This past weekend I attended a talk STILL LIVES: A.S. King as part of the Auckland Writers Festival.

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I have read five of Amy Sarig King’s novels: Please Ignore Vera Dietz (2010), Ask the Passengers (2012), Reality Boy (2013), Glory O’Brien’s History of Future (2014) and I Crawl Through It (2015). You can read my review of Ask the Passengers here – this month’s book pick.

The Saturday afternoon talk was led by New Zealand author Kate De Goldi in the Heartland Festival Room in Aotea Square.

Audiences may better know the Heartland Festival Room as the Pacific Crystal Palace, a lavish festival pop-up venue designed in the style of European ‘mirror tents’ of the past with a red tent top roof, stained-glass windows, wood panelling, ornate lighting and mirrors.

During their one hour talk King and De Goldi had to compete against outside forces, as the rain hammered down on tent and a Palestine protest took place outside.

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On discussing her beginnings as a writer King said when she was fourteen she wrote that she wanted to be a writer, so she could help teenagers understand adults, and adults understand teenagers.

But she never thought that she was writing young adult fiction. She was not really aware of YA literature. When living in Ireland she said there wasn’t a young adult shelf – there was a Harry Potter shelf, shelves with picture books and adult works.

Her first book was published when a publisher rang her agent and asked ‘have you got anything weird?’

King challenged the notion that teenagers only want to read books about teenagers. She argued that adults completely control teenagers lives, ‘so why aren’t we putting them in their books?’ King said that when publishing Please Ignore Vera Dietz she had several interested publishers want her to remove the father’s narrative (the novel has four perspectives) because supposedly teenagers only want to read about teenagers.

King’s books often feature elements of surrealism. She joked that she prefers the term surrealism to magical realism as that term is for ‘post colonial writers, and I’m pretty white.’ I Crawled Through It is probably her most surreal piece of work, one that she is most proud of. She had decided to give up writing and was planning to get her library degree, but only lasted two days. And as a response wrote I Crawled Through It.

The idea of Reality Boy came to King while she was in the shower. She thought about society’s high child abuse rate and asked could this be happening on reality television for our entertainment.

In discussing the recent Santa Fe shooting that happened while King was here in New Zealand she talked about a phone conversation with her fifteen-year-old daughter who said in relation to it happening at her school ‘it’s not if, but when’.

On America’s current political climate King said that she would ‘take George W. Bush in a heartbeat, and I never thought I would hear those words come out of my mouth.’

This is only a snapshot of some of things that King and De Goldi discussed during the hour. De Goldi had carefully, thought out questions, and King delivered insightful responses.

 

Links:

A.S. King Official Website

A.S. King on Twitter

A.S. King on Facebook

A.S. King on Instagram

Book Club Pick: May 2018

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Book Details:

Title: Ask the Passengers

Author: A.S. King

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

First Published: 2012

Pages: 293

Publisher Description:

Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her that they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching the airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions…like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl.
As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even realize she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives – and her own – for the better.
In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything – and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.

Review:

After Astrid Jones’s grandmother passes away she is buried in the small Pennsylvania town of Unity Valley, where she grew up. Following her grandmother’s funeral Astrid’s parents purchase her grandmother’s family home.

So at 10-years-old Astrid and her nine year-old sister Ellis and their parents pack up and leave New York City for Unity Valley.

When the novel opens Astrid is a seventeen-year-old high school senior. She does not have the best relationship with her parents. Her family is rather dysfunctional. Her father is getting stoned in the garage and her mother is taking her underage sister out for mother-daughter nights that involve drinking. Astrid’s mother is also very critical and judgemental when it comes to Astrid.

The town of Unity Valley is presented as being a small-minded and conservative town that is fueled by rumour and gossip.

Astrid’s best friends are Kristina and Justin, who are the high school’s power couple; most likely to be crowned Homecoming King and Queen. Except their relationship is a cover. Kristina is secretly dating Donna and Justin is dating Chad.

Astrid is also in a secret relationship. She is dating Dee, a co-worker at her part-time catering job. Despite knowing that her two friends are gay she is not ready to share her secret. She is also not comfortable with the label of gay. Astrid likes Dee but is reluctant to define herself as gay – yes she likes a girl but she cannot rule out dating a guy.

As Astrid feels she does not have the support of her family and friends she spends much of her spare time lying on the picnic table in her backyard. She looks up into the sky sending her love and thoughts to passengers flying aboard airplanes above.

The novel cleverly juxtaposes Astrid’s first-person narrative with short scenes about love and relationships from a passenger aboard the plane. These short scenes are stand-alone and in each scene we are introduced to a new character.

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King also weaves philosophy throughout the narrative, such as the teachings of Plato, Socrates, and Zeno. Astrid even renames Socrates Frank and communicates with him (sort of an imaginary philosophical friend).

Ask the Passengers is a coming-of-age, coming-out story about love and discovering one’s self.

Links:

A.S. King Official Website

A.S. King on Twitter

A.S. King on Facebook

A.S. King on Instagram

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Book Club Pick: April 2018

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Book Details:

Title: Breathing Underwater

Author: Alex Flinn

Series: Sequel – Diva (2006)

Country: United States of America

Publisher: HarperCollins

First Published: 2001

Pages: 263

Publisher Description:

To his friends, popular and handsome sixteen-year-old Nick Andreas has led a charmed life. But the guys in Nick’s anger management class know differently. So does his ex-girlfriend Caitlin. Now it looks like the only person who doesn’t realize just how from perfect Nick’s life has become is Nick himself.

Review:

Sixteen-year-old Miami high school honour student Nick Andreas is in court following an assault on his former girlfriend Caitlin McCourt.

The judge grants a request for restraining order and orders Nick to attend six months counselling, classes on family violence and dealing with anger. She also orders Nick to keep a journal writing five hundred words each week detailing what happened between him and Caitlin from the first time he saw her until his day in court.

The novel follows Nick in present day as he attends a family violence class, returns to school where he ostracised by fellow students, and his home life with his father. It is also interspersed with Nick’s journal entries about his past relationship with Caitlin.

It is interesting that the novel is written as a first person narrative from the perpetrator’s point-of-view rather than the victim.

Nick’s own father is abusive both physically and psychologically. In this the novel is addressing the idea about the idea of circle of domestic violence. Nick is a victim of his father’s abuse, and while at times Flinn offers a sympathetic portrayal of Nick it is clear that he is responsible for his own actions.

It also explores of how difficult it can be to leave an abusive and controlling relationship. Although Caitlin does eventually remove herself from the situation and seek help.

A tragic event leads Nick to understand and accept his behaviour and make attempts to seriously seek help to change.

There are a few moments that don’t ring quite true. For example, the interaction between Judge Lehman and Nick is cliche.

This was Flinn’s debut novel. She has gone onto write many other realistic fiction novels, but she is probably better known for her modern fairytale retellings, including Beastly (2007, ‘Beauty and the Beast’), A Kiss in Time (2009, ‘Sleeping Beauty’), and Towering (2012, ‘Rapunzel’).

Click here to read my review on Cloaked, a mash up / modern retelling of The Frog Prince, The Elves and the ShoemakerThe Six SwansThe Golden BirdThe Valiant TailorThe Salad, and The Fisherman and His Wife.

In 2006 Flinn released a sequel Diva, which followed Caitlin as she puts her relationship with Nick behind her.

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Links:

Alex Flinn Official Website

Alex Flinn on Twitter

Alex Flinn on Facebook

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Book vs. Film

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WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

It has been 8 days since I saw Love, Simon, so today I thought I would do a book vs. film comparison.

A film adaptation can never be exactly the same. Often for timing and pacing reasons not everything can be included – it can be disappointing for book fans to learn that a favourite moment or character has been cut.

Also some elements that work on the page may not necessarily work onscreen. For example, much of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is written using the email correspondence between Simon and Blue. It was obviously a challenge for the scriptwriters to work out how to and how much of this to portray onscreen. Love, Simon has Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale), Cal (Miles Heizer) and Lyle (Joey Pollari) each take turns voicing Blue’s emails as Simon tries to work out Blue’s identity. This is a interesting technique to cover the mystery of who Blue is.

I believe that books and film adaptations should be viewed as separate entities. Although having said that, Love, Simon has captured the spirit and heart of the book. Albertalli herself has said she feels that the film is a ‘faithful adaptation’ of her work.

Below are some differences between the book and the film. This is by no means comprehensive (spoilers ahead…)

The title

The first noticeable change is that the film has shorter title. Personally I think the title works for the film.

Simon’s email address

In the book Simon emails from hourtohour.notetonote@gmail.com. In the film Simon uses the email frommywindow1@gmail.com. Blue uses the email bluegreen118@gmail.com in both the book and film.

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Junior Year / Senior Year

The novel is set during Simon’s junior year, whereas the film is set during his senior year.

Simon’s glasses

In the book Simon wears glasses and later wears contacts for the school musical. In film Simon wears glasses only in the flashback scenes. Robinson does not wear glasses in the present day scenes to minimise technical challenges that occur with lighting when actors wear glasses.

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Simon (Nick Robinson) – flashback

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Leah (Katherine Langford) and Simon (Nick Robinson) – flashback

Farewell Alice

In the novel Simon has two sisters. A younger sister Nora and an older sister Alice, who is a freshman at Wesleyan University. She has a secret boyfriend Theo, whom she introduces to her family after Simon comes out.

In the film Simon only has one sister, Nora. In the book she is a high school freshman and is in a band with Leah, Taylor, and Anna called ‘Emoji’. Nora in the film is younger and has a passion for cooking.

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Emily (Jennifer Garner), Nora (Talitha Bateman), Jack (Josh Duhamel)

Leah

In the book Leah has a crush on Nick and this causes much of the tension between Abby and Leah. In the film Leah’s crush is transferred to Simon. Personally I did not think this change was necessary.

Nick

In the novel Simon’s best male friend Nick Eisner is a white Jewish kid who plays soccer and guitar. In the film Nick is portrayed by Jorge Lendeborg Jr., who is Dominican-born. Nick still plays soccer but the guitar is gone.

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Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.)

Homecoming Game

In the book prior to the Homecoming Game the school has a Spirit Week where the students have various dress up days such as Gender Bender Day and Music Day. This is cut from the script so audiences miss out on seeing Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Nick) and Keiynan Lonsdale (Bram) dressed as cheerleaders.

In the film we only see the Homecoming Game, but there is added moment where Martin makes a grand gesture and steals the microphone during the national anthem and declares his love for Abby.

School Musical

In the novel the school is putting on a musical production of Oliver. Martin plays Fagin and Abby plays the Artful Dodger. In the film the school is putting on Cabaret.

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Cabaret

Gay bar

In the book Nick and Abby take Simon to a gay bar where Peter a college guy buys him drinks. A scene where Nick takes Simon to a gay bar was shot with Colton Haynes playing the college guy but was cut during editing for pacing reasons. Hopefully this will be included as a deleted scene when the DVD is released.

Halloween Party

In the novel Nick’s soccer teammate Garrett throws a Halloween party. Garrett is still in the film but it is Bram who throws the party. In the novel Simon goes to the party dressed as a Dementor from the Harry Pottter series. In the film Simon and Leah goes as John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Simon still keeps his love for Harry Potter as he tells the audience about his crush on Daniel Radcliffe when he was younger.

In the film Simon sees Bram hooking up with a girl at the Halloween Party. This was done to throw the audience off the track of Bram being Blue.

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Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale) and Simon (Nick Robinson)

Blue’s reveal

In the book after Simon is outed Blue does not wish to meet him but does leave him a Elliot Smith t-shirt for him at school. Simon stops emailing Blue because he thinks Blue does not like him now that he knows who he is. It turns out Blue had left a note for Simon with his number hidden inside the t-shirt. Simon decides to email Blue and invite him to the carnival. When he goes to put on the t-shirt he finds the note. As the carnival is about to close Simon rides on Tilt-A-Whirl and Bram comes up and sits next to him and reveals that he is Blue.

In the film there is no Elliot Smith t-shirt and Simon has no way of contacting Blue as he has closed his email address. So he creates his own blog post and invites Blue to meet him at the Carnival. There is a brief bait and switch where Martin reveals himself as Blue to try and save Simon the embarrassment of being alone. Bram eventually turns up and reveals himself as Blue.

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Simon (Nick Robinson)

Added Movie Moments

There a few cool scenes added for the film, such as where Simon imagines his friends having to come out as straight and a fantasy college dance number to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody.’

New characters in the film

Vice Principal Worth (Tony Hale) an awkward, cringey Vice Principal trying to be hip with his students is added for the film.

The film also introduces Ethan (Clark Moore), the only openly gay student at Simon’s school. This allowed for a great scene where these two boys are sitting next to each other. They are both gay but couldn’t be more different.

Another new character created for the film is Waffle House waiter Lyle (Joey Pollari), who is one of the potential suspects for Blue.

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Ethan (Clark Moore)

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Lyle (Joey Pollari)

Love, Simon is out in cinemas now. Go see it!

If you have seen the film let me know in the comments what you thought. I would also be interested of any other differences between the book and film that you may have noticed.

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This month’s book club pick is Becky Albertalli‘s 2015 novel Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. A film adaptation titled Love, Simon directed by Greg Berlanti opened in US cinemas March 16th. It opens in cinemas here in New Zealand March 29th but I saw an advance screening yesterday afternoon.

Nick Robinson (The Kings of SummerJurassic World, 5th Wave) portrays Simon Spier, an average 17-year-old Atlanta high school senior.

On the surface life is good for Simon. He lives in a nice suburban home. His high-school sweetheart parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) are still happily married. He has a good relationship with his little sister Nora (Talitha Bateman, who worked with Robinson on The 5th Wave), and has a good group of friends.

Simon has one secret – he is gay.

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Simon (Nick Robinson), Nora (Talitha Bateman), Emily (Jennifer Garner), Jack (Josh Duhamel)

When Simon learns that a fellow student, using the pseudonym Blue, has posted anonymously on a school blog that he is gay, he immediately begins exchanging anonymous emails with Blue.

The film has Nick’s soccer teammate Bram (The Legends of TomorrowThe Flash‘s Keiynan Lonsdale), theatre kid Cal (13 Reasons Why‘s Miles Heizer) and Waffle House waiter Lyle (Joey Pollari) each take turns voicing Blue’s emails.  This is a interesting technique to cover the mystery of who Blue is.

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Nick Robinson (Simon)

Simon’s secret is revealed when he leaves his Gmail account signed in on a school library computer and classmate Martin (Logan Miller) reads one of his emails. Martin uses the secret emails as leverage to blackmail Simon into helping him get a date with Simon’s friend Abby (X-Men Apocalypse‘s Alexandra Shipp).

He is scared that if Martin outs him he will lose Blue, so Simon starts lying and manipulating his friends to help Martin woo Abby. This includes convincing his best friends Leah (13 Reasons Why‘s Katherine Langford) and Nick (Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) to date when he learns Nick has a crush on Abby.

This sets up the dramatic tension and conflict for the film.

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Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp), Simon (Nick Robinson)

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Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Abby (Alexandra Shipp), Leah (Katherine Langford), Simon (Nick Robinson), Garrrett (Drew Starkey, obscured), Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale)

As it is marketed as a romantic coming-of-age teen comedy there are plenty of laughs with the supporting characters. Natasha Rothwell (Saturday Night Live writer) is brilliant and hilarious as the scene-stealing teacher directing the school production of ‘Cabaret’, which Simon, Abby and Martin are in. Tony Hale (Arrested DevelopmentVeep) also provides plenty of comedy as the awkward, cringey Vice Principal trying to be hip with his students. There is also a very funny montage where his heterosexual friends have to come out as straight to their parents.

The film has an amazing soundtrack featuring music from the The Bleachers, Troye Sivan, Whitney Houston, Jackson 5.

Hopefully Love, Simon will pave the way for more LGBTQ+ representation in accessible, major studio-produced cinema.

Book Club Pick: March 2018

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Book Details:

Title: Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertalli

Series: Sequel – Leah on the Offbeat (2018)

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Balzer + Bray, HarperCollins

First Published: 2015

Pages: 303

Publisher’s Description:

Simon Spier is sixteen and trying to work out who he is – and what what he is looking for.

But when one of his emails to the very distracting Blue falls into the wrong hands, things get all kinds of complicated.

Because, for Simon, falling for Blue is a big deal…

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Review:

Sixteen-year-old Simon Spier is growing up in a town just out of Atlanta, Georgia. He has a secret – he is gay, but no one knows it, except Blue who he found through a post on Tumblr. Simon (using the pseudonym Jacques) has been exchanging emails with Blue. Simon does not even know who Blue is except that he goes to his school.

The novel opens with Simon being blackmailed by Martin Addison. Simon had left his Gmail account signed in and Martin has read one of his emails – his secret is out. Martin wants Simon’s help to get a date with his friend Abby.

A large part of the novel is the mystery of who Blue is. There are clues throughout that if the reader pays careful attention to will reveal Blue’s identity. I have to admit I had it down to two characters, but couldn’t decide.

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Albertalli’s debut novel is told through Simon’s first person narrative and the emails between Simon and Blue.

A sequel, Leah on the Offbeat is due for release 24 April 2018.

A feature film adaptation Love, Simon directed by Greg Berlanti and starring Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel is due out later this month.

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Links:

Becky Albertalli Official Website

Becky Albertalli on Facebook

Becky Albertalli on Twitter

Becky Albertalli on Instagram

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Book Club Pick: February 2018

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Book Details:

Title: Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment

Author: James Patterson

Series: Maximum Ride series (Book #1)

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company – Hachette Book Group

First Published: 2005

Pages: 432 (hardback); 448 (paperback)

Publisher’s Description:

Her full name is Maximum Ride. And the girl can fly.

Max’s Missions:

  • Protect the rest of her gang – Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, and Angel – from a pack of half-wolf, half-humans with a taste for flying humans.
  • Rescue Angel from a crew of wack-job kidnappers.
  • Infiltrate a secret facility to track down her friends’ missing parents.
  • Get revenge on the one person she thought she could trust.
  • Discover the best chocolate chip cookie in New York City.
  • Save the whole world, for crying out loud.

Not necessarily in that order, of course.

Review:

The novel follows six children – Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gassman and Angel, who have escaped a facility known as ‘The School’. It is here that genetic experiments were performed on the children. They were injected with avian DNA (98% human; 2% bird), meaning that each child has wings and is able to fly.

The group is being hunted by the Erasers, a group of half human / wolf mutants from The School. When the youngest Angel (age 6) is captured the rest of the group must save her.

14 year-old Max is the leader of the group and novel is written from her point-of-view. The novel uses a third person perspective when the Max is not present.

The chapters are very short (2-5 pages) making it an easy read. The short chapters also give the narrative a fast-paced, action-packed feel.

While there is a lot action there is very little character development, and the ending leaves a lot of unanswered questions to be explored over the series.

A film adaptation was released in 2016.

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Links:

James Patterson Official Website

James Patterson on Facebook

James Patterson on Twitter

James Patterson on Instagram

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.