Oh, childhood, Roald Dahl takes me right back. I will always love Roald Dahl's work, because of how much these books meant to me as a kid, not that th...moreOh, childhood, Roald Dahl takes me right back. I will always love Roald Dahl's work, because of how much these books meant to me as a kid, not that they're not fun now, of course, but the experience really is not quite the same. Unlike with a lot of my childhood reads, dimmed to hazy memories, I have a strong recollection of my first time reading James and the Giant Peach. Much as I loved Roald Dahl (personal favorites being the BFG, The Witches, Boy, and Matilda), I dreaded reading this book, popular as it was. In my younger years, completely different from now, I was a picky reader, wandering shelves, unsure what to read. Thus when an author tickled my fancy, I embarked on all of their books that I could get my hands on. As such, eventually the time came when I had to cave and read James and the Giant Peach.
"But Christina," you might ask, "why did you not want to read this children's classic, much beloved by many you knew and by one of your favorite authors?" Well, my dear friends, the answer is simple. All my life, I have had a phobia of just about every kind of bug. My childhood self read that synopsis and looked at that cover and thought whatever the childhood equivalent of OH HELL TO THE NO was, which, I suppose, would be something in the vein of YOU CAN'T MAKE ME. Though precisely who would be trying to force me I have no idea, as my parents let me choose my own reading material.
To try to keep what has already morphed into a rather long story from becoming a tome of giant peach proportions, I caved and read it, and, as ever, Roald Dahl charmed me utterly, perhaps more than usual because he won me over in spite of my stubborn, childish desire NOT to like the book. Ever since then, I've remembered James and the Giant Peach as a favorite. Rereading a book that meant so much to you as a tiny tot is always a treacherous prospect, because, sometimes, you discover that the book that so impacted you has all of the wit and charm of Mr. Collins.
Of course, with Roald Dahl, you're pretty safe. In my case, I found that I could not enjoy this one nearly so much as an adult, but that I could still bask in the glow of Roald Dahl's boundless imagination. Seriously, that man was a freaking international treasure. How in the world did he come up with that? How did that brainstorming session go? "Mmm, this peach is delicious. Rather large. I wish I could live in a peach with my insect and arachnid friends..." The whole story runs with the absurd, making an art of it. This book would be a perfect transition to chapter books for kids who best love Dr. Seuss' wordplay and silliness.
As an adult, I just found myself unable to lose myself in the magic of the tale the way I did as a child. I kept trying to impose logic where there was never meant to be any. Admittedly, some of the absurdities, like James' parents having been eaten by an escaped rhinoceros from the zoo, are quite humorous. Others, such as how the giant peach came into existence or the fact that sea gulls carried that peach across the Atlantic Ocean without stopping, my grown up brain could not just accept.
The fact that Dahl wrote in an earlier time is very apparent in the peach's origin. James is just sitting around outside moping, when this weird man approaches him and offers him a bunch of squirmy little bright green things. He tells James to eat them so that something magical can happen to him. In the modern world, if a stranger gives you something weird like that, you better get to running and hollering your fool head off. Thankfully, James is a klutz and drops all of the green things, thus saving us from finding out what would have happened to him.
Making the main characters James and a bunch of bugs now capable of rational thought was a clever way of allowing the child to shine. James, while exceedingly young, gets to be the problem solver, because, little life experience as he possesses, he knows more about the world than the insects do, aside from some biology lessons.
Something that I entirely did not recall about this book was how much poetry Dahl wove into the story. Every few chapters, someone sings a song or uses a poem to express themselves. The songs made sense to me, but exposition as poetry did not, though I'm sure as a kid it's the best. At the end, James addresses all of the mucky mucks in America, all freaking out because the peach just landed King Kong style on the top of the Empire State Building, and calms them by introducing his friends in a poem. Sadly, this may be more efficient and logical than how governments actually function. Children will delight in these, I have no doubt, but I'm very picky about poetry.
In all, James and the Giant Peach certainly did not impress me as much now, and I suspect that, for me at least, it's not his best. Still, he has imagination and humor like no other, and I imagine I will revisit this one again someday.(less)
On the surface, Princess Academy seems a silly tale, a story of a Prince choosing a bride, an obvious...moreReview originally posted on A Reader of Fictions.
On the surface, Princess Academy seems a silly tale, a story of a Prince choosing a bride, an obvious read-a-like for Kiera Cass' The Selection. Of course, that is the crux of the story: the prince of Danland is to choose his bride from among the twenty girls of the proper age in Mount Eskel, a small territory town full of quarriers. The girls are required to spend a year in training for the Prince's coming. However, Princess Academy is so much more than that, and you would be a fool to pass it by because of that expectation.
The covers given to Shannon Hale's books market to middle grade readers, which I think is a shame. While middle graders could certainly read this book and enjoy it, so too can teens and adults. There is nothing childish about Hale's writing or the stories she tells. They are, however, free of swearing and sex, which might age them in the eyes of publishers. These books are not just for young folks.
When I saw Shannon Hale in person, she spoke to her motivations in becoming a writer for young people. She talked about how much reading meant to her as a child, and how she loved the stories of journeys. She compared that to all of the literary classics she was made to read in college, beautifully composed, but lacking in plot and story. As an author, she aims to compose books that do both, that can be both quality literature and entirely fun to read, told in a classic story arc. To my mind, she succeeds beautifully.
One of the largest themes of Princess Academy is that of class. Those in Mount Eskel live far from the rest of Danland. They have their own customs and interests. Their sole source of income is from the mining of linder, the best building stone in the land. Only in Mount Eskel can linder be found, and those that live there build their lives around it. They even have their own form of speech for use within the quarry, which is so loud normal conversation cannot be used. Quarry-speech constitutes the only truly fantastical element of Princess Academy. This ability feels magical and wondrous, and I commend Shannon for devising it.
Despite their unique skills, those in Mount Eskel are looked down upon by the lowlanders, the traders that come through town. Seen as stupid blue collar workers, the mountain people get no respect. As such, they have just as little affection for the lowlanders, viewing them solely as hateful people out to mess with hardworking citizens. These tensions can be felt in any society, the gap between the wealthy and the poor.
In the Princess Academy, the possible princesses get an opportunity no Mount Eskel person has ever had before: the chance to obtain a traditional education. In Mount Eskel, the learning always ran to the mining of Linder, and other skills necessary to survive on the mountain. No one in the town knew how to read or much of anything about the history of their country. Princess Academy points to the value in book learning and of language, but also indicates the power and beauty of the work of the miners. Both are important, and learning can improve anyone and any profession.
Miri, our heroine, is a tiny girl, not strong enough to mine linder, who does not really fit in. Perhaps the most important theme of the book is about realizing one's own strengths. While Miri may have no physical strength, her extraordinary cleverness helps her and others through life. Even that, though, might not be her largest contribution. Miri has a wonderful attitude and the ability to make others laugh. She excels in finding common ground with others, in creating friendships. This makes her such a wonderful, touching heroine.
The other girls, too, have real personalities. Unlike The Selection, in which only a couple of girls receive much notice, Shannon manages in this short book, to make sure that we have a good sense for quite a few of the girls. She gives even the most annoying ones a real sense of self, and attributes them with motivations for acting the way they do. In fact, even the evil school marm, who reminds me quite a bit of Umbridge in her disdain for the students and draconian punishments, is not simply a figure of evil. Shannon develops fascinating, lovable, flawed characters.
The romance, which I just have to comment on, is so well done. Shannon does not go for the easiest and most obvious routes. Her books always make me feel and give me butterflies of happiness when the couples finally get together. She manages to make me swoon without even writing in a kissing scene. This, my friends, is true skill.
This was my second read through Princess Academy and I love it every bit as much as I did on my first time through. Shannon is one of my favorite authors for a reason.(less)
ara Crewe is a child gifted with a remarkable imagination, intelligence and a doting father. When her father dies, her intelligence is useful certainl...moreara Crewe is a child gifted with a remarkable imagination, intelligence and a doting father. When her father dies, her intelligence is useful certainly, but it is her imagination that really pulls her through the tough times. She wonders in the beginning of the book whether she is actually nice or not, because she has never experienced a hardship. I really loved that when hardship came, she struggled to maintain her princess demeanor. She got angry and wanted to respond spitefully to ill treatment, but made the conscious decision to rise above. This makes Sara feel like a real girl, not like some absurd Pollyanna.
I am always happy to find another book lover, and such is Sara Crewe. One of the most trying moments of the book for her in her battle to keep her temper is when her reading is interrupted: "Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment." Delightful.
There was one element of the story that is a bit...odd...from a modern perspective. That is that the Indian servant, Ram Dass, watches Sara while she is inside and even comes into the room while she is sleeping. His intentions are entirely noble and he is doing good. Still...it's hard not to be at least a wee bit creeped out by that these days.
Although a children's book, this classic loses nothing when read by an older audience. I highly recommend this to anyone who believes in magic! Also, if you haven't seen it, definitely check out the 1995 film version, because it manages to capture the magic of the book and even improve upon the story (in my opinion)!(less)
I loved this book almost from the very beginning. The heroine, Katsa, is one I can wholly understand and identify with. She is powerful, a much better...moreI loved this book almost from the very beginning. The heroine, Katsa, is one I can wholly understand and identify with. She is powerful, a much better fighter than anyone else in the book. She resists love and does not wish to start a traditional family. Nonetheless, she has sweet sides beneath her rough exterior. The characters are absolutely delightful, especially Katsa and Po. This book will join the ranks of the best teen literature, at least on my personal list. I recommend this to any lovers of teen literature or fantasy.(less)
I debated between 2 and 3 stars for this one, but rounded up for the sake of nostalgia. I used to LOVE this manga, so much so that I've actually read...moreI debated between 2 and 3 stars for this one, but rounded up for the sake of nostalgia. I used to LOVE this manga, so much so that I've actually read the thing four times now. It was never my favorite, but I had all these feels from it and I would turn to it to deal with my frustration that Takanashi's other series wasn't finished yet.
I mean, I still think it's okay, but it's got a lot of the typical problems. The protective guy who always gets his way and the girl who cries a lot. Plus, the premise, from my point of view, is stupid. Much of the drama of the series centers around the taboo of sibling love, only they're step-siblings and they met before they knew their parents were dating. They're not related by blood and they weren't raised as siblings, so, honestly, who gives a fuck? The heroine goes on and on about how they're doing something wrong and it's all so dramatic but give me a fucking break.
The other issue is that Takeru and Kayano basically have a perfect relationship unto themselves. They fall for each other really fast, and never have any relationship problems due to personality clashes. All of their problems are external, various people falling for one or the other and trying to pull them apart. Or family drama that attempts to separate them. *rolls eyes*
Still, for all that, Mitsuba Takanashi does a good job of making the hackneyed plot really readable, so that you can't resist flipping those pages even though you know it's not really that good.(less)