She-Ra

65 x 24 min.

Yes, I know, I’m surprised as well. This animated TV-show definitely took me a while to warm up to, and during the first two season (there’s five of them) I wouldn’t even have considered writing a blog about it. Somewhere near the end of season two, and/or the start of season three, it grabbed me. It grabbed me good.

She-RaBefore starting this show, I knew little about the previous incarnations of it and therefore didn’t feel the need to complain about how She-Ra isn’t a full-grown woman this time, nor about the lack of butt and boob shots (in an animated show, yes I know). It also means that I didn’t have any connection to it, and had to invest some time and energy to feel the connection.

She-Ra is fantasy, people with magic, bad guys that want to take it, colourful stuff, talking horses, but also teenagers, queer love, building your own family and views on power and the (ab)use of it. Especially when watching several episodes in a row you might notice some repetition, but as someone who skipped a few (there’s a character I could barely handle) I can say that you can still follow the main plot without confusion.

It’s also fun and bright and there’s so much heart in it, even though the shows of it sometimes made me feel a bit outside of the target audience/too old. Oh, and the animation is nice, instead of that try-hard, ugly as possible “adult” animation we have to suffer all too often.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Netflix 2018

An American Marriage

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t.

Layers upon layers to uncover and think about in a book that could just be summarised by its title: yep, it’s about a marriage. Between Americans. But these Americans are Black, one of them is wrongfully incarcerated and what is a marriage if it’s largely between people of one is in prison?

This way, Tayari Jones looks at the prison system, racism, the institution of marriage, the first ones in families to go study and the burden that comes with it. This is a story that creeps under the skin, leaves you staring in the distance afterwards – empty and fulfilled at the same time.

Because what would have happened if Roy wouldn’t have been locked up? The marriage wasn’t perfect, but which one is? What if they would never have married? What if they would have grown up in another state or even another country? In what ways is the USA to blame for this entire situation? How is ancestry to blame (if so)?

It’s a testament to Jones’ writing that none of this adds an essay-like feeling to the novel: it’s a story first. A painful one, with glimmers of hope.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones, Harper Collins 2018

Trail of Lightning

The monster has been here.

More Charlaine Harris (True Blood and the like) than Eden Robinson, but you can’t always win,and at least I was entertained. Maybe I should have known better when discovering that there had been criticisms about this novel, but I very much enjoy the stories of indigenous people, so I was willing to risk it. On the other side, how could I have known if the author was doing something right or wrong with the very little I know about (North-American) indigenous people?

Anyway, hindsight is 20-20 and it wasn’t her representation of the Navajo – wrongfully or otherwise – that bothered me about this novel. It’s the characters, specifically the main character.

I understand that you’re a pretty tortured soul when you’ve gone through what Maggie has gone through and is still going through, but when it only leads to moping and lamenting – all the goodwill evaporates quickly. There are other characters that are more exciting, I would have loved to learn more about the world this plays out in, but instead I get ponderings-while-looking-in-the-mirror. If there would have been more sex and blood, I would have called this a Laurell K. Hamilton.

Coming down largely on the side of ‘meh’, you can skip this one for your dystopian, sci-fi and or not-just-white story needs.

Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse, Simon & Schuster 2018

Rafiki

83 min.

Eindelijk. Rafiki heeft Rafiki omdat het het Swahili-woord voor ‘vriend’ is en homoseksuele koppels vaak als vrienden moeten leven om niet (geweldadig) uit de samenleving verwijderd te worden.

Rafiki film posterDus geen relatie tot de Lion King.

Deze film was voor verschillende festivals uitgekozen en ik kon bijna meer de frustratie herinneren van het te missen in Rotterdam dan wat het verhaal ook al weer was.

Het verhaal is simpel. Twee jonge mensen bevrienden elkaar en worden verliefd op elkaar, maar omdat het allebei vrouwen zijn, zijn er heel veel mensen die dit helemaal gruwelijk vinden.

Daarin ligt ook mijn enige frustratie: wanneer krijgen lesbiennes eens een luchtig niemandalletje (schrijf je dat zo?) van een film waarin het alleen om kalverliefde gaat? Als films met heteroseksuele romances net zo’n hoog percentage van geweld zou hebben, zou de politiek er waarschijnlijk vragen over stellen. Enfin.

Rafiki was het wachten waard door de twee hoofdrolspelers, en door de boodschap waar het mee eindigt.

Rafiki, Shortcut Films 2018

How to Love a Jamaican

The first time I saw Cecilia, she was the only other black girl in our small group during freshman orientation.

I like pleasant surprises.

After a frustrating couple of hours concerning my e-book reader app, I ended up with Libby. To make sure it was the app and not my tablet (six years old), I borrowed something to make sure the novel would show. How to Love a Jamaican was that novel, and it showed.

It’s also a collection of (short) stories, for those that are apprehensive about those (like myself). They all involve a Jamaican, Jamaica and love in some kind of way – self, family, friendships, romantically.

I know that PoC authors and their stories are all too often described as “colourful” or “vibrant” so I’m going to refrain and say that these stories were fun, even when they subject wasn’t. There was a certain kind of life in them, even when you can’t recognise the situation mentioned. Immigration is a part of these stories, but not the story, and – what a surprise – all protagonists go through the same things people in white authored stories go.

All in all, this was a great start with my new reader app and it better continues delivering.

How to Love a Jamaican, Alexia Arthurs, Ballantine Books 2018

Split Tooth

Sometimes we would hide in the closet when the drunks came home from the bar.

I struggled with this one, even though ‘struggle’ feels like too weak a word while at the same time sounding like a complaint.  While I was definitely annoyed, made uncomfortable and felt disgusted by this book, ‘struggle’ feels like I was fighting with the structure or built of the book. While it was the story, the actions, the implications, the anger and danger.

Yeah, all this was a lot.

And if it wouldn’t have been for the ending in which all of it came together so perfectly, so cleansing, so enlightened – I wouldn’t even have reviewed this on Goodreads. I would have been left behind with the aforementioned feelings.

Because Split Tooth isn’t a chronological story or just an ~experience~ or something in between: from time to time I felt like I was reading along with the notes of some world-building deity, but definitely one on a bad day. So much anger and frustration for humanity, but so much love and awe for nature. Is there even a main character, and is she an active or terribly passive one?

Split Tooth doesn’t provide answers or pointers, it’s just there while at the same time clawing at your brain to be allowed to reside there permanently.

Split Tooth, Tanya Tagaq, Viking 2018

The Death of Superman

81 min.

When you realise that you already watched this story, just not animated, five minutes before the end of the film.

the death of supermanI like the animated stuff DC Comics provides. Their style (usually) works, the voice acting works and because I’m not familiar with the majority of the stories, I can’t get frustrated over a film or series “getting it wrong”.

So, yes, this isn’t just a comic but large parts of the plot were used for one of the recent DCEU films as well (Superman? Superman 2?). Yet that one didn’t make enough impact on me to remember the name of, so just stick around for the animation and better dialogue.

I think the thing about DC animation is what gets me is that it reminds me of the excitement you felt as a child: when animation styles were still appealing and the plots exciting. It gives me that Wednesday-afternoon feeling, opposed to the dumbed down stuff that’s around now way too often.

Yes, the comic did it first. But moving pictures and hearing voices add a lot.

Oh, and what it’s about? Superheroes, and villains. Duh.

The Death of Superman, DC 2018

Shéhérazade

111 min.

Straks word ik nog een Fransefilmkijker. Of het nu comedy, drama of actie is, ik weet ze wel te waarderen. Deze valt in de tweede categorie, maar weer wel op zo’n manier dat het niet drámá is. Niks tranentrekkerigs met wollige soundtracks, maar het drama van een grote hoeveelheid slechte omstandigheden en beslissingen.

film poster sheherazadeWant nee, de pooier van je vriendin worden is geen goed idee, ook al is ze prostitueren al gewend. En met een pistool zwaaien is nooit een goed idee, net zoals weglopen bij een opvanghuis. Zach krijgt het desalniettemin allemaal voor elkaar.

Zach zit dan ook tussen het wal en het schip. Vader afwezig, moeder boeit het allemaal niet, stoere vrienden die het allemaal niet zo legaal doen en natuurlijk die eeuwige drang om maar de grootste, beste, gevaarlijkste te zijn. En dat kan best redelijk door middel van pooier zijn, geld rondstrooien en een grote bek hebben op de verkeerde momenten.

Tussendoor is zijn vriendinnetje Shéhérazade ook veel verder van huis dan gewenst. Deze twee klauwen wel aan elkaar vast, maar wat heb je daaraan als beiden aan het verdrinken zijn? Hierdoor is het verleidelijk om ze toe te roepen los te laten en het heel ergens anders opnieuw te proberen maar ja – het is maar een film.

Dus is dit een film met bitterzoete randjes en frustraties, in een licht en vorm waardoor al dat lelijks bijna mooi is.

Shéhérazade, Netflix 2018

Mermaid

Je bent er nog niet klaar voor, mijn kind.

Ik ben een sucker voor mythologie en zeker hervertellingen er van. Deze keer duldde ik er zelfs een vertaling voor. En het stelde niet eens teleur.

Mermaid (waarom is de titel half in het Nederlands en half in het Engels?) is een variatie op het verhaal van de kleine zeemeermin, en dan dichter bij het origineel (veel pijn, veel verdriet) dan dat van Disney, en dan ook nog met een boel inzichten.

Omdat dit een realistische (ja, ondanks de meerminnen) variatie is, zijn die inzichten niet al te luchtig en fijn. Hoofdpersoon Gaia mag dan pas vijftien zijn, de schellen vallen haar wel heel snel van de ogen, en dan was ze om te beginnen al niet zo naïef.

Hierdoor is Mermaid een sprookje zoals ze vroeger werden gemaakt – om van te leren. In dit geval met zeer pijnlijke voeten en een bittere conclusie, maar desalniettemin een Wijze Les die zeker voor deze doelgroep zeer nuttig kan zijn. En dan was de er omheen-gebouwde wereld nog aantrekkelijk ook.

Mermaid – Dromen van het onmogelijke, Louise O’Neill, Young & Awesome 2018

The Au Pair

We have no photographs of our early days, Danny and I.

Right up my alley, this one. Family secrets, a tinge of the supernatural and people using lipstick to write on mirrors.

After a death in the family, Seraphine discovers a photograph that makes her doubt her family history. She’s always felt different (isn’t that how it always starts?), and now feels like she can finally turn that feeling into something solid.

Good thing she still lives in her family home and plenty of hints are quite easily found. Is it witches, fairies, or just the cute little villagers that had always enjoyed a good gossip about the weirdos in Summerbourne house?

We are strung along just a tad too long, but the decorations along the way are fun enough to not be very disgruntled about it. In less than 300 pages Emma Rous sets up an entertaining tent with solid poles keeping up a well-set story. If there would have been more room for the supernatural, I would have given it an extra star.

The Au Pair, Emma Rous, Penguin Random House 2018