Review: Only Ever Yours

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Only Ever Yours
by Louise O’Neill

★★★★★

2015 (originally published 2014) • 406 pages • Quercus

We didn’t discuss Elissa Sussman’s Stray in any great detail in my publishing program—after all, we weren’t supposed to know what the book was, just evaluate the excerpt we were given. (And definitely not start screeching its virtues to all comers. Uh, oops.) But one comment has always stuck in my craw. One of my fellow students, whose identity I will obscure to protect their innocence, wondered if feminists wouldn’t hate Stray, because it shows women in a negative light.

As a feminist who was loving it, I was aghast at the idea that feminists can only ever be satisfied with seeing women in a positive light: feminist dystopian fiction has a long and storied history. Speculative fiction’s most noble usage is to reflect our society back at us at slant angles so that we can see the truth (as the author sees it, anyway). I said my piece and we continued through the exercise.

Two years on, I shudder to think what that person would have made of Only Ever Yours, the darkest and grimmest satire I’ve come across in a long, long time. The misogynistic thinking that lies just beneath the surface of a lot of modern thinking about women is taken to its logical extreme, creating a truly horrific dystopia that is, as Ana at the Book Smugglers points out, composed entirely of misogyny. Only Ever Yours is inevitably compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s only The Handmaid’s Tale if women were reduced specifically to their sexual utility to men instead of “just” reduced to their reproductive capabilities.

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At The Movies: Masters of the Universe (1987)

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Masters of the Universe

★★★★☆

1987 • 106 minutes • Cannon Films

As a connoisseur of bad movies, I am also a connoisseur of bad movie podcasts. (I am, at some point, going to do a podcast roundup, now that I listen to even more of them. I just need to blast through one or two backlogs first.) The best and popular two are The Flop House and How Did This Get Made? I prefer The Flop House (sample episode: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Live!), due to its charming hosts, focus on studio movies, and some kind of East Coast allegiance. Or it could just be that blasting through their backlog got me through the first few months of my current day job. I look forward to every episode. But I do listen to its West Coast sibling/rival, How Did This Get Made? on occasion, if they cover a movie I’ve seen (sample episode: Xanadu, with a great riff on how it could possibly be as over budget as it was). I like it, but I haven’t ever been so excited for an episode that I went out and watched the film in question.

Until How Did This Get Made? covered Masters of the Universe with guest host Tatiana Maslany. Swoon. I’ve been meaning to watch Masters of the Universe since forever—because have you met me?—and this was just the swift kick in the rear I needed to finally sit down and watch it.

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Page to Screen: Sailor Moon S (1994-1995)

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Sailor Moon S
based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi

★★★★★

1994-1995 • 38 episodes • Toei Animation/Viz Media

Sailor Moon S had an odd journey to North America. You see, after the first two seasons of DiC’s dub performed so poorly in syndication, DiC just kind of dropped it. In fact, it kind of dropped it towards the end of Sailor Moon R, never finishing the season. But after Cartoon Network made Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon R a key part of Toonami, the show became more and more popular. DiC eventually bought and released the remaining episodes of Sailor Moon R, but it was Cloverway, the then American branch of the show’s production company Toei Animation, that produced the dubs of Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon Super S, which ran on Cartoon Network. Sailor Moon Sailor Stars was never picked up for North American distribution, largely because of that season’s gender trouble.

I tend to think of Sailor Moon as a very cohesive whole, like a lot of manga and anime franchises, so it’s a little jarring to realize just how it trickled into North America, where it had such a sizable impact. As much as I’m mildly playing at revisiting my childhood by watching Sailor Moon at god awful in the morning while I get ready for work, I’m experiencing Sailor Moon in a way most English-speaking fans did not; I mean, I’ll actually get to watch an official subtitled version of Sailor Moon Sailor Stars.

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Review: Ms. Marvel — No Normal (Vol. 1)

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Ms. Marvel: No Normal
G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jacob Wyatt

★★★★½

2014 • 120 pages • Marvel

I have a Ms. Marvel poster in my kitchen.

I got it while making the comic book store/dead mall rounds while I was living in Denver. I wandered into a comic book store in a pretty dead strip mall, where I found both a Xena: Warrior Princess doll (which I did not buy, shame on me) and, on the freebies table, a Ms. Marvel poster to promote the then brand new title. I snatched it up and left it in the back of my car for weeks before I packed it up. It traveled with me all the way to New York, where it now graces my fridge.

Since then, Kamala Khan has blown up like few comic book characters. She’s gone from writing real person fanfic about the Avengers to being an Avenger. Both her and her self-titled series are seemingly adored by millions, if I can extrapolate out from my queer lady geek-centric Twitter feed. And seeing as she has been watching me eat breakfast for a year (shepherding me through my tragic abandonment of morning dairy), so I supposed it was time I finally sat down and read the first trade collection of her wildly successful title.

It will be no surprise to you that I adored Ms. Marvel: No Normal. Continue reading

Review: The Shadow Hero

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The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Sonny Liew
★★★★☆
2014 • 176 pages • First Second

On Monday, The Mary Sue republished Lilian-Ann Bonaparte’s Black Girl Nerds essay on the importance of racebent fanart, “For Black Girls who considered Esmerelda Black when Cinderella wasn’t enuf: The Importance of Race-Bending Fan-Art.” It is well worth a read—Bonaparte specifically fixes on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the greatest of the Disney Renaissance films—but Bonaparte makes herself very, very clear at the end of it: “Race-bending is radical, progressive and imperative for the WOC who are starved for more positive representation in media.”

Gene Luen Yang, I think, would undoubtedly agree with Bonaparte. Given his measured but angry response to the atrociously whitewashed Avatar: The Last Airbender film (could have had it all, rolling in the deep, etc.), it’s very tempting and, I think, rewarding to think of The Shadow Hero as Yang’s opportunity to avenge the scores of Asian characters who have been whitewashed over the years for the sake of appealing to a “wider” (which is a very odd way to spell “whiter”) audience.

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Page to Screen: Ella Enchanted (2004)

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Ella Enchanted
based on the novel by Gail Carson Levine

★★☆☆☆

2004 • 96 minutes • Buena Vista Pictures

I was two-thirds of the way through Ella Enchanted when I realized I’d never seen Ella Enchanted before. I mean, it seemed so obvious! In 2004, I was a preteen mourning the loss of The Lord of the Rings who had, in fact, actually read Ella Enchanted and liked it. I even distinctly remember reading about Cary Elwes playing the villain in this film and taking a moment to think about what he would even look like with darker hair. (I am always fascinated by what natural blondes look like with darker hair, for reasons presumably related to my lifelong adventures in hair color.)

And yet, when Heidi Klum turned up as the giantess Brumhilda, I realized that I was on deeply unfamiliar ground. I must have been stitching something together out of The Princess Diaries and A Knight’s Tale to heal over the mental wound this film inflicted on my generation of lady geeks. It’s a wound so deep that, when I proposed this film to my erstwhile Valkyries as a bad film to skewer, even those mighty mavens balked. Surely, though, with a decade between both me and the film and me and my culturally bloodthirsty preteen self, I could take a gentler and wider view on this much reviled film.

(Also Hannibal’s seeped into my bloodstream enough that I am compelled to seek out the filmography of both Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, so expect King Arthur to be covered in these pages soon enough. Moving on…)

Ella Enchanted has precious little to do with the novel it’s based on, besides its basic premise. A girl named Ella is given the “gift” of obedience by a fairy, she goes to a giant’s wedding, and she falls in love with a prince named Char(mont). Other than that, they largely have nothing to do with one another, which makes Ella Enchanted, essentially, Shrek for teenage girls.

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Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

danforthmiseducationofcameronpostThe Miseducation of Cameron Post
by Emily Danforth

★★★★½

2012 • 470 pages • Balzer + Bray

It’s been a long time since I read something as good as The Miseducation of Cameron Post. When I first realized this, I thought it couldn’t be true—2015’s been a pretty solid reading year so far, especially with my determination to read more lady authors than gentlemen authors this year. But it seems like the last books that I truly adored and found myself practically drowning in (Women in Clothes and Truly Wilde) were months ago, which, in nerd time, is practically an eternity. (See our attention spans regarding Fantastic Fours and Spider-Mans.) And both of those are nonfiction titles, which mean that I’ve been without a fictional character breathing in my ear with how weighty and real they seem for quite some time.

But The Miseducation of Cameron Post put that to rights. It’s a title I remember from my bookstore days, trying to give it the much-desired face out. I knew it centered on a young lesbian who ended up being sent to “pray the gay away” camp, but it’s… I hesitate to say so much more, because I think that every queer story is valuable. But some queer stories have become louder than others: the tragic lesbians of midcentury pulp novels whose affairs can only end in degayification or death (via, of course, a “properly” heterosexual man), white, cisgendered, genteel gay men who just want to settle down and raise a baby (just like you, straights!), and the coming out story.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming out story, in the sense that we are introduced to Cameron as a middle schooler as she and her best friend, Irene, start exploring a more romantic side to their relationship… days before Cameron’s parents die in a car accident, leaving her in the care of her grandmother and her born again Christian aunt, Rita. But once the teenage Cameron has a more serious relationship with Lindsey, an out and proud lesbian from Seattle whom she meets through competitive swimming, Cameron embraces being gay as much as a kid in Miles City, Montana, in the early nineties can. The rest of the novel, then, is about Cameron learning—learning about lesbian culture through missives of Lindsey and obsessive movie watching, learning about the adult world that lies beyond her, and learning about herself when she’s forced to attend God’s Promise. It’s about Cameron growing up.

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Review: Nimona

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Nimona
by Noelle Stevenson

★★★½☆

2015 (originally published 2012 to 2014) • 272 pages • HarperTeen

When last I reviewed a web comic turned graphic novel (Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half), I brooded upon the fact that blogs are living things while books are fixed. In that situation, I had the benefit of having followed Hyperbole and a Half for quite some time beforehand. I had experience with it as both a web comic and a graphic novel.

Not so in the case of Nimona, Noelle Stevenson’s senior thesis turned complete comic. I knew about it when it debuted, having, alongside with most of fandom, fallen in love with Stevenson’s witty and thoughtful sketches on her tumblr. By the time I decided that I did want to read the web comic, I knew it was going to be published by HarperCollins, so I decided to wait.

And I think I’m the poorer for it.

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At The Movies: Election (1999)

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Election

★★★★☆

1999 • 102 minutes • Paramount Pictures

If you haven’t read the Dissolve’s amazing “The 50 most daring film roles for women since Ripley” and added roughly a thousand new films to your movies to watch list, please do so now. (I don’t mind. It’s a holiday here in the States, so I am probably asleep or at a screening of Magic Mike XXL. AMERICA!) It’s a wonderfully thoughtful list, even if it is more West-of-center than I’d like. Genevieve Koski, the editor who pitched the list, talks more about it with her fellow editors on the most recent episode of the Dissolve Podcast, which I also highly recommend.

The Dissolve is one of the few places online where I will read the comments. Their commentariat is particularly thoughtful and even-handed, so I was surprised to see exclamation points being thrown around in the comments in regards to Election. Not in regards to Reese Witherspoon’s performance as Tracy Flick in the film, which I’ve only ever heard praise for, but in regards to how much sympathy you should feel for Jim McAllister, Matthew Broderick’s character, and how much antipathy you should feel for Tracy, especially in the context of a student-teacher “relationship” (read: statutory rape, always always always) between Tracy and Jim’s best friend Dave that precedes the film, gets Dave fired, and motivates, on a subconscious level, Jim to ruin her campaign for student council president.

Election, Alexander Payne’s adaptation of the 1998 Tom Perrotta novel, seems to revel in that question: all of its main characters are lying to themselves to some degree. Do we pity them or despite them for how they lie to themselves? Continue reading

Review: Monster High

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Monster High
by Lisi Harrison

★½☆☆☆

2011 (originally published 2005) • 272 pages • Poppy

Have I mentioned how much I love Monster High? Because I love Monster High. I have a passing but passionate interest in fashion dolls; I keep a lazy eye on collector grade Barbies, used to buy issues of Haute Doll, and I even went through a brief period in high school where I tried to save up six hundred dollars to buy my very own ball-jointed doll. When Monster High, a line of dolls meant to be the children of old-school horror monsters, debuted, I was delighted to find a technicolor parade of little monster girls in the toy department at Target whose flaws weren’t “being clumsy” but “actively trying not to suck anyone’s blood.”

What I like about Monster High, besides its nostalgic-to-me sugar horror/baby goth/alternative kid aesthetic and its commitment to truly, truly atrocious puns, is that it’s about teen girl friendship. (Surprise!) And not just in the vague sense that I recall from my own childhood Barbies. Monster High is not just a line of dolls—it’s a franchise, with music, a Flash animated web series, CGI-animated direct-to-DVD television specials, a movie musical that will supposedly come to pass, and, as we can see from today’s selection, a line of young adult books. I watch the web series and CGI specials from time to time, and I’m always impressed by how they emphasize the girls’ friendships over anything else. In one web series episode, Frankie (as in Frankie Stein) feels like she’s falling behind because she, unlike some of her friends, doesn’t have a boyfriend. She, naturally, creates a fake one in her dad’s lab and brings him to school, where her friends are quick to reassure her that she doesn’t need to date someone to fit in with them. (And then she chucks him in the garbage, which is when we discover she actually gave him sentience. Whoops.) Even the mean girl, Cleo de Nile, evolves over the course of the web series, from a stereotypical mean girl to someone who appreciates her friends and defends them.

So it’s incredibly infuriating that the first Monster High book (as of this writing, there have been two series: this one by Lisi Harrison and a younger-skewing Ghoulfriends series by Gitty Daneshvari) ends with two girls shaking hands over, essentially, a declaration of war over a boy. Barf.

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