By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.
First Impressions: All right, this one has been sitting on my TBR pile for years now and based on what the person who recommended it said and the blurb here, I was expecting a bit more of a plot twist/reveal at the end. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed to predict the ending to some extent, but my expectations set me up to be really wowed and I wasn’t especially.
That Being Said: Sometimes I think graphic novels can be a bit light on story and character development and you can breeze through them. American Born Chinese was neither, and although it was a quick read, it was still thought provoking.
On the surface the novel deals with the struggles of Jin Wang, Danny, and the Monkey King. All of them are in denial about who they are. They all also share the burden of straddling two cultures and feeling the need or desire to choose one over the other. But I think it goes beyond the conflict of Chinese and American, monkey and god. It’s a story about finding who you are and embracing that person, something that is a universal struggle for, well, everyone. You don’t need to be grappling with feeling like an outsider because of your culture or race or citizenship to appreciate the characters. To me, the power of the story was in its message that it’s okay to be different and uncomfortable with that and that it’s okay to come to terms with your differences, be they cultural or otherwise.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Love is awkward, Amelia should know.
From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.
Amelia isn’t stupid. She knows it’s not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia’s crush doesn’t seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?
I wasn’t totally bowled over by this book, but I really enjoyed it. I guess it wasn’t as swoony as I thought it would be, but I think because it wasn’t it felt more authentic.
What I found really fascinating about this book was the fact that it felt like both a YA novel and a NA novel. Amelia is definitely young and in love and her story is very much the story of a young adult. But the book alternates between Amelia’s narration and Chris’s journals. Chris is struggling with much more “adult” problems.
Personally, I connected more with his story than with Amelia which speaks to my getting older, not the quality or appeal of the book. Chris just had his heart broken. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. His friends are growing up and getting jobs, houses, moving in with their significant others. He and Amelia are clearly good for each other and, age aside, would make a great couple, but they are in such different places in their lives. I think these struggles are pretty universal for 20 somethings, at least they have been in my circle of friends, including age differences making relationships difficult (although not quite to this extent!).
Even though I am not the target audience, I can see this story connecting with my high school self. I wasn’t especially interested in boys my age, like Amelia, and would have found someone as fun and interesting as Chris very appealing. Being naive and inexperienced as Amelia is, I also would have not understood how problematic a relationship would have been. All in all, a fun and interesting read even if it wasn’t my favorite I’ve read for The Hub Challenge. This would make a fabulous summer read.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Jun 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
So the 48-Hour Book Challenge weekend is here and I am ready to kick off my summer reading. It’s even over a 100 degrees in honor of summer making me want to just lie on the couch inert. My goal for the challenge is not to spend as much of the 48 hours reading as that would be frustratingly impossible, but to get through a couple books. Sometimes all I need is a bit of a deadline to get through stuff. First up is finishing the current book I’m reading, Akata Witch. I would then like to follow that up with Drowned Cities. And if there’s time I’ll move on to It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Wish me luck, we’ll see how it goes. I still have a toddler to care for, grocery shopping to do, and a tub that won’t scrub itself. Maybe next year I can really get into the challenge by having my mom babysit all weekend!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Jun 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
In honor of summer and all the (terrible) summer blockbusters that will soon be storming the local cineplex, I wanted to talk about movies. And books. Movies and books. As a librarian and reader I love books, but I frequently hear that “the book is always better” or “you thought that was a good movie, you should read the book”. I’ve seen some pretty abysmal adaptations of some amazing books, but I’ve also seen some really amazing adaptations. I hate to write off film adaptations based on a few bad movies, so all of this started me wondering, is the book always better? And just because the book is good does that preclude a good movie? And, why are we so loathe to see film versions of our favorite books?
Film is, in and of itself, a very powerful medium. It can tell beautiful, incredible stories. Case in point: Wall-E. Pixar told an incredibly poignant, touching story with almost no dialog. I walked out of that movie with my mind blown. So, I don’t think the medium of film is ill suited to telling great stories like we find in books.
Books and film are, however, very different mediums. Plot devices, narrations, and character insights that are possible in books are not always possible in movies. But the challenges of creating a good adaptation can be handled well by a good director, someone with a good eye, a good vision and a reverence for the source material. In the most recent version of Jane Eyre the screen writer began a ways into the story and then backtracked, condensing a good 125 pages of pretty boring content. I absolutely adore the novel and have read it many times, but I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the majority of those events on screen just as they were written. The two methods worked perfectly for their mediums. All of which I think points to the fact that the book doesn’t have to be better nor does a story being first written as a book preclude a really good film. And what about taking mediocre books and making them into great movies?
But, why do we hate movie adaptations? I think when you read a book your mind constructs the world and characters around you. It becomes a secret, private place to retreat in our minds. Having a filmmaker impose their vision of the world and characters can feel very intrusive and rude. That other person’s vision can also push out your own. As you read, you picture the characters and the events, but those memories can be disturbed by the bombast of a movie.
Of course what will appeal to you in a movie depends very much on your personal preferences. Like with reading, the “goodness” of a movie is pretty subjective. I personally prefer arty, cerebral movies over the more popular rom-coms that show up at the cineplex in droves. It doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just that I prefer one over the other. If a director creates a film that doesn’t fit with your preferred movie style, then it’s going to be a lot harder to accept it as a good version of the book. If Michael Bey had directed Jane Eyre I don’t think I would have even bothered to see it.
The thing is, I don’t think we should write off movie adaptations. A lot of times they bring people to the book or to read alikes and series. And that’s never a bad thing. I think it can also provide an entry point for people into literature. Just as a final thought, I think we sometimes get caught up in worrying about too much screen time and forget that movies can be incredibly powerful and worthwhile.
What about you? Any books you want to see made into a movie? Any favorite adaptations? Any adaptations you hated?
My List of Movies
In my experience movie adaptations fall into one of four categories: movie is better, movie and book are equal, book is better and book and movie are just different.
Movie and Book are Equal
- Jane Eyre (most recent version)
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- True Grit
Book is Better
- okay, none come to mind but we know they are out there lurking
Movie is Better
- The Painted Veil (I liked the movie ending better, it was a little more redeeming)
- The Whale Rider (I thought the characters were a lot more complex and more interesting in the movie)
- Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get into the books!)
- Watchmen (there were some scenes in this one that really came alive for me in the movie in a way they didn’t in the book)
Some are just different
- The Woman in White (as much as I loved the book, I thought the choices for the movie made for a good story too)