Monday, June 25, 2012

The Forbidden Sea, by Sheila A Nielson

First published in 2010 by Scholastic

Lovely little story, with an old-fashioned feel to it that I rather enjoyed. I think for this reason many others may not enjoy it, but I found the time period it was set in really immersive, and the mer-mythology it was based around to have an appealing folklor-ish vibe.

The Forbidden Sea takes care to build up a complex history for lead character, Adrianne, and to give her cares and concerns outside being so utterly beguiled by her handsome love interest Denn, and falling in love with him. There is love, of course. But it feels less like the contemporary paranormal YA romance and more in the league of, say, Franny Billingsley. Because I love mythology and folklore, this appeals to me. If you like your teen para-love stories more contemporary, than perhaps you won't be as beguiled.

The Forbidden Sea has a little of the mystery I find so important for a story about mermaid/mermen. I just find these creatures so fascinating, most likely because the world they inhabit is so different and closed off to ours. This story goes a little of the way into giving merpeople a life away from, as I said, just being love interests. I also like how Nielson crafted Adrianne's interactions with the mermaid she thought was after her sister. It was a slow reveal. I love this. There was a palpable sense of being called to the sea -  yes, yes, that's what a mermaid story should be all about!

I do think Adrianne being 'so hard done by' was a little over the top, and yet the details of her family life were welcome and also done in a way that made me actually want to see her come out on top. It was a rags to riches story that I kind of knew would turn out alright in the end. But Nielson made it worthwhile getting there.

The writing was on the better side of some of the YA mermaid books I've read. I'm slowly making my way through all those mer books out there and The Forbidden Sea, so far, is one of my favs. I've heard it described as a fairytale Little Mermaid meets Cinderella. Pretty accurate. Like to see what Nielson writes next.

Monday, June 18, 2012

'Do You Come Here Often'

Link above to a nice little article on my one-act play that was recently a part of the Essendon Theatre Company's One-Act Play Season. I wrote and directed it - great cast, lots of fun, fantastic feedback, and awesome to see my words come to life on stage.

The script is now also available to perform for a small rights fee. I will put up details soon. All enquiries should be directed to my email.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

So I recently found out that Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad is going to be made into a film by the Jim Hensen film company. What a great time to spotlight these gorgeous, classic characters and their adventures.

The Frog and Toad stories are first chapter books, intended for young children just starting to read on their own. The language is simple with lots of 'vocabulary list' type words, short sentences, and large writing. Half and quarter page illustrations accompany the text, depicting Frog and Toad in a lovely soft green/grey colour palette. I love the illustrations. They are a fantastic accompaniment to the text, and also very revealing of Frog and Toad's characters.

Of the two, Frog is the smarter one - outgoing and forward-thinking - while Toad is slightly more neurotic and grumpy, and quite reliant on his friend. But their friendship is gorgeous. I have a battered old copy of Frog and Toad Together, and I have always found Lobel so accomplished in depicting a multitude of feelings with so simple a vocabulary. The Frog and Toad books not only encourage kids to read on their own, but also introduces them to subtle messages and themes.

The main theme is, of course, friendship. But the short stories are packed full of virtues like patience, bravery, resourcefulness and appreciation. But Frog and Toad are not perfect. The stories also gently demonstrate how they suffer from folly, arrogance and greed - but never in an overbearing way, always with a lovely whimsical inclination. I love that a 'first reader' book can show characters with bad qualities and imperfections. And while the books don't excuse these traits, they do show that they are a part of human (amphibian!?) nature, and perhaps how to move past them with more positive attributes.

But of course, what is really so lovely about these simple little stories is the depth of Frog and Toad's friendship. I can always see them, together in the countryside, keeping each other company and going on adventures and it always makes me feel kinds warm and fuzzy and a little nostalgic. My favourite Frog and Toad moment is in the story 'The Dream'. Toad is dreaming he is a great performer on stage, and Frog is watching him. With each act of Toad's spotlight-hogging brilliance, Frog gets smaller and smaller until he disappears, and Toad realises what is really important is not that he is the greatest or best, or even better than Frog, but just that Frog will always be there for him:

"Come back, Frog," he shouted. "I will be lonely!"
"I am right here," said Frog.
Frog was standing near Toad's bed. "Wake up, Toad," he said.
"Frog, is that really you?" said Toad.
"Of course it is me," said Frog.
"And are you your own right size?" asked Toad.
"Yes, I think so," said Frog.
Toad looked at the sunshine coming through the window. "Frog," he said, "I am so glad that you came over."
"I always do," said Frog.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Of Poseidon, by Anna Banks

First published in Australia in 2012, by Hardie Grant

Of Poseidon is flirty and fun. There are some great lines and lots of cheeky humour to enjoy, which is always refreshing for YA paranormal romances. Sometimes the old teenage love story can take itself a little too seriously, so when one is written slightly tongue-in-cheek it’s very refreshing. Because we’re dealing with merpeople (or Syrena, as they’re referred to), the setting naturally revolves around Summer and the beach, which also helps to give the book a light-hearted, fresh feel (no gloomy boarding houses or icy, rainy forests here).
The stylistic choice of telling the story from two different perspectives (Galen & Emma) is enjoyable. It also helps to flesh out the male love interest – sometimes in paranormal romance they are reduced to looking gorgeous/brooding, and making heartfelt declarations of love. Not that this doesn’t happen in Of Poseidon, but reading about Galen’s home life, his people, and his world, certainly helps to give him some depth.
That being said, I don’t think it quite worked to have Galen in third person and Emma in first. This also does something weird to the tenses. The story feels interrupted, disconcerting, and a bit sloppy. Also I found that sometimes, especially in Galen’s parts, the narrative was a bit prone to info dumps. Yes, I certainly wanted to learn more about Galen’s world and the Syrena mythology, but it would be more seamless and ultimately involving if it was integrated into the story. Too much back story at once and I think readers are prone to just skimming over the info, and missing a lot of the interesting stuff.
I’ve learnt to take YA para-romances for what they are. Of Poseidon was a fun read. There were some problems. Once again, Galen is so beautiful it hurts. All the girls love him, but he is infatuated with Emma. Didn’t see that coming ;). There are some problems with their relationship – he controlling, she full of snarky attitude, but of course they can’t live without each other. The Emma-mother relationship was a bit off, but in the last chapter (nice twist, btw), it becomes clear why this might be so. Some plot points are slightly unrealistic and I got over hearing about how ‘special’ Emma is.
But there are positives too. The underwater scenes are really enjoyable. There is a strong lore that grounds the story – also clearly meant to build up events for future books. Secondary characters (especially Toraf and Rayna) actually have some personality – I found their relationship very sweet. Almost more interesting than Galen and Emma’s! Despite some problems, Of Poseidon has an entertaining flirty feel and worth a read if you love all things mer-ish.