Teen Book: The Future of Us

This hilarious, meaningful, romantic comedy is set in 1996, before Facebook was even invented. But teens Josh and Emma -- who have been neighbors and best friends almost their whole lives -- suddenly are able to log on, and presto, their Facebook pages show their lives 15 years in the future, in about 2011. This very clever sci-fi-ish idea makes for highly entertaining reading. In the course of the novel, Josh and Emma realize that decisions they are making now will affect their lives down the road (great life lesson!).

This mostly lighthearted and delightful story comes to us from Jay Asher, author of the bestselling Thirteen Reasons Why, and Carolyn Mackler, author of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, which was chosen a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Hooray for these two awesome authors! Together they have created a wonderful new book. It's a quick read in which I found myself caring about these two teens, their relationship, and their world -- and cheering when they logged off and spent more time in the non-Facebook universe.

Life In A Day, on DVD

Life In A Day is a documentary made up of footage submitted by YouTube users from around the globe. It depicts each user’s day as it happened on July 24, 2010. The independent film includes scenes selected from over 4,500 hours of footage in 80,000 submissions from 192 nations. Roughly 25% of the content is not from YouTube, but from cameras that were mailed to developing countries, as the filmmakers wanted it to be a representation of the whole world. Director Kevin Macdonald and producer Ridley Scott focused a single day, "because a day is the basic temporal building block of human life—wherever you are."

It is an amazing concept to use the giant online video-sharing community as a tool to capture a pool of co-directors to tell the story of human life. There are moments of happiness, sadness, and boredom as people are working, celebrating, mourning, and going about daily chores in a variety of cultures, from morning until evening. The film is a deeply moving story of a single day on earth that celebrates humanness.

Life In A Day received rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. In addition to being released on DVD and Blu-ray, the film is viewable in its entirety for free on its own YouTube channel.

Betrayal: History Repeats Itself

With the recent re-release of both the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as the three prequels on Blu-ray, interest in what has been called an "American epic space opera" has shot through the roof. Most people are familiar with the classic story of a band of rebels trying to overthrow an evil empire and bring peace back to the galaxy, but not many know much about the back stories of the characters or about the plethora of books, often referred to as the "expanded universe," that tell those stories.

Aaron Allston's Star Wars : Legacy Of The Force, Betrayal, book one in a series of nine, takes place 35 years after Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and follows some of the characters from the movies, as well as introducing some new faces. Han Solo and Princess Leia have married and are the parents of three children. Luke Skywalker has married Mara Jade (reformed smuggler and aid to Emperor Palpatine) and they have a son. Betrayal follows these characters as they deal with trouble within the Galactic Alliance, resistance from The Corellian system, and a rift in the Jedi Order. The series also contains a side plot involving the bounty hunter Boba Fett and his culture's (Mandalorian) role in the Galactic conflict.

With well-known characters and an exciting plot, Betrayal is a good read and an easy entrance for those looking to get into the huge world of the Star Wars expanded universe.

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

In her very clever debut novel The Princess Curse, author Merrie Haskell recasts the classic story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses and comes up with a highly entertaining mix of of fantasy, history, snappy dialogue, plants, classical references, and intrigue. Once begun, this novel is almost impossible to put down.

The Princess Curse stars 13-year-old Reveka, an herbalists' apprentice in a cursed castle in 15th century eastern Europe, who shows fierce intelligence, wit and grit as she battles what she sees as “the stupidest curse in existence! So what if the princesses are sleepy during the day, and their slippers are holey in the morning? It’s a curse of shoes and naps.” Breaking it, however, turns out to be quite a challenge, even for extraordinarily plucky Reveka. On her quest to win a huge reward, she meets a shadowy stranger, travels to the Underworld, and encounters a terrifying "zmeu," a dragon with a human form. The book is for readers about age 10 and up.

Happily for us around Ann Arbor, the author lives here and “works in a library with more than 7 million books, “ according to the book jacket, “and she finds this to be just about the right number.” She recently did a local reading at the U-M Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library. I hope she does more readings and writes more books.

When Popular Books Become Popular Movies

You’ve probably heard many folks say, “the book is always better.” I won’t speculate as to whether that is true or not, but there’s definitely chatter. Sometimes it’s quite fun to see how a book is translated into a movie. At times it’s pretty true to the book, while other times it seems like more of an adaptation with added elements for dramatic flare. Then there are the instances where the book gets butchered and we declare “what have they done?!” It’s quite common for Hollywood to take bestselling books and turn them into blockbusters. Two adaptations recently released on DVD include the love stories Water for Elephants and One Day.

Water for Elephants, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, is the story of a veterinary student and a circus performer who fall in love during the Great Depression while sharing an interest in an elephant. The film is not only a love story, but also the tale of the circus people surrounding the couple.

In One Day, Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) begin a friendship that spans two decades after spending one day together, July 15, 1988. We catch a glimpse into their lives every so often on the anniversary of that day. Over the course of ups and downs and many life changes, Em and Dex realize they were meant to be together.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Riggs' first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is a sci-fi/adventure/fantasy novel as weird and wonderful as the cover, on which a young girl is levitating. As the story begins, 16-year-old Jacob Portman is lonely, alienated, and bored in coastal Florida, unaware he is a “peculiar“ with an undiscovered gift. He adores Grandpa Abe, the only member of his family to have escaped the Nazis, and spends hours listening to Abe’s stories about having lived among weirdly gifted children on an island.

When Grandpa Abe is murdered, Jacob comes mentally unhinged, is sent to a psychiatrist, and travels with his dad to the island off Wales where his family hopes he will learn there is no basis for Abe’s crazy-sounding stories. Instead, Jacob’s home life -- in which he is the sole heir to a chain of SmartAid stores -- fades fast toward a spectacularly strange and infinitely dangerous new one. Jacob befriends other peculiars suspended in a time loop, while learning the truth about Abe’s past and his own remarkable future.

The novel is fast-paced, darkly strange, entertaining, and filled with compelling characters and exciting scenes. I enjoyed the bewitching black-and-white photographs throughout, although the story would have been great even without them. The novel is recommened for teens and young adults.

Dance With This

After finishing George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, the fifth installment in the Song of Fire and Ice saga, my only thought was “I wish I had the next book in my hands right now.” The Song of Fire and Ice series is nothing short of fantastic (and this is coming from a staunch non-fantasy reader). If you haven’t started reading the books yet, begin with A Game of Thrones and get to it.

I hadn't heard of George R.R. Martin until the HBO television series, “Game of Thrones”, made its debut. The show was incredible, but left me with a sense that the story had been altered. I read the first book to get a sense of what was missing; the writing drew me in until I finished all five volumes.

What makes this saga different from the typical fantasy novel is its initial portrayal of a civilization similar to our own. There are no supernatural elements to consider. Politics have become irreversibly complicated. The government is ineffectual at best. Religious factions are in competition to recruit followers. Magic is non-existent in daily life. But, in Martin’s world, the magic is slowly seeping back into society. Each kingdom is feeling the metaphysical shift, whether through dragons hatching or fires showing the future.

Gasland

Gasland, a film about Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize Winner and was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

In 2009, filmmaker Josh Fox learned that his home was on top of a rock formation containing natural gas. He was offered $100,000 to lease his land to undergo Halliburton’s controversial extraction process of hydraulic fracturing. He questioned the safety of fracking, and wanted to dig deeper, leading him an a cross-country, truth-seeking mission to answer some questions: Is the process safe? What are the effects on humans and the Earth? Fox learned fracking has caused everything from illness to flammable water. The film is an educational journey that is both disheartening and warm-hearted.

As part of AADL’s ongoing series of Films & Discussions, cosponsored by the University of Michigan Community Scholars Program, Gasland will be shown at the Downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Thursday, November 17, at 6 PM. A discussion led by the faculty and students of MCSP will follow the film. The event is recommended for grade nine to adult.

Embassytown

After years of sailing through space, travelling from port to port, Avice Benner Cho returns to her hometown, a tiny human colony on Arieka, a planet at the edge of the known universe in China Mieville's Embassytown. Sitting in the midst of a much larger alien city, Embassytown is where the humans live peacefully side by side with the Hosts. The city’s equilibrium is destroyed when the capitol sends a new Ambassador who can speak the impossible language of the Hosts despite having grown up on a different world. As human and Ariekene society crumbles, Avice races to prevent war between the two groups while searching for a cure for the new affliction crippling the Hosts.

Miéville is a master storyteller. The undercurrent of espionage running throughout the story leaves the reader feeling unsure who to trust. Miéville knows that words have power, and that is never truer than in Embassytown.

The Criterion Collection’s Kes

The Criterion Collection has released a newly restored digital transfer of the 1969 film Kes. Based on the book A Kestrel For A Knave, by Barry Hines, the film has been named by the British Film Institute as one of the ten best British films of the century.

Directed by Ken Loach, Kes centers around a working-class 15-year-old named Billy. He lives in South Yorkshire, is bullied at home and at school, and learns about falconry as he begins to train a wild kestrel. Viewers can’t help but root for the troubled Billy in this coming-of-age tale as he goes from triumph to heartbreak, while struggling with daily life in his small town. The film is a bit dark, but also tinged with a warmth and humor within the melancholy.

A few things that help make Criterion editions of classic and contemporary films a more complete movie experience are the supplemental disc features and the informational booklets that come with the films. Reading in depth about the film and viewing the bonus footage make them an even greater experience, and that is definitely the case with Kes. The film is available at AADL on DVDand Blu-ray.

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