A Series of Excellent Adaptations: Review of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

**Spoiler Alert: I’ve done my best not to reveal much plot detail, but I have to ask — Does it really count as spoilers when the series is already close to 20 years old?**

Movie and TV adaptations of my favourite books are always a bit of a risk. On the one hand, it is interesting to see favourite characters and stories come to life in a new way. On the other hand, it can be very frustrating when the version on screen doesn’t match the way you imagined the story would look. Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events was one that I was highly anticipating, and it was actually the main reason I wanted Netflix in the first place. The book series has always been one of my favourite, and I also really enjoyed the movie starring Jim Carrey. I was first introduced to these books alongside Harry Potter at a “book chat” when I was in elementary school. Our former school librarian visited and read us the first few pages of both of these books, and I was immediately intrigued by both. I was a little apprehensive about the series when I started, but by the end of the first episode, I was hooked!

Plot
For those who don’t know, A Series of Unfortunate Events is an amazing middle grade series about three orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire whose parents are killed in a mysterious fire. In each book, the children are brought to live with various eccentric guardians, the first of which is the evil Count Olaf who is after their enormous fortune. In each subsequent book, the children attempt to live safely with their new guardians while fending off Count Olaf’s plots to take them.

One of the first things that struck me about the Netflix series was how closely it stuck, for the most part, to the plots of the books. This was especially true for the the first two pairs of episodes: The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room. Of course, given the new medium, some of the elements would naturally have to be changed. The primary change was that Lemony Snicket existed in this version as a visible character, rather than just a voice-over, who occasionally shows up on screen, unseen by the other characters, to explain what is happening or offer advice. It was quite a big change to be able to actually see Lemony Snicket, since an ongoing device in the books and even in the previous film version is that his face is never shown.

The series also planted some very strong hints for future developments in the story, most of which are not addressed in the book series until at least the seventh book. The episodes introduced Jacquelyn, a brand new character who does not exist in the books, and delved a bit further into some of the backstory behind the Baudelaire family. At first, I was put off by these changes because they did not seem necessary to advance the plot in the earliest episodes, but by the end of the series, I actually liked that it added an additional layer to the story.

Casting
This was the area where I was most nervous when the cast list for the series was announced, especially with Patrick Warburton cast as Lemony Snicket. I’ll admit I may be biased since my most recent experiences with his roles were Kronk (The Emperor’s New Groove) and Jeff on Rules of Engagement, neither of which gave me much reason to see him as the enigmatic Lemony Snicket. Each episode, it takes me a few minutes to readjust my expectations of him, but each time, he wins me over. Patrick Warburton has a very distinctive voice, so it can be hard to break associations with other characters (ie. Kronk, one of my favourite Disney characters!), but once you move past that hurdle, he plays the role well.

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf was another casting choice that I was not very sure of. Although I’ve always heard that he is a talented actor, I’ve never actually seen anything (barring a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother) that he was in. Count Olaf is a character that needs a perfect balance between sinister and theatrical, and I thought Jim Carrey portrayed him very well in the movie version. Neil Patrick Harris’ portrayal is quite different, and also took some time to win me over. He was excellent with the comedic elements of the role.

Most importantly however was the casting of the children. I absolutely loved Emily Browning as Violet and Liam Aiken as Klaus in the film version. The casting of the infant Sunny at this point is not such a concern given her extremely limited role in the early stories. Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes as Violet and Klaus respectively bring a lot to their roles for such young actors, neither of whom have had such large roles before. Both bring the characters to life in a way that suits the stories well, and it is easy to see the bond between the siblings. They completely capture the children’s intelligence, and especially their devotion to their family.

Aside from the main characters, this show also depends heavily on a cast of side characters. Joan Cusack was brilliant as Justice Strauss, easily the best casting choice of all the additional characters. K. Todd Freeman is also great as the completely ineffectual Mr. Poe, and Catherine O’Hara as the creepy Dr. Orwell. Other casting choices were a bit more hit or miss. Alfre Woodard has a tough act to follow, after Meryl Streep’s brilliant portrayal of the fearful Aunt Josephine in the movie version. I actually was not very impressed with any of the guardians, except possibly Aasif Mandvi as the eccentric Montgomery Montgomery, although his accent seemed to come and go. Even less impressive was Count Olaf’s acting troupe, none of whom particularly stood out.

Setting/Visuals
This series was directed by Barry Sonenfeld, the director behind two of my favourite movies of all time — The Addams Family and The Addams Family Values. To me, this series actually had a similar feel to those films, with a blend between humour and a dark, almost Victorian style. Actually, Count Olaf’s house reminds me quite a bit of the Addams family’s mansion from the outside. I thought the series did an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere of the books. However, I was less impressed by the use of CGI for Sunny. I understand that it is difficult to film an infant performing some of the actions Sunny needs to do, but the CGI tended to break how realistic the rest of the setting seemed.

The costume designs were also very well-done, especially Count Olaf’s sometimes ridiculous disguises. I really liked the decision to often put the children in more colourful outfits among the darker backgrounds. I also really enjoyed the brilliant set designs, from Count Olaf’s creepy home to the elaborate libraries to the Lucky Smells Lumber Mill. Visually, this series captured my attention right from the start and held it up until the end.

Overall Impressions (10 point scale)
Plot – 9
Casting – 9
Setting/Visuals – 10

Overall – 9.5/10

Top 5 Wednesday: Favourite Underrated Books

I’m 3/3 so far with these Top 5 Wednesday posts! Lucky for me, all of the topics this month have been ones that interested me anyway. I enjoy quite a variety of books, and especially since taking on my reading challenges, I’ve come across some great underrated gems. I actually tend to actively avoid some of the more popular/overhyped books, at least until the hype dies down, so there is plenty of room to discover new ones.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and the official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) The Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale

833710This series debuted in 2002, approximately the same time that big series like Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events really took off in my area. I was introduced to this series by a recommendation from my elementary school librarian at a Scholastic book fair. The series is about a young boy named Bobby Pendragon who learns that he is a Traveler, a person who travels to different worlds to make sure things go the right way during that world’s “turning point” which can be anything from a war between two groups, a natural disaster, etc. Each turning point is a battle against Saint Dane, a man who tries to push the worlds toward chaos. I thought this was a fantastic series with interesting, complex characters. I loved how each of the books tackled interesting topics such as animal rights, the role of technology in society, culture clashes, etc.

2) The With the Light series by Keiko Tobe

withthelight_1I read several of these books a few years ago, but was forced to stop mid-series because neither the library nor any bookstores nearby had all of the books. It is an excellent manga series about a Japanese family whose young son is diagnosed with autism. The books cover the day-to-day realities of living with a child who has autism, and does not shy away from difficult topics such as the lack of appropriate services, attitudes of others in the community, and difficult behaviours. Although the style may be confusing for people who are not used to reading manga, it does not take too long to get used to it. I would highly recommend this series for anyone who either has a family member or works with individuals with autism.

3) Goodnight Tweetheart by Teresa Medeiros

51kdakbpg2lI read this book as part of one of my challenges, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I was going to. The book is about a bestselling author with writer’s block who strikes up an online friendship with one of her Twitter followers. A big part of this story is told through the tweets between the two characters, and I really loved their interactions. I especially appreciated how this book gave a realistic and very respectful portrayal of online relationships, and I liked how their friendship progressed naturally. I think it’s great that there have been so many books recently that have addressed online friendships and relationships in a positive way. This book was a little on the short side, with only about 220 pages, and the ending was frustrating!  I especially thought it was compelling since the majority of the story focused on just two characters, so they need to be strong in order to keep the reader interested.I think it is a great book, and one that really deserves more attention.

4) Mercy by Jodi Picoult

mercyAs I’ve mentioned a few times by now, Jodi Picoult is my favourite author and I have devoured nearly all of her books (except for her first two, and as of right now, her most recent). This was one of the first books by Jodi Picoult that I ever read, and it immediately became one of my favourite books. This one tackles the very controversial topic of assisted suicide. Cameron, a police chief, arrests his own cousin Jamie for killing his terminally ill wife, Maggie. The case goes to trial, hinging on the question of whether Maggie’s death was murder or a mercy killing. I later discovered that this book is not very popular among Jodi Picoult’s fans, although I’m not sure why that might be. As with all of her books, the writing and characters are very compelling and they drew me in right from the start. I love how Jodi Picoult always manages to take on difficult topics that are so open for discussion, and presents them in a very balanced way. Personally, I think this is one of her best books.

5) Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

enter-title-here-book-coverI’ve mentioned this book once before, so I won’t say too much here. It is an amazing YA book that takes a fairly mundane premise and carries it in a very unique direction. The book is about an extremely ambitious high school student named Reshma who wants to publish a fictional story based on her life to boost her applications to an Ivy League school. She decides that she needs to make herself seem more relatable by having more normal high school experiences, and sets out to do so  in an  unusual way. I expected this book to be a very light, typical high school story — and I have to say, my expectations for it were very low. Instead, what I discovered was a brilliant story about perfectionism, academic culture, and one of the most unlikable yet sympathetic characters I have ever encountered. I was shocked by how much I related to Reshma at times, although I definitely don’t think I am anywhere near as extreme as she is. This book is still relatively new, only debuting in August 2016 but it is well-worth reading. A lot of people tend to dislike it because they can’t get past how irritating Reshma can be, but if you can, you are in for an amazing story.

Review: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

825081Author: Kevin Henkes
Genre: Children’s picture book
Date Read: Late 2016

Reading Challenge: 2016 Rejects Challenge
Challenge Prompt:
 A book that inspires you

“Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.”

Plot Summary:
Lilly loves her teacher and loves going to school. One day, she receives a new purple purse as a gift and is excited to bring it with her to school for Show and Tell. She is so preoccupied with her purse that she ends up unable to focus in class, and her teacher takes her purse away, causing Lilly to react in anger.

Why I Chose It:
I have always been a fan of Kevin Henkes’ books, especially Chester’s Way, the only one I owned. For years, my mom tried to convince me that I had read all of his books at some point, but I had no memory of the majority of them. I picked up this book one day while visiting the library, and only afterwards decided to apply it to my challenge. I ended up counting it as “a book that inspires me,” as silly as it may sound that a picture book inspired me, because of the quote I mentioned above.

*Sidenote: This book somehow is an example of the Mandela effect for me. I’ve always sworn the title was just Lilly’s Purple Purse, and only today when starting to write this post did I realize I was wrong.

Review:
I thought that this book was an excellent, very realistic children’s story. Kevin Henkes brilliantly captured the behaviour and feelings of a young character, especially with Lilly’s anger at her teacher for punishing her. The illustrations are simple but adorable, with all characters drawn as mice.

One of the elements I really appreciated about this book was the realistic relationship between Lilly and her teacher, Mr. Slinger. In many children’s books, adults are either scary or completely at the child’s whim. In this book, Lilly’s teacher was portrayed in a natural, balanced way. As a child, and even as an adult, readers empathize with Lilly’s anger over being punished, and may even relate to her decisions to act on her feelings. However,  it is also clear that Mr. Slinger’s consequences are perfectly reasonable and fair, whether Lilly likes them or not.

What really made this book stand out to me, and the reason I chose it as a book that inspires me is one key quote: “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” Mr. Slinger wrote this in a note to Lilly, hidden in her purse when he returned it to her. I loved that the author chose to have Mr. Slinger take advantage of this learning opportunity — something I’m not sure many real teachers would do — and impart a valuable lesson to Lilly. While Lilly continued to act out after her purse was confiscated, Mr. Slinger chose to acknowledge that she was having a bad day, instead of reacting with anger and more punishments. I especially loved the optimistic message that even though one day is rough, the next will improve.

It takes a great children’s book to genuinely appeal to adult readers, and I have to say that I was thoroughly entertained and impressed by it. While I enjoy reading (or re-reading) children’s books sometimes, there are few that leave such a strong impression. I loved how Kevin Henkes told a story that would be so easy for children to relate to, and without sugar-coating his characters or their behaviour. I would highly recommend this book.

Ratings (10 point scale):
Plot: 10
Characters: 10
Illustrations: 10
Enjoyment: 10
Overall Rating: 10

Top 5 Wednesday: Top 5 Polarizing Reads

I actually didn’t intend to do another Top 5 Wednesday post so soon, but the topic fit very nicely with something I’ve been thinking about lately. This week’s topic is the top 5 polarizing reads, which are books that many people love but many others hate. When I choose books to read, I look at others’ reviews but they don’t necessarily play a major role in my decision to pick up a book.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and the official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1)  Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

me-before-you-jojo-moyes-cover-195x300This was actually the book that inspired me to make a post on this topic, due to all of the flak this book received. For those who don’t know, the book is about a young woman named Lou who becomes a caregiver for Will, a man who became quadriplegic after an accident. The main plotline of the book centers on Will’s plan to end his life at an assisted suicide facility in Switzerland. I can fully understand many of the complaints about this book. People have criticized it for being ableist and putting forward a very negative attitude toward individuals with disabilities. However, I interpreted the book differently. For me, it was a book about choice. Will’s decision was his own choice, made based on his specific circumstances. I do not believe it was intended as a commentary on all people with disabilities, nor do I believe the author was trying to say that a disabled life is not worth living. If anything, I think the author was attempting to show the importance of respecting the decisions of all individuals, including those with disabilities. Will’s accident caused him to lose control over many aspects of his life, including independent movement, the abilities to feed himself or use the toilet on his own, and the ability to take part in the activities of his choice. The one and only thing he retained control of was his future, and he made the decision that was best for him. We may not like or agree with his decision (I definitely didn’t!), but I think the ultimate point the author was trying to say is that only Will had the right to make that choice.

2) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

cursed-child-book-coverThis is another fairly obvious choice. Given the popularity of the Harry Potter series, it was inevitable that this script would be polarizing. This book follows Harry’s son Albus through his first year of Hogwarts. I think a big part of the attitudes toward this book depend on your expectations going into it. I picked up this book expecting it to be very different from the original series, and treated it almost as a standalone that was completely separate. It was not on the same level as the other books, but I enjoyed it anyway for what it was. I can see where others would complain that our favourite characters didn’t seem like themselves, but let’s be realistic — it is now 18 years later. It would only be expected that people would change. I still think Harry Potter is much better suited to the novel format, where we can get the full extent of J.K. Rowling’s brilliant writing. However, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I was going to.

3) Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

go-set-a-watchman-harper-leeThere are some books that just should never be touched, and To Kill a Mockingbird is high on many peoples’ lists of a book that really should have been left alone. This book follows Scout Finch as an adult, who returns to her hometown and begins to discover that her family was not what she thought. As a child, she idolized her father as a defender of African Americans and their rights, but as an adult she realizes that he may actually be racist. A lot of people view this book as destroying one of our greatest literary heroes. It actually interested me because it reminded me of a friend of mine in high school who got a C on a paper about whether or not Atticus was a hero. She had a well-written argument trying to show that Atticus was not really a hero, he was just the lesser of the evils in a very racist society. Our teacher obviously vehemently disagreed, so it’s a little funny to see this book come out so many years later which essentially makes a similar case. I enjoyed this book because, as with Harry Potter above, I saw it as a pretty natural extension of the book due to the passage of time. Scout was only 6 in the first book, so it’s not that surprising to me that her views of her father would be biased. And what young adult doesn’t go through a period of questioning their parents and what they used to think of them?

4) Room by Emma Donoghue

roompicI will start out by saying that I absolutely loved this book. It received an immediate 5 stars from me as soon as I finished reading it. I thought it was a brilliant story told from a unique perspective. Unfortunately, that was the aspect that most people hated the most. The book is told from the perspective of a 5 year old boy named Jack who born in “Room” to a mother who had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted. I was amazed by how Ma created a life for Jack that was as normal as possible, however most people took issue with Jack’s narration. The common complaints were that his voice did not seem like an authentic child of his age, or that his narration became really annoying because he was so young. On the first point, I definitely disagree. While I can see where people would take issue with Jack using a strange combination of childish language and some very mature observations/word choices, it made sense to me given that his only exposure to other people was his mother and her captor so it is natural that he would pick up on their speech style. In terms of the second point, I can see where it may be annoying to have a young child narrate for a whole 300 page book, but I thought it brought something different compared to other kidnapping stories that I’ve read. I really loved this book.

5) The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

girlonthetrainI’ve never quite understood all the hatred this book gets, although to be fair, at the time I read it, I hadn’t read too many others in the same genre (Gone Girl, etc.). This book is about a woman named Rachel who passes by the house of a young couple on her train ride every day, and she thinks they have a perfect life until she sees something wrong. I thought this was a very compelling book and I enjoyed it. After I finished reading it, I noticed a lot of criticism about the book not living up to its hype, and especially about how unlikeable all of the characters were. While I agree that none of them were very likeable people, I did think they were realistic. I’m not quite sure why other readers got so stuck on whether the characters were likable. For me, it is more important that they are interesting and well-written, even if I don’t like them as a person. It may have been because this was one of the first books of its kind that I read, but I didn’t find it predictable like many others have commented. I actually enjoyed this book, and I was surprised by all the criticism it received.

Netflix Book Tag

Recently I’ve become obsessed with watching series on Netflix. As always, I was late to the party on this one because I actively avoided using Netflix for a good few years. In the last year or so, my boyfriend kindly offered me a profile on his Netflix account in an attempt to get me watching more anime again. I discovered that the anime selection available wasn’t so appealing, but I’ve finally caught on to the “binge watching” trend, and especially enjoyed some of the Netflix originals — like A Series of Unfortunate Events! I discovered this tag the other day, and thought it would be a perfect blend of Netflix and books. The original tag is by Accio Books, and can be found here.

1. Recently Watched – The Last Book You Finished Reading

One of my goals this year is to finally read all of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 graphic novels. I’m a huge fan of the Buffy TV series, but never got into the graphic novels. I tried the first one not long after the series ended, and since it was my first ever graphic novel, I was instantly confused by the style. I decided that this year, now that I’m more familiar with graphic novels, I would push myself to finish them all. The last book I read was the second volume called No Future For You.

2. Top Picks – A Book or Books That Have Been Recommended to You Based on Books You Have Previously Read

As part of my reading challenge this year, one of my prompts led me to a site called What Should I Read Next. Basically, you enter the title or author of a book, and it gives you recommendations for similar books you might enjoy. There was one book that kept coming up when I entered several different books, and that was Made You Up by Francesca Zappia, a book that was actually on my TBR anyway.

3. Recently Added – The Last Book You Bought

I actually don’t buy books very often anymore because I have a great local library where I can get almost anything that I want. The last books that I remember actually buying were the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children trilogy by Ransom Riggs. I read the first two from the library, and decided that I had to buy them!

4. Popular On Netflix – Books That Everyone Knows About (2 you’ve read, and 2 you haven’t or have no interest in reading)

Last year, I took the opportunity to read a few of the popular books that I had missed out on. I read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, the very controversial sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, and I also read (and was somewhat disappointed by) We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

As for two books that I haven’t read or have no interest in, I’d have to go with Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I have a feeling I will end up reading this at some point, probably for one of the Rejects Challenge categories relating to a book I’m expecting to hate, but it really doesn’t appeal to me at all. Another popular book I have no interest in is Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not even the graphic content that I object to, it’s just how poorly written it seems to be based on the snippets I’ve seen.

5. Comedies – A Funny Book

This is an easy one. I just finished this book earlier this week, after devouring the whole thing in a few hours. I’m going for Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. There were so many chapters that I just wanted to re-read immediately after I finished them!

6. Dramas – A Character Who is a Drama Queen/King

Probably a popular choice for this question, but I’d have to say Bella Swan from Twilight. To be fair, I wasn’t a huge fan of this series. I thought it had so much potential to be a great story, but it just didn’t live up to it. I found Bella especially annoying because of how quickly her entire life became consumed by Edward, and especially her reaction to him leaving. I can understand feeling devastated by someone you love disappearing, but she hadn’t even known him that long!

7. Animated – A Book With Cartoons on the Cover

1520411Another of my favourite childhood books – The Big Cheese Caper, which featured The Rescue Rangers. This was one of my all-time favourite shows, and although I haven’t seen it in a long time, I would love to rewatch the series again.

8. Watch It Again – A Book or Book Series That You Want to Re-Read

I actually have quite a few for this one. I want to re-read most of Jodi Picoult’s books. Even though I know how they will end, I really loved the stories and the character development in them and would love to see how the clues toward the twist are sprinkled through the story. I’d also love to re-read Harry Potter, even though I’ve re-read it many times before, and I’ve been debating re-reading Jane Eyre or Little Women.

9. Documentaries – A Non-Fiction Book You’d Recommend to Everyone

This is a tough one for me because I’m really not a fan of non-fiction at all. I find most of it quite dry, although one book I really enjoyed was Carly’s Voice, which is about Carly Fleischmann, an amazing young woman with autism who is non-verbal and learned to communicate with her family through typing. Carly has gone on to become a great advocate for autism and now hosts her own Youtube talk show. I’m not sure if the book would appeal to everyone, but I think it’s a great story.

10. Action and Adventure – An action-packed book

Definitely the Hunger Games trilogy, another series that I actively avoided for a while because of all the hype. When I finally gave in and gave it a chance, it quickly became one of my  favourite series.

11. New Releases – A Book That Just Came Out or Will Be Coming Out Soon That You Can’t Wait to Read

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult! On the off-chance I haven’t mentioned it before, Jodi Picoult is my favourite author and I always look forward to her books. I’ve especially been anticipating this one because of all the delays with its release. It was finally released in October 2016, although I tend to wait for the paperback copies, for no other reason than so it will match my other Jodi Picoult books on my shelf. Really looking forward to reading this one!

12. Max – Tag Some People

As always, I tag anyone who is interested in doing this to participate. When I do tags myself, I just go by what I’m interested in posting about and not whether I’ve been tagged so I never remember to tag others. So if you’re interested, go for it!

Top 5 Wednesday: Top 5 2017 Debuts You Are Excited For

So far, I haven’t been a part of weekly book blogger memes. Part of the reason is because I just didn’t know about them, and part is because some of the memes I’ve found are not so relevant/appealing to me. Not only that, but I have a tendency toward being a “completionist” — once I start something, I hate leaving it unfinished. I think that’s part of the reason I prefer reading challenges that have specific prompts, since it gives me a very visible progress meter. When it comes to weekly memes, I avoided them for a while because I felt like once I started, I had to keep up with it every time, whether the top 5 topic appealed to me or not. I finally decided to give it a chance on a “no commitment” basis, and just respond when I can.

This week’s topic is: Top 5 2017 Debuts You Are Excited For! Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and the official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here. There are many new books coming out this year that I’m really looking forward to, so it’s tough to keep the list to just five!  I won’t include covers at this point since not all of these books have covers available yet, but I will link to the GoodReads page. Here are my picks:

1) Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

This book is set to be released in just two weeks, on January 24, 2017! It tells the story of a woman accused of killing a baby that she was taking care of. When she becomes pregnant with a child of her own, she must find a set the record straight about her past to avoid her child being taken away. I have already forgotten (twice!) that this book is not out yet, and tried to order it from the library, even going to the point of starting to fill in a form asking them to buy it for me. Once I realized it wasn’t released yet, I decided to stop and wait to see if they will get it. I hope they have it in stock soon!

2) Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowkinski

This book is due out on April 18, and it is about the friendship between two friends who bonded over geeky interests and being queer. This book is published by Swoon Reads, a crowdsourced imprint, something I’ve only recently learned about. I thought the storyline sounded very interesting, and I generally enjoy YA contemporary books. So far, this is another book that I have in mind for my challenges this year, and I hope it lives up to the hype.

3) It’s Not Like It’s A Secret by Misa Sugiura

This is another YA contemporary book with LGBT themes. It is due out on May 9, and it focuses on Sana, a girl who has recently moved to California and who is trying to keep several secrets. A lot of people have been put off this book recently due to some controversy about the possibility of racism in the book. The posts about this issue had already been taken down before I had a chance to read them, but it actually heightened by interest in this book. Although I already wanted to read it, I now really want to see what all the controversy is about.

4) Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

This is a book that I only discovered recently, which is expected to be published on July 4. The book is about a young man who has schizophrenia and his attempts to start over at a new school. I’m excited for it because the plot sounded interesting and it has been compared to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I loved! Stories about mental illness are always a bit risky to undertake, but I have not yet read much about schizophrenia so I think it will be interesting.

5) Textrovert by Lindsey Summers

I’ve recently come to love stories that focus on social media in some format, including books where much of the story is told through texts, Tweets, emails, etc. and about the role of online friendships in people’s lives. I think it is such a relevant topic, and something that is definitely worth exploring given how much of a natural bias people tend to have against online friendships. This book is about a high school student who accidentally exchanges phones with a boy she hates, and the two reluctantly agree to forward each other messages for the week while he is at football camp. While I’m forseeing quite a predictable book, it seems like it will be a lot of fun to read.

 

Taking on the Classics

When I was in elementary school, my best friend and I were both extremely interested in the classics. Both of us were quite advanced readers for our age, and I mean that in the least arrogant way possible. Most of what I knew about the classics came from watching Wishbone, a fantastic children’s series from the mid-90s featuring a “talking” dog that explained famous classics at a child’s level. Each episode also featured a parallel story about Joe, Wishbone’s owner, and his friends who were involved in some kind of plot-line that somehow related to the main theme of the classic that was being discussed. I watched every episode and I bought all of the “Wishbone classics” edition books, and devoured them at every chance I got.

As we grew up, I was always very impressed by how many of the classics my friend had read and I pushed myself to read more of them as well. Actually, I found that the Wishbone versions really  helped me out in that sense, since I already knew the basics of the story pretty well from the TV show. Over the years, we moved pretty quickly from Wishbone to abridged versions of the stories, in the hardcover Puffin (if I’m not mistaken) classics series, and later on to Wordsworth and Penguin classics as adults.

It wasn’t until just this past year where my friend made a passing comment about how little he’d understood of the classics when he read them at such an early age. I’m talking about a person who, if I recall correctly, tried to read The Three Musketeers in about the third or fourth grade. Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible to read and understand the unabridged version at that age, but it’s definitely a feat! It made me remember my own attempts to read full versions of classics before I was ready.

In elementary school, I got into the habit of reading just before bed and storing my book under my pillow for the next morning…at least until the bulky Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire made it too uncomfortable! Because of my love for Disney movies and possibly a slight competitive streak, I decided I wanted to read The Hunchback of Notre Dame. After all, it was one of my favourite Disney movies, so I must already know the story pretty well, right? Wrong! The book was definitely beyond my level at the time, and I abandoned it pretty early on, feeling very discouraged.

It wasn’t until my friend’s recent comments that I really realized how we treated the classics. Call it a competitive streak, but I’ve always felt a little jealous that he had so much more familiarity with these stories than I did. I didn’t start really taking these books on until midway through high school, where I made the very unwise decision to try and read Great Expectations for an English assignment that had quite a tight deadline. Once I started university, I decided to bring various classics, among other books, with me to read between classics and it was there that I discovered some of my favourites — and was often mistaken for an English major!

Somehow, I had always assumed that because my friend had read the classics at such a young age, it automatically meant that he’d understood them perfectly. I was surprised to realize that this wasn’t actually the case, but also relieved because it meant that my own failed attempts when I was younger weren’t actually that bad. Aside from the Hunchback of Notre Dame situation, there was also the time where I decided I had too many unread books on my shelves, so I would go from left to right and read all of my books in order…starting with The Good Earth, a book I’d picked up from a library book sale, along with most of my other books, and held onto just because I knew it was supposed to be a classic. Needless to say, that plan fell apart pretty quickly and the majority of those books have since been donated or given away.

Looking back, I have no idea why I assumed that we both knew what we were doing by taking on these books so early. Maybe we thought we were “supposed” to know the stories? Maybe it was an early form of book snobbery, or maybe it was just the allure of a good story. The children’s versions, and especially the Wishbone series, were great contributors to my love of classics now. While I wouldn’t say that I enjoy them all, I can definitely appreciate the majority of them much better now that I can understand the stories properly.

There always seems to be some discussion of what makes a book a classic, and whether the books that were classics from so long ago could still qualify as classic today. In fact, one of my GoodReads groups last year had a whole discussion devoted to whether it is important for people to read classics at all. I was surprised to discover that there were so many people who hated classics in general, viewing them as dated, difficult and mostly irrelevant to our world today. I think if nothing else, the classics should be seen as a product of their time and can give us a good window into the attitudes and ideas of the periods in which they were written.

As for whether they are worthwhile, I think it depends on each person’s individual taste — just like for any other book! Some people get sucked into the idea that a book must be read simply because it is a classic, but I don’t think the label alone is enough. Even the most widely read classic won’t appeal to you if it’s not the kind of book you’d normally enjoy. The only way to find out which you’d enjoy is to give some classics a try!