A lot of the gender-swapping issues weren't as thoroughly examined as one would like, though it was certainly interesting to see an author do this toA lot of the gender-swapping issues weren't as thoroughly examined as one would like, though it was certainly interesting to see an author do this to her own work, outside of the fanfiction community where this type of thought exercise is common....more
Canada bemoans the glorification of violence, but several chapters contain accounts of fights he participated in or witnessed as a child. He explainsCanada bemoans the glorification of violence, but several chapters contain accounts of fights he participated in or witnessed as a child. He explains that he was taken in by an older teenager, who allowed him to be 'smart' but also taught him how to fight; he brags that though he was small and in a high level academic class, he won many fights and was respected. His descriptions of the petty battles for pecking order during his childhood ring true, but he also seems nostalgic for the 'good old days' when those fights were fistfights and not the fights of youths armed with guns. This nostalgia warps the latter part of the book, where Canada describes the family center he runs, and his efforts to create "peacemakers" there who could go out into the neighborhood and help diffuse fights through personal charisma; Canada's descriptions of the charismatic youths of his own childhood always emphasize that those boys were skilled fighters. Ultimately, it seems unclear how Canada thinks a modern teenager can become respected, because he focuses so much on the different era of his own youth, and Canada never considers what a 'pecking order' might look like if it did not have to include some element of violence, though he also never outright states any belief in the boys-will-be-boys, children-must-fight idea, either. Elements of the book are persuasive, including Canada's insistence that community organizations must involve all members of the community, and be open late, in order to be successful. I would have liked to have read a comparison by Canada of his own adolescence with a single clear modern one, and to have seen greater elaboration on which elements of his program were successful, and why. Also, the book was published in 1995, and has an emphasis on gun control that seems hysterical at times; an updated version might read differently....more
**spoiler alert** I hated this book. It was "compelling" in the sense that I felt a compulsion to read it, because I had to know what was going to hap**spoiler alert** I hated this book. It was "compelling" in the sense that I felt a compulsion to read it, because I had to know what was going to happen. But the main character was a jerk. Throughout the whole book, she made incredibly stupid choices. She was proud of her drug-dealing father. She turned on her mother and sisters once they lost their house to seizure by the FBI. She blew all of her money, lied, cheated, stole, etc. She was just... a jerk.
The author argues, in her "Reader's Guide" at the end, that Winter is realistic based on women in jail, and I do believe that's true. But I'm assuming that she wrote the book to offer Winter as a negative example. And if you have a few braincells to rub together, she is. But I can imagine a lot of high school students getting to the end of the book (when Winter FINALLY sees some consequences) and reacting as if Winter's arrest is something she could have avoided, as if she'd chosen a *mostly* fabulous lifestyle, but then made a mistake. Of course, if a reader doesn't make it to the end, Winter's life doesn't even look bad, to a shallow person: she has fresh, expensive clothes, and looks attractive; she is held in high esteem by many people; she manages to make money even while she's in a teenage group home, mostly by selling stolen goods. I think that's my real problem with the book: the author doesn't make it obvious enough that Winter is dumb, because Winter is the narrator. The tone is off somehow.
Plus, who wants to read 430 pages about a dumb person?...more
**spoiler alert** I came across “James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing” while looking for other fanfiction. Lippert’s website threw me off rig**spoiler alert** I came across “James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing” while looking for other fanfiction. Lippert’s website threw me off right away, on two different points. First of all, he asserts that when he sat down to write his Potter fanfiction, he had never heard of the term “fanfiction.” I doubt that anyone with much experience of the Internet, even the Internet of three years ago, could imagine that they were ‘alone’ in anything, including the obviously huge Harry Potter fandom. Regardless, once he *had* written his fanfiction, the idea that he didn’t take the time to look for more of it on the Internet before making his website and putting out his novel is also fairly ridiculous, and leads one to believe that Lippert constructed the website and faux-naïveté to gain attention. Lippert will certainly always protest that this is untrue, and as it likely impossible to ‘prove’ his intentions either way, I’ll set this argument aside. To put it simply, Lippert published a piece of fanfiction from outside of the fanfiction community, and whether that is a positive, negative or neutral attribute is for the reader to decide.
The second issue that disturbed me is the dismissive attitude that Lippert takes toward a certain section of his readers, whom he dubs the “Canon Police.” He admits to some faults, then claims “I was usually glad for the notes of correction, although I was dismayed at the ones that were accompanied by the verbal equivalent of Howlers about my abysmal writing, occasionally adding that I had ‘ruined Harry Potter.’” Frankly, if you were glad for the notes of correction, you wouldn’t complain about the readers who offered them. The downside to Lippert having come from outside of the fanfiction community is either, politely, that he had no beta reader to help him fix these errors, or, rudely, that he had no idea anyone would bother to criticize him and couldn’t handle it when someone did. For me, it is a personal pet peeve when any author criticizes his or her readers. In a professional author, it is as disgusting as criticizing one’s customers, and ensures that they won’t come back for another product. In a fanfiction author, it’s just petty. Furthermore, when writing fanfiction, an author has to deal with the fact that he or she is playing in someone else’s sandbox. No pooping, no throwing sand, and no smashing the castles that the owner of the sandbox has built. Fans of a work who are seeking out fanfiction to read are bound to be the most devoted type of fans, the ones who care deeply about the characters, and who are hurt to see their conception of the characters misrepresented. This is why people get so crazy about their “OTPs,” and why Potter fans will find various problems with Lippert’s book.
Some of Lippert’s errors were annoying, and some failed basic logic tests. For example, he has Zane and James taking a Technomancy class (kind-of like magic crossed with Physics, and it is interesting at times, especially when Lippert considers how apparition occurs, but at other times, again, annoyingly wrong) with a boy called Murdock, who is old enough to apparate. Of course, that means that Murdock is seventeen. How often do 17-year-olds and 11-year-olds take classes together in the real world? Rarely, because as humans, one’s brain is at a very different developmental stage at 11 than it is at 17. School is divided into grades partly to help put in order the process of learning, to show the learner the steps that are taken to understand a concept. It’s hard to take Physics if you can’t do algebra, for example. Similarly, there is a stigma on students who “skip” or “fail” years of school. Lippert has forgotten these basic rules of humanity in several places, including other classes. His Gryffindors share bedrooms with students of various ages and seem to have many more cross-year friendships than do Rowling’s wizards (though I did often find it unbelievable when Harry didn’t know the name of an older student from his own house, like Cormac McLaggen). He also has students taking classes as first-year students that didn’t begin, in Harry’s time, until third year (Ralph takes Arithmancy, if I recall correctly).
Quidditch takes place on a school day in Lippet’s book, even though in the canon it’s always on a Saturday morning. Again, a little common sense might have averted this one: teenagers today play sports on weekday afternoons, but they don’t go to boarding schools where they’re locked up together all weekend anyway. Any good teacher knows that game days are the worst days to teach class, as all of the athletes are distracted (or worse, dismissed early) and the rest of the kids are nearly as wiggly and ready to leave. Even if Lippert forgot the canon, he ought to have considered the effect of scheduling a game on a weekday, and for the educational benefit of the imaginary students, shifted the game to the weekend.
Finally, Lippert makes a big hullaballoo about magical art in Technomancy class, asserting that imaginary characters can move into other pictures, including portraits of real people, but the subjects of portraits cannot move to any other pictures save other instances of their own portrait. This is a major plot point, as James eventually discovers that Snape has painted small, disguised portraits of himself into the backgrounds of paintings around the castle, so that he can observe from multiple viewpoints. Oh, and Snape doodled similar portraits into his old Potions book, even though that’s never mentioned in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” either. Lippert went to a bunch of trouble to have a teacher teach something that was plainly wrong. In at least two places in the canon, it is made clear that the subjects of portraits can travel to visit their portraits in other buildings, *and* can travel into the other pictures hung around them in a single building. It happens in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” when Everard, a former headmaster, goes to visit his other portrait in the Ministry of Magic, and says that, while in the Ministry of Magic, he “ran along to Elfrida Cragg’s portrait to get a good view as they left.” It happens again in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” when Harry goes to Dumbledore’s office and uses the Penseive to see Snape’s thoughts. The office is changed because, “The portraits that hung all around the walls were empty. Not a single headmaster or headmistress remained to see him. All, it seemed, had flitted away, charging through the paintings that lined the castle so that they could have a clear view of what was going on.” (Please forgive any slight misquotations, as I have only the audiobooks to go on at the moment.) Had Lippert simply gone back to check what canon had to say on the matter of portraits, he would have found the two instances I mention, and wouldn’t have needed to go to the trouble of having Snape paint himself all over the castle, an action that seems highly out of character. Snape never shows artistic interests during any of the books. Furthermore, and this bit is more open to interpretation, I don’t think he would have *bothered* to do so during his lifetime. Either way, it simply wasn’t necessary: Lippert could have had Snape darting all over the castle in disguise on his own.
To what extent a reader is willing to set aside these incongruities in a piece of fanfiction is up to the individual reader. They bothered me quite a bit, but, then again, I listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks as background noise all the time, and have subsequently absorbed a lot of information into my subconscious (for example, I remembered those two instances of portrait-travel without looking them up, though I did have to check for the exact quotations). However, if a reader criticizes only the errors, he or she falls into Lippert’s trap of being “Canon Police,” and is thereby dismissed. Again, as I said, I think that canon errors are a legitimate issue, but having described them, I’ll set them aside and look at the book on its own merits.
“James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing” also struggles as a book on its own. There is, essentially, ‘too much’ going on, making each sub-plot seem less wholly relevant. There are a few different strands of events, which I feel fall into three categories. One category is just “the presence of Americans.” Lippert has three teachers and several students from the American school of “Alma Aleron” show up for “a year-long international magical summit.” Or, no good reason at all. And one of the teachers is Ben Franklyn. That one. But he spelled his name differently for the Muggles. On one hand, this argument could easily be dismissed by the anti-Canon-police as being too centered on Rowling’s conception of Hogwarts. Again, though, I think logic is against this as well. Students in college, or sometimes high school, do sometimes study abroad for a year. Teachers do, sometimes, go teach for a year in a different school. Even canon has students visiting in order to participate in the Triwizard Cup. The reason I struggled with the presence of Americans is that there wasn’t a unifying reason for them to be there. It did give Lippert a reason to add a “Technomancy” teacher, but otherwise, it wasn’t clear what the other teachers and students were really doing at Hogwarts. They felt incongruous.
The other two strands form the two different antagonistic forces faced by James. On the one hand, there are the “Progressive Element” students, who believe that Voldemort wasn’t evil, and that the Wizarding community is discriminating against Muggles by assuming that they can’t handle knowing about the existence of wizards. It’s an interesting conception, and certainly the idea of arguing over historical interpretation has its appeal. At the same time, there are forces working to recall Merlinus Ambrosius, the legendary “Merlin” of wizard exclamations and human mythology. In order to recall Merlin, one must gather his three relics and put them in a specific place during a specific astronomical event. In the book, this is connected to the Progressive Element, as those attempting to recall Merlin are Progressives who want Merlin to lead their revelations to the Muggle world. However, the two antagonistic strands fight against each other rather than being complementary, and each has a sort-of separate climax. The Progressive Element succeeds in leading a Muggle newscaster into Hogwarts, and the Merlin-recalling Progressive Element succeeds in recalling Merlin. Each event is more than enough climax for one book, but Lippert crams both into his story, diminishing the importance of each. The way that the Hogwarts staff deals with the Muggle newscaster is charming, but it didn’t require Merlin’s participation. Similarly, Merlin is a somewhat interesting character, obviously a Dumbledore analog, but with enough differences to make him potentially intriguing. However, his presence wasn’t really necessary to pull off the Muggle distraction, and summoning him could have had other consequences than pulling off the Muggle distraction. In my opinion, a more condensed story with only one of these antagonistic strands would have been great. Indeed, Lippert could have focused on the Muggle newscaster, while still dropping hints about the recall of Merlin, and set himself up tidily for the next book. I’ll forgive Lippert for borrowing Merlin, as he does tangentially show up in the canon (Merlin’s pants!), but now that he’s stuffed both threads into one story, I’m not really sure where his next book can possibly go. The Harry Potter series is created with an end in mind: to defeat Voldemort. James Potter doesn’t have his own villain; the Progressive Element is shaping up to be interesting, but that’s a battle of the minds rather than a battle of men, so it isn’t clear how Lippert will drive the plot for the next books (he’s already written two more).
Rowling’s writing style was never the strong point of the Harry Potter books; she can be repetitive with her adjectives, for example. Lippert’s writing style doesn’t stand out particularly, which, for a children’s book, is an advantage. Eleven-year-olds are just barely beginning to understand “style,” so to have an overly unique one would not be beneficial. The few poems and songs he has included are awful, lacking an even meter (though I guess that the Gryffindor Quidditch song could be awful on purpose, as it was written by teenagers? A stretch). Most of the characters are relatively flat, but consistent (save for the canon characters, -would McGonagall really reduce her teaching load just to go on dates with a Muggle policeman?- but that’s a separate issue). Several moments in the book are rather funny, such as when Zane makes a James Bond joke, or when James encounters the Fat Lady for the first time, and doesn’t know the password.
Most of the times when I had difficulty relate to a combination of characterization and plot: the story has so many new characters, as well as most of the old ones, so it can be hard to remember details about any given person, or care. Ted seemed to be spending most of his time with a Hermione-ish brainy character, Petra, only to be spotted holding hands with Victoire, who lacked characteristics beyond “pretty” and “pretty snotty,” at the end of the book. Indeed, though Lippert makes the Draco-ish Slytherin villain a girl, Tabitha Corsica, he doesn’t spend much time at all considering the female characters. James’ “trio” includes Ralph and Zane (both Muggle-born, and Zane an American as well), and though they encounter some other girls (mainly Petra), there isn’t a sympathetic female student who gets more than a passing treatment. Granted, the Hermione of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” wasn’t a hugely likeable character, either, but at least we got to see lots of her. Connected to this issue, Lippert fails to tie up his loose ends. James gets advice from Snape’s portrait, but never goes back to see him again. Tabitha acts as a Progressive Element mouthpiece in a debate, and suffers an attempted broom-theft halfway through the book, but she never reappears to be angry that the Muggle newsman was thwarted, or to hassle James on the train (though she is much milder than Draco, I admit). Again, this lack of thoroughness comes from the fact that too much is going on; with one antagonistic plot at a time, readers might come to know the characters better.
Overall, “James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing” has one very serious thing going for it: it’s a novel-length fanfiction that is already complete. Though there are many fanfiction writers, and good ones, complete novel-length works are thin on the ground. I’d love to say that I disliked Lippert’s first work enough to not read his second and third, but that’s a lie. I didn’t like the first James Potter book, but I’ll probably read the rest simply because they’re there, and I love the world of Hogwarts enough to go back as often as possible, even if I’m only going to an erroneous imitation of the place. In that way, perhaps, Lippert can serve the community: by inspiring those who are capable of doing better to get off their butts and do it!...more
As adorable as Howl's Moving Castle. I mean, what book nerd doesn't dream of having a father who is a baker, excellent metabolism, and a magic uncle?As adorable as Howl's Moving Castle. I mean, what book nerd doesn't dream of having a father who is a baker, excellent metabolism, and a magic uncle? Um. Well that's what I dream of. I mean. Yeah....more
At times, this book made me a little uneasy the way "The Horse and his Boy" made me uneasy, though to a much lesser degree. Overall, though, it was cuAt times, this book made me a little uneasy the way "The Horse and his Boy" made me uneasy, though to a much lesser degree. Overall, though, it was cute and well-paced....more
I read this not-slim children's novel in a morning, curled up in bed. Though the movie is charming, this novel is much more moving. The characters areI read this not-slim children's novel in a morning, curled up in bed. Though the movie is charming, this novel is much more moving. The characters are more rounded; Howl is not just evil, Sophie not just crotchety, etc. Plus, the "mystery" of how Howl will defeat the witch makes much more sense, and is more pleasant to pick apart. For readers about 7th grade or above; comprehension is more difficult than decoding here, because many intimations are not blatantly spelled out....more
The fast-paced tale of how Jujube gets a reputation as a slut, then finds the courage to fight back. Not a long book, and at a great reading level forThe fast-paced tale of how Jujube gets a reputation as a slut, then finds the courage to fight back. Not a long book, and at a great reading level for middle-schoolers....more
A young boy's trial for murder, written as a screenplay (written by the boy) interspersed with pieces of the boy's journal. Somewhat easy to read becaA young boy's trial for murder, written as a screenplay (written by the boy) interspersed with pieces of the boy's journal. Somewhat easy to read because of the screenplay format (most of the story is people talking), though technical terms ("CU" for Close-Up, "MS" for "Medium Shot," "Cut" etc.) and legal jargon might require some explaining....more
Re-read in honor of the mice we keep catching in our classroom. Also, the book is only *just* better than the movie; the movie is a fairly faithful adRe-read in honor of the mice we keep catching in our classroom. Also, the book is only *just* better than the movie; the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation, with the exception of Jenner....more
A relatively quick-paced book. Some elements may be difficult to understand for less perceptive readers (Kaye's 'imaginary friends' aren't really explA relatively quick-paced book. Some elements may be difficult to understand for less perceptive readers (Kaye's 'imaginary friends' aren't really explained well initially)....more
Look, one of my students started reading it, so I had to read it, too. Oddly, I've fallen asleep during the movie at least three times, but the book wLook, one of my students started reading it, so I had to read it, too. Oddly, I've fallen asleep during the movie at least three times, but the book was pretty compelling... because I needed to find out which dude she picked. IT'S NOT MY FAULT, OKAY....more
I didn't like "Lord of the Flies" as a child. This is because no one taught me that "Lord of the Flies" was about how teenagers (and all other membersI didn't like "Lord of the Flies" as a child. This is because no one taught me that "Lord of the Flies" was about how teenagers (and all other members of humanity) are evil. I tried to teach that message to my students. They also didn't like the book. Alas, that teenagers cannot comprehend their own nature as well as we nasty adults can....more
This is the book for a student who *can* read but has trouble finding a book to stick with. At just over 400 pages, this will be a challenging read foThis is the book for a student who *can* read but has trouble finding a book to stick with. At just over 400 pages, this will be a challenging read for any reader with low stamina, though the vocabulary is accessible. Rife with swear words and violence, the author tells the story of his juvenile delinquency, up through his decision to go to college and escape Harlem. He paints a vivid picture of his confusion as a youngster, followed by the fear and eventual disillusionment that he experiences as he grows older. His stories are thrilling. He was shot when he was only thirteen, and began stealing when he was five; the book includes realistic but humorous descriptions of several ways to steal.
Unfortunately, many anecdotes seem to repeat over and over again: "I knew this guy" "We had a fight" "That junkie died..." The book would have been more compelling had it been more rigorously edited. Furthermore, the narrator becomes increasingly unreliable as more and more of his acquaintances seem to fawn over him more than speaking to him as an equal. The author's reasons for leaving Harlem are not illustrated for at least the first half of the book, which seems to glorify crime; a student who gives up on the book without finishing it (and, as I said, it is long and prone to being abandoned) will miss the main lesson it imparts.
Please be aware that a commercial audiobook is not available, though Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic has a downloadable version....more