7 THINGS THAT I’D LIKE TO SEE IN AN UPCOMING FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM FILM

So here it is. The first Fantastic Beasts was a good effort for a first screenplay and a crowning achievement for the CGI team, but as a film it was… fine. It went on too long and wasn’t bad, but lets face it if it didn’t have the Potterverse brand it would be pretty much nothing. And yet we’re getting a load more of those films. So, what could help bring them up to scratch? Well here’s my top 7 things I’d like to see in the upcoming films. Warning, spoilers for Fantastic Beasts ahead.

1. A LOT OF COLLABERATION WITH OTHER SCREENWRITERS

Yeah, JK Rowling knows how to created a brilliantly set up mystery and well executed mystery, but cinema is a very different beast and though FBAWTFT was pretty good for a first screenplay, her lack of experience really shows. The aid of a more polished screenwriter would have gone a long way.

2.PAY FULL ATTENTION TO THE WORLD ENDING THREAT

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The biggest problem with Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them was that it didn’t focus on its main plot. It had one of the darkest moments in the entire franchise- the cruel death of an abused kid with learning difficulties- yet I felt nothing for him because the movie didn’t build that moment up. The main plot was relegated to the sidelines and seemed superfluous until the end of act three where we learnt it was the main plot.

Instead we got endless hijinks with magical creatures which went on for far longer than it needed to. Seriously, the film was less focused on the main quest less than I am when I’m playinjg The Legend Of Zelda. In fact, that’s what this film felt like! It was basically Scamander pissing around trying to round up all the Cucco’s and then thinking ‘oh yeah, Ganondorf Grindewald is trying to take over, better actually do something! Dubious deus ex machina away!’ At the last minute. I bet she could have made that work as a novel, but in the tighter confines of a screenplay it felt unfocused.

3. A SAVAGE EDITOR

Yeah, at least 10 minutes could have been cut from the gotta catch em all magical creature league. A really harsh editor would help. Maybe the lady who edited Fury Road? She did an excellent job and it sounds like she had her work cut out for.

4. BETTER FEMALE INCLUSION

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Poor ol’ Hermione. She really was the only female in class worth our attention.

Females often get sidelined in mainstream media (although this is greatly improving), so when you see female writers like Meyers , Rowling and Cassandra Claire create such lackluster female characters, you can’t help but think ‘why’?

Don’t get me wrong, Hermione was great (though mainly because the movies toughened up her character and transformed her from the nag who puts a damper on the boy’s fun to a badass whose friendship is valued equally to Ron’s). But she was the only central female until Luna came along. In the Harry Potter series, if you named the 10 most plot central characters (Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Voldemort, Snape, Sirius, Hagrid, , Draco, Neville), the only female you would get would be Hermione… okay and maybe Professor McGonagal, though all her importance comes from being Dumbledore’s 2IC. In Fantastic Beasts our two female leads included basically Scamander’s sidekick and another beauty who gets paired with an unattractive guy (because you shouldn’t judge on looks… if you’re a woman. Men get to choose mates based on looks all the time, but if women hold men to the same standard, they’re vain).

To be fair, all of the leads felt a bit one note throughout the film- except the muggle. But in future films I hope we have more active and complex female leads who are on par with the complexity of characters like Snape and Sirius Black.

5. MAKE UP FOR ITS LACK OF POC CHARACTERS

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The only thing even more abysmal than her track record for female characters is her track record for POC characters. While if you named the top 10 most plot vital characters you would get one female, you would not find a single POC on there. In fact, I’m not convinced that you’d find one on the top 20 most plot vital characters- as although Shacklebolt became Minister of Magic, lets face it, he was the least prominent Auror and didn’t make too much of an impact by himself. In FBAWTF we have a euthanist and an incompetent Black Boss, as well as some random background characters, and you really can’t pretend to say your series that tackles prejudice if your cast list is whiter than Trump’s cabinet picks. It sounds harsh, but true; allowing the audience to sympathise with the victims of prejudice only when its happening to someone like you does not challenge a damn thing.

Rowling, you are such a good ally on Twitter. Lets see that reflected in your films. Be the change you advocate. Give your POC fans the chance to finally see themselves in your universe, and give POC actors the chance to prove shine alongside their white counterparts. Who knows… perhaps we could have a daring Indian/ middle Eastern guy who could be a jerk with a heart of gold who one day could be future Aladdin.

6. TREAT DUMBLEDORE THE SAME AS YOUR LEADING STRAIGHT CHARACTERS

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Yoda once wisely said ‘do, or do not. There is no try.’

Either make Dumbledore’s sexuality a vital, represented part of his character the same way sexuality is important to every straight character in the Harry Potter and FBAWTFT series- or just say flat out it’s not going to happen.

If she doesn’t want to do that, then fine, stop giving LGBT fans false hope and stop with vague statements and taking credit for something that was scribbled on the character notes which failed to make it into the main story (which is what Word of God is).

7. KEEP UP THE BRITISHNESS

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With everything centred around North America and having to listen to the words ‘white picket fence’ over and over again (most boring fantasy ever), Hogwarts always was a breath of change and fresh air. It was just so British, and even if we’re with the North American wizarding world, a parallel world where the Americans are the grounded, level headed ones (come on, Americans, you know you deserve a bit of ribbing after voting in your new Commander In Tweet!) I hope it remains so.

SUCH A STEREOTYPE! HOW TO WRITE MINORITIES WELL AND CAN STEREOTYPICAL CHARACTERS EVER BE WRITTEN WELL

”Oh, so just because she’s a woman she must be into shoes!”Of course the Chinese guy knows martial arts- and for Gods sake Samurai swords are Japanese!’ You’ve all heard people rage against a character on the internet.

For the millionth time, we get another fashion obsessed GBF who talks about sex, never has any, and gets to be the butt of hilarious gay jokes; another lesbian who either dies because she’s expendable and can’t be used as a sassy accessory like the gay men; secretaries and women relegated to support roles and black women who are either entertaining and sassy or high court judges who never get any real characterization or role in the plot. Asian martial artists. Latina maids. The super crip. Russian spies.

But the question is, is writing a stereotypical character always a bad thing? Because, here’s the thing- most stereotypes aren’t randomly pulled from the ether. A hell of a lot of women AREN’T able to become high powered lawyers or mechanics (the same way most white men aren’t) , and they ARE nurses and secretaries. While we rail against the effeminate gay male stereotype (the Kurt Hummels, the Hollywood Montroses), they do exist- although they are definately a minority amongst gay men and with each passing year that breed of gay men are becoming rarer and rarer. A lot of black people DO like Hip Hop and R n Band listen to Bob Marley.

And railing too hard against the stereotype can be a problem, because we can reach the other extreme; we can reach the idea that a female character can’t be strong unless she’s angry, unemotional and hates fashion and girly things (but she still has to be young and hot- a woman is still worth as much as her attractiveness to men); butch lesbians are terrible, a black woman can’t be a worthwhile character unless she’s a lawyer, an honour student, a doctor or a good role ( a standard which isn’t applied to white characters, who can be everymen)   . And I think we can all see why deeming these real life people as inferior is a problem.

1) DON’T! Do you REALLY need to write a stereotype?

In spite of the premise of this article, my first piece of advice would be not to write a character filling that stereotype. First off, that character type is pretty much catered for. We’ve seen enough gay hairdressers, Asian martial artists, promiscuous bisexuals, Latino/a sex machines, so you really don’t need to fill that void. However, the asian basketball fans (an old roommate of mine), black scientists, lesbian who actually survives and isn’t obsessed with babies categories are extremely underrepresented.

Second off, writing a minority group which you are not a part of (or the opposite gender) is extremely challenging at the best of times; but writing about one whose experience is completely alien to you, and of whom every single portrayal is steeped in stereotypes and misunderstanding that you don’t know which ones are true, and which ones are false caricatures? That’s a tricky, tricky task- and one that even writers with the best of intentions get wrong.

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Barrett bless him. You can’t help but love him, but by God whoever wrote him has never met a black person

Write a character you can relate to. For instance, a lot of people are terrified of not giving a woman enough feminine characteristics in fear of being criticized for writing a ‘man with boobs.’ Trust me, as a woman I’d rather watch a strong active heroine who is  ‘a man with boobs’ than a woman who’s defined by being someone’s love interest/ mother or given a forced girly hobby because ‘chicks dig that, amirite?’

As for the stereotypical ones? I’d say leave writing them to the butch lesbians, girly girls, flamboyant gay men to write (or at least, the people who know a lot about that community).They’re the ones who can write them with the nuance they deserve, because they understand that stereotype. For example Ryan Murphy from Glee managed to turn Kurt Hummel into a great and complex character… even though I think he dropped the ball a little in The New Normal. Ai Yazawa wrote NANA, who’s main character is an air headed, boy crazy girly girl who’s impulsive, makes terrible life choices…yet it was framed in such a way that she was used to show the challenges of a young woman in Japan.

2) CHALLENGE your internalised prejudices. And RESEARCH

Look, in spite of what people tell you, no, just because you have gay/ black/ trans friends does NOT mean you don’t have a touch of homophobia, racism, sexist etc. It’s a ludicrous argument and by that stroke, Bluebeard could argue ‘I’m not a mysogynist: all my wives are women… well, were- before I killed them! Now they’re dead- but they were alive!’

Just because you agree with interaccial marriage and don’t attend KKK rallies doesn’t mean you’re not prejudiced; you’ve just cleared the world’s lowest bar, and there’s plenty of prejudiced behavior in between being Jesus and committing a hate crime. And, when you start writing, often those prejudices that you don’t normally betray in every day life become magnified

You can counteract this by RESEARCH. Believe it or not POC, LGBT people are REALLY keen on telling you want, and writing about their experiences. Read stories from their POV, about what it was like being a say, latina maid, or an effeminate gay man who grew up having an interest in clothes and make up since he was a young boy.

2) Avoid language that’s locked, loaded and coded

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This is a big problem and primarily applies to effeminate gay men. I’ve read of gay men described constantly as ‘sashaying’, ‘mincing’ ; take for example, Lord Akeldama from The Parosel Protectorate, the Patron Saint of terrible cliched gay writing:

He minced into the room, teetering about on three-inch heels with ruby and gold buckles. “My darling, darling Alexia.”

Oh God. How does one even mince into the room? Is he waving around his limp wrists and voguing to an invisible camera.

You see, when you start using these buzz words, you are not writing a fully fleshed person based on reality. You are drawing on cultural stereotypes as a short cut to portray a certain idea of  that type of person. It also singles out their ‘otherness’; why can’t an effeminate gay man just ‘walk’ or ‘stroll’ into a room like every other character? Why does he need a special gay walk because he’s different?  Please, don’t use coded language and let

3) Do NOT make their otherness their sole personality trait. And do NOT bring it up constantly

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Fangs for the fantasy wrote an excellent example on the Lesbian Shark. Sometimes writers are so enamored/ obsessed with the characters otherness that they think its interesting in and of its self that they have to bring it up constantly. If your whole character can be summed up as ‘gay’ or ‘female’ or ‘sassy black friend’ then you have a problem (and no, the fact they have a couple of token interests you cling to like Shakespearean plays does NOT stop them from falling into this trope).

The worst example is Sir Loras in the TVs version of GoT. Oh God.Every time he’s mentioned, it’s always to bring up a HILARIOUS gay joke, or about his gayness, or to show him persecuted because he’s gay and so he HAS to be persecuted or forced into an arranged marriage (not in the book) or some other stereotype relating that, or to show him banging a guy to please viewers. This isn’t inclusion, this is a hollow shell.

4) Do NOT make their otherness their sole ark

This is not inherently a bad thing, because marginalization really, really does have a massive impact on people’s daily lives. Especially in historical times, when women were property, black people were second class citizens or slaves, gay people could be murdered for who they love (which still hasn’t changed), being disabled made you less than, and being trans was an impossibility. These issues should be dealt with and it would

But it gets frustrating when everyone else gets to deal with a multitude of interesting ‘neutral’ issues, like saving the world, or dealing with PTSD, or their commitment issues, what it means to be strong, a hero etc while minorities get to deal with minority problems. The first woman pilot/ mechanic etc. Racism at work. The coming out story. We are more than just our race/ gender/ sexuality etc, and we deal with other problems too.

The one thing that’s even worse is when their minority

A great example is Tyrion. Tyrion is a dwarf and constantly has to deal with a barrage of prejudice from his father and everyone around him. But that’s only part of his story: first and foremost he’s a pragmatic, cunning, witty noble with a penchant for wine and women, who is scheming enough to be a politician in Westeros, but lacks the cruelty of other characters. We see him leading battles, dealing with his tyrannous nephew, get arrested for murder and end up on the run. This is how you write a minority character and treat their prejudice.

A bad ex

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5) Do not reduce them to a side kick, supporting role

The sassy black best friend, the GBF, the magical cripple. Too often, if a writer wants to include a minority, they make them a sidekick or a best friend. The main problem is their whole purpose to the plot and their character is defined by their relationship to the protagonist. Inevitably, they will end up becoming a useful servant to the protagonist.

Give them an actual role- give them their own plotline, or even – gasp- make them the protagonist!

5) Please do not make the sole/ most prominent female the love interest

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More Elsa please

This one is the mother of all terrible female tropes. Too often women’s existence is defined by her attractiveness to men and as being a wife or mother, so we see this constantly reflected in the media. It doesn’t matter what she’s achieved, her kind personality, whether she’s funny, made mistakes or throws one hell of a party- all that matters about her is who she’s married to. It’s frustrating because even if she is a great character, she will always be seen as ‘X’s’ girlfriend and will be in his shadow as the less prominent/ successful half of the couple.

Even when love interests start out interesting, because the story isn’t about them but their boyfriend, too often she will end up getting sidelined and get stuck in the kitchen. Look at Mira from Spartacus, who for all her talk of independence got bumped off as soon as she was no longer Spartacus’ love interest and therefore there was no point to her; or Fiona from Shrek, who was left behind in the castle in 2 and 3, and only got to do stuff in 4 because the alternate timeline meant she was no longer with Shrek and therefore they could reset their meetcute.

There are exceptions like Katara, who’s very much not primarily viewed as Aang’s love interest and has achieved a lot in her own right, but she is very much the exception to the rule and even she still got imperiled multiple times to motivate Aang (though she was kickass the majority of the time).

Hell, the reason Elsa was so revolutionary was because, for once, we had a female not defined by her romatic relationships.

I honestly would say that if she’s the girlfriend of a more prominent male character, she hardly counts as inclusion. Please, include females who aren’t love/ sex interests.

 

 

What advice do you have for writing minorities? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

ORDER OF THE POISON OAK (Russel MiddleBrook 2)- by Brent Hartinger

Blurb: Summer camp is different from high school. Something about spending the night. Things happen.

Geography Club’s Russel Middlebrook is back, and he and his friends are off to work as counselors at a summer camp. Brent Hartinger’s third novel is the story of Indian legends, skinny-dipping in moonlit coves, and passionate summer romance. It’s also the story of Russel’s latest club, The Order of the Poison Oak, a secret society dedicated to helping its members see life’s hidden beauty, and accept its sometimes painful sting.

Review: Order of The Poison Oak is the second book in the Russ Middlebrook series, following The Geography Club,  and takes our three best friends, Russel, Min and Gunnar, out of High School and into a Summer Camp for children who are burn survivors. After the complete dramatic car crash that was Russel’s coming out, he understandably wants a break from being The Gay Kid and a chance to be himself. But of course, dealing with a set of gobby tweens proves to be a handful, and he soon finds himself in a competition with Min over the affections of the sexy camp leader Web.

The characters: As usual, the characters are great. Thanks to the Ever Complicating power of bisexuality and its superpower to create love dodecahedrons, Min and Russel are now romantic rivals competing for the same guy. They compete, but their friendship is as deep and enjoyable to read as ever.and it develops still, remaining one of my favorite aspects of the series.

Gunnar is more tolerable this time, being as his actions are less terrible (I still haven’t forgiven him for what he did in Geography Club), and his story is of a guy who (almost certainly) has aspergers syndrome dealing with his awkwardness around girls. His said love interest, Em, is great, with a dry sense of humour and a Cool Nerd Girl personality that makes her a great addition to the book and, like with Brenda from the previous book, I wish she’d become a permanent cast member. But while she’s in this book, she’s great fun.

Our other stand out is Otto, a burn survivor who is volunteering at the camp who is fun and likeable, and only gets better in later books. I also like the sexy Web (what an appropriate name), the object of desire and a complete tease. He is the spear counterpart to the femme fatale, and although being a YA novel, there’s not a lot of sex but Casanova once said that the sexiest part of any encounter is the walk to bedroom, and the sexual tension that rises whenever he’s around is palpable.

The Plot: While the previous book followed a tried and tested High School popularity/ Mean Girls sort of plot, the plot for this one was iffier. It worked, and it served to allow the characters  a chance to develop and interact (and chase the sexy, sexy guy), it did at times feel like it was here to teach us a Very Special Lesson about looks not being everything, but the strong characterisation saved it from falling too deeply into that trap.

One good thing was Russel assuming because he’s gay that he’s automatically on a higher plane of tolerance and is ready to be oh so kind to the poor little burns kids, but they turn out to be nightmares at first. Russel learns that just because he’s gay doesn’t make him immune from having a white savior complex, which was a nice twist and this character flaw made Russel  more appealing.

The kids had character, and I liked that Russel genuinely struggled to not obsess over theirs (and Otto’s) scars and to be modern accepting, but falls short. The only problem is that we did get a cringe worthy road to understanding with a face palm inducing scene describing Otto’s inner beauty when Otto began to play the guitar which felt cheesey and like I was being taught a lesson about looks by a primary school teacher.I love this series, it’s one I’ve read multiple times but it does have an exasperating lack of subtlety.Luckily, Otto’s a strong and appealing character so as painful as that scene was, it didn’t transform him from a character into a lesson.

Verdict: The plot is a lot shakier than the last, but the characters are just as loveable as usual and I enjoyed Min and Russel’s friendship deepening and seeing how the chaos caused by our sexy love interest would play out. If you read the first, I’d definitely give this a shot.

REVIEW: THE RAT QUEENS VOL.1 : SASS AND SORCERY- by Kurtis Wiebe, illustrated by Roc Upchurch

Do you like irreverent humour? Creative action sequences? Great characters? Heroines who care more about marauding and fighting goblins than falling in love? A fun adventure? Do you like actual fun?

Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, then Rat Queens is a graphic novel you need to check out.

The story is basically about a party of four friends who go on quests in an MMO inspired world. We have Betty, a tiny perverted Smidgen (a sort of tiny troll or hobbit) who’s funny, loves her drink and her ‘special’ mushrooms; Hannah, a gobby magic user with an attitude problem and an arsenal full of lethal spells and even more lethal comebacks; Violet, a rebellious Dwarf who’s trying to forge her own identity; Dee, a social awkward healer who comes from a culture who worships Cthulu-or as she puts it…

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As you can see, the art is amazing– I’ve read a lot of comics, graphic novels and manga recently, and honestly I can say that this has some of the best artwork I’ve seen- seconded only to the work J.H. Williams did on Batwoman and the work Paul Louise-Julie did on both Yohance and The Pack.

Everything’s bright and colorful in this graphic novel and the character designs are very distinct. This is especially unusual in a series with female leads.Usually, the artist can’t bear to make them look like anything other than his ideal of the perfect woman, and what you’ll get is five models with different hairstyles and hair colour. Here, however, we have this:

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Look at how different the heroines are from each other, with completely different different builds, face shapes, skin tones and expressions that tell you a lot about their character. And not only that, but all the expressions on the characters are really nuanced. Check out the look of love and vulnerability on Betty’s face:

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And this picture of Dee and Betty:

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You don’t need to read the dialogue-or know anything about the characters-to see that they are good friends;  you can just tell from that picture the level of playful ease Betty has with Dee, and the amount of affection Dee has towards Betty.

The story itself is very simple and easy to follow, which is exactly what you want from an introductory arc. With less panels devoted to explaining the convoluted mess  intricacies of the plot, more time can be devoted to what this series excels at: the humour, the characters, the friendships and the action sequences.

And are the action sequences excellent. The fight sequences are really, really creative and kinetic. I mean, just have a look at this page:

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It’ll use lines and colours as backgrounds to create the appearance of movement and then cut to a white or black background for the killing blow. This works incredibly well, and when the fights come the shapes of the sides of the panels themselves will become more diagonal and may overlap, giving the feeling of a world thrown into chaos.

There’s also a lot of creativity involved. As well as the fights, the humor is on target and it affectionately satirises MMO games- like how the poor citizens of Palisade and straight laced cop Sawyer (who is the traditional Lawful Good protagonist who has a sort of ‘dating Catwoman’ dynamic with Hannah), just want the town not to be destroyed by maauding questers. Even if you don’t play MMO games, even if you’ve at least heard of World Of Warcraft than you know enough to get the humor.

On top of that, we get to the real crown jewel of this series- the characters and their relationships. Even though it’s only the first volume, we have a reasonable idea of our central characters and some of their relationships. What matters is their friendship, which always feels realistic thanks to the art and good dialogue. They fight and bicker like sisters who know each other too well, but they also clearly love each other and enjoy each other’s company and always have each other’s backs. It’s so rare to see strong female relationships which aren’t familial, and a comic full of great female relationships is something special.

Another kuddos has to go the diversity. It is AMAZING.  It’s not often you’ll get important black or queer characters in a series (although both DC and marvel are both making genuine efforts to change that, what with Batwoman and the new Ms.Marvel), but here we have a black woman and a bi/ lesbian woman as two of our main four characters.

For POC, not only do we have Dee, but we also have the most prominent male love interest (who’s described as the most attractive by the other girls), a couple of supporting characters sprinkled about, but also Betty’s love interest Faeyri who appears to be Malaysian or from another dark skinned East Asian ethnicity. Speaking of which, Betty’s relationship is treated equally to the rest of the casts; the focus of the novel is friendship and adventuring, so we have a few warm, genuine scenes between them but nothing that encroaches on Romantic Subplot Tumour . And also, I like Faeyri’s design:

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I particularly enjoy how Betty’s interested in does have the short hair style and alternative dress sense that you see a lot of queer woman donning. Don’t get me wrong- there are a lot of bi/ lesbian women who conventionally feminine, and they’re great and it’s always good to see them in media, but it’s very unusual for a butcher woman to be the love interest, and object of desire. It’s great to see a tomboyish lesbian of color can be desirable too.

Honestly, with so much good, this I’ve already read this volume twice, and I’m delaying reading the third because I don’t want it to be over.

RATING: 5/5 stars

BOOK REVIEW: THE GEOGRAPHY CLUB- BRENT HARTINGER

SUMMARY: Russel Middlebrook is convinced he’s the only gay kid at Goodkind High School. Then his online gay chat buddy turns out to be none other than Kevin, the popular but closeted star of the school’s baseball team. Soon Russel meets other gay students, too. There’s his best friend Min, who reveals that she is bisexual, and her soccer-playing girlfriend Terese. Then there’s Terese’s politically active friend, Ike. But how can kids this diverse get together without drawing attention to themselves?

“We just choose a club that’s so boring, that nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call it Geography Club!”

Brent Hartinger’s debut novel, what became first of a series about Russel Middlebrook, is a fast-paced, funny, and trenchant portrait of contemporary teenagers who may not learn any actual geography in their latest club, but who learn plenty about the treacherous social terrain of high school and the even more dangerous landscape of the human heart. This is Book 1 in the Russel Middlebrook Series.

THE PLOT: As far as the plot goes, this is your typical High School novel with an LGBT spin on it. We have the different clicks- the jocks, the girl jocks, the nerds, the lefty liberals, the outcasts- and all the drama that goes with this hierachy . We have the main character, our Fool, our Pilgrim, who travels to the lofty heights of popularity, and struggles to maintain his integrity in an environment where conformity is everything and bullying the weak is a sign of power.

It is everything you expect from a high school novel, but it works. It’s fast paced, flowing and every plot point is perfectly timed and  sincere. When Russel is under pressure, you feel that struggle, and you are routing for him every step of the way.

CHARACTERS: The thing that really makes this novel is the characters, and all of them are absolutely great.

Our main character is Russ Middlebrook, an adorkable gay nerd who’s dealing with being closeted in the homophobic American High School environment. Unlike a lot of teenage gay protagonists, he’s not self loathing or angsty (which would be understandable), but he’s pretty confident in who he is and just beginning to discover his sexual identity and explore his feelings for the first time, including milestones such as his first love and his first kiss.

He is optimistic, funny and tries to do the right thing but often falls short. He’s also prone to caving to peer pressure and getting swept away by his feelings, which is very realistic for someone his age and only serves to make him more relatable. I really enjoyed his narrative, which is light and humerous, although there was the odd occasion when he blatantly spelt out the obvious themes. I mean, sure teenagers are reading crap like House of Night and Twilight, but they also popularized The Hunger Games; they are able to understand what irony is without having forced Jesus references!

As for the rest of the cast, they are all winners. The book centers around the Geography Club- a group of friends who happen to be gay and who offer each other support and camaraderie . While LGBT relationships without fanfare are becoming more common in mainstream media, LGBT friendships are still uncommon so it was great to read about one. One of Hartinger’s biggest strengths as a writer is that he is very good at painting vivid characters very quickly, and in one well placed scene he can make his charaters feel more real than many other novelists do in an entire novel.Kimberley, for instance, is the gobby comic relief and all the scenes with her were really funny to read.

Special props have to go to our two main supporting characters: Min, Russel’s geeky best friend, and Kevin, the jock heart throb. Min is the ‘Lisa Simpson’ of this book, in that she is very smart, mature, left wing and has high moral standards to the point of being insufferable, and yet she is extremely likable. Her friendship with Russel is a definite high point and feels warm and genuine, without falling into the ‘gay guy and his gal pal’ trope.

Kevin is a compelling romantic lead, and even if ‘the hot jock is actually gay and falls in love with our every man gay protagonist’ is a cliche fantasy, this is done well. Their relationship is sweet and believable and every step and misstep feels natural.

The only weak point is Gunnar. Gunnar is Russel’s other best friend, he manipulates Russel into going on a double date with this girl, so that her best friend will go out with him. In order to do this, he essentially blackmails Russel into getting with a woman.

Look, I know that Gunnar is meant to have aspergers or something, but how he treats Russel is still reprehensible. He clearly has an idea that Russel is gay, but he tricks Russel into a situation where he would be forced to get intimate with a woman. This is really, really bad, and basically sexual coersion and is way too easily forgiven.

THE VERDICT: The Geography Club is a really enjoyable read and one I’ve read multiple times. Sure, sometimes it can beat you with its message over the head with all the subtlety and overkill of someone playing whack a mole with the hammer of Thor. But the writing his strong, the pacing is tight and it has a genuine heart and likable characters that will keep you engaged from start to finish.

RATING: 4 cool classmates you’ll stay friends with after graduation/ 5

COMIC REVIEW: PRINCESS PRINCESS EVER AFTER- by Katie O’Neill

So, it’s fair to say that I am a little bit old to be the target audience of Princess Princess Ever After, but after spotting it in an article on The Mary Sue  I thought I’d give it a look. I love anything to do with fairytale worlds with strong women women in it, and sometimes you just feel like reading something  colorful and feel good. Honestly, it’s just a cute, fun story that I’d recommend to any kid- and not just because its progressive, but because its got a good sense of humor and adventure, with characters that are surprisingly nuanced for such a short book.

The most obvious thing about Princess Princess Ever After is that yes, it is a  fairy tale with a same sex couple aimed at children. And that’s a big thing. Although things have generally gotten better with LGBT people in media aimed at adults and even a YA audience, even liberals are often uncomfortable with the idea of a same sex couple in a kid’s book or tv series (see Korrasami). This is because while they see opposite sex romance as fully encompassing romance, companionship, and innocent first love, they see same sex as equaling gay sex.

This book shows that this doesn’t have to be the case. The tone is perfect for children: sweet, innocent and with a good sense of fun. The story is far more about two very different young women bonding and going on adventure together (with a prince in tow) than it is about romance- although their relationship is adorable.

The characters are all likable and surprisingly fleshed out for such a short story. Its two main heroines are Princess Amira, the tomboyish knight, and Princess Sadie, the cute girly girl.

Princess Amira is a great character. Strong and brave, who ran away from home to avoid conventional gender roles. In a genre which overwhelmingly glorifies delicate white (usually blond) women, it’s great to see a black Princess who’s not the usual ‘white woman painted brown’, but has a hair that looks like a style that a black woman is more likely to have and comes from an African culture (my guess would be North Africa, judging by the desert). Though an aside… does something about Sadie and Amira remind you of anyone?

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Princess Sadie is the more conventionally feminine one,and my God, is she adorable. She’s sweet and cries a lot, but possesses a kind heart that makes her a good leader. They do have a traditional butch/ femme dynamic, though this is clearly done to show that there’s more than one way to be a girl rather than out of a belief there has to be a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in every relationship. This book does try and mix it up a bit and show that feminine does not equal inferior and Princess Sadie is just as useful as Amira. It’s a lot like Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe or Haruka and Michuru from Sailor Moon, or Utena and Anthy from RGU. As a woman who’s been in the army and seen that the tomboys really don’t perform better than the femmes, I’d totally love to see a story where the girly girl is a kick ass fighter and rescues her butch girlfriend, but hey, Sadie does get some rescuing in too..

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The villain is one that shows that sometimes it’s the ones closest to you that can hurt you the most. The only downside is that the main villain was defeated in a very quick and convenient way once the emotional confrontation was over. This seems to happen a lot (especially in stories aimed at girls), but the book was never about the final showdown and packs so much in that it doesn’t really matter.

The drawings are also really cute and make it a joy to flick through. They’re full of bright, round designs with lots of cute fairytale creatures like dragons and unicorns.

Verdict: This is a brilliant comic and one I’d recommend to any kid- especially little girls, who can probably find a bit of themselves in both our heroines.

Rating: 5 tomboy and girly girl animated couples out of 5

REVIEW: BAREFOOT IN THE CITY OF BROKEN DREAMS(Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years Book 2) – by Brent Hartinger

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AMAZON SYNOPSIS: “There was no way moving to Los Angeles was going to make me give up my soul. After all, I’d already seen all the movies about Hollywood. I knew how things worked.”

Twenty-four year-old Russel Middebrook and his boyfriend have moved to Los Angeles so Russel can try to make it as a screenwriter.

Almost right away, in a forgotten old house off of Sunset Boulevard, Russel meets Isaac Brander, a once-famous film producer who is convinced he can turn Russel’s screenplay into a movie.

Russel knows that success can’t possibly come this easy. After all, most of Russel’s Los Angeles friends are so desperate to make it that it’s downright scary. His ex-boyfriend, Otto, is trying everything to become an actor, and Daniel, the sexy neighbor, doesn’t even need a casting couch to get naked.

So what’s the catch with Mr. Brander? Could it be that movies about Hollywood don’t tell the whole truth? But what does that mean for Russel’s soul?

REVIEW: Honestly, my feelings towards the book are that this is an excellent story of a young man’s struggle to become a writer in Hollywood… which is totally undermined by its connection to the Russ Middlebrook series.

The plot: Everything about it was so well researched, and well paced. The mystery behind Brander , the charismatic former producer offering Russel a deal that’s too good to be true, was intriguing, and it constantly threw new hooks and twists at me at the exact right moment that kept me reading on, leading to an excellent payoff that was  utterly inevitable and utterly gutting… if i actually had any investment in Russel’s dream as a screenwriter. Unfortunately, this is my first big problem which was caused by its connection to the main series.

Russel spent three books not showing any interest in writing, and he spent the entire previous book not being interested in writing until the final chapter where gay-icon-fairy-godmother Vernie tells him maybe he should become a writer.Not because he’s talented, but he’s special. Now writing’s his LIFE LONG DREAM (of five minutes) that he’ll risk EVERYTHING for. Yeah, this wasn’t well set up and that really undermined the story. My internal questioning of Russel and his screen writing desire felt a lot like this:

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Brick’s love of lamp… still more built up than Russel’s screenwriting career.

The fact that i enjoyed it in spite of this gaping flaw says a lot about its quality, especially since this book contains so many things that I couldn’t care less about. I couldn’t care less about old school Hollywood or the inumerous references he throws in. If i ever became Queen of the world, I would ban writers writing about writing, because a) you’re a writer, you can literally be anything or anyone and create whole new worlds, yet you chose to write about yourself. That is beyond unimaginative b) it always ends up feeling self indulgent. Always.

The Cast: The series has always been a slice of life romance at its heart, which focused on love, friendship,acceptance and Russel’s human relationships.This sadly, is where this book truly deviates from the series. This book focuses purely on Russel’s ambition, and not on any of his human relationships.  The biggest clue that this was never truly meant to be part of the series is the loss of Min (whom I love) and Gunnar (whom I hate- but I’ve learned to tolerate), his two most important friendships. Still, the other characters that were there were good (well, except for Love Interest Kevin who I’ll get to later).

The Otto sideplot was one of its strongest, and its only real spiritual connection this book had to the main series. When I was first introduced to Otto in The Order Of The Poison Oak, I thought he was just going to be the token non-conventional attractive love interest, there to teach us a lesson about looks not being everything … before we go back to fantasizing about the good looking ripped, macho baseball stud.

Okay, Otto is completely the token not hot love interest (like hell was he ever going to be the series love interest over sexy Kevin), but he’s proven to be so much more. He’s funny, confident in who he is and more level headed than our melodramatic protagonist.

In all honestly, I wish we were reading about him. Unlike Russel, who is hot, has great friends, a ridiculously loyal and perfect boyfriend and was able to get a great place to live as soon as he left college and yet still moans about his non problems more than Louis from Interview With The Vampire, Otto has genuine problems. He has double minority status as a gay man and a disabled man, and his scar seriously affects his career choices and (it’s implied) his ability to date.

His struggle to become an actor in spite of the prejudice faced by someone who’s physically scarred was brilliant, heart wrenching (in spite of seeming kind of random) and extremely nuanced. It would have been so easy to paint the Hollywood casting agents who reject him as big , prejudiced monsters, but it didn’t; in one excellent speech, it showed us that even if the prejudice they were perpetuating was wrong, the dog eat dog nature of the Hollywood system meant that doing the right thing could lead to career suicide . The way that Otto dealt with the prejudice and came into his own was clever and realistic.

The story of his lesbian screenwriter and comedian neighbors was really well done, too. They provided a perfect foil to Kevin and Russel’s dilemna, and their resolve at the end was extremely realistic. Again- they were characters belonging to a standalone novel- cogs used to highlight the dangers of the Hollywood culture, not actual characters in their own right the same way Vernie or Min were, but that’s okay. They were still interesting and well utilized.

The weak link in subplots sadly, was the  Daniel side plot which is a shame because it had such a strong start. It spent so much time developing him and his sexy, fascinating (boner inducing) mind games, and I was hooked every scene and intrigued where this was going- but then the payoff was rushed. I would have loved to have seen this developed, as the sexually charged power play between him and the leads was fascinating and I’m not going lie, really, really hot. The sexy Latino is a bit of a dubious stereotype, but considering Hartingers record of writing strong POC (especially Min, whom I miss), I’m willing to give him a pass (this time) and say this was just… unfortunate.

The Protagonist: Now we get to the biggest problem with this book. Russel Middlebrook. I could forgive his random desire to become a screen writer if he was a somewhat likable character. But he’s not, he’s really not. He’s completely self absorbed and makes everything about him and treats his boyfriend like crap.

Kevin is reduced from fully realized character to passive supportive partner- the sweet partner who’s happy to smile at the sidelines, rearrange their whole life and sacrifice their dreams for their lover and require no sacrifices in return. He gives up everything for Russel, sacrificing his career for Russel, yet Russel shows a complete disinterest in any of Kevin’s struggles throughout the entire book. This is ironic, considering Russel wants to write a screenplay about the true nature of gay love, and yet he keeps on neglecting his actual gay love.

Okay, the book does acknowledge that Russel has been awful and has him apologize to Kevin for his appalling behavior at the end, but he still doesn’t really learn or change. And how much he doesn’t change is exemplified at the end, which is a minor spoiler, so if you want to go into this blind, skip to the next paragraph.

SPOILER The epitomy of how self involved Russel has become was the proposal. This should have been a moment about the two of them, how far they’ve come, and for the old Russ- the Russ of the Geography Club- it would have been. But it wasn’t. First, he proposed to Kevin on the Hollywood sign- something that’s his passion, not Kevin’s, as Kevin made clear he didn’t enjoy life in Hollywood. Regardless of whether he says ‘who cares?’ about what movie was shot there, which is supposed to show that he’s moved on from his obsessing about Hollywood over. Even if And his final reflection? After he proposed he wasn’t focusing on Kevin’s sacrifices, his future with Kevin, the life they could lead. It was all about Russel. Russel’s journey, Russel’s dream- Kevin barely even featured into it- he said a half hearted few lines of dialogue.  This is something I could tolerate in a standalone, if Kevin had just been a flat love interest from the start, but he wasn’t. He was a long established character. I honestly can’t think of any reason that Kevin is with Russel, except main character privilege.

I could tolerate this if he was developing into a less selfish person . Russel doesn’t learn! At the end of the last book, he made Gunnar’s emotional heart break about SPOILER his dad’s cancer diagnoses about himself and his issues finding himself. He hasn’t changed in this one, and i doubt if it will change in the final one. It’s also a problem, because Russel and Kevin are moving to a place of greater commitment and yet I don’t know why Kevin gives Russel the time of day.

This is a great shame, because of how likable Russel was in the original series. He actually took time to listen to other people’s issues and he could be blinded by his own self absorption, but he’d always learn and try and become more understanding. Now, he listens to other people- not because he wants to understand them, but because of what their problems can teach him about his (more privileged) life . He’s actually regressed as a character- he’s more selfish, more self absorbed, less empathetic; he actually has a few issues of internalized homophobia or effeminaphobia that weren’t present as a teenager… which doesn’t necessarily make a bad character. In fact, he is very human and he could have made an excellent character if either he really learned and developed, or we weren’t supposed to like him. Unfortunately, because we’re meant to route for him to achieve his ‘dream’ of becoming a screenwriter (ugh), his unlikability made it hard for me to route for him.

Verdict: As much as Russel and his tacked on dream frustrated me, this is still a very well written story about a struggling screenwriter, and as usual Hartinger creates excellent side characters. If you haven’t read any of the previous novels, I would definately pick this up because this is much more enjoyable as a stand alone than a Russ Middlebrook novel. If you’ve already read the series and you didn’t hate the new Russel in the previous books than still pick this up. Even if for no other reason than to say you’ve completed the series.

 

 

BOOK OF THE MONTH: MARCH

Another month has rolled around and I’ve looked at more books this month than I have in any previous months.

 

Book of the Month: The Color Purple– by Alice Walker

imageI originally thought I was going to make it To Break The Demon Gate, but as soon as I read the Color Purple I realized it couldn’t be anything else. A heart wrenching story of oppression, love, the importance of education and friendship seeing you through adversity. I said everything I needed to say about this book in my review here, and it’s a book that I would recommend to everyone and that’s why I’ve put it my Top 20 Books Everyone Should Read.

 

Short Story of the Month: Mummy– by Banana Yoshimoto

imageThis was definitely the most difficult category to choose because I’ve read so many superb 5 star short stories this month. However, the stand out had to be Mummy by Banana Yoshimoto which was found in a compilation of short stories by Japanese authors called The Book Of Tokyo. Banana Yoshimoto is currently one of the most acclaimed authors of Japanese fiction, and from reading this short story it’s easy to see why.

Mummy is a very strange and utterly intriguing short story about a young women who enters a warehouse alone with a guy she barely knows, but instead of finding herself a murder victim, she enters a three day sexual adventure that’s  strange, dangerous, fucked up and exhilerating. Banana perfectly captures what it’s like to be a young woman embarking on an early sexual adventure- the hunger for the forbidden, the new, dangerous and the thrill of adventure.

Runners up: The Forest of Memory, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, Moonlight on Shoji Bridge

World Building of the Month:The Teracotta Bride– by Zen Cho

This was another category that was difficult to choose. Right up until the end I was torn imagebetween the supernatural politics of the Mercy Thompson series and the science fiction reimagining of the Himba people in Binti; I thought I had finally decided on Binti, but then I read the Terracotta Bride. The Teracotta Bride gives us an in depth look at the Chinese/ Malaysian afterlife,a world with ten levels of hell where wealth is gained by corrupt methods and from paper burnt by the deceased’s ancestors. As well as giving us a fully realized interpretation of that world, it also points out its flaws (that even though the rest of the world’s evolved, the afterlife still possesses a medieval view of the role of women); it also asks some interesting new questions about this world like ‘are those paper servants created to serve their master sentient?’ or ‘what happens to the Teracotta Soldiers after their master’s reincarnated?’ On top of that, it even brings in a little speculative fiction element with the same principle used to created the Terracotta Soldiers is used to create a robot servant? What happens to a robot in the afterlife? Does it have a soul?

Every about this story was so unique and fascinating that there could only be one choice for Best World Building.

Runners up: Moon Called, Binti

Male Character of the Month: Lord Yamada and Kenji

to break the demon gateTo Break The Demon Gate is one of my all time favourite fantasy series. It takes place is Japan during the Heian era and is full . Lord Yamada is a great protagonist- a disgraced minor Lord who’s suffering from the loss of a loved one and is taken to the edge of grief. I think we all know what it

However, a story with only Lord Yamada wouldn’t be the same, as part of what makes the novels so great is his banter and odd couple friendship with Kenji, the ‘reprobate monk’. Kenji is the yin to Yamada’s yan, a carefree, light hearted lecherous monk who’s always getting lost along the tenfold way in the bottom of a cask of sake or some other worldly pleasure. Even though he’s always on the recieving end of the more humourless Yamada’s scoulding, the two have a strong friendship that sees them through their numerous adventures against the various schemes of the supernatural.

Female Character of the Month: Jade Yeo

imageIt was either Jade, Sofia or Cyan from Hedon this month and since I’m trying to avoid giving The Color Purple everything, it just had to Jade. I mean, come on, what’s not to love about her? She read’s like an unholy hybrid of The Importance of Being Earnest’s Cecily and Jane Austen’s Emma, completely rebels against all of societies norms and calls her unborn child ‘the worm’. She is one of the greatest females in literature and I really enjoyed the relationship between her and her best female friend.

Runners up: Sofia, Nettie, Cyan

 

POC Character of the Month: Sofia- the Color Purple

imageI really, really try not to nominate the same book for every category, but I couldn’t read The Color Purple and say it’s not the best thing I’ve read all month and that it doesn’t include the best POC portrayal in literature; because it is one of the most revolutionary portrayals of African American women ever written, so much so that it garnered praise from Oprah Winfrey (who ended up playing Sofia) and Lenny Henry.

I chose Sofia in particular because I fell in love with this character. Strong and independent, she had to stand up for herself her own life and she vowed never to let any man treat her like a punchbag. True to her word, when Harpo tried to beat her into submission she didn’t back down but fought him with every ounce of strength she had. Her finest moments included taking down Miss Eleanor Jane and her misguided and privileged view of her importance to her unwilling ‘mammy’ figure- something that is sadly still relevant today when films like The Help continue to get made and receive more critical acclaim than films like Selma.

LGBT Character of the Month: Celie- The Color Purple

shug and celie.jpgBefore Pam Grier’s portrayal of Kit Porter in The L word and Orange Is The New Black came on the scene, The Color Purple’s Celie and Shug Avery were two of the very few portrayals of black lesbians and bisexuals in the media.

Celie is a great character: she is a very human character who suffers a lot. She starts off as an extremely passive person who suffers silently and endures through life, even proving to be a little manipulative when she advises Harpo to beat his wife because she envies her freedom. However, she soon develops into a strong and capable person with a sense of self worth, and a big part of what takes her on that journey is her love for Shug. In spite of being constantly forced to sleep with men since she was 14, the first time she ever feels desire of her own was when she thought of Shug, who she felt a mix of adolescent infatuation and sexual desire for since she first found a picture of her. That sexual awakening burgeons into a deep friendship and later a physical relationship. Two often gay relationships are reduced to either ‘just sex’ or an asexual companionship, but The Color Purple avoids that by both 

Because of the pernicious stereotype of gay people being turned gay because of abuse and that lesbians are attracted to women because they hate men, it can be difficult to portray an LGBT character who was abused. However, although she 

What

 

REVIEW: THE COLOR PURPLE- by Alice Walker

Set in the deep American South between the wars, THE COLOR PURPLE is the classic tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.

Some novels you admire; some novels you love; and some novels are so powerful, so thought provoking that they make you grow as a person and give you characters that will live in your heart for the rest of your life. The Color Purple is definitely the latter and is without a doubt one of the greatest novels I have ever read. I’m not the alone in this estimation. When this novel came out, it became a living obsession of Oprah Winfrey, adored by thousands of black women and won a Pulitzer prize in spite of the tendency of POC and women (especially one who is both) to be overlooked. What makes the story so compelling? Continue reading REVIEW: THE COLOR PURPLE- by Alice Walker

BOOK REVIEW: HEDON- by Jason Werbeloff

In 2051, the Bhutanese Empire rules post-apocalyptic Shangri with iron-fisted Buddhist compassion. Happiness is compulsory, but making everyone happy isn’t easy in an overpopulated world. Breeders are ghettoed, homosexuality is mandatory, and Shangrians’ happiness levels are strictly monitored by hedometers implanted in their heads. Become depressed, or feel too happy without helping others feel the same, and The Tax Man will get angry. Very angry.

Gemini and Cyan, winners of the pregnancy lottery, are on the run. Cyan can’t fall pregnant, and Gemini is addicted to the Experience Machine. Will they evade The Tax Man, and find a way to end the brutal pleasures of Shangri?

The lovechild of Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale, HEDON is gritty satire on a dystopia drunk with bigotry and positive thinking.

Hedon is a dystopian novel set in far East Asia, where happiness is government mandated and anyone who fails to meet the correct quota of joy is quickly dispatched by the tax man. With most dystopian novels, the object is to look at problems with our own society and look at what would happen if they were taken to their logical extreme. Hedon does not do that. Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: HEDON- by Jason Werbeloff