Tag Archives: YA

Catching Fire: Book vs. Movie

Catching Fire movie posterSo who’s seen Catching Fire? If you’ve read the book, how does the movie hold up? How does it compare to The Hunger Games (film and book)? Come on in and let’s talk!

Before I get into the spoilers, here’s a quick movie review: For me, the book dragged, especially in the first half, and the movie has tightened up the plot without dropping anything essential or feeling rushed. As with the first film, the addition of scenes showing President Snow and the new Gamemaker helps to explain some of what Katniss experiences – oddly enough, making the conflict feel even more immediate. Katniss does a bit too much weeping and screaming for my taste, but overall, Jennifer Lawrence does a stellar job again. Fabulous adaptation, wholeheartedly recommended.

(Note: I have not yet read Mockingjay, so I’m reacting to the film without knowing how the trilogy plays out. Please refrain from discussing Mockingjay in the comments, unless you mark your comment clearly as being a spoiler!)

Spoilers below…

What Got Cut

Because books are longer than movies, any film adaptation of a book has to cut something. The trick is deciding what can be cut while still creating a coherent story. Sometimes this results in an almost entirely different story, or else a film that rushes through without dwelling properly to give the audience the emotional journey they crave.

In this case, the film adaptation sticks very close to the plot of the book – even closer than the first film, which shows unrest in the districts even though in the books Katniss doesn’t learn about this until Catching Fire.

One major difference is that several events in the first half of the book are condensed or eliminated – her PTSD-induced nightmares where Peeta comes to comfort her are trimmed down to a single scene (two if you include the flashback while she’s hunting with Gale), her leg injury is skipped altogether, District 13 is barely mentioned, her personal grooming team is gone except for Cinna, and the idea of “talents” is also gone.

The elimination of Katniss’s supposed talent in design is no great loss, but cutting Peeta’s talent with art leads to a moment of confusion. When Katniss enters the training arena to show off her skills, it’s not clear that Peeta did the painting of Rue. That bit couldn’t be cut because it’s what incites Katniss to make the dummy of Seneca Crane, but if you hadn’t read the books, you’d be lost.

Other than that, trimming the first half works well – the montage of the Victory Tour hits all the highlights from the book and is still very effective. In fact, it is even clearer in the film that Katniss and Peeta’s attempts to stick to the Capitol-approved script only incited more discontent from their audience.

I didn’t notice much, if anything, missing from the film version once the Games started…did you?

What Got Added

As with The Hunger Games, the film version of Catching Fire adds the point of view of President Snow, letting us see more about his motivation and his interactions with the Gamemaker. (Though, critically, we are not privy to the motivations of Plutarch Heavensbee until the end.) This fills in some of the pieces that, to me, were missing in the book.

Catching Fire book coverFor example, when I read the book, I had a hard time buying that Katniss’s love life was really so important to President Snow. But with the movie, seeing Snow and Heavensbee talk about Katniss in her absence, Snow’s thought process is clearer.

She really has become a symbol of resistance, and if he kills her outright she’ll be a martyr, but he has to bring her in line somehow. The increased Peacekeeper presence, for example, is a direct reaction to the threat she poses. It’s meant to cow and deter, not only District 12 as a whole, but also Katniss specifically.

It’s also chilling to watch Snow and Heavensbee plot Katniss’s downfall. Everything she tries is met with a counter-move. It reminds me of that XKCD comic about the definition of success. First of all, she contemplates running away. Then she realizes she can’t run, but she only has to get through the Victory Tour and pretend to be madly in love with Peeta until the tour is over. Then Haymitch explains that that’s not enough, they’ll have to pretend for the rest of their lives. And then Snow drops the bombshell: she’s going back into the Games.

Now that’s good plotting. All of Snow’s counter-moves are in the book, of course, but they’re explicitly shown in the film, and that change makes the tug-of-war between Katniss and Snow more gripping.

The Characters

Jennifer Lawrence did a brilliant job as Katniss in the first movie, and if anything, she’s even better here. Everything from her PTSD to her grief for Rue feels real, and the final close-up on her face would not have been nearly as effective with a lesser actress.

My only quibble is that she’s continually bursting into tears. Fewer tears would have made the remaining ones more effective. If I were directing, I would have had her cry when she learns she’s going back into the Games, when she and Finnick are trapped with the jabberjays, and maybe one other time, but that’s all.

As before, the acting for the secondary characters is fabulous. Most of them, particularly the adults, are a little flat, but at the same time they’re distinctive. Look at any line Effie or Haymitch delivers, and there’s no way that line could belong to anyone else. I even caught myself muttering “Oh, Effie” in fond exasperation at some points.

The new additions are also strong, and come across very much as they’re portrayed in the book. The other tributes are broken people, and it shows. I particularly liked Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee, who presents as a complete opposite to his predecessor, the foppish Seneca Crane.

A Few Notes on the Story

I also want to mention a few things about Catching Fire that aren’t specifically about book vs. movie.

My movie-going companion maintains that Katniss is weaker in Catching Fire than in The Hunger Games because she spends a lot of time dwelling on the love triangle. By contrast, I feel – especially with the book – that it’s Peeta and Gale who are dwelling and pining away, while Katniss stands aloof from both of them. What’s your take?

(Speaking of “weak”, here is a great point about Peeta and his masculinity.)

I mentioned earlier that I had trouble suspending my disbelief when President Snow takes such a close interest in Katniss’s love life. The other major plot point I had trouble buying was that so many of the other tributes would join in on the plan to keep Katniss alive, when it’s at the expense of their own lives. Of course, maybe I’m still underestimating the extent to which she’s become a symbol for everyone outside the Capitol, or maybe this is explained further in Mockingjay.

Your turn! What did you think of Catching Fire?

 

Strong Girl Characters: YA and MG Classics

From Anna by Jean LittleA couple of months ago, I wrote about strong female characters in SF and F. Today I’d like to revisit some of the characters who inspired me as a younger reader and writer. If you have a budding reader — of any age — to buy for this season, consider the following recommendations lists…

Middle Grade Novels

Amy from M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. Amy is a princess cursed to be “ordinary” – she’s not beautiful or good at embroidery or dancing like her sisters. But while lacking in traditional royal virtues, she has a wide independent streak. When her parents try to marry her off, she runs away into the forest to live on her own terms. No ass-kicking here, but plenty of resourcefulness and gentle humour, and an age-appropriate romance on her own terms.

Anna from Jean Little’s From Anna. Unlike most of the novels here, this one is historical fiction, following a German family who emigrates to Canada ahead of WWII. While the shadow of the Nazis lurks in the background, the plot rests solidly on the difficulty of fitting in to a new place. Anna is hampered by having bad eyes and poor English, but her stubborn streak may prove to be her greatest strength.

Cimorene from Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Like Amy, Cimorene is a princess who doesn’t want to be married off, so she runs away to cook and clean for dragons instead, and her life gets much more interesting from then on. Her employer, Kazul the King of the Dragons, is actually female, and she befriends a pretty awesome witch in the forest of the title. Even when she eventually does get married and have a child in subsequent books, her awesomeness is not diminished. (Fellow Turtleduck Press author Kit Campbell did a series of posts on these books, starting here.)

Nancy Blackett from Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. In this series set (and written) in 1930s England, two groups of children sail small boats around a large lake and have adventures that include a strong dose of imagination. Nancy Blackett is the captain of the boat named Amazon, and she lives up to the name – she’s the ringleader of all the adventures, and a fearless pirate whose favourite expression is “Shiver me timbers”. Who says girls can’t be pirates? (Though you will notice her strength is fairly masculine in form.)

As a bonus, Nancy isn’t the only strong girl character in the series — Titty Walker from the Amazon‘s rival boat, the Swallow, is a thoughtful dreamer who gets her moments to shine, and a later heroine, Dorothea Callum, is a writer and storyteller to balance her scientific-minded brother Dick.

Ronia the Robber's Daughter by Astrid LindgrenRonia from Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. Lindgren is better known for creating Pippi Longstocking, but I have just as much love for the less off-the-wall Ronia. She grows up in a castle in the woods, running wild among a band of robbers and befriending a boy from a rival band. Pure fantasy? Yes…but what’s wrong with that?

(I’m not going to list all the best-known classics about girls here, but I’ve mentioned some of my favourites over here.)

Young Adult Novels

Kim from Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward. In this Regency world with magic, Kim is a street urchin (masquerading as a boy to avoid the inevitable fate of a girl on the London streets) who’s hired to burgle the wagon of a performing illusionist. But his magic turns out to be real – he’s no circus hack, but a true magician who’s gone incognito after being framed. Soon she’s learning how to do magic herself while helping her new friend clear his name. There’s some romance, especially in the second book (which has more about London Society and less running around in a circus wagon), but the real fun in this duology is the madcap capers that ensue.

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffreyMenolly from Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy. Forbidden to pursue the music she loves, Menolly runs away from home (sensing a theme here?), befriends some fire lizards (think tiny dragons – a more YA-friendly and more mellow version of Danaerys from Game of Thrones), and follows her dreams to Harper Hall. This series has been a gateway to adult SF&F for many a young reader, but beware — while the Harper Hall trilogy is safe, some of the other Pern books get pretty mature in their subject matter.

Vesper Holly from Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series. Think of Vesper Holly as a teenaged version of Amelia Peabody – a nineteenth-century adventuress who travels to exotic locations and solves mysteries. ‘Nuff said? (Lloyd Alexander is one of my all-time favourite MG/YA authors, and he has written a lot, so if you get someone hooked on him, he’ll keep them busy for a while!)

(This part of the list is shorter because when I was growing up, there wasn’t a Young Adult genre the way there is today. I went more or less straight from Anne of Green Gables to Anne McCaffrey, A.C. Crispin, Isaac Asimov, and other YA-friendly SF&F authors — and I think I’m pretty typical. But if you have more YA classics about girls that I’ve missed, please chime in!)

Picture Books

I also had a few favourite picture books about girls, both fairy tale retellings by Robin Muller. Tatterhood features a cursed but fearless princess who scours the world for her beloved sister, while Molly Whuppie and the Giant stars an equally fearless woodcutter’s daughter who rescues her two older siblings from certain death. Both of them got read to pieces in our house; they are utterly wonderful, if you can find them.

Your turn! What classic books about girls can you recommend for younger readers?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like one of the following:

YA Gothic Novels

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba BrayJane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. “The Fall of the House of Usher”. All classic Gothic stories from the nineteenth century. But Gothic has never really gone away…or if it has, it’s baaaack (dun dun dun). This week on the blog, we’re looking at recent Gothic novels in YA.

Gothic Tropes

To recap from last week’s post, here are the main Gothic tropes:

  • An old, decrepit mansion in the wilderness.
  • A mysterious, emotionally distant master of the house (or sometimes mistress, if it’s not a romance).
  • A young woman (such as a governess) who is new to the scene.
  • An orphaned/unwanted child or children living at the house.
  • A terrible secret (sometimes supernatural).
  • The mood of horror, usually related to a moral transgression (such as a murder).

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Libba Bray’s 2003 YA novel A Great and Terrible Beauty is a good example of all the main Gothic tropes.

The central character, Gemma, loses her mother early in the book (and her father is unable to care for her, so she’s essentially an orphan) and is sent away to a boarding school in the woods, run by a mysterious headmistress who knows more than she’s saying. There are secrets that Gemma must unravel, an old chapel, and supernatural goings-on. And there’s a mysterious, distant love interest.

There’s even a new teacher to stand in for the governess, although usually the governess is the POV character. In this case, being YA, the story focuses on the (quasi-)orphan instead.

Bray’s novel explicitly explores the theme of last week’s post, the Gothic and the feminine. In the story, Gemma and her friends discover a form of magic that stands in for, and ties in with, their chafing against the restrictions of Victorian society and their awakening as women. They’re curious about love and sexuality, but there’s no approved outlet; they’re desperate to control their own lives and feel empowered, but society won’t permit it. Magic gives them freedom — but with limits and dangers attached, because this is a Gothic novel, after all.

(I should point out that this is the first in a trilogy. Books 2 and 3 are titled Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing.)

A Gothic Reading List

Other recently published Gothic novels for YA readers include:

  • Sharon Cameron – The Dark Unwinding and A Spark Unseen (steampunk)
  • Leanna Renee Hieber – The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, and The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess (another boarding school story, or at least that’s where it starts…)
  • Kenneth Oppel – This Dark Endeavor and Such Wicked Intent (retelling of Frankenstein)

Your turn! Do you like Gothic stories? What do you like about them? What books can you add to the list?

7 Writing Lessons from Scott Westerfeld

Cover of Uglies by Scott WesterfeldAs a writer, I’m always reading. When I can slow down enough to appreciate the art behind the book, I take mental notes. Here are some that made it out of my head…

Scott Westerfeld writes SF&F for a YA audience. His stories are fast-paced, action-focused, and very YA-minded — not at all like what I write, and not what I read most of the time. Which means they have something to teach me. So I’ve just finished reading one of his SF series — Uglies, Pretties, and Specials. (Yes, I know about Extras. More about that later.) Here’s what I learned.

(I’ll flag any major spoilers, but not minor ones.)

1. Start late, end early.

Westerfeld will often start a scene by jumping right into a conversation or an activity. The reader has to wait for a page or two to learn how his POV character, Tally, got there from the last scene or what happened in between the two. I tend to include transitions at the beginning and/or end of scenes to orient the reader, but now I see they’re not always necessary. And he’s careful to make the scenes emotionally engaging right from the beginning, so the reader is swept along instead of trying to puzzle out what just happened.

2. Use ALL the senses.

You’ve heard this before — don’t rely just on sight and sound if you want to create a vivid scene. Westerfeld is really good at this, especially touch. He’s always describing the experience of heat or cold, aching muscles, or the feel of wind against Tally’s skin. That makes each scene and setting come alive.

3. To speed up pacing, try writing scenes that span multiple (short) chapters.

You try putting a book down in the middle of a scene — it’s almost impossible. So writing chapter-spanning scenes makes a book fly by. Other tips from Westerfeld’s writing: minimize internalization and description, write short paragraphs, and of course, don’t forget the power of cliffhanger chapter endings.

4. When writing SF or F, don’t forget the “wow, that’s cool” moments and details.

Early in Uglies, we’re introduced to hoverboards — basically flying skateboards — and crash bracelets, which stop you from getting hurt if you fall off (by slowing your momentum). They’re just plain fun to read about. But Westerfeld doesn’t stop there. Hoverboards and crash bracelets come back over and over throughout the series, for different purposes and with different resonances. He gets a lot of mileage out of those two devices. At the same time, each book in the series introduces new technology to get excited about.

5. Make sure conflict has consequences.

#4 is important, but books are about characters, not cool details. Westerfeld is good at this too. (SPOILERS…) He makes Tally choose between her community or clique (represented by a friend, such as Peris or Shay) and her boyfriend, over and over again. The boyfriend usually represents the “right” choice, the moral one, the hard one. But whichever side she chooses, there are big consequences for her relationship with the other. The result is that by the end of Specials, we really feel like we’ve come a long way along with Tally.

6. Give your POV character a relatable, immediate goal, especially if there’s a reason your readers might dislike them.

(SPOILERS…) In Pretties, Tally has been brainwashed to be stupid, but she’s still worried about fitting in and being accepted as part of the group, and she keeps saying the wrong thing and being awkward — all very relatable problems. (It helps that the audience knows something Tally doesn’t: that she’s actually undercover and waiting to be rescued by the Smokies — a great example of dramatic irony.) There’s a similar setup in Specials, to great effect.

7. Know when to stop.

I mentioned earlier that I didn’t read the fourth book in the series, Extras. Why? Several reasons. (SPOILERS…) First, the end of Specials felt so final, so perfect and complete, I didn’t really want to disturb that feeling. Second, I peeked at the beginning of Extras, and it introduces a new POV character  sneaking out of her dorm, just like Tally in Uglies…and I feel like I’ve been there and grown out of that already, like Tally. Third, the situations and technologies in the first chapter seem like they’re going to revolve around different themes than the first three books, and they’re not themes that float my personal boat (YMMV). So, possible lesson here: know when to end a series (or a book). Though I will readily admit I might have stopped too soon…

(And, Extras notwithstanding, you can bet I’ve got Westerfeld’s steampunk series — Leviathan, Behemoth, and Goliath – on my TBR list!)

Your turn! Have you read Scott Westerfeld? What did you take away from his writing? Should I rethink my decision not to read Extras?

If you liked this post, you might also like 7 Writing Lessons from George R.R. Martin.

Your Turn: Tell Me About Your Favourite YA SF and Fantasy

Just a quick post today, because (a) it’s my first day back at work after a six-month sabbatical, and (b) we had a huge rainstorm and I got caught in it on my way home, so I’m wiped!

You may have noticed that I post regularly about children’s and YA fiction…but it’s all older stuff. That’s because I’m recalling it from my own days as a young reader. Nowadays I gravitate towards adult SF&F.

But I keep hearing that this is an exciting time in YA SF&F — boundaries are being pushed, topical themes are being explored, and an awful lot of high-quality books are hitting the shelves. YA isn’t just for teens anymore (if it ever was).

I’ve read a little bit of the new and improved YA:

But that list barely scratches the surface. I’d like to read more.

Here’s where you come in. What are your favourite YA SF&F novels from the last five years?

 

6 Favourite Sea Stories for Children

BeachThe sea is mesmerizing, at least to me.

I can sit on a beach for hours and watch the waves coming in, each slightly different than the one before, or the way the light on the water shifts as the sun goes down. In a port city there are tugboats and barges, fishing boats and tankers, yachts and paddleboarders, gulls and giddy dogs to watch. And that’s before we get to what’s on the beach.

So it’s no surprise that I love stories about the ocean. Here are a few of my childhood favourites…

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Of course you know the Disney movie, but have you read the fairy tale it’s based on? It’s darker and sadder and features 100% fewer singing lobsters, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. This 1897 classic follows the adventures of a spoiled rich boy who gets swept off a ship and rescued by the crew of a fishing boat. They’re too busy to take him back to shore right away, so he must learn to adapt and grow up.

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Books for Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

I’m a quiet but staunch environmentalist, and I suspect that books had a lot to do with this side of my personality (and most of the rest, for that matter). Here, then, are some books to celebrate on Earth Day…

Cautionary Tales

For those of us growing up in the ’80s and early ’90s, science fiction for teens (the term “YA” hadn’t been invented yet) tended to follow a few familiar tropes. Dystopian tales were popular, as were stories about aliens and spaceships. And it was almost taken for granted that our planet was going to come close to destruction, usually for environmental reasons.

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YA Books for St. Patrick’s Day

I’m not Irish, but I’ve long had a fascination with Ireland and with the incredible richness of Celtic mythology. I was lucky enough to spend several months there one autumn, but I’ll have to tell you about that another time. In honour of St. Patrick, here are some of my favourite Celtic-inspired fantasy novels for younger readers (or those young at heart)…

Lloyd Alexander – The Prydain Chronicles. ‘Nuff said.

Alison Baird – The Hidden World. A girl visiting her ancestral home in Newfoundland discovers her grandmother’s diary, which draws her into the fantastic world of Annwn. Bonus: also draws on Arthurian mythology.

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New Book: The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe

This week will see the release of a new YA book that I was lucky enough to read in advance. The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe is a sequel to The Way We Fall, and in my opinion it’s an even better book than the first.

The Way We Fall is about a girl living in a small island community (in Canada — yay) that’s hit by a pandemic. First, people start displaying strange symptoms. Then they start dying. And when things get really bad, the mainland cuts them off, leaving them to pull together…or tear each other apart in the struggle to survive.

Despite the above summary, it’s not a thriller, but a quiet story about family, community, and making choices to protect loved ones…and finding reasons to keep going and keep hoping, no matter how bleak the world looks.

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Author Spotlight: Patricia C. Wrede

(Administrative note: Travel blogging is coming, I promise! Look for the first post — with pictures — in a few days…)

 

The Author Spotlight is a series of posts designed to showcase writers you may not have heard of. In this Author Spotlight, I’m showcasing the works of YA fantasy author Patricia C. Wrede. She was a favourite of mine growing up, for her humour and quirky takes on fantasy tropes. So come on in and let’s talk…

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

I discovered this series at just the right age. It features a spunky princess, Cimorene, who upon learning that she is betrothed to be married decides to run away from home. She ends up cooking for a dragon and living next to a forest full of magic. Its inhabitants include everything from a witch to a prince who, as it happens, is much more sensible than Cimorene’s betrothed, and handsome besides. Adventures ensue…

There are four books in the series — Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons. Three are from Cimorene’s perspective and one from the perspective of her son. Wikipedia tells me that the fourth book was actually written first, and was later rewritten to line up better with its prequels, but I’ve only read the original version.

Magic and Malice

As much as I loved the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, I loved the duology of Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward even more. Set in an alternate Regency England where wizards exist, it follows the adventures of a street urchin, Kim. I mean, Regency and magic? Yes, please!

Kim is tasked with stealing an item from the wagon of a performing magician, someone who does no more than sleight-of-hand. What she doesn’t know is that his magic is real, and he’s a gentleman wizard in disguise, trying to solve a theft for which he was framed. Together, Kim and Mairelon — and Mairelon’s mournful henchman — travel across England, tangling with gentry while trying to clear Mairelon’s name.

More Recently…

Wrede is still writing today. I haven’t had the chance to read her more recent work, but here’s what’s on my list to check out…

  • Cecilia and Kate. Co-written with Caroline Stevermer, this is now a trilogy of novels in the form of letters written between two young ladies, also set in a Regency with magic.
  • Frontier Magic. The Wild West with magic? ‘Nuff said!

Your turn. Are you a fan of Wrede’s work? Which is your favourite?