The Burning Sky

Just before the start of Summer Half, in April 1883, a very minor event took place at Eton College, that venerable and illustrious English public school for boys.

Stories don’t have to be original to be entertaining. Unlikely hero? Absolutely beautiful, but cold-hearted-because-of-plot-point prince? Cruel authorities? Cross dressing for safety? Pompous names? Now I come to think of it..where’s the adorable pet/companion animal in this story?

Iolanthe has been warned by her guardian to not do certain things. With her listening to him, there wouldn’t be a story, and suddenly Iolanthe turns out to be a threat and a treasure to the powers that be. Good thing there’s a handsome prince that won’t let them get her. Instead, she should stay close to him, hidden away on Eton.

Emotions, hormones, friendships and a book that’s a gate way, a training room and a virtual reality of royal history all make sure that there’s nary a dull moment. Is the will-they-won’t-they sappy? Yes. Does Thomas go off on a much too long description of all the beautiful people around? Definitely. But sometimes someone wants a story you can race through without feeling like you have missed out on details, plot and information. I’m even interested in the other two books (of course this is part of a series), even though I wouldn’t know what they could be about. Sacrifice? More angry kisses? Good thing the trilogy is already completely published.

The Burning Sky, Sherry Thomas, HarperCollins 2013

Smoke

‘Thomas, Thomas! Wake up!’

Well, Dan Vyleta got the Victorian-feel of it down pat. Several times I paged back to the front to check the year of first publication.

This could be viewed as a compliment, but as I expected something else going in, it took me a long time to adapt. Smoke is as straight-edged as its characters, afraid of anything that could be viewed as sin or a wrong emotion, any form of entertainment that could ‘evoke’ something.

This element makes the novel dystopian, a strict society in which something or someone will give sooner than later. Not just that, but on top of the societal mystery, there’s a mysterious group that’s kind of powerful, but not powerful enough to have a clear enough message. Or maybe the smoke just got in between.

Even when adventure is added, the feeling doesn’t get very urgent. Power hungry people want to keep things the way they are, maybe some light sins aren’t that horrible, okay, okay. It could have been a short novel, a foundation for a television series, but as a hefty book there’s just not enough spark.

Smoke, Dan Vyleta, Weidenfeld&Nicholson 2016

Cherry

To be honest, the sex pact wasn’t always part of the plan.

Female teenagers decide that all of them are going to lose their virginity before graduation. Surely nothing can go wrong (and cringe worthy).

The thing is, it almost doesn’t. For once girls are shown as sexual beings as well, for once there’s focus and care about body positivism, self-development and orgasms. They’re allowed to be characters instead of clichés, and it’s easy to start caring for the group.

So what did go wrong? As usual, the b-word in between homosexuality and heterosexuality seems to be non-existent, and I hope not too many readers get their hopes up about the eagerness of teenage boys performing oral sex. Some chapters are saccharine sweet, but by then you have already been reeled in to support everyone.

It’s a good one for a glance behind the girl teen facade.

Cherry, Lindsey Rosin, Simon Pulse 2016

All You Never Wanted

She gets into the car and then she can’t drive it.

As if being a teenager isn’t hard enough already, both main characters in All You Never Wanted get to deal with disease. Alex as the carrier, Thea as the younger sister who can’t handle the big changes it brought to their lives.

It’s never explicitly mentioned what happened to Alex. Is it anorexia, bulimia, something physical over mental? No matter what, it’s crippling. Alex can’t move, can’t breathe, can’t live. While Thea needs bigger and stranger stories to flee in, to be someone besides the sister of the sick, strange girl.

Each share their point of view, without any resolution or relief. The only way this story might leave you with some kind of good feeling is for the fact that you don’t have it as bad as them. It’s a slice of life to remind you that adolescence is more than love triangles and doubts about the future.

All You Never Wanted, Adele Griffin, Alfred A. Knopf 2012

Penelope

In the July before school started, Penelope Davis O’Shaunessy, an incoming Harvard freshman of average height and lank hair, filled out a survey about what type of roommate she was looking for.

Who recommended this to me? When? Where and how did I find it and felt like I absolutely had to read this? Yes, this is another one of the To Read list. And while I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t know if I would recommend it.

You see, everyone involved in this story is annoying, awkward, embarrassing, cloyingly sweet, a fool or all of the above at the same time. It was full of recognizable thoughts and situations, and it probably depends on the age and mindset of the reader to motherhen-ish cluck over these poor fools or grow incredibly frustrated by them. I swapped between both on quite a regular basis.

Penelope is a freshman, an asocial one with no clue about her place in the world, how social interaction and other people work. She tries, because her mother wants it and because she doesn’t understand how it can be so tasking if so many manage. But even when trying, she floats, she stumbles, she’s a wallflower of existence.

That makes the story weird and uncomfortable and sometimes really funny. Does Penelope need a kick in the ass, a hug, or both? Will she grow out of it or do adults like her exist? It’s like fairytale on humanity: these oddballs are here.

Penelope, Rebecca Harrington, Vintage Books 2012

 

Dansen op de vulkaan

84 min.

Met tienerliefdes, dansscènes en een dodelijke ziekte, kan Dansen Op De Vulkaan best als het Nederlandse antwoord op Step Up en The Fault In Our Stars gezien worden. Gelukkig heeft hoofdrolspeler Maarten (Nils Verkooijen) genoeg charisma om als kijker zijn bokkige tieneract toch te accepteren.

Dutch Film Works
Dutch Film Works

Maarten is een goede danser, leuke gast, met een normaal/redelijk normaal familieleven en hij is ziek. Terminaal, stofwisselingsziekte. Daar zijn pillen voor en energie om er tegen op te boksen, maar natuurlijk heeft een tiener daar niet echt tijd voor, noch zin in.

Naast Maarten is zijn schoolvriend, een korpsbal-buiten-het-korps met het hart op de juiste plaats, nog het leukste karakter. Love-interest, ouders en zus zijn helaas nogal tweedimensionaal, ook al is het duidelijk dat de volwassenen proberen te werken met wat ze hebben.

Maar – opgegroeid op Costa en zijn soortgelijken – was Dansen Op De Vulkaan een verademing, met een klein bonkend hartje en de belofte van Nils.

Dansen Op De Vulkaan, Dutch Film Works 2014, nu in de bioscoop

Monsters University

104 min.

De sequel die eigenlijk geen sequel is. Na Monsters Inc. in 2001 besloot Pixar te gaan voor een prequel. Hoe Mike en Sully vijanden, toekomstige ‘scarers’ en vrienden worden. In ongeveer die volgorde.

Pixar
Pixar

Het is leuk om de bekende karakters weer te zien en hoe twee jaar een verschil kan maken in animatie. De andere monsters zijn grappig, vreemd en knuffelbaar en de universiteit ziet er zo gaaf uit dat iedereen er wel heen zou willen. Er zijn leuke grapjes en slimme bedenksels.
Maar in tegenstelling tot Rise of the Guardians neemt Monsters University ruim de tijd. Tijd om een dramatische plot twist te onderstrepen, tijd om er weer een montage tussen te gooien. En omdat de scènes daar tussenin niet scherp, hilarisch of bizar genoeg zijn (op de eerste Scare Games scène na), wordt de film steeds logger.

Het einde en de boodschap van ‘Er is meer dan één weg naar je droom’ zorgt voor een redelijke afsluiting, maar tegen de tijd dat je daar aankomt, ben je mogelijk al moegestreden. De film is niet slecht, maar niet zo fel en sprankelend als de kleuren die er in voorkomen. Mensen die graag Mike en Sully nog eens willen zien, kunnen beter Monsters Inc. herkijken. Daar krijgen ze ook nog Boo bij.

Monsters University, Pixar 2013