Everything, Everything

I saw Everything, Everything last week in the cinema, because it didn’t release in the UK until August 18th. I had read and reviewed the book not long ago, and wasn’t a massive fan. Now that I’ve finally seen the film, does it hold up? Mild spoilers ahead!

The casting was good. Amandla Steinberg did a great job of portraying Madeline. Amandla was relatable, sympathetic and strong. I had a few problems with Nick Robinson’s Olly – he looked the part and acted the part, but they stripped his character of most things that made him unique – especially his active, fidgety, free-runner personality. The side characters were good – Ana de la Reguea portrayed Carla as I imagined: motherly, friendly and gentle. Madeline’s mother (portrayed by Anika Noni Rose) was probably my favourite portrayal – she was much more sympathetic and kind than she was in the book, which makes the ending so much more heartbreaking.

There were a few changes I disagreed with, however. Rosa became an actual character, as one of Madeline’s friends instead a character who was only mentioned. This would have been a great change – it would have made Madeline’s condition much sadder as they tried to focus on her only friend going off to college soon. It humanised Madeline, rather than making her that ‘princess in a glass castle’. But they didn’t. Rosa barely had any lines, or any larger role at all. I question why they even bothered. The other big change they made was taking away the detail that Madeline can only have specially-sealed, untouched books. In fact, it is Carla who gives her a copy of Flowers for Algernon. This makes the whole used-bookshop-wish-and-scene devoid of significance.

The overall aesthetic of the film was brilliant. The house was gorgeous, with everything pristine and white, touches of greenery and glass everywhere. I loved the block colours and the simplicity of Madeline’s clothing as the film progresses. However, the glass room that’s supposed to make Madeline feel like she’s outside was unimpressive. It had yellow walls as opposed to the tangible rock walls that Olly could climb. It had a boring blue sofa and no hint of that flowing water.

Some scenes felt displaced, as if they belonged in a different film. When Olly wrote messages with a sharpie on paper, it all felt too You Belong With Me. It wasn’t its own film, its own unique entity. Another scene was the strange Annie Hall-esque subtitled scene. It was silly, it took me right out of the film, it just didn’t work! However some scenes were totally unique to Everything, Everything, and there should have been more of those. These scenes were set in Madeline’s architecture models, set in her mind as she built them. Madeline and Olly’s texting conversation took place in the diner she’d built, complete with her astronaut. It was memorable, unique and quirky. I really loved those parts.

Overall it was an average teenage film. As per usual, with book adaptations it had that occasional unnecessary narration I wish I could have taken away. I wish they would just present things to the audience in conversation with other characters, or hint at it, we’re smarter than you give us credit for. I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t know if I’d watch it again. It was quite faithful to the book, so if you liked that, I imagine you’d enjoy. If you haven’t heard of it and you like teen dramas like TFIOS or If I Stay, this is definitely one for you.

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Book Recommendations

If you haven’t noticed, my borrowed book club has recently hit a wall. The next book I intended to read was Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere. I couldn’t get into it. I even tried to read it on the train, the place I’m most productive, and I found myself distracted. The words rolled past my eyes and didn’t register in my head. I apologise to the ever-present Katie, who lent me that book, because I can’t write more than this about it. Since I should get past this slump, I’m writing a post of recommendations. These are the books I would borrow to you.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

tkmb.jpgPerhaps an obvious choice, but this is my favourite book. I was twelve and I was awkward and I was in an English class with only one person I talked to. One day, the teacher looked at us and told us that we weren’t going to read the recommended book for our ability, instead she’d let us read a classic. Every word is still in her voice, and every word told me that I was capable.

My emotional attachment to this book isn’t what makes it great. It’s a classic that’s readable, real and emotional. It’s a refreshing break from Bronte, but falls into the same category. It’s a seasonal novel: every word pulls you into the childish nostalgia of muggy Maycomb summers. Its comments on racial injustice are pertinent as ever, and do not ignore America’s shameful history. Atticus Finch is a wonderful literary hero – he’s an understanding father, he’s accepting and he has strong morals.

Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife

A recurring theme in this post: I studied this collection of poems. As I had to know everything about fortysomething of her poems for an exam, Carol Ann Duffy was once my mortal enemy. However, we reached her World’s Wife poems, suddenly it was hard to deny her genius. Each poem is the voice of a woman behind her more famous male counterpart: Queen Kong, Mrs. Midas and Mrs. Lazarus. It’s a funny feminist triumph.

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Each character has a very distinctive voice, affected by the consequences of the man who defines her. Mrs. Midas sounds like she’s gossiping over brunch as she rambles about her difficult life, whilst Mrs. Darwin is short and smart. It’s so clever, it subverts the idea of history so well. It’s a very quick read, and her poems have so many different meanings that every reader gains something totally different from her writing. Borrow this book and tell me what you think it means, because I’m sure we’d have different things to say.

George Orwell’s 1984

This was required reading for my journalism course last year, and I regret not reading it sooner. In a world where the dystopian novel has been used too many times to count, where every trope is old by now, this novel takes it back to the basics. It has every dystopian trope – the forbidden love affair, the unsuspecting protagonist and of course the overbearing dictatorship. It’s less enjoyable because it’s been done so many times by now, and honestly the ending isn’t even that good.

The reason I would recommend this novel is for its pertinence. In January of 2017, following Kellyanne Conway’s use of the term “alternative facts”, 1984 flew off the shelves, selling out on Amazon. It is vital that we read this today, especially the essay at the end of the novel. Orwell creates a society who are controlled by language – the meanings of words are stripped and replaced with Newspeak. It’s something we need to understand in today’s world, because what a certain American President defines as fake news, is not what fake news is. He stops us from listening to each other. We can’t let a leader redefine the fundamental part of society – communication.

Let me know if you’ve read any, or if I’ve convinced you to borrow them! I would love to hear what you thought.

Borrowed Book Club – Everything, Everything

Borrowed Book Club started because my friends and I often pass books around to each other. I love to think about which of my friends my current book would suit, and I love that they sometimes think of me when they read a passage. Here is a review, exactly 250 words, about a book that was borrowed to me. Everything, Everything was given to be months ago by Katie, who should really have her books back by now.

I didn’t love this book. With glowing recommendations from more than one friend, I had very high expectations for Nicola Yoon’s first novel. Unfortunately (as with We Were Liars), the twist left me underwhelmed. I spent my time hoping that I hadn’t worked out the ending. This twist was a cop-out, an improbably hopeful ending that only happens in books. Perhaps we are supposed to figure it out before protagonist Maddy, even if so, it’s not effective. The twist is one for a tense thriller, not a melodramatic love story. This left me thinking that the love story may have been unnecessary. Another weak point is the plot’s reliance on the ‘sick girl’ trope. It’s overused, especially in YA, and I’m over it.

However, Everything, Everything does have its strengths. Where the plot may be lacking, the writing excels. The book is set out as a catalogue of Maddy’s thoughts – including simple yet beautiful illustrations and book reviews so short they rival my own. This form of writing feels original and prevents the creeping disinterest that comes with long chapters. Maddy is a fantastic character, and she’s rare – a genuinely believable YA heroine. It would be easy to read this in one sitting, but it took me some time to get through it. Perhaps I can only recommend when not to read this book: if at this moment someone you know is faced with a rare illness, the ending of this novel will give you no hope of their escape.

Borrowed Book Club: Carol

Borrowed Book Club started because my friends and I often pass books around to each other. I love to think about which of my friends my current book would suit, and I love that they sometimes think of me when they read a passage. Here is a review, exactly 250 words, about a book that was borrowed to me. Carol resides on Ffion’s artistically organised bookshelf. She is the Mulder to my Scully.

Carol is novel about falling in love. It’s almost impossible not to read it through a vintage lens, with its vignette burns and autumnal tones of brown and red. Told from the moment shop girl Therese sets her eyes upon Carol, an older woman with a daughter and a failing marriage. It’s cinematic, it’s beautiful, and it’s dramatic. Just like falling in love. Therese is irrational, endearingly obsessive and adorable. There is a part of the novel where she hopes that, as she and Carol drive through a tunnel, it will collapse on them and they’ll be together forever. This is a nonchalant thought, just one of many over-the-top passages that make Carol a little funny. It doesn’t feel like a typical, taboo story focused on anything forbidden. Therese and Carol love each other, this story is nothing more.

Most of the novel consists of a road trip, set in lonely 1950s America, where neither of these women should feel the way they do about each other. Despite all their obstacles – the time, Carol’s husband, and a certain twist near the end – this novel is praised for giving a queer couple a happy ending, something of which today’s literature and media seems incapable. Written in 1952 under a pseudonym by Patricia Highsmith, an author who is more commonly known for her psychological thrillers, Carol is as gripping as any thriller. Their romance is exciting and unprecedented, worthy of a 2015 Oscar-nominated film. And it passes the Bechdel test right away.

Borrowed Book Club: All The Bright Places

Borrowed Book Club started because my friends and I often pass books around to each other. I love to think about which of my friends my current book would suit, and I love that they sometimes think of me when they read a passage. Here is a review, exactly 250 words, about a book that was borrowed to me. All The Bright Places was presented to me by Lowri, who has endured every feeling I’ve ever had regarding a TV series or movie. This is her fault for letting me sit next to her in our high school science lessons.

All The Bright Places is often compared to The Fault in Our Stars – as is almost every sad YA novel out there. The difference with this book? It’s everything TFIOS should have been. It’s heartfelt, it’s less pretentious, and the focus is on friendship. The couple doesn’t meet and fall instantly in love, instead they support and sincerely understand each other. They are believable. Whereas Augustus Waters is a caricature, somehow wise beyond his years, Finch is genuinely mysterious. The pair are trapped in small town Indiana, but as they explore the surrounding area for a school project, they find that their sleepy town may be interesting after all. Read this book if you’re an adventurer at heart, but you need to open your eyes to what’s around you.

Jennifer Niven’s first YA novel comes with a warning: All The Bright Places deals with grief and bipolar disorder as central themes. I shared this book with a friend who thought that the love interest’s struggle only romanticises mental health issues. This is a complex argument. Everyone’s experience with mental illness is unique to them, where some will empathise, others will criticise. No one novel can get mental illness exactly right, and perhaps it is a device we use too often. However, Niven does not perpetuate the myth that love is a magic cure for mental illness and includes a short essay at the end of the book elaborating on bipolar disorder. She shows an understanding I find difficult to criticise.

Borrowed Book Club: We Were Liars

Borrowed Book Club started because my friends and I often pass books around to each other. I love to think about which of my friends my current book would suit, and I love that they sometimes think of me when they read a passage. Here is a review, exactly 250 words, about a book that was borrowed to me. This novel was given to me by Miriam, who once convinced me to eat a whole crème caramel without using my hands.

We Were Liars is a fairly good young adult novel. If you don’t work out the twist ending, the novel must be spectacular. I have friends who felt angry and cheated by the shocking twist at the end, and any book that prompts such a reaction must be impressive. However, YA is usually simple so many people will work out the twist early on – I figured it out on page thirty. This, however, does not spoil the book. I couldn’t put it down after working out the ending as I wanted to know what actions led to this and, ultimately, if I was right. I devoured it in a day. It’s a short, simple, summer read. Set almost exclusively over summers on a private island, the book is perfect for avoiding boredom as you lounge on the beach.

The novel focuses on an entitled, rich, white American family’s perfect façade and a tragedy which befalls them. Good comments are made about racism and class as a character of Indian heritage is added to the family, and isn’t accepted. The use of language in the book makes for impressive characterisation. The narrator’s words are dreamy, unclear and mysterious. It’s murky, as if you’re watching the scenes unfold from beneath the water. A central theme of the novel is greed and its consequences. Suggesting that perhaps we look upon wealth and its outward perfection too favourably – we don’t understand what happens inside that perfect house, which makes the novel somewhat thought provoking.

Borrowed Book Club: Billy & Me

Borrowed Book Club started because my friends and I often pass books around to each other. I love to think about which of my friends my current book would suit, and I love that they sometimes think of me when they read a passage. Here is a review, exactly 250 words, about a book that was borrowed to me. This novel came to me thanks to the lovely Katie.

Giovanna Fletcher’s first novel is a simple love story. It may be predictable, but it’s charming. However, the ultimate message of the novel is not about achieving our dreams through love, instead it teaches self-empowerment. Protagonist Sophie learns that negative situations should not override our ability to do what we love. Though Sophie is relatable, she can be irritating. The twist and the novel’s end feel somewhat rushed and poorly planned, there is no motivation to read the sequel. The characters are somewhat cliché – the shy, anxious protagonist, the lovely old lady and the nothing-but-nice former bad boy. Yet, the novel is nothing to be a snob about – above all else, Billy & Me is homely, predictable characters only add to the comforting familiarity.

Though the novel has a few grammatical errors, certain aspects deserve high praise. The novel’s scene setting – an intimate village and its residents – are portrayed so well that the book’s world is easy to immerse yourself in. The charming little village of Rosefont Hill reminds us how cosy and pleasant life in a small place can be. This book is a perfect read for the journey back home after some time in a big city. It reminds us to love our small homes despite their flaws. So often we are pushed to follow our dreams by escaping the place we were born to do great things, but if home is where our heart is, perhaps we belong there. There’s a lesson we can all learn from Sophie.