book thoughts: Happyface by Stephen Emond


Stephen Emond

Happyface, like Whip It, is another teen story that surprised me.  It’s got so many elements that you find in other young adult books, but some how Emond manages to put enough of a twist on the story that I could not put the book down.

One reason is that it’s not a normal book.  This is Happyface’s journal.  After having to leave his home town after his parent’s divorce, the young man decides he’s not going to be the quiet kid in the corner drawing pictures, and reinvents himself as Happyface – the happy, outgoing, cool kid.  We follow his journey through his notes and artwork.  Don’t be fooled, this isn’t a silly story.  While Happyface tries to maintain a sense of humor in his new persona, the story and themes are relatively serious.

What I think I really enjoyed about this book was Emond’s writing Happyface as an unreliable narrator.  You don’t realize it at first.  When you start the book, it feels very “Dear Diary” and you assume that Happyface is just telling you everything about his life.  But you begin to realize that pieces are missing.  He’s not documenting his life for future generations, he’s just using this journal to sketch, to vent, to ramble…so bits of information trickles in at a random pace.

I think this is what really drew me into the book (no pun intended).  Suddenly, I realized, maybe Happyface wasn’t doing as well as he said.  Maybe things that happened to him and around him were not everything he wrote down.  Because how much would you write down about something that changed your life forever?  You wouldn’t need to – your life has changed, why would you have to note why?? 

It’s a very fast read, perfect for older teens, especially reluctant reader boys who are trying to figure themselves out.  I really loved this book and the idea behind it. 

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movie/book thoughts: Whip It (2009) & Derby Girl by Shauna Cross


Shauna Cross

This is one of the few instances where I have to say that the movie was better than the book.  Not because they changed any of the plot elements (in fact, the movie is almost scene-for-scene EXACTLY the same as the book) but it’s that you have to SEE a roller derby tournament in action to understand it. 

I read Derby Girl after seeing Whip It so in my mind I could easily picture Bliss and the Hurl Scouts skating around the ring.  In the film, they explain how roller derby is played in a simple montage, breaking it down for those of us that are uninitiated into the sport, a scene missing in the book.  I feel as though a reader just picking up Derby Girl would be confused by the appeal of the sport if they had never seen it before.  Cross doesn’t take a lot of time to describe the matches, they just sort of happen because it’s their existence that is important.  But getting to see Bliss play is way more fun.

I adored the movie.  Sure, it didn’t break any ground when it comes to teen storytelling – teen girl is stuck with crazy parent(s) (Bliss Cavener, played by Ellen Paige, has a mom obsessed with beauty pageants), teen girl rebels (by secretly joining a roller derby), teen girl excels at new things and feels accepted for who she is (by the Hurl Scouts), teen girl gets busted (for being under 18), teen girl must return to family (because she can’t play without their permission), but in the end, everything works out (um, I’m not gonna spoil it completely!!!).  So, why it’s all pretty cliche, it’s just executed so perfectly (directed by Drew Barrymore!) that you don’t mind that you’ve heard the tale before – you just want to hang out with Bliss and watch as she grows as a person. 

I definitely recommend the movie!  The book is good, but the movie does it so much better.

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movie thoughts: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Delightfully odd.

That’s all I could think while watching ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ this morning, Wes Anderson’s adaptation of one of Roahld Dahl’s shorter books.  It’s the story of Mr Fox (voice by George Clooney) who thought he could settle into a home life with the Mrs. (Meryl Streep) but after 2 years (12 fox years) he can’t stand living in a hole in the ground any more.  He moves the family into a burrow under a tree, only a short distance away from three of the largest farms in town.  And from there’s it’s a slippery slope back into stealing livestock and hard cider.

Even thought you might look at the animated, stop-motion style and think “children’s movie”, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone under the age of 13 that gets the very dry humor of Mr Fox.  In fact, I think this movie would work best for teens and up.  Let’s put it this way, the dysfunctional family dynamics had me thinking more of Craven’s Royal Tenenbaums than Toy Story (that might be because half the voice cast in FMF was IN Tenenbaums…).  The humor comes from dead-panned one liners and strange philosophical moments. 

So don’t dismiss this movie as something for kids!  Not only is the casting perfect, but the stop-motion work is beautifully done.  The story is quirky, the humor intelligent, and the movie comes in at a perfect 90 minutes, exactly where it should be.  Some might call this movie *does wavy hand motion* “different” but I think many would just call it fantastic.

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book thoughts: The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda (2010)

There is always one weird kid in the class.  A kid who revels in being the odd man.  Now imagine you go to class one day, and this kid has a finger puppet made out of paper but he acts as though he has no control over what it says.  That’s Dwight and the Origami Yoda.

The 6th grade class can’t decide – is Origami Yoda real or is Dwight just smarter than he looks? Tommy has gathered “case studies” from his fellow classmates on their interactions with Origami Yoda to try to solve this puzzle.

A book that could have just been plain silly turns out to have a sweet core.  Even though it comes in at under 200 pages, the reader still manages to connect with the various students in the story, especially the narrator, Tommy, who is truly torn about believing in the power of Origami Yoda.

This is the perfect book for that poor kid who’s parents are whining that all he reads are “Star Wars” books, with funny writing and enough Star Wars jokes to make them keep reading.  And once they have devoured this book, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to sllip ‘Wimpy Kid’ into their hands next…

4.5 stars (extra .5 for all the Star Wars jokes and the Origami Yoda instructions in the back).

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book thoughts: The Poisoner’s Handbook (2010)

When you think of the 1920s (like ya do), some things that might come to mind are those images from Great Gatsby – the Jazz Age flappers partying, drinking cocktails even though Prohibition has made alcohol illegal.  After reading ‘The Poisoner’s Handbook’, you’ll associate something else with that turbulent decade: forensics.

In this highly detailed book, Deborah Blum attempts to track the birth and acceptance of the fields of forensics, toxicology, and all those things that make CSI shows possible today.  In New York City, the medical examiner Charles Norris [insert Chuck Norris joke here] and his team turned chemistry into a weapon in the courtroom. 

In each section of the book, Blum describes the discovery of certain elements, the chemistry that makes them deadly, and murder trials that followed.  It’s a great mix of true science and true crime.  While the chemistry and lab tests can get a bit tedious at time, especially for the layperson like myself, they are easy enough to skim and get back into the action. 

I definitely recommend this title to someone, especially if you enjoy high quality true crime with a bit of history tossed in.  I learned a LOT (and felt like writing a letter to the FDA about how much I appreciate their work now…who would have thought putting radium in drinking water would have been a good idea?)

4.5 outta 5

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movie thoughts: Believe – The Eddie Izzard Story (2009)

I’ve been a fan of British comedian Eddie Izzard for ten years now, ever since ‘Dress to Kill’ aired on HBO.  His humor is both ridiculous and intelligent at the same time.  When I vacationed in London with my family in 2000, I even picked up Eddie’s autobiography.  Little did I know that the year I purchased that book, Eddie’s career had just taken a down turn in the UK and he had stopped doing stand-up.  ‘Believe’, a documentary by Susan Townsend, covers Eddie’s return to stand-up with the SEXIE tour while also giving us a overview of his career. 

Eddie’s mother passed away from cancer when he was very young and he admits several times in the film that his career as a performer springs from wanting to get attention and be loved.  It includes clips of Eddie performing on the street with friends, his appearance at FRINGE comedy festival, and, of course, clips from his bigger productions from the late 90s. 

This was extra fun for me to watch because I actually saw one of Eddie’s “workshop” shows in New York when he was still working out the jokes in the SEXIE tour.  I then saw him again during the official run of the tour in Washington D.C. so I know first hand how he takes an idea and evolves it into a part of his show; it’s a very organic process for him. 

This movie, along with Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedian”, should be required viewing for anyone thinking of going into the stand-up career track, or even just entertainment.  If you’re already a fan of Eddie Izzard, you MUST see this documentary. You really appreciate all the work and love he puts into his shows, and what a tenacious individual he is.  If you don’t know much about Eddie, it’s still an inspiring film to pick up and see someone struggle for and achieve their dream. 

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