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Book vs. Movie: Tomorrow, When the War Began

November 11, 2012

Tomorrow When the War Began - MovieIntroducing a new blog feature: Book vs. Movie! I’ve been thinking about starting this for a while, and when I saw that the Tomorrow, When the War Began movie was available on Netflix, I knew it was time.

The Source Material
You can find my review of the book here. The Tomorrow series has become a favorite of mine. I’ve been dragging it out for as long as I can, savoring each installment and leaving plenty of time in between because I don’t want it to end. I’ve read five of the seven books so far and loved every one. The basic premise is that a group of Australian teenagers goes on a camping trip and returns home to find that their country has been invaded by a foreign army, and they decide to fight back. Let’s take a look at how the movie version measures up.

Plot
This was impressively accurate. The movie sticks pretty close to the book, without leaving out anything major or making any weird additions. It does leave out a couple of subplots and details, like the story about the hermit who used to live in their refuge in the bush (which makes sense), and Ellie’s confused feelings for Homer (which is A-OK by me, as that was my least favorite part of the book). There’s also a bit of a change to the climax of the story. Without giving too much away, the final mission, if you will, only involves half of the group in the book, while in the movie, all eight are included. It worked in the book the way it was, but I think including everyone made more sense for the movie adaptation, so I’m okay with it.

Tone
The tone was generally well-done. Most of the back-story and introspective stuff is missing, but I think that’s appropriate. The balance of action, drama, and introspection was perfect in the book, but I think too much of Ellie’s thoughts and memories would have bogged down the movie, and they did a pretty good job of conveying the psychological and emotional aspects without spending too much time on them. The seriousness of the situation came through for the most part. There are explosions and car chases and so on, but the violence is never treated as glibly as in a typical action movie. There’s always an underlying sense of fear and horror.

That said, some of the more disturbing effects of the war are only touched on lightly. In the book, for example, when the teens first return to Ellie’s house and then to Homer’s, they find a lot of dogs and other animals on their farms dead because they haven’t been fed in days. In the movie, however, there’s only one dead animal, which lessens the horror of the situation a bit.

The movie starts and ends with Ellie in front of a camera, telling the story, which is supposed to mirror the conceit in the book that Ellie is writing it all down. I understand the reasoning, but I don’t think the video idea works as well. It opens up all kinds of questions, like where did they get the camera? Why is Ellie the only one telling the story? And it’s not like the rest of the movie is in home video style, so it just doesn’t really work for me. They could just as easily have shown Ellie writing the story down and used a voice-over.

Characters
In general, I think the casting choices were all good and each of the actors did a great job. They didn’t all match the images I had in my head, but looking back at the book, there isn’t much in the way of physical description, so I can’t really complain about that.

  • Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) looked just like I pictured her, and Stasey really captured her pragmatism and willingness to do what needs to be done despite her fear and doubts.
  • Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is hard to judge, honestly. She’s the character I have the weakest hold on and she doesn’t actually do a heck of a lot in either the book or the movie. She’s actually a bit stronger in the movie, I think, mainly because [mild spoiler:] they cut the part where she falls apart after her house is destroyed.
  • Kevin (Lincoln Lewis) was excellently cast as well. His cowardice is played up a bit in the movie, which adds some drama between him and Corrie and also, I think, counterbalances the absence of Ellie’s dislike of him, which is pretty well-established in the book.
  • Homer (Deniz Akdeniz) changes drastically throughout the course of the story, and I think the contrast between his troublemaker pre-war self and the soldier he becomes was well done. My only issue here is that his farming background is almost entirely left out.
  • Lee (Chris Pang) was great. I had forgotten how intense he is right off the bat and how quickly he guesses what’s happened when they first return from the bush. In the snake-in-the-sleeping-bag scene early on, the movie has Lee killing the snake, whereas in the book, it slithers away peacefully. This is an interesting change and kind of foreshadows how much more intense Lee eventually becomes.
  • Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin) was fairly perfect. I had pictured her as even more delicate and waif-ish, but my mental images of characters tend to be exaggerated. Her portrayal as sheltered and clueless about the outdoors was accurate, and while she didn’t seem quite as strong as I know her to be, I think that’s just because I’m more used to later-series Fi.
  • Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings) seemed more childlike and naive than I remember, but again, it could just be that I don’t remember as well what she was like at the beginning. She definitely is a reluctant soldier and concerned about the morality of what they’re doing, though, and that comes through loud and clear.
  • Chris (Andrew Ryan) seemed less thoughtful and more of an idiot stoner. I feel like he’s deeper in the book, but maybe that doesn’t come out much until book two.

Other Thoughts
One thing that bothered me is that there are multiple scenes where the group drives around in the daylight. What? No. Traveling in the daytime is something they avoid as much as possible in the books, especially if they’re anywhere near town. I can see how it would be difficult to shoot a movie when so much of the story takes place at night, but this definitely bugged me.

One of the things I love about the books is all of the (sometimes incomprehensible) Australian slang, for which there is a helpful glossary at the beginning of each book. Most of that was missing from the movie, which may partly have been to make it accessible to a wider audience (you can’t really include a glossary with a movie, after all), but I think it was also partly due to the loss of Ellie’s internal monologue and the fact that, as a result, so much of the farming culture is missing. That’s largely unavoidable, but I think it’s a shame because farming is so much a part of who Ellie is.

And the Winner Is…
The book is better, of course (As Ellie says in the movie, “Books usually are.”), but the movie is an excellent adaptation and I heartily recommend both.

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Lost Voices – by Sarah Porter

November 3, 2012

Lost VoicesIt’s been a year since Luce’s father was killed in a shipwreck, leaving her alone with her abusive, drunkard uncle. One night, he goes too far, and in the aftermath, Luce finds herself transformed into a mermaid. She joins a tribe of other mermaids, all girls who were treated poorly as humans, and is thrilled to finally be welcomed and treated as worthy, particularly by Catarina, the beautiful and talented queen of the tribe. The one thing Luce doesn’t like about her new life is the way that the mermaids use the seductive power of their voices to lure ships to their deaths, drowning everyone on board with their songs. Luce has a special talent for singing, but she badly wants to find a use for it that doesn’t mean killing humans. When a new mermaid arrives and threatens Catarina’s authority, putting the whole tribe in danger, it’s up to Luce to find a way to stop her.

I started this book with some trepidation. I found the concept of abused and abandoned girls turning into mermaids a fascinating one, but did I really want to read a whole book on such a depressing topic? That didn’t turn out to be a problem, however. While the storyline does get pretty intense and brutal, it also kept me engaged all the way through. I think I can largely attribute that to Luce’s character. I liked and sympathized with her, though I never quite understood her instant devotion to Catarina. I was going to cry foul on the lack of mermen (boys get abused too) but, I’m glad to say, the subject was eventually discussed. I do hope, however, that there will be a more satisfactory explanation in future books. I went into this book assuming that I wouldn’t be continuing with the rest of the trilogy, but I’m actually sufficiently intrigued to want to continue on.

Teen Read Week 2012: Lesser-Known Favorites

October 18, 2012

It’s Teen Read Week! And yesterday, the brilliant John Green asked his twitter followers “What are your favorite underloved YA novels?” As I have yet to post anything this week, I thought I’d make a list in response. Most of these will be things I’ve included in previous lists, but that’s because I love them so much!

1. The Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris – I cannot say enough good things about these books. Each book focuses on a different story from Arthurian legend, and they are full of adventure and humor and richly developed characters. The first book is The Squire’s Tale, about a boy named Terence who becomes squire to Sir Gawain, and who is the protagonist of four of the ten books.

2. The Withern Rise trilogy by Michael Lawrence – A fascinating and complex story of parallel universes. In the first book, A Crack in the Line, Alaric crosses to an alternate reality in which he was born a girl and his (her) mother survived the train crash two years ago. Naia, his female counterpart, has a much happier life than he does, and the temptation to spend more and more time in her world is strong, but could have devastating effects on both worlds.

3. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff – This is an extremely emotionally powerful story of a girl finding her place in the world in the midst of war. When Daisy is sent to stay with her cousins in the English countryside, she feels more displaced than ever, but then England is invaded and she and her cousin are left on their own, struggling to survive and to stay together in the occupied and war-torn country.

4. The Wren series by Sherwood Smith – I was reminded of my love for this series last year when I read the most recent addition, Wren Journeymage. The four-book series starts with Wren to the Rescue, in which the spunky heroine who dreams of becoming a mage discovers that her best friend, Teressa, is actually a princess. When Teressa is kidnapped by an evil magician, it’s up to Wren and her new friends, the smart mage-in-training Tyron and the sweet Prince Connor, to rescue her.

5. The Tomorrow series by John Marsden – A fantastic series about a group of Australian teens who come back from a camping trip to find that their country has been taken over by an invading army. Their families are all being held captive, and the teens decide to fight back, forming their own small, guerrilla army. The seven-book series takes an in-depth, thoughtful look at the effects that the war and their new lifestyle has on the group of friends, and expertly mixes teen drama and romantic elements with gripping action and adventure.

6. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow – Teen hacker Marcus and his friends find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time when San Francisco is attacked by terrorists. After being ruthlessly questioned by the government, Marcus is determined to get revenge by finding ways to thwart all of the new, invasive surveillance measures put in place by the Department of Homeland Security.

7. Hero by Perry Moore – One of my favorite superhero stories. Thom Creed is the son of a famous superhero, but he is keeping a lot of secrets from his father. As if his homosexuality wasn’t enough, now he also has to hide his new-found superpowers, and the fact that he’s been invited to join The League. On top of that, there’s a mysterious masked vigilante who knows all of Thom’s secrets.

8. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier – A richly detailed retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in Transylvania. Every month, Jena and her sisters travel through a portal to the Old Kingdom to dance with the fairies and wildwood folk, but when the Night People arrive, Jena worries about their safety, particularly that of her sister Tatiana, who has fallen in love with one of the Night People. Meanwhile, their cousin, Cezar is threatening to tear down the wildwood, and it’s up to Jena and her best friend, an enchanted frog named Gogu, to find a solution to both problems. Full of romance and magic, this is a lovely and satisfying fairy tale adaptation.

9. The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper – This is a classic story of good versus evil, in which Will Stanton is told that he is the youngest of the Old Ones, tasked with keeping the Dark at bay, and he has a crucial role to play in the latest battle between Light and Dark. This is an epic fantasy story that’s been near and dear to my heart for a long time.

10. The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty – Originally published in Australia as Finding Cassie Crazy, this is a story about three friends – Emily, Cassie, and Lydia – who are forced to write to pen pals at a neighboring school, and hilarity, mischief, and romance ensue. It’s part of a series of inter-connected stories, all of which are delightful, but this one is my personal favorite.

A Monster Calls – by Patrick Ness

October 10, 2012

A Monster CallsI’ve been itching to read this gorgeous book for ages, and I’m so glad I finally did because it is stunning. It is very difficult to review books you love, I’m finding, and this one is no exception. It is also extremely difficult to summarize, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to do the lazy thing and quote the summary from the book jacket. There’s really no way to say it better:

“The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.”

The idea for this story came from the late Siobhan Dowd and it’s an extremely powerful one. Patrick Ness’s writing makes it utterly heart-wrenching and beautiful, and Jim Kane’s illustrations are phenomenal. Basically, this is the sort of book that turns your heart into a punching bag, and I mean that in the best way possible. Read it, and your life will be richer for having done so.

TimeRiders – by Alex Scarrow

September 25, 2012

TimeRidersSo, someday I plan to write a book involving time travel that makes sense and actually works. Probably, I will end up discovering that it’s really hard and that’s why it’s so rare, but I get so frustrated with all of the flaws in time travel books. Don’t get me wrong, TimeRiders was lots of fun and I absolutely enjoyed it, but the time travel mechanics just made less and less sense as time went on.

Liam is on board the sinking Titanic, just moments from death, when a strange man named Foster appears and offers him a way out: become a Time Rider and live outside of time, stopping errant time travelers from messing with history. Maddy and Sal are facing similar situations in different time periods. The three teens are brought together to become a team, and soon enough they are faced with a serious mission – someone has changed the outcome of World War II and the present day is radically different. They will have to work together to figure out where and when the change happened and find a way to stop it.

Like I said, this is all kinds of fun, and I really like the idea of taking people out of their lives moments before their deaths, particularly in situations where their bodies are unlikely to be missed, so you’re not really interfering with history. That’s great, but after that…. There are lots of little things, most of which I can get past, and I can’t go into much detail without spoiling anything, but my biggest issue comes during a training session when Foster takes Liam to a particular spot in history to change a major event so that the girls back in the future can practice pinpointing the moment of timeline disruption. Foster says he likes to use this spot for training because this particular event course-corrects itself automatically. So, why would there be any visible change in the future if history corrects itself? Also, if he uses it all the time for training, why aren’t there hordes of time travelers there at once, all trying to accomplish the same task? The whole scenario just really doesn’t work for me.

I do have one more non-time-travel-related issue to bring up though, and that is the lack of impact leaving their old lives behind seems to have on the three teens. The book largely skims over their weeks spent in training, which is fine, but there’s not really any discussion of any of them feeling homesick or sad because they’ve had to leave their families and friends, and that bothers me. I never felt completely in touch with the characters, and this might be one of the reasons why. They were all likeable enough, but there was just something missing and I think it would have helped a lot to have them show some grief.

Incarceron – by Catherine Fisher

September 10, 2012

IncarceronFinn is a prisoner in a huge, living prison, which was created generations ago as an experiment, the object of which was to create a perfect world. Life inside Incarceron is far from perfect, however, and Finn is convinced that he was born outside of the prison and is desperate to find a way out. Claudia is the daughter of the prison warden and longs to escape from her world of strict Protocol. When she and Finn find identical keys that allow them to communicate through the prison walls, they begin to develop a plan for his escape.

I quite enjoyed this book and the concept was highly intriguing, although I found it hard to believe that anyone would expect this particular attempt at creating a perfect society to work. Lock all the criminals in a prison that’s basically it’s own small world, and make sure no one enters or leaves for a few generations? Sure, that’s the perfect recipe for a utopia. Maybe there were other elements to this experiment which failed, but it’s unclear what they might have been. That aside, this is an entertaining and unique story, and I’ll be interested to see how things play out in the sequel.

The Blue Sword – by Robin McKinley

August 28, 2012

The Blue SwordI have to admit, I came close to giving up on this one early on. It was slow to start, and there was a lot of background information and nothing happening, and I wasn’t terribly interested. But I scanned through the reviews on Goodreads and nearly all of them were about how this is the greatest fantasy novel ever, and I thought, “Well, I’ll try to push on through until the plot starts moving.” I did, and the plot did pick up and I made it through, and while it didn’t ever really grip me, it was an enjoyable story.

After her father dies, Harry Crewe moves to the occupied foreign land of Damar where her brother is stationed. Tensions are high between her people and the Hillfolk – the natives of Damar – but a greater threat approaches from the north. When the Hillfolk king, Corlath, asks the Harry’s people for help in defending the country, they refuse to take the threat seriously, and as a result, Harry is kidnapped and taken to the king’s camp to be trained to fight in his army. Though she doesn’t understand why or how, her own destiny seems to be entangled with that of the Hillfolk, and she may be the necessary bridge linking two clashing cultures.

The Blue Sword has all the hallmarks of classic, epic fantasy and the land and culture of Damar are richly detailed and complete. I liked Harry as a character and a heroine – headstrong and capable, though unsure of her role – but I thought the romance aspect left a little to be desired. I also take some issue with the concept that all of the Northerners are evil, although I suppose it would take a whole other book for that issue to be dealt with. I may someday give the prequel a try, but I’m not exactly rushing to get my hands on it. I guess I just prefer a faster-paced contemporary story.