Book Club Review: “Warm Bodies”

9475392We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion

Publishing Info: Atria, October 2010

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got the audiobook from the library

Book Description from Goodreads: R is a young man with an existential crisis–he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse. Just dreams.

After experiencing a teenage boy’s memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim’s human girlfriend. Julie is a burst of vibrant color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that R lives in. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world…

Serena’s Thoughts:

I read this book several years ago, and watched the movie right when it came out, so when bookclub decided to do a “book/movie” theme, this was an easy choice for me! I hadn’t re-read it since, and with the movie version being the more recent version I had experienced for the story, it was fun reviewing the original material and seeing the difference from the reverse perspective as well.

I think this book flew beneath the radar for quite a while before it was announced as a movie, and then when it was, everyone dismissed it as “zombie romance.” Which, really, shouldn’t that intrigue people, not put them off? But alas, judgement arose. And given that the new editions of the books have been released with the movie cover (a whole post could be committed to the subject of how much I hate movie-covers for books), I can’t even blame people who pass this over with that thought. I mean, look at this thing!

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Can you get any more teen-pop-stereotypical-romance-looking than that? No, the answer is no. And this is a tragedy, because the story is not that at all. Sure, there is some romance, but it’s sad to see what is a very philosophical book be overlooked simply because of that inclusion.

R is such an intriguing narrator. For a character whose actual dialogue is limited to brief syllables, he’s quite verbose as a protagonist. While much of the changing that he goes through can be attributed to his run in with Perry’s brain (the teenage boy he eats on one scavenging trip) and Julie, the living girl he befriends, R is clearly a force of change himself. With brutal honesty, he evaluates zombie society, humanity, and the force of human will.

With so many pop-culture representations of zombie-hood currently, Marion’s version is very intriguing. Zombies are often just stumbling, groaning, beasts. But here, they have, at the most basic sense, a world of their own. Their attempts to re-create life through human constructs such as marriage, school, and religion, all while bereft of the inner feelings that accompany them is not only sad but deeply disturbing. Further, Marion succeeds at something that the poor, struggling writers of “The Walking Dead” tv series have been attempting for so long: connecting the dots between the living and the zombie-fied. “We are the walking dead,” and all of that, but done in a subtle and truly impactful manner (unlike certain shows…).

I haven’t spent much time talking about Julie, and I think she was the biggest surprise for me when I re-read this book. The first go around, I didn’t really put much thought into her as a character. This time, looking more closely, I appreciate the fine line that Marion walked when writing her. She could so easily fall into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl category. But for all of her snappy lines and crafty bedroom design (cuz of course, she’s a teen girl, then obviously she must paper mache her room!), Julie’s background is dark. Much darker than I had remembered. These struggles help round her out as a character and allow her to offer a unique perspective into the world of the Living, without getting too caught up in the super sweet, “hope is all you need!” naivety that she could have been reduced to.

All in all, I had a really fun time returning to this book!

Kate’s Thoughts:

Perhaps you will be surprised to hear that it wasn’t me who picked the zombie book for our bookclub, but our dear Serena. But that should just go to show that this book isn’t just for fans of the horror and zombie genre. I think that the nice thing about the zombie genre, when done well, is that it’s usually far more about humanity and the human psyche than it is about marauding monsters. The few exceptions I can think of are “Dawn of the Dead” (the original), in which zombies are drawn to a mall because of a instinctual need for the routine of their past lives, and “Day of the Dead,” in which Bub the zombie starts to relearn various human emotions and actions, and feels affection for the man who has “created” him in a way. So “Warm Bodies” kind of took that concept and ran with it. Marion takes it even further though, and deconstructs just what makes humanity in a person, and gets way existential about it. Which kind of surprised me in the best way possible.

It took me a little while to warm up to R, as I did, admittedly, have a hard time with how he just kind of took Julie under guise of keeping her safe, and hid from her that he had, uh, eaten her boyfriend. But as he went on, he really, really grew on me, and I became very fond of him and his journey of self discovery. His rumination about what it means to be human, and his descriptions of the zombie culture and how it functions on indifference and complacence, were so thought provoking and tragically beautiful that I was completely enraptured with his voice and narration. I love the idea that zombies aren’t really totally lost if they look for connections and seek out beauty in life (because of R and Julie and their own connection).

Julie too makes for a very good character, like Serena said. She never rang false and never felt like she was too perfect, or too understanding and good.  I really, really loved her relationship with R. Their connection grew and progressed in a natural way, and I never felt like it was unrealistic or forced as time went on. It was also very complicated and had many layers, as R did, indeed, kill and eat her boyfriend, Perry. But even that was resolved and reconciled in a way that I found believable, and I was thinking that there was no way that I was going to be satisfied with that whole thing. Joke’s on me, I guess.

And I also want to say that M, R’s best friend, was exactly the kind of pal that I aspire to be. Snarky and sarcastic (even as a zombie) but ultimately loyal, and pretty damn great. I also liked Julie’s best friend, Nora, who is pragmatic and thoughtful, but never feels like she’s just a second fiddle. It goes to show that Marion took great care when crafting his supporting characters as well.

I greatly enjoyed “Warm Bodies.” I am so glad that I finally got to it with Serena’s good taste in book club books!

Serena’s Rating 9: Really great, even better the second time around.

Kate’s Rating 9: Such a complex and enjoyable love story, and a very deep look at what makes a human a human.

Book Club Notes and Questions:

“Warm Bodies” came out a couple years ago, nearing the end of the paranormal romance phase of teen movies and right in the midst of the rise of dystopia as the new theme. As a film, it’s a bit more light-hearted than the original source material, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t a good adaptation. Nicholas Hoult plays R, a casting choice that makes almost perfect sense. First of all, his eyes are huge and expressive, and can convey so much emotion as R, even when he is still in the midst of being in his limited zombie phase. He is nuanced and subtle in his acting, and makes a believable zombie who is slowly evolving. Theresa Palmer plays Julie, and also brings justice to that role. Her back story isn’t as dark and depressing, at least it isn’t explored as much, and while it’s nice that things worked out a bit better for her, it’s too bad that we lost that character exploration. It’s also too bad that the decision was made to cast Nora, in the book a biracial woman, as a white woman. It’s not that Analeigh Tipton didn’t do a good job, because she is pretty great, but it’s a sad reminder that Hollywood is still fully into white washing characters.

1. Zombie stories have always arose from what seems to be society’s own existential fear. What is your perspective on the unique version of zombies and human society that is presented in this book?

2. It is never made quite clear what the “Bonies” are in this world. The human equate them almost to aliens and the zombies themselves almost fear them. How do you think they came to exist? Did they have their own inner society? Own goals and agendas?

3. The movie lightened up the story a lot and there were a few significant changes. What changes did you like? Were there ones you wished they hadn’t changed?

4. What notable differences between the book and movie did you see in the portrayal of the main characters (R, Julie, Perry, Nora, and M)?

5. Music, writing, and art are discussed a lot in this book. Does the story have anything to offer on the impact these things have on humanity? And the more fun question, if you were a zombie and had a favorite song, what would it be?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Warm Bodies” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Not your normal zombie!!!” and “Living On Their Own/On The Run (Teens/Young Adults).”

Find “Warm Bodies” at your library using Worldcat!

Book Club Review: “Tomorrow, When The War Began”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “Tomorrow, When the War Began” by John Marsden

Publishing Info: Pan Macmillian, 1993

Where Did We Get This Book: Both from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When Ellie and her friends return from a camping trip in the Australian bush, they find things hideously wrong — their families are gone. Gradually they begin to comprehend that their country has been invaded and everyone in their town has been taken prisoner. As the reality of the situation hits them, they must make a decision — run and hide, give themselves up and be with their families, or fight back.

Kate’s Thoughts:

When our dear friend and co-book club member Melissa picked “Tomorrow, When The War Began” for book club, I hadn’t heard of it. In my mind I was picturing something like “A Boy and His Dog”, which is… decidedly not what this book is. I think that I hadn’t heard of it because of a few things, the most obvious being that I was younger than it’s demo when it came out in 1993, and when I did become part of the YA reading age group I had already pretty much graduated to adult novels. So suffice to say, this was a whole new experience for me.

One thing that struck me about this book was that it was pretty grim by today’s standards, so the fact that it was published in 1993 kind of boggles my mind. There are many themes in this book that seemed pretty dark and mature for a book written for teens about twenty years ago. The first thing that is striking and out in the open is the violence. Marsden isn’t gratuitous with the violence that Ellie and her friends encounter, but he isn’t unflinching with it either. It always feels very real, be it Ellie coming home to find her dogs dead or dying, or Ellie blowing up a lawnmower and in turn causing the deaths of some invading soldiers. The reactions to violence from most of the group also feels very true to life, as they don’t automatically turn into commandos right away. Ellie is definitely uncomfortable with hurting people, even if she eases into it out of necessity, and other characters in the group also have to adapt and react in their own ways.

I was also quite impressed with how Marsden so wonderfully captured the voice of a teenage girl. I by no means think that guys can’t write girl voices or vice versa, but I was a little worried that it may come off as a bit stereotypical, even if he hadn’t meant to. So I was very happy when Ellie did seem like a pretty normal, and typical teenage girl. I thought that the way she thought and approached certain situations seemed reasonable and understandable given her character, and while I was a bit irritated that there was a brief possibility of a love triangle between her, nice boy Lee, and her best friend Homer, it was quashed pretty quickly and acknowledged as displaced feelings. After all, Lee is the one that gets her going both intellectually and physically, at the end of the day. I also thought that Marsden’s approach to sex was pretty realistic too, as Ellie definitely has urges and does think about these things. While I know there are some people out there who may think that these kids would have more on their minds than their sex lives, I think that they are humans at the end of the day, and teenagers to boot.

I think that my qualms were definitely more just about the story as a whole. I like end of days dystopia kinds of stories, but this one almost felt a bit too realistic for me to be able to get super into it. A strange criticism, I know. The ending felt abrupt, and while I know and get why he wrote it the way he did, it just seemed like a fast way to wrap things up. Luckily, there are a bunch of other books in the series, so it’s not like it ended completely on a note of ambiguity…. Or maybe it does, I don’t know I haven’t read them. Overall I did enjoy reading “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, but I don’t think I’ll keep going. This was good enough as it was.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I was one of only two book club members who had already read this book. Not only that, but I had read the entire series! So all the gold stars for me! (Is self-congratulatory speech a good look??) I grew up in rural Idaho and for some reason the librarians at the tiny local library were all about Australian, teen guerilla warfare and had bought the complete series. I remember blowing through them as a kid, and have from time to time thought of them as an adult when reminscing about favorites books as a kid. But I hadn’t re-read them, so it was a treat getting to re-visit the series now as an adult.

I must say, it holds up. If anything, I’m kind of impressed with kid-Serena’s good taste (the self praise has gotten out of control! But seriously, I had many other questionable favorites as a kid, so this was a bit reassuring, really.) As Kate said, I was impressed by many things in this book, especially given when it was written. The author doesn’t shy away from the violence or trauma of the events he lays out. His characters are never given any easy outs and the variety of reactions and coping methods that the different teens fall back on seem all too realistic. Certain characters whom you might not expect to thrive under the stress rise to the occasion, while others struggle more. Moreover, there is never any criticism for these different reactions.

And, also following Kate’s lead, the author’s take on a teenage girl’s inner thought process and voice is spot on. As a kid, I never spent much time thinking about whether an author was a man or a woman (take that publishing companies that think teenagers fret about that stuff!), so when I picked it up as an adult and saw that it was a male author, I was actually a bit surprised. Especially given that the book was written in first person, an easier narrative style for many young readers and often a go-to for these type of books even now, this ability to slip into the skin of his female protagonist was really impressive. As simplistic as first person narration is, I think it can also be more challenging in specific situations like this where the author has to so completely encompass the full perspective of the character.

Specifically, there was a moment in the book where Ellie is having a conversation with one of her male friends and there is an inner line where she recognizes his tactics as typical of a teenage boy, trying to “bully” her into a relationship almost. This is so spot on! Reading it myself, I instantly recognized the type of conversation that was happening, and for an adult man to so fully capture this inner working of teenagedom from a young girl’s perspective is truly impressive.

My one complaint was that the book was a bit long on the descriptions. I don’t remember noticing this as a kid, and it may have simply been a factor of my re-read. I knew where things were going and was maybe in a rush to get there. But while there might have been a lot of text given over to these descriptions of scenes and locales, the writing was on point and really did an excellent job of painting the scene of the Australian wilderness.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed returning to this series. I also heard from a fellow book club member that there is a follow-up series, “The Ellie Chronicles,” that I might need to check out now, too!

Kate’s Rating 7: An impressive narrative and story for what I was expecting! It wasn’t totally my jam, thematics wise, but it was a worthwhile reading experience!

Serena’s Rating 8: I greatly enjoyed returning to this series and am almost even more impressed with it now as an adult than I was the first time around as a teen.

Book Club Notes and Questions:

In due diligence to our book club theme, we watched the 2010 version of “Tomorrow, When the War Began” which is currently available on Netflix. I, for one, really enjoyed this movie. The casting was spot on, specifically the actors they got for Ellie and Homer. While they did have to leave out several parts of the book (sadly a lot of the time they spent in Hell the second go around), most of the decisions made sense and it seemed that the movie could stand alone. The biggest disappointment, probably, was the fact that several of the characters had to be narrowed down to meet the shorter screen time they were allotted, so we didn’t have as fully rounded character arcs for some of them. Again, understandable, if not a bit disappointing. And while the Australian scenery in the film was beautiful, I think Kate (and everyone at book club) will agree that the only Australian scenery that is ever needed is this:

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Hugh Jackman in “Australia”

1. This book was published in 1993, but has a lot of themes that are pretty common in today’s YA literature. Do you think that this book would be as successful if it came out today, and took place in the early 21st century instead of the late 20th?

2. What did you think of the invading army’s ‘identity’ being ambiguous? Do you think that having to know who was invading would have improved the story? Hindered it? Not made any difference?

3. How did you feel about Ellie as a character? Do you think that her voice was authentic and relatable?

4. Who was your favorite character in the book? The movie? If they were different, why?

5.  If you went on a camping trip and came back to find your homeland invaded, what 6 other people would be in your group? Would you turn to guerilla warfare? Hide?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tomorrow, When the War Began” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Australian Young Adult Books,” and “Books that should get more attention.”

Find “Tomorrow, When the War Began” at your library using Worldcat!

Book Club Review: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

X-Men: Days of Future PastWe are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont and John Bryne

Publishing Info: Marvel, 1981

Where Did We Get This Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Relive the legendary first journey into the dystopian future of 2013 where Sentinels stalk the Earth and the X-Men are humanity’s only hope… until they die! Also featuring the first apperance of Alpha Flight, the return of the Wendigo, the history of Cyclops… and a demon for Christmas!?

Serena’s Thoughts:

I have a bizarrely expansive knowledge of the X-Men and a very limited list of actual comic stories that I have read featuring them. I’ve always loved the X-Men and I have strong preferences for certain characters and a fairly thorough knowledge of its history, but when it came to actually sitting down and reading them? Not so much. That made this month’s book club pick, courtesy of book club friend and fellow librarian, Alicia, a great opportunity for me to delve into the actual comics themselves.

As per the world of comics, the actual collection we read was an assortment of different issues that were combined in such a way as to provide background and further character insight into the cast most heavily featured in the prominent story line, the titular “Days of Future Past.” This being the case, a few of the actual separate issue stories were rather hit and miss for me. While I understand why they were all included, there were times in the first half of the story where I was skimming through a lot of exposition about who/what/where things are in the world of the X-Men at this specific point in time. So, too, we take a bizarre trip up to Canada at one point and fight a Wendigo?? Again, with some thought, it becomes clear why these issues were chosen, specifically the ones that introduce Kitty Pryde, but they were also a bit off putting in their disconnection to each other. I enjoyed them all, but I was very excited by the time we got to the main story arc.

“Days of Future Past” was definitely the highlight of the collection, which is only fitting. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, particularly the fact that Kitty Pryde was our protagonist. While many comics (and comic movies as this very one proves) heavily feature male heroes, it was a breath of fresh air to see this story unfold under the guidance of a young, female character. Further, at this point in time, Storm is leading the X-Men and Mystique is heading up the “Group of Evil Mutants” (yes, the villains’ team name is something stupid like that). So, woman power all around!

Storm has always been one of my favorite characters, so it was fun reading about her in this role. While she questioned her abilities in comparison to Cyclops one too many times for my liking, she did give Wolverine a lovely smackdown later on which fully made up for it. Mystique, on the other hand, is decidedly more interesting in the movie version than in the comic. This largely comes down to the fact that the movies have re-worked Mystique’s whole backstory and Jennifer Lawrence is awesome at anything she does. In the comic story, however, she does very little other than stand in the background saying things like “I’ll get you, my pretties” and then running off at the end shouting “Never mind, I meant I’ll get you next time!”

All in all, I very much enjoyed finally sitting down and reading this comic book. The art was colorful and fun and definitely felt like a trip back in time, considering when it was published and the styling used at that point. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in X-Men comics or for those wanting to know the basis for the movie.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Like Serena, I have a pretty good working knowledge of The X-Men universe and many of its idiosyncrasies. I haven’t read many of the comics, but I’ve seen most of the movies and I’ve read a lot about the characters and how they connect to each other. So going into “Days of Future Past,” I was familiar with all of the characters and what makes them unique. But actually reading an X-Men comic is kind of a new thing for me! I was very stoked when Alicia picked it for book club, and was totally engrossed by it once I opened it up.

I definitely think that the main arc of this story, the “Days of Future Past” arc, was the strongest of the collection, though there were others included as well. I think that my favorite one outside of the main arc was the one about Nightcrawler’s Birthday party and then his descent into Hell, mostly because I love Nightcrawler as a character. But also because book club pointed out the ridiculous pile of presents that he gets, including a glamour shot of Wolverine?

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We couldn’t agree if it was a egotistical gift from Wolverine, or if Nightcrawler asked Storm to get him a picture of Wolverine. Either option is perfect.

I also want to mention that the Canadian Wendigo looked more like a Yeti. I understand that this collection chose these comics to help bolster the characters that we focused on (specifically Kitty) or to give context, but I wasn’t used to having the lack of linear storytelling that many comics collections have now. This distracted me quite a bit, sadly, and made it hard for me to get on board fully until we got to the main event.

So let’s get back to “Days of Future Past.” Much like the movie, it’s about the X-Men trying to prevent a dystopic future by going into the past and stopping one bad moment from happening (specifically the assassination of a Senator which bolstered anti-mutant sentiments), which in turn led to large mechanical Sentinals to be created to kill mutants, and anyone with super powers (goodbye, Avengers, it was nice knowing you). The thing that I liked best about this storyline was the fabulous and amazing Kitty Pryde. I was shocked when I read this and it was HER, and not Wolverine, to go back in time and try to save the future. I loved seeing a teenage girl get the hero spotlight in this story, and really this entire collection. Kitty Pryde was given so much to do, which was a breath of fresh air. Storm was also given the spotlight to shine in, as the leader of the X-Men at this point in time. While she had her moments of self-doubt, I liked that she was supremely badass throughout the stories that we saw her in, while still being portrayed as a relatable and genuinely cool person. I do think that it was a shame that they felt a need for her self doubt to be manifested in ‘Boy, I sure wish that Cyclops was here because HE would know what to do.’ Not because I don’t want Storm to have humanizing moments, but because I didn’t really care for it being like ‘a white dude could do this better.’ Luckily, she showed herself to be very powerful and a great leader, so I will give it a pass.

I was sad to see that Mystique had such a small, two dimensional role. I know that it’s mostly the movies that gave Mystique more to do, but she has always been my favorite character in the X-Men universe, so seeing her reduced to a “I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling mutants!” caricature was hard for me. I like my Raven conflicted and filled with angst. I did, however, like that little exchange between her and Nightcrawler, given their actual connection in the mythology (and if they do it in the new X-Men movie “Apocalypse” I will be so happy).

Serena’s Rating 7: Very good, though some of the issues that were chosen to support the main story weren’t my favorite.

Kate’s Rating 7: Highly enjoyable, but the two dimensional aspect of the villains were frustrating while the additional storylines sometimes felt out of place.

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We’re still going strong with the Movie theme in our book club at the moment, so we watched the 2014 film “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. This was a strong second outing for the prequel X-Men cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. And as you can’t have an X-Men movie nowadays without Hugh Jackman, the biggest change to the story line was swapping out Kitty Pride for Wolverine. This switch was heavily discussed at book club, and while we all understood the reason for the change in the movie landscape (how can you NOT use Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine every chance you get??), we also mourned the loss of a strong, young, female protagonist as the story’s lead. Peter Dinklage is also a fun addition, and people are still talking about the amazing Quicksilver scene.

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The game already happened, and it didn’t end well for you, “Age of Ultron” Quicksilver! (source)

1. How do the other issues included in this collection add to the primary storyline? Did you enjoy any one particularly and why? Was there one that could have been left out?

2. Did you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

3. How did you feel about the character of Mystique in this story? How did she compare to how you think of Mystique as she has been in the film universe, or in more recent comics?

4. There are significant character/storyline changes between the movie and the comic. Which of these changes did you appreciate and which would you have changed?

5.  How did the swap from Kitty Pryde to Wolverine affect the story? Which did you prefer? What additions or detractions did each character’s perspective bring to their version?

Reader’s Advisory:

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is included on these Goodreads lists: “The Best of Kitty Pryde”, and “Essential X-Men”.

Find “X-Men: Days of Future Past” at your library using Worldcat!

Book Club Review: “The Outsiders”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton

Publishing Info: Viking Press, April 1967

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate owns it, Serena got hers from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

Kate’s Thoughts:

It was my turn to pick the book for book club, and I knew right away that I wanted to to “The Outsiders”. Unlike a lot of middle or high schoolers in this country, I did not initially read this book when I was a teenager. When I turned eleven or twelve I made the transition to reading adult novels as opposed to those for the teenage set. My sister, however, had a copy, and I knew that she liked it. So I first read “The Outsiders” when I was in graduate school in my Young Adult Literature and Services class. So I wasn’t exactly at the right age demographic when I read it, but I loved it. A whole, whole lot.

Reading it again did not diminish my love for this book. I think that while it takes place in the 1960s, the themes of isolation, teen rivalry, violence, abuse, and loss are timeless and can still be applied today. It may be a fight between the poor greasers and the rich socs, but it could be any group at odds within a teenage community. S.E. Hinton wrote this book when she was a fifteen year old herself, and so Ponyboy’s voice is very authentic and rings very true. What amazes me is that this was written by a fifteen year old, as it definitely seems like it has a feel for these issues from that of one much wiser. Hinton wrote better than I ever did at age fifteen, I can tell you that much.

I also love how so many of the characters have fully realized personalities. To me the most fascinating and complicated characters are Darry, Ponyboy’s older brother, and Dallas (aka Dally), the head greaser in Ponyboy’s group. Darry is portrayed to a T as a boy who had to grow up too fast and raise his younger siblings when their parents died. I love how Darry’s frustrations come out, but so does his love, and while I’m sure as a teenager I would have been critical of Darry and how he reacts and relates to Ponyboy, as an adult I just want to sweet him up and give him a hug. And then there’s Dallas, the character with the biggest mouth, the worst attitude, and the most tragic core. I love that Dally has his awful and mean moments, but you know that he loves his friends, specifically the doomed Johnny, and has little to live for outside of them.

And finally, the theme of growing up, sometimes too fast, carries a lot of weight in this book. Johnny does so when he accidentally kills Bob the Soc. This strikes a sharp contrast to Ponyboy, who wants to grow up as fast as he can, and those around him, specifically Johnny and Darry, want him to cling to his childhood. To ‘stay gold’. The difference between Ponyboy and the other Outsiders is that he has that familial support in both his brothers Sodapop and Darry. Even if their family is hurting and broken, they still love each other, which ultimately, I think, saves Ponyboy from himself.

No it isn’t perfect. There aren’t many girl characters, and only one, Cherry, has any development to her character. And the scene with the church fire always seemed pretty over the top to me, though the consequences of it never feel melodramatic. Sometimes Ponyboy’s voice was grating, and while I know that he’s supposed to be a naive teenage boy it was a little hard to deal with how not self aware he was. But overall, these are quibbles.

Gosh. I love this book. Imperfect as it may be in some ways, I still love it.

Serena’s Thoughts:

Can I just write “what Kate said” and leave it at that?

Well, I guess I have a different story of when I first read it. Not much of a story, actually, but it was an assigned book in my highschool English class. Which meant I was forced to hate it initially. In reality, I didn’t hate it, but it definitely wasn’t a book that I listed on any favorite lists. Honestly, looking back, I barely remembered anything from this book, so re-reading it for bookclub was a lot like reading it for the first time.

In all seriousness, really, what Kate said. I had similar feelings about a lot of the characters, specifically my love for Darry. As an older sibling, I think I naturally gravitated towards him. I don’t remember having any teenage angst towards him as cramping on Ponyboy’s style when I read it the first time, but I probably did. But as an adult, I just want to cry and rock him. (I only just now looked up at Kate’s review and saw that she said she wanted to hug him. We have the same mind!)

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As a literature major, I also enjoyed the heck out of the literary discussions in this. I had forgotten how many there were, between “Gone with the Wind” and the obvious “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” I can see why they used this in my English class! Sneaky, sneaky. If we read this, maybe we’ll read those!

But it’s clear where the success of this book lies: the honest portrayal of life as a group of teenage boys. It’s amazing that a 16 year old young woman wrote this. The beauty, pain, growth, limitations, every aspect of what it would be like as a young man growing up in this situation seems to be touched upon. And with such frank honesty. There is no trying to hard. There is no morality story for the sake of a morality story. It simply is. And what it is is amazing. This book should be highlighted whenever people start falling down the rabbit hole for why it may be too challenging for a male author to write from a woman’s perspective or vice versa.

A few weaknesses for me: as a narrator, at times, Ponyboy could come off in a way that was off putting. But, this could be as much another example of an honest portrayal of teenagedom as anything else. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the bookended beginning and end of the story. This could also be something that I’m less tolerant of for having seen it done one too many times. At the time this book was published originally, I imagine I would have felt differently.

All in all, however, I really enjoyed “The Outsiders” and am glad that Kate forced to re-evaluate my rebellious teenage opinion.

Kate’s Rating 9: This book stands the test of time with its relatable characters and themes. It may not be perfect, but it’s imperfections are dwarfed by it’s merits.

Serena’s Rating 8: Very enjoyable and still a strong recommendation for teenagers and adults alike!

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We’re still going strong with the Movie theme in our book club at the moment, so we watched the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of “The Outsiders”. The cast in this movie is fabulous, with youngster versions of Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, and Matt Dillon. And a not as young as the rest version of Patrick Swayze, who was, by book club consensus, the most attractive of all the Outsiders.

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I mean, really. (source)

The adaptation is a pretty faithful one, though the original theatrical release left out a lot of stuff that happens with Darry and Sodapop. Luckily, there is a director’s cut version called “The Outsiders: The Complete Novel” that adds all of this back in.

1. Who is your favorite Outsider? What is it about them that makes them your favorite?

2. What do you think of how this book is framed (as an essay Ponyboy is writing)? Does this work for you as a reader?

3. How do you feel about Darry as a character? What do you think of how he handles Ponyboy?

4. What did you think of Cherry and the other Socs? What function does Cherry serve in this book?

5. “The Outsiders” came out in 1967 and is seen as one of the first YA novels. Do you think that it holds up for a modern audience? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Outsiders” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Young Adult Realistic Novels”, and “Best Coming of Age Stories”.

Find “The Outsiders” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Book Club Review: “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

Publishing Info: Penguin Classics, October 2006 (First Published in September 1932)

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: ‘I saw something nasty in the woodshed’

When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm (1932) is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Something I have come to learn as I’ve been reading more outside of my comfort zone is what kinds of books work for me, and what kinds of books just don’t. I really do have to thank our book club for picking books that I wouldn’t otherwise try out, as I do think that that makes me a stronger reader. Of course, this means that sometimes I just don’t connect to a book, and that is what happened with “Cold Comfort Farm”. And it isn’t the books fault. “Cold Comfort Farm” is just one of those books (specifically the ‘eccentric people living in the country being charming and strange as parody’ books) that I have no interest in. The same thing happened with “I Capture The Castle”. That isn’t to say that there weren’t things about the books that I did like. I really liked Flora as the protagonist. I liked that she was very smart and very determined, but I also liked that Gibbons was having a little fun with her and how clueless she was when it came to her privilege. Classism in Britain is so evident and prevalent in a lot of the literature and pop culture that comes from there, and when authors give a nudge-nudge wink-wink to it I find it a bit easier to swallow. Flora certainly means well and isn’t cruel by any stretch, but she is definitely cringe-worthy at times when she’s interacting with the people at the farm and looking through her very urban rose colored glasses.

I also have a feeling that a lot about this book was pretty transgressive when it came out. You not only have a woman coming in and taking over an estate, competently and kindly to boot, but you also have the same women bringing modern ideals and ideas, some of which are still controversial today. I was blown away when there was a scene in which Flora was encouraging Meriam, a farm hand who had just had her fourth unplanned baby, to look into using birth control when she and Seth Starkadder are hoping to give in to their urges. At first I wasn’t certain that that could have been what I was reading, and was very pleased when I confirmed that it was. But then of course for every progressive moment there were moments that betrayed the time period in their sexism and, yes, classism. There was another scene regarding Meriam, who became the object of affection of a bachelor named Urk who had previously been obsessed (And I mean creepily obsessed) with Flora’s cousin Elfine. There was a throw away line about Urk possibly dragging Meriam off and drowning her, but no one really knew, and who would care if he had? Given that Meriam has FOUR CHILDREN I feel like THEY would care. That didn’t sit with me well at all. Perhaps it was meant to be a part of the parody, but it didn’t feel that way.

This book wasn’t for me, but I do see it’s merits to be sure. If you like tongue in cheek books about country eccentrics, definitely check out “Cold Comfort Farm” because it seems to be a classic of the genre.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I agree with a lot that Kate said. Bookclub has been a great learning opportunity that has helped me refine my thoughts on what I do and do not enjoy reading. Before bookclub, I would have said that I enjoy almost all historical fiction, especially the kind about eccentrics living out in the British countryside. However, like Kate, I couldn’t get completely behind “I Capture the Caste” and had similar problems with “Cold Comfort Farm.” Perhaps celebrating Jane Austen’s complete collection doesn’t necessarily translate to loving all British, comedic novels.

For me, it was the same aspect of the book that both made and broke the story for me. I went into it knowing that it was written as a parody of similar romantic, pastoral novels that were popular at the time. And while I enjoyed the elbow-nudging humor this book used to critique the tropes of these stories, I was also unable to become truly attached to any of its characters for the same reason. They served their purpose in highlighting the more ridiculous aspects of the stories Gibbons set out to mock, but they were also distracting.

There are also aspects of the humor that I think are lost on modern audiences who do not have a strong knowledge of rural dialects in 1930s Britain. Apparently, Gibbons took the Shakespeare-route and dropped in several made up words. Words such as “mollocking” and “clettering.” This is a fun idea, especially since Gibbons apparently included this aspect of parody in her novel as an expression of frustration at other authors’ attempts to use phonics in their writing to capture local accents. Which is something I abhor as well. I’ll immediately put down any book that, say, is set in Scotland, and insists on having characters sprinkle in “didnae” or “woudnae” in their speech. Especially when the rest of their dialogue is unchanged. Maddening.

All in all, I struggled with this story, but I can see why it would have been very popular when it was published and can continue to be appreciated today. I actually enjoyed the book much more on a line-by-line basis. Maybe I could get a coffee table book version of it with some of the best witty lines? That I would really like. But as far as a story, I found it wanting.

Kate’s Rating 5: I definitely get why this book is beloved and a classic, but it wasn’t for me. Flora was enjoyable, but the story didn’t connect with me.

Serena’s Rating 5: Samsies. I think I had more fun reading about the book and Gibbons methods of mockery than I did reading the story itself, sadly.

Book Club Notes and Questions: 

The theme continues to be watching the movie adaptation of the book. The selection for “Cold Comfort Farm” (as there have been a few adaptations) was the 1995 version starring Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellan, and Joanna Lumley. Unfortunately, the copy that Kate had didn’t play, so she watched clips on youtube. The acting was good, the tone seemed true to the book, and Ian McKellan can really do no wrong as far as we’re concerned.

1. “Cold Comfort Farm” was written in the early 1930s. How do you think some of the themes (feminism, birth control, emotion vs reason) were received back when the book was published? Do they still feel as powerful in 2016?

2. Ada Doom is always saying “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” throughout the novel, though we never find out just what that nasty thing was. Do you think it should have been revealed? Were you happy it wasn’t revealed?

3. This book is a parody of British pastoral stories and melodramas. Do you think that it works as an effective parody of this genre?

4. Have you read other books in the genre that this book sets out to parody? Were you able to spot similarities to other stories like this, and if so, which books and how so?

5. What did you think of the ending? Were you satisfied with how everything got resolved?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cold Comfort Farm” is included in these Goodreads lists: “All Kinds Of Classics That Should Be Read At Least Once” and “Strong Female Characters Written By Female Authors”

Find “Cold Comfort Farm” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “City of Bones”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.”

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2007

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Serena’s Thoughts:

As the professed fantasy-lover on this blog, I feel like it’s a bit unfortunate that this happens to be the first fantasy novel I’ll be reviewing. Ah well! I will blame my bookclub friend who chose this as her selection for bookclub and leave the regret with that.

I approached this book with what can by only described as extreme trepidation. It’s a staple in the YA fantasy genre and one I knew I should be getting around to, even now, many years after its publication. Cassandra Clare is nothing if not prolific with her writing given the number of sequels and prequels she’s rolled out! And, alas, my trepidation was warranted. While I love fantasy and young adult novels, “City of Bones” was not my cup of tea, and by the end I was frankly skimming along.

Positives first! I can definitely see why this book took off the way it did. Clare’s writing is fast-paced, her characters are witty, and the story includes every fantasy angle a reader could ask for. Negatives? The writing is so fast-paced that the story seems frenetic, ALL the characters are eerily similar in their witticisms, and the story includes every fantasy trope there is in the book. Vampires! Werewolves! Zombies! Hidden fantasy world in a major city! Heroine is more than she seems! It was a bit much. Don’t even get me started on the tired love-triangle trope. *sigh*

And, full disclosure, I came into this book having heard about the trials and tribulations of Clare’s fanfiction history. And while I’m not here to delve into that, I read a good amount of Harry Potter fanfiction in my day, and Jace? Jace was fanfiction!Draco. Clary’s connection to Ginny was harder to spot which was only a disservice to Clary, as Ginny is by far a more appealing protagonist. Clary did grow on me towards the end of the novel, but it was a bit too little, too late. And honestly, “Twilight” has forever biased me against a YA novel where the heroine describes herself as “clumsy” within the first 20 pages.

If you haven’t read this book by now and are a completest about YA fantasy series, than purely for the sake of popular relevance, you might want to check this book out. But for me, I won’t be continuing on.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Gosh, I’m not even certain of where to begin with this book. I had heard of it around the time that it first came out, but since back in 2007 I hadn’t really discovered YA Fiction and since it hadn’t really taken off yet as its own industry I wasn’t interested in reading it. But then it was picked for our YA Book Club and I found myself finally about to fill the void that not having read it admittedly left in my YA repertoire. But having gone through it now, I think it probably would have been just fine if that void had not been filled.

My main problem with it is that even though it was probably one of the first series to do the things that it does, coming in almost ten years after it was published made the themes and tropes seem VERY old hat. I can’t say that I was a fan of Clary being not only the point on a love triangle, but also a ‘chosen one’ figure AND incredibly snarky and witty and quirky. These themes are so commonplace now that I can hardly abide them anymore. I do think that there is some potential in this world, however, as I think that the magical system does have a pretty strong foundation. The Shadowhunter mythology is something that does intrigue me. It’s just that the focus is too much on Clary and how special she is when she was convinced that she wasn’t special at all. I liked Jace enough as a character, though knowing that this story is derived from a Harry Potter Fan Fiction that Clare wrote made it all the more clear to me that Jace is really Draco Malfoy, at least what he is seen as within the Harry Potter Fan Fiction Fanon. It’s too bad, because I wanted to see more ‘Jace-ness’, less ‘Draco-ness’.

The most intriguing character to me was Isabella, a female Shadowhunter (apparently such things are rare in this world. Hi, mild sexism, how are you?) who comes from an elite family and is used to all the male attention being on her. So of course she’s going to be threatened by Clary, who is so plain yet all the boys love her. What I liked about Isabella is that she did have glimmers of being pretty interesting, and it was evident that she cared about her cause and those around her. I have nothing bad to say about Isabelle, and I would probably read the entire series if it was about her. I can definitely see why this book could and would appeal to teenage readers, though. I know that when I was a teenage girl living a pretty normal, sometimes stressful, life, I would have loved the idea of having a completely different life, with two hot guys in love with me and a set of special powers to boot. And besides, I’m pretty sure that this book wasn’t written for me. So all in all I can’t fault it too much for being what it is. I just think that it could have been better.

Serena’s Rating 3: Too many YA fantasy tropes, not enough substance

Kate’s Rating 4: Predictable and shallow, but had some merits

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We also watched this movie, per the instructions of this bookclub season’s theme. It was what one would expect. The cinematography was beautiful, it adhered to the plot as much as a movie can within its time frame, and it had many of the same failings as the book did. It also bombed in the theater which is actually a bit of a surprise given the series’ popularity and the fact that most popular YA book-to-movie adaptations have been met with success. Sadly, since a sequel is not in the works, movie-goers will be forever left with…that ending…you know the one I’m talking about…

  1. “City of Bones” came out in 2007, and is nearly ten years old. Given that YA literature has changed so much in that time, do you think that this story would follow a similar path if it were written today? If not, how do you think it would change?
  2. What did you think of the magical world and magical system that Clare created for her series? Did it feel well thought out and complete? Did you want more?
  3. Was Clary a relatable protagonist for you? Did you find it easy to sympathize with her? If not, how could she have been more relatable?
  4. If you have read the book and watched the movie, how do they compare? Were there choices that the movie improved upon? Failures of omission?
  5. This book was influenced by Cassandra Clare’s very popular Harry Potter fanfiction writing. Were there resemblances between this world and the Harry Potter world that were easy to spot? Did it stand well enough on its own?

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Bones” is included in these Goodreads lists: “All The Great Guys Books Have to Offer”, and “If You Love Harry Potter, Read These!” 

Find “City of Bones” at your library using WorldCat!