If you've ever wanted to read every book in the library, maybe you should rethink that.

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Why does every damn book need to have a movie?

halfyear-youngadult

Warning! LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD.

Many novels these days, from recent best-sellers (Water For Elephants) to mass-read classics (The Great Gatsby) have had movies made from them. I haven’t seen or read either of these, but here’s what I did read and see recently:

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)

Divergent (Divergent, #1)
Kick-Ass Kick-Ass 2 Prelude: Hit-Girl Kick-Ass 2

These three books are good examples of what to do (and what not to do) when making a film or less inspired, blockbuster-craving movie. Although my opinions of them differ, they have much in common: they star teen characters, they’re more-or-less science fiction (if you count a realistic take on superheroes to be science fiction) and they’re all certainly action stories.

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire

I can’t decide which I liked more, the movies or the books. (Movies. Probably movies.) Although heroines usually grate on me, Katniss didn’t usually do so. And although I am, by now, tired of seeing Jennifer Lawrence’s face everywhere, watching her as Katniss helped me appreciate the hype. (Disclaimer: Lawrence is a fantastic actress. I simply dislike her because everyone else is currently in love with her. I might be a hipster.)

At first, the sight of Woody Harrelson playing Haymitch was startling, but the more I saw him the more I adored the character. In writing, Haymitch is the surly, sarcastic drunk who needs to be taken care of. On screen, he’s the surly, sarcastic drunk with a sharp wit who doesn’t need help from anyone, probably not even Peeta. Haymitch’s dislike for Katniss’ personality, in either case, is refreshing compared to the “you’re so special” mentality the protagonists of teen and tween stories tend to receive.

Because I watched the movies nearly immediately after finishing the novels (except Mockingjay), the differences between paper and screen were pretty fresh in my mind. I preferred the movie of The Hunger Games and the novel of Catching Fire. In the first movie, riots were shown, whereas in the book series we don’t learn about them until Katniss does in book two. THG can get away with straying from Katniss’ point of view, whereas the novel would break if it strayed from the first person point of view. I, for one, am glad the riots were included in the first movie because it encouraged interest in the second. I enjoyed seeing President Snow’s discussions in the movie, but in the novel of Catching Fire, Snow’s appearance at Katniss’ house was more chilling in writing.

If critics of Catching Fire say book two was all over the place, the movie, to me, was worse because it felt rushed. I was more intrigued by the first half of the novel with the utter uncertainty of the fates of the rioting districts. Once they got to the arena, I lost interest, but even so I wanted to see more interaction between the characters during the Games in the film.

This movie series is so sickening I seriously can’t have a midnight snack while watching it. The filmmakers did such a good job that the movies can stand on their own. Then again, I can’t ignore how once, while reading Catching Fire, I was actually biting my bookmark. Sometime shortly before the Mockingjay movie is released, I’ll look forward to reading the book.

I only wish I could say the same for Divergent.

Divergent

I’ve avoided writing any review on this to prevent myself from going on a rant. The novel was recommended to me, and the same friend let me know the movie was better. She was correct, but I don’t believe either was up to par with The Hunger Games (or any other well-received book). Somewhere in the middle of reading Divergent, I decided not to watch the movie. If the book frustrated me so much, not even a potential blockbuster could be that much better. Alas, I saw it anyway for the sake of this post. (You’re welcome. …Have you thanked me yet?)

“The movie is better,” I repeated during the trailer. But, as soon as Beatrice began her narration, I found myself moaning. No. Don’t world-build your movie with a narrated prologue. With novels, it depends on what you do, but movies? People, have you learned nothing from M. Night Shyamalan?

The Last Airbender

Unless this is the opening theme to every episodes for all the kiddies out there, it’s not needed. It’s simply evidence of hasty filmmaking. Do your world building!

To the movie’s credit, besides the opening and the closing, Beatrice’s inner monologue was non-existent. This was one hell of a step up from the book because things actually happened without her questioning herself at every turn of the page. However, even in the movie I and others were confused about certain things, such as why the Divergent population hasn’t been ruling the city all along and (my personal pet peeve) why it isn’t taboo for Beatrice to have a relationship with her trainer, who helps determine progress scores of all the competitive students.

All in all, this was one film where I was relieved to find out subplots and some of the main plot differed from its original.

I’m not usually a fan of filmmakers taking liberty with creative license for the sake of providing a semi-formulaic plot for the common man, but I make exceptions once in a while.

Kick-Ass!

I saw the first two movies before reading these comics, and I must say I’m a fan of both. Kick-Ass 2 (the movie) is combined with Kick-Ass 2 Prelude (the comic) and I’m okay with that. The plots are different, too. The movie shows more of Mindy’s life in high school and, yeah, gets formulaic with her attempt to fit in with the cool crowd, but as long as Hit Girl is triumphant I don’t think any of us can complain. (On that note, I’d like to address writer Mark Millar directly. *ahem* WHAT THE FUCK, MILLAR? WHEN IS KICK-ASS 3 GOING TO BE FINISHED? You can’t leave a girl hanging when she’s trying to write a post about the whole series!) Despite the plot of the second movie, I’m glad it features more Hit Girl because she’s more fun than Dave.

I find it difficult to decide which I like more: the movies or the books. More importantly for a fangirl, I find it impossible to decide which I dislike more. Even after reading Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, I’m not on board with terribly graphic violence. Just violence? For some reason, yes. The movies are more graphic visually whereas the comics, to me, are more graphic linguistically. Spoken swears roll off the actor’s tongue, whereas written swears linger within the dialogue box. Violence is prominently in the viewer’s face, but the coloring in the comics are more blunt than other comics I’ve read recently (especially Marvel).

Now that I’ve gone on about that, you may be wondering why I’m a fan of Kick-Ass in the first place. I just am. The exaggerated action is part of what makes the series so fun. Superheroes, come on!

The main character, Dave, makes a good point here:

Suddenly I got why they embraced us like they did. Why the movies were created in such a dark decade. Why these characters were created in the first place. We all just need a little color in our lives and the certainty of a happy ending because real life doesn’t work out like that.

Real life isn’t as comic book-y, either, so this is why over-the-top nonsense with a plot is and can be fantastic.

Should all books be made into movies? No. Like real life, some just won’t work out. I have a series that would make a great action film series, but there’s another series I’m working on that would make a terrible movie no matter who directed it.

 

After this post, this reading challenge is done with the über-popular books. I’m off to pursue lesser-known teen titles.

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I may have sold my soul for this reading challenge.

halfyear-youngadult

Because the Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell is a popular item among middle schoolers at my library, I decided to check it out. Next time, I should aim much, much higher.

This post isn’t any slam to Russell. (Not intentionally.) It’s a request to make fictional female diaries—even the children’s diaries, and even the ones (all of them) that are clearly written by adults—at least a little more eloquent.

Let me begin where I first started seeing problems: page one or so.

Nikki, the hero of Dork Diaries, is a self-absorbed, shallow fourteen-year-old. Little of this changes in the book, and hell no am I reading the rest of the series. After moving to a new school, Nikki quickly becomes obsessed with being accepted by the popular girls. This is where I first groaned in agony.

Tina Fey’s Mean Girls.
Actually a really good movie.

Does every middle and high school novel/movie have to star someone who’s trying to be accepted by the in-crowd? In a hypothetical school of four hundred, five people don’t make as big a difference as these fantasies will have you believe. Take it from an actual former high school loner: when the hero/heroine is surrounded by so many other bodies in school, problems with the popular crowd, and only them, aren’t that important. There are so many other social groups; Mean Girls and one drawing in Dork Diaries mention this. In reality and the background of a plot, the popular crowd is dwarfed by the other social options in your typical school.

To top it off, Nikki’s obsession with the popular girl, MacKenzie, is borderline creepy. Nikki mentions MacKenzie, who she hates, more often than her new friends, her crush, or her family. It’s clear from the beginning MacKenzie isn’t worth anyone’s time because of her unhidden cruelty and self-absorption mildly masked with materialism and poorly performed confidence. I’d rather hear this story from MacKenzie’s point of view because she’s clearly on the path to having some kind of narcissistic or borderline personality disorder, but no. I have to sit through Nikki’s underdog story from someone with little personality.

I often found it hard to believe this was supposed to be written by a fourteen-year-old based on this content because it read like it was written by a twelve-year-old. (There’s a big difference. There should be.) Then again, I took back this assumption when it became clear Nikki knows “big words” like principality. I also took my own teen diary into consideration and realized, yes, teens really are this self-absorbed. Let me give you some examples:

  • Nikki blames her own faults and actions on others
  • Nikki has no consideration for her younger sister and lashes out because she believes her petty personal problems (which she hasn’t told anyone about) are more important than her family
  • the best friends, Chloe and Zoey, make the decision to do something impossible and greedy when they’re disciplined by their parents for something they wouldn’t have been able to have anyway

The book is also filled with clichés, such as tripping in the lunchroom, having a crush on a nice boy, hiding yourself under cheap make-up, and many other classics!

What was good about Dork Diaries? The illustrations were witty and cute. This whole book could have been a great graphic novel. I would have preferred to watch events unfold from the outside, with this art style, rather than have to live inside the asinine heroine’s vapid, big head. There are also some very telling moments about the self-esteem of young teens, such as Nikki’s need to have the latest accessories, the need for friends when moving to a new school, and MacKenzie’s subtle affliction when it comes to her own appearance and desperation to retain her school royalty. For this reason, I WOULD NOT recommend this to kids, but I would recommend it to adults who have forgotten what those hormones did to your thought process. The text’s font combined with the constant black-and-white lines and Nikki’s aversion to narrative quality made my brain buzz for a while.

Why did I continue reading, then? I wanted to see if Nikki would learn something and if the cliché plot points would end in cliché ways. She did not, and they did.

Dork Diaries reminded me of its predecessor, Melissa Moss’ Amelia diaries. In a bit of nostalgia today, I cracked open one of these. You know what was on the first page?

If you want a good friend, you must be a good friend.

In one measly sentence, Moss trumps Russell. Most of Nikki’s entries about her two friends are negative because Nikki spends most of her energy on stalking MacKenzie. Amelia does have friend drama, but Amelia tends to care about her friends, whereas Nikki doesn’t until Chloe and Zoey help her win a contest.

Apparently diaries are a trend. So are secret lives and confessions. I’m tired of seeing these phrases on all ages of fiction. If these stories are completely made up, why pretend they’re any different from other novels by slapping those labels on them?

I may have been spoiling myself before reading Dork Diaries. I just finished Chris Rylander’s The Fourth Stall and the first instalment of Kick-Ass. Both of these feature a mostly male cast, so I should look for a decent female cast to compare. In The Fourth Stall, the main character doesn’t even pretend he’s not anything special, yet he knows how to act like a normal guy. In Kick-Ass, the main character stops whining when he decides to go kick some ass.

Mindy McCready, who hasn’t even reached puberty in Kick-Ass, has more depth than Russell’s Nikki. But then, Hit-Girl is one of a kind. Is it so hard to ask for that? Authors, if you want your protagonist to be a typical girl, allow her to be just that. Don’t force her to pine for the abnormal occurrence that will never happen; make her go out and get it! If you want your female protagonist to be extraordinary, allow her to either own it or discover it without trying to be something she’s not. If your character is supposed to be a dork, let her have more fun with her dorky self.

And please, please, please give me more than materialism from the diaries of these budding young women (and budding grown women). If you want your hero to be relatable, give her depth rather than allow your own fantasy schoolyard drama approach to skew the friendship, humor, and intelligence you want your readers to have.

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (Dork Diaries, #1) The Fourth Stall Kick-Ass

Have you read any of these books?



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