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.

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.

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.