Category: Young Adult Fiction

The Breakfast Club: 33 Years Later

The Breakfast Club: 33 Years Later

It’s been exactly 33 years since the day that five teenagers entered the library at the imaginary Shermer High School for their Saturday detention – it’s been 33 years since Brian wrote a letter to Mr Vernon dismissing his prejudices of them as people rather than just teenagers – and so it felt like a poignant time to discuss my love and admiration for the fantastic film that is The Breakfast Club.

Since first watching it at sixteen, I have found The Breakfast Club refreshingly unique, even if it does deal with some of the most stereotypical, archetypal characteristics of young people I have ever seen. But that’s the subtle beauty of the whole film, and why I think John Hughes did such a wonderful thing with it; the whole point of the film is that the outside world, the camera and the school, teachers and parents, see these teenagers as their stereotypes – but somehow, through meeting each other on a Saturday, they realise this is not who they are at all.

Insightful, wonderful, and also very weird, The Breakfast Club jumps about all over the place; the teens yell at each other, spit insults and threaten each other, before suddenly running around the school, smoking weed, dancing and spilling their deepest secrets in a matter of two hours – it’s overwhelming. It’s also part of why I love it – the film covers such a vast range of emotions the same way we can so easily swap them as teenagers finding our way in life (just ask my seventeen year old brother), but it doesn’t get swamped by these. It still lends itself to our teenage truths, hopes and fears, and even as adults I think there is something to be learnt and taken away from the film. We cannot let our hearts die.

Though it was filmed before my time, I have never seen a teen movie since The Breakfast Club that matches its understanding, thought-provoking nature; except for maybe Mean Girls, which can also match it for sharp writing, interesting humour, and a ridiculous amount of memorable quotes. However, The Breakfast Club is also unique in that the majority of it it takes place in one room and is mostly dialogue driven – which makes it easy to see why people have tried adapting it to the stage. Even I did, in a small-scale adaptation of the film which I put on for my University’s Drama Festival in my second year.

It just goes to show that it may be 33 years since Brian wrote that letter, but teenagers never change, and The Breakfast Club always has something more to give. It is as touching, honest, raw and true now about its characters and their values as it always has been. It’s no wonder it’s a classic. Verdict: 10/10.

Carve the Mark: Review

Carve the Mark: Review

Carve the Mark is the first in a new young adult duology by the author of the Divergent series, Veronika Roth. In it, expect new characters, new worlds, and a full sense of creating an entirely new galaxy that is both forwards and backwards in time in comparison to our own world – it’s a nice, easy world builder which focuses more on character and plot development than building the new galaxy, but that’s what I would expect from a young adult book.

The book focuses on two main protagonists, Akos and Cyra, switching between a first person narrative for Cyra and a third person omnipresent narrative when we read Akos’ chapters. They are two unlikely foes who, through circumstance and ‘Currentgifts’ (read it, I don’t want to give that away) are thrown together and eventually come to depend on each other, forming a friendship. Again, I can’t really go into too many details regarding their relationship because I try my hardest to do spoiler free reviews, but I’ll just say: it’s a young adult novel. What do you expect happens?

This is part of the reason why I didn’t always find their relationship believable – it was sometimes too good to be true, and sometimes a bit like good luck, or a dias ex machina. I’m not sure how deep into more character development the second in the series will delve, but there were moments of good development and understanding thrown in amongst the cliches, so I’m willing to give it a chance. The one thing I strongly hope Roth stays away from is that idea of a ‘strong’ female protagonist, which I felt Cyra occasionally falling into – I want more than that.

Carve the Mark, unfortunately, has had some fall out over the fact that Cyra is seen to suffer from ‘chronic pain’, and over a potentially racist outlook – see this link for more details – but from Roth’s acknowledgements I can see she has at least tried to do some research (at least into the chronic pain element). Also see this link about ‘sensitivity readers’, which I think is a great idea and Roth maybe should have had one read over Carve the Mark before it was released, considering the amount of controversy that ended up surrounding it as a story.

Personally, I did not notice the racial stereotypes and undertones; I would never dismiss the people who did, and having read into it I can understand their frustrations and agree if PoC (or anyone, really) have problems with this book after reading the descriptions of characters. However, when reading it, I didn’t personally notice those things – maybe it was because of my privilege, and if so I apologise, but I was more interested in the characters’ personalities and the choices they made. I loved the Shotet people (Cyra’s people). I thought Akos’ people, the Thuve, were slow and boring. So it didn’t seem to me as the “white hero vs. dark enemy”… it was just young people, a band of renegades, against one tyrant – one man, Cyra’s brother – the king. Maybe I’m just naive.

I didn’t see the issues in discussing chronic pain as a ‘gift’, probably because I have never had that issue personally but again, I can see why people who do suffer from the medical condition would have been outraged by Roth’s easy dismissal of it. However, I do still believe in fiction – Carve the Mark is supposed to be a world builder, and I would have thought that we could hope to give authors the benefit the doubt when they’re creating whole worlds, that they might not have realised if they are being insensitive? Again, probably why we need sensitivity readers – but how far can we go before it’s too much? A Series of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) is a world builder full of rape, murder, incest, slavery – the list goes on. Why does this not get the same level of criticism? Just because it is an adult novel?

Overall – and to get away from the deep questions – Carve the Mark has a good pace and characters that try to be interesting, but it falls into the usual traps that young adult books seem to fall into all the time. It is not quite as believable as it should be, and the characters are mostly ‘good’ or ‘bad’, without the level of depth that I would have preferred to see to help me understand their view points. However, I still couldn’t put it down and wanted to keep reading, so I guess thats a good thing.

An easy read that focused more on a plot and character creation than the worlds around them, I will continue the series and hope that Roth has learnt from her critics. Verdict: 6/10.

Wolf By Wolf: Review

Wolf By Wolf: Review

By the author of The Walled City, Ryan Graudin, Wolf By Wolf is one of the biggest “what if”s of the 20th Century: what if the Allies lost World War II? What if the Axis, mainly Germany and Japan, won the war and Hitler managed to pretty much take over the entire world? It’s a massive idea, and Wolf By Wolf is somehow capable with dealing with it on a manageable scale, resulting in an interesting story that follows individuals set in this frightening wider world.

Our main protagonist is Yael, a sixteen year old Jewish girl who also happens to have been experimented on as a child, resulting in her ability to “skin shift” – she can transform into any female, with any physical appearance, that she wants to. This has also led to her lacking a personal identity, which is looked at throughout the book and definitely struck a chord with me. It’s an interesting notion that works in well with our modern world, its interconnectivity and the idea of people becoming ‘international’ – or, more personally, how people can have a ‘third culture’ and lack identity for a certain place, instead choosing their identities based on other aspects of their lives.

The year is 1956 and Yael’s mission, as you might expect, is to kill Hitler. The way to get close to him is for Yael to win a cross-world (from Germany to Japan) motorbike race which is usually reserved for teenage boys – I won’t go into much other detail, as I try to make these reviews spoiler free, but all I will say is that Wolf By Wolf is worth the read to find out how Yael gets on with her mission. The book is fast-paced, with thought-provoking insights to a world I’m glad we didn’t have as a future. The only problem I had with Wolf By Wolf is that it is quite an easy read; the concept was good, but the language didn’t challenge or create an superbly vivid descriptions. As a fast reader who was only reading in drips and drabs at work, it only took me three days. If I had been able to sit and read it through, I think it would have taken me a day, a day and a half at most.

A mix of both a young adult novel and historical fiction, I found in Wolf By Wolf the action was quite light, which contrasted with the historical events and their seriousness (such as the labour and concentration camps). Sometimes, the fear I felt I should be feeling for the characters and their predicaments was not as intense as I thought it should be, considering the brutality of the Nazi regime and the genocide that took place. Even in Yael’s life, it’s historical brutality, and the action that takes place in her present did not make me particularly anxious for her safety.

Saying this, I read it quickly because I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know – needed to know what would happen, and had to keep reading whenever I got the chance. Wolf By Wolf may have been occasionally too light, but there was enough action and oh-so-many cliff hangers that my interest was constantly peaked, and there was never a dull moment.

True, classic young adult fiction with a zesty twist of “what if” history, Wolf By Wolf is a good, strong, juicy start to what I know now is a duology looking into this thought-provoking alternate timeline. Blood By Blood is the follow up, which I will be getting from my local Waterstone’s as soon as I can. Verdict: 7/10

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©WarnerBros and does not belong to me)

Yes, I am very aware that this review is almost an entire month late, with Fantastic Beasts being released in the UK on the 18th of November, but on the off chance you haven’t seen it and are pondering whether or not you should – here is a review to help!

This film is first in what J.K.Rowling has announced as a series of five movies based in the 1920s-1950s, surrounding the dark wizard Grindelwald, his rise to power, and his relationship (and ultimate demise by) a young Albus Dumbledore. However, Fantastic Beasts both thrusts this idea on its audience at the beginning of the movie and then only has a sprinkle of hints to it throughout the rest of the film, before bringing it back in full force as an interesting finale – as the title suggests, the rest of the film focuses on finding (or, I should really say, recapturing) some ‘fantastic beasts’ that have managed to get out of a magical suitcase, although this does feel like a secondary plot.

Fantastic Beast‘s main protagonist is Newt Scamander, although a lot of the film follows him and a muggle he befriends called Jacob Kowalski. It also gives us an insight to American wizards’ way of life, their traditions, and the difference between them and the British wizards that we have met throughout the Harry Potter series. Set in New York in the 1920s, in Fantastic Beasts we also see segregation of ‘no-maj’s (muggles) and wizards, which made me curious as to whether this was a nod to the segregation that people of colour faced at the same time (even though this wasn’t apparent in the back drop of the film, which I think they could have made more effort to involve).

I found it really interesting to see a Harry Potter’s Wizarding World film that focused on adults who were comfortable and fully “trained” in their magical abilities. As it was set in the city, it was also nice to get an idea of wizard’s and witches’ daily life, although I wish there was something set in 2016 because we still have never seen the magical world as it stands today (interesting fact for those who don’t know: the Battle of Hogwarts took place in 1998).

Overall, Fantastic Beasts was a good, strong film that held its own in the Wizarding World franchise; I enjoyed Eddie Redmayne’s acting although his character’s awkwardness was not what I was expecting. I wondered if it might stereotype Hufflepuffs considering one of the only other Hufflepuffs we have met was Luna Lovegood, but I enjoyed the style nonetheless. The best thing about Fantastic Beasts were (shock) the beasts themselves – as with all Wizarding World films I’ve seen, the effects were great and I loved the different magical creatures we met and were able to learn about. Most of these, I’ve been told, did come from Scamander’s book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” so it was nice to these come to life on the big screen.

Saying this, the plot for Fantastic Beasts was borderline ‘okay’; I was surprised by its quirks, and it proved J.K. Rowling’s ability to write – she was responsible for the screenplay. There was good direction from David Yates but I wasn’t really sure of the main plot and the battle-fuelled ending of the film, which dragged the magical creatures into a secondary plot line (which was weird seeing as they were the film’s title). As well as this, during the final battle the dueller’s spells ‘touching’ really annoyed me (book nerd alert); I understand it is used for visual effect, but the whole point if this effect is that it is only supposed to happen with Harry’s and Voldemort’s wants because they have the same core material.

I’ll be honest – I wasn’t particularly excited going into the cinema to watch Fantastic Beasts, but after seeing it I am excited for the future of J.K Rowling’s Wizarding World and the stories it has to offer. My only other issue with the film itself was the surprise reveal at the end of this film, and the casting of Grindelwald, but I will wait to make a judgement until we see him properly in the future films.

Fantastic Beasts was varied in pace, and the magic was great – but apart from the beasts, there wasn’t anything new or unexpected in terms of characters’ magical abilities. Though the plot was a little busy, it was a good film overall which has set up the future plot lines well and made me excited for the Wizarding World to be back in my life. Verdict: 7/10.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Review

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is © 20th Century Fox and does not belong to me)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, at first, does not strike me as particularly peculiar. Though a Tim Burton film, his personal flourish doesn’t seem to come into play until after Jake, our main character, has stumbled upon the Home and its inhabitants – but we’ll get to that in a moment. Miss Peregrine’s follows protagonist Jake, a something-teen who lives in Florida with parents and has what seems like a very dull day-to-day life.

This all changes when a trip to a small island off the coast of Wales starts the beginning of a life-changing adventure; he meets a group of children with various ‘peculiarities’ who live in a children’s home run by the eccentric Miss Peregrine, and takes in all of these changes with an astounding sense of ease. Though I enjoyed the mystery of the house at the beginning of the film – for the first quarter I actively wondered how Jake would reach it, and I’m glad the film’s trailer didn’t give this away – I would have liked to see more of Jake’s life in Florida before his trip to Wales.

In fact, before finding the Home, I didn’t find Jake’s Florida life particularly ‘ordinary’ (as the film likes to state it is, about three times). In Florida, it’s clear from the few scenes we see that Jake is lonely- he doesn’t have any friends, his parents don’t seem to care about him, and he’s frustrated with his elderly grandfather who told him stories of monsters as a kid. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly ‘ordinary’ upbringing; it doesn’t surprise me when Jake feels more at home with the Peculiar kids and his apparent indecision of whether to stay with them or go home is shallow at best.

When we finally meet the Home and its occupants, however, is when Tim Burton’s classic style really gets into gear. I have always enjoyed his costume choices and the aesthetic he brings to a film, and Miss Peregrine’s was no exception. The Children are quirky, interesting, and I enjoy all of the actors and actresses that play the peculiar roles. This is also true of Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell, who play Jake and Emma, respectively, who I think do a solid, believable job with their characters and I hope to see more of both of them in the future. Saying that, it is Dame Judi Dench and Rupert Everett (who only play minor roles in the film) that steal the show for me, but maybe that’s just because I have great admiration for both of them as performers.

The only downfall in character, I think, is the casting of Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Baron as the main villain. Not to say I don’t respect Jackson – I think he is a tremendous talent – but I have seen him portray so many other characters that I couldn’t focus on him in Miss Peregrine’s for the threat he was supposed to be. Seeing Samuel L. Jackson instead of Mr. Baron as I watched the final confrontation just made it comical, and ruined my suspension of disbelief that these children were in real danger.

Overall, the film’s plot and writing was good but I didn’t think it stood out amongst it’s Y/A genre, which is a shame considering it had Jane Goldman as a screenwriter – whose other works include Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kick-Ass. Saying that, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was definitely worth a watch on the big screen; the score was great and the effects both magical and frightening in equal measure.

A thoroughly interesting, satisfying film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children had a range of eccentric, intriguing characters and a visual aesthetic Tim Burton should be proud of. With these, and its captivating plot, Miss Peregrine’s should have felt original, but unfortunately it fell short of the mark, feeling very similar to other young adult coming-of-age films I’ve seen before. Verdict: 6/10.