Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ignorance is the most frustrating quality.

So, in my fiction class we're reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. We were talking about how the main character, Catherine assumes that the proclaimed "hero" of the story, Henry doesn't read novels, because novels are generally frowned upon. Especially by males. But Henry, he says he loves novels and has read hundreds of them. So my professor asks the guys in my class, "Do you guys think you could, like, go on a plane and read-- without getting any strange looks-- like.... [long pause].... The Hunger Games, or something?" The reactions were as follows:
1. "What do you mean?" To which my professor said something about it being "girly" (I am already trying to block this out of my mind, even though I am about to rant about it)
2. "I've never heard of it." -___-
3. "BUT IT'S SUCH A GREAT SERIES! Of course they wouldn't get funny looks for reading it!"
4. "It was recommended to me by my 13-year-old cousin... so..." (to which I said "that doesn't mean anything" ...the first thing I have said out loud in that class all semester)
and finally, 5. "Um, I actually don't think it's girly at all. I mean, they like... kill each other." (this was the same girl who said the thing about the 13-year-old, so I forgave her)

Now, I was extremely pleased with the number of people who came to the defense of my beloved Hunger Games because my professor has obviously not read it. One girl I know to be a Harry Potter fan went all jumping-up-and-down-in-her-seat and talking about how great it is, and the girl next to her (the one who brought up the series earlier in the semester) was the one yelling about how GREAT a SERIES it is! So yes, everyone in the class who has read it attests that it is not girly and that guys would like it just as much as the rest of us do. And everyone else has never heard of it, which I suppose is okay, because it's one of those things that I like to keep to myself even though I know it's going to be huge (*pouts*). I only tell people I really like to read it, because everyone else will either a) not read it, b) read it and claim they don't like it, or c) read it, like it, and act like they discovered it.
I guess despite all of this acclaim in my class for the characters and the story, I can't get over my teacher insinuating that it is "girly." I have heard it called "dark" both negatively and positively; I have heard it called "gruesome" and "intense." Never once has the word "girly" even crossed my mind or seemingly anyone else's to describe this series.
Since when are fights to the death girly? Since when is sacrificing yourself for someone else "girly"? Since when am I "girly" (I say this because the main character is just like me)????? Since when are rebellions girly?
But no, it has a female main character so that means it is obviously a girly book. Seriously, that is the only reason I can think of why anyone would consider THIS series girly and not Harry Potter. Harry Potter has magic and violence; The Hunger Games has starvation and violence. Harry Potter has a boy with a group of friends who will do anything for him; The Hunger Games has a girl with ONE friend who has to take care of her family for her while she's off fighting for her life. The 3 main characters in Harry Potter have either dead parents, or parents who are alive and care about them; The Hunger Games has 2 main characters with one dead parent and 1 main character whose parents don't care about him or believe in him. Harry Potter lives here:
Katniss Everdeen lives here:
And Harry Potter has just as much romance as The Hunger Games does. While Peeta and Gale are both technically swoon-worthy, they have faults. They are not idealized figures for any romance novel-lover to latch on to. What each of them have with Katniss can hardly even be described as "romance." Their relationships are more a result of the need to survive than they are of the desire to be with each other (which of course changes, but I'm saying that they didn't come to know each other only because of some kind of attraction).
I just can't tolerate it when people say things like this, because it's going to make even more people automatically assume it's like Twilight, which it's not. That's probably my biggest fear about this movie coming out: that it will become the next Twilight. Except with Twilight, people have valid reasons for making fun of it. If they make fun of this, it's because they are ignorant and can't bother to learn what it is actually about.
And as for the argument about it being for 13-year-olds: I do not understand this at all. Yes, young teenagers can probably read it without being too disturbed by it, but they will not get it. They will only see it for what it is on the surface, without acknowledging all of the deeper things that make me love it as much as I do. Everyone should just listen to what John Green said about its being under-appreciated critically. Honestly, you would never catch John Green praising anything about Twilight critically-- the most positive things he has to say about it are the world-building and the "beautiful lie" that true love conquers all.
The Hunger Games is not about true love. But it's not just about kids fighting to the death either. I don't know how many times I've said it, but I'll say it again: it's about standing up for what you believe in, not letting anyone-- no matter how powerful they seem-- turn you into a piece in their games. And it's about appreciating what you have, realizing that this world really isn't that bad, and having the will to do what's right.
To sum up, the things that make The Hunger Games not-girly
-Katniss is not girly. (see picture above, notice bow and arrow AND knife, the fact that she is wearing pants-- note also that she is not a fan of dresses-- and does not seem to be phased by the fact that there is a giant gash in her leg. Accurate depiction.)
-the romances are not exactly romantic
-there are awesome genetically-engineered creatures, like giant wolf things with human eyes and monkeys and birds that sound like humans and so on
-um, the main character gets set on fire twice. As does another main character once.
-a lot of people die, including main characters. Generally death is not considered girly.
-there are highly advanced weapons. WEAPONS. Pods that do unique and awesome things, bows and arrows, machine guns, bombs, human-sized snares, tridents (TRIDENTS!), and so on.
-none of the books even have pretty titles.
-the villain is just a man with too much power, not a jealous female who wants to kill the main character and only her. He kills anyone he wants (or rather, has them killed). And his mouth is full of sores because he drinks poison so his enemies won't suspect him, so his breath smells like blood. And he has a beard.
-there is a song about a murderer who wants his love to come commit suicide with him.
-there is torture. Actual, psychological and physical torture. Memory altering torture. Torture that results in death, or having one's tongue removed.
Am I getting my point across here? Because if you still don't believe me, you could... you know, go READ A BOOK.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"I am not malicious. I am a result."

"He made three separate formations that led to the same tower of dominoes in the middle. Together, they would watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse, and they would all smile at the beauty of destruction."
This one... is probably going to take me a long time. To think about what I want to write about this book, as if I can think of anything that truly describes it and its many facets.
I can't even organize this the way I usually organize my reviews, because this is not a review. This is an explanation of the story of the book thief, what it means, and what it can teach us about humanity, friendship, love, hatred, beauty and evil. And words. How they can destroy us, how they can save us.

A pair of train guards.
A pair of grave diggers.
When it came down to it, one of them called the shots.
The other did what he was told.
The question is, what if the other is a lot more than one?"

Liesel Meminger, sent to live with Rosa and Hans Hubermann, her foster family (because her mother was most likely suspected of being a communist), is an illiterate girl who is determined to read. She steals books and Hans, her Papa, teaches her how to read them. She steals them from various locations until she meets Ilsa Hermann, the mayor's wife, who saw her steal her second book and then invites her into the library, where Liesel mostly just looks at the books because she can't really read yet. She then cancels Rosa's ironing service, so Liesel gets so angry she yells at her and calls her names and tells her she'll never come over again. Of course, she does. With her best friend Rudy, she goes back to the mayor's house and steals books repeatedly, not realizing that the mayor's wife is fully aware of her thievery and feels so badly about causing Rosa's unemployment that she actually wants Liesel to steal the books.
Let's talk for a moment about Ilsa Hermann's patience with Liesel Meminger. That second book Liesel stole, the one Ilsa witnessed, was a book that was meant to be burned because it was contraband-- it promoted values that weren't those of Hitler and Nazism. Instead of turning Liesel in, Ilsa saw the book thief's desire to read and invited her into her own library. Then Liesel shouts at her and calls her horrible things and tells her she's pathetic for continuing to mourn over her dead son, and Ilsa still allows her to steal books from that library. Then, later, Liesel gets so mad over the power of words (which we'll get to later) that she goes to the library and destroys a book, and then writes a note saying she won't come over and take the books anymore, and what does Ilsa do? She shows up at the Hubermann residence with a blank book of lined paper, and tells Liesel that if she's not going to read anymore, she should write, because she writes well.

Back to the story. Well, no. Let's backtrack a little and talk about Rudy Steiner. Liesel first moved to Himmel Street when she was nine years old, and she and Rudy became best friends, but the kind who are not openly nice to each other. They swear at each other and insult each other, but the only reason they're comfortable doing this is because they actually love each other. Rudy asks Liesel to kiss him time and time again and she refuses. They steal things together, food and books mostly, and they understand each other, and they protect each other. Keep in mind that they are only 9-14 years old here. At the first of their excursions to the mayor's house, Rudy tells Liesel to take off her shoes because it will be quieter, so she leaves them on the porch. They hear someone coming, so they run away from the house, and Rudy forgets her shoes there. She yells and swears at him, and he puts up with it and just goes back to get them. Once, when a bully throws one of Liesel's books into the river, Rudy follows it and wades in to get it back. But the narrator has previously told us that Rudy does not offer his friendship for free (this is mostly a joke).
“How about a kiss, Saumensch?"
He stood waist-deep in the water for a few moments longer before climbing out and handing her the book. His pants clung to him, and he did not stop walking. In truth, I think he was afraid. Rudy Steiner was scared of the book thief's kiss. He must have longed for it so much. He must have loved her so incredibly hard. So hard that he would never ask for her lips again and would go to his grave without them.”
Later in the story, Rudy is filled with anger that his father has been sent off to the war, so he makes plans to go to one of the upper-class villages near them and steal whatever he can get his hands on. Liesel obviously accompanies him (without actually being invited), and when they get there they end up just sitting in the middle of the road and not stealing anything. Rudy says, "I guess I'm better at leaving things behind than stealing them." This would be nice foreshadowing if the narrator, Death (did I forget to mention that?), hadn't already told us that Rudy was going to die. Even later still, when parades of Jews through Molching, where the Hubermanns and Liesel and Rudy and everyone live, become more common, Rudy breaks up pieces of stale bread to give to the Jews, at the risk of being whipped by the soldiers who accompany them. Rudy goes from a boy who steals food for himself to a boy who gives food to people he's supposed to hate. We were given permission to love Rudy the first time he did something for Liesel without asking for a kiss, and yes, I love him. He reminds me of someone. The subtle anger, the charisma, the selflessness... the bread...
What Rudy doesn't know is that Liesel and the Hubermanns hid a Jew in their basement for months. Max Vandenberg. The son of one of Hans's friends from World War I (who was the reason Hans wasn't on the mission that ended up killing him), Max shows up at their door one day because Hans promised him help if ever he needed it. So they shelter him in their basement until they can't any longer. Liesel reads to him and he writes her two picture books and they become friends through their mutual love of stories, even though he is 24 and she is 12. He has dreams in the basement of fighting Hitler and winning, until Hitler stops the fight and starts talking to the audience about what an abomination this Jew is, and using words to persuade the audience, who then basically stampedes the ring and attacks Max. Even in his dreams he doesn't win the fight, because Hitler uses the power of words to win, while he and all of the other Jews have been silenced.
Schweigen-- Silence: the absence of sound or noise.
Related words: quiet, calmness, peace.
How perfect. Peace."
The reason they couldn't keep Max in their basement anymore? The kindness of Hans Hubermann. The man who made Liesel feel at home on Himmel Street, despite missing her mother and having nightmares about her brother (whom she saw die on the trip to their new home). The man who took in a Jew knowing the risks to himself. During the first parade of Jews through Molching, Hans Hubermann gave an obviously dying Jew a piece of bread. A soldier saw, and both received lashings. Not until he got home did he realize that now the police would probably come for him, and they would find the Jew in his basement and kill them both. So Max had to leave. Hans's punishment was half in waiting for his punishment, and half that he was sent to participate in the war-- recovering damaged buildings and moving dead bodies.
A little background on Rosa Hubermann: she's not an openly loving person (she's known for her yelling and swearing), but she has a bigger heart than anyone would know. While her husband is gone, she sits with his accordion at night, not realizing that Liesel watches. When an air raid is coming and her despised neighbor is refusing to go to the bomb shelter, she tries to convince her to leave. Earlier in the story, when Max had been sick and comatose for weeks, Rosa went to Liesel's school and pretended to be yelling at her in order to inform her that Max was finally awake.
Months after Hans Hubermann returns home due to a broken leg, Himmel Street is bombed. Everyone dies except Liesel, who was in her basement, because that was where she learned to read with her Papa, that's where she went to read to Max, and it's where she learned the importance of words. What was she doing in the basement while everyone else was sleeping? Writing. In the book that Ilsa Hermann gave her, she was writing the story of The Book Thief. Words may have been what ended up killing everyone else on Himmel Street, but they were what saved Liesel Meminger's life that night.
When she discovers what has happened, she sees Rudy first. The lemon-colored hair that she had described to Max and he put in his second picture book for her. She holds him and tells him she loves him and finally kisses him. She wanted to do it before, but she could never bring herself to it. She sees Rosa and then Hans, who she can't look in the eyes because his eyes are supposed to be silver, not dead. Death realizes that he is who she loved the most, but honestly I knew it all along.
She ends up living for a short time with the mayor and Ilsa Hermann, but then Rudy's father (who was also sent to the war as punishment for not allowing them to take Rudy to a military training school) learns that she has survived and takes her in. Max Vandenberg shows up asking for her one day, and all it says is that "they hugged and cried and fell to the floor." Then we learn that Liesel lived a long life with a husband (we don't know who. Max, possibly? But that would be weird. I can't help but feel sad and angry and ripped off that it couldn't be Rudy) and children and grandchildren. Because a long life is the only way to recover from such things.
"In her final visions, she saw her three children, her grandchildren, her husband, and the long list of lives that merged with hers. Among them, lit like lanterns, were Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her brother, and the boy whose hair remained the color of lemons forever."
"I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-- that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.
None of those things, however, came out of my mouth.
All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.
I am haunted by humans."

Friday, November 18, 2011

What the...

I really have no idea why critics, of all people, are calling this the best Twilight movie yet. Granted the bar isn't set very high, but this movie was... not one I even want to own on DVD, really. I own the other ones because, yeah, I'll watch them if it's late and I'm bored and haven't watched one in a while. But this one, my god.

I'll start off with how completely ridiculous it all was. I knew it was going to be ridiculous, based on having read the book, but seeing it on screen I felt like my face was going to get stuck in "WTF?" mode. The wedding was alright, if way over-the-top for a wedding where half of the guests thought it was only happening because the bride was pregnant. Which she wasn't... at the time. The honeymoon was actually pretty amusing, and not in the "this is so stupid I can't stop laughing" way. I actually thought they did the honeymoon scenes well, with the checkers and Bella walking around in her skimpy clothes that Alice put in her suitcase (because Edward refused to sleep with her again) and whatnot. The whole thing with the Spanish lady was kind of exactly how it was in the book... by which I mean it was unnecessary.
I liked that we got to see more scenes without Bella because half of Breaking Dawn is from Jacob's point of view. I liked that they showed Charlie getting suspicious about things (all the graduation caps, Bella going to a "medical center,"...). That's about the extent of what I liked though.
Oh, and the scene with the wolf pack. All of them talking, fighting... as wolves. We see the CGI wolves looking at each other and showing their teeth and everything and we can hear them snarling, but then over the snarling we're supposed to hear what they're thinking? I could barely understand any of it. And it looked like a cartoon. So stupid.
In addition to the complete ridiculousness of it all, it was disturbing. I mean, when you're surprised at how they can make an only-average-looking female lead look totally repulsive, that probably means something is wrong [it would have been an impressive feat if Kristen Stewart were drop-dead gorgeous, but she's not]. She looked disgusting. It was still a little bit awe-inspiring but mostly it made me want to throw up. And then she drinks blood out of a fast-food cup with a straw. That just made everyone laugh. And that's the thing... you don't really know if the funny parts are supposed to be funny. They just are.
And then the birth scene. Oh my god. Those noises were not necessary. The part where Bella is lying on the table and Edward is trying to revive her... ew. She looks like a corpse. Stop touching the corpse, Edward.
The most disturbing thing of all? This movie made me like Jacob better than Edward. The whole time, Edward is just being all broody and annoying. A compilation of all his contributions to the story would probably be along the lines of "I killed people. Yes, no, no, no, fine, Jacob please help me even though you hate me. Bella wake up. I won't let them hurt my family. Bella wake up. Is it working?" While Jacob actually had a personality. Also he kept his shirt on throughout nearly all of the movie (the only time it was off was when he was turning into werewolfJacob), so that was a plus. Sorry girls, I just don't see why a guy needs to have his shirt off for us to know he is attractive. Also I liked that he was more comfortable around the Cullens-- seriously, he starts just walking into their house unannounced, without even grimacing because of the "smell"-- and that he didn't really hold a grudge against Bella for marrying Edward. He accepts that they're all a family and seems to just want to help. And then the scene where he imprints on Renesmee (oh, and I liked the part where Rosalie was arguing with Bella about what a ridiculous name that is) wasn't even awkward. He walks in the house ready to kill her and then he sees her eyes, which are supposed to be the same as Bella's, and he just drops to his knees. I mean, he's not crying or anything, but he just gives up. He knows he can't kill her anymore.
Meanwhile, when Edward learns through Jacob's thoughts that Jacob has imprinted on his daughter, he doesn't even seem mad. He just seems a little agitated. WTF? A werewolf is forever going to attach himself to your daughter! I want a little more than a scowl!
Cut back to Bella, who still looks like a corpse, but then there's all this House-like internal activity going on with special effects and again it looks like a cartoon, and we're supposed to know that the venom is working. The color comes back to her hair and she turns into a porcelain doll and then there's a close-up on her eyes and you know the movie's going to end as soon as they open, and then they open, red, and BAM. It's over.
And then the end credits completely do not match the movie at all. The music makes it seem like it's some kind of dark indie comedy. More like a dark, twisted, expensive, romantic supernatural accidental comedy.

To top it all off, they didn't even show The Hunger Games trailer in my theater like they were supposed to. WHAT THE HECK. I am not over it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Games... will change... everyone.

I have been trying all day to think of a way to properly express my excitement over the Hunger Games trailer, but it has just been coming out in fangirlish Tumblr posts and inarticulate "AHHHHHHH"s. Which is perfectly fine, for if I'm going to fangirl about something, it should be The Hunger Games. But here is my attempt at a mature reasoning behind my jumping and screaming and tumbling:
My 13 Favorite Things about the Hunger Games Trailer: A Coherent List
1. It basically starts the same way the book starts. Yes, the book starts with Katniss waking up and noticing Prim has gone to sleep with their mother, but immediately after that she goes to the woods with Gale and they talk about the reaping and the Capitol and the [im]possibility of running away together.
2. It explains the story just enough. It gets people interested (although, the people who didn't know anything about it until they saw the trailer and are now interested because of the trailer... yeah, I'm giving them the stink eye) without giving away spoilers. It does this by only including footage from the first half of the film. The Games themselves are a mystery. We only see glimpses of Rue and Foxface and the rest of the tributes, rather than seeing Katniss's interactions (or lack thereof) with them.
3. The reaping. Amazingly, it's exactly how I pictured it. I'm not even just saying that. I pictured Effie up on the stage with her crazy getup, picking the names from the glass bowl and reading them with a note of triumph in her voice, seemingly ignorant of what that little piece of paper means for the people whose names she's reading. I pictured all the people in their nicest clothes, which are still pretty casual, and I pictured Katniss and Gale looking at each other before the names are read, knowing that if one of them gets reaped, it's up to the other one to keep both of their families taken care of. I pictured Prim starting to walk up to the stage with her head down and Katniss running up and screaming "I volunteer!" (P.S. the crack in her voice when she says this= SO heartcrushing), and the Peacekeepers trying to haul her away until they understand what she said. And Peeta. God, J-Hutch, how do you do it? His face when he walks up to the stage. He's not a killer. Nobody is going to volunteer for him, and he's certain he's going to die. Welcome to life as a regular District 12 tribute. We'll come back to Peeta later in this list.
4. Actually, we'll come back to Peeta now. The look he and Katniss give each other on the stage... I'm sure only people who have read the books will understand its full impact, so here are a couple excerpts:
"Oh no, I think. Not him. Because I recognize this name, although I have never spoken directly to its owner. Peeta Mellark.
No, the odds are not in my favor today.
I watch him as he makes his way toward the stage. Medium height, stocky build, ashy blond hair that falls in waves over his forehead. The shock of the moment is registering on his face, you can see his struggle to remain emotionless, but his blue eyes show the alarm I've seen so often in prey.
...Why him? I think. Then I try to convince myself it doesn't matter. Peeta Mellark and I are not friends. Not even neighbors. We don't speak. Our only interaction happened years ago. He's probably forgotten it. But I haven't and I know I never will.
...The mayor finishes the dreary Treaty of Treason and motions for Peeta and me to shake hands. ...Peeta looks me right in the eye and gives my hand what I'm sure is meant to be a reassuring squeeze. Maybe it's just a nervous spasm.
We turn back to face the crowd as the anthem of Panem plays.
Oh well, I think. There will be twenty-four of us. Odds are someone else will kill him before I do.
Of course, the odds have not been very dependable of late."
"Peeta and I know the other's survival means our own death."
5. Prim. I don't know why, but I never really became that attached to her reading the books. But watching the trailer, and seeing her face while she's fighting Gale as he's carrying her away from the reaping, I felt so bad for her.
6. Effie's accent. It's exactly how the Capitol accent is described... and I always imagined it sounding a little British.
7. The Capitol. It's supposed to be this bustling metropolitan center where all the luxuries are enjoyed, but it just looks like an over-industrialized place where nothing is real. Looking at it for too long would probably make you feel like you can't breathe.
8. The timing of all the Training Center footage. First with Katniss saying "So you're here to make me look pretty?" and Cinna saying "I'm here to help you make an impression." And then the President Snow voiceover explaining the tradition of the Games, saying "One young man" --insert shot of Caesar Flickerman holding up Peeta's hand and Peeta looking slightly more confident than when his name was first called-- and then "and woman"-- they show Katniss and then, for an instant, Rue-- and then "trained in the art of survival, to be prepared to fight to the death"-- footage of Cato being a killing machine-- and then cut to Peeta giving his speech on the roof about not wanting to be a piece in their Games and showing them they don't own him and, if he's going to die, he wants to still be him.
9. Katniss's reaction to Peeta's speech on the roof. I'm so glad they didn't have her immediately understand what he was saying. It's important. "I just can't afford to think like that" shows the difference between Katniss and Peeta. Katniss is focused on making it out alive at whatever cost; Peeta is more concerned with being the right person, showing the Capitol they can't change him. Not because Katniss is selfish, but because Peeta genuinely doesn't believe he stands a chance.
10. The three-fingers-to-the-lips-and-then-up-in-the-air signal. "At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love."
11. I love that they show the people in the square watching the Games on the jumbotron. I also love that the trailer shows things we don't get to see in the book, like Gale in the woods by himself and people's reactions to what happens in the Games back in District 12.
12. How it ends with all of the tributes running either to or away from the Cornucopia and then the Hunger Games logo shows up and baaaa-baaa-baaa-baaaa, Rue's 4-note tune that sufficiently creeps me out and makes me squee with joy at the same time. I just love it.
13. #HeadForTheSquare ...????? Intrigue!

Additional noteworthy components:
-Cinna's head nod before Katniss enters the Arena
-The soundtrack
-It shows the *twirl* during Katniss's interview with Caesar
-The fact that the Training Center itself is not at all how I pictured it. Which is to say, it does not look like a gymnasium.

The Hunger Games Dictionary

The Capitol- The dictatorial government of Panem, who suppressed rebellions in 13 districts (and obliterated District 13) approximately 100 years before the book starts.
Panem- the post-modern country (located where the United States once were) governed by the Capitol, which is located in the center. The still-existing 12 districts surround it in order, meaning District 12 is the farthest away. If I'm not wrong, District 12 is around the Ohio/Pennsylvania/New York area. Of course.
The Seam- the edges of District 12 where all males work in the coal mines starting at age 18 and most people are on the brink of starvation, and most natives have dark hair and gray eyes. Except Prim, because she takes after their mom, who is not from the Seam.
The Hob- the black market where Katniss trades the animals she hunts in exchange for more meager food products.
The Hunger Games- an annual fight to the death forced upon all 12 districts (because the Capitol itself is exempt from its own cruelty) as a reminder of the Capitol's power. Each district sends one boy and one girl, ages 12-18, randomly chosen, and only one person comes out alive.
The reaping- the ceremony in which the tributes (see next term) are chosen for the Hunger Games. It's required viewing for the whole country, children get the day off from school, and while volunteers are allowed, they're only common in Districts 1 and 2 (and sometimes 3 and 4).
Tributes- those selected to fight in the Hunger Games
Tesserae- the option for children to enter their names into the reaping more than once in exchange for a year's supply of oil and grain. For example, Katniss enters her name 4 times every year: once because it is required, once for Prim's oil and grain, once for her own, and once for their mother's.
Peacekeeper- a "police" type of person sent from the Capitol or District 2 (because they're tight with the Capitol even though they still have to participate in the Hunger Games) to patrol the districts and punish criminals. "Criminal" is a loose term.
The arena- the intricately planned-out setting of the Hunger Games, different every year, and designed so that the Gamemakers (see next term) can throw in their own challenges if it gets too boring
Gamemakers- the people who control what happens in the Games, i.e. fires, storms, etc. They don't, however, control who gets killed or who kills whom.
Cornucopia- the big golden... cornucopia... at the center of the arena every year in the Hunger Games, which contains things that could help the tributes in their fight, only it is dangerous for them to try to reach it because all of the other tributes will try to kill them if they see something they want. Usually there is something specifically placed there for each particular tribute, so they are always tempted to go in after it. This results in...
The initial bloodbath- the beginning of the Games when a ton of tributes die trying to get things from the Cornucopia.
Jabberjay- the bird that the Capitol created to spy on the districts, only it backfired and the districts fed them lies and then the Capitol tried to get rid of the rest of the jabberjays, but...
Mockingjay- the jabberjays mated with mockingbirds to create these, who cannot memorize entire conversations, but lengthy tunes.
The Quarter Quell- every 25 years the Hunger Games are an even more special event to the Capitol named the Quarter Quell, in which the rules are changed in a previously-designated way. i.e. Haymitch's Hunger Games were a Quarter Quell in which the Capitol called for the number of tributes to be doubled. In fact, they're SO previously-designated that they were all planned out and written on cards when the Hunger Games first began, signifying that the Capitol expected the tradition of the Games to last a looooooong freakin' time.
Avox- A person (for some reason usually redheaded) that committed some sort of crime against the Capitol and has had their tongue removed as punishment, so they can no longer talk. They're also forced to be servants for people in the Capitol, including the Hunger Games tributes/mentors/sponsors/Gamemakers/etc.
Tracker jacker- a genetically altered wasp created by the Capitol to track down anyone who makes them (the tracker jacker) angry and kill them. Sometimes they don't succeed in the killing part, but their venom induces hallucinations like you're on an acid trip or something like that.
Muttations- all of these Capitol-created species that are made for a specific purpose, i.e. jabberjays and tracker jackers [and also these giant wolf-like creatures I can't tell you about yet].
The Treaty of Treason- the decision that resulted in the tradition of the Hunger Games, the purpose of which is to remind the citizens of Panem that the Capitol has complete control and any attempts at rebellion will be squashed.
Morphling- basically, the Panem version of morphine. It's a pain medication that's addicting and causes people to have severe withdrawals, but even whey they're on it they're not totally *there* mentally.

If you know of any additional terms that need definining and don't include spoilers, put them in the comments and I'll add them.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Girlfran, you needa be sent away.

I need... I can't... I just... Why?

I am going to write this in letter form, because that is how it is easiest to vent my feelings when I am extremely angry with someone.

Dear She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,
Congratulations. You've done it again. Gone all trigger-happy with that swelling sense of power in your chest and just lost your freaking mind. Why do you do this to us? Why do you do this, when you know you're going to lose viewers for exactly this reason?
Why do you make me love your characters and then rip them away from me? Why do the characters I can't stand get to be selfish and leave without so much as a guilty conscience, and the ones I absolutely adore just, you know, throw themselves in front of buses and die for their heroic efforts, or be completely the opposite of every despicable character you create and then die on the operating table, or be the only reason I even started watching the show and then get killed unexpectedly after a stupid car accident? Why? People thought it was bad when you killed Denny, but this is getting out of control. It wasn't that difficult to get over Denny.

I was starting to like Grey's Anatomy again. Last season, I was thinking it had gotten its groove back. Don't get me wrong, I never did and never will forgive you for what you did to George O'Malley, but I had myself convinced that that was the one and only time you completely lost all of your marbles. I figured occasionally you just lose a few of them, just to keep things interesting, but they came back. But now, I'm thinking you just never really got them back. Replaced them with cotton balls or something. That's what I'm thinking.

Here's something you probably aren't expecting: I honestly, completely do not care about what happens to the main characters. I know they are safe. Get a kid, don't get a kid, yawn. Lexie and Sloane get back together, don't get back together, I have an opinion but it matters to you just about as much as Lexie's opinion mattered to that author lady last week. I know Meredith and Alex aren't going to blow up in an ambulance, because Meredith is the main character and Alex is a jerk, and on your shows, jerks don't die [and honestly, if you killed another one of the original five, you might get death threats yourself]. I think you know that the percentage of people who love Lexie and the percentage of people who can't stand her are approximately equal, so obviously you can't kill her. I knew you wouldn't kill Callie last year because, well, then what would be the point of the musical (lost a few cotton balls on that one too, didn't ya?)? And so on. In short, the only characters I care about are the ones who everyone likes, and who are not Meredith, Cristina or Derek. Because those are the ones who are constantly in danger of being killed.

I just don't understand your logic here, woman. Go ahead and defend yourself, say it's for the story or the characters or whatever, but you're wrong. The story and the characters would be just fine without you going and doing things like this. You think I wouldn't still be watching Grey's Anatomy if George O'Malley were still alive? You think killing Dell made me want to keep watching Private Practice? News flash: George could still be a hero if he hadn't died. T.R. Knight could have left the show without his character dying (hello, George was on his way into THE FREAKING ARMY). And I do not watch Private Practice anymore. That show is nothing but your lost cotton balls.

Your power trips are getting old, and if you continue this genocide on the very specific type of characters I have mentioned, I'm done. Heck, I might be done anyway. Grey's doesn't come back for a while, so I have time to decide if I'm even going to watch it anymore. I do have a suggestion for you though: I think you and Ann Brashares (and heck, let's throw Brenda Hampton in there too just because she's annoying) should take vacation from writing and only come back when you have learned that these stories and characters are NOT YOURS. They're ours. You may have created them, but they don't belong to you.

Ever so sincerely,

Monday, November 7, 2011

Do not go gently

I wanted to write a review of the second book in the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie, Crossed, but I'm not quite sure if I'll be defending it or criticizing it. Probably a mixture of both... so maybe don't read this if you're trying to decide whether or not you should read the Matched trilogy, because it will not help. Not to mention if you're coming here for help with decisionmaking, there's some cross-wiring in your brain because I. Don't. Do. That.
It seems that Crossed suffers from Second Book Syndrome. My previous experiences with Second Book Syndrome have included New Moon (Twilight series) and Tiger's Quest (Tiger's Curse series), and they seem to have taught me this: Second Curse Syndrome involves the dilapidation of the overall plotline, and serves more as a vehicle to further along the characterization*. Crossed is no different. Now, I had no problems with the characterizations in Matched to begin with, so imagine my pleasant surprise when I find that the second book added upon them. We find out things about the characters that we never expected to find out, and are left with the impression that we still don't know everything. Which, ahem, is kind of the point of a trilogy.
My problems with Crossed were similar to the issues I had with Matched, which included:
1. The oversymbolization/metaphor/muddledness. I probably just made up two words with that, but at least those words help get the point across. The symbolism in the first book of this series at first struck me as kind of neat, until the author kept changing what everything stood for and introducing new symbols, which did not help get the point across. The main metaphors were the colors green, blue, and red (can anyone else tell that the cover of the third book is going to be Cassia in-- or out of-- a red bubble? Whether that bubble is broken, or invisible, or empty, it will be red. I'd put money on it.), but after a while of belaboring the point that the colors mean something, you forget exactly what that something is. And thinking about it starts to hinder your enjoyment of the book. "Wait, what does that mean? How is that relevant? Gah, why am I so stupid?! Why can't I figure out why Indie would choose a blue dress?!" Seriously, I spent so much time trying to relate every mention of any of these colors to their meaning and relation to the tablets (green tablets calm you, blue tablets slow you down so you die if someone doesn't save you, and red tablets make you forget everything from the past 12 hours) that I probably just confused myself more. But is that my fault? No.
2. The secondary characters. The main characters-- Cassia, Ky and Xander-- are all splendidly different with similar goals, but different ways of thinking. But the secondary characters... I just don't care about them. Indie is a little intriguing, except I wouldn't actually care if the air ship she left on was being sent to the certain death of everyone on it. Eli is cute in that he's supposed to be like Bram, Cassia's younger brother, but the thing is: I don't even know anything about Bram! He asks questions and has a lot of energy. Okay, so he's just like every other 12-year-old kid out there (including Eli!). Vick's death shocked me a little but I got over it after probably one paragraph. I liked that he got a little background information out there, telling Ky about how he fell in love with an Anomaly, but I can't shake the feeling that that was only included so that Ky could relate to him, not to give him more dimensions as a character. And Hunter... we first see him at probably the most depressing, dramatic moment of his life, and after that what is there? We already know everything that really needs to be known, and everything else is just details about him. To me he seemed like a reincarnation of Vick in that they both lacked any real personality.
3. The dystopia. I like the general idea of how the Society controls every aspect of Citizens' lives for what is supposed to be their own good, but the execution is pretty poorly done. The Enemy is... who, again? And the Society sends its own people (Aberrations and Anomalies may not be Citizens, but they are people given a status by the Society, so they're still part of the system) out to be killed for... what, exactly? I just didn't understand the whole Society vs. Rising vs. Enemy vs. farmers thing. There are too many variables.

Those are my three main problems, and I'm hoping the third one becomes a little clearer in the third book. Or maybe even if I reread the first two. That said, there are certain things in the Matched trilogy that I think are done better than they are done in most books:
1. Again, characterization. This isn't a huge one for this particular series (I absolutely do not understand the comparisons to The Hunger Games, other than the fact that they are both "dystopian" --coughMatchedisutopiancough--), but it's not to be discounted either. I particularly love Ky, the quiet boy who knows when to shut up and when to stand up. He cared for Cassia before he even knew her, which may scream "insta!love" to you, but to me it just says he's a person who can read other people easily and knows what he believes in. Xander is the golden boy with a dark streak, the one Cassia's "supposed" to be with according to the Society, the one she's known all her life. She thinks she knows everything about him, but consistently finds out she is wrong. And Cassia, obviously, is the main character. Her whole life she believed in the Society until her grandfather, also kind of her best friend next to Xander, gave her two poems before he died that changed everything. Now she's a fighter and yadda yadda. I say "yadda yadda" not because it's overdone or unbelievable or anything, but because I need to move on with this thing. My point here is that the characters are all believably different.
2. This one only applies to Crossed, but it's a big one that can go really wrong if not done correctly. I'm talking about alternating points of view. While Matched was told from only Cassia's point of view, Crossed starts out from Ky's point of view and then alternates between him and Cassia. Each chapter, it tells you right under the number of the chapter who is talking now, but I didn't even need that. I could tell just from reading it who was talking, because they have such different voices. Ky is the realist, with contempt for all things Society (except Cassia) and all things Rising. But he speaks with a voice so... poetic, that I kind of just want to live in his chapters forever. I'll get to the "poetic" part later. Cassia's voice is much the same as it was in Matched, in that she tries to be poetic but kind of fails. She's almost too optimistic to say anything beautiful the way Ky does. She sorts everything into compartments in her mind and makes sure she perceives everyone and everything correctly, but at the same time she hates it. She hates categorizing people and tries to see them only for who they are-- in other words, she actively tries to think more like Ky.
3. Here comes what I'm talking about when I say "poetic." By this I do not mean the constant use of poems in the book, which actually gets excessive and annoying, but the total poetry in Ky's voice (and sometimes even Cassia's). Despite being the realist, Ky manages to say things that just make me want to read the same sentence over and over again and write it down and memorize it and say it in my sleep and get it tattooed on my forearm (okay, maybe not that last one).
i.e. "I see a glint in her eye as she looks at me and it makes me smile. Hold our breath? she seems to say. Move the earth? We've been doing that all along."
Also, "She's right. I do see myself in Indie. I feel a pity so deep for her that it might be something else entirely. Empathy. You have to believe in something to survive. She's picked the Rising. I chose Cassia."
And "The arrow of this compass is locked into place. No spinning. No alteration. Like me with Cassia. Locked on one idea, one thing in the sky. One truth to hold on to when everything else falls to dust around me."
And, talking about how his mother painted with water on rocks: "She believed in my father and went to his meetings. He walked out with her in the desert after the storms and kept her company while she found hollows filled with rain and painted with water. He wanted to make things-- changes-- that would last. She always understood that what she did would fade away."

Now that I have discussed all of this at length, I will tell you my real problem with Crossed as an individual book: there is, essentially, no ACTION. The whole book is Cassia searching for Ky and Ky trying to get back Cassia, and then them finding each other, and then the four of them (Cassia, Indie, Ky and Eli) trekking across the red rock and desert in search of... something. For most of the book I couldn't really keep track of what they were looking for. When I finally figured out that Cassia and Indie wanted to find the Rising, but Ky just wanted to escape and Eli basically wanted whatever Ky wanted, it was too late to save the book. It was past the point that should have been the climax. I did rather enjoy that Cassia and Ky actually had a disagreement for once in their lives-- a pretty big one too, even though it lasted all of about four seconds-- but even that didn't have any real action. Ky basically was like, "Okay, I'm not going to win this one, so let's do what you want." And then they found the Rising and there was no conflict and they got their assignments and there was no conflict and then the book was over with nary a conflict to mention. Cassia discovers that Xander is part of the Rising and makes plans to meet with him (another problem: Xander is a main character. Why was he only present for 15 pages of the whole book? I don't want a character that gets talked about all the time but is never there. That is the definition of passive). The End. I'm not even left thinking "What happens next?" I'm left thinking, "When is something going to happen?"

So Crossed, I would say, is the ultimate bridge book. Which is not bad, but not good either. The second book in a trilogy shouldn't be just a bridge book, it should be able to stand on its own. I am really glad that Veronica Roth at least acknowledges this, so I know she's keeping it in mind while writing the second Divergent book (I wanted to post a link to the blog post in which she talks about this, but I cannot find it). It's too bad Ally Condie didn't get that memo.

I give it 3 out of 5 stars because I thought the redeeming qualities slightly, barely outweighed the unredeeming ones.

*Note that Catching Fire (The Hunger Games series) was not included in this list.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Everyone is Divergent

So I found this "Which Divergent faction are you?" quiz on the Divergent Facebook page-- so, you know, it's official and everything-- and I took it. I was kind of surprised that I got Candor, but now it kind of makes sense to me. I was expecting to get Erudite, but that would have totally sucked on account of Erudite is a bunch of snobby bookworms who think they own everyone because they're smarter than them. I knew I wouldn't get Dauntless (just the fact that it wasn't even a possibility makes me feel so lame), Amity is not really my style (friendly to everyone? No, thanks), and I just don't think Abnegation is realistic (it's not possible to be completely selfless at all times). So I'm pretty happy with this result, except... it makes me a little bit like Christina. Part of me is like heck yes! Christina is awesome! She's that person who says things everyone else is thinking but nobody will say. But the other part of me is like, Christina can be... mean. I know people sometimes think I'm mean, but I'm really not. Sure, I'm not a big fan of sugarcoating things (Jon McLaughlin said it best when he said "we've sugarcoated everything and now it's rotting out my teeth"), but I don't like to be tactless either. The people of Candor are unnecessarily forthcoming with their opinions. Just being honest doesn't mean you can't keep some things to yourself, especially if they're your own thoughts.
Anyway. Another thing I'm thinking about is... which faction would Katniss Everdeen be in? I know we can rule out Amity, for the same reason I ruled out Amity for myself, and she's smart but she's no Erudite, and she would not have survived her father's death if she were completely selfless, so that eliminates Abnegation. So... Dauntless or Candor? And herein lies the central point of Divergent: people cannot be classified into one category or another. You can try, but there are always those things that conflict with oversimplification (to quote John Green, "The truth resists simplicity"). Like my discomfort with being mean, and my bookworm tendencies, and the fact that I really wish I could be Dauntless. And Katniss's tendency toward selflessness only when it comes to certain people, and her bravery in the face of extreme fear that causes her to mistrust everyone, and her inability to act like something she's not. Katniss would probably fit in Candor just as well as me, but you can't ignore the Dauntless in her either.