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Self Esteem at Twenty Years

17 Nov

mscl
This past summer I re-watched My So-Called Life, twenty years after first watching the show as a teen. I was the same age as both Claire Danes and the character of Angela Chase when this show first aired. I got really excited when I realized this on re-watch, thinking how cool it was that MSCL actually cast teen actors as teens, but it turns out that of the main cast only Angela and Brian Krakow were portrayed by teen actors. Regardless of the “elderly” cast, this show really spoke to me as a teenager and I couldn’t believe it when the network pulled the plug on the show after only 19 episodes. After all, EVERYONE I knew was watching it.

One of the episodes that I watched over and over again during my teen years (on my VHS tape recording of select episodes) was the episode titled “Self Esteem”, which aired exactly twenty years ago today. This is the episode where Angela and Jordan get all smoochy in the boiler room, seemingly out of nowhere. This new routine is very exciting for Angela, but also kind of takes over her life. As she puts it, “My whole life became like divided, into kissing…and not kissing. Kissing…and not kissing.” While their makeout sessions are all nice and sweet, Jordan barely acknowledges Angela in public and she finally finds the courage to speak up for herself and let him know he has to show her some respect if he wants to continue their little boiler room rendezvous.

One of the reasons I watched this show so much as a teen was that I was trying to live vicariously through Angela Chase because I just thought Jared Leto was the prettiest man I had ever seen. While on re-watch, I still empathized greatly with Angela, Jordan Catalano just doesn’t make me weak at the knees like he once did. And its not just because its creepy crushing on teenagers. After all, Jared Leto was in his twenties when this show aired. But I guess a pretty face just isn’t enough for adult me. Sorry pretty faces! Instead on re-watch, there were three other duos that stood out for me in this episode. We’ve got the budding friendships between Sharon and Rayanne and Rickie and Brian, as well as the mentorship in the making between Mr. Katimski and Rickie (Enrique – “Gee whiz it’s such a great name” and “You shouldn’t hate who you are” says Mr. Katimski). Even Brian and Jordan share a moment in this episode through Mr. Katimski’s class discussion of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, which inspired my reading of many sonnets in Fall 1994. Unfortunately, for Patty and Graham this is also the episode that first introduces Hallie Lowenthal – trouble for the second season that wasn’t.

But here’s another thing thing that stood out for me on series re-watch, the episode titles. Back in the mid-nineties, I had no idea that TV shows even had titles, so I made up my own. One episode I called “Bologna Sandwich”, another “World Happiness Dance”. The “Self Esteem” episode was known to me as “Buffalo Tom” because the teens all go to a Buffalo Tom concert (“They’re even cuter than on their CD!” says Sharon Cherski) and their song “Late At Night” makes the heartbreak of Jordan’s harsh words at Pike Street and the handholding in the final scene that much more powerful.

There was some great music on My So-Called Life, though the soundtrack released on CD (and cassette tape of course) was surprisingly unsatisfying. With Buffalo Tom, they skipped out on “Late At Night” in favor of “Soda Jerk”, though it was still arguably one of the better songs on the soundtrack, and neglected to include some of the most memorable songs from the show (“Blister in the Sun”, “What Is Love”, “I Wanna Be Sedated”, “Try”). Ah well, feel free to make your own soundtrack. In celebration of twenty years since all that fun smooching and hand-holding and alt-music listening, here are some of the songs that were popular back in November 1994, that those of us in our teens back in the mid-nineties were probably listening to along with Angela Chase and friends.


My So-Called Life is available to watch in full on Hulu. Enjoy!

End of Spring Mix Tape

29 May

If I had to list my three biggest media addictions of Spring 2014, they would be graphic novels, Bollywood films, and new music. After not really buying much in the way of music the past few years, I went a little wild this spring. Here are some of my recent favorites from said purchases. Happy listening!

Girls Chase Boys – Ingrid Michaelson
This song is super catchy and I love watching the quirky dance moves. I especially love how the guy to the left of Michaelson looks like he really wants to get down, but he holds it in until the end when they finally get to let loose.

MFN – Cibo Matto
From Hotel Valentine, their first album release since 1999 (what?!), comes this and plenty of other fantastic and fun songs. Remember when they used to inspire sexy dancing in The Bronze? Oh the good old days. I’m sure the Scoobies would get down to this track as well.

La La La (Brazil 2014) – Shakira
Just in time for the 2014 World Cup, Shakira has released a new version of a song from her self-titled 2014 album with lyrics changed to be more soccer-y and worldly (e.g. “Now here we are. You rock it.” becomes “Hear the whistle. Kick the ball.”). The music video features her baby daddy, Pique, and several other futbol stars lip-synching along, as well as her baby, Milan, playing futbol with an elephant (cute!). The original song was my favorite track off her latest album and I have to say the soccer player eye candy doesn’t hurt. Watch out though, this song is a major earworm.

Love Is The Answer – Aloe Blacc
While “The Man” is the biggest hit (thus far) off Aloe Blacc’s Lift Your Spirit, this is by far my favorite track off the album.

Holding On For Life – Broken Bells
After the Disco is one of my favorite new albums of the year and Holding On For Life is one of my favorite tracks. The music video features scenes from a short film the Broken Bells created to celebrate their album release, a little sci-fi romance starring Anton Yelchin and Kate Mara. The full film is available for viewing online (go for it!).

Fever – Black Keys
Here’s another great new track off a new album that I love. Yes, the phone number onscreen throughout the video is a working number.

Rumble – Kelis
I love Kelis’s new food-themed album. An artist perhaps best known for her hit “Milkshake” off her album Tasty who later studied at Le Cordon Bleu, she’s quite the food-loving singer-songwriter! And how fun is it that she operated a food truck at SXSW 2014 to promote her new album? This song doesn’t seem to have anything to do with food, but I’ll take it anyway.

London Thumakda – Labh Janjua, Neha Kakkar & Sonu Kakkar
The Bollywood film, Queen, was released while I was on vacation in India and this music video played on TV a lot. I finally watched the film this month and loved it! It’s about a girl who gets dumped two days before her wedding and decides to go on her honeymoon (London and Amsterdam) by herself. This video shows a festive wedding celebration prior to the wedding getting called off.

Do you have a favorite song of Spring 2014? Share it in the comments!

Dear Girls: You are unique and powerful so please go away. Love, Disney

18 Jan

Disney's Frozen

Thanks to many positive early reviews, I got it in my head that Frozen was a film to be excited about – a Disney film that for the first time usurped the traditional princess fairy tale of being rescued by a knight in shining armor for a more feminist telling celebrating the bonds of sisterhood.

Not so fast, Disney. I’m calling bulls**t.

Though Frozen boasts two female lead characters, passes the Bechdel Test (barely) and defines “true love” as an act of sisterhood, the most straightforward message in this purportedly feminist film – a film whose target audience is young girls – is that that which is unique, special, and powerful about you is also dangerous, shameful and must be hidden. A subtler message: girls are emotional time-bombs who can’t be trusted to control their bodies or their minds.

Princess sisters - Anna and Elsa

Princess #1, Elsa, has a unique and powerful ability – she can “freeze things.” Princess #2, Anna, is an innocent (i.e.: normal) girl. Together, in the privacy of their castle, the sisters play in a winter wonderland of Elsa’s creation until a misdirected freeze ray accidentally hits Anna in the head. So, the King and Queen, decide to close the castle gates and keep Elsa quarantined from EVERYONE, including Anna. Not only does this alienate Elsa from the entire world but also it robs Anna of her playmate and sister with no explanation whatsoever. Did you know that the first step in the cycle of abuse and colonization is isolation? I’m just saying.

Then the parents die and the two girls are truly alone – Anna left to wonder why her sister won’t speak, play or even talk to her and Elsa confined to her bedroom by fear of her uncontrollable “gift.” When the sisters finally emerge from the castle, years later for “Coronation Day”/Elsa’s 18th birthday, Anna’s desire for connection leads her to immediately become engaged to a visiting prince and Elsa’s inability to control her power leads her to banish herself to the top of a mountain.

And that’s only the first 30 minutes of the film! WHAT THE WHAT, DISNEY?!?

Overall, the majority of the critiques of Frozen can be attributed to poor storytelling but to use that, as an excuse would be to ignore that the holes in the story are a direct consequence of Disney’s commitment to reinforcing traditional gender roles that scare girls into submission. Here’s how in three easy steps:

Elsa

1. Being a girl is bad: Elsa has been raised to believe her power, her gift, that which makes her unique (SUBTEXT: HER GIRL-NESS) is what is wrong with her. She is the villain and for no reason at all except she was born different from everyone else. She doesn’t even get a fairy godmother or some dancing snowflake to share comical words of wisdom. I mean, DANG. Even Cinderella had birds helping her dress. Elsa has to be scared of her abilities because what would it mean to acknowledge a girl’s power and teach her how to use it? Seriously, Disney? Hollywood? America? Why aren’t we telling that story?

2. Feelings are bad: “Don’t feel. Conceal” becomes Elsa’s mantra in order for her to cope with her uniqueness. Disney is point blank telling girls that their thoughts – their emotions – are things to be ashamed of. The fact that this catchy little rhyme is actually repeated multiple times throughout the film guarantees that it will imprint on it’s audience – it’s audience full of young, impressionable girls. In an era where one of TV’s most revered female characters successes relies on listening to her “gut,” Disney is brainwashing little girls to ignore, distrust and devalue that voice. Instead they are telling them to “Let it Go.” Yep, the solo power ballad meant to celebrate Elsa’s claiming of her power is sung to an audience of none and comes complete with a “costume change” of the typical Disney transformation including loose hair and new dress with a sexy slit straight up her just turned 18-year-old thigh.

3. Power is bad: Elsa is never given any agency when it comes to her ability. It is a “gift” that alienates her to a life of solitude and serves no purpose for the greater good or even Elsa herself. The origin of her power is unclear (we assume she was born with it) but what is made icily clear is how her ability is triggered (by her emotions) or controlled (it isn’t). Sure, Clark Kent and Peter Parker were awkward social loners caught within the tension of their “normal” lives and their super powers. BUT, like most male characters with super-human powers, they actively participated in society because they were given the capability to control their powers. They had jobs, they had friends – even romantic relationships, and when they were called upon to use their unique power it was in protection of their communities. Don’t get it twisted, my pretty. Frozen isn’t a super hero story; it’s a princess story.

images-2

Final proof that this film is about as feminist as Robin Thicke, the majority of the plot and subsequent screen time is dedicated to Anna’s journey to find Elsa which she does with the help of…you guessed it, A MAN! Thanks to a descriptive opening song and ample dialogue we know more about the character Sven than both girls combined.

UGH and SIGH.

Frozen is just another Hollywood vehicle reminding girls and women that if you are talented, especially innately (God-given), beyond explanation (witchcraft) or in a way that threatens the status quo (if Elsa can just make ice appear out of thin air what will the big, strong men do for work?) then you are doomed to a life of solitude and loneliness. You might still get to be Queen but your talent will be used only for entertainment or self-preservation rather than to solve problems or help you better lead your kingdom.

Just ask Hilary.

This post was originally posted on our sister site pop!goesalicia.

Superstar

8 Nov

Superstar recently became available on Netflix Watch Instantly. If you have never seen it, please, do yourself the favor of watching one of the most hilarious films in the Saturday Night Live canon.

Molly Shannon is at her comic best channeling the spirit of 16-year-old catholic schoolgirl Mary Catherine Gallagher – one of the most memorable characters from her six seasons on SNL. Will Ferrell co-stars as Sky Corrigan, the coolest guy in school and Mary’s crush.  Of course Sky is an amazing dancer and Ferrell’s goofball sincerity is charming as usual as he pantomimes through a diversity of dance moves throughout the film. He also shows up as God. Ferrell and Shannon came into SNL together, in the mid-90’s resurgence, and their pairings are some of my favorites.

Emmy and Molly are Superstars
The film is also full of more subtle comedic moments which come from the periphery characters created by a solid ensemble of talented players: Kids in the Hall alum Mark McKinney as Father Ritley, Mary’s exasperated headmaster, the magical Glynis Johns as Mary’s Grandmother and another SNL alum, Harlan Williams, cameos as a dark and mysterious stranger.  My favorite is Emmy Laybourne as Mary’s overzealous best friend, Helen.

Of course I love this movie because it’s really a teen film – a unique and hilarious teen film. Superstar is a romp through the perils of adolescence with enough camp to make it ridiculous but not unbelievable.  Like most young girls in America, Mary dreams of being a “Superstar!” (You know the move). She is exploring her identity and bursting to express herself but does so in awkward and clumsy ways. Her Grandmother has stifled her dreams by forbidding her to perform and insisting she become a businesswomen. At school she is bullied and tormented by mean cheerleaders (Elaine Hendrix is vicious as the queen bee, Evian). Pretty typical adolescence.

But, like many of Shannon’s other characters, Mary prevails. She is a woman who knows what she wants. She holds her own and stands up for herself. She remains true to herself. She continues to fight for her dream. And it’s all pretty freaking funny.

Cross posted at our sister site, pop!goesalicia.

Perks of Being a Wallflower

10 Oct

Right now we are alive and in this moment, I swear, we are infinite.


I always think it’s exciting when books I love are turned into films because it signifies that someone else understands how powerful, beautiful, poignant and amazing this book is and they want to share it with an audience. While I realize that is not always the motivation in Hollywood, in this case I believe it to be true considering producer John Malkovich went straight to author Stephen Chbosky to adapt the screenplay and that Chbosky was hired to direct.  It isn’t frequently the norm in Hollywood that a novice director would be given the opportunity to direct a high volume project? Then again, he is a dude.

If you have no relationship to the book, or if you’re not really into movies that reflect reality, you may find this film depressing or even boring. Set in the early 90s in suburban Pittsburgh, Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman) a lonely high school freshman recovering from the suicide of his best friend and working through a lifetime of unbalanced emotions. Urged by his therapist to “participate” Charlie seeks salvation with the help of two new friends, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), the guidance of his English teacher (Paul Rudd), and, the ultimate life saving device – music.

While the film did a good job painting the picture of adolescent “outcast” culture it was a little too glossy. Having the author so involved is certainly what saved Perks from being a watered down replica of itself but the film was produced within the “Hollywood machine,” essentially sacrificing some of the creative control that may have lent to it’s authenticity. Another coming of age story set in the mid-90s, 2008’s The Wackness was a period piece that made nostalgic for the era in which it was set  and the music triggering as much of a response as the plot and performances. But, the film adaptation of Perks just made me nostalgic for the book. Oh, isn’t that always the case?  Chbosky himself admitted this was one of the most difficult projects he’s worked on:

“It was the most challenging screenplay I’ve ever written, just by the nature of what the book was — a first-person epistolary novel. To turn that into something objective with the same emotional intimacy and emotional catharsis was hard.” (Miami Herald, 9/30/12)

The music for the most part stayed true to the book except for a brief cameo by Cracker’s Low, which was never mentioned in the book and wasn’t released until 1993. This was nullified when Dear God by XTC, a staple of my freshman year in the suburbs of Philadelphia, played a narrator’s role in a significant transitional scene. A letter to God questioning the pain and sorrow in the world, I still sing the opening line to myself when I am feeling particularly hopeless. Have a listen on Spotify.

Your connection to the characters, and especially Charlie, will ultimately decide how much you enjoy the film and Lerman (Hoot) succeeds in delivering a deeply moving performance. Part of Charlie’s alienation, and woven into the subtext of the film, is the deviation from traditional male behavior. Charlie is emotional, caring, reserved. He’s not an athlete or a Casanova. He is moved by music and literature. We continuously see his admiration of admiration of and respect for women – in his support of his sister after he witness her boyfriend slap her and his unconditional love for Sam, regardless of the rumors that tarnish her reputation. And while these are both serious issues affecting teen girls – dating violence, slut shaming – the core of the film brings much needed attention to the complicated experience of boys, driven by Charlie and Patrick.

Two of my favorite young actors, Lerman and Miller both successfully deliver a unique portrayal of masculinity essential to both of their characters. Miller (City Island) infuses Patrick with a delightful fervor for life and irreverence for his tormentors. How much of it is bravado is unclear until what he is holding inside is finally given cause to break out.  In one of the most volatile scenes, both Charlie and Patrick are caught in a convolution of anger, fear, violence, aggression and survival. When Patrick is beaten and emotionally broken, it is Charlie who comes to his rescue both physically and emotionally.  The tenderness of their relationship is another powerful image for teens to receive.

Perks of Being a Wallflower is certainly not the traditional “teen romp” caliber but these are important characters to see on screen. Perks couldn’t be better timed to reflect challenges contemporary teenagers face in their everyday lives and if they only find support and solidarity on film, it’s better than nothing. Truly, the story is timeless and for many us the haunts and angst of adolescence stay with us well into adulthood. The desire to belong, to be valued, to protect the ones we love and have course, the hardest part, to just be happy.


This post was originally written for our favorite online magazine, Sadie Magazine (go check them out!), and posted on our sister site pop!goesalicia. Sharing is caring.

Mixtape Mashup September Releases

11 Sep

It’s September, which means it’s time for another Mixtape Mashup! September is looking to be an exciting month for books and albums, so we’ve gone ahead and made some pairings for your reading and listening enjoyment.


1. The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano
Scholastic, September 1, 2012

14 year old Rosa “call me Evelyn” Serrano is embarrassed by her mother and detached from her Puerto Rican heritage but when her Abuelita (Grandmother) comes to town Evelyn’s world and attitude are rocked to the core. I didn’t like Evelyn much at first and thought that would make the book hard to read but her transformation comes quick. Witness to the political movement that is being sparked in her neighborhood, Evelyn soon begins to understand the fragile relationships that connect family, politics and her own personal identity.

Kreayshawn –  Somethin’ Bout Kreay
Sony UK, September 25, 2012

I don’t know a lot about Kreayshawn but I know she is a white female rapper, arguably a minority in the wolrd of Hip Hop, and I’m curious to see how her career develops.  Rosa-call-me-Evelyn could use a peer who isn’t afraid disrupt the norm and inspires her to color outside the lines. This is the track that put her on the map:

Lupe Fiasco – Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1
Atlantic, September 25, 2012

Lupe is great listening for this book because of his strong loyalties to his city, Chicago, and the relationship Hip Hop as a form of expression has with revolutions of people, places and institutions. This album may be especially poignant as he recently suggested it might be his last when speaking out about the current climate of Hip Hop music and the epidemic of violence in his native Chicago. Check it. This is the opening track from his second album, The Cool:


2. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
Riverhead, September 4, 2012

It is the late 30s and Elsa Emerson marries off her family’s farm in Door County, Wisconsin to follow her dreams in Hollywood via her young husband. Barely 21 and pregnant with her second child she is discovered by studio head Irving Green and her life is forever changed. Emma Straub’s debut novel is lyrical anthology of one girl’s struggle to fit between two different worlds and a beautiful story of the relationships between sisters, mothers, and girlfriends.

The Avett BrothersThe Carpenter
Universal Republic, September 11, 2012

Two brothers from North Carolina who toe the line between citizen and celebrity, country and city, artist and carpenter. Since making acquaintances with them in Charlotte, NC (from where they hail) their music has inspired and excited me especially their self-reflection and sweet respect for the ladies. They have received more mainstream success in the last few years, split like Laura between their past and their future, but I trust they know where home is. Here’s a song off their new album:


3. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
GRAPHIX, September 1, 2012

Em and I are both excited for the new graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier. Just the cover conjures my nostalgia for Daria. Like Callie, I also loved theater but was a terrible singer, and never really found my place in the “drama” clique. Good Reads describes Drama as “another graphic novel featuring a diverse set of characters that humorously explores friendship, crushes, and all-around drama.” Sweet.

Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre is Evil
8ft. records, September 11, 2012

Amanda Fucking Palmer, as she is also known, releases her third solo album today and it is EPIC! There are so many reasons I love her, one being that on her Wikipedia page there is a “Controversies” section. Trivia moment! Palmer is an independent artist who funded her album on Kickstarter and became the first musician to pass the million-dollar mark on the site by raising 1.2 million. Extra Credit –  her album is being released with a companion book of art!!! This new video from her new album is sure to have people talking and I love the way she blends visual art and music to create her vision:

No Doubt – Push and Shove
Interscope Records, September 25, 2012

Em is more excited about this release than I am but I have always liked and respected No Doubt. Formed by High School friends the current members have been playing together since 1989 – basically their entire careers and lives. Having never broken up and continuously putting out top selling albums is quite the feat in the music industry. I appreciate that Stefani’s drama manifests only in her style and stage presence. You can download the first single “Settle Down” on iTunes but this is still the JAM!


4. The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanangan
Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 11, 2012

First of all, Rollrock Island? If going purely by name alone I would totally want to live there. But after reading the first line of the book’s description “On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings–and to catch their wives,” I think I’ll stay on the mainland. Apparently, there are witches and women empowered in other ways and the result sounds like a fascinating tale of men and women and the cruel beauty of human relationships.

Calexico – Algiers
Anti- Records, September 11, 2012

I discovered Calexico via their 2005 collaboration with Iron & Wine, In the Reins, and have since been a fan. You can listen to two tracks from Algiers on Spotify but I have to offer this track as a listening companion for The Brides of Rollrock Island:


5. What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
HarperCollins, September 18, 2012

This novel is the first of a new series: The Hybrid Chronicles. I am 5 chapters in to this book and it is super freaking interesting. Granted, I am not an avid “sci-fi” reader but the idea of two souls existing in one body is something I can relate to, as is Addie and Eva’s complicated relationship to each other as sisters. Both want to take care of the other, make the other happy; both think the other deserves freedom but the power is ultimately beyond them. Or is it? I think there is an interesting subtext here around pregnancy and the abortion issue – as Goodreads puts it: “What’s Left of Me tells the story of a fifteen-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive…”.

Cat Power – Sun
Matador Records, September 4, 2012

Cat Power aka Chan Marshall has always appeared to struggle with her public and private personas. Seems like everyone I know has a story about her erratic behavior. Known for her sad, simple songs on piano her 9th album Sun is definitely a brighter spot in the Cat Power catalogue. Listen to the first single – Ruinhere

David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
4AD, September 11, 2012

Another hybrid, this is the first collaborative effort by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and St. Vincent (Annie Erin Clark). It’s a surprising pairing considering their genre and generational differences, which is why I am curious to hear it. Here’s the first video, and first track, off Love This Giant:

Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, and an epic book battle

9 Sep

You may have noticed a lull in posts this week. Let’s just say my absence has been for the best of reasons! This week was full of fabulous events!

Neil Gaiman was here.

Wednesday I was lucky enough to be one of 700 some-odd people in attendance at a reading by Neil Gaiman at the Fisher Center (Bard College’s eye-catching theater). In an announcement on the Fisher Center site, Neil said, “I just finished a new short story—I suppose it’s a way of looking at some fairy tales from a different direction—and wanted to read it to an audience, to find out whether it works.” And work it did! Neil received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of his reading (he asked the audience if we were standing because we liked the story or because after sitting so long we needed a stretch). I won’t give away too much of the story because it was a delight to hear it unfold, but there are some familiar fairy tale folks (a sleeping beauty, 7 or so dwarves) and a Queen who puts her wedding day on hold in pursuit of adventure and world saving. Neil also read two poems: “The Day the Saucers Came” and “The Isle of Iona” and offered another special treat – a ukulele performance by his wife and fellow artist Amanda Palmer. The entire event left me utterly charmed by both Gaiman and Palmer, so I couldn’t have been happier when Neil announced that the two of them will be back in April for “An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer”! Hurray!

The following night I returned to Bard for Amanda Palmer’s show, which was easily the most fun and creative live music event I have attended in years (possibly ever). For her upcoming album, Theatre is Evil (releasing Tuesday), she is joined by the Grand Theft Orchestra. I’m not sure how these four artists came together, but I’m sure glad they did! They played a mix of Amanda Palmer hits (Astronaut, Missed Me) and songs off the new album (The Killing Type, Want It Back), and even sneaked in a fun cover of George Michael/Wham’s Careless Whisper which left me wondering whether or not the college students in the crowd knew this 80s pop hit (there was surprisingly little audience sing along). Sometimes it’s hard being a child of the 90s.

Speaking of tough times, my concert companion was suffering from a migraine (which sadly, in the end cut short her night and made her miss Amanda’s set). While sitting out in the lobby with her during one of the opening acts, I happened to make eye-contact with Neil Gaiman who was briskly walking through the lobby (man on a mission: writing another Doctor Who episode in a backstage office during the show) and managed to get out the words “I really loved your story last night” to which he thanked me and smiled and I thanked him and smiled right back. My hopes and dreams are that someday (perhaps when he returns in April?) my radio tweens and I will have the opportunity to interview him for our show. For now, a brief expression of appreciation (and a smile in return) is enough for me.

Anyway, be sure to check out Amanda’s new album when it releases Tuesday, or if you are one of her many kickstarter supporters lucky enough to have the album feeding your ears already, enjoy and thanks for helping make this happen!

And then Saturday was our library system’s Battle of the Books where teams from five counties came together for some friendly but fierce, book trivia competition. The kids read the same eight books over the summer and then have to answer questions like “In which book does a character have a food-related nickname?” This year’s books were Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, Matched by Ally Condie, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong, Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, and Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Our team didn’t win, but we had a fabulous time and I couldn’t be prouder of the girls for their hard work all summer and for how well they worked together as a team. It was also Maddie’s last day with us before her move across the state, so was a little bittersweet, though we sweetened things up with a stop for bubble tea on the way home – craving inspired by Raina Telgemeier’s fabulous Drama.

Hope you all had a fabulous week as well! What were some of the highlights of your week?!

Mixtape Madness Mash-up!

6 Aug

I have been playing a game with my Facebook and blog followers where I pose a theme and ask people to comment with the name of a band (I choose the songs). I take the first 10 responses and create a mix tape with my own additional 5 choices for coherence and transition. The first attempt, What Would Katniss Listen To, was successful and if you friend me on FB, I can share the Spotify playlist. We decided to try a similar idea here at Love YA Lit with a literary twist. In reflecting on National Black Music Month (June), I decided to create a top five in honor of Black music, Black authors and Black characters. This is a Mixtape Madness Mash-up, y’all!


The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

“Seems like people been teasing me all my life…. It’s bad enough that I’m the darkest, worse-dressed thing in school. I’m also the tallest, skinniest thing you ever seen.” (p. 4)

This is Maleeka Madison, a wise beyond her years middle school student battling the internalized racism of classmates, teachers and even herself. I loved how aware Maleeka was of other people’s ignorance yet found herself yearning for their acceptance. Her story is personal and unique yet completely relatable.

Song accompaniments:

  • India.Arie – Brown Skin
  • Lauryn Hill – Lost Ones

  • Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

    “You never think other folks got feelings. Like Janelle. I must’ve cracked wise a hundred times about her weight. Never even thought about it. It was just something I did for a laugh. Listening to her now, it don’t seem all that funny.” (p. 50)

    The story of an 8th grade English class and a teacher’s creativity, this book is an inspiring read about education, art and the overwhelming power of expression. I love books that switch narrators and Grimes takes it a step further by never appropriating a lead voice or main character in her story. The characters exist through the eyes of each other – classmates, rivals, crushes – and are self defined through the poetry they are writing.

    Song accompaniments:

  • Salt-N-Pepa – Expression
  • Mos Def – Hip Hop

  • After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

    “Maybe, while he was in jail, Tupac started thinking about his Big Purpose. That’s what D called it – our Big Purpose. She said everybody’s got one and it’s just that we gotta figure out what it is and then go have it. The night she said it for the first time, it was late in the summer of 1995 and we were all just hanging out – me, her, and Neeka  -watching music videos on TV.” (p. 7)

    Jacqueline Woodson’s novel continues to tell the story of three best friends and the omnipresent influence of Tupac Shakur on their loves and identities. Any music fan can relate to Woodson’s characters that look to music to help them understand themselves and their lives. Those of us who hold a special reverence for Tupac as an artist and a creative soul will be especially touched by the tenderness of D and the vulnerable elements that make her connect so deeply to a man and his music.

    Song accompaniments (a brief homage to Pac and especially to D and her girls):

  • 2Pac – Holler If Ya Hear Me
  • 2Pac – Keep Ya Head Up
    • I love how the juxtaposition of theses two songs (the 2 most successful on the 1993 album Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z.):) Illustrates the struggle of Tupac, both as an artist and an individual, and the essence of what his fans love about him.
  • 2Pac – Changes (originally recorded in 1992, but released 2 years after his death)

  • Caucasia by Danzy Senna

    “The less I behaved like myself, the more I could believe that this was still a game. That my real self—Birdie Lee—was safely hidden beneath my beige flesh, and that when the right moment came, I would reveal her, preserved, frozen solid in the moment in which I had left her” (p. 233)

    I was obsessed with this book when I first read it. It begins in the 1970’s in politically and racially charged Boston and tells the story of Birdie and Cole, daughters of an interracial couple who are separated when their parents flee from the law each going with the parent they look more alike.  The story is told in Birdie’s voice, the daughter who has been forced by her mother to pass for a white, Jewish girl, as she comes of age and comes to terms with her own self-discovery. It is a truly fascinating story about race and identity and the things we rely on to define ourselves.

    Song accompaniments:

  • Monie Love – It’s a Shame (My Sister)
  • Aretha Franklin – You’re All I Need To Get By

  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

    “She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could hurt me. She’s already done so. But what was one more beating? A flogging, even? I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could no longer harm Ruth, and she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her. This was a new notion to me and a curious one.” (p 246-247)

    Ok, technically I have not read this book but it is a fact-based fiction of 13-year-old Isabella and her sister, Ruth, struggling for life and freedom during the American Revolutionary War.  Written by the same author as Speak, I am sure it will be awesome. And, I will probably learn something. Double awesome.

    Song accompaniments:

  • Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution
  • En Vogue – Free Your Mind
  • STICK IT!!! Defy and Conquer

    31 Jul

    There is only one reason I ever watch the Olympics: Women’s Gymnastics. This year is especially exciting because 16-year-old Gabby Douglas may become the first African American female gymnast to earn a gold medal in an individual event (Dominique Dawes was the first to earn an individual medal, a bronze, and the first to ever win a gold medal in gymnastics, which she won as a part of Team USA.) Gabby is the first African-American female gymnast to compete for Team USA in the Olympics since Dawes’ last appearance, which is cause enough for celebration. And, since the rest of the Olympics is so boring why not kill the time between gymnastics with more gymnastics?! STICK IT!!! Defy and Conquer.


    First of all, this movie is awesome. Haley (Missy Peregrym) is a talented gymnast who mysteriously walked out of the World Gymnastics competition costing Team USA the gold medal. So, pretty much everyone hates her – especially her peers and former teammates. Haley would rather go to jail then do gymnastics, which is exactly the choice she is confronted with until a judge, who knows better, instead orders her to return to the world of competitive gymnastics and train with Coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges). Stick It was also written and directed by a woman, Jessica Bendinger, a former model who first came to success as the writer of Bring it On. Bendinger clearly has a voice for the American teen girl experience and chooses to explore these overwhelmingly female spaces with depth, intelligence and humor.

    Anyone who has ever played a competitive sport will like this movies for its bird’s-eye view into competition, training and the love/hate relationship of dedicating your life and your body to an uncertain future. But, as a former gymnast and a dancer, I felt an especially strong connection to these characters and their experiences. Without preaching, Stick It takes on huge issues like the judgment of women’s bodies by themselves and other women, female competitive relationships, and the challenging systems that keep women from succeeding. In gymnastics, athletes compete collaboratively as a team, while also competing individually on each event. So, while the athletes are motivated to perform well for their team, they are also competing against their teammates with hope of medaling as an individual. This provides an interesting parallel to the conflicts built in to normative female relationships where women are encouraged to compete with each other rather than build supportive relationships to encourage each other. Haley embodies the personal side of this conflict in her own struggle for self-expression through sport that is built around conforming to rules. As the film progresses, we are given more insight in Haley as a character and her emotional process is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

    This is such a positive film for teen audiences because it is a story of independence, rebellion, and self-discovery. What is most revolutionary about Stick It is that it provides a narrative where the girls become their own agents for change through camaraderie and collective organization. Competition is usurped by collaboration as the girls rally together to disrupt the unfair judging process of their sport. Not only do they take a stand against a harsh system, and on some level a social ideology, they became liberated from the bounds of judgment and are able to perform for themselves and their peers in a way that satisfies a personal, rather than systemic, goal.

    A feminist fairy tale with heart

    21 Jun

    “And she was adored, as much for her defiant spirit as for her beauty.”

    This is the Snow White story I have been waiting for! Though it barely passes the Bechdel Test this is my favorite feminist film of the year, so far.

    If the classic Disney fairy tale is your only point of reference for this dark and daring story you might be more comfortable with Disney’s current reimagining, Mirror Mirror.  Snow White and The Huntsman is equal parts dark and light, a more accurate reflection of the Grimm’s fairytale than any reimagining since the original story.  Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is more comparable to Katniss Everdeen than her original namesake and helps to usher forth what I hope will be the new wave of female adolescent protagonists: passionate, brave and leading with their hearts.

    Heart is the core of this story: the ways it makes or breaks us and for Snow White, it is her heart that makes her so valuable, both literally and figuratively. The Evil Queen, Ravenna, masterfully played by Charlize Theron, seeks to devour Snow White’s heart in her manic obsession to be the fairest in the land, to remain eternally youthful and beautiful. A provocative script and a seriously riveting performance by Theron elevate Ravenna’s character from the familiar archetype of a villain by giving her: 1) An identity – do you remember the Evil Queen having a name in any other re-telling? 2) A heart, albeit a bruised and bitter one. Taught from a young age that beauty is power and having spent a lifetime subsequently “ruined by men”, Ravenna’s humanity makes her the most relatable character in the film. She is more a victim of female gender role backlash than sincerely demonic. Sound familiar?

    Ravenna’s darkness is juxtaposed by Snow White’s fairness, not just physically but emotionally. Throughout the film Ravenna is the embodiment of natural beauty tainted by the carelessness of the world and, in typical mean girl style, she resents those who find their beauty reflected in the world, such as the fair Snow White. One of the most beautiful elements of the film is Snow White’s relationship to nature, an aspect that was trivialized in the original Disney version where Snow frolicked in the forest, yearning through song about waiting for her Prince to find her. This Snow White is not waiting to be found, she is not hoping to be rescued. She is seeking justice and activating her destiny with no thought for romance.

    The casting of this film should not go unnoticed among teen and adult audiences. Theron has made her career out of characters that explore the complicated, often ugly side of the female experience. She has long been a favorite of mine but it was last year’s Young Adult, a slice of life story where she tackled the painful consequences of a female life built on beauty and image, that marked her a permanent heroine of mine – brilliant and brave.


    There are mixed opinions about Kristen Stewart, I hear a lot of people rag her, but she continues to take roles that usurp the traditional trajectory of a young Hollywood actress. She has yet to star in a romantic comedy nor has she been pigeonholed into the stereotypical teen girl image force fed to us by studios predominantly run by men. Often criticized for her awkwardness and emotional blandness, Stewart’s real life resistance to the Hollywood teen idol image serves her character well. As Snow White, who has spent the bulk of her developmental years in solitary confinement after witnessing Ravenna murder her father, Stewart’s interpretation of the character is imbued with an innate understanding of her power and position. She just has to learn how to access it. When she does finally find her voice it is strong enough to rouse a rebellion.

    Let me be the first to say that the description of this film offered by IMDB, Google and this month’s Elle magazine, which features Stewart on the cover, are inaccurate. Each, in one way or another, summarize the story in a way that suggests the Huntsman protects and mentors Snow White. Um, yeah. That’s not how it happens at all. In fact, there is only one scene where the Huntsman offers guidance on how Snow can protect herself. (SCENE SPOILERS remainder of paragraph ) He instructs Snow White to drive a blade right into her attackers heart and “Don’t remove it until you see their soul.” Responding that she could never do that The Huntsman replies, “You may not have a choice.” Ooooh, feminist foreshadowing.  Because, guess what, HuntsMAN? I do have a choice. In the scene immediately following the two are attacked by a larger than life troll who knocks the Huntsman unconscious and turns to unleash a powerful roar in Snow White’s face. Snow White responds by roaring right back and they face each other – pausing, staring, and seeing each other’s souls. Is that not what we all long for? To be heard? To be seen? To be allowed to be ourselves without fear of hurt, loss, and abandonment?

    In truth, it is Snow, with the support of the seven dwarfs (a fun surprise of familiar faces shrunken down in size) who mentors him. Following another archetypical path of the widowed male drowning his sorrow in alcohol and violence, it is Snow White’s fairness – not beauty but commitment to justice – that rejuvenate the Huntsman’s desire for life. By being unapologetically vulnerable and insecure, “How do I inspire? How do I lead men?” but brave enough to admit it, Snow White demonstrates the true meaning of strength, of power, of heart.

    Above all, the most prevalent message in this film, and one of utmost value for female audiences, is the example of leadership modeled by a girl that is simply being herself. We should all be so brave.