Writer Interrupted: Young Classics

An excerpt from a response I did for a Uni YA writing course some time ago:

Do you have your own private classics? Name one. Why do you call it a classic? What do you think makes a children’s or adolescents’ classic?

Witches, Ghosts and Goblins, by Ruthanna Long, is an absolutely awesome picture book about a quest by the witch Miranda and two children to find her missing cat. The story is long and quite involved, with the team traipsing around a fantasy world filled with…well, witches, ghosts and goblins. The illustrations, by Paul Durand, are suitably bright and colourful and fascinated me as kid because of the detail (and the fact that certain things, like Miranda’s castle, looked different at the start of the book than it did at the end).

This story is wonderfully imaginative, from the witches’ technological city (where air traffic control and walkie talkies are used for take offs and landings), to the goblin mines, pirates and the giant’s beach. It was a book that stirred my imagination and, along with comics and adult books far beyond my age at the time, stimulated my love of creating, drawing and writing.

What makes a children’s or adolescents’ classic? I think the book needs to have a profound impact on the young person. Sure, there are plenty of books that can be considered classics, due to age or popularity, but I believe it’s the way books influence and promote creativity and imagination, that make them true classics. That’s the case for me, anyway.

Cheers

Steve 😊

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Mortal Engines. A movie review.

No spoilers!

Mortal Engines is enjoyable, with nice ideas, great design and big effects, but ultimately is overly reliant on cliched plot points.

London is a futuristic steampunk city on wheels that travels the countryside consuming smaller towns for resources. Tom (Robert Sheehan) is a Londoner historian who gets mixed up in an assassination attempt on bad guy Valentine (Hugo Weaving) by Hester (Hera Hilmar). Valentine is plotting bad stuff and it’s up to Tom and Hester to save the day, travelling across the post-apocalyptic countryside and finding friends and foes as they do.

Mortal Engines is based on the young adult book series by Phillip Reeve. The script is by Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens, the husband and wife team that brought us The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and while they stay true to some of the first book, they diverge significantly in other areas—probably more than most fans would like. A few story elements appear to have been dumbed-down and some overtly political subtext injected. There are a number of plot cliches we’ve seen before and they stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. This doesn’t benefit the movie.

Whilst I enjoyed most of Mortal Engines, what I liked the most was Weta Workshop’s amazing design work and the prolific use of real sets. There’s lots of lovely CGI on display, of course, which, aside from some poor compositing in two scenes, is of a high standard.

Mortal Engines is not the best adaption of a YA book I’ve seen (the Harry Potter and Hunger Games movies remain the gold standard), but it’s good looking and fun. Just ignore some of the ham-fisted cliches that pepper the plot.

Rating: C

Looking for Alaska. A book review.

I promised to review the last of John Green’s books left for me to read (ironically, his first). I finally finished Looking for Alaska, yesterday. You can find the other reviews at the links below this one.

Looking for Alaska, like many of John Green’s books, is a young adult book featuring a number of quirky high-school characters, a love story (unrequited love, in this case), a tragedy and a mystery. Telling you any more would ruin the story, and I want to steer clear of spoilers.

Looking for Alaska

Pudge is a socially-isolated boy who is sent to boarding school in Alabama, where he meets his short but smart roommate ‘the Colonel’, part-time rapper Takumi and the love of his life: sexy, enigmatic, adorable and frustratingly annoying Alaska Young. They get up to all sorts of antics that expand Pudge’s horizons and broaden his understanding of friendship and existence.

Green likes to write from life, and most of these characters appear to be based on himself and his school classmates (right down to Green’s love of famous last words). There are a number of glaring similarities to characters from his other books, and after reading every book he’s written in a short time frame, I find that they suffer from ‘too much of a good thing’ syndrome: while I loved the book overall, the characters were a little passé. Having said all that, if I’d read this book before his others, I might not have felt this way. The ‘mystery’ of the third act was also incredibly obvious and left me wondering how bright these supposedly smart kids actually were.

If you’re a John Green fan you’ll love Looking for Alaska. Or you’ll find it a bit too similar to his other works. Either way, I love Green’s writing and look forward to his next effort.

 

* For reviews of Green’s other books, click on The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down, An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of Katherines. A Book Review.

John Green has rapidly become one of my favourite authors. I’ve now read four* of his young adult (YA) novels, the latest being An Abundance of Katherines (AoK).

AoK is about Colin Singleton, a young prodigy who finds himself at loose ends after being dumped by his 19th girlfriend, all of whom have been called Katherine. His best and only friend, Hassan, a less than devout Muslim who likes nothing more than sitting around the house watching Judge Judy, suggests a road trip to cheer Colin up. An-Abundance-of-KatherinesThey arrive in a Tennessee town called Gutshot, where they meet local nerd turned popular girl Lindsey Lee Wells (with her Football hero boyfriend, Colin, or The Other Colin–TOC, as Hassan refers to him). After meeting Lindsey’s rich mother, who owns the local tampon string-making factory (the only business keeping the town alive), they gain employment conducting interviews with the town’s people for an oral history project. Colin is writing  a mathematical formula to accurately predict how long relationships will last, based on his nineteen dumpings. I won’t spoil any more of this clever and imaginative book. Aside from being a story about finding true love, AoK is also about finding and being your true self.

Green has a knack for writing interesting, humorous characters and snappy dialogue. Colin, with his genius IQ, quirky anagrams and stolid bookish ways, is no exception. Hassan is his slacker comic relief, constantly supporting Colin and putting him down at the same time. Lindsey (who you just know is perfect for Colin, no spoiler there) is smartly confined within herself, wrapped up in her handsome boyfriend and a façade of happiness.

AoK is one of Green’s funniest novels. Liberally sprinkled within are smart and amusing footnotes, which add to the experience. The math behind the relationship formula is by brilliant mathematician Daniel Bliss, and can be found in an appendix at the end of the book (the math is real).

I thoroughly recommend AoK to anyone who likes quirky, romantic novels. It’s Green’s shortest book, so you’ll finish it in no time. And be better for the experience.

* For reviews of some of Green’s other books, click on The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down

Two John Green Books. A review.

I recently read two John Green books, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down. For those of you who don’t know, Green is a top-selling writer of literate young adult (YA) novels with a flair for smart, sassy characters and quirky humour.

Paper Towns features straight-laced Quentin Jacobsen (Q), who has lived most of his teenaged life next door to the high spirited and unreachable wild child Margo Roth Spiegelman. When they were nine they discovered a dead body, and although they run in different social circles now, they share a bond over that event. Margo decides to let Q to be her driver on an amazing night of payback, then promptly disappears. Whilst her parents are unconcerned, Q and his friends follow a trail of deliberate clues (including a Walt Whitman poem) attempting to find out what happened to Margo.

Paper Towns is a fast-paced mystery and road trip that touches on the reality and unreality of suburban life, the facade of personality and the lengths people go to find their real selves.

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Turtles All The Way Down is Green’s latest novel. It features terminally anxious Aza and overwhelmingly exuberant Star Wars fan fic writer Daisy as two teens who decide to pursue a missing businessman on the run from police, in the hope of claiming the reward. Aza used to be friends with the businessman’s son, Davis, and reuniting with him ignites a love complicated by her anxiety issues.

Turtles All The Way Down is about friendship, loyalty, first love, the incredible difficulty of living with mental illness and coming to terms with profound loss.

Green’s books are always humorous, well written and paced. He’s a smart writer, utilising his precocious teen characters to tell love stories with deeper meanings than most average YA lit. Often (at least in the three novels I’ve read so far) his leads tend to be very similar—unusually smart, funny, quirky, well-read middle class teens with a significant issue and loving parent/s—but his stories are so engaging I can overlook it.

I love that Green’s books are short. I can knock them over quickly in between uni texts and other, more weighty tomes. He is not an ‘overwriter’ (yes, Stephen King—I love your writing but your books can drag at times) by any means.

I have another couple of Green’s books on order. I guess that makes me a fan.

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