Sunday, April 29, 2007

Annie, Between the States

by L.M. Elliot

Annie Sinclair lived a life of peace and serenity until the beginning of the Civil War, when the Yankees invaded her southern homeland. Annie is frustrated that she must stay around the house and bandage men with horrible wounds instead of attending parties and balls like a young lady usually would. With her older brother Laurence fighting in the war, and a hot-headed Yankee-hating younger brother, Annie is her mother’s right-hand during the many trials they face throughout the war; it is she who uses her wit and courage to help her family and the way of life they believe in. When she meets the romantic, Shakespeare-quoting Captain Farley, Annie is swept off her feet, but is troubled by the handsome northern-born Thomas Walker who keeps popping into her life. Will her family and loved ones survive the war? And if they do, will they ever be the same again?

L.M. Elliot weaves Annie’s thoughts and feelings into the narration so seamlessly that I kept forgetting that it is written in third person—and that the characters weren’t real people.
Annie, Between the States is a wonderful historical novel set in Manassas Virginia and the surrounding areas that fans of Ann Rinaldi will love, and even people who aren’t history lovers might find interesting.

****Also posted on YA Books Central.****

Monday, April 23, 2007

Much Ado About Shakespeare

On this day in the year 1564, a boy named William Shakespeare was born to a glover and his wife. Little did they know that he would come to be known as “The Swan of Avon,” the “Bard of Avon,” or just “the Bard.” How could anyone guess how famous his plays and sonnets would become? They have been translated into all languages and influence and permeate our modern culture in a thousand ways. Below is an article on novels that I hope will bring a new view to anyone who finds Shakespeare’s works hard to read or “boring,” and give fans another way to enjoy his wit and humor.

Eleven-year-old Nat Field has been chosen to perform in an all-boy a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the new replica of the Globe Theatre. Nat is thrilled, but when he arrives in London he begins to feel dizzy and smell strange smells. Falling ill one night, Nat awakes in a strange room, and soon realizes that he’s in Shakespeare’s time as another Nat Field who is also playing Puck at the newly built Globe. Susan Cooper does an exceptional job with King of Shadows, pulling you into the 1590’s along with Nat and leaving you to wonder, along with Nat, whether he traveled through time or not.

Ariel, by Grace Tiffany was pretty weird. It’s a retelling of The Tempest, the main character being the self-centered sprite, Ariel. The characters have the same names, but their personalities as well as the events of the story are changed around quite a lot. I found it interesting and unusual, but not one of my favorite retellings.

In Ophelia, Lisa M. Klein reveals another side to Hamlet, which begins long before, leaves off far past the end, and delves much deeper into the entire play. A different kind of Ophelia is brought out, too, one who isn’t just a girl mad with lost lover’s grief, but an interesting, strong, and smart young woman. As you can probably tell, I found it excellent.

Carolyn Meyer’s Loving Will Shakespeare is unique; telling the story of Anne Hathaway, a young woman who dreams of finding love. Though she is eight years his senior, Anne has always had a soft spot for Master Shakespeare, a bright youth she has known from birth. And the little boy himself has given her several childish signs of affection, but though they are teased, no one thinks much of it. Anne soon becomes betrothed and plans to be happily married, however when disaster strikes, her life is changed immensely. I like how Ms. Meyer gives real personality to a woman who is not known for her own achievements but those of a male relation. After I read it I thought, “Wow, Anne was a living person, too, not just ‘Shakespeare’s wife.’”

Younger readers will enjoy Swan Town: The Secret Journal of Susanna Shakespeare, which is narrated by Shakespeare’s eldest daughter. Susanna is an amateur playwright and longs for adventure and for her play, The Parrot’s King, to be performed. When her uncle Ned gets in trouble, will she have the chance to save the day and have some excitement? It was good but not great, and the Shakespearean insults were just a little too common. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had read it between the ages of 10 and 13 or so.

The Two Loves of Will Shakespeare, by Laurie Lawlor, is based on the record of a Will Shakespeare registered to marry an Anne Whatley the day before his marriage to Anne Hathaway. In this novel, Will is torn between two women; the sweet, pious, and golden-haired Anne Whately and the dark-haired, bold, and “experienced” Anne Hathaway. Will he choose for love or must he marry only to clear up a trouble? I thought it was interesting and easy enough to read, but not especially wonderful.

Gary Blackwood’s trilogy—The Shakespeare Stealer, Shakespeare’s Scribe, and Shakespeare’s Spy—was brilliant. The beginning of the first book’s a bit slow, but it picks up soon and takes you for a whirling ride through Elizabethan London. An orphan boy, Widge (shortened from “pigwidgeon”), is chosen to be taught “charactery,” a kind of writing so easy to write that one can pen words as fast as another speaks. Once he has learned that, Widge is sent to the Globe to listen and steal the text of Mr. Shakespeare’s plays. To construct the text completely, Widge must return again and again, and soon gets to know some of the actors. As he does, Widge dreams of becoming an actor himself.

Twelfth Night: Or What You Will is definitely one of my favorite movies. The story is about identical twins, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck and end up on the shores of Illyria. Viola dresses as a boy, taking the name Cesario, and goes to work as a servant of Duke Orsino, then falling in love with him. Orsino, however, loves Olivia, a countess who has sworn to allow no man inside her gate for seven years hence. Eventually Sebastian, too, finds his way to the Duke’s court, and one of the Bard’s classic tales of mixed-up identities and double weddings ensues. The casting is very well done (Ben Kingsley makes a more subtle but interesting fool), and being set in the 19th century does not take anything away from the story.

Kenneth Branagh has made some excellent films of Shakespeare’s plays, including Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. I would really like to see his newest production, As You Like It, which is set in a fairytale-like Japan, but it seems that it will not be widely released in the US.

For modern film retellings, check out 10 Things I Hate About You (based on The Taming of the Shrew), and She’s the Man (a varsity soccer-themed version of Twelfth Night). I have not seen either of them, but I think 10 Things I Hate About You sticks closer to the original story, and She’s the Man looks like a funny and slightly stupid chick flick. It was funny to see young guys driving cars and wearing Hawaiian shirts while speaking the text from Shakespeare’s play in Romeo + Juliet. It was rather violent, though, and at times rather odd. I have not seen it in a long time, but I remember liking A Midsummer Night’s Dream (set in a historic Athens with bicycles). Puck and Bottom were very good.

Other Shakespeare Books for YA Readers:

Dating Hamlet: Ophelias Story, by Lisa Fiedler
Enter Three Witches: A Story of Macbeth, by Caroline B. Cooney
The Juliet Club, by Suzanne Harper
Romeo’s Ex: Rosaline’s Story, by Lisa Fiedler
Saving Juliet, by Suzanne Selfors
Shakespeare’s Daughter, by Peter W. Hassinger
Shylock’s Daughter, by Mirjam Pressler
The Playmaker
The True Prince, by J.B. Cheany

Thursday, April 5, 2007

John Marsden’s Tomorrow Series

When Ellie Linton and her friends go on a camping trip during the Commemoration Day celebration, they have no idea it will keep them from becoming prisoners in their own country. While the rest of the town is at the Showground celebrating, another country invaded Australia, taking over everything and everything. Ellie and her friends—Robyn, Kevin, Corrie, Lee, Homer, Fi, and Chris—decide that the must do something to loosen the invader’s grasp on their country and families—even if it means killing people. But what can eight teenagers really do to sabotage the enemy’s plans, stay hidden, and most of importantly, stay alive? Tomorrow, When the War Began is a gripping, suspenseful novel with very genuine characters, which at times is so real it’s spooky.

In the sequel series, The Ellie Chronicles, Ellie must learn to fight a new kind of war; a battle to keep her farm, the land she loves, and to survive after her parents are killed by enemy soldiers. This brings a new and different focus to the story but still centering on the same familiar characters.I must warn you, though, that if you begin reading these books you may suffer from sleep deprivation. This is a very well written and suspenseful series and staying up all night to can see what happens next is quite likely

Note: I would not recommend this series for most teens under the age of 14 due to mature content matter.

The Tomorrow Series:

Tomorrow, When the War Began
The Dead of Night
A Killing Frost
Darkness Be My Friend
Burning for Revenge
The Night is for Hunting
The Other Side of Dawn

The Ellie Chronicles:

While I Live
Circle of Flight (unknown US release)