Category Archives: Living in Neverland with Peter Pan and Wendy

Nora and Kettle | Review

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Nora and Kettle (Paper Stars #1) by Lauren Nicolle Taylor

In the post-WWII 1950s America, stereotypes and prejudices against the Japanese were still prevalent. Kettle is a Japanese American boy, raised in the internment camps, who prefers life on the streets to the brutality of life in a Home. Along with his “brother” Kin, Kettle leads and protects a group of lost boys, known as the Kings, in a more “free” life. Nora, on the other hand, lives a privileged life of luxury and money, at least on the outside. Behind the scenes, Nora is physically abused by her father and is the sole protector of her younger sister, who has already been the permanently affected by his abuse.

A historical fiction loosely based on Peter Pan, Nora and Kettle is heartbreaking, beautiful, and rich with character development.

My biggest problem with this book is also one of its strengths: character development. While I loved the extensive look into these characters and their lives, understanding their motivations and who they are individually, it took 200 pages before the characters actually came together and the plot advanced. While this is written in a more “contemporary” style, focused on character and relationships, I would’ve liked to see that struggle of them coming together as more of the focus on the story. Nora on the streets, Kettle struggling with his identity: that’s where the real story lies, not 200 pages of will Nora leave home or not.

15305456The first book in a series, the ending, while cathartic at times, seemed more interested in setting up the next book than finishing the current one. Readers are left with a cliffhanger and a major change in Nora’s life that should’ve been addressed much earlier.

That being said, Nora and Kettle is lyrically written, with beautiful paragraphs of dialogue and description that naturally flow together. It’s very easy to picture and watch the words dance around your head.

Dealing with some very tough topics, Nora and Kettle doesn’t shy away from the brutality of child abuse and racial prejudices, but doesn’t make it the sole characterization of its characters. Nora is abused, and that affects her in very real ways, but she’s also a sister, a dreamer, and someone whose mind hasn’t been shut to new experiences. Kettle is a Japanese American, but even he doesn’t know what that means for him; he doesn’t know what to identify as, and while he keeps his head low to avoid confrontation, he also works hard, refuses to give into those prejudices, and protects those that need it.

Though it takes some time for the title characters to finally come together – for Peter to whisk Wendy away through the window – when they do, it’s magical. They have a natural chemistry, and knowing them as well as we do, it’s exciting to see them together and beginning to fall for one another. It’s fast, but it also feels very slow at the same time.

A big fan of Peter Pan and its many retellings, this was not a disappointment.

3.5 stars

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To Die would be a Great Adventure

Last week, we said goodbye to one of the funniest men to ever walk the earth. A man who was so quick and energetic and hyper, you had no choice but to pay close attention. A man whose performances and comedy lit up and shaped my childhood. A genius.

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Normally, I don’t care about celebrity deaths all that much. Sure, it was sad when Heath Ledger died and Michael Jackson died, but neither of them truly impacted me in the same way as Robin. I mean, I enjoyed dancing and singing to “Black and White” and “The Man in the Mirror,” and “Will You Be There” from Free Willy may have been belted in the car and end credits for an entire year, but the King of Pop didn’t shape my life. Robin did.

Robin taught me to fly as a kid, and as an adult, the messages in Hook are even more prevalent. Peter Pan has always been, even before Harry Potter, one of the most defining stories of my childhood, and Hook is one of my absolute favorite versions. Robin’s Peter and Dustin Hoffman’s Hook are iconic to me, and I will never not love that movie. I was taught that even though we all have to grow up, even Peter Pan, there’s a way to embrace the magic, as long as we don’t forget it.

My parents divorced when I was six, and I can remember receiving a VHS copy of Mrs. Doubtfire from my Dad’s parents for Christmas sometime around then. I always kind of thought it a bit too nail-on-the-head, as the parents in the film resembled my own parents, and my Mom had custody… but I loved that movie. Sure, it’s cheesy and ridiculous, but I loved it. I laughed and laughed, which is probably the precise reason it was given to me, and to this day I still love it. I mean, what’s NOT to love about Robin Williams dressing up as an elderly Scottish nanny? Especially the scene where the fat suit starts coming off in the restaurant…! Hilarious. Robin taught me that although divorce is a nasty business, it’s okay to laugh.

While Aladdin was never my all-time favorite Disney movie, the Genie was my favorite sidekick. How awesome is he!? I gotta tell you, Disney’s tribute to Robin, along with the Academy’s, who also referenced the great Genie, moved me to tears. I can’t even think about it now without getting choked up.

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And finally, Dead Poet’s Society. I watched this movie as a kid at my Dad’s house (I always suspected my Dad wanted to sort of be Robin Williams, maybe with a mix of Jerry Garcia and Gandalf) and every time, found myself crying. And not just because of the death at the end, but because of the respect the students had for Mr. Keating. I won’t say this movie influenced my decision to become an English teacher, for there were a great many factors, but AS an English teacher, I want nothing more than to be Mr. Keating.

While there were many other great, great films and roles had by Robin: Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, One Hour Photo (which haunted me for a while), Jumanji, etc… these four were the ones that impacted me the most, the ones that I will never be able to watch again without a tear glistening in my eye as I shout BANGARANG!

Robin’s humor was one that often presented itself in dark places, helping us cope with our own demons with a little laughter. It is a shame that his own darkness consumed him, and it is something to remember when confronting life. Everyone needs laughter, even the Jester, so fill your days with smiles and incite the laughter in others.

O Captain, My Captain.

You will be missed.

“Since the last Games, something’s different. I can see it.”

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Anyone who has known me over the fast few years has undoubtedly noticed my affection for The Hunger Games series. I read the books the first time over a weekend; I just couldn’t stop reading. It reminded me of the days when I first read Harry Potter (the greatest love of my life, along with Hanson), where I would marathon read, my neck cramping and eyes blurry because I can’t stop without knowing what happens. The Hunger Games hooked me.

I fell in love with Katniss, the strong female lead who is a good role model for young girls (especially in the wake of “if you leave me, I’ll die” Bella Swan), and the supporting characters were all believable and interesting. And the premise. Ooo. I do love me a good dystopia (and thanks to the success of THG, teen dystopias became all the rage, which means I have that many more to read… even though most are super weak in comparison, though I did love super-flawed Divergent and Matched).  Not to mention, I was already a fan of Japan’s Battle Royale, which is basically the same premise but heavier on the gore. Are there flaws in THG? Absolutely. Do I care? No.

When I taught the first book the first time (yay for being an English teacher), I became completely wrapped up in it. Every time I teach it (it’s been 3 times now), it basically becomes my life. When my students need to find vocab words, it doesn’t take me long to find it, I’ve read the book so many times.

Then the movie came out, which was… meh. You can read my full review here, but basically, though I loved it and LOVE Jennifer Lawrence (I basically want to be her), I was disappointed with many of the details.

Then came Catching Fire. Oh My God. I LOVED this film. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read the second book in the series as many times, so I didn’t notice the details they failed to include, but I thought the transition from page to screen worked so well. Not only is the eye candy amazing – between Josh Hutchenson, Liam Hemsworth, and Sam Claflin, plus JLaw for my girl crush – I was good; but there’s so much more than that. The film was a rollercoaster ride of emotions. I went from tearing up at the scene in District 11 to angry at the Capitol, to laughing at Haymitch and Effie, to suspense in the arena, to tears at Mags, to suspense at the monkeys… you get the picture.

Having read the book, I already knew the plot twists and secrets, but that didn’t make it any less enjoying. In fact, I had a lot of fun with Boy next to me; angry at characters I knew to be good and worried about characters I knew would die. His review, by the way, was a 10/10 (it’s worth noting our first movie we ever saw together in theaters was the first installment).

Everything translated so well. I loved Finnick, played by Sam Claflin, and Jena Malone’s Johanna was perfect (I do have a soft spot for the crazy bitches though… Clove was one of my favorites in the first book). I liked being able to see Betee’s wiring project and the Arena itself, which matched the descriptions pretty well. It was also interesting to see the Capitol’s side of things, a continuing element from the first movie that helps with suspense and red herons. I also felt the portrayal of the animosity of the tributes toward the Capitol, and the unfairness of it all was spot-on. The interview scene was done very well. I almost felt sorry for Caesar Flickerman.

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And, oh, the costumes. I wish I could dress like Katniss. She has so many good looks in Catching Fire; from the tour outfits that are comfortable yet flattering, to the gorgeous wedding dress-turned-mockingjay. I also thought the “girl on fire” look was ten times better than it was in the first movie, where it looked obviously fake; here the smoldering coal look was more believable and entrancing.

o-CATCHING-FIRE-PHOTOS-570Then there was the love triangle. This is how I feel about the whole Katniss – Peeta – Gale drama: if Katniss had never gone into the Hunger Games, she and Gale would’ve been meant to be, but because she endured the Games with Peeta, a connection forged between them that could never be broken. Sure, Gale is strong and handsome and good for her, but he brings out the dark side of Katniss. Peeta, on the other hand, is calm and peaceful, traits Katniss needs to balance her out. Gale will never understand the Games the same way Peeta does, and so he will never understand the bond between Katniss and Peeta. Katniss fights it because she wants a choice, and she feels the Games and the Capitol concocted her relationship with Peeta, even though her feelings are true. It isn’t until the scene on the beach that you see Katniss’ true feelings for Peeta come out, and it’s lovely to watch. Not to mention, Josh beefed up between films, so it’s not even an easy “Gale’s hotter” decision anymore. But oh, there was so much more kissing. Thank catchingfirestill3 goodness.

When I watch movies or read books that really grab me, I know I love them because of how they affect me emotionally. If I spend the next few days replaying them in my head, empathizing with the characters and wishing I were in the world, I know it was done well. Catching Fire was no exception here. I couldn’t help but feel the same trapped feeling as Katniss, the surrealness of being back in the Arena, but this time knowing there’s no escape. As she watches Cinna’s beating and is lifted into the Arena, a feeling of “Oh, God, it’s really happening and I’m not ready for this” washed over me. When she conspired with Peeta about leaving the alliance, knowing there’s no way out of the Arena but death, I felt it. Call me crazy, but I did. And that is a mark of something good.

Though the third book is my least favorite in the trilogy, I’m excited for the two-part installment (thanks, Harry Potter, for that trend… while you may have needed the six hours to tell the final book, now every film adaptation feels it needs multiple movies as well, when all it really wants is more money…  I’m looking at you Twilight and The Hobbit).  I can’t wait to see the end play out, and more Haymitch on screen is always a bonus.

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Camp is for Nerds! (Good Thing I Am One!)

Rather than write a summary of this past summer’s camp season at iD Tech @ University of Miami, I figured I’d just show you the best parts…

I had lightsaber battles
I danced the Time Warp (and many, many other dances)
I auditioned for The Walking Dead (okay, not really, but how cool would that have been!?)
I became the Dark Knight
…and of course The Smartest Witch of Her Age
I took pretty pictures of campus
…and lots and lots of animals
I DIDN’T get eaten by a crocodile, because I heeded this sign
I was pied for my sixth time
I was turned into a Rainbow Unicorn Centaur
And was a member of a boyband, No Direction (find our video on my Videos Page!)

And of course there were typical camp activities going on… videos made, games played (and made), lots and lots of coffee, campers taught, LOTS of dance parties (including solo ones to “Taking the Hobbits to Isengard“), and always, a ton of fun. Here’s to next summer!

100 Things That Make Me Happy

One of the many (101 to be exact) items on my 101/1001 list is to make a 100 Things That Make Me Happy list. I discovered recently that I’d started this list some time ago, but only got to the 60’s before I gave up. Upon re-reading of this original list, I decided not only would I finish it, but I would revamp it as well, adding new things and taking away the ones that didn’t seem relevant anymore (like “when a boy calls you for no reason”).

See the complete list after the jump:

Continue reading 100 Things That Make Me Happy

Two Great Passions

Foreward to “These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you” (coming up after these messages!)

I have two great passions in my life – Hanson, and Harry Potter. I fell in love with both during that first decade of my life, and both have been consistent presences ever since. Both make up a large portion of who I am, and to fully understand me, you need to understand them. Even my own mother does not “get it;” she thinks these are passing obsessions via the likes of *NSYNC, Star Wars, Peter Pan (all of which I still love but no longer devote to). She has yet to even finish reading all the Harry Potter books (much less the movies) or attend a Hanson concert (though she will listen to songs when I play them for her).

For me, Hanson defines passion. They put so much into their music, and have fought so hard to continue making it, and that love comes through in every lyric and stroke of the piano. They are constantly fighting against perceptions and connotations, associations with “mmmbop” and the fact they became famous as pre-teens whose voices hadn’t yet dropped. I have grown up listening to their music, hearing the changes that come with maturity – both emotionally and musically – and relating them to the emotions tormenting me.

I met Hanson, in particularly Zac, in 2005 outside of a show – the first show of theirs I’d seen since 1997 and become an adult. The moment was life-changing and brought my childhood and adulthood together. To actually meet the man I obsessed over, my first love, who I’d listened to countless times and stared longingly at posters of, was surreal, and I felt my life was complete in many ways. He is still the man I consider my “ideal,” though I am mature enough now to realize the reality of life. 

Harry Potter is a different kind of love. I read the first story and immediately fell in love. In fact, when I read it now, over a decade later, I can still remember the way I felt reading the words for the first time. I still become enraptured with the characters, the wonder, the magic of it all. Like Hanson, I grew up with Harry Potter. My generation, and those a few years younger, were roughly the same age as Harry and followed his journey, relating to the emotions and turmoil like no one else could, because we were living it. I waited impatiently between book releases, scooping them up at midnight and reading them in a single sitting. Harry represented so much of what I wanted to be, and his battles became my own.

This summer I started working at a technology camp, where every week we lived a different theme – Greek Mythology, The Last Airbender, and Harry Potter. I pulled together a Hermione costume and we transformed the camp, complete with Muggle Quidditch, a Sorting Hat and House Cup, and Wizard Duels. As instructors, we carried wands and cast spells, handing out raffle tickets tocampers who “performed” them for us. (For instance, if we yelled “Lumos!” and a camper turned the lights on, he or she was given tickets). Essentially, we lived Harry Potter for two weeks.

Since then, my costume has grown – thanks to Halloween, movie marathons and premieres, and Dress Up as Your Favorite Literary Character days at work – and I find excuses to wear the costume whenever possible. This summer, my fellow Harry-loving instructor (who would be made fun of with me for our incessantconversations while the boys talked about programming and/or sports, depending on the person) and I are moving to a different camp location, and are bringing Harry with us.

So you understand the magnitude of my meeting Daniel Radcliffe, the boy who grew up as Harry Potter, after over a decade of loyalty, and the excitement when he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Nice hat, by the way.”