Unteachable Book Review

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Review:

It’s kind of funny what a 180 degree turn Unteachable was from my last summer read, despite being very similar in genre and setting. I identified pretty strongly, maybe even overidentified, with the characters of Fangirl. I have almost nothing in common with the characters of Unteachable.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book a great deal. The main character and narrator, Maise O’Malley, is pretty severely fucked up – major daddy issues thanks to the father she’s never met, as well as a mother who’s a meth addict and dealer and who turns tricks on the side – but she’s vibrant and alive in a way that makes it pretty clear why men in general (and one man in particular) are drawn to her.

Her personality leaps off the page via vivid, impressionistic prose. In fact, I bought the book kind of on a whim, without checking the sample like I usually do, but I knew I was going to enjoy it as soon as I read the opening line:

When you’re eighteen, there’s fuck-all to do in a southern Illinois summer but eat fried pickles, drink PBR tallboys you stole from your mom, and ride the Tilt-a-Whirl till you hurl.

Maisie is cynical, blunt (“Thanks, Dad, for leaving a huge void in my life that Freud says has to be filled with dick“), and often funny, but desperate to escape her small Illinois town and sad, messed up life. In the way of smart, creative teenagers everywhere, she swings sometimes into melodrama and pretentiousness, but she’s also very raw and honest in a way that makes you feel for her, and root for her even when she’s making mistakes. Her dream is to direct films, and she experiences the world in a very immediate way, like a series of overlapping but often fleeting sensations, so the book is filled with evocative sensory descriptions, from the steamy sex scenes to the sights and sounds and smells of the carnival. I tore through it really feeling like I was experiencing the world through someone else’s eyes.

It was a bit less clear why Maise felt so drawn to Evan Wilke, the stranger she hooks up with at a carnival shortly before the start of her senior year of high school, who’s soon revealed to be her new Film Studies teacher. Neither Maise nor Evan is shy about admitting the lure of forbidden fruit for both of them, but the extent to which their relationship exists outside of mutual lust, mutual fucked-upedness, and the irresistability of the taboo is left a little ambiguous. (Deliberately, I suspect.)

The book ends hopefully, but if you like your endings Happily Ever After, it’s the sort of hopeful ending you don’t want to examine too closely with a realistic eye. As someone 10 or 15 years older than the intended audience of the “New Adult” genre, there were several things that set my alarm bells clanging about Maise and Evan’s real prospects for a happy future together, including, most alarmingly, the revelation that Maise wasn’t the first student Evan had slept with. (In real life, girls, this is the point where you run the fuck away and don’t look back.) By the end, it seemed clear to me that despite the 15 year age gap between them, Maisie was in many ways the more mature of the two of them and the one who really knew what she wanted out of life and was willing to do what it took to get it. Evan finally took action toward the life he wanted for himself at the end, but will it be enough to change it or will he continue to drift? The book leaves the question open, and frankly you could easily make an argument for either outcome.

In short, it’s not a comfortable book with characters or actions that are easily slotted into neat pigeonholes, but if you’re okay with complicated people in complicated and not always healthy relationships making complicated and not always healthy choices, it’s an intense and absorbing read that you may find will stick with you for a long time.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

The Only Alien on the Planet Book Review

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Review:

This is another book that originally caught my attention due to the cover, which featured a rather beautiful but blank-eyed teenage boy dressed in white and floating in mid-air. In between the cover and the title, I thought it was going to be some sort of science fiction novel, but the description on the back introduced me instead to a boy named Smitty Tibbs who never speaks and never smiles, and the new girl in town who decides to try and befriend him.

Well, I was intrigued, all right, and ended up devouring the novel within a few hours.

It’s a very intense read that touches on some serious issues of abuse and neglect. As an adult, I have a little trouble suspending my disbelief that no professional tried to delve deeper into Smitty’s voluntary muteness and refusal to interact socially before a couple of high school seniors started nosing around and trying to break through his shell, but as a teenager I found the book riveting. And really, despite those little niggling doubts about its realism, I’ve continued to enjoy its presence in my periodic re-reading rotation as an adult. Like The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman, another of my teenage favorites, it benefits from a smart and likable (though flawed) narrator with a set of loving and supportive family relationships and friendships. The central romance is slow to develop and much more complicated than Kate’s thanks to the severity of Smitty’s condition, but sweet to watch as it (and Smitty) finally unfold.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Children of the River Book Review

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Review:

Children of the River is another of my favorite YA romance novels. It tells the story of a Cambodian refugee girl named Sundara who escapes from the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge with her aunt and uncle and flees to America. I’m ashamed to say that before reading it for the first time around age 14 or 15, I knew almost nothing about Cambodia, and nothing at all about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, who were responsible for the death of up to 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979, so it was a very eye-opening book for me. In addition to information about the Cambodian genocide, the novel also has many interesting details about Cambodian customs and traditions, as well as a nuanced depiction of the struggle many immigrants face between preserving their own unique cultures and blending in with mainstream American society.

It’s also a very sweet romance. Four years after her escape from Cambodia, Sundara falls in love with an American boy named Jonathan, which creates new complications in her life, as Cambodian culture practices arranged marriage and good Cambodian girls like Sundara are not supposed to go on dates. (Especially not with non-Cambodian boys.) Sundara and Jonathan are both changed by their relationship, and the book has a very satisfying conclusion.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Friday Night Lights Season 2 Review

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Review:

After a practically perfect season one, Friday Night Lights fell apart in its second season. Like most other shows in 2007-2008, it had a shortened, 15 episode season thanks to the Writer’s Strike that gave many shows a weak year.

On top of the problems with pacing faced by most other shows affected by the strike, the FNL writers also made some mystifyingly dumb story choices, most notably the disastrous murder subplot. (In fairness to the writers, some of these poor story choices were reportedly the result of Executive Meddling.) Other storylines from season one were dropped completely. Waverly? Who’s that?

Disappointed, I gave up about halfway into the season and haven’t watched the show again since, although I’m told that the later seasons were closer in quality to the first season than the second, and they are on my to watch list.

Friday Night Lights Season One Review

Review:

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I grew up in one of the most football-crazy states in the nation, and as a non-fan, got so sick of hearing about it all the time that I almost didn’t give this show a chance just from sheer dislike of the sport. However, it got such good reviews from critics and several (more football tolerant) friends that I eventually gave in and ended up really enjoying it.

Friday Night Lights paints one of the most realistic portraits of life in a football-crazy small town America that I’ve seen on screen, both for the team, their coaches and fans, and those like myself who are indifferent or even resentful of the sport’s prominence.

The acting is excellent, especially Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as the team’s coach and his wife, who has to juggle her role as “Mrs. Coach” with her duties to students both on the team and off as the school’s guidance counselor. The show doesn’t flinch from exploring human pain, failure, and weakness in many different guises, but at the same time, its central characters (especially Coach and Mrs. Coach) are essentially good and moral human beings in a way that inspires the best of human nature not only in many of the other characters, but also in the audience. In a time when dark, grim narratives are common on television, Friday Night Lights is fundamentally uplifting. And there’s something to be said for shows like that.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3 Review

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The Complete Third Season (Slim Set) (DVD)
Actors: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, James Marsters
Director: David Greenwalt, David Semel, David Solomon, James A. Contner, Joss Whedon
Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, NTSC
Language: English (Dolby Surround)
Subtitles: English
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 990 minutes

List Price: $39.98
Price: $24.99
12 offers available from $7.98
4.7 out of 5 stars (686)

Review:

I have a hard time deciding whether season two or season three of Buffy is my favorite. I think I would have to say that I like individual episodes (Innocence, Passion, Becoming 1 and 2, etc.) in season two better than any single episode in season three, but season three was much stronger and more consistent overall. The pod people, for one, seem to have spent the season on vacation, so there are no clunkers on par with “Bad Eggs” or “Go Fish,” thank the muses. The Mayor is also one of my favorite Big Bads.

mayor-become-invincible

Unfortunately, despite the fact that it’s one of my favorite seasons, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen any episodes other than my favorites (Lover’s Walk and Graduation Day 1 & 2), so I’ll have to do a rewatch before doing comments on individual episodes. Oh the pain. 😀

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2 Review

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Review:

Season two might be my favorite season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m always a little torn, because the bad episodes in season two were really, amazingly bad and I think some of the later seasons were more consistent overall.

But the good episodes were great, and the Angelus storyline starting in the final moments of Surprise is one of my favorites of the whole show. (I’ve never been much of a Buffy/Angel shipper, mainly because I always thought David Boreanaz was clearly having much more fun as Angelus.)

Another season two vampire bonus: Spike, when he was still un-chipped, un-souled, and cheerfully ripping out throats. \o/

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1 Review

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Review:

To be honest, I’ve only seen some of the episodes from season one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and wasn’t impressed. The show was a mid-season replacement and it was initially given a tiny budget. With just 12 episodes, it didn’t really have enough time to find its footing and it flailed around with mostly silly plots and absolutely terrible special effects for most of the season. If you want to watch Buffy but don’t want to sit through the whole season, start with these four episodes:

  • 1×01 Welcome to the Hellmouth
  • 1×02 The Harvest
  • 1×07 Angel
  • 1×12 Prophecy Girl

There are occasional callbacks to other season one episodes (especially 1×03 Witch) in the later seasons, but these four are the most important to the show’s overall arc.

My rating:2 Stars (2 / 5)

Take the Lead Movie Review

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Review:

Based on an inspiring true story about a ballroom dancing instructor who taught inner city kids. Like many movies about inner city schools, Take the Lead resorts too frequently to cliches, but overall this is an enjoyable, feel good film with a good performance by Antonio Banderas as the instructor, Pierre Dulaine, and some nice dance scenes, including a particularly hot tango with Lithuanian-Canadian dancer Katya Virshilas.

 

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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Bring It On Movie Review

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Review:

This movie belongs to the same class of high school tongue-in-cheek comic masterpieces as Mean Girls and Easy A. Though it doesn’t quite reach those heights of brilliance in dialogue and plot, it does come with the bonus of some truly fantastic cheerleading routines, and will give you new respect for cheerleading as a sport.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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