Edge of Seventeen

104 min.

I really didn’t expect to like this so much: just another American teen movie about a girl that’s struggling through growing up. Yes, we all did or do, boohoo. Honestly, I was expecting so little that I picked it so I could watch it with one eye on the screen and the other my book/phone/tablet.

Instead, I got a film that hit so close to home that it made me squirm. Good gravy, I was a brat. Good god, and not even an original one, look at Nadine go. Gosh darn, at least she has some solid excuse for this behaviour.

Because she does, partly – and it’s not just ‘puberty’, but I don’t want to spoil things. Hailee Steinfeld pleasantly surprised me again, all characters involved deserved their spot and managed not to be complete stereotypes: I’m still flabbergasted, I think.

So, maybe, only watch this without remembering how I admit to being almost a carbon copy to this main character. Or cut me some slack: you were probably a teen some time during your life as well.

Aria

Mehri opened her eyes.

Aria, Nazanine Hozar, Alfred Knopf 2019

This one also stemmed from a positive review. And okay, the beautiful cover that looks like there’s fabric involved – here we judge books by covers.

Aria plays out through several decades in Iran, ending in the 1980s. For a lot of unhappy elements (the baby is left behind to be found by an unhappy family, for starters) it’s not Aria’s story that makes this novel from time to time depressing: it’s the world around her.

There’s a lot of different tribes and people living in the country, and they all want revolution in different ways. In the same way there’s struggles between religions and different ways of poverty. The things Aria is put through mirror these issues, but she’s never just a metaphor. Sometimes she’s such a brat that the society that made her is easy to forget – good God, teenagers.

This novel made me more interested about the country, its history and the author. I read its entirety from a phone screen (thanks, Libby!) and still managed to do so in under a week (over 800 pages). There’s a clear appeal here.

So now I’m back to where I started: you never know if you can trust a positive review.

Trust Exercise

Neither can drive.

Trust Exercise, Susan Choi, Henry Holt and Company 2019

What an utter load of twatwaffle no doubt disguised as High Literature because there is a load of teens fucking in it, it described in all kind of visuals and all this done by a female author.

What a disappointment. This is one of those titles that drew my eye, lost my attention because of the summary, only to regain it because of a solid review – I think (I can’t even remember). This isn’t just a love story between different worlds, there is A Twist and boy – hold onto your panties for that one! When does the twist happen? In the last forty pages out of the 250. Is it satisfying and/or satisfyingly explained? No. Are there any explanations for the behaviour of these Cool Guys and Girls? Barely. Is all this written in such a way that you understand that this is DEEP? Sadly, yes.

Boo, I hate such a severe disappointment. The twist could have done something, but I was browbeaten into absolutely passive not-caring long before that. Yes, I’m going to make a bad pun to finish this off: this trust exercise failed massively.

The Cat Returns

75 min.

This might be my favourite Studio Ghibli. It’s less breath-taking in how it looks and how diversely weird the characters are, but I guess that it also makes it more accessible. Or that could be because it’s ‘just’ 75 minutes instead of the studio’s habit to go for two hours and over.

Is this a children’s film? I wouldn’t know, aren’t all of them? The style is of pastels and little chuckles, but with enough barbs for the viewer to scratch their head. Possibly.

Studio Ghibli

Sweet girl Haru risks her own life to save a cat. Turns out that that cat is a prince, and his father decides that Haru deserves eternal gratitude. Oh, and his son’s hand in marriage, because why not.

Haru is – understandably – a tad confused and rather doesn’t marry a cat. Good thing she gets help from an unlikely angle, and the catty balance is evened out.

The Cat Returns feels more traditionally like a fairy tale than other Studio Ghibli creations, and there’s less gruesome looks and characters. Maybe you should view it as an introduction to the studio. It will also help with preventing you from feeling slight frustration about every main female character from the studio looking the same, but maybe it’s already too late for that.

Mexican Gothic

The parties at the Tuñóns’ house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folkloric skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy.

Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Rey 2020

It’s always tricky to read a hyped book, I’ve mentioned this before. Is it a hype because people jumped on the band wagon, or does it really deserve all praise?

I wanted to say that I don’t know with this one, but I think I do. The promo laid it on thick that for once this wasn’t a Latin-American author writing magic-realism and that her scares were genuine. Magic-horror, terror, gothicness! I, far from a fan of horror, was curious because of the denial. I understand – no-one wants to be cornered as a one-trick-pony, but why not promote the story if it was So Different Than Any Other?

Maybe because it isn’t. Noémi moves to a scary, old house far away from civilisation to help a cousin that sent her a nerve-wrecking letter. Is it abuse, is it gas lighting or is it [add drums here] something else?

I won’t answer that question, but will say that Moreno-Garcia takes her time for a build-up only to throw everything at you in the last fifty pages.

It’s a nice roller-coaster ride, but nothing we haven’t experienced before.

Dirty God

104 min.

Sommige titels onthoud je wel, maar je vergeet waarom je ‘m onthoudt. Met Dirty God wist ik het snel weer: de actrice heeft zichtbare brandwonden en dat was Nogal Een Ding toen de film uit kwam. Gezonde, slanke acteurs krijgen awards wanneer ze obees of gehandicapt doen voor een rol, maar de gehandicapte acteur krijgt maar weinig kans.

Enfin.

In de film zijn de brandwonden door zuur, een gebaar van een jaloerse vriend. En terwijl de kijker (deze dan) er snel aan went, kan Jade zich er niet bij neerleggen. Haar dochtertje schrikt van haar gezicht, ze wordt op straat beledigd en de leuke man die haar ook leuk vindt, kiest toch maar voor haar vriendin.

Dit alles moet opgelost worden met cosmetische chirurgie, al vinden haar artsen dit niet nodig. Marokko biedt een goedkope optie, maar dan weten we ondertussen al dat niets rechtlijnig is in het leven van Jade.

Dat betekent niet dat ze het niet blijft proberen, waardoor die lijnen wel geschapen móeten worden. Jade en haar pijnlijke geboetseer maken de film, waardoor ik ook gelijk het allerbeste voor haar acteur wens.

Conservation of Shadows

It is not true that the dead cannot be folded.

Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee, Prime Books 2020

Now that’s what I call fantasy. Or scifi. Maybe both. Either way, there is fantasy and there is science (fiction) and it’s mind boggling, eerie and beautiful (not just for linguistic and/or math enthusiasts either). Eat that, tropes.

Conservation of Shadows is a collection of (short) stories previously published by the author. It’s about colonialism, wars, music, writing, reincarnation or maybe only death.

Especially the first five – six stories tickled my imagination, but even when you get used to Lee’s style and subject choice the originality stays with you.

My only complaints are that some stories deserve entire novels and that – for an e-book – it’s almost too much, too dense. Experience this relic from a future time through paper, I’d advice.

As it is in Heaven

128 min.

As mentioned before, am I right now enjoying a Kanopy-account as if whatever Netflix provides isn’t enough. I vaguely remembered this name as being good, maybe? Or interesting, possibly? But sometimes you can’t decide what you feel like and films like that fit the bill precisely.

As it is in Heaven is a Swedish film (so subtitles!) with a common trope: stranger moves or returns to small town, changes the lives of absolutely everybody. It has been done, it has been done well. In this case it’s definitely a ‘done well’. It seems like the writers took pleasure in steering towards cliches, only to avoid them at the last moment. Here no characterisation just for laughs or sadness, but all people that are recognisable as people opposed to ‘small town character number 5’. There’s no shying away from more serious subjects, and even though this is an ‘old’ (2004) film, it doesn’t feel outdated.

In all honesty, it surprised me how easy to watch it was, how genuine it all felt. The one thing that made me squint a little was the main couple; it felt like quite the age gap and I never care for those.

Rules of Civility

On the night of October 4th, 1966, Val and I, both in late middle age, attended the opening of Many Are Called at the Museum of Modern Art – the first exhibit of portraits taken by Walker Evans in the late 1930s on the New York City subways with a hidden camera.

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles, Sceptre 2011

As with my previous review, this novel can be summarised in one sentence. The characters however, can not.

Young woman in NYC 1940s moves up through class-levels while learning things about society and what she wants.

Just like in his following novel, Amor Towles manages to make a lot out of a little, without rocking any kind of boat in any way. A little less sofa, that’s all. You’re not completely detached, but never manage to break the surface either. Towles makes it feel like this is how he wants to be, in complete control of the story/stories.

It’s only about that, and do with it as you will. If you want.

Pride

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.

Pride, Ibi Zoboi, Balzer + Bray 2018

It’s embarrassing how angry this book made me. At myself. Being confronted with racist, classist and other thoughts wasn’t what I was suspecting from reading a YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in contemporary Bushwick (New York City, USA).

So, first of all: “Why has it to be such a big family?” Because it’s just like the original material.

“Why is protagonist Zuri so angry and unyielding all the time?” Because she’s a teenager, of colour, gentrification and poverty.

“Why doesn’t Darius try harder to fit in with the majority?” … and this from a person that proudly called herself ‘alternative’ in high school. Shame on me.

Good thing is that all the frustration was directed at me, because I feel like Zoboi did really well with this. It’s no carbon copy, there’s all the right emotions and worries (now fitting because of puberty and a quickly changing surroundings), and Bushwick and its inhabitants as a welcome third party. Which such people, no wonder Zuri is willing to fight.

A novel like this is the YA that should be heavily promoted and adapted, instead of book 234 out of the CC club. Because a good story comes with insight (of the self), which is a good thing for all ages.