Month: September 2014

IF I STAY and writing from the heart

With straightforward but poignant prose, Forman made the lives of Mia and Adam feel authentic and brutal and intense… for me, the book was both inspirational and educational.

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My friend Ingrid already shared her thoughts on IF I STAY, both the book and the film adaptation, and my feelings basically echo hers. But I wanted to elaborate on a couple notes that really hit me when I was watching the movie last week.

  • First, this incredibly successful story is simply about love. The protagonist isn’t fighting injustice or saving the world. She’s exceptional with the cello, but otherwise she’s just a normal teenager. Don’t get me wrong, I love Katniss Everdeen, but it’s refreshing to see a different kind of heroine carrying a blockbuster.
  • Second, Mia’s mom and dad are present, well-developed, and positive influences in her life. Again, it’s refreshing. Too many stories keep the parents “out of the way” — through death, abandonment, etc. I’m not saying those things don’t happen, but they’re definitely over-represented in the YA genre.
  • Most importantly, If I Stay was very clearly written from the heart. Just recently, author Gayle Forman revealed more about the inspiration behind the story: the painful loss of her good friends and their children in a car accident. I didn’t know about that back when I read the book, but I didn’t need to, because there was such a strong, genuine spirit bursting from every page.

For me, If I Stay was not only a pretty good film, but also a friendly reminder that “small” or “quiet” stories can be big and loud in their own ways.

(If I have one criticism of the movie — and I suppose the book too — it’s that there is a noticeable lack of diversity.)

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Yet another reason I will always love autumn best

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Stuff worth reading (YALSA interview edition)

Today I stumbled upon a treasure trove: the “One Thing Leads to Another” interview series at YALSA. Already the series has talked with some of my favorite Young Adult authors. Reading about their journeys — through life, through writing, through publishing — just fills me up with awe, kinship, and inspiration.

Rainbow Rowell:

The big shift for me was fiction-writing, because it was the first time that I was writing for myself – writing what I wanted to write and not getting paid for it,  at least not immediately. That was a very scary thing. And it took an entirely new type of discipline. I had to learn to write even when I wasn’t on deadline.

Maggie Stiefvater:

The most difficult experience I had as a teen hit when I was 17 or 18 — I was suicidal. My family was great, school wasn’t difficult, I was working and managing my time well. But I looked at the adults around me and thought that I didn’t see a single one that I wanted to be when I grew up. I did, however, see a lot of people I didn’t want to be. So I just decided, logically, not to grow up. I know, I know.

I can’t tell you how much it moves me now when teens tell me they see me as a role model, or that they didn’t realize that adulthood could look like this, or that they didn’t know women could act like me.

 Shannon Hale:

Humans tend to make hierarchies out of things. Masculine is better than feminine. See how girls are praised for pursuing traditionally “masculine” things and how boys are shamed for pursuing traditionally “feminine” things. The point of feminism should be that girls can choose how they want to be and not be trapped into a few limiting roles. Feminism loses power if we shame “girliness” or “girlie girls.” If you want to wear pink ribbons or love fashion or want to be a mom more than anything or devour romances (vampire or otherwise), feminism should say, go for it! Just as much as it should encourage the girls who go out for lacrosse or follow car racing or dig technology.

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Do you really think anyone wants to read that?

“How To Sell Diverse Books: A Bookstore Owner’s Advice” via NPR Books

Sometimes we’ll be in the store and we’ll see a kid looking at a little stack of books — maybe we’ve recommended those books to them. They might’ve chosen a book with a kid on the cover who has a different race than their own. And the parent kind of unconsciously steers the kid away from the book. They’ll say, “Oh you’re interested in that book? Do you really think you’re going to read that one? What about this one?” And the child hasn’t been aware of anything different about the book, but the adult is.

• • •

So, funny story.

The other day, Andy and I were waiting to be seated at a popular brunch place. We stood outside the restaurant, enjoying the fresh air and chatting with the other six people in our party. All of us were coupled off, but I happened to be standing at one end of the group, engaged in conversation with my friend and her husband.

Out of absolutely nowhere, this skinny young man walks up to us, grinning. My friend and her husband happen to live in the neighborhood, and just the way the new guy looks at them, without introducing himself, makes me think that he knows them. He turns to me and holds out his hand. “Hi, I’m Adam,” he says.

I return his handshake. “I’m Kristan.”

There’s an awkward pause. I wait for my friend to explain their connection. She doesn’t. Instead, she and her husband have started talking with another couple in our group. I turn back to the new guy, confused.

He’s young and gangly, with a sort of cheerful, nervous energy radiating all around him. He’s dressed like a typical student, in a loose shirt and gym shorts. And there’s a thin translucent bandage running across his eyebrow onto his forehead, but I don’t ask him about it. I don’t really get the chance. He peppers me with questions first.

“Are you waiting to eat here?” (Obviously.) “Do you know these guys?” (Yes, we all went to college together.) “Where did you go to school?” (Carnegie Mellon.) “When did you graduate?”

So on and so forth.

After several awkward minutes, I realize that my friends don’t know this guy at all. He just walked right up to our group and inserted himself! Is he planning to eat with us? Does he think the wait will be shorter? Is he just lonely? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?

As all these uncertainties are running through my mind, I’m also politely trying to keep up with our dialogue. At some point, he asks me what I do. (Writer.) “Oh, what do you write about?” (Right now, a fictional story about teenage girls in China.) “Do you really think an American audience will be interested in that?”

Somehow I maintained my composure and simply said, “Yes of course. Why wouldn’t they?”

He didn’t have an answer.

At that point, my friend took pity. Whether on me or on Adam, I’m not sure. Either way, she stepped in to ask me about my engagement ring, and soon Adam skedaddled as suddenly and inexplicably as he had arrived.

• • •

The funny part of this story is that (according to everyone else in our group) this guy was trying to hit on me — while I stood 3 ft. away from my fiancé? — and I was completely oblivious.

The sad part is that this guy was probably one of those kids mentioned in the NPR quote above. He clearly didn’t read diverse books. He didn’t develop a curiosity about otherness. He isn’t aware of how endlessly fascinating our world is, and how valuable it is to learn about foreign people and places. Which means he can’t fully appreciate how rich his own community is.

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