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Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Divergent”

Dear Frank,

Divergent hc c(2)In case you missed it, a couple of days ago your friend and mine, John Ross, stopped by to tell me what happened in the recent young adult adaptation The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Aside from delighting us all with tales of Lena Headey kicking the shit out of things and maybe-incest, he reminded me that I’ve never gotten around to telling you what happens in the young adult novel/soon-to-be major motion picture Divergent.

Divergent, let’s be clear, is very much of the post-Hunger Games publishing craze — which is to say that without Katniss Everdeen, there is no Tris Prior, and without Suzanne Collins, there is no Veronica Roth on my Kindle.

But to Divergent‘s credit, it was a relatively early entry in said craze, making it almost not feel like pure bandwagon-hopping. And given the recent release of a teaser trailer, and the fact that Kate Winslet (!!!!!) is in it, Divergent seems like something you should at least have a passing familiarity with. Especially because this book be WEIRD, yo. Read the rest of this entry

Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Harriet the Spy”

Dear Frank,

I was surprised when you told me that you’d never read Harriet the Spy, because it’s one of those children’s books that seems so ubiquitous. Maybe that’s a girl thing? I mean, I’ve never read a Hardy Boys novel. Maybe we’re both missing out. (Maybe you more than me, though.)

The titular Harriet M. Welsch, eleven years old, lives with her parents in New York City’s Upper East Side but is largely being raised by her nanny Ole Golly, who encourages her to write and read and think for herself. Harriet’s main passion is for “spying,” which amounts to wandering around her neighborhood and taking notes on the comings and goings of an assortment of relative strangers. She writes down all of her thoughts — harsh and honest and very much what you might expect from an insightful 11-year-old — in a notebook. And that, of course, gets her in trouble.

Well, eventually. First, book-quoting Ole Golly leaves Harriet to get married, shaking up Harriet’s life considerably. And Harriet gets cast as an onion in the school pageant. Harriet pals around with her best friends Scout (the numbers-minded son of an alcoholic writer) and Janey (an aspiring scientist determined to blow up the planet with chemistry). Harriet makes her rounds, scribbling down details from the lives she observes, there are some temper tantrums… This book? PLOT HEAVY.

The big plot twist is when one day, during a game of tag, the other kids in Harriet’s class manage to steal her notebook, reading the secrets within, including Harriet’s blunt thoughts about their personal appearance, behavior, parents and hygiene. Read the rest of this entry

Jeff Tells Liz What Happened In “Modelland”

Gaaaaaze into the power of my eeeeeeevil eye!Boy oh boy, Liz,

You may recall that when I was recapping Top Model for you, there was a challenge based on Tyra’s new young adult novel Modelland. At the time, I expressed semi-interest in reading Modelland and telling you about it. You took me up on that offer, and purchased me a copy for my brand new Kindle. “No sweat!” I thought. “This’ll be fun!”

Liz, when I wrote the recaps for the Top Model episodes, you and your readers no doubt guessed that I knocked back a few drinks and just wrote the recap as I watched, which saved me time and effort and allowed me to uphold my absolute standards of unprofessionalism. Sadly, I could not take this approach in reviewing Modelland, since rather than being a breezy 45 minutes of stupid reality show, Modelland is an aimless novel for teens that clocks in at a staggering 563 PAGES. THAT IS SO LONG. IT IS TOO LONG. To compare, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad is only 340 pages, and that book spanned a time period from the 70’s to the actual FUTURE. So Modelland… pretty long. Too long. Just like these opening paragraphs! Here’s what happened in it! Read the rest of this entry

Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Sweet Valley High”

Dear Frank,

It only took about thirty years, but I think the young ladies of today have stopped reading Sweet Valley books. To which I say — oh, THANK GOD.

See, Frank, when I told you what happened in Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, I mentioned that I was giving you one of the true secrets to understanding women. Sweet Valley High is another one. It’s not because it has any real insight into the reality of being a teenage girl — Buffy the Vampire Slayer offers a more realistic portrayal of high school life — but the genius of Sweet Valley is that it had nothing to do with reality. instead, it preyed on the deepest insecurities of young ladies, simultaneously coming off as aspirational and soul damaging. Reading these books could fuck you up for life. Let me explain how. Read the rest of this entry

Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”

Dear Frank,

This one is for the ladies. Not the young ladies, but the feisty old dames. Frank, the best thing about being female is that we have taken back the post-childbearing years; when I’m in my sunset years, I am looking forward to being a wise-cracking dame. Not like in an Adam Sandler movie; like in Downton Abbey.

Or like in E.L. Konigsberg’s The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, one of my favorite children’s books (in fact, the copy I re-read last week was my childhood copy, which I’d brought to LA with me years ago, which should tell you something), and I can’t believe you’ve never read it, Frank! Because this is very much a story with limited appeal — today, a tale of two children living inside an art museum would struggle for mainstream acceptance, due largely to the lack of Wii and hoverboards — but Frank, you are classy! Read the rest of this entry

Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “The Hunger Games” (Sorta.)

Dear Frank,

This week, I’m deviating a bit from our established pattern to tell you about something not so you can skip watching it, but instead to encourage you (and others) to enjoy it. See, Frank, I am fully aware of the fact that you are a cultured man who has read many books, long complex books that use big words. I bet you’ve even finished a David Foster Wallace novel! Maybe not Infinite Jest, because c’mon, but certainly maybe one of his shorter works.

So I understand that young adult fiction might not necessarily be your genre of choice. But The Hunger Games, a post-apocalyptic trilogy of novels written by Suzanne Collins, is a terrific and heart-breaking ride. And you should read it.

I’m making a big thing of this because I first read The Hunger Games about three weeks ago, and the second I started talking about it, it turned out that, like, half of my friends had also read it! And had not told me about how great it was! Which is bullshit! Friends, I mean no offense, I know you lead busy lives, but stuff like this is IMPORTANT, okay? (Sure, this would have all been avoided had I been reading IO9 regularly, but whatever.)

Anyways, here are the basics: In a bleak post-America totalitarian empire called Panem, 12 districts live under the thumb of the Capital, which every year demands a “tribute” of one teenage boy and girl, who are forced to compete in a televised fight to the death. (Yeah, another social commentary on the evils of reality TV, though to Collins’ credit it doesn’t belabor this point too hard.)

So, yes, technically, this is a young adult series, but it’s also a young adult series where, in the first book alone, over twenty children are brutally murdered. These books do not fuck around. Read the rest of this entry

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