Book Vs. Movie: NERVE by Jeanne Ryan

Nerve Jeanne Ryan

I’ve been talking about Nerve by Jeanne Ryan since the book was published in 2012.  (I’ve written a review, a personality quiz, and a list of reasons you should read the book.)  So I’m a bit surprised myself that I’ve only now gotten around to watching the movie adaptation that was released in 2016.  My primary reaction, now that I have is “Wow, this is different from the book.”

Certainly the overarching premise is the same: A normally introverted high school student named Vee feels like she needs to shake up her life by being more spontaneous, so she signs up to be a Player in a new virtual game of dares (which are proposed by paying spectators called Watchers).  But things start to go horribly wrong and the game begins dangerously taking over her life.

The first half of the movie keeps this premise from the book, with some changes to what dares the Players must complete (and I think Vee is a little older, 18, in the movie to make some of the dares less clearly an issue for minors).  However, the major themes are different between book and movie.

The book is really about character development and Vee’s shyness.  Vee becomes worried her introversion and caution are keeping her back from living life to the fullest, so she enters the game in a attempt to be more spontaneous and, well, daring.  I’ve seen some readers critique this and suggest that the overall message of the book is “Being shy is bad,” but I’d argue the opposite; the game gets dangerous enough that Vee can begin to see that the way she’d been living life might have been just fine after all.  The book also explores the character development of some of Vee’s friends who get sucked into the game as either Watchers or Players themselves.

The movie is less concerned about the individual.  Though Vee is still the focus, the message of the movie seems to be not about her but about the Watchers in general. The film takes on questions of mob mentality and how people’s behavior changes when they’re anonymous. (And actual scientific studies have shown that being anonymous frequently equates to being a much more horrible person than you would normally be.  Even having a pseudonym online will encourage people to behave better than it they are 100% anonymous.)  These are interesting, relevant questions, and I can see why the movie makers thought it was worth bringing them to the forefront.  It simply isn’t what I would have expected to see happen in the movie, based on what I’d read in the book.

I don’t necessarily think one was “better” than the other, but I did find the differences between the book and the movie quite interesting.

Briana

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Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Information

Goodreads: Flame in the Mist
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Source: Library
Published: May 16, 2017

Official Summary

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Review

I know Ahdieh has a great reputation as an author and a strong fan base, but I actually DNF’ed The Wrath and the Dawn a couple chapters in simply because I couldn’t get into the story. The summary of Flame in the Mist sounded like so much fun, however, (a girl defying her destiny and falling in with a band of thieves?!) that I wanted to give Ahdieh another shot. Ultimately, I did enjoy the plot, but I’m not sure I’m invested enough in the characters to continue reading the series.

The story really does deliver all that it promises. In feudal Japan, a spirited young noblewoman bound in duty to marry whomever her parents decree suddenly finds her life uprooted; she is the victim of an attempted assassination and determined to infiltrate the criminal group responsible to find out why. Admittedly, this is not an entirely unique plot in young adult literature, but it’s always one I love to read, and this is no exception. Ahdieh does a fabulous job laying out the intricacies of the tensions between criminals, common people, and nobility, and protagonist Mariko quickly comes to learn that the world may not be exactly as she believed.

Tied into this, some of the characterization in the novel is strong. The bandit gang is represented as deep and complex; they all have shadowed pasts and clear motivations for how they ended up in a criminal life. Ahdieh is careful to portray them as people, not simply as villains, and they have layer upon layer that Mariko slowly uncovers. I wish Ahdieh had done the same for some other characters in the novel; some choices that ought to be more difficult for Mariko suddenly become easy as the lines between “good guy” and “bad guy” are made needlessly clear cut near the end of the story.

I wanted to care more about what’s going to happen in book two because I enjoyed the storyline of book one, and I was invested in the slow burn romance. However, the ending here makes it pretty clear what’s going to transpire next, and I have definitely seen this ending in multiple YA novels. (I’ll refrain from naming any to avoid needless spoilers.) This book was enjoyable while I was reading it, but it’s just not original enough or complex enough for me to want to continue investing time in Mariko and her friends.

3 Stars Briana

Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

Traitor to the Throne

Information

Goodreads: Traitor to the Throne
Series: Rebel of the Sands #2
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Official Summary

Rebel by chance. Traitor by choice.

Gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne.

When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan’s palace—she’s determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan’s secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she’s a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she’s been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland.

Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about Djinn and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.

Review

Traitor to the Throne brings readers right back into the action-packed rebellion with Amani, her Rebel Prince, and their talented crew.  Though it has been awhile since I read Rebel of the Sands, the plot begins basically where it left off, and I was able to pick up the strands quickly.  The story is filled with all the good things that made the first book come to life: magic, romance, danger, and the weight of history.

There is a setting shift in this novel, and I understand why some readers who fell in love with the desert and Old West town feel of the first novel were disappointed to see it go in the sequel; I was a bit sad myself.  However, Hamilton makes the transition to palace harem and court intrigue incredibly well and proves that she is a master of the fantasy genre.

I like court intrigue in general, but Traitor to the Throne gives a very compelling look at the Sultan’s harem and what women do to survive in such a tenuous position and cutthroat environment.  Amani and her rebel friends show one type of strength, wielding knives and guns and magical powers, but the women in the harem work with something else: beauty and cunning and the will to survive.  The treatment of women, their apparently disposable nature, is not pretty in this world, but Hamilton shows that strength comes in many different shapes, and I adored it.

Favorite characters from Rebel of the Sands come back in Traitor to the Throne, and it is wonderful to see them continue to grow.  There are some new ones, as well, and they are all crafted with finesse and attention to making them multi-faceted.  The Sultan in particular is interesting, and readers finally get to see situation from his point of view—why he has made the decisions he has while ruling the country, and whether he thinks they were right or would go back if he could.  Hamilton delves into the complexity of politics and shows that there are not always black and white, easy answers.

The prose is still choppy in a way I cannot quite describe, an issue I had with Rebel of the Sands, as well, but overall the plot, characters, and world building carry the book enough that this is just a minor irritation rather than a deal-breaker.

Traitor to the Throne is a strong installment in what I can only assume will be a strong series through to the end.  I look forward to reading Amani’s next adventure and to seeing more writing from Hamilton.

4 stars Briana

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf HollowInformation

Goodreads: Wolf Hollow
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: May 3, 2016

Official Summary

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience, strength, and compassion help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.

Review

Wolf Hollow brings readers to rural western Pennsylvania, where World War II is hovering ominously in the background but has mostly passed young protagonist Annabelle by.  Rather, her biggest issue is the new girl at school, Betty, who seems determined to make her life miserable.

The setting of Wolf Hollow is definitely one of its strong points. I found it fascinating to read about a place that, technically, is the middle of the 1940s, but because of it’s rural location often looks like something out of an L.M. Montgomery novel (late 1800s/early 1900s).  While the characters have electricity and other conveniences we would recognize today, the children still attend school in a one-room schoolhouse and seem primarily invested in playing and helping out on the family farm.  I also was intrigued by how the ongoing war seemed both present and absent in the novel, something Annabelle is aware of but isn’t directly affected by.

The characters are interesting and sharply drawn.  I felt like most of them are round, and most are willing to change their habits or opinions when new information presented itself; they have recognizable characteristics, but they never get into a rut.  Protagonist Annabelle is spunky and brave, even when she is sure she is not, and her friendship with Toby is one of the highlights of the novel.  Her family, schoolmates, and neighbors, all come equally to life, however.

I have seen numerous comparisons to To Kill a Mockingbird, and while I agree the themes of othering and judgement are similar, this is a hard sell for me because To Kill a Mockingbird just seems like a better book. It’s well-written, in prose and structure, and it treats its themes with an amazing blend of empathy, complexity, and subtlety.  Wolf Hollow has solid prose, so no complaints there, but the treatment of tough, complicated themes simply isn’t on the same level.  The narration often states things explicitly in the sense of “People don’t trust citizens of German heritage because the US is at war with Germany,” but without any real delving into the issue.  In fact, I think this book in large part about bullying more than it is about some of the more political themes it alludes to, ones relating to the current World War II and ones related to the aftermath of World War I.  Those things are there, but the narrative is so very much on the new girl at school being a jerk and a bully to everyone around her, with or without motivation.

Other readers have commented on how dark the book is, and I grant that (even as I’m arguing that it seems to skirt some of the darkest issues).  I disagree, however, with assertions that this necessarily means the book is not appropriate for children or is somehow not “really” a middle grade book.  It is, indeed, different from much of the middle grade on the market–but I think that’s a feature, not a flaw.  Readers don’t want books to seem factory produced, to feel that there’s only one aesthetic for a middle grade book.  Certainly, if you’re considering giving this book to a child, take into account their individual ability to read about dark topics and depressing events.  Not all the loose ends tie up nice and rosy here.  But I think this is very much a middle grade book that will find middle school age readers.

4 stars Briana

Adult-ish by Cristina Vanko

Adultish

Information

Goodreads: Adult-ish: Record Your Highs and Lows on the Road to the Real World
Series: None
Source: Publisher for review
Published: April 4, 2017

Official Summary

My first real job.

The first plant I kept alive more than a year.

The first relationship I kept alive more than three months.

In this hand-lettered and illustrated guided journal, you will have a place to record the firsts of becoming an adult. A new twist on baby books, “My Book of Grown-Up Firsts” is a charming and cheeky celebration of what it means to finally be a grown-up (sort of).

From the first time you visited home without bringing dirty laundry to the first time you truly felt comfortable in your own skin, the small victories and meaningful milestones in this quirky, charming, and insightful journal make it a great gift and appealing journal for anyone starting out on the path of adulthood.

Review

When I first opened Adult-ish, I worried I was the wrong audience for the book. I hate the word “adulting” and I don’t find it charming when high schoolers, much less college students or, worse, college graduates, talk about how their parents do their laundry, or how it’s such a struggle to keep a plant alive or do the dishes or just generally be responsible.  So I worried that this book would be overly self-congratulatory about the completion of ordinary tasks.

In some places, it is.  It does, in fact, ask readers to “draw the first houseplant you managed to keep alive.”  However, many of the prompts are truly thought-provoking, like “When was the first time you spoke up for something you really believe in?” or “Describe the time you did something you were really afraid of.”  Other prompts are sentimental—“Draw the first bouquet of flowers you’ve ever received or sent to someone special”—or just plain fun—“Design the coaster that commemorates your first legal drink.”

Several years ago, a relative gave me one of those lifetime moment journals that asks you to write about big life events: graduation from high school, your first car, your first job, your first kiss, your proposal, etc.  This book is like that journal, only looking at smaller moments instead of traditionally recognized “milestones.”  The prompts are sometimes random and some I wouldn’t even know how to answer.  However, they’re thoughtful enough to evoke interesting responses, and that’s what these types of books are really good for—to prompt you to record memories that you can look back on later in life, or that you can hand on to children, grandchildren, etc.  Right now answering the question “What was the first hobby you took up as an adult” is not overly compelling to me; however, I may find my response entertaining to reread years down the road.

The artwork is fun and reminiscent of doodling, very inviting and just asking the reader to start writing in the book, as well.  The pages are nicely diverse, varying emphasis on words or pictures and switching between fonts for each prompt.  Some of the fonts are heavy on the flourishes and took me some squinting to read, as did some of the parts that are in light gray rather than black (presumably so you can write over top it).  The fonts are generally quite pretty, however, and this was not a deal-breaker for me.

This interactive book is a great choice for anyone just embarking on adulthood and for people who are interested in journalling but want meaningful prompts instead of having to face down a blank page.

4 stars Briana

Fire Color One by Jenny Valentine

fire-color-oneInformation

Goodreads: Fire Color One
Series: None
Source: For review
Published: January 31, 2017

Official Summary

A father and daughter reconnect after a life spent apart to find their mutual love of art isn’t the only thing they share.

Sixteen-year-old Iris itches constantly for the strike of a match. But when she’s caught setting one too many fires, she’s whisked away to London before she can get arrested—at least that’s the story her mother tells. Mounting debt actually drove them out of LA, and it’s greed that brings them to a home Iris doesn’t recognize, where her millionaire father—a man she’s never met—lives. Though not for much longer.

Iris’s father is dying, and her mother is determined to claim his life’s fortune, including his priceless art collection. Forced to live with him as part of an exploitive scheme, Iris soon realizes her father is far different than the man she’s been schooled to hate, and everything she thought she knew—about her father and herself—is suddenly unclear. There may be hidden beauty in Iris’s uncertain past, and future, if only she can see beyond the flames.

Review

Fire Color One introduces readers to a teenage girl who finds calm in lighting fires.  While her mother and her mother’s boyfriend keep searching for their big break in the entertainment business, Iris is just trying to keep going and enjoy life.  So when her mother declares they’ll be visiting her estranged father to make a stab at the inheritance, Iris is less than pleased at being pulled into her mother’s latest scheme, until she she realizes her father isn’t quite the man she expected.

Although the book is ostensibly focused on family, and I was looking forward to a story about a father and his daughter reconnecting and forming a bond, I actually thought the book was more invested in plot than character development.  The book is mostly told out of chronological order, with Iris reflecting on her life and the events that finally brought her to her estranged father’s estate as he lies on his deathbed.  The moments when Iris and her father speak are moving but relatively few.  It’s perhaps more about just Iris than Iris and her father.  Additionally, the book really wants to get readers to the ending. I don’t want get into the realm of spoilers, but the end, the point of this all, seemed to be really about action and plot and not about family relationships.

The characters themselves are interesting, but sometimes flat–some of them seem more like scenery for the plot than like actual people. Iris’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend are perhaps the worst offenders.  I believe there are extremely shallow people in the world who make terrible parents as they focus only on themselves, so that’s fine. (Well, it’s sad.)  However, these two characters are over-the-top.  Iris describes them as people who literally can’t move two steps in a room without finding the patch of floor with the best lighting for their faces and striking a pose.  They can’t leave the house without taking five centuries to prepare.  They can’t last more than two and a half minutes before they call someone to talk about themselves.  This is all entertaining, but they don’t necessarily seem like realistically fake people to me.

However, I’ll take it.  Everyone in the book is larger-than-life with a wild backstory and personality.  It’s fun. Iris’s friend, a mysterious performance artist who spouts wisdom about the world, is particularly compelling.  But even Iris’s father, who self-describes himself as a boring homebody, has had some interesting adventures in life.  So this book isn’t about average people. But it’s about interesting people, and that’s a good feature of a story any day.

Bottom line: I liked it.  It’s unique.  The story combines several unusual elements–art, arson, family secrets–into one and becomes utterly engrossing.

3 stars Briana

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

the-inquisitors-taleInformation

Goodreads: The Inquisitor’s Tale
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: September 27, 2016

Official Summary

1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Review

As some of you who follow the blog know, I study medieval literature, so I really, really wanted to like The Inquisitor’s Tale.  The world simply needed a middle grade novel inspired by Saint Guinefort (a greyhound who really did acquire his own cult during the Middle Ages).  Touches of Joan of Arc and other historical figures make this book right up my alley. So I’m sad to say I was bored through most of the book, and I really don’t think I would have enjoyed it if I’d read it as a child.

Most of my pleasure in the book came from playing “spot the medieval reference.” And medieval references are something Gidwitz is great at.  The book draws on a lot of medieval tales but mostly uses them as inspiration, rather  than using them in their entirety. So Jeanne has elements of Joan of Arc, but she isn’t Joan. She has visions, for instance, but she is not called to lead France through a war.  Jacob isn’t any historical figure in particular, but represents the Jews who lived in France in the Middle Ages.

And Gidwitz portrays the attitudes of the Middle Ages pretty faithfully.  Though there are violent parts of the book, one could argue that the darkest parts of the story are the various prejudices the children protagonists encounter: against Jews, Muslims, women, peasants, etc. Gidwitz explores these issues thoughtfully, while asking some tough questions like “How can someone say they hate Jews while befriending a Jewish boy?” Gidwitz shows the nuances in medieval thought, which is great, since the Middle Ages often get dismissed as a boring period of complete ignorance in pop culture.

The format of the book is also clever, if you’re into Chaucer.  Gidwitz alludes to The Canterbury Tales by having different characters tell each chapter and titling them such things as “The Jongleur’s Tale.”  There are also asides, as the storytellers interact with each other, in between telling their tales.  This structure, however, is also one of the sticking points for me.   It means that the protagonists’ story is told by a conglomeration of people who, for the post part, were not really in the story.  It creates some distance between the protagonists and the readers. It also means the story is constantly interrupted by the frame tale, which is something I just personally dislike in books.

The other reservation I have is about the plot and pacing. As I mentioned, I was simply bored thought a lot of the book. Stuff was constantly happening, but it took a while for it to all come together into any discernible overarching story.  I felt as if I were just watching characters run around inanely for half the book. The only reason I didn’t DNF is because, seriously, I’m really into the Middle Ages.

The Inquisitor’s Tale has really high ratings in general on Goodreads, and I can respect that since the book is clearly well-researched and rather creative.  However, this is one instance where I would love to get some children’s opinions on the book.  I do not think I would have liked or finished this novel if I had read it when I was in middle school. It’s slow and complex and altogether simply unusual for a children’s book. I didn’t relate to the characters or even understand for half the book what it was they were trying to accomplish.  I wonder if this will be a hit with adults more so than with the target audience.

3 stars Briana