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Read This: Once and For All

Is it really summer if you don’t read a Sarah Dessen book? YOu may recall that Dessen’s latest Once and For All was on my list of anticipated reads for this year. Now that I’ve read it, I just want to be immersed in the story again. As you know, I’m not a fan of formulaic writing (exactly why you don’t want to get me started on Nicholas Sparks books.) Although some may think that Dessen’s novels are predictable, I on the other hand am pleasantly surprised by her plot twists. There was a gut punch in Once and For All that I wasn’t expecting, (which is sometimes a delicious surprise, but here I was biting my lip, and trying not to cry.) Okay, okay I’m getting ahead of myself. Once and For All chronicles the summer before Louna goes off to college. Her mom owns a wedding planning business with her best friend William. Louna is used to not getting caught up in the “magic” of weddings, constantly seeing the bridezillas or the behind the scenes meltdowns, but you have to wonder how a teenager got so jaded. What happened that makes her question if true love is real? Well, you’ll find out. I love that in this story, we’re introduced to Louna’s best friend Jilly, and the trouble maker ADD son of a client Ambrose – both of their personalities balance out Louna’s serious nature. Ambrose is completely unpredictable, and Jilly is all about “living your best life” (however you do that!) As the story unravels we learn about Louna’s past, maybe what makes her skeptical or hesitant, and we’re also reminded that people aren’t always what they seem to be on the surface. It’s a great summer read, as Dessen finds a way to take us back to her favorite endless possibility beach town, Colby, and even teenagers working hard in the summer have to let lose once in a while. I read this entry on Sarah Dessen’s website where she wrote about some of the things that inspired Once and For All (two babysitters simultaneously planning their own very different weddings.) Then I stumbled across this passage, which not only sums up the heart of Once and For All, but it’s also pretty accurate about life:

As I started to think about all this, I began taking it wider, to the idea of how many “perfect” things we want, or are allowed. I’d had everything I wanted with SAINT ANYTHING: maybe I’d never get that again. Louna, my narrator, has this amazing first love and thinks that’s her only chance, her once and for all. But life goes on, even after those walking into the sunset moments. We can’t always have a perfect day, or a perfect experience. We need to take those great moments, though, and appreciate them. It’s tough for us perfectionists, but it’s true. The best stories, I have learned, often come when things don’t go as you planned. (source)

I definitely recommend this book for some summer reading, but I’ll warn you maybe I’m just a sap, or maybe the content really does go straight to your heat – I found myself tearing up a few times. Even still the imagery will make you laugh a few times, as you imagine Loud Cell Phone Lady in the coffee shop, or Ambrose and his antics, or Jilly’s siblings running all over the house. Dessen did it again with a little world to get lost in, and remind yourself of a few of life’s most important lessons.
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Watch This: “Submarine”

So, I’d been wanting to watch this movie, Submarine for awhile. By awhile, I mean since it came out. Yeah it actually came to Tallahassee, but I missed it. (Don’t tell me that this is why we won’t get Before Midnight because when the good movies are here, I don’t go. I saw Moonrise Kingdom like I said I would, right?) My favorite FSU professor (Zeigler, DUH!) tweeted about it when he saw it teaching abroad in London. Then a friend last week was like, it’s good – you have to watch it. The lovely Netflix instant streaming has this title now, and I had quite a few days of open spare time, with lots of rain keeping me indoors quite a bit, so perfect timing. I finally watched it. Little Oliver Tate reminds me of Sam from the previously mentioned, Moonrise Kingdom, and there’s a definite Wes Anderson vibe to the film (directed by Richard Ayoade) if you’re a fan of his work. The soundtrack (music from Alex Turner) was incredible, and the story line? Oh, my heart. There were scenes where I genuinely laughed, and then of course the ones you cringe at because of the awkwardness, but it’s also in an endearing way. There’s a subtle art about the film. It’s all in the details. Like the paper crowns from British crackers worn by the entire table at an early Christmas dinner. Or the painting hanging above Oliver’s bed. Or the montage of “Two Weeks of Love Making” (which includes my favorite things: sparklers and bike rides, and isn’t what you think it is from the title.) I would give you an online film description, but I don’t think they really capture the essence of the film (not to say I think I can do it that well, either.) Just imagine a British school boy living in Whales, super awkward, with a crush on a kind of standoff-ish girl in class. Eventually she might become his girlfriend, they have all kinds of adventures, and he’s torn between his devotion to the relationship, and trying to repair his parent’s marriage that is falling apart at the seams in front of him. It’s a roller coaster of emotions, the torture of adolescence – love, lust, angst, despair – they’re all in there. But it’s not as heavy as it sounds because it’s pretty sardonic in parts. Maybe don’t go strictly by my off-tangent rambles, but just give the movie a shot:

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Read This: Eleanor & Park

If you follow many of the popular YA authors on Twitter, you probably heard some buzz about Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. Even if you’re not into Twitter, if you’ve walked through the new release section of a bookstore recently, or even browsed the homepage of an online bookseller the simple but beautiful cover art might have captured your attention. Even if neither of these happened, you might have noticed it appeared on the New York Times Bestsellers List this week at spot #6. Of course, if John Green or Maureen Johnson recommend something, my interest immediately peeks. Then when I found out this new young-adult fiction novel had to do with bus rides and mixtapes (it’s set in the 80s when kids still used Walkmen and recorded their parents vinyl onto cassettes, which I loved)? I was sold. Both of those are two of my favorite things from my own childhood memories. Unfortunately for Eleanor, her memories aren’t as great to look back upon. That is until she meets Park.

In this gritty, real, heart-wrenching story told from the alternating perspectives of two Omaha high-schoolers, slowly falling for each other we see the world through the eyes of Eleanor and Park. We also see what they look like to each other.

The thing about this book, is it’s not just the story of two angsty teens in puppy love. The depth of the struggles in Eleanor’s home life are described with such an honest intensity, such a no-nonsense frankness that it seems they would need to either be written from the perspective of someone who experienced such hardships in their own life, or had an extremely close relationship with someone who had. Eleanor’s side of the story isn’t written in an “oh take pity on me” way, even though your heart will probably break while reading it. The harsh realities of life appear in such a straight forward way, that is just the way life is. It’s not great, but it’s not the end of the world because that’s the life the character knows, (even if they yearn for a life outside of those boundaries.) Eleanor’s mom is beautiful but weak, and she’s trapped in a disturbing relationship. Richie, Eleanor’s step-dad is not a very good human being. He neglects the children, he’s controlling, he’s a drunk, and the people of the neighborhood are aware that it must be hell to live under a roof with him. Eleanor basically bides her time from day to day, and tries to avoid Richie at all costs. Even though every once in a while there are “good days” there’s not really any erratic behavior that would be out of the question when Richie’s temper flares. So not only is Eleanor’s home life ridiculously difficult, but she deals with being bullied at school. Eleanor is really smart, and insightful but her appearance and her non-conformist personality set her apart, thus making her not accepted by the majority of her snobby classmates. Let’s face it: kids can be cruel. But you know, there’s always a silver lining – to everything, no matter how horrible. And that’s the case with this story too. I won’t ruin the developments of the bond between Eleanor and Park, but what starts as two kids sharing a seat on their school bus rides blossoms into so much more. The bond grows over shared interests, and opinionated dialogue about music and comics, but it overflows into the rest of life, and is joined by a growing affection. You’ll remember what it’s like to hear the beginning chords of your favorite song for the first time. Or how you felt when the one person you think about all day and night is breathing on the other end of a phone line. Or the electricity that zaps straight through the veins of your arm to your heart when your fingertips collide with someone you really like.

As hard as it is for Eleanor to grow up in her dysfunctional family life, Park is also wounded watching her and not knowing how to help. He knows her situation is bad, he just doesn’t know how bad. He can’t really imagine it completely because he comes from such a different background. But even still, no one likes to watch someone they care about suffer. Even though so many reviews talk about the story of two star-crossed misfit lovers trying to make a high school relationship last – I think that’s diluting the incredible bond here. Sure there’s romance, and there’s the kind of love that it seems is impossible to cultivate with the same fragility and innocence outside of teenage connections – but at the same time, this story is about so much more. Friendship. Communication (the kind in soul-bearing conversation, but also the communication that occurs when no words are exchanged.) I think it’s about survival. I think it’s about not letting the evil dark parts of the world destroy what’s beautiful within. I also think it’s about how valuable the thread of hope is in a miserable situation. That hope, no matter how thin can be life changing.

It seems some readers literally devoured this book, but I on the other hand had to read it in parts, take it slow as my heart literally ached while I read. I felt like it was hard to breathe. I felt like I wanted to reach within the pages and give the characters a hug. (I read the acknowledgements at the end of the novel, and those pulled on my heart-strings, too.) If you take my advice and do check this novel out (because even though it’s not sunshine-personified, happy go lucky, spring break beach read material – I am recommending it) I think you’ll appreciate Rowell’s genuine story telling of love, life, hope, and the kinds of bonds that can really pull us through the darkest times. The cool thing is, no matter how grim some parts are – just like life there were some really sweet moments when the light is let in, when human kindness reigns at the most unexpected times.

Have you read Eleanor and Park? What did you think? Please share with me in the comments!

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Watch This: Lovers In a Dangerous Time

You know those nights when there’s nothing on tv, and you could read a book but you really just want to snuggle on the couch and get lost in a movie? Yeah, I was having one of those evenings home a lone at the beginning of January so I found myself browsing the Netflix Instant-Watch list. I came across this Canadian film, Lovers In a Dangerous Time. (Can I just interrupt myself here, and point out how odd the Netflix descriptions of movies are?!) Here’s what they had to say:

“In this warmhearted drama, Todd and Allison — childhood best friends who have both become disillusioned with their lives — try to recapture the magic of youth after unexpectedly reconnecting at their 10-year high school reunion.”

So, I don’t know what to tell you to expect about this film, how about don’t expect anything? Just go into it with an open mind, and see how it plays out. What I loved about this movie, was the simplicity. There aren’t these unbelievably romantic moments, or outlandish story arcs – it’s just kind of unfolding, in the roller coaster way life does. Sometimes, we get our hopes up. Sometimes we get let down. Sometimes, we’re surprised at the turn of events on an ordinary day. I really loved the interaction between Allison and Todd (and Todd and his brother Bobby) – a blatantly honest portrayal, and completely believable. Also, the music was incredible. I had to resist busting out the Shazaam app every time a new song started! You can actually listen to the music on the official website. The scenery was gorgeous as well. Apparently I have a thing for Canada lately…(Take This Waltz, Lovers In a Dangerous Time, The High Cost Of Living reading Bieber’s mom’s memoir) so if you notice a trend on my reading and watching lists, that’s what’s up. I love that this film was written and directed by the two main actors – Mark Hug (Todd Timmins) and May Charters (Allison Adamson), too – I feel like it added to the depth of the film, and I loved their chemistry together.

It’s been a few weeks, and I’m still thinking about this film. If you know of any other movies that are similar feel free to share. Also, I was surprised there were only a few posts on the IMDB message boards about it, and I didn’t get any replies to my Facebook and Twitter inquiries as to whether anyone I know has seen it? Have you already watched this movie? What did you think? If not, do yourself a favor and check it out!