The Marrow Thieves

Mitch was smiling so big his back teeth shone in the soft light of the solar-powered lamp we’d scavenged from someone’s shed.

I don’t like post-apocalyptic stories; they make me very nervous. With the way the people in power are ignoring environmental and societal issues, it’s – for me – not that hard to believe that sooner than later we’ll be scavenging food and fighting for survival. It’s not something I enjoy thinking about, so why did I still start The Marrow Thieves?

Because of the author and the point of the view of the story: indigenous people. I always try to read more by indigenous writers, books using indigenous stories (although that’s a whole other (potentially sticky) kettle of fish), and this one made it sound more sci-fi-ish than “the world has gone to the crapper and humans are terrible”. We all make mistakes, sometimes.

Cherie Dimaline keeping the story short (less than 200 pages) and the characters very recognisable and deserving of your support prevents you from leaving this story feeling absolute despair. Yes, humans are terrible. Also yes: humans have family, hope and determination.

I still hope we don’t need those in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline, Cormorant Books 2017

Sorcery of Thorns

Night fell as death rode into the Great Library of Summershall.

I’m sure Margaret Rogerson hadn’t planned on setting such a dramatic scene with just the first sentence. It’d have been Death or DEATH otherwise, of course. Anyway, let’s not go off on a tangent.

I wanted some easy, accessible fantasy and Sorcery of Thorns didn’t disappoint. It even looks to be a stand-alone! And even though it’s YA pretty by the book (unlikely hero who’s Different, a dark and mysterious love interest, a funny sidekick), it doesn’t become a bother. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, the tempo is high and there’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you entertained.

Elisabeth Scrivener (I know) was left as a baby at one of the Great Libraries and grew up in one. Books are magical creatures, but those that manage those powers are kind of feared and frowned upon. So of course, she ends up with a sorcerer after an accident, and magic becomes a large part of her life.

The clear love of books gets Sorcery of Thorns an extra star: if it wouldn’t have been so dangerous, I would have loved to have a look around in its libraries.

Sorcery of Thorns, Margaret Rogerson, Margaret K. McElderry Books 2019

Paradise Lodge

The job at Paradise Lodge was Miranda Longlady’s idea.

‘Teenager in seventies’ England gets a job at a seniors home and learns things about life, herself and others’ must have been a curious plot to pitch, but Nina Stibbe manages to land it with a homely, gentle feeling to the story and everyone involved. Even Matron.

Lizzie Vogel is a bit of an onion; she’s got layers. Starting off this job with ‘better shampoo’ as a personal motivation, she quickly starts to see that both seniors and the people providing for them as individuals as well. Her work at the home is more exciting and interesting than school, there’s a cute guy who’s someone else’s boyfriend, and her mother isn’t all that stable through all this; all of which causes issues in a domino kind of cascade.

That might make Paradise Lodge sound severe and dire, but even though there are deaths, it’s all on the lighter side of things. Teenage problems, without being teenage disasters. Lizzie really is an onion: she goes with many things.

Paradise Lodge, Nina Stibbe, Penguin Books 2017

These Witches Don’t Burn

They say there’s a fine line between love and hate.

Queer teenage witches! And it shows, in this YA, littering the story with some bad decisions and Very Emotional Moments. Because: teenagers.

Main character Hannah is a real witch, living in Salem, and trying to keep her and her family’s magic a secret from those that are ordinary humans. It gets harder when attacks start to happen, her ex-girlfriend attempts to get her back while at the same time moving on with someone else, a cute new girl arrives and her coven puts down the law on magic use. Basically ordinary teenage life, indeed.

It might be testament to Isabel Sterling’s writing that sometimes it’s all very teenager, making everyone and their decisions a bit too annoying and young for this reader. This is balanced out by Hannah’s sweet thoughts and emotions about her sexuality and crush(es), and honestly – hasn’t anyone had their Teenage Moments.

As is my usual complaint; more world building would have been welcome, but for those that are always on the look out for more queer YA: These Witches Don’t Burn is a proper one.

These Witches Don’t Burn, Isabel Sterling, Penguin Random House 2019

Booksmart

102 min.

What a surprise: female teenagers can be shortsighted, crude and bad decision makers as well! With this film coming from the people behind Superbad and similar material, I was honestly a bit surprised that there weren’t more nudity, body-parts, and/or poop related jokes.

Booksmart posterIn Booksmart two very devoted school-going and study-religious female teenagers and best friends are shocked when they discover that you don’t need to deny yourself a life to achieve the best grades and highest accolades. Even students that *party* turn out to have great grades, which means that the two feel like they’ve wasted their high school years and need to correct it before university. Luckily there are plenty end-of-the-year parties, and a party is what will change everything (they’re still teens, after all).

What follows are American Mr. Bean-like situations that sometimes go on too long, but at the very least gives the young women involved (and one man) room to show that they’re people with flaws and ups and downs and that sometimes you have to do something to discover if it’s someone you are/want to be or not.

That’s also what gives the film its charm: stereotypes are (slightly) dismantled and there are enough believable situations and actions that won’t make you wonder how far away writers are distanced from teenagers and high school.

Booksmart, Annapurna Pictures 2019

Internment

I strain to listen for boots on the pavement.

Looking back after having finished this novel I realise how naive and privileged it is of me to have thought “well sometimes she’s exaggerating a bit”. Something about how we are doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn from it, etc.

In this case the lesson is ‘Do not imprison innocent people for the sole reason that their religion, skin colour and/or ancestral background is different from yours’. Shown in the Second World War, the States did it with Japanese Americans, and Samira Ahmed does it a few decades later with American Muslims. Because in Internment a president – very alike of the one the USA has right now – comes in power, and he’s much more effective in getting his racist ideas turned into actions. American Muslims are put into camps on American soil.

And just like before, there are plenty euphemisms going around. None can cover up that the camp is surrounded by barb wire, that every guard has a weapon and that any sign or sound of protest is violently taken down. Here comes my conclusion from the first paragraph in: isn’t this put down all a bit too extremely? I should know better. We all should.

It’s good that the novel is less than 300 pages, because there’s no escaping the terror the characters are put through. Not just the mental and physical torture; also the shock of seeing how fast people get used to it. Again, as we should know.

All this makes for a bitter pill that as many as possible of us should swallow.

Internment, Samira Ahmed, Little, Brown & Company 2019

Jinn

5 x 30 min.

Licht vermaak nodig in een omgeving waar het hoe dan ook altijd warmer is dan hier, zelfs tijdens een hittegolf? Open voor een mythologie die eens niet Noors is? Met net tweeëneenhalf uur in totaal is Jinn waarschijnlijk de zomersnack voor u!

Jinn posterNou ja, er zijn ook argumenten tegen. De tieners hebben zeer tienerige problemen en het acteerwerk daarin is niet van je van het. De folklore komt er een beetje bekaaid van af, en het tempo ligt zo hoog dat er geen ruimte of zin is om zowel folklore als de karakters die er onder lijden, enige diepgang te geven. Ik noem het een snack voor een reden.

Jordaanse tieners (jawel, de voertaal van deze serie is Arabisch) gaan op schoolreisje naar Petra, maar daar gaan dingen Mis. Goede en kwade jinn beginnen zich met hen te bemoeien, en natuurlijk moet dat recht getrokken worden. Of het de leeftijd of de origine is, maar dit wordt redelijk horror-vrij gedaan, waardoor de show nog makkelijker (door) te kijken is.

Wel eindigt ze met een cliffhanger – was het budget op of wilt men zo graag een tweede seizoen? Hopelijk wordt daarin de folklore verder uitgediept: anders is er weinig om de aandacht vast te houden voor nog tweeëneenhalf uur.

Jinn, Netflix 2019

Derry Girls

6 x 25 min.

Ik weet dat ik recent nog iets heb aangeraden waarvan ik hoopte dat jongens/mannen het zouden kijken, maar ik denk dat dit echt té meisjesachtig is.

Derry GirlsTerwijl het niet eens een show is waarvan ik zou zeggen dat het alleen maar over meisjesachtige dingen gaat. De vier meiden gaan naar een nonnenschool, proberen onder huiswerk, vervelende klusjes en straf uit te komen (op creatieve manieren), gaan naar feestjes, hebben ruzie, allerlei tienermateriaal. Het aanhangsel van de groep is zelfs een tienerjongen (arme jongen, hij is Engels tussen al de Ieren).

Het fijne is dat er geen moment excuses worden gegeven voor hun (vrouwelijke) acties. De vier zijn een stelletje tieners met verschillende motivaties, soms gruwelijk irritant, maar nooit “omdat het meiden zijn”. Combineer dat met de setting (tijdens de Ierse Troubles) en je kunt het bijna een antropologisch-geschiedkundig project noemen.

Maar eigenlijk is het vooral gewoon hartverwarmend en opvrolijkend, zelfs als ze irritant zijn. En met zo’n klein aantal afleveringen ben je er doorheen voordat je door hebt dat je ze allemaal lief vindt, zelfs Erin.

Derry Girls, Netflix 2018

 

The dangerous art of blending in

I should have guessed something was up when I was walking home.

Somehow I expected a softer story: the title, the subject (teenager doesn’t dare to come out), the surroundings (a small American town). But the author doesn’t hold his punches, like the mother of the protagonist doesn’t. I know that’s considered a spoiler, but I feel like that subject should come with a warning.

Evan’s life isn’t an easy one. His mother views him as lazy and evil, and his father almost never steps in when she gets aggressive. He doesn’t dare to come out to anyone, and all his energy goes to keeping all his different worlds (home, church, school, friends) apart.

Things change when his good friend starts to change, and when someone from Bible-camp shows up. Collision happens, and Evan can’t stop it.

The language used is clean and honest. Sometimes the tone feels a little bit too much like that from an after school program, but one has to remember that first of all these are a teenager’s feelings, and second of all, this is all too often someone’s reality. Besides that, you just want better. And possibly push his mother into the Grand Canyon.

The dangerous art of blending in, Angelo Surmelis, HarperCollins 2018

The Young Offenders

85 min.

Uh ja, dit was nog wel even iets anders dan de film die ik er voor keek. Maakt niet uit, ik kijk film voor verschillende verhalen, niet eindeloos hetzelfde. Ik kan me niet meer herinneren waarom ik deze aan mijn Netflix-lijst heb toegevoegd, al kon ik wel vaag het nieuwsbericht herinneren waar de film is op gebaseerd. Aan de Ierse kust spoelt heel Wildcard_YO_1sht_R3_Art_vE2.inddveel drugs aan: twee tieners gaan op weg om er een deel van te stelen.

Deze tieners zijn niet de slimsten, mocht je daar nog over twijfelen. Maar op één of andere manier is het niet Amerikaans “kijk eens die dombo’s”; het blijft steeds net charmant. Met de achtergronden van de tieners is het soms bijna zelfs sneu, waardoor deze comedy net iets meer is dan “kijk eens, die dombo’s”.

Daarnaast is het ook een lekker vlot filmpje, slice of life van een heel klein wereldje waarin het absurde het grootste aandeel van ieders leven is. Jeetje, wat ben ik blij dat mijn wereld groter is. Jeetje, ik hoop dat die twee jongens een grotere wereld hebben gekregen/gevonden.

The Young Offenders, Netflix 2016