. O.J. Simpson on the TV one! oh no!), but finally, here’s my 2017 reading results, my favorites from the year, and 2018 plans!

The Stats

According to Goodreads, I read a total of 67 books, although that isn’t completely accurate as I explained here…basically, some of the books I counted I read most but not all of for school, but I definitely read enough articles and short stories that wasn’t counted that I figure it’s good enough. Anyway, here is where you can find my Goodreads’ “Year in Books” thing.

  • A total of 29 books/plays/graphic novels I read were for school, although 1 novel and 1 short story collection I chose to read I also used for school projects. Also, I read 1 play because I’m going to be the props master for a production of it next semester!
  • 4 of the books I read were either ARCs or copies sent for review. (Kaleidoscope Song, Kid Authors, Echo After Echo, and 27 Hours.)

Here’s a breakdown of the types of books I read out of those 67

  • 28 novels (fiction)
  • 13 nonfiction books
  • 1 short story (I read more, but this was “The Canterville Ghost” which was long-ish and I marked it on Goodreads)
  • 2 novels-in-verse
  • 9 graphic novels/memoirs
  • 4 short story collections
  • 6 plays
  • 4 epic poems/epics/epic romances

Compared with last year, it looks like I definitely read more diversely (and more–last year I counted 55 books). I read over 4 times the number of nonfiction and over 4 times the amount of graphic novels/texts. I actually read a couple of novels-in-verse (though one was for class). I didn’t read as many plays but I did read more epics, and that’s mostly because of class assignments, frankly. I also, as I had planned, read more African-American literature after I had found myself gravitating toward non-racial diversity in books and deciding that was the demographic I wanted to learn more about. Granted, my school assignments helped a lot with that, too. (Shoutout to a professor who was not only an amazing teacher and lecturer, but made a required survey class be almost exclusively by and/or about POC and queer people.)

Favorites/Books That Have Stuck With Me

These are in the order I read them (more or less), not ranked. Reading so many different types of books makes them really hard to compare against each other! Links to reviews where applicable (some are to come).

  • Rereads of The Great Gatsby and My Antonia, which I still really do love for, sometimes, intensely personal reasons.
  • The Attention Merchants (Tim Wu)
  • Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin)
  • Fun Home (Alison Bechdel)
  • The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead, who I also got to see speak and he was so funny and inspiring!)
  • The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
  • Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli)
  • The March trilogy (John Lewis, et al)
  • Lost in the Funhouse (John Barth)…I liked this probably the least of all of these but it was definitely memorable.
  • We Are the Ants (Shaun David Hutchinson)
  • The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
  • Star-Crossed (Barbara Dee)
  • Ms. Marvel vol. 1 and 2 (G. Willow Wilson, et al)
  • Angels in America (Tony Kushner)
  • Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
  • Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  • Braced (Alyson Gerber)
  • They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera)
  • Kaleidoscope Song (Fox Benwell)
  • Echo After Echo (Amy Rose Capetta)
  • “The Canterville Ghost” (Oscar Wilde)
  • Paradise Lost (John Milton)…admittedly I enjoyed thinking/talking about this more than actually reading it!
  • The Book of Dust (Philip Pullman)
  • The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night (Jen Campbell)
  • Turtles All the Way Down (John Green)
  • You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone (Rachel Lynn Solomon)

I’m noticing a pattern…while I did enjoy a lot of books I read for class, most aren’t up here! I think part of it was the speed at which I had to read them, often on top of other books I was already reading. I didn’t get to fully live inside of them. Similarly, books I read outside of class that were heavy (especially Beloved) I feel like I would have enjoyed more had I read in a more rigorous manner. The books that didn’t make a list that I still gave high ratings to might not be personally my favorite (yet), but I will absolutely recommend them to peers and students where applicable.

Also, this is REALLY LONG and I tried to cut it down but it just seemed rather unfair. I read a lot of great books! And they were all great in different ways.

2018 Plans

  • I am using THIS CHART from Book Riot (in addition to Goodreads) to keep track of my reading. It not only keeps track of titles, when you read it, how long it took you, etc, but stats like if the author/character/both are POC and/or LGBTQ, if it’s #ownvoices, in translation, gender of author, type of book, genre, etc. I’m really excited! It will also make posts like these WAY easier and keep me more conscious of the demographics of what I’m reading.
  • Related to that, I’m going to try to complete some of the tasks from Book Riot’s READ HARDER challenge.
  • I noticed I read a lot of YA this year, and while they were mostly great, I want to read the literary fiction I own, too, because I miss that type of story. Related to that, I will continue to be very selective about review copies/Netgalley because I have a lot of backlist to catch up on and limited time.
  • Read more sci-fi/fantasy! I used to love the genre and while I’m not the biggest fan of it outside of middle grade (ah, nostalgia), short stories, and TV and movies, I’ve got some I’ve heard great things about.

 

What are your goals this year?

Review: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publication date: January 2, 2018

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Summary:

you'll miss me when I'm goneEighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

From debut author Rachel Lynn Solomon comes a luminous, heartbreaking tale of life, death, and the fragile bond between sisters.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone is a complex contemporary novel that’s gripping and very human. Told in dual perspective, Adina and Tovah both have distinct passions, voices, and characteristics, and you really get to know them and their family before the test results so you feel the impact of it. The alternating perspective really does allow for an understanding of the complex reasoning behind the decisions and emotions each twin has, as flawed as it might be, though often that’s because of information they aren’t privy to. But that wasn’t in a frustrating lack of communication way; it all made sense because of their characters and situations. This made it incredibly realistic, especially as it grappled with intense topics. (TW for self-harm and suicide ideation.) The thought-provoking topics of genetic testing, assisted suicide, religion, family, and relationships are handled very well and will make you think about where the story might go.

For a YA book, college admissions is a major focus, and frankly I very much needed this book when I was a senior. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I found that Tovah’s eventual peace at not having her life completely planned out as she had originally hoped–including with her relationship–was so important and something I REALLY needed at that time in my life. Meanwhile, it was refreshing to hear about a teen pursuing classical music, as you don’t see that too much in media (meanwhile, Tovah’s love for more modern music also adds to the music love which I appreciate). Each twin’s romantic relationship was also well-explored as they navigated the differences between lust and love from different perspectives. Toxic situations are called out, and there are many sex-positive discussions about relationships, desire, and contraceptives.

I also appreciated the many details of Judiasm in this book. Adina and Tovah’s mother is Israeli, and they speak Hebrew with her and to each other at times and are raised as Conservative Jewish. The distinction between this and other forms of Judiasm are explored, as is how American society tends to ignore it. Adina, Tovah, and their parents all have different relationships to their religion and culture, especially influenced by their mother’s declining health due to the genetic disease of Huntington’s. I learned a lot and found this complexity not just interesting, but realistic.

Ultimately, this was such a good read that was not afraid to push its characters to act logically and emotionally when confronting big topics, while still managing to wrangle the messiness into a satisfying ending.

2017 Favorites: TV Shows

Next up on my 2017 Favorites: TV Shows. This is meant to be TV shows I watched in 2017, but they’re actually all shows that aired/became available on streaming this year, too, because my backlist watching is scattered over a lot of different shows right now (though I am enjoying Mad Men and Battlestar Galactica and Parks and Recreation…)

So here is my list, in approximate order of when I watched them.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (season 1)

asoueI feel like I’ve been waiting for this since sixth grade when I binged the book series (yes, I know, later than some…I refused to read popular books for a while), and it did NOT disappoint. I actually kind of like the movie, but the series of course is not designed for that format, and it tried to wrap it all up with a definite ending that just doesn’t fit.

From what I can remember, the Netflix show stays faithful to the book, taking its time with 2 episodes for each book/story, and so the first season comprises books 1-4. The old-timey style of the strange setting is rendered beautifully. Patrick Warburton (aka Puddy from Seinfeld) is great as Lemony Snicket, narrating and freeze-framing to point out his characteristic observations. Neil Patrick Harris’s Olaf is, yes, ridiculous–but that’s the point. He seems to be the only adults in on the joke, constantly breaking the fourth wall to comment on streaming TV. I also appreciated and caught the various literary references more, as well as the overall “adults are incompetent” theme. I knew the twist it was trying to pull because it was spoiled for me online (although not really a spoiler because, again, it follows the books), but I enjoyed how more overt references to the over-arching plot of series were weaved in compared to the books (as I remember!). And the kids, of course, I care about as they struggle through the absurd world.

Legion (season 1)

I watched this show quite a long time now, but it had me sold on “very strange experimental TV about an obscure X-Men character who is possibly struggling with mental illness or a superpower or both.” Okay, I actually hadn’t really been into the X-Men before this, but I’d been intrigued by how it can be seen as metaphorical for marginalized youth. Add that to the mental health themes, and I was hoping for something like Fringe (one of my favorite shows of all time), where sci-fi/supernatural elements help communicate the fear of what’s happening in your own head. And it didn’t disappoint on that front, while also being very entertaining with a mix of horror, mystery, action, romance, and surrealism. It even turned into a silent black-and-white horror movie once. Can’t wait to continue exploring the world in the second season!

Naturally, I have to close out with this clip. Aubrey Plaza deserves all the awards for being really creepy the whole season.

Doctor Who (series 10 +  Christmas special)

Doctor Who was my first proper TV love (like 6 and a half years ago now!) and I still continue to enjoy exploring whatever it throws at me each week it’s’ on. This year, I loved the unpredictable, funny, and groundbreaking Bill as the new companion, there were quite a few episodes with great ideas I enjoyed, and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was continued to delight. The most recent episode, the Christmas special, explored death and change in a very moving way. And I’m excited for the Thirteenth Doctor, too! (Though I’ll have to get used to her being a very different character than she played on Broadchurch…see below.)

Doctor Who S10 Ep1

The Good Place (season 1.5-2.5)

I’m so glad this show has gotten popular! I began watched it when there were only a few episodes out, but it’s certainly become more well-known and well-loved since arriving on Netflix in August. This year, there was the end of season 1 with THAT twist that I did not see coming, and the continuously unpredictable beginning (well, like 2/3) of season 2. I find myself laughing at all of the creative absurdity (and PUNS) it comes up with and I’m so happy there will be more!

Twin Peaks (season 2.5-3)

I debated whether to put this on the list or not. I finally went back to the second (and then final) season of Twin Peaks after several years…I think I was around episode 16 or 17? I’d already known the murderer and everything. Refreshingly, it seemed like I was throughout the slow patch of the season and I really enjoyed the last part of season 2, especially the introduction of Annie and that famous final episode.

Then I continued on to the new Showtime revival. I intended to binge it and avoid paying more than a month of the streaming service (through Hulu), but the season wasn’t all out like I thought it was at the time, and it turned out to be so. slow. There were a lot of intriguing parts, but I honestly missed the old characters together and, especially, Cooper. Who is there, but not really there, as you’ll know if you’ve seen it, which was disappointing as I remembered how much I loved his quirky character after returning to the show. When I did binge the last few episodes to avoid paying for another month, I didn’t really connect with it and was mostly just glad I was over. But it still had those surreal moments I still love, so…

twin peaks finale

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (season 2-3.5)

I honestly wasn’t a big fan of the second season…it seemed to lack something (Greg, honestly, and the realism he brought). But I did watch it this year, so it might as well be on this list, and there were some great moments and songs.

More significantly, season 3 so far has been FANTASTIC. I wasn’t sure where it was going to go and not terribly excited for it, but it has really impressed me by delving deeply into the mental health issues we all know Rebecca has had. The song “Diagnosis” was sadly rather relatable, and I’m so glad it’s gone in this direction. Plus, we’ve been graced with the song parodies “Let’s Generalize About Men” and “The First Penis I Saw.”‘

Star Trek: Discovery (“Chapter 1”)

star trek discovery cast.jpg

I know this might be controversial in the Star Trek fandom (for various reasons, some valid and some just plain racist and homophobic), but I LOVE Discovery! I’m finally glad I get to watch a Star Trek series as it airs (I grew up on reruns of The Next Generation), and it hasn’t disappointed. I love Michael and watching her and the other characters grow. It managed to preserve an episodic structure especially in later episodes that showed fun time on the ship as well as the problem-of-the-week, along with the over-arching plot. Anthony Rapp, who I already loved from musicals, plays one-half Star Trek‘s first gay characters and couple alongside Wilson Cruz, which makes me so happy and is so important. (I know some people are worried something will happen to them, but I’m hopeful, because they’re main Star Trek characters? I know that’s naive, but I think there’s plenty of story they want to tell there.) The finale was especially great–there were twists I didn’t see coming and I thought it explored PTSD well and from an angle you don’t usually see. I can’t wait for the rest in January!

Stranger Things (season 2)

eleven.jpgStranger Things was something I jumped early on the bandwagon last summer and I found it a lot of fun. The second season, which I watched with a couple friends over 3 days (3 episodes over 3 days over a week, basically), didn’t disappoint. Clearly, this was never a show I thought too much about, but I enjoyed this season quite a bit. I wish there was more for Nancy to do, but man can the kid playing Will ACT after we barely saw him last season, and I really liked Eleven looking into her past and coming into her own. And yes, I enjoyed episode 7 for that reason, but that seems to be more common amongst female viewers, too.

Broadchurch (season 3)

broadchurch season 3

I loved the first two seasons (especially the first) of Broadchurch when I watched them back in 2015. But I hadn’t followed the lead-up to the third and final season (first airing in the UK and on BBC America), so it was a pleasant surprise when it arrived on Netflix and I couldn’t stop watching, just like when I first saw the first season.

While references are still made to the initial murder and its fallout that kicked off the whole show, season 3 is about an entirely new case of the rape of a woman. (In fact, I found Mark’s storyline a little tedious…though I suppose that’s the point. He irrationally cannot get over his son’s murder.) It is handled VERY WELL and never explicitly shown on-screen, and much of the season scrutinizes various everyday examples of misogyny in addition to the serious ones. Naturally, it wouldn’t be there’s paranoia running rampant and improper uses of the press. Ellie Miller (who I still LOVE) is caring to the victim, calling out sexism and stressing how important it is to believe the victim and preserve confidentiality. In other words, a great antidote to 2017’s sexual harassment (and worse) allegations. Alec gets some character development as well with his daughter, though I wish Ellie called him out a couple of times he was being rude. Basically, FANTASTIC. Sad there won’t be more, but at least Chibnall and Whittaker are moving to Doctor Who (even though I haven’t been a big fan most of Chibnall’s past Who episodes, I love how he handles this show). Watch the whole series if you haven’t.

Honorable Mentions

  • Class, the (sadly now-canceled) Doctor Who spinoff helmed by YA author Patrick Ness, because I still have only seen a couple of episodes. But what I saw I loved, so I’m sure it’ll make the 2018 list!
  • Big Mouth…I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did? But it also covered female puberty and consent and healthy relationships! And there were some great visual gags! And parodies of R.E.M. and Seinfeld! At the very least, it’s research for teaching middle school, right?
  • American Gods…I binged this in a week and so it wasn’t as memorable as the others, but I did enjoy it and it rendered quite a few wacky moments from the book well.
  • I didn’t love Atlanta as much as I expected, mostly because it wasn’t as surreal as I had been lead to believe, but I loved the very satiric episodes “B.A.N.” and “Juneteenth.”
  • I’m currently watching Mindhunter and may be close to finishing before the year’s up. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I’m enjoying the commentary on psychology, the 70s style, and everything Anna Torv.
  • I still haven’t watched the last of this year’s Sherlock batch, but I remember enjoying the second one of the bunch (“The Lying Detective”).

2017 Favorites: Music and Musicals

Welcome to my 2017 in review posts!

R.E.M.: Lifes Rich Pageant

lifes rich pageantEarly in 2017, thanks to Spotify, I rediscovered R.E.M. Automatic for the People has always been one of my favorite albums (and it still holds up!), while I was also familiar with a few of their other hits (“Losing My Religion,” “Shiny Happy People,” “The One I Love,” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” of course). Of the new songs I listened to, I found myself gravitating to the Lifes Rich Pageant album. It’s heavier than Automatic (which I still think I prefer) and full of optimism and making a difference. “These Days,” for instance, is all about how young people do care about the world and want to do something good with it as they construct their own identities.

Favorite songs: “I Believe,” “These Days,” “Fall on Me.”

Soundtrack to Arrival  (Johann Johannsson)

arrival soundtrack.jpgTechnically I discovered this in 2016 when I saw the movie, but I don’t know if I listened to this or not until this year. Regardless, I wanted a little more variety on this list. This movie relied on sound and music for atmosphere and the soundtrack is SO GREAT, although really intense and creepy at points. So I do not recommend listening to it when you’re looking for more peaceful music to write a paper to though!

P.S. I also recommend the movie and it’s currently on Hulu!

Pippin (Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Book by Roger O. Hirson)

pippinIn April, I saw the Broadway tour performance of Pippin (the acrobatic-intense 2013 revival, which adds a final scene not in the original that’s thematically important). It was at my college and I thought it would be fun, plus I had friends who liked it and the music. And it was certainly fun, but by the end of Act II I was blown away by the story, which originally confused and disappointed me at the beginning of that act because it seemed to be undoing some of the stakes and settling into “love is the solution!” But I was wrong. Really, what Pippin does is literally tear down (and I mean literally) the hero’s journey and accept that life might not be as grand as you hope it will be. It was a little on-the-nose at the end, but I loved the metatheater and found it an inevitable point of life I’ll have to face sometime, as I’m sure my writing and teaching careers won’t pan out exactly as expected. It helped I was studying postmodernism and really clicking with some of the philosophy at the time, too–particularly the part about questioning and dismantling master narratives.

Favorite Songs: “Magic to Do,” “Corner of the Sky,” “No Time at All,” and “Finale.”

Falsettos (Music & Lyrics by William Finn, Book by Finn & James Lapine)

If you’ve talked to me at all in the second half of this year, you probably know about my love for Falsettos. It all started with the release of the trailer for the PBS broadcast of the 2016 revival, which I’d previously heard good things about it. I managed to see the recording in a theater in July and you bet I’ve got the PBS recording from October saved on my DVR permanently.

falsettosI previously discussed it here, where I got carried away talking about some of ways it addresses gender roles. Look, this musical was basically made for queer musical and literary nerds. (I admit I am not Jewish, and when I watched it with a friend of mine who is, he pointed out a lot of little jokes and references that had gone completely over my head.) It’s intensely character-focused, using repetition and motifs like games/sports and cooking to show how strict gender roles and homophobia are affecting everyone. (It’s all sung-through.) Some lines from Act I (originally written and performed in 1981) are mirrored in Act II (from 1990, before the two were combined for the originally 1992 Broadway production), displaying character development. The set changes to express the state of the family. Serious issues and real-life history are handled head-on, while other scenes feature more abstract caricatures of masculinity. And did I mention the harmonies are lovely? The soundtrack is basically filled with bops and tear-inducing ballads.

It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, but ultimately it just fills me with hope and happiness at how much this family went through and grew together.

Favorite Songs: …I have to choose? Fine. “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” “This Had Better Come to a Stop,” “I’m Breaking Down,” “Jason’s Therapy, ” “The Chess Game,” “The Games I Play,” “I Never Wanted to Love You,” “Father to Son,” “Falsettoland/About Time,” “The Baseball Game,” “A Day in Falsettoland,” “Everyone Hates His Parents,” “What More Can I Say?”, “Something Bad is Happening,” “Holding to the Ground,” “Unlikely Lovers,” “You Gotta Die Sometime,” and “What Would I Do?”…yeah, look, this was hard, but there’s 34 songs so I narrowed it down, right?

Something Rotten! (Music & Lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell)

something rottenI really discovered this last year, but I saw the tour over the summer (with Adam Pascal aka Roger from RENT as Shakespeare!) and it the soundtrack has now become a staple in my family. “Welcome to the Renaissance” has been such an earworm, and I returned to it frequently this semester as I studied many of the poets and playwrights mentioned in the song. Basically, the show is a humorous interpretation of Shakespeare (represented as a rock star, performing some of his famous poetry in rock anthem style) by focusing on his rivals who get a soothsayer to tell them what Shakespeare’s next play will be, except they get it mixed up with musicals and breakfast food (“Omlette…Ham…Danish”). While I do prefer more emotionally intense musicals, this was basically made for both the musical and English geek in me. There are so many references to various musicals and Shakespeare plays! And I’m sure I’ll use some of these songs in my own classroom for fun.

Favorites: “Welcome to the Renaissance,” “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” “Will Power,” “A Musical,” “Hard to be the Bard.”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Music & Lyrics by Stephen Trask, Book by John Cameron Mitchell)

This one was a long time coming until I got fully into it over Labor Day weekend. I first discovered the beautiful and epic song that is “Origin of Love” when skipping to a random segment of a recording of an Anthony Rapp concert on YouTube. I didn’t quite know what it was about, but I loved what I was hearing, and I looked it up on Spotify and found the Neil Patrick Harris 2014 Hedwig album (labelled “Original Broadway Cast,” as hedwigJohn Cameron Mitchell’s recordings are under the Off-Broadway and the movie albums). But I mostly just listened to that song for a while. I also knew “Sugar Daddy” because a friend showed the Tony performance to me previously.

Even though the show contains a lot of improv and it’s an unusual format for a “musical”–more like a rock concert with  Hedwig and Yitzak telling the story of her life, sometimes playing multiple characters–listening to just the 14 songs on the album (though I usually omit the instrumental intros and the Hurt Locker joke song) tells such a story. The music and metaphorical lyrics, especially in the last 4 songs, illustrate Hedwig’s breakdown and acceptance of herself so beautifully. It’s a story of healing and being yourself with an awesome rock score.

Also, shout out to Lena Hall, who has become my newest inspiration because she can play both a man (though written for a female voice) who impersonates other men, as well as Hedwig herself (written for high tenor) and rock out. I think I’ve finally found role(s) I can play as an alto?

Favorite Songs: “The Origin of Love,” “Sugar Daddy,” “Wig in a Box,” “Wicked Little Town,” “The Long Grift,” and “Midnight Radio”

Penderecki: St. Luke Passion

I got the privilege to see this performed at my college with Penderecki in the house (he was supposed to direct but was advised not to by his doctor, so someone close to him direct it instead). It’s the story of the Crucifixion focusing on the emotional human aspect. My choir director (who was in one of the choirs performing it) told us how the score is very experimental and strange, and that definitely came through–especially the chilling moments of loud chattering (and banging from the orchestra) that represented the crowd. I really enjoy classical choir pieces! That said, like Arrival, this is another piece that isn’t recommended to listen to when you’re studying because of its intensity.

Singular Songs and Honorable Mentions

  • “Kia Hora Te Marino” (Christopher Tin): This is SUCH fun piece we did in choir this semester. The lyrics are from a Maori text. Here is a great performance of it.
  • “Tshosholoza” (arr. Jeffrey Ames): Another blast to perform from choir this semester, and you can see a similar performance here. It’s South Africa’s unofficial national anthem, and we sang it right after their official one.
  • “The Book Report” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (only the 1999 revival I believe): I love how this illustrates the 4 types of students writing essays for class: trying to hit the word count, getting off-topic, overachieving, and ANXIETY! (Charlie Brown’s the last one and I find it very relatable, plus he’s played by Anthony Rapp!)
  • I’ve only just started listening to more of Come From Away, but I love “Welcome to the Rock,” “Me and the Sky,” and “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere.” I’d love to see it sometime, and I’m glad they’re making a movie.
  • Dear Evan Hansen I tried to get into shortly after it came out, but there wasn’t a plot synopsis on Wikipedia yet and I didn’t get through the whole thing. Then suddenly it blew up and like Hamilton last year, it was hard to make something for myself out of something so popular. I also feel like the context for the songs is extremely important and so I would need to read the script (or see it, but that’s unlikely) to fully appreciate it. BUT I do listen to “Waving Through a Window” and “You Will Be Found” regularly and was blown away by Ben Platt’s emotional singing in “Words Fail.”
  • Kinky Boots: I got to see this in October because it stopped on tour at my college. It was a lot of fun, and I found myself surprised that I actually liked the music more than the story. Don’t get me wrong! The story was enjoyable enough, but it was the music that stood out to me. Even though it’s Cyndi Lauper (who I like well enough, but she’s known for a different style), it’s much more rock than pop, which is a style I LOVE in musicals. That said, I haven’t listened to it much at all since I saw it, so it didn’t feel right to include it on this list.

Any recommendations? I know I need to listen to all of The Great Comet; I only know a couple of songs so far. It’s definitely a play I would have loved to experience…

 

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

Genre: YA science fiction

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

Summary:

27 Hours.jpgRumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill, and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters, and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them.

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from his mother’s shadow, and to unlearn Epsilon’s darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

27 Hours is a sweeping, thrilling story featuring a stellar cast of queer teenagers battling to save their homes and possibly every human on Sahara as the clock ticks down to zero.

**Disclaimer: I received a finished copy of 27 Hours in exchange for an honest review.**

First of all, I want to apologize a little. I took an unofficial hiatus because the latter half of my semester got busy and I needed to focus on finals and readings for class, and I fell behind on everything else. But now I’m done with the semester and ready to get back on track!

27 Hours was a book that I was pretty intrigued about before I was offered to review it. I admit I don’t read much sci-fi or fantasy anymore, mostly because of length and because I just can’t commit to series, but I do love the genres and tend to gravitate toward them in other media. 27 Hours seemed like a good place to jump back into the genre, especially as it centers a diverse group of queer characters. After all, one of my frustrations about YA SFF was the common inclusion of a heterosexual romance subplot that seemed to revolve around the same types of characters.

I enjoyed the action-fast first pages that threw you into the world with lush descriptions. While I personally like this writing style in this genre, I understand it isn’t for everyone. I’m definitely one to be more invested in character and setting than plot (unless it’s an intricate mystery-type book), so I enjoyed exploring the world and getting to know the characters. The romances were absolutely swoon-worthy and lovely. That said, I didn’t think Braeden’s asexuality was presented entirely accurately: it was constantly equated to not having sex, whereas it is only the absence of sexual attraction (some ace people are sex-repulsed, others aren’t, etc). I was also a little disappointed that it was always the men who were physically fighting.

I can’t really write this review without linking to this one, which explored the lack of true racial representation and how the main characters’ species and race affected the themes of colonialism. Wright certainly acknowledges the issue of colonialism, but in my experience reading it, I definitely saw the chimera as some sort of monstrous “Other” even though they turn out to be intelligent and communicable beings. It will be interesting to see how they’re involved in the rest of the series.

I do think Wright tries to explain the lack of connection (most of) the teens have with the ancestry with mention of a generation ship thing, but a “universal” language emerging 150-200 years in the future does leave many questions. There’s a lot of cultural erasing going on when you have to delete languages (and indeed the society portrayed is rather Western), all universal language attempts thus far have really failed to make a difference, and some things just don’t plain translate, making the whole process difficult and leaving a lot of sacrifices behind. Furthermore, Nyx is Deaf and she and other characters communicate in sign language, which itself would not only prove an exception to the “universal language” thing (sign language has its own grammar and syntax!), but also…which sign language survived? There are several versions.

Overall, I enjoyed 27 Hours if I don’t poke too many holes in it. My record at actually reading sequels is pretty miserable, but I am curious to how this might continue.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Note: This post is for a class, so it’s going to be a little different from my usual reviews!

the hate u give

The Hate U Give is Angie Thomas’s debut novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and published just this year. It focuses on Starr, a teenage African-American girl who lives “in the hood” but goes to a high socioeconomic class school elsewhere. One night, she witnesses her childhood friend Khalil killed unarmed by a policeman when he was merely checking to see if she was okay. Shocked by the incident and the media attention, Starr struggles to navigate her life in her community and her school, while trying to find how she can use her voice for social justice.

The Hate U Give is long for a contemporary–over 400 pages–but Starr’s voice is readable and the scope of the novel allows for a nuanced analysis of the situation. Starr’s narration makes use of AAVE (African-American Vernacular English), a linguistically valid dialect that is unfortunately seen as less “literary” or “proper” than Standard English, leaving minority students discriminated against and lacking representation. But Starr and Thomas use it in pride, while also examining the process of code-switching–how Starr speaks, dresses, and acts differently when she’s in more affluent and white situations like her school and the part of town her uncle and boyfriend live. She also has a great relationship with her parents and brothers, a family dynamic that’s so fun to read.

The Hate U Give similarly offers a nuanced dive into Starr’s community and the structural situations often ignored by those who don’t understand these protests of police brutality. Starr’s father is a former drug dealer and her brother’s mother is still involved in that world, leading her to experience how difficult it is to leave that world alive and how Khalil being labelled as a “drug dealer” in the media ignores the economic though spot he was in–the reason why many young men get mixed up in the world. Starr’s uncle is also a cop, but one who acknowledges the importance of accountability. There is also a discussion of performative allyship when students at Starr’s school skip school to participate in protests, while they exhibit biased behavior elsewhere.

This book is important not only for black teens struggling with these issues and looking to be represented, but also for students who can gain empathy and perspective from Thomas’s nuanced analysis of the situation. I’m exciting for the upcoming movie and to see this integrated into classrooms across the country!

the hate u give cast
The cast of Starr and her family in the upcoming film adaptation

Links Starr would be interested in:

Video: Angie Thomas on Inspiration Behind the Book

 

The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost

Note: This post is for a class, so it’s a bit different from my usual reviews!

paladinThe Paladin Prophecy is the first in a YA sci-fi/fantasy trilogy by Mark Frost (yes, the not-Lynch co-creator of Twin Peaks). It follows a teen named Will, the only child of a constantly-moving family (currently in a small town in California) who have trained him to follow specific life rules and keep a low profile. But this low profile is blown when he scores exceptionally high on a national, earning him tremendous interest and all-expenses paid trip to a secluded top boarding school in Wisconsin, which he flees to when he and his parents are being tracked down by mysterious force. One of those forces tracking him down appears to be a monster. Oh, and he has the power to “push” images at people with his mind.

The first 100 pages especially are fast-paced, full of intrigue because of all the mysterious and dangerous things happening to Will. It had a spy thriller feel to me. There are so many moving pieces that keep you guessing, and some details are not revealed until the very end.

Avid readers will probably notice familiar beats and tropes from other sci-fi and fantasy stories, as well as some plot contrivances. And all teens are probably going to find the “teen-speak” Frost tries so hard at to be laughable. However, for more reluctant readers or those not as familiar with the genre, this can definitely be a fun ride.

paladin image
From the Random House website

Links Will might be interested in:

Video: Book Trailer

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Note: This is a bit different from my usual posts because it is part of a class assignment!

my heart and otherMy Heart and Other Black Holes is Jasmine Warga’s 2015 debut novel about two teenagers who make a suicide pact on a website for just that, choosing each other because of they live in neighboring towns. Aysel, the narrator, wants to die because she has depression and feels distant from her family, alienated by her community because they fear she’ll be like her father, who killed the town’s pride Olympic-bound teenage track star. Her partner is Roman, who wants to die because he feels responsible for his younger sister’s death and does not deserve to live.

This novel definitely comes with a plethora of trigger warnings in regard to suicidal thoughts. Aysel’s narration has the dark, snarky humor that’s often found with depressed teens (though it did feel familiar to me from reading various YA novels), but that means that dying is tossed around so lightly it’s a very heavy read. (Though I was disappointed she resorted to a negative throwaway line about cheerleaders, and OCD was used as an adjective to describe orderly behavior. Pet peeves of mine.)

The setting of small Kentucky towns was well-realized and specific. I enjoyed how Aysel saw the world through her interest in physics, as well as her reference to the “black slug” in her gut that represented depression. It also did a good job of portraying depression and addressing the potential permanent, genetic aspect of it. However, this book’s premise does walk a very fine and dangerous line that I’m not sure ever resolved (some spoilers ahead). As the synopsis and tagline of the book indicates, Aysel and Roman develop feelings to each other that make Aysel begin to question their pact to see what might happen with them. This is definitely the spark that turns the tables for her, and it’s a dangerous premise because you should never base your reason for living on one person and love–you can’t rely on that. But the book redeemed itself a bit by having her talk to her mother and want to pursue other interests in her life outside of Roman, so she had more to live for. Still, it’s impossible to divorce Aysel’s change in perception from her feelings from Roman, and that’s evident in the packaging of the book.

Links Aysel might visit (not including anything suicidal, for safety reasons):

depression

Video: Book Trailer