Third Book of the Summer | Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

FullSizeRender (2)Yesterday I finished reading my third book of the summer, the classic pirate’s tale, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, the 19th century author also famous for writing Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Treasure Island was first published in novel form in 1883, so it’s an oldie but a goodie.

I’d never read Treasure Island the whole way through before (I tried to get into it a few times but never had the time to give it my full attention), but I’ve always had a thing for a good pirate story (I grew up with the Disney movie version of Peter Pan, and I remember being captivated by an elementary school teacher reading my class The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle).  I was familiar with the futuristic Disney version, Treasure Planet (starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Emma Thompson, and more).  I’d call Treasure Planet one of the most underrated animated Disney movies.  I mean, come on.  It’s PIRATES!  IN SPACE! AND MARTIN SHORT IS A CRAZY ROBOT!  COME ON!!!

Treasure Island is actually remarkably similar to Treasure Planet (not that much, but similarities were definitely recognizable), but the book is a distinct Victorian Era adventure story.  I have to admit that I had to push through it at points; the antiquated language and myriad of sailing terms weren’t familiar to me, so I often used contextual clues to discern the meaning of and imagine certain situations presented in the book.  Still, though it was a book that required a lot of focus for me, it was still very enjoyable.

What I found most incredible about Stevenson’s story was that in a lot of ways, it was the first of its kind.  When I flipped through the section at the end of the book entitled, “Inspired by Treasure Island,” I learned that Stevenson was the first to create the classic image of the pirate that we have today: peg-legged with a screechy parrot, often saying “Shiver me timbers” and singing “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.”  Though there were a few pirate stories before his, no other image of a pirate has stuck around as firmly as Stevenson’s, which is modeled by the character Long John Silver.  J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan , was supposedly inspired almost exclusively by Long John Silver when creating the notorious Captain Hook.

(If you haven’t read Treasure Island yet and plan to, there are a few spoilers to follow!)

I think that Stevenson’s greatest triumph in the story isn’t the final suspense (though I did gasp aloud) or the vibrant cast of characters, but the complexity of the villain himself.  While Barrie presents Captain Hook as a wholly evil character from the start and later reveals his personal insecurities that lead to his horrific deeds and hatred for the little boy who won’t grow up, Stevenson presents Long John Silver at first as a rough and friendly sea cook but quickly reveals his mutinous intentions aboard the ship, the Hispaniola.  

Throughout the book, Long John Silver never comes across as wholly evil.  From the start, he takes a liking to Jim Hawkins–the teenage protagonist who joins the voyage to find Treasure Island by a mysterious happenstance at his parents’ inn–and vice versa.  No matter what kind of greedy, evil deeds Long John commits (killing people, for a start), Jim never quite loses his trust in him.  And likewise, when Jim confesses to Long John that he was the one who discovered the mutiny and told the “good guys” (i.e., the captain, the doctor, the squire, and the squire’s assistants) about the pirates’ plan, Long John sees Jim less as a traitor and more as an equal.  Even though Jim is fully aware that Long John can go from laughing heartily at his noisy parrot to shooting a fellow pirate, Jim still would trust him with his life.  Stevenson frequently repeats that Long John is “the best man” among all the pirates.

Because of his more complex nature, Long John Silver doesn’t get the bitter villain’s end, either; when he finds out that the treasure has been dug up already by a marooner named Ben Gunn (the equivalent of Martin Short’s kooky robot), he and Jim solidify their deal that, because Long John saved Jim from being killed by the pirates when he confessed, Jim would testify in his favor when brought to court to be hanged for piracy.  Not only does the hero not kill the villain, but Long John escapes from the good guys with just a portion of the treasure, presumably to avoid punishment for his crimes.  Still, there seems to be no revenge involved, and the villain simply fades away from the tale.

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Map of Treasure Island

I found this to be an agreeable ending and made what would otherwise be the foundation of many a clichéd story into something much deeper than that.  Though the blurb on the back of the book focuses on Jim’s transformation into adulthood, I found that to be secondary to the exploration of Long John Silver’s character.  Jim grows up mostly due to his learned ability to harness his cleverness and fear in order to get what he wants.  The book is told from the supposed point of view of an older, wiser Jim Hawkins, who laments his rash decisions often driven by pride and zeal for adventure, but who also glows in the memory that despite everything, it turned out okay.  I admire Stevenson’s ability to weave a coming-of-age story with that of a complex, evil, yet also likable character.  He reminds me that villains are just people who choose a different route to getting what they want.

My only complaint is that I wish there were more female (or anything other than European dude) characters besides Jim’s perseverant yet frequently fainting mother who leaves the story after the first couple of chapters and certainly does not join in on the epic sea voyage.  Though the Disney film has a female captain of the ship (Yeah, Emma Thompson!!), the book is much less revolutionary.  Victorian Era adventure stories were very much a boy’s genre featuring almost exclusively male characters, so it isn’t surprising that Mrs. Hawkins is the only woman you meet in 227 pages.  (The only other one you hear about is Long John Silver’s poor, poor wife.)  Definitely doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.

Overall, the book was a delightful and whimsical tale of adventure.  It’s a classic for a reason, and it should be on everybody’s “I’ve been saying I’d read these forever, and now I finally will” lists.  There’s nothing like a good pirate story to start off your summer!

Have you read Treasure Island?  What did you think of it?  What are your favorite literary classics?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

 

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Second Book of the Summer | Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Yesterday I finished reading the second book of my summer break, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  I had picked it up when I was spending some gift cards in Barnes & Noble last summer because I had seen/heard rave reviews about it in the YA fiction community.  I wasn’t sure if it would live up to the hype, but after reading it for the first time, I’d venture to say that it did.

FullSizeRenderEleanor & Park is a story set in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986.  The narrative switches between the title characters’ perspectives (indicated by their name) and follows their relationship from meeting on the school bus to falling in love.  I was wary of the whole “star-crossed lovers” thing at first, but instead of relying on cliché, Rowell uses the trope to create a very real story, which is what I think is its greatest merit.

Some spoilers to follow FYI!

First of all, these aren’t two perfectly beautiful, normal sixteen-year-olds; it’s not one of those stories in which the super-hot, athletic guy finally falls for the somewhat-awkward-yet-still-kind-of-beautiful-without-trying kind of girl.  (I think there’s probably a thousand too many of those.)  Eleanor is an overweight, messy-looking, misfit type of girl.  She’s embarrassed in her gym suit because it’s too tight.  Her hair is red and super curly, but not in a glamorous way.  And she’s poor.  Like, really poor.  Like doesn’t even have a landline poor.  Her stepdad is a raging alcoholic who treats everyone in her house like his property (which can be disposed of) and has kicked Eleanor out of the house before; her mom is a defenseless and compliant victim of abuse; and her siblings are all just trying to figure out how this violent and irresponsible stepdad fits into their world.  Eleanor does not have it easy.

Park has it much easier than Eleanor, but he’s still not some charming, magazine-cover, popular boy.  He’s half-Korean, and his mom is an immigrant who is still pretty traditional in her own ways.  His dad is a veteran and hard on Park for not being a “manly” guy.  His little brother is, well, a little brother.  And Park is just a kid subconsciously trying to find himself in punk music and comic books and the occasional romantic relationship.  Park’s struggles are different from Eleanor’s, but real all the same.

And the way their relationship progresses is just as real.  At first, Park is just (reluctantly) doing Eleanor (the new girl) a favor by letting her sit with him on the bus.  They don’t speak for at least a month.  But they both start to break down their barriers slowly but surely as Eleanor starts to read Park’s comic books surreptitiously as he reads them on the bus, and he starts to let her, eventually bringing her comic books to read on her own.

Their relationship begins in friendship, when the two of them form a misfit bond that, though clichéd, still does happen in real life.  Their relationship progresses until finally, in a fight with one of Eleanor’s bullies, Park calls her his girlfriend.

Both Eleanor and Park are flawed.  Eleanor often shuts people out and tries to handle her problems on her own because she fears being a burden to others and severely lacks self-confidence (as a result of a myriad of things: e.g., her family life, her “otherness”).  Park cuts himself off from his friends because he is so infatuated with Eleanor and often says the wrong thing in an attempt to be smooth and romantic.  He doesn’t confront problems well, and neither does Eleanor.  But hey, all teenagers (and people!) make mistakes.

Not only that, but the beauty of their relationship is in how they find beauty in each other: two people who are not considered traditionally beautiful and who have problems that they’re equally ashamed of.  But they see past those things and dust off the beautiful parts of each other that often go unnoticed, by themselves and by their peers.  They find amidst all of their baggage, a person they can love.

What I found most refreshing about Eleanor & Park was that it is a teenage story.  Not a dreamy, unrealistic, teenage fantasy.  A teenage story.  Sure, their kind of gushy love-talk I sometimes found cringey (but then again, I think all PDA is cringey), but for all I know with my limited realm of personal experience, that kind of talk in the 1980s between teenage lovers was completely normal.  But this story was also about friends (yes, girl/boyfriends, but at the root, friends) helping each other.  It is about the real struggles that a lot of teenagers face in their families, among their peers, and in trying to find their identities when everyone around them wants something different from them.  It’s not just “I love you! You’re amazing!!” “No, you’re amazing!!”  “No, you are!” “No, you!”  It’s “I am going to hide my shameful problems from you until it becomes too much to handle.”  It’s “I have to lie to my parents about this relationship because they would disapprove.”  It’s “You don’t have to fight my battles for me.”  It’s real.

And the beauty is also in the ending.  There’s no cliché happily-ever-after ending! *A TRUMPET FANFARE SOUNDS!  A HALLELUJAH CHORUS RINGS OUT!  THE WHOLE UNIVERSE CHEERS!!!*  It’s open-ended, so you never really know if Eleanor and Park get back together after Eleanor has to flee to Minnesota because of her family, but there is a hint that they might.  Which, is, as I’ve witnessed with friends, a very real place to be, as well.

Eleanor & Park was filled with good-natured dialogue, quirky ’80s references, and emotions from fear to joy, from embarrassment to hope.  It had me smiling at the page and gripping the book in suspense.  It’s a fictional story about teens falling in love, but it’s really so much more than that.

Have you read Eleanor & Park?  What did you think of it?  What other good YA books have you read?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

First Concert of the Summer | The 1975’s 2016 World Tour

Last Sunday night, I had the pleasure of seeing the band, The 1975, perform at the Mann Center’s Skyline Stage in Philadelphia on a stop of their 2016 World Tour for their new album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.  One of my best friends is a massive fan of them, and she needed someone to tag along to the concert with her.  Before I planned on going to the concert, I knew only a couple of songs by them (You might know “Chocolate” or “Girls”.), but I studied up on their two albums so that I could know some of the music before the concert.

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The 1975 performing “UGH!”

The band, who originally hails from Cheshire, England, is made up of four members:  lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Matty Healy, lead guitarist Adam Hann, bassist Ross MacDonald, and drummer George Daniel, who unfortunately couldn’t play due to a broken shoulder.  Their genre is a bit hard to pinpoint– surely it’s alternative, but it’s also a kind of ethereal blend of pop, rock, jazz, and funk.  Especially on the newest album, they blend a lot of different influences together, with sugary sweet synth, a booming gospel choir, and a smooth jazz saxophone.

The concert started off… chilly.  It was drizzling and cold (especially for mid-May in Philadelphia), and some people were dressed according to the weather, while others weren’t.  It was fun to see all of the funky outfits people were wearing; my friend and I spotted plenty of bright hair colors and even a pair of white gogo boots.  We joked about the cultural phenomenon that manifests itself at a concert like The 1975’s: everybody tries to look different, but then everybody ends up looking kind of the same (but in a cooler way I guess?).

The first opener, The Japanese House, played kind of sleepy, synthy music– not exactly the best band to pump up an audience.  The second opener was Wolf Alice, who played a bit more upbeat music, but still not super dance-y stuff.  We were yearning for some of that as we shivered sitting on a blanket toward the back.

Finally, the stage lights lit up, and an incredibly long vamp left us all hanging until The 1975 came out playing “Love Me,” a funky song on their second album that reminds me a lot of Walk The Moon’s cover of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing.”  It got the crowd dancing and excited, which was the mood for a lot of the concert.  The only time the audience was taken out of the realm of the show was when Healy had to stop abruptly at the beginning of “Heart Out” (which is a total jam) because some people in the mosh pit had gotten squeezed too far forward and fell.  But he very calmly asked everybody to take a few steps back and cheerily told us all in a thick British accent, “If somebody falls, just pick ’em back up, give ’em a kiss, and make sure they’re alright.  We gotta be here for each other.”

Once we got that out of the way, the audience just lived during the whole show.  It was a bit of a roller coaster, going from upbeat pop-y songs like “She’s American” and “UGH!” (which is so funky, I dare you not to dance when you’re listening to it) to quieter, slower songs like “A Change of Heart” and “Me.”  Still, because so many of the melodies are similar and there is always an element of the electronic in the background, the music all flowed together pretty cohesively, despite the tones of the songs varying from snarky disapproval to deep sadness.

The highlights for me, aside from one of the songs I knew best–“Girls”– were the ’80s ballad-esque “Robbers,” the following song, “You” that has a really stirring beat and melody, and the entire encore.  When The 1975 came back onstage after “Girls,” they started their encore with the powerful and pleading “If I Believe You,” that definitely has some gospel influences to highlight the religious undertones of the song.  (“This song is about Jesus,” Healy said when he introduced it.)

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The 1975 performing “Chocolate”

But they didn’t let us sway and gospel two-step for long; the following song was the effervescent and flamboyant “Chocolate,” their best-known song, followed by two of my favorite songs by them: “The Sound” and “Sex.”  “The Sound” has the same dance-y keyboard vibes that I love about Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand”, and when they started playing it, the whole crowd was just jumping and dancing, and it felt so genuinely joyful.  They finished the concert with “Sex,” which sounds like an ’80s pop-rock version of a Jimmy Eat World song, like a song they play in an old teen movie when all the kids are driving too fast on the highway.  It was an epic way to end a concert, and I think it left everyone feeling joyously dazed (though for a lot of people, it might have just been the weed they were smoking).

All in all, even though I don’t know the band super well, the concert was a really fun way to start my summer break from school and a great way to be among a group of people I’m not usually around.  I got to witness so many people who were seeing their favorite band ever perform, and it’s just so entertaining and heartening to watch that kind of excitement.  The 1975 put on a great show, and I’d definitely go to see them again.

Have you seen The 1975 perform?  What did you think?  What other concerts have you enjoyed/are you looking forward to?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

First Book of the Summer | Drinking With Men by Rosie Schaap

I’m back! (Yet again…)

So after a year of on-again, off-again blogging, I’ve discerned that I just can’t find the time to blog while I’m at college.  BUT, I still love blogging, and I love having breaks from school so that I can get back to it.

It’s been a rough/tough semester/year, and I’ve found myself in a much different place (not location-wise, but mentally/emotionally/life-y) than where I was at the end of my freshman year of college.  For the time being, I’m just decompressing from an emotional roller coaster of a year.  I’ve only been home for two and a half days, but I’ve already recognized that something that really grounds me and makes me feel good about myself is reading.

So, here’s to my first book of the summer, Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap!

FullSizeRender (7)During my fall semester of sophomore year, I took a creative writing class called “The Personal Essay,” in which I learned how to write about myself in the form of an essay (a collection of which could be considered a memoir).  The creative writing department at my college brought in Rosie Schaap to do a reading from her memoir and have a Q & A with the students.  After the reading (which was super entertaining), I bought a copy of her memoir and got to talk to her for a few seconds.  She was totally cool and intimidating, and definitely had a free-spirited aura about her, which having read the book now, makes a whole lot of sense.

Drinking with Men is a collection of ten personal essays written by Schaap about her many, many experiences with bars throughout her life.  Each chapter revolves around one particular bar, which serves as the frame for her stories about her remarkable life.  Before she came for the reading, my personal essay class was assigned to read the first essay from the memoir, entitled “Bar Car Prophecy,” which details Schaap’s experience as a wayward, teenage stoner who discovers that she has a knack for performing tarot card readings in the bar car of the train that takes her to and from her shrink’s office weekly.  If that isn’t enough to catch your attention, I don’t know what will.

The following essays follow Schaap through bars she discovered while following around the Grateful Dead, near her college in Vermont, abroad in Ireland, in Montreal while visiting for a friend’s wedding, and in her hometown of New York City.  And with each bar, the reader learns a little bit more about the crazy life of Rosie Schaap.

I took a risk when buying this book.  Though I have discovered the wonderful appeal of memoir as a genre, Rosie Schaap couldn’t be further from me personally, other than the fact that we’re two white ladies.  As her bio says on the back of her book, “Rosie Schaap has been a bartender, a fortune-teller, a librarian at a paranormal society, an English teacher, an editor, a preacher, a community organizer, and a manager of homeless shelters.”  That’s quite the résumé.  Schaap has lived the crazy, rebellious life as a teenager (involving alcohol, pot, and not always knowing where she was going to sleep the next night), the high-falutin scholar life in college (involving lots of poetry and deep conversations with intelligent people), and the very stressful adult life (involving finding something resembling faith, her father’s death, and the 9/11 attacks).  She has seen it all and more.  And she has been drinking all the while.

Her life is so vastly different from mine, that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to identify with her memoir at all.  I’m a pretty straight-edge, reserved nineteen-year-old.  Fear drives a lot of what I do and don’t do (and trying to make that not the case can be anywhere from frustrating to agonizing), and the phrase “trying new things” has often been cause for anxiety rather than excitement for me.  Though I do like doing “new things” and have found going out of my comfort zone more and more appealing as I’ve gotten older, I find a sense of security, comfort, and peace with routine.  I do the right thing not always because I want to, but because I feel like I have to.

But what surprised me most about Drinking with Men was how much I identified with Rosie Schaap’s journey.  Of course, I’m not married, my parents are both alive and still married, and I’ve only had two real jobs in my life.  But I did identify with the emotions present in Schaap’s memoir.  She often mentions her need to feel needed and a sense of belonging, which couldn’t be more applicable to my life as a young adult right now.  She just searches for that feeling in bars, and I don’t.  She discusses grief over the passing of friends and of her father, which is a feeling I have become all too familiar with, and I’ve even written about on this blog before.  And toward the end of the memoir, she discusses the yearning to be really “doing something” with her life, the feeling that the world has so much to offer, and falling into complacency with the little you do know can be considered a failure.  I have often felt this feeling before, as I’m sure so many have.

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“To Annie– Here’s a toast to your health, your happiness, and your writing.  Cheers, Rosie Schaap”

The greatest lesson I learned from Drinking with Men is that no matter how different you are from someone on the surface, there will still be innate, human things that you share.  There is a certain level of universality that comes with being a person that will always allow you to find some way to connect with someone else, and your different choices don’t make you better or worse than anyone else.  Though Rosie Schaap sought connection through her extroverted personality in bars across the western world, I seek connection, too, just in different, more introverted ways.  We may be completely different people, but we are still just two people.  And in our humanness, there is similarity and understanding.  And in this similarity, I can see the possibility for me to lose some of my fear and take some chances.  Rosie Schaap and I aren’t that different, after all.

Have you read Drinking with Men?  What did you think about it?  Have you read any other memoirs that had an impact on you?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

The Start of Something New: Ten Years of High School Musical

Ten years is a long time.  A decade.  The difference between being ten and twenty, between twenty and thirty.  Heck, most people can’t even make it to the Tenth Day of Christmas when singing the old Christmas carol.  It takes a while to get to ten.

It’s been ten years since I first watched High School Musical, and last night I watched the 10th Anniversary special (along with the movie) on Disney Channel.  It was a rollercoaster (not unlike the one in “What Time Is It?” from High School Musical 2).

I think the first time I watched HSM I was by myself.  Nobody knew it was going to be such a huge hit, but I had gotten excited about it as soon as I had seen the promo with the big, Broadway lettering spelling out the title.

I was nine years old when I first watched HSM on January 20th, 2006.  I, too, had been in a musical before: Tom Sawyer the Musical (Yes, it exists) in the third grade.  I was in the chorus because I just couldn’t bring myself to sing alone in an audition.  Still, I had seen my brother perform in two musicals, and I wanted to get in on the fun.

The year HSM premiered, though, I was in the fourth grade and had around that time auditioned to be in The Pirates of Penzance at my grade school.  All the younger kids had to be policemen, and the ones who sang the best got to be on the stage instead of the floor in front of the stage.  The only role for a younger kid (3rd through 5th grade) was the Sergeant, the chief of police.

I had decided at this point that I wanted to audition for the “stage police”; I thought I could do it, and it was one step down from the Sergeant.  No big deal.  But what I didn’t know was that when you auditioned for the stage police, you were also auditioning for the role of the Sergeant.

One day, I walked from the bus stop to my house and in through my front door.

“How was school?” my mom asked.

I looked at her, bewildered.  “I’m the Sergeant.”

And thus began my lifelong love for musical theater.

Looking back, the first performance of The Pirates of Penzance came just months after the premiere of High School Musical.  It’s curious how these events coincided; I got to watch my new heroes audition for a musical, just like I had auditioned for mine.  If only I could have had some of their outfits…

This musical connection drew me right into the world of HSM.  Troy was the dreamy jock who would never in a million years audition for one of my school shows, and I pretended I was Gabriella while singing “When There Was You and Me” in my bedroom mirror.  I was known as the smart kid at school, too, and I treasured the fact that I could “be both” the smart kid and a theater kid, like Gabriella.

I remember when High School Musical first came out, everyone was talking about it at school, but not in the way that I expected it.  I was gushing about it, of course.  I mean, how could people not love the best Disney Channel Original Movie ever created?  But I remember a lot of girls acting like they were too grown up for Disney Channel and High School Musical.  I distinctly remember someone asking me with a nasty look, “You like High School Musical?”  I replied, “Yeah…?”  like it was a no-brainer.  A lot of girls acted like they were too cool for HSM, but I knew that they all secretly liked it.  I’m sure all of them today would be able to sing all the words to “Breaking Free.”

But in fourth grade, they had missed the point of the movie.  It wasn’t about being cool and dancing and singing about togetherness.  It was about knowing that you want to do something, that you enjoy doing something, and then having the courage to do it.  So often in life we cut ourselves off from what we really want to do, and for a myriad of reasons: because our friends would judge us, because it isn’t practical, because it would change how people thought of us.  But High School Musical said, “Forget that.  Do what you love.  Your real friends will be your biggest supporters, even if they’re a little confused at first.”

I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my whole life.  When almost all of the kids my age had stopped performing in school musicals because it “wasn’t cool” anymore, I still did it.  Because I liked doing it.  When people ask me, “Oh… what are you going to do with that?” when I tell them that I’m a creative writing major, I have to focus on the fact that I’m pursuing what I love to do.  Other people’s expectations are not important when you’re deciding your own path.

So not only was I filled with memories while watching the movie, but the whole reunion aspect was so deeply moving.  Following all of the HSM cast on social media and watching the reunion special filled me with so much joy because, like I said in relation to Girl/Boy Meets World, the cast wants to remember and enjoy the memories as much as the fans do.  Though I was sad Zac Efron couldn’t be there in person (*cries single tear*), seeing the other cast members reunite and laugh about old stories and audition tapes was just so lovely.  There’s a video that Lucas Grabeel took of Monique Coleman giving Corbin Bleu his East High class ring back from the final movie (He had lost his and was devastated), and seeing Corbin well up with tears made me want to cry for the rest of eternity.

They have all become so successful at what they do.  Zac is an incredibly popular actor, Vanessa and Corbin have both been on Broadway, Ashley and Lucas have enjoyed success on both sides of the television screen, and Monique has done some majorly awesome charity work.  It’s absolutely crazy to think that I, along with all of the fans of HSM have been rooting for these people for ten years now.  I’m so proud of everything they’ve done, and I can tell that they’re truly grateful for everything.

And the fact that they aired the reunion on Disney Channel was so important.  I can imagine some younger kids, about my age when I first watched it, seeing it for the first time, as well.  Laughing at the old phones and 2000s fashions, but also seeing for the first time the beauty of the story that captured all of our hearts.  With the next generation, it’s the start of something new.

I owe High School Musical a lot.  I’ve enjoyed many a sleepover with friends watching all three of the movies and danced/sang along to all three soundtracks a thousand times over.  I grew up with this movie, and I never really grew out of it.  Seriously, put “Bet On It” on, and I will transform into someone you have never seen before in your life.

In short, I will always love High School Musical.  I will be watching that movie in my rocking chair when I am eighty-three years old.  I won’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I will remember all the moves to “We’re All in This Together.”

I can’t wait for the 20-year reunion.  Once a wildcat, always a wildcat.

WHAT TEAM?!

(Hint: WILDCATS!)

Do you have a favorite memory with High School Musical?  What about another movie from your childhood?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!

Fifth Book of Winter Break | All I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher

FullSizeRender (5)Last week, I finished reading All I Know Now: Wonderings and Advice on Making Friends, Making Mistakes, Falling in (and Out of) Love, and Other Adventures in Growing Up Hopefully by the popular YouTuber, Carrie Hope Fletcher.  I’ve been watching Carrie’s videos for a few years now; she claims the title of “Honorary Big Sister” to her community of “Hopefuls” and also happens to be currently playing Eponine in the West End’s production of Les Miserables.

All I Know Now is based on Carrie’s blog of the same name, on which she answered questions asked by the Hopefuls and posted about little epiphanies she had as a young adult.  (She’s only 23 years old!)  Her book serves as a guide through the world of teenage-dom to try to save Hopefuls the trouble of making as many mistakes as Carrie did growing up.

Shortly after Carrie released her first book in the U.S. in September, I ordered it from Amazon and began to read it.  I knew that not all of the advice would really apply to me, since I’m just on the brink of my twenties, but I wanted to read it anyway just because I love Carrie’s videos and wanted to support her.  Because of this, and because it’s set up in a guidebook format, I ended up reading little chunks at a time between reading other books, i.e., Sounds Like Me (Sara Bareilles), Bossypants (Tina Fey), Cleopatra (Duane W. Roller), That Was Then, This Is Now (S.E. Hinton), and Yes Please (Amy Poehler).  When I finished reading Tuck Everlasting (Natalie Babbitt), I read the final “Act” in Carrie’s book (Its chapters are organized into “Acts,” just like scenes in a musical) and finished it (finally!!).  So here’s what I thought of All I Know Now:

First of all, the overall premise of this book was not only endearing but also smart.  Growing up, I used just about every American Girl publication to help me through my day-to-day life, but I couldn’t always find the answers to my problems in them (although, there was a period of time when I kept The Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles in my backpack for easy references when my school friends weren’t being super friendly).  It was not only a good idea, but one made out of great kindness, a typical Carrie-Hope-Fletcher-move.

At times, I did feel that her writing was a bit preachy (I start to cringe when people use commands too frequently in writing), but I imagine if I were younger, I wouldn’t find it very troubling at all.

Even though the book’s purpose is slightly different, I did gain at least one important lesson from All I Know Now: People are people just as you are a person.

I’ve been watching Carrie’s videos for a long time now, and I’ve seen what she has chosen to project in her under-five-minute videos; I’ve enjoyed her original songs and her thoughts on books, as well as the little behind-the-scenes snippets from Les Mis.  But you never truly know a person until they have told you their stories, which is what Carrie does in her book.

She tells tales not only of being bullied, but even being the bully in some cases.  She tells stories of lying to her parents, of letting boys take control of her mind, of feeling pressured by people in her life and online.  She–the queen of positivity–often finds it difficult not to let the haters get to her (especially in the YouTube comments section).  She has flaws; she is a mortal human being.  She’s just like the rest of us (except she’s written a book–and is writing another–and has a major theatrical role in London, but you know, close enough).

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Most of the advice in Carrie’s book goes without saying (You’ll just have to read it!); it mostly covers difficulties with friends and relationships, finding self-confidence amidst bullies and negativity, properly conducting yourself on the Internet, dreaming big, and valuing others and yourself.

I think what’s most important for me at this time in my life is that I recognize Carrie’s youth–she is only four years older than I am–and her accomplishments thus far.  Obviously, she has different opportunities than I have and a completely different life journey (a lesson from All I Know Now!); she has never been to college and has found her calling in musical theater (which I love but am not pursuing) and writing secondly (which is my main priority).  But still, she is 23 and not only has written a book, but has somehow balanced a boyfriend, family, and 8 shows a week on top of that.  So if Carrie can do that, then I can get out of bed in the morning, go to work, and write a couple hundred words of a short story.  I can get somewhere, too.

I’m happy that Carrie wrote this book, not just for the younger people who watch her on YouTube, but mostly for her.  I can’t imagine the sense of accomplishment she felt when she had compiled her main life lessons into a neat and tidy book.  It must have taken hours upon hours, and it is an achievement that I share with her in spirit.

Have you read All I Know Now?  How about a book written by another YouTuber?  What did you think of it?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!

Fourth Book of Winter Break | Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Tuck EverlastingLast week, I finished reading the timeless children’s tale, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.  I first read the book in elementary school and found it totally captivating.  I thought of the book a while back, and my brother was kind enough to give it to me for Christmas this year so that I could remember why I had loved it so much in the first place.

When I reread Tuck Everlasting, I did remember a great deal of the plot, especially because the book is so short (only 139 pages).  The story follows 10-year-old Winnie Foster, a sheltered girl growing up in a small town in the 1880s.  In an attempt at adventure, she stumbles upon the Tuck family, who, because they drank from an enchanted spring, can never die.

Once Winnie becomes friendly with the Tucks, she has to learn to make decisions for herself.  Will she drink the enchanted water when she turns seventeen so that she can marry the eternally young Jesse Tuck?  Will she risk her family’s reputation to help the Tucks in their time of trouble?  Will she trust the people who, in fact, kidnapped her?

I initially found Tuck Everlasting to be an enchanting story of whimsy and suspense when I read it as a nine/ten-year-old girl.  However, as I read it again about ten years later, I saw much more in Babbitt’s tale of immortality.

A few spoilers are to follow, so fair warning!

Tuck Everlasting, in the purest sense, is a classic tale of the loss of innocence.  The story opens with Winnie finally getting fed up with her boring life of restriction by her family.  She has no friends and rarely leaves her house; now, as she is getting older, she finds the wood that her family owns intriguing.  Winnie yearns to run away but is fearful of the repercussions.  This brought back memories of me as a young girl packing a bag as if I were going to run away and then realizing that there really wasn’t anything I wanted to run away from; the simple prospect of “running away” just gave me a thrill of excitement because of its representation in the books I had read and movies I had watched.

But when she gets kidnapped by the Tucks, Winnie must face a succession of decisions that she has never had to make before.  She learns to trust her instincts and not fear her kidnappers or take the kidnapping at face value; rather, she listens to their story and understands the reasoning behind their actions.  Later, when the Tucks are discovered by the man in the yellow suit, Winnie must decide if she will remain a hostage of her family forever or sneak out in the middle of the night to help her friends.

Most importantly, Jesse Tuck offers Winnie a proposal; he asks her to drink the age-freezing spring water when she turns seventeen so that they can get married and live together forever.  This is quite a hefty offer for a ten-year-old, but she seems to take it to heart and understands that she must make the decision when the time comes.

The strongest image of Winnie’s loss of innocence is the presence of the man in the yellow suit.  Right away, my English-class-instincts said, “Yellow!  That’s a symbol of decay and destruction!”, something I definitely wouldn’t have recognized when I first read the book.  He first wanders into the scene to represent Winnie’s doubts about her choice to leave her home, as he talks to her by the gate to her house.  However, when he discovers the Tucks and overhears their story, he comes forward as the stern face of adulthood that threatens to use the Tucks and their spring water for money.  It is not until Mae Tuck shoots and kills him that Winnie completely loses her innocence.  Now, Winnie looks death in the face and realizes its inevitability for all people–except the Tucks.

She also realizes that these events–her meeting the Tucks, the death of the man in the yellow suit– are a part of her story.  No one in her family has experienced what she has, and this gives her a mature understanding of her own individuality and consciousness.

TE Quote
“Things had happened to her that were hers alone, and had nothing to do with them. It was the first time. And no amount of telling about it could help them understand or share what she felt. It was satisfying and lonely, both at once.” – Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting revolves around the growth and maturity of Winnie Foster as she fluctuates between desiring immortality and realizing its faults.  She seems to make her peace with the idea of death, as is revealed in the epilogue.  When the Tucks come upon her gravestone, they learn that she married a mortal man, had children, and lived a long and healthy life.  However, they knew when she did not return seven years after they had met that she was not going to follow their path of living forever.

This book was particularly poignant for me, as death has been present in my life recently, as well as in the media with the recent deaths of inspiring figures like David Bowie and Alan Rickman.  But Tuck Everlasting did not leave a sour taste in my mouth; rather it is more of a peaceful rendering of the truth that everyone dies.  Death is neither something to fear nor something to shame.  It is an event to be welcomed when the time comes because it is what makes us human, which, in itself, is truly a miracle.

I’m looking forward to the musical production of Tuck Everlasting, which is coming to Broadway on April 26th!

Did you read Tuck Everlasting?  What did you think of it?  Have your thoughts on immortality changed over time?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!