The Hate U Give

The book, The Hate U Give, affected me on such a personal level that I feel changed. I also feel frustrated that my audience is likely limited to the white, safe, conservative community where I live, and they are those will most likely not read the book, or watch the movie, because it’s a “black” story. Is it a political book? Yes. Does it have a message? Yes. Will you feel uncomfortable exposing yourself to this book? Yes. Is all of that wrapped up in a heartfelt, realistic, well-written drama about a family? Also yes. Are you ready to learn about life outside your bubble? I hope so.

The Hate U Give is written from the perspective of Starr, a 16-year-old black girl, who lives in Garden Heights, “the ghetto”, but attends a mostly white private school, 45 minutes away from her house. Her father, an ex-gang member, who runs the local grocery store, and her mom, a nurse, sacrifice what they can so Starr and her two brothers have a chance for a life outside their community when they are grown. Starr sees herself as two people. There is Starr at home, and there is Starr at school. Starr at school makes sure no one can accuse her of being ghetto, and changes the way she looks, walks, and talks to conform. The pivotal moment starts at the beginning of the book, when Starr is at a party in her neighborhood where a fight breaks out. She leaves with her childhood friend Khalil, who wants to make sure she gets home safe. During the drive he is pulled over, and gets into a heated argument with the police officer. While the officer is running his license, he reaches into the car to grab a hairbrush; a hairbrush the officer thinks is a gun, which leads to Khalil dying on the ground, and Starr the only witness to what happened.

The book follows her as she pretends nothing happened at school, and falls apart at home, wondering what she should do, or say. In the process Khalil goes on a public trial, and what Starr sees is that everyone felt he deserved to die. Her neighborhood is up in arms, and she is trying to navigate what is right, with what is safe. In the middle of all this are her parents, who are solid examples of good people, who want the best for their daughter. She can count on them, and has a good relationship with them, which carries her through the trauma, and ultimately her progress from scared witness, to powerful activist.

Classified as a Young Adult novel, it is full of curse words, and hard-hitting violence. There is a tiny romance between Starr and her white boyfriend, Chris, who is pretty naive for most of the story. Rounding out the story is Starr’s uncle, who is also a police officer, and tries to give some perspective on how things work, but ultimately admits that he doesn’t have all the answers either. This is not a book for young teens.

The author Angie Thomas wrote the story as a way to process her life growing up on the wrong side of town, and the parallels she experienced when she broke free of the poverty she experienced. Check out this video where she talks about the inspiration behind the book.

Oh, yes. And I watched the movie. Starr is still the central character and played well by actress Amandla Stenberg. Rated PG-13, the movie tones down some of the language, and a little bit of the violence to make it more palpable to younger audiences. Starr’s emotional turmoil is evident in each scene, with enough humor and love between the characters to get you through the hard parts. The majority of the movie follows the path set out by the book. Starr is with Khalil when he dies, his death sad, and overwhelming, as anyone watching realizes that it will set off a dangerous chain of events.

The visual contrast between school Starr, and home Starr starts to crumble, as she struggles to live in two worlds. Some of the scenes are in a different order than the book, with one main character missing, and the safety of being at Uncle Carlos’ house, only briefly alluded to. However, one of the most powerful scenes comes from a conversation between Starr and her uncle Carlos and how he would have approached the traffic stop, as a cop. And while not spoiling it, the final scene at the end of the riot, is changed dramatically. I liked the subtlety of the book scene, but also felt the impact and reasons for the change.

To do these reviews, I usually watch the last Thursday night showing, so I can write for Friday viewers. Usually, I’m one of many in the theater. Sometimes there are less than 10 of us. For my Ready Player One review, the showing was sold out. The Hate U Give was a solo theater experience for me. I’ve never been alone in a theater, watching a movie that is pulling away every firmly held perspective I had, while also messing with my emotions. When I got up and looked at all the empty seats around me I felt a bit of sadness, and a bit of anger, at all the people who should have been there experiencing it with me.

The book was better, deeper, and richer. The movie is an excellent adaptation.

First Man

How does one read a book about Neil Armstrong, and not come away feeling inspired? And yet, this book not only details his path to the moon, but Armstrong’s path from a child who became absorbed in creating airplane models, all the way to the man in old age, who rejected celebrity for a life of learning and teaching.

I found his determination and work ethic from an early age to be an indicator of how he would address science problems his entire life. At the age of 10, he started working jobs to make money. He wanted to be an engineer, who made airplanes, but believed he needed to learn how to fly to do a good job. Flying lessons were $9 an hour. He worked and paid for his own lessons, getting his pilot licence before his driver’s license. By all accounts he was a terrible driver. This ultimately led to joining the Navy and becoming a fighter pilot in the Korean War.

Working for NACA (before it became NASA) he was a test pilot and engineer, testing the limits of the newest and best flying machines. This path led him to be the perfect candidate for the new space program. In the middle of this was a man who was a father, and husband. However, his scientific approach to solving problems of rocket propulsion didn’t help his home life, nor was it easy for others to say they truly knew Neil. Throughout the book, those that knew him spoke of his quiet nature, precise language, and intense work ethic.

Even after loosing his four-year-old daughter to a brain tumor, and multiple coworkers to plane crashes, and testing failures, Armstrong remained stoic and solid, focused on the scientific problems ahead of him. While fate and circumstance led him to be chosen to be the first man on the moon, he accepted it as the next coincidental moment in his life. And when it was over, he moved on, to be a college professor, to be an adviser, and finally later in life, learn how to focus on the people in his life, more than the questions of the universe.

Two quotes in the book struck me as particularly telling of who Neil Armstrong was:

William Dana, a NASA research pilot said, “He understood what contributed to flight condition. He had a mind that absorbed things like a sponge and a memory that remembered them like a photograph. That set him apart from mere mortals.”

And then Armstrong told his biographer, James R. Hansen, the writer of the book, “I think people should be recognized for their achievements and the value that adds to society’s progress. But it can easily be overdone. I think highly of many people and their accomplishments, but I don’t think that should be paramount over the actual achievements themselves. Celebrity shouldn’t supersede the things they’ve accomplished.”

Neil Armstrong died in 2012, several years after the publication of his biography, which has been updated to include information about his death. What would a man, who accomplished much, but never wanted praise, think of a movie, focusing on his life?

From all accounts, he approved the making of the film, and his sons Rick and Mark were not only consultants on the film detailing some family scenes not found in the book, but played roles in the Mission Control scenes.

The movie, First Man, starts off about 100 pages into the book, when Neil Armstrong is testing a plane high above the earth, reaching 100,000 feet and leaving the earth’s atmosphere. Something goes wrong, and through his quick thinking he is able to land safely, while getting a lot of flack for the trouble he did have. What is the reason the normally perfect Armstrong is having mishaps? His daughter is sick, and ultimately dies from a brain tumor. Within weeks of her death he applies to the new astronaut program, and through a vigorous process is accepted. Anytime things get too emotional in Armstrong’s world, he dives deeper into his work. The movie covers almost 10 years of Armstrong’s life over two hours, so much of the process of being accepted in the space program, and the technical, scientific contributions Armstrong made in the space program are glossed over.

Instead, the movie focuses on the emotional roller coaster Armstrong, his fellow astronauts, and his family go through as the space program tests the limits of space travel, leading up the moonwalk. As appropriate, there is the required science and technical aspects of the film. Although, those who saw the movie Apollo 13, about the aborted space mission, only two trips after Armstrong’s, will find the science and even the drama a bit downplayed.

For all it’s danger, and suspense, the movie First Man had a stillness to it that I didn’t expect. Maybe knowing Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins return to Earth safely, decreased the suspense.

Armstrong is a hero to the world, but doesn’t fit the typical Hollywood action hero type. He is not loud, aggressive, or impulsive. He is thoughtful, solemn, and stoic, making for a different kind of hero movie.

The movie is good. I highly recommend it as a personal testament of will and determination. Once you are done watching it, read the book, and learn even more about what happened before and after the moon landing. It will change your perspective on the space program, as well as the men who walked on the moon.

The Neverending Story

I don’t remember how this book got to HideAway Books two months ago, only that I had two thoughts:

  1. How is it I’ve never read this book?

  2. I wonder if I’ll have a chance to read it before someone else buys it.

When I saw The Neverending Story on the list of movies available on Oct. 1 on Netflix, I knew this was my excuse to hoard the book, and read it. Just thinking about the movie brought back memories of sitting in in the dark, in 3rd grade, and watching this wonderful tale of adventure and magic unfold on the wall. The book came out when I was 2 years old, the movie when I was seven. But as we were not a movie-going family, I was excited for the chance to watch it in school. I remember feeling a kinship with Bastian as he resisted everything else in the world to keep reading. It was exactly how I felt when I read books. I must have seen The Neverending Story a dozen times before reading the book and was worried that my nostalgia for the movie would cloud my judgement of the book.

I was wrong. The book, is AMAZING! Also, I didn’t know the movie was based on the first half of the book, and ignored the last half of the book, which is ridiculous. In these reviews I try to avoid spoilers, but since the movie and book have been out for almost 30 years, this post if full of them!

Let’s start with the similarities.

The book starts out similar to the movie. Bastian runs into a bookstore, trying to get away from some school bullies. When he gets there, the gruff bookseller tells him to go away. Anxious to stay off the street, Bastian doesn’t listen. Instead, he ends up taking the book, the bookseller is reading, when he is distracted by the phone, and runs to school. He is already late, and goes to the somewhat scary attic to read, and gets pulled into the story of Atreyu, the child warrior, his horse Artax, and then the cuddly flying dragon Falcor, and their quest to save the Childlike Empress. As he reads, he slowly realizes he is in this story as well. And just as he is pulled into Fantastica (called Fantasia in the movie), and saves the Empress, the movie ends. Looking past some of the CGI and animatronics that didn’t age well, This review gives the movie makers the benefit of the doubt that they did the best they could with the technology that was available at the time. The fantastical characters of this imaginary world were done well, and as I watched the movie I saw many that were described in passing throughout the book.

I read that the author Michael Ende, hated the movie. I can see why. All the themes are wrong.

Now for the differences.

In the book, Bastian is suffering from the death of his mother. His father is basically a ghost in their home, his grief is so large, that he barely notices his son. This, added to his clumsiness, pudgy form, and wish to just tell his own magical stories, makes him a loner. In the movie his father is mean, and direct, which pushes Bastian away from him. When he runs from the bullies into the bookstore, the bookseller does try to push him away, but does not engage in conversation with him, or give him any hints that he may want to read the book on his lap. When the phone rings, and the bookseller is turned away, Bastian steals the book. At this point, he feels like he is a thief and can never go home again, nor can he go to school, but somehow ends up at school anyway, so he hides in the attic until he can figure out a plan for effectively running away.

At this point he starts to read. He does get pulled into the story of Atreyu, but instead of relating to him, only sees their differences. Where Atreyu (who, by the way, has olive green skin) is strong, Bastian is weak. Where Atreyu is courageous, Bastian is a coward, and where Atreyu loves and trusts deeply, Bastian is afraid of being rejected. The sequence of events that leads Atreyu to the Southern Oracle and the knowledge that a human child has to rename the Empress, is longer, with Atreyu and Falkor both being bitten by this crazy spider-ish, monster, which is actually when Bastian yells and is heard by Atreyu, not when the giant tortoise appears.

Done well, was Atreyu’s time with the gnomes, Engywook and Urgl, who fix his wounds and tell him about the gates, although Atreyu gets much more instruction in the book, and is not so headstrong. Also, the Spinx issue is completely different. They don’t shoot lasers out of their eyes, nor could I see anything in the description in the book that indicated they should have massive breasts with protruding nipples. My young self was never comfortable with that scene.

Bastian does eventually save the day, but he hesitates, a lot. Because he refuses to say her name, when first invited, the Empress has to climb a mountain and meet the record keeper who tells her The Neverending Story, to prove to Bastian he is the correct child to give her a name. He is full of self-doubt and self-loathing, which prevents him from acting and being as courageous as Atreyu.

Where Bastian experiences Atreyu’s adventure in the first half of the book, he experiences his own in the second half. The first part was Atreyu’s growth, where now it’s Bastian’s turn to grow. In the process he fails, a lot. He is not a good friend, he creates mayhem for selfish reasons, and ultimately tries to become Fantastica’s new Emperor. And then he grows, and learns, that he can be kind and courageous, and he can be thoughtful and strong. Ultimately he learns that he can love, without fear of loss, while giving and receiving forgiveness. He is saved, and can finally return home when he learns he can love his father, and help him, instead of waiting for him to leave his grief. The first half of the book is great, the second half is good. Without the second half, it is a lesser story.

Also, (I know this is everyone’s favorite part of the movie) he never rides Falcor into the city to scare his bullies. As we learn in the book, while the humans can enter Fantastica, the residents of Fantastica can’t enter the human world.

The movie nostalgia carried me through some of the book, where I saw the similarities. I seriously got goosebumps when Atreyu saw Bastian in the mirror. And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch Artax die in the swamp without crying. But the book was an enhanced experience; a great tale that truly can’t be captured on the big screen.

The book is so much better.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Written in 1973, The House with a Clock in its Walls, received rave reviews from critics as having just the right amount of scary and suspense for a kids book. However, today’s kids may find it a tad slow. To find out how it translated for kids today, I read the book, and then made two of my children, ages 14 and 10, read the book before taking them to see the movie. If you want to know their reaction, check out our Facebook video, and my kid’s, my-mom-is-so-embarrassing, but she took me to the movies on a school night, so I’m doing this video, review.

The book follows the story of Lewis Barnavelt, who is sent to live with his eccentric Uncle Jonathan, after his parent’s death. He learns quickly that Uncle Jonathan isn’t just eccentric, but is actually a warlock, who then gives him some instruction on the fun he can have with magic. An awkward, and studious child, Lewis has trouble making friends, until the popular Tarby decides to spend time with him, since his arm is broken, and he can’t do sports like normal. However, once his arm is healed, he deserts Lewis for his more popular friends. To get his friend back, Lewis convinces Tarby he can do magic and can even raise the dead. When he does exactly that, he sets in motion a plan that can destroy the world.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls, is slow and suspenseful, building to an end, where Lewis finds the courage he needs to save the world, and learn how to make a real friend.

So why had it taken the world 45 years to make a movie out of a sweet but scary tale of magic and courage? Probably because Jack Black was made to play Uncle Jonathan, and the movie couldn’t be made until he was ready. He was the perfect combination of scary, eccentric and caring, as Uncle Jonathan was in the book. Nobody else could have played him.

The first half of the movie is quite similar to the book, with a few more clues in the beginning that the house is magical. While the timeline is shortened, the essence of the story and characters is displayed perfectly. It’s only when Lewis decides to raise the dead, the movie deviates dramatically from the book. The second half has less suspense, and more obvious scares. It also gives extensive back story to Uncle Jonathan, his friend and witch neighbor Florence Zimmerman, and the evil magicians, the Izards, who lived in the house before Uncle Jonathan. Those back stories create quite a different ending, which while fun, and scary, and even funny at times, lacked some of the innocence of the book.

Even with the dramatic changes, the central theme of finding your courage to do the right things, is prominent.

So which is better, the book or the movie?

14yo son says: The Movie

10yo daughter says: Both are a 7 out of 10

Mom says: Equally good. The book is a good read, and the movie was a fun adaptation.

A Simple Favor

What a sexy premise for this story! We have two best friends who couldn’t be more opposite, in appearance, personality, and style. One of them goes missing, the other frets and worries, and then takes over as mom and wife for the missing friend’s family, only to find out they’ve all been played, or they are all playing each other.

I wanted to like the book A Simple Favor a lot more than I actually did. I also hoped it lived up to the promise of the movie trailers, which I saw several times before reading the book. The book is a suspense/thriller with three persistently annoying main characters.

Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom/widow who is also an overachiever in everything. She has a sun shiny blog where she spouts off random bits of mom advice and worry. It’s not the type of blog I would read, and it took seven chapters before the story took the reader outside the blog to start learning who the “real Stephanie” is vs. “blog Stephanie". Emily is her best friend, a high-class egomaniac who always needs help, but doesn’t ever give it. She is the one who goes missing, after asking Stephanie to once again pick up her son from school. Sean is Emily’s husband, who while grieving terribly his wife’s disappearance, is eager to let Stephanie step in soon after her confirmed death to console him and be the wife and homemaker Emily never could be. Then the secrets start coming out. The twists and turns of the story are interesting, and kept me curious, while the ending is ultimately unsatisfying. Was it leaving room for a sequel. I’m not sure.

This is one of those rare cases where I hoped the movie was better. Emily and Stephanie are perfectly cast. Actresses Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick create something out of the characters that is more alive than what was on the page. The blog in the book is turned into a vlog (video log) which makes more sense for the movie medium. Stephanie is the do-everything parent, who signs up for all the slots for the class party, and fills her loneliness by obsessing over her son. Emily is gorgeous, and a mystery, and while she wants to be a good mom, her own past gets in the way. What is her past? That’s the big secret. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie wavers between trying to be a good friend and trying to compensate for what Emily’s family has been missing. She provides home cooked meals, care taking skills, and then quickly jumps into bed with Emily’s husband Sean after the funeral. She feels guilty, but not guilty enough.

Both the book and the movie missed a great opportunity to play up Stephanie as a suspect in the whole affair due to her jealousy. Stephanie is a single mom, who misses her husband and brother, who were both killed in a car accident. Emily has a perfect house, a dream husband, and a great kid, but rarely experiences any of it due to her job. While there are hints that Stephanie may have orchestrated everything to get what she lacks in her own life, it’s not played out.

Since the movie just came out, I won’t do any spoilers. For those that have read the book, the move ends with the punch (both literally and figuratively) that the book needed. If you liked the book, I think you’ll enjoy the movie. If you like the movie, you may not want to read the book.

Since this was the first book written by author Darcey Bell, I do look forward to what else she puts out, as I think she has promise, but may need some additional experience building more three-dimensional characters.

When I left the movie last night, I honestly thought they were a bit of a tie, in their own way, but after re-reading some of the book this morning, the movie is a clear winner for this one.