Wednesday, February 19, 2014

At the Movies: Vampire Academy

My Rating: 5/5

This series is one of my favorites and after reading a lot of mixed reviews—from OMG LOVE IT to OMG HATE IT—I was really concerned when I went to watch it at the theater. I went with two of my best friends who had never read the books and as soon as we stepped out of the theater they both asked me about the books and how soon could they borrow them.
We. Loved. It.

What I loved~
Main actors selection. Zoey Deutch is totally Rose. There’s no doubt about it. Lucy Fry nailed Lissa Dragomir. Dominic Sherwood captured the true personality of Christian Ozera. And Danila Kozlovsky convinced me as Dimitri Belikov, even though I still think he's too old.

Rose and Dimitri. Can you see the chemistry?

What I liked~
Suporting actors selection. Cameron Monaghan was freaking adorable as Mason. Knowing what happens to him later makes it worse. Sarah Hyland as Natalie was the right dosage of nerdy and dorky, and the final transformation was pretty awesome.

Friendships. I really loved how they highlighted the dynamic between Rose and Lisa.

The minimum angst. Though it’s clear Rose is disappointed at Dimitri’s refusal to initiate anything between them, I was SO glad when she turned everything around and flipped him.

The humor. I only laughed out loud a couple of times from really good jokes, while the rest were just like haha. But that still didn't change the fact that I had a huge smile on my face every time Rose was speaking.

What I didn’t like~
Headmistress Kurova. My reaction to her character in the movie was basically ‘What. The. Hell.’ Like, why did they make her into an airhead, mean girl, childish woman? I do not remember her like that at all. Yeah, she was always against Rose, but she was never petty about it. In the movie, she is mean on purpose, just out of spite. It was ridiculous. And my critique is to the character, not to the actress because I know Olga Kurylenko is phenomenal. But they took what I remembered to be a pretty serious character and turned her into a silly joke.

Shut up. There’s a moment in one of the final scenes where Lissa basically tells Queen Tatiana to shut it, and it was so out of character both for Lissa to do it—because I don't remember her ever challenging authority like that—and for the queen to simply follow along.

Overall, I think the movie captured the essence of Vampire Academy. I won't be able to tell you how closely it follows the book because I read the series a couple of years ago and my mind is fuzzy on specifics. But it was funny, entertaining, and so much better than anything I expected! Now, can we please get Frostbite? I need me some Adrian Ivashkov on the big screen.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love in YA Fiction

One of the biggest elements in YA fiction is romance. I would guess that 98% of all YA fiction has a strong romantic element either as the main story or woven into the subplot. This is what the target audience (aka teenagers, mostly girls) craves. These are the years where teens first experience romance/love. It becomes a daily theme in their lives as they fall into their first crush, learn to deal with mood swings and tingly feelings as their hormones lay siege to their bodies, and battle the many questions in their heads as they come to terms with their sexuality. It makes sense that the market is flooded with YA romances.

However, a big portion of the YA audience has become tired of the romance plots and clichés that have cropped up over the past few years since the Twilight fever. Most of us understand that we are reading about fake romances and that love is not as simple as the right person appearing and living happily ever after. The problem is the romances being written now are even more fictitious than fiction, too unbelievable.

Now, I read and write YA, and there is nothing that I love more than a good romance story. So, I’m not saying the romance in YA needs to be toned down and all the fun sucked out of it. But I do think authors need to think closely of what they are doing, how they are crafting those fictional relationships, and aim to give readers a more realistic and complex view of what romance/love is.

Enough with the insta-love.

Enough with the falling in love because he or she is just so beautiful and kind.

Enough with love triangles in which the girl always picks the first guy anyways.

Let’s aim for diversity in romance, for couples that have to fight against prejudice, for couples that will fight until their last breath to make the other happy but know when it’s  time to let go. Let’s aim for opening minds to new ideas, for couples that screw up yet have the sense to work through their problems, for couples that don’t fall in love at first sight. Some might say, these concepts are too much to present to teens, but when if not now will they learn about their options in love?

Below are some of my favorite couples of YA fiction.

Adrian Ivashkov and Sydney Sage
Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

As an alchemist, Sydney has been taught to fear and hate vampires, but as she befriends a group of them, she starts to put prejudices aside even if it means defying her family. She opens up herself to new possibilities, but this change doesn’t happen over the course of one book. It begins in the series Vampire Academy and then continues onto Bloodlines. It’s not until book three that Sydney allows herself to love Adrian.

Adrian’s change is even more impressive. He starts off as a smoker, drinker, womanizer vampire with no desire to do anything in life. Everyone who meets him lets his lifestyle slide because ‘he is Adrian.’ It’s not until he meets Sydney that he begins to care about his life, because she actually cares about what he does and doesn’t take any crap excuses from him. And she cares about him not because she’s in love, but because she’s a genuinely nice girl who would like to see him succeed.

Their relationship actually starts off horribly, with Sydney not trusting him and Adrian doing anything he wanted without care of the consequences. Yet, as outside problems push them into constant interactions, they learn to work together and count on each other. It takes about three books for all of this to happen and even then, their problems are just starting.

But when I’m around you, I want to be better because…well, because it feels right. Because I  want to. You make me want to become something greater than myself. I want to excel. You inspire me in every act, every word, every glance. I look at you and you’re like…like light made into flesh.   ~Adrian (The Golden Lily)

You and I just have to overcome hundreds of years’ worth of deeply ingrained prejudice and taboo between our two races. Easy.   ~Adrian (The Indigo Spell)

Tessa Gray, Will Herondale, and Jem Carstairs

I see these three as one of the most controversial couples in YA. The dynamic between them is something I want to go back again and again to study, because it is complex and feels very much real. This is probably one of only love triangles I have no problems with: Tessa and Will, Tessa and Jem, Will and Jem.

One of the things that makes the triangle so unique is that even when Tessa makes her choice and picks Will, she never stops loving Jem. And Will is quite alright with that. It’s a self-less love they share, where regardless of the choices they make, they still want each other to be happy no matter what. There is no petty fighting over each other, no two boys competing…well, there is, but it’s all in good nature. I’m totally failing here at explaining how these three work, but it’s definitely worth a closer look.

Whatever you are physically...male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy--all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside. (Clockwork Angel)

“Our souls are knit. We are one person, James.” ~Jem to Will (Clockwork Prince)

All of these couples are teens and they behave as teens; they have urges, desires, and a hard time controlling them, but they’re smart about the choices they make. Or not. And if they aren’t smart, then they find a way to fixing said problems. My point is romances in YA don’t need to be super fairy-tale-like unbelievable happily ever afters. They can be gritty, troublesome, sad, heart wrenching, and unfair, because that is reality. Love is messy, don’t sugar coat it, not even in YA.

Other YA romance favorites:
The Archers of Avalon by Chelsea Fine
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Perfect Chemistry by Simon Ekeles
Lola and The Boy Next Door by Stephenie Perkins

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

At The Movies (Home Edition): The Hunger Games - Catching Fire

Movie: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks 
My rating: 4/5

What I loved~
Peeta. The storyline of this movie certainly highlights Peeta's character, how sweet and caring he is, yet also not afraid to stand courageous. He's still the poor love sick puppy following after Katniss, but at least now he defends himself.

Katniss. I'm not a fan of her at all--books or movie--but I really liked the emotion Lawrence puts into her. When she was begging Haymitch to make sure to save Peeta foremost, I totally believed it. I could feel her panic. However, not all the emotions were believable (see What I didn't like~)

Effie. She is as fabulous as ever. Banks certainly owns the role. Two of my favorite lines from this movie were when she says to Peeta "A T T I T U D E" and then inside the presidential house, she comments "And the library, all mahogany" and smiles. I just burst out laughing because they carried on with the joke. Maybe in the third movie she can club someone with a mahogany chair leg or something. Anyways, Effie is plenty of fun, but then she almost made me cry when she was giving the tokens to her team.

The allies: Let me start with my favorites, Finnick and Mags. Fin was as sassy or sassier than the books and I completely loved him for it. Mags was just a darling, and I can't believe she actually hanged on to Finnick for some of the scenes (I mean the actual actress who plays Mags, not the girl double). Finnick screaming for Mags in the fog cracked my heart clean in two </3 My second favorite was Johanna. The girl is fierce, and she has no fucks to give to anyone at any time.

What I liked~
The Capitol people:  I like that they took the time to include Flavius and Octavia. They certainly play a bigger role in the books, and I had missed them during the first movie. Also, Caesar and his laugh. HA HA HA  

Gale scenes. Whoever decided weave in those Gale scenes in between the tour is a genius. It's not part of the books at all, but it works perfect as character development for him since he plays a bigger role in the last book/movie.

The Arena. The lightning, the fog, the jabberjays, the tidal wave, the spinning clock, and breaking the shield. Amazing.

The ending. I do not remember the exact book ending but god damn was that a good plot twist or what.

What I didn't like~
The marriage and fake pregnancy subplot threw me off because I didn't remember it from the books, but I guess it added to the tension and the drama.

Katniss and Finnick. They made it seem as if they knew each other from before, so that first meeting felt really awkward in the dialogue with them throwing barbs at each other as if they had a previous rivalry.

This scene...
Peeta: Nodoby needs me.
Katniss: I do. I need you.
Me: With that enthusiasm I'd say you're a LIAR!