Her Royal Highness

“There’s a unicorn on this.”

Her Royal Highness, Rachel Hawkins, Penguin Random House 2019

I find some time to read in between the films. Although you don’t need much time for this 200 page YA novel that is a wish-fulfillment fantasy involving Scottish castles, royalty and a Cool Girl. It’s YA, very obviously. That I didn’t pull out any hair in frustration about dumb teenage actions is a compliment to the author.

Millie likes geology and doesn’t care about her looks. Because of Reasons she decides to do her final year of high school in Scotland. There, she becomes the room mate of a princess. A snooty, tiresome princess but oh no – are those feelings?

It all works: the surroundings, the side characters, the absolutely wonderful love interest. While struggling to get through The Shadow King and seemingly to only pick serious films or duds – this was a breath of fresh air.

Wish Dragon

98 min.

Also known by Aladdin or any other story involving a genie and/or three wishes. Even ‘it’s not laugh, I just want her attention through wealth’ is used. It’s not a bad film, it’s just impressively mediocre.

This time the story is set in a contemporary Asian city and the princess is a young celebrity. She and Din grew up together before her father moved them to have a better chance at life. Meanwhile Din is struggling to get by and basically working to make enough money so he can meet Li Na on “her level”.

Even the genie, this time a wish dragon, paints by numbers. First he’s snotty, than confused, than finally learns that there’s more to life. He’s well-created and okay-ish voiced but – meh. A lot more of the myth(s) behind it would have elevated it to something more; now the entire film is nothing more than the uninspired decision for a rainy Sunday during which we have to slightly entertain the kids until dinner.

Parachutes

I lie in bed listening for the shuffle of my father’s slippers.

Parachutes, Kelly Yang, Katherine Tegen Books 2020

Just to showcase that the element of immigration and immigrant characters can create very different stories (of course). Because this time there’s more Filipino characters (but they’re not the immigrants), but the real immigrants (although temporarily) are the so called parachutes: Asian teenagers that are dropped at prestigious American high schools so they can get an international diploma.
That was a lot of brackets used.

This is a good YA novel. It’s clearly written for a teen audience, (yet) manages to discuss subjects teenagers may experience yet know little about – sexual assault and rape, in this case. There’s even a warning about it in the front of the book, which caused me to kind-of-nervously count down to when things would happen.

That doesn’t mean that Parachutes is an after-school-special disguised as a novel: it’s the troubles of high school life, worrying about fitting in, crushes and clamouring to be older/out of there. Besides that there’s a class difference: Dani is a daughter of a single mum, working alongside her and on a scholarship, while Claire is a parachute who gets an unlimited credit card in her luggage to make sure that “she’s safe in the USA”. You read along with both of their stories.

All written super smoothly, making Parachutes a novel to stay up late for, wonder how the characters will develop further and gush about it online.

Moxie

111 min.

Netflix doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to original films, and I’m old enough to be disgruntled by plenty of YA tropes.

So, I chose to watch a Netflix original based on a YA novel. I’m a logical thinker.

Of course, yes, there could have been easy adjustments made to improve this story about a female teen recognising the stupid rules and habits of a patriarchal system. For starters, shifting the point of view to the black girl.

But I was surprised by how few adjustments I could come up with. Plot? Not always as subtle as it could be, but perfect for the audience. Scrip and lines? Surprisingly without any attempt to be “down with the youths”. Characterisation and love interest? Nice, cute and wholesome.
Honestly, I think I’m still surprised.

Therefore, I’m going to keep it at that. No deeper digging, not reading the original material.

Oh, but the fun we had.

The Voting Booth

I don’t like it when people make hyperbolic statements, so I really mean it when I say I’ve been waiting for this day my entire life.

The Voting Booth: Make it count, Brandy Colbert, Hyperion 2020

A YA-novel that wants to tackle the American voting system, (and) voter suppression. While adding a budding romance, because would it be YA without a romance?

Brandy Colbert manages to pull it off for her target audience. Older eyes may be rolled because of ‘found-love-in-a-day’, or Marva’s utter devotion to improve the system, but for those of her age it might well be uplifting and motivating. And the novel is almost as run-on as that one sentence.

Yet it never gets overly preachy, nor naive. Marva wants to help someone to vote, and discovers how hard that can be. The person she helps is a cute guy, but that’s only a slightly distracting factor. Something else sabotages her, but the story turns convoluted nowhere.

As a teacher, I’d definitely view this as an option to educate about the (American) voting system, but as a softie for teen romance I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who wants a not-saccharine shot of that.

The Dark Gifts trilogy

  • Gilded Cage
  • Tarnished City
  • Bright Ruin

For YA, there’s a surprising amount of politics and commentary on political systems. Mostly still on a YA-level – don’t expect deep-going analyses and there’s just a hint of ‘maybe grey is the best possible option in a world of black and white’ but it was a pleasant surprise. It even kept me going through the first book after realising the author was setting up the plainest of romances.

Anyway, there’s magic users in power and not-magic users that have slavedays: ten years of their life have to be devoted to working for the country with nothing in return. Of course there are people who agree with this, who disagree with this, and those that just want to be and/or stay in power.

Two families are followed, on either side. Some are skeptical from the start, some naive, blood flows, death follows, and more and more often reality sinks in.

That sometimes it’s all a bit clunky and certain plot lines aren’t as neatly finished as they could have been might be a sign of its target audience, or just a lack of editing. Either way, it was more fun entertainment than expected. I didn’t even mind it being a trilogy.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

“Oh dear,” Linus Baker said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune, Tor 2020

This was just the sweetness needed. It felt like a story that could be animated as part of another story. It’s an origin story, the entire plot a huge cliché (man goes through things, discovers that there are joys in life to be had), but it’s all done so nicely, without ever veering into the saccharine.

Also, there’s monsters.

I mean – children with abilities. Hidden away in an orphanage on an island at the end of the world and our protagonist has to make sure they are treated well. It’s what he does for a living (if you can call it living). This time he even has to keep an extra eye on the headmaster because he likes to colour outside the lines (gasp!).

TJ Klune makes it all fresh, funny and adorable because of their descriptions, characters and little jokes. You might see the ending coming closely after the beginning, but it’s such a nice ride.

Peter Darling

James Hook was bored

Peter Darling, Austin Chant, Less Than Three Press 2017

A novella about Peter Pen and Neverland and Hook being …slightly different from what you might remember. Even though it’s pretty short (142 pages in e-bookformat), it took me a while to get invested.

Looking back, it almost feels like the order of the story is the wrong way ’round: large parts of the second half might have been more suited for the introduction part of the story?

Still, the author delivers from the start with descriptions of Neverland, the horror of facing reality and gives an element that could easily become super smarmy a soft and genuine landing.

I’m ready for someone to turn this into a film, and I don’t say this very often about a story.

Bumblebee

114 min.

I wrote ‘Hailee Steinfeld surprised me again’ in a review, fully believing that I had already reviewed this film and therefore could connect to it. Reader, I didn’t. Maybe because I was too surprised about liking a Transformers-film? I can hear my brothers sneering that “robots aren’t so dumb after all, eh?”. Anyway, this is a review for the film Bumblebee.

I can still remember the director of this mentioning how this would be an origins-film with heart, similar to The Iron Giant. I can remember because I scoffed at that, loudly. After Michael Bay’s nonsense with endless fight scenes, explosions and jokes about primary and secondary sexual body parts, the bar was below the floor. Try not to have your Transformer sound like a black rapper-cliché first before saying such things, director (they’re two different people, Michael wasn’t involved in this one). Not pestered by nostalgia, I was ready to watch this film with half an eye and still complain the entire way (I’m sure sometimes we pick films/series that can be followed with just half of our interest).

Except for the first couple of minutes, there’s very few robots in this, and because of certain reasons the main one can’t even talk. That’s one point in their favour. Next is – I will absolutely admit it – the fact that Bumblebee is quite adorable and main character Charlie (Steinfeld) really plays well off him. There’s so many charming moments that this could be called a “boy and his dog”-film, instead of it being Actiony Adventure (capitals essential). Bumblebee (not his first name, by the way) is on the run, Charlie is feeling alone and misunderstood, of course they find each other.

Another plus in my book is that there’s room for development of their relationship. Not just a five minute montage to quickly move on to fighting robots and exploding buildings – we get a glimpse at Charlie’s motivations and what’s going on with Bumblebee. Wow.

The run length completes my compliment-trifecta (not going to read back to see if I have three compliments): yes, it’s almost two hours, but you don’t notice because aforementioned room for development. I would have zoned out by number three of six action scenes in a row, but now I didn’t even want to pause for a bathroom break. This film had me.

And yes, just like The Iron Giant, it also made me cry at the end.

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.