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broodings from the burrow

January 13, 2009

into the stacks: 2009.1
posted by soe 11:44 pm

My goal for the four-day weekend is to find all the books I finished in 2008 and to write quick reviews of them for the blog. In the meantime, I’ve decided for 2009 that I’m going to write the reviews one at a time in the hope that I’ll be better about blogging about them in a timely fashion.

Of course, I just finished book #3 for the year today. But let’s proceed as we mean to go on:

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives, by Michael Buckley

From the jacket: “For Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, life hasn’t been a fairy tale. After the mysterious disappearance of their parents, the sisters are sent to live with their grandmother — a woman they believed was dead! Granny Relda reveals that the girls have two famous ancestors, the Brothers Grimm, whose classic book of fairy tales is actually a collection of case files of magical mischief. Now the girls must take on the family responsibility of being fairy-tale detectives. Their first case? A roller-coaster ride of an adventure to stop a giant from destroying their new hometown.”

My take: As those of you who have read these book reports before will already know, I love literary adaptations, particularly those of a fairy tale nature. Shannon Hale and Jasper Fforde are favorites of mine because they can take material we all know backwards and forwards and make it fresh again. So when I saw this series a few years ago, I made note of it and promised I’d get back to it. And I have.

Buckley is not as talented as either Fforde (who writes for adults) or Hale (whose adaptive work is predominantly aimed at the younger set), but the first in the series of sister mysteries suggests he is adept enough that I’d like to keep reading. Each girl has an authentic personality. Sabrina, who’s nearly 12, is protective of her younger sister and masterminds their escapes from all sorts of unsuitable foster homes, while Daphne, at a mere seven, already knows that the way to get around her sister is to pretend to humor her.

When crazy things start happening around them, Sabrina is ready to bail, understandably believing that the woman who claims to be their grandmother is another huckster they need to flee. After all, pixies don’t really exist; those had to have been a particularly nasty swarm of mosquitoes. And it’s much more likely that there was a freak earthquake that flattened that farmer’s house rather than a giant.

But when the woman claiming to be their grandmother and her friend, Mr. Canis, are kidnapped right before their disbelieving eyes, it seems like there’s nothing for the girls to do but start trusting their street-smarts and get to work figuring out the mystery. Along the way they’ll have to get past the likes of Mayor Charming, Police Chief Hamstead and his two porky deputies, Jack (who hasn’t outsmarted a giant in years), neighbor Puck, and other refugees from bedtime tales to solve the case. But will they be in time?

I think kids in the 6-12 range would enjoy this story, so if you’re looking to buy for that age group, consider this series. The copy I read includes a reader’s guide that encourages kids to write their own fairy tales — either on their own or as a group activity — and to check out the original source material.

Pages: 284

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the price of a happy ending
posted by soe 2:58 am

Slumdog Millionaire won the Golden Globe for best drama last night. Ten days earlier I walked out of the theater 30 minutes into it.

It wasn’t that it was bad. Far from it. It was well-portrayed. It was gritty. It was intense. It felt real.

And it was horrifying.

For anyone considering seeing it, know that the “life-affirming,” “feel-good” ending is preceded by scenes of police torture, desperate poverty, religiously incited mass murder, child abuse, and cruelty. Twenty minutes in, I was weeping desperately. Fifteen minutes later when the scene turned to child mutilation, I bolted.

Rudi and Sarah assured me when they emerged 90 minutes later that I’d sat through the worst of it and that it really did get much better. They loved it.

To me, it doesn’t matter how much beauty or love comes through by the end; if I have to live through all that horror, it’s not worth it to me.

Coworkers who’ve seen the movie agree with Rudi and Sarah (and the Hollywood Foreign Press) in that the film really does leave you feeling joyful at its conclusion. I just can’t see how. It’s bothered me all afternoon. Rudi and I were just talking about it and I asked him why he thought the movie so positive.

It was that the main character had every opportunity to go wrong, every excuse to take a pass, and he didn’t, Rudi explained. He stayed true to himself…

It’s not enough.

It’s not enough for me to sit through the horror and the ugliness and the cruelty that people showed to and enacted upon one another in the part of the movie that I saw. Yes, intellectually I know that that’s an accurate portrayal of far too many people’s real life existence. That they live with disease and filth and hunger and corruption and torture and inhumane and degrading treatment. But I can’t see it portrayed before me. Or read it. Because if I do, then I have to accept it. And if I accept it then I either have to do something about it — really DO something — or I am complicit in its continuation. I admit that it’s cowardly. But it’s also self-preserving.

Some people can separate themselves from what they see on the screen and what they read. I am not one of those people. If it’s based in reality, it becomes part of me. I CANNOT forget. It eats away at me. I find myself less than after encountering it.

When I was a little girl, my dad used to subscribe to Time, which he used to leave in the bathroom. Being precocious, I would read it. Some of it didn’t interest me. Some, I assume, went over my head. But some of it went into it and got stuck there.

The discussion of capital punishment, for instance.

I can still remember the description of what happens to someone sentenced to the electric chair. It haunts me.

And that was back in 1983…

I am no better at filtering out the bad today than I was when I was eight. I can’t compartmentalize. I have no protective shell. The sadness of that reality seeps into me in some psychological osmosis, sucking the joy out of my soul in exchange. I shut down in order not to lose myself.

Even writing this — the amount of thinking about the movie and the magazine article that is required to write a blog post — is physically painful. I actually feel nauseated pulling these things to the front of my mind.

So I try to avoid putting myself into situations where that all that can happen. And when I find myself in one, I leave.

I’ve no doubt that Slumdog Millionaire deserves its accolades and its success. But the price of its happy ending is too high for me to pay.

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