Tag: books

Review: Books made into movies

With summer winding down and school starting back, I decided to take a look at popular novels that have been made into current movies. I chose The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais and The Giver by Lois Lowry.

The Hundred Foot Journey title refers to the hundred foot distance that separates two restaurants and the people that both live and work there. Unlike the short time required for a  journey of a hundred feet, the book itself takes its time getting to the point of this plot.

I decided to review this book because I received a free pass to see the movie and loved it.  Based on the story of the movie and the portrayal of the characters, I was eager to read the book.  I looked forward to learning more about the story and discovering the elements that the movie left out.

As I began reading, however, my excitement quickly gave way to disappointment.  The Hundred Foot Journey is one of those rare cases where the movie proves to be better than the book.

Told in first person narrative from the perspective of the main character, Hassan, the first three chapters focus primarily on Hassan’s childhood in India and then very briefly on two years spent in London before moving into the main plot.

The attempt is to give the reader an understanding of Hassan and to set up the events which serve as the catalyst for the rest of the novel.  The result is a disjointed ramble that gives far too much attention to detail and minutia.

While the movie manages to capture the important elements of the events in Hassan’s life, the book goes into great detail on events that are never mentioned again.  I found this distracting as at first it seemed these events were significant, when in fact they were later determined to be unimportant or secondary to the primary plot.

One exception to this is the momentary focus on Hassan’s early romantic relationships.  It is shown that the sudden death of his mother early in the novel profoundly impacts his subsequent relationships with women and with other people in his life.  One example is when he and his mother spent a day together and dined in an upper scale French restaurant.  In this instance, Morais’ attention to detail works well in establishing the special closeness that Hassan feels towards his mother and gives the reader a strong feeling of sympathy towards Hassan when his mother dies a few pages later.

Reading is often an escape for me.  When I am having a bad day or am feeling otherwise pressured, reading calms me.  Trying to get through The Hundred Foot Journey left me feeling frustrated at trying to keep track of the details and understand their relevance to the overall storyline.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is a young adult novel set in an unspecified future.  Having decided that being different or unique leads to strife and war, society has for generations focused on creating its own form of utopia.  In this society called “The Community”, the Elders keep everything and everyone under tight control.  “Sameness” is the ideal, and uniqueness is deemed shameful.

Each December, The Community holds a ceremony advancing children to the next age. When a child reaches twelve, they are assigned their role or job, and the remainder of their education becomes focused on training them in that role.  In his ceremony, Jonas is assigned to the role Receiver of Memory.  He trains privately with the last Receiver, now labeled the Giver, receiving the Giver’s memories of the past.  Jonas is now exempt from many of the community rules such as sharing his dreams or avoiding rudeness and is forbidden from requesting any medication.  These changes allow him to experience true emotions such as love, attraction, and intense pain.  Jonas also finds that he is able to see colors whereas the other members of the community can see only monochrome.

As with The Hundred Foot Journey, I went to see The Giver in the theatre.  Whereas The Hundred Foot Journey did an excellent job of presenting the important elements of the book, The Giver took considerably more liberties.  In the movie, Jonas’ age is changed from twelve to sixteen, a love triangle is added, and the role of the Elders takes on a sinister overtone.  The book implies that The Community was developed by the Elders out of good intention, a belief that if everyone was the same there would be nothing to create conflict.  In the film, the focus of the Elders shifts primarily to the Chief Elder whose motives are less clear.

I enjoyed both the film adaptation and the book The Giver, but I felt the book spoke to me more. Where the film created scenes that appeared thrown in just for the sake of creating an action element, the book focused more on the subtleties and nuances of being unique in a society that reveres conformity.  In addition, the film made a few minor changes I did not understand such as the number of Jonas’ birth order.  In the book he is number nineteen in his birth year, and in the movie he is number fifty-six.  The only reason I could discern for this was an effort to create a more suspenseful scene.  One other element changed from the book to the movie was Jonas’ eye color.  In the book, Lowry places a special emphasis on the fact that Jonas, the Giver and a select few others have “funny eyes” (presumably blue though this this is never stated outright).  In the movie, eye color is changed to a special birthmark on the inside of the wrist.  To me, featuring the eye color rather than a subtle mark created a stronger point in that it is an instantly visible and distinct characteristic.

Although The Hundred Foot Journey and The Giver appear to have no similarities, there are common themes to be found.  In both novels the protaganist struggles with the conflict of societal expectations versus his personal growth.  In The Giver, Jonas struggles with trying to understand his experiences of deep emotion against the traditions of his society.  In The Hundred Foot Journey, Hassan struggles with understanding his own deep emotions in light of his mother’s death and father’s emotional shut down, while fighting against the traditions of his society.  In addition, both Jonas and Hassan experience long personal journeys that force them away from the comfort of their communities and their traditions.

I strongly urge those interested in seeing the film adaptation of The Giver to do so, but I would just as strongly encourage viewers to read the book first.  For those interested in The Hundred Foot Journey, I highly recommend going the film adaptation but would advise anyone considering it to skip the book.

Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell centers around the lives of two teenagers in Omaha, Nebraska, during the mid-80’s.  Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother and abusive stepfather.  Forced to share a room with four younger siblings, Eleanor spends the majority of her time desperately trying to be invisible so that her stepfather won’t kick her out of the house again.

Eleanor finds herself forced to sit next to Park on the first day of school after being heckled and shunned by everyone else on the bus.  Eleanor is large, with bright red hair and clothes that can only be called “strange”.

For several weeks, Eleanor and Park don’t interact at all.  Park secretly thinks Eleanor is just weird, and Eleanor wonders how it is that the only Asian kid in school is simultaneously a misfit and part of the “in” crowd.   One day Park looks over and realizes that Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder.  After this, he starts giving her comics to borrow, until one day he comments on some song lyrics written on her book cover.  This serves as the needed ice breaker, and soon the two find themselves talking non-stop about music, Han Solo, and the sexist undertones of X-Men.

On the surface, the two begin a fun and lighthearted teen romance, but beneath the surface we find that Eleanor’s entire family lives at the whim of her drunken stepfather.  Eleanor can’t understand why her mother stays with him, but soon we start to see little glimpses here and there of how beaten down and worn out her mother has become.

In contrast, Park has a seemingly perfect home life.  His parents can hardly keep their hands off each other, and his mother’s success as a beautician accords Park a certain acceptability with the cool kids.

Park and his father are constantly at odds since his father doesn’t understand his son’s seeming inability to learn to drive a stick or his penchant for wearing eyeliner and therefore constantly berates Park’s masculinity.

Finally, their individual situations reach a climax and Eleanor and Park are forced to face the realities of trying to turn a teen romance into “forever”.

Eleanor and Park has been compared to John Green‘s The Fault in our Stars or Paper Towns.  I found, however, that it reminded me far more of The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LeBan.  As with Duncan in The Tragedy Paper, Eleanor is starting over in a new school late in her high school career.  In addition as with Duncan and his albinism, Eleanor’s red hair and large frame  set her apart.  Finally, both books are told through alternating perspectives and culminate in a sudden event that irrevocably changes the main characters’ lives.

While I enjoyed Eleanor and Park and found it to be a fun and easy read, I felt it lacked some of the elements that make a truly great novel.  Rowell depends largely on cliches and predictability and fails to explore elements that could add complexity and believability for her characters.  For example, Park’s mother is emphasized as being Korean, and Park struggles with what it means to him to be half-Korean, yet Park’s house seems devoid of anything resembling Korean culture.  The author also gives no indication that Park’s parents encountered any difficulties as an interracial couple who began their life together in 1960’s Nebraska.  Park claims that his previous lack of romantic success is due to a dearth of attractive male Asian examples, yet we discover his ex-girlfriend is still eager for his attention and the most popular girl in school has a crush on him.

In contrast, Rowell does an excellent job with Eleanor’s characterization.  From the first day on the bus when she is labeled as “Big Red”, the reader can relate to Eleanor’s situation.  Eleanor is portrayed as a smart kid who has all but completely shut herself off from everyone, due to the inability or unwillingness of the adults in her life to help.  Her mother is so overrun with trying to anticipate the demands of her husband and with raising the younger children that she sees Eleanor more as a problem than a daughter.  The school guidance counselor thinks everything can be fixed with a smile and a hug.  Her teachers are seemingly unaware or unconcerned.  As a result, Eleanor is sometimes sarcastic and caustic or shuts down when struggling to explain her family situation or the intensity of her own feelings towards Park.

Set in 1986, Eleanor and Park makes solid use of the time frame.  Situations that would be solved by today’s modern technology such as cell phones or MP3 players are integral elements to the plot.  When Park lends Eleanor his tape player, she worries about running down the batteries, noting that they are expensive.  Eleanor also comments several times that she does not have a phone at home, making it difficult for her to call Park or for anyone to call her.  Finally, the music that Rowell weaves into the plot was quintessential of the rise of the 70’s and 80’s punk culture.

Eleanor and Park is marketed for teens fourteen and up.  This is an appropriate starting age due to themes of abuse, bullying, and teen sex.

I found Eleanor and Park to be a quick and enjoyable read.  Rowell’s use of dialogue is her strongest point, but the over use of cliche’s and exaggerated physical descriptions read more like a beginning novel rather than the work of an established author.  A few of the characters were believable in their flaws and insecurities, while others seemed either caricaturish or too undeveloped for their transformation to be realistic.  As with The Tragedy Paper, the dual narrating voices added nicely to the storyline and kept the pace flowing well; however, I would have liked to have been given more insight into some of the lesser characters.



Review: Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts

As adults, many of us know the detailed history of the American Revolution.  We’ve heard the tale of Paul Revere’s ride, of the Founding Fathers, and of Nathan Hale’s last words.  Not much, however, is told about the role of women in the fight for independence.  With this in mind, I decided to review Cokie Roberts’ book Founding Mothers.   Roberts is the daughter of two prominent former members of Congress and is a well-respected news anchor.  Two versions of her book were created: one for children and a more in-depth one for adults. I have addressed both in this review.

Each book opens with Deborah Reed, the wife of Benjamin Franklin.  In both versions, we discover that Deborah and Franklin met while they were still in their late teens, fell out of touch but reconnected years later.  In the expanded adult version, we discover that Franklin was sent away on business and quickly forgot about Deborah.  As a result, her mother married her off to another man who eventually disappeared in the West Indies.  Later, after Franklin and Reed reconnect, they are unable to legally marry due to the fact that her first husband’s death cannot be proven.  The relationship was well accepted however, so Deborah took the name Franklin and became recognized as his wife.

In the children’s version, we are told that Benjamin was appointed as Postmaster and required to travel extensively, leaving Deborah to run the Post Office in his stead.  Roberts expands on this in the adult version, and we find out that Franklin traveled to England for an extended period, setting up household with another woman while his wife ran a sundry shop and maintained the post office.  In addition, Deborah later kept the books for Benjamin’s print shop and invested in real estate, opening some of the first franchises in the country.

After traveling back and forth, Franklin returned to England promising to be back within seven months.  He did not return until after Deborah’s death more than ten years later.

Both of Roberts’ books give us glimpses into some of the lesser known women of the Revolution.  A brief quote from The Women of the American Revolution by Elizabeth Ellet tells of a Mrs. Pond who fed more than 100 Patriot soldiers the morning after the Battle of Lexington.

Other less famous women include Emily Geiger who carried a message through British territory for General Greene.  She was detained by British soldiers who called in a woman to search her.  During the delay, Emily could memorize the message and swallow the paper evidence.  Finding no justification in keeping her, the British freed her, and she rode on to deliver the message.

Margaret Corbin’s husband, John, was killed at Fort Washington, New York.  Afterwards, she took up his artillery position and was wounded three times.  Unable to work after the war, Corbin petitioned Congress for a retired soldier’s pension.  They agreed, making her the first woman in United States history to receive a military pension.  She was re-buried at West Point in 1926 and is one of two Revolutionary War veterans interred there.

One amusing mention in Roberts’ book is of Mary Lindley Murray.  After defeating the Patriots at Kips Bay in 1776, British General Howe and his soldiers stopped at Mary’s house for dinner.  Mary was quite generous with the wine and managed to distract Howe and his men long enough for the American soldiers to escape.

Another notable woman of the Revolution was Deborah Sampson.  In the children’s version of her book, Roberts’ tells us that Deborah made herself a suit of men’s clothing and joined the army as Robert Shurtleff.  After serving for more than three years and being wounded twice, Deborah eventually fell ill and was discovered by the doctor treating her.  She was then forced to leave the army and after the war had ended was granted a soldier’s retirement pay and recognized by Congress for her service.

In the adult version of this tale, Roberts fills in a few more details.  Deborah Sampson did indeed serve as Robert Shurtleff for more than three years.  Ironically, the men she served alongside nicknamed her “Molly” due to her inability to grow a beard, never realizing that “he” was indeed “she”.  The doctor who discovered her secret kept it hidden and sent her on a mission to deliver a letter to General Washington who immediately granted her an honorable discharge and enough money to get home.  Years later, after several petitions to Congress, she was granted a retirement pension of $76.80 per year and some land to live on.

Roberts delves into the histories and services of many other women of the Revolution. The Daughters of Liberty began a boycott of merchants that sold British goods and created “spinning bees” where they spun cloth to provide clothing for the Patriot army.  Eliza Lucas Pinckney at the age of 19 decided to grow indigo for the soldier’s uniforms and eventually created one of the largest agricultural businesses in South Carolina.

Roberts also tells us about the women of whom we all have heard, such as Martha Washington.  Martha is credited as being one of the first people to receive the smallpox inoculation, thus encouraging the soldiers by example.  The inoculation is now considered to have given the American army a major advantage over the British.  In addition, the reader is told about Abigail Adams who ran her husband’s farm while overseeing the education of their young children, wrote letters favoring the abolition of slavery, and spent much of her life advocating women’s equality.

Both books do an excellent job of keeping the subject matter fresh and interesting.  In the children’s version of Founding Mothers, Roberts manages to present the subject matter in a way that is easily accessible but is not dumbed-down.

In the adult version, she gives more detailed anecdotes of the women’s lives and the roles they played in shaping the early days of our country, but does not bore the reader with irrelevant trivia.

I enjoyed both books immensely and recommend them to readers interested in learning more about the women of the American Revolution.


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