Tag Archives: young adult

13 reasons why book differences

NETFLIX 13 Reasons Why: Book/Show Review

Recently I read the new story collection, “You Think It, I’ll say It”, by Curtis Sittenfeld, whose work often features adult women still seething at the injustices of high school.

It made me want to watch Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s 2007 YA novel about a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who leaves a suicide note blaming her classmates before taking her own life. Her ‘note’ is actually a set of audio tapes, passed between thirteen recipients under threat of being exposed by a third party.

As nice kid Clay Jensen listens to the tapes, trying to figure out his place in the story, Hannah’s tale unspools in flashbacks. Played by Katherine Langford, she’s prettier and sweeter than an uptight, petty Sittenfeld heroine.

Each tape focuses on one individual, and a whole episode is devoted to that character and about what Hannah says they did wrong, and about everything that was going wrong in their own lives, which, we discover, was a lot…

Because we move from mean girls and school cliques to sexual harassment, multiple rapes, victim blaming, abusive parents, fatal car crashes, gun incidents, drug addiction, self-harm and more. It seems like a lot of problems for a dozen or so under-18s, even if the cast do look more like 25.

Netflix even nightmared up a second season/sequel to Asher’s book where Clay – now straight-up cray – develops a saviour complex and runs an amateur rehab clinic under his parents’ noses, while Hannah’s absentee parents sue the school whose teachers lazily ignored a brutal culture of bullying and rape.

Supposedly a ‘realistic’ portrayal of teen life, they’re all feverishly conforming to that TV contrivance of ‘protecting’ their parents from reality, and being a ‘good kid’. Oh Netflix! We’re a few weeks into the UK summer vacation, and all I’ve heard are teenagers complaining about boredom and being unable to find any clean underwear!

That’s the immature demographic Netflix are targeting – and winning, by being edgy and smugly socially important. I get that certain aspects – such as the bullying and social pressures – hit home for many young female viewers, but the show is so implausible, bleak and slow-moving that I don’t get the appeal.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (2007)

After ditching the show before the end of Season 2, I was curious about the novel, so I checked the YA section in my local bookshop. “We’re not allowed to shelve that in YA!” cried 51syyO7qB5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgthe sales assistant, nearly fainting, although he agreed it’s marketed at young people.

It was sold out, anyway.

Asher’s book is both gentler and sadder than the series. Instead of cramming in every social issue, it’s tightly focused on the mind of one suicidal girl, and Clay’s rising horror as he listens to the tapes over a single night.

At times their voices merge confusingly into one, and the premise still feels a touch far-fetched; I think if you have a dozen kids involved, somebody would have confided to a parent.

The school isn’t radioactive, but bullying goes on everywhere, and ongoing exposure can be a factor in suicidal behaviour. The book nails how hurtful gossip and rumours can be, and how one or two malevolent individuals, or pack leaders, can dominate a school or group.

Hannah clearly felt victimized, but as he listens Clay contradicts her – not because she’s a liar, but because of her mental state. He listens, powerless, as tape Hannah goes down a reckless, self-destructive path. (“You knew it was the worst choice possible….You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible.”)

He remembers Hannah withdrawing and avoiding eye contact, but he avoided talking to her partly because of what other kids would say if they knew he liked her. He had no idea who she really was; he just believed what other people said. Then all the chances were gone.

It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age, and I think the message is less about trying to ‘save’ others, as it is to reach out, and be friendly and undaunted by toxic peer groups. Maybe schools and colleges could be easier for the Hannah Bakers of the world.

The number for the Samaritans in the UK is 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Further international suicide helplines can be found at http://www.befrienders.org.

REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Was anyone surprised Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, starring Eva Green, managed to find a perch at the top of the US and international box offices?

Of course I knew the director Tim Burton has a fan base, but amazingly I had never heard of the source material, which is, er, peculiar, as Ransom Riggs’ YA novel sold millions and has been translated into 40 languages. So now, 20th Century Fox has a hit movie that’s perfect for inspiring this year’s Halloween costumes.

peculiar

20th Century Fox. (Halloween costumes sorted!)

Our young hero is Jake (Asa Butterfield), who has left his Floridian home on the advice of his shrink (Allison Janney) to vacation in rainy Wales. This isn’t because she thinks the trip would be recuperative, but to put to rest Jake’s beloved Grandpa’s (Terence Stamp) tales of growing up in a Welsh orphanage for children with extraordinary abilities.

When his grandpa died in mysterious circumstances, he left Jake with a riddle harking back to those bedtime stories, plus nightmarish memories of a gigantic tentacled creature (hence the shrink) at the scene of his death.

Jake discovers a cave that acts as a gateway to the orphanage, which is stuck on one particular day in 1943 and where the children live in creepy isolation. And they do indeed have abilities; there’s your typical super strength and invisibility, or a girl with razor sharp teeth at the back of her skull, and a boy who seems to have swallowed a hive of bees and likes to belch up a swarm. Count me out of school dinners at this place, thanks.

Jake strikes up a bond with Emma Bloom, a true Burtonesque blonde ingénue who would simply float away if it weren’t for her platform shoes. Ella Purnell is clearly a rising star (she’s played young versions of Angelina Jolie and Keira Knightley), but the romance isn’t convincing. Butterfield is yet to grow into much of a presence, while Emma Bloom is not only blooming beautiful, but also an octogenarian who used to fancy Jake’s granddad.

Headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) is a “Ymbryne”, meaning she can both a) manipulate time and b) transform into a falcon. The ever-luminous Green is the movie’s emotional heart as a mother bird protecting her young from nasties like Samuel L. Jackson’s (underwritten) mad scientist and the eyeball-chomping Hollowgasts.

Plenty of top level talent has been drafted in for what are effectively cameos, including Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd and Judi Dench, but there are too many faceless young peculiars (quite literally, in the case of the invisible kid and the creepy masked twins).

jakeperegrine

20th Century Fox

The movie has some scary imagery, but the smaller kids in my theatre seemed pretty blasé about it all. And it wasn’t the dark fantasy elements that I found unnerving. Being cursed with a set of teeth at the back of your skull would be a tough break, as would dodging evil creatures that want to eat you. Being forced to spend an eternity at school as a young child? That would be hellish.

There is one young peculiar named Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) who has prophetic dreams – why did he have to hide? Couldn’t he pass as ‘normal’? Horace doesn’t have a big role, yet he is possibly the most disturbing character. Perhaps it’s just a big thing about Horace in the books and they decided to keep it, but his old worldy manners and fixation with clothes and tailoring was quite eerie. It’s as if incarceration in what is effectively A PRISON WORLD has unhinged the lad – even Asa Butterfield managed to look alarmed.

The most haunting moment comes just before the Luftwaffe drop a bomb on the orphanage. Miss Peregrine has gathered her pupils to reset the day, as she does every day, and she plays the popular WW2 era song Run Rabbit Run on the gramophone. We know Grandpa witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust (Hollowgast?), and it’s a shame the movie fails to engage further with the historical context.

There’s something skin-creeping about the movie, like the Victorian era “freak show”, that feels very Burton. Peregrine is a bit like one of those jaunty nursery rhymes with some deeply sinister meaning – it’s just that nobody is really clear what that meaning is.

Based on the first of a trilogy, perhaps there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t translate, and I would need a “loop” of my own to go back and understand the time travel twists. If Peregrine does enough business, we might get three more big screen instalments (the final book would be split into two, naturally).

I’m sure I’ll watch them if they happen, but for someone who spent their childhood (and adulthood) secretly hoping they’d fall through a wardrobe into Narnia, this is one fictional fantasy world I would not want to visit.