Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Abundance of Katherines

John Green is such a sneaky little cheater.  During most of the book, I thought that Colin, the protagonist of An Abundance of Katherines, had relatively unique qualities, such as his fondness for anagramming, his footnotes, and the fact that he dated 19 Katherines before he even graduated from high school.  All along however, he is grappling with the same fear as a character you might remember me talking about before: Augustus Waters.  Colin and Augustus base how much they matter on whether future generations will remember them, and both of them have to learn to appreciate the people around them rather than fear oblivion.  I'm starting to wonder if Mr. Green is grappling with that fear himself, considering that he's now written at least twice about it.  (I should note that An Abundance of Katherines was published before The Fault in Our Stars, so technically Augustus is the one copying Colin - even if I did read about him first).

Back to Colin's story.  Colin is a child prodigy, but not a genius, a distinction he clearly emphasizes.  Because of his affinity to go on boring intellectual tangents and general social awkwardness (which remind me also of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory), his only friend is Hassan, a slightly overweight and fun-loving Muslim who is (mostly) devoted to his faith.  After Colin's most recent breakup with Katherine XIV, Hassan takes him on a road trip to help him move on.  They end up with jobs interviewing factory workers in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they meet Lindsey Wells, who incidentally is dating another Colin.  You and I know where this is going.

Even though I have seen some of the book's elements before, I found its characters charming, relatable, and downright amusing.  John Green makes it easy to root for the people you're supposed to root for.  You want Colin to figure out the "Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability."  You want him and Lindsey to get together (because, duh!).  You want Lindsey to feel free to be herself.  You want Hassan to finally go to college.  The characters' exchanges of banter, bouts of insecurity, and moments of hilarity worm so subtly in your brain you're hardly aware of how invested you become in their journey until it's too late.  And I have to say it's pretty nice to have a book remind you that worldly fame and success is crap when it comes to valuing you for you.

Besides the heart, we have the quirkiness.  I mentioned the footnotes before, which in an academic context annoys me to no end, but they fit well in this book.  Colin already goes on verbal tangents, so why not do it on print, too?  There's even an Appendix in case you're feeling especially nerdy and want to know how the mathematics in the Theorem work.  Seriously, who does that?  It's quite fabulous actually.

When I am despairing at all the mediocre writing in young adult fiction nowadays (LOOKING AT YOU, TWILIGHT!), I like to remember that there are people like John Green who treat the genre as more than a source of trashy romance and superficial action thrills.  The Fault in Our Stars still tops my charts, but I believe An Abundance of Katherines has written its own personal signature on me as well.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Flash

Forgive me, Marvel, for I have sinned.  After faithfully watching your movies and TV shows, writing Captain America fanfiction, and reading your comics for the past five years, I succumbed to the temptation of your bitterest rival, DC.  I enjoyed your work so much, I wondered if I could have that same experience if I were to watch The Flash.  Would I find the same superhero action, would I find well-rounded characters, would I find new thrilling plot lines?  I liked all of those things so much in your franchise, I got greedy and sought them elsewhere.  I know what you're wondering: was DC as good as me?

Oh, Marvel, will you really make me answer this?

The Flash revolves around a crime-scene investigator named Barry Allen who, thanks to an exploding particle accelerator and a lightning bolt, becomes a super-speeding "metahuman" vigilante.  He is assisted by Dr. Harrison Wells, the inventor of the accelerator, and Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon (shout-out to the Hispanic character, woot woot!).  As the group deals with rogue "metahumans" and the impact on their personal lives that have resulted from the accelerator explosion, a strong family dynamic blossoms between them.  I liked seeing how they not only worked well together to figure out how to stop the bad guys episode after episode, but also genuinely cared about each other.  Barry's friendship with Caitlin was especially important for me because of how rarely I see a platonic relationship between a major male and female character in media.

That said, the show does have the classic trope of guy-girl best friends being in love, at least on one end.  Iris West, having no idea how Barry feels about her, is dating Eddie Thawne, a police guy that I surprisingly ended up liking quite a bit.  Meanwhile, Barry is being told by literally everyone how he wouldn't be in this mess if he'd gone for it while he had the chance. (I had a problem with that attitude, because even if he had confessed from the beginning, it did NOT guarantee she would return his feelings; her calling him a brother in the pilot didn't look like a promising sign to me).  Their will-they-won't-they relationship, as well as the fact that Barry keeps his superhero identity a secret, becomes a strong source of frustration, but in a good way!  You gotta have that unresolved sexual tension, yo.

The most important relationship, however, has to be the one between Barry and Iris' father Joe.  Joe took Barry in after he witnessed his mother being murdered (by a super-speeder, as he later realizes) fifteen years ago and his father was sent to jail.  Joe is also one of the first people to know that Barry is the Flash; upon this revelation, he shows obvious tenderness and concern for Barry, but he still always has his back.  Every time Barry has a moment of crisis, Joe reminds him what his values are and who he is.  Despite Barry's passion to investigate his mother's murder and prove his real father innocent, he always comes back to the fact that as far as fathers go, Joe is freaking awesome.

I can't end my review without talking about Harrison Wells.  From episode one, you know that the guy is as sketchy as a New York alleyway.  He cares about Caitlin and Cisco like they're his children, but he has a secret room where he creepily stares at a newspaper headline from 2025 about the Flash.  He serves as a mentor and friend for Barry, but he lacks Barry's compassion for other people, seeing them as dispensable pawns rather than human beings.  For the whole season, I didn't know where he came from or how to feel about him.  If I stayed up late thinking about the Flash, it was most likely because I was trying to figure this character out.

Now, back to your original question, Marvel.  Is your rival as good as you?  It's hard to definitively answer, because this has been my only exposure to DC.  I know that's probably not what you wanted to hear, but between the daring-do, the complex relationships, and the unraveling mysteries, The Flash makes for excellent entertainment.  You will always be my first love, but I have to say that DC is on the up and up for me.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Brooklyn: An Immigrant Woman's Love Triangle

A historical period drama.  It may not be the most exciting first sentence, nor perhaps the most exciting film genre, but Brooklyn has a strong, quiet beauty in its 1950s backdrop as it shows an Irish immigrant woman's struggle to adjust to a new country and eventually choose between two men.  On one hand, she can stay in New York to be with a sincere, sweet-hearted Italian and his hilarious family, or return permanently to Ireland to be with a kind, charming Irish man and her heartbroken family.  You probably already know how this is going to go from the thousands of romantic movies that Hollywood throws at us ever year, but let me tell you why this particular drama was worth seeing.


Eilis Lacey is sent to Brooklyn by her sister Rose in order to pursue a better life, but of course the transition is difficult.  However, she receives so much more support than from just a romantic partner, although that is the focus.  Everyone from a woman she meets on the boat ride, to her boss at the department store, to the priest sponsoring her, to the girls who live in her building offer her advice, guidance, and friendship.  As she opens up to her new environment, Eilis demonstrates a great sense of humor (which made me laugh several times) and confidence in behavior and appearance (which I liked seeing in her developing fashion sense).  I enjoyed watching her build a relationship with Tony, with whom she had a lot of cute interactions and great overall chemistry, and meet Tony's family, including his outspoken, genius little brother.  Boy, did that kid make me crack up.

When Eilis revisits Ireland, almost immediately her family, friends and neighbors try to suck her back into their small town for good.  Part of her wants that familiarity, but another remembers what she has left in Brooklyn.  She has the chance to work as a bookkeeper as she's always wanted, and she has met a man her mother approves of who is interested in her.  I could feel her teetering on the edge, experiencing the pull of her love in Brooklyn and the pull of loyalty to her grieving mother as if I were Eilis.  The scene that motivates her to make her final decision had a sucker punch power to it that made me so proud of her character growth.

My favorite part comes toward the end, when Eilis meets a girl who is taking the same journey she originally took to Brooklyn and gives her pointers on practicalities as well as the emotional transition.  That scene rounded out the film well, both in terms of plot and character, and made me better appreciate immigrants who have done what Eilis did.  Brooklyn has a love triangle, but it's not simply the one between two men.  It's the one between two countries, two homes, two lives that Eilis (as well as many real life women) inhabits and loves with different aspects of her being.  Who, or really what, she chooses is irrelevant for we who look at Brooklyn, however. What is our safe, familiar Ireland and our risky, terrifying America, and which one are we going for in our lives?  That's a question I think we might be much less willing to answer.