The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
With last Friday’s release of Maleficent, an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation of Giambattista Basile’s “Sole, Luna e Talia”, it might be tempting to think that we’ve hit a saturation point for fairy tale retellings. Tempting, but incorrect. I can’t speak for everybody else, of course, but I adore fairy tale retellings. It’s an extension of my love for the art of adaptation. When you’re retelling a fairy tale, the basic structure is there for you to follow or subvert, forcing you to dig in a little deeper. Adaptation, after all, is its own criticism—you have to decide what to discard, what to use, and what, to you, is the heart of the story.
Saturday Night Fever
based on “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn
In 1980, which was still practically the seventies, Paramount wanted to capitalize on the popularity and success of John Travolta. To do so, it started sending out double features to movie theaters featuring Grease and Saturday Night Fever—both rated PG.
Now, as every musical theater kid learns at some point in their development, Grease is a pretty good argument for the development of the PG-13 rating that was introduced with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But this is why people think of Saturday Night Fever, a beautiful, painful film, as fare appropriate for the kiddos. This film codified and perpetuated the late seventies and disco the same way Clueless codified and perpetuated the nineties. It’s easy to think of it as a kitschy disco time warp, especially when there’s a supposedly kid-friendly cut of it floating around in the great pop culture subconscious.
To All My Fans, With Love, from Sylvie by Ellen Conford
While the modern phenomenon that is young adult publishing coalesced into its current third stage evolution during the mid-aughts, there has always been fiction written for and about adolescents. (I’m avoiding the word teenager, since teenagers were invented in either the 1890s, if you follow Jon Savage, or the 1950s, if you follow Back to the Future.) With the sheer number of young adult books being published every year, however, it’s easy to for the young adult novels of the twenty-first century to bury the young adult novels of the twentieth century.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie Stiefvater first wandered across my field of vision when her novel Shiver began getting a lot of attention the same year I started book blogging. Five years ago, I was not, despite styling myself as such, as much as an omnivore as I am now. I was spending a lot of time “regaling” people with how Twilight descended into institutionalized werewolf pedophilia and viewing urban fantasy—especially urban fantasy romance—with deep, deep suspicion. So no matter how much good press Shiver got, I was determined not to engage.
Dune by Frank Herbert
read by Simon Vance and cast
The library at my high school didn’t have that much of a selection when it came to fiction—just three waist-high aisles. (This was not, as I briefly entertained, to cut down on canoodling; there were plenty of ceiling high shelves over on the nonfiction side.) But it was the only library I had constant access to until I was about sixteen, due to a family vendetta against the public library over a fine. (Not mine, obviously, but Madame McBride never forgets.) That was perfectly alright, since I wasn’t really reading much beyond occasionally inhaling a Jodi Picoult novel in a day, whatever was assigned for the school’s book club, and the occasional Heroes fanfic.
The Falconer by Elizabeth May
Whatever I read after The Devil Finds Work was going to be, at the very least, a step down in enthusiasm. That stunning work of criticism is a remarkably tough act to follow, unless the follow-up is perfect, sublime trash. The Falconer, a young adult novel I picked up completely on a whim a few months ago while trying to pretend my interest in Scotland was not due to the Dreamboys and their famous alums (shut up!), is neither. In fact, it is the opposite of both stunning and sublime trash: it is forgettable. And that is always the worst thing a novel can be.
Sparks by S. J. Adams
As longtime readers know, I am an eighties freak from way back—way back being the original run of I Love the Eighties on VH1 in the early aughts, not, you know, actually the eighties. (Hence finding myself heavily distracted by the musical Rock of Ages at the moment.) Nonetheless, I somehow managed to experience the totality of adolescence without having seen a single Molly Ringwald film. Realizing that is how I ended up watching The Breakfast Club while having a sleepover in the theater department in college.
“So,” my friend Molly asked. “What did you think?”
I frowned. “They’re all assholes.”
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
There are few sure bets in young adult fiction—this is the genre where I learned that book series can be cancelled, holy crow—but when the hugely successful The Hunger Games and Divergent series have it as a common setting, that’s as close as you can get. (Incidentally, these are both series too lazy to have a series title, which bugs me.) But I’ve noticed that young adult dystopias tend to be a little lighter on the worldbuilding. Since the focus is on the story and the characters, the dystopia can be drawn in broader strokes, leading to Divergent’s factions, which can be endlessly picked apart.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
When I was in high school, I believed that the purest thing in the world could be found in the third verse of Scissor Sisters’ “Paul McCartney.” When Jake Shears declares that “I’m just in love with your sound!” and hits “sound” so perfectly and satisfyingly, there is simply no room for something else in the world. It’s communication that includes words, obviously, but goes beyond it, managing to pull your heartbeat into its own beat and rearrange you.
The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
As ideologically mixed as I am on How To Be Gay, it’s nonetheless provided me with some fresh analytical lens. I knew what a subculture was, of course, but had never thought of it in context of its relationship to the culture at large. (It’s hard to take a step that far back to get a better vantage point.) A subculture requires a culture to be sub to. It can only be understood in the context of that grander culture, which it reacts, negatively or positively, to. Of course, this is getting complicated as the (American) monoculture continues to splinter, but the point remains.