Lauren Kuhman is a rising Sophomore at Arizona State University studying Nonprofit Leadership and Management. She got her love of reading from The Hunger Games, and has sense branched out to reading a variety of books. In addition to reading, she enjoys baking, traveling, drawing/coloring, and art history.
Publisher: Anchor Genre: Fiction Pages: 352 Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 stars
The short synopsis of Spring describes spring (whether the book or the season) as “the great connective” and as such the novel brings together the lives of three unlikely people: a grieving director, an immigration custody officer, and a young schoolgirl. As the story is told through each of their perspectives the reader is introduced to the intricacies of their lives and the presence of today’s most pressing challenges. As their lives intersect the reader is exposed to the impact of these challenges on not just individuals but a nation.
Ali Smith’s novel Spring is the third book in a four-part seasonal series with three other novels titled Autumn, Winter, and Summer. The series explores a post-Brexit United Kingdom and highlights some of the most pressing, controversial, and painful realities of the nation through their characters. I studied abroad during the Spring 2022 semester and while at a bookstore I picked up Smith’s Spring. I have yet to read the other novels in Smith’s series, but even without this reference I was frozen with interest and continuously taken aback with emotion while reading the novel. While seemingly simple in plot and fast to read, it is a novel you will want to read multiple times given the depth of the story. The narrative is similar to stream-of-consciousness mixed with poetry and in conjunction with the plot, the story struck me like a force. The narrative requires more from the reader, acting almost as a puzzle that boldens the hidden context in our everyday lives to the turmoil and complex socio-political landscape. As well, the gradual reveal of the plot allows the reader to assume the role of the characters as they, too, approach their journey blindly.
Spring focuses on immigration in the United Kingdom and while I lack the personal connection to the geographic and political context I found it a useful tool to begin understanding the current political climate in the United Kingdom. This was not just demonstrated with the physical aspects of the plot – one character’s attempted suicide, the viewpoints and decisions of the immigration officer, and the efforts of a young child to reach her mother – but also the subtext of the characters actions. I also found a lot of the commentary similar to discussions within the United States which proved revealing to the nature of social and political narratives today. Smith’s Spring is daring and tragic and truthful and it is a statement and looking-glass into not just the United Kingdom’s current state of the nation but can draw parallels to the current state of the world.
Publisher: Viking Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction Pages: 304 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 stars
Nora doesn’t want to live. It’s not complicated: she has experienced enough to know that her life has been a complete and utter waste. Thinking upon all her mistakes, the decisions she made and the ones she didn’t, she knows there is nothing left for her in the world. When she finally acts on this knowing, however, she didn’t expect to end up in a library.
The Midnight Library is a place that can show her every regret, but also every possibility and it is up to Nora to decide whether she wants to say – in her life or another.
I think the question of “what if ______?” is universal because despite all wanting to live without regrets or making peace with the unknown details of the future we allow such an intrusive question to linger with every decision. Despite hours of wondering and regretting every decision we’ve ever made there is rarely an answer and while Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library doesn’t offer a strict answer, it does explore the depths of this question and reveals the amazing possibilities we have in our choices and our decisions. Nora is incredibly cynical and straight forward to the point of comedy and there is no doubt that she wants to die. While this blunt self-hatred can be offsetting it is layered with laughter and warmth and humor which makes it relatable and revealing to the reader. I found myself laughing as Haig illustrated the undeniable truth that our own expectations and perceptions of life do not align with those of reality. It is a sarcastic story but full of truth when Nora goes through every major possible alternative life and realizes that it is not the differences in choices which decide her happiness but her perception of them. Every life she visited proved disappointing and the idea of happiness – of fame or wealth or marriage – came with its own disappointments. A sunny life in Australia had hidden depth and a life of fame proved unstable. The Midnight Library was a book that made me laugh and cry and think; it was straight-forward but also heart-warming and was universally relatable. I haven’t read a book that so easily changed my perspective without the messy connotations of allegories or metaphors. Matt Haig presents a direct look at life and our perception of happiness, choices, and possibility and it is a book I would strongly recommend to anyone who has ever thought “what if _______”.
Where the Crawdads Sing – Coming to theaters in July 2022, the movie adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing is directed by Olivia Newman and starring Daisy Edger-Jones. The novel, written by Delia Owens, is a coming of age thriller set in the fishing village of Barkley Cove. A young girl named, Kya, lives alone in the nearby marsh until one day a local boy is found dead. Locals suspect the “Marsh Girl ” is guilty, but soon she becomes dangerously entangled in the world she’s always lived apart from.
The Summer I Turned Pretty – Young Adult writer Jenny Han’s novel comes to life as a new Amazon Prime series premiering in June 2022. Both the book and adapted television series is a perfect summer binge for romance fans. The first book of a trilogy, The Summer I turned Pretty is about the complicated love triangle between Isabel Conklin and her two long time family friends. If you enjoyed the Netflix adaptation of Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy this is sure to be a can’t miss!
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Written by Audrey Niffenegger and previously adapted into a movie in 2009 starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, the story follows Henry DeTamble and Clare Anne Abshire as they navigate the complexities of love amidst Henry’s rare genetic disorder that causes him to spontaneously and involuntarily time travel. The book, originally published in 2003 is now being adapted to a HBO series released in May 2022. The series stars Theo James and Rose Leslie as the leads and is sure to tug at the heart.
Pachinko – Released as a series on Apple TV+ in March 2022, Pachinko was originally written by Min Jin Lee and published in 2017. The novel follows the lives and experiences of a Korean family who immigrated to Japan. The adaptation is directed by Kogonada and Justin Chon and stars Youn Yuh-jung, Lee Min-ho, Jin Ha, Anna Sawai, Minha Kim, Soji Arai, and Kaho Minami.
Heartstopper – Directed by Euros Lyn and starring Kit Conner and Joe Locke, this Netflix series dropped season one in April 2022. Based on the novel by Alice Oseman with the same name, the story follows two young boys, Charlie and Nick, as they navigate the complexities of young love and the deepening of their friendship into something more.
What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
Publisher: One World Genre: Science Pages: 384 Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 stars
The Flint water crisis is one of the most well-known and tragic public health issues of the 21st century. It has been repeatedly documented and analyzed—representing not only a failure of government but the power and force of citizens. What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City is the story of the Flint water crisis, but also the physician who spoke up. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha describes the story of herself, her research team, and her community as they discovered and exposed the extreme levels of lead in Flint’s tap water.
I don’t usually lean toward nonfiction or biographical novels, perhaps because so much of my year is taken up with nonfiction or educational material for school. However, What the Eyes Don’t See is an amazingly fluid work that intertwines the author’s personal narrative and experience with the factual occurrences during the beginning of Flint, Michigan’s water crisis. In this manner, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha not only allows the reader to understand historically what happened, why it happened, and the steps taken to address it, but what the personal effects of the situation caused. By describing her personal story, as well as the community’s account and direct reaction, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha gives a face to the crisis rather than just addressing the blame. It is this mix of emotion and fact that made me love this novel and pushed me to seek out more nonfiction (especially current nonfiction) novels.
Additionally, the detailed account of the crisis from the beginning allowed the reader to understand the steps taken and failures of the government at each stage. I also greatly appreciated the historical references, explanations, and details laid out periodically. The inclusion of background information, which while not necessarily vital to the narrative, provided a deeper understanding of the community and the impact of the situation. After all, What the Eyes Don’t See is less about the actual crisis details and more about the community and individuals who risked a lot to protect their neighbors and speak out against a failure of government. It is truly a great book that offers an increasingly prominent analysis of not only public health in the United States but the priorities of communities versus government.
Everyone talks about the books they love—those they’d recommend and can’t live without. However, despite people’s tendency to love to hate, no one likes to call out the books that deep down they just think are overrated. Fellow Spellbinding Shelf blogger Makayla and I have listed seven novels that we believe to be the most over-rated. Some of them are famous, some of them will probably be famous, and some of them are just not the best (in our opinion). That is not to say this is a comprehensive or objective list. Our list is composed of personal biases and opinions—you may or may not agree, and that’s okay! We just wanted to call out some of the novels that, while we love the author or deep down enjoyed the story, they don’t need to be as famous as they are today.
Safe Haven—Nicholas Sparks. I wish I loved Nicholas Sparks—I really do. I have had the pleasure of knowing many people who regard him highly, and I find their enjoyment adorable. However, his terrible writing, combined with the lack of diversity in his novels and the blatant sexism within the world of book publishing has left a permanent distaste in my mouth. To be fair to Nicholas Sparks, I have only read one of his books: Safe Haven, but to be fair to myself, and this post, it was because I could not manage to read more than this one. Even getting through Safe Haven took me half a year. His writing is basic and lacks depth. It wouldn’t bother me so much, because a great deal of writing is basic and lacks depth, if he was not so popular. His stories always unfold the same way, and they always feature two white leads—one male, one female. Finally, what I will never understand is why his books are shelved in “fiction.” I had the pleasure of working at a bookstore for years, and his books had to go in the fiction section because they have “fictional themes.” What that means is that Nicholas Sparks got the honor of being shelved in what people view as a more serious genre—when the romance genre, where he belongs—has no male authors, is given the deeply sexist label of “chicklit,” and disregarded as also having “fictional themes.” His popularity has been fading as the years go on, but maybe it’s time it fades all the way.
The Fault in Our Stars—John Green. I am a long-time fan of John Green and I love his novels—however, appreciation of anyone (especially authors) is not without some good ol’ criticism. While this may be an unpopular opinion, The Fault in Our Stars is a fairly basic love story, and while sad, it also doesn’t add anything new to the genre and is a form of tragic romance that was, and is, common in the romance genre. Additionally, its adaptation into a movie only pronounced the cultural craze over the fairly basic plot. It had everything that could push it into fame, right down to the cheesy tag ling “Okay? Okay.” Don’t get me wrong—I liked The Fault in Our Stars and I love John Green’s novels. However, between the facts that the novel is so famous it’s annoying and the plot doesn’t add anything new to the genre, it’s pretty overrated. Let’s just say I’ve never had the desire to reread or even rewatch the, albeit good but overrated, story.
Beautiful Disaster—Jamie McGuire. As a teenage girl, the last thing that should be recommended to you is a “romance” novel that features an abusive relationship, while still being marketed to you as sweet and the ideal relationship that you should aspire to have. When I was a teenager, I eventually gave in to reading Beautiful Disaster after the incessant pestering of both the internet and other people, only to find that what I was told was an “opposites attract” romance novel was actually a disturbing story about a man with anger issues and his obsession with the main character, an average girl. A lot of romance novels feature an “average girl,” to show that everyone is deserving of love and deserving of being worshipped by the people we think are too good for us. Beautiful Disaster takes this and shows that even the average girl can find themself in an abusive relationship they can’t escape from and wouldn’t even want to escape from because they have fallen into a deeply twisted love story with someone who doesn’t really love them. The number of people who think this book depicts a romance is truly saddening. Perhaps worst of all, the author of Beautiful Disaster is a massive racist and incredibly sexist. This isn’t simply apparent in her writing; she has used social media to share these offensive thoughts. “Offensive” isn’t a strong enough word. She’s a despicable person who does not deserve to publish books. Even worse, last month in October, it was announced that Beautiful Disaster would be made into a movie. After other abusive stories found such success as films, like After by Anna Todd and Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, how could we not throw another one into the mix? We don’t need another one! There are so many amazing romance novels to choose from that are healthy and adorable. Jamie McGuire needs to be cancelled.
The Great Gatsby—F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby is a proclaimed classic, is read in practically every American classroom, and has inspired way too many 1920s-themed parties. Again—don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book—but does it really still deserve the fame? The novel only adds to the long list of predominantly white, male perspectives students receive in school and the book is arguably misogynistic. And whether or not this misogyny is a product of its author’s opinions or a deliberate criticism of the attitude towards women, the trait isn’t very redeeming. I think there are better books and stories that can be highlighted and taught and while it’s a great book and essential read it has moved into a phase of cultural phenomenon where the original intention, symbolism, and plot of the novel is now irrelevant and can be misconstrued—which has inevitably led to its overrated status.
You—Caroline Kepnes. You—the popular Netflix series—was a book series first, but I bet anyone reading this post knew that already. This might be an unpopular opinion, but You, both the show and the book series, are massively overrated. The book is in the point of view of our stalker and serial killer Joe Goldberg, as he breaks into homes and kills everyone that he thinks is going to steal the object of his obsession away from him. As if the stalker and serial killer bit wasn’t enough to make you think “he’s not for me,” Joe is also massively arrogant and pompous. He’s an aspiring writer and admittedly well read, but he thinks that this makes him superior to everyone else. The problem with this is that the author Caroline Kepnes has written Joe’s narration in such a way that denies his intelligence, so we have to live with his pretension without getting the payout of smart writing. Furthermore, Kepnes’ writing perpetuates sexism and glorifies this sort of behavior. I’m not sure if she was going for creating a creepy book that we were all supposed to find creepy without her having to make some sort of moral commentary, but she failed in making this book appropriately creepy and thrilling. Rather, she made a book from the point of view of a serial killer boring, which has to be morally impermissible, right? Perhaps an example of her lack of success in achieving her intended message can be shown in the fact that my library does not shelve You in mystery or thriller. It shelves You in romance. If you want to read a book about a creepy man stalking a young woman, read The Seducer’s Diary by Soren Kierkegaard. I was nauseous the entire time, but I can’t deny that Kierkegaard succeeds in showing he’s a massive creep.
Romeo and Juliet—William Shakespeare. I have a fair amount of qualms regarding Romeo and Juliet—not Shakespeare. Mostly, my criticisms stem from the popular interpretation and public perception of this famous play. It has been referenced too many times, hailed by too many romantics and young people, and acclaimed too often. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy and not even one of Shakespeare’s best works. It is similar to the Mona Lisa – it’s only famous because of the attention given to the work. Yes, the themes are good. Yes, the story is a “classic.” But do we need to read it so much in school? Do we need several movie adaptations and dozens of inspired stories based on this play? Probably not.
The Grapes of Wrath—John Steinbeck. Again, we have come across an author who I wished that I loved: John Steinbeck. He isn’t a terrible writer, and I can’t deny that his books reflect a time period in American history that is intertwined with such tragedy. However talented he is at reflecting the reality of many Americans, he is also very talented at crafting the driest characters and creating scenarios with unnecessary details. The Grapes of Wrath was the first book that I read by Steinbeck, and even though I thought it was terrible, he clearly has enough talent for me to force myself to read some of his other books (Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat). What I learned is that all of these books are the same: his characters are poor and desperately want alcohol. If we’re allowed to write this repetitively, then maybe I can go on to win the Nobel Prize in literature too! He is praised for his “keen social perception,” but I have to say, it feels like a bunch of white men patting each other on the back for doing nothing.
About a month ago I posted an invitation to attend the Changing Hands virtual writing worship on Monday, October 5th and now – after successfully attending my first writing workshop – I am here to reflect on my experience.
To be honest going into this workshop I didn’t know a lot. I didn’t know what “literary fiction” meant, and I didn’t understand the structure of virtual writing workshops. Also, given my current degree, I didn’t know how to write creatively.
However, since attending this workshop I find myself not only wanting to write more, but wanting to learn more. The event was virtual and included a brief lesson regarding the difference between fiction and “literary fiction” as well as an hour of practicing and learning key writing techniques within literary fiction.
Surprisingly, and probably contrary to popular opinion, I actually liked the virtual structure of the event. Besides affording me the flexibility to attend the event, I think the virtual structure helped me be more willing to read my work. As well, the instructor, Kelli Trapnell, was very supportive and not only pushed the other participants and I to think creatively, but tried to foster community with discussion and conversation throughout the program. I had never attended a literary event previously and as someone not studying English or Literature, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more, engage with the literary community, and practice creative writing with an open and supportive group.
I look forward to engaging further and learning more within my literary community, so my question to you is…what are you waiting for? Grab your pen (or laptop) and get writing!
Quickly now—grab your pens and all the paper you can find because Changing Hands Bookstore is hosting a virtual writing workshop!
The event is on Monday, October 25 from 6:30–8:00 p.m. (9:30–11:00 p.m. ET) and attendance is only $5. The workshop will be taught by Kelli Trapnell, who has a MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University and received both the Sandra Brown Excellence in Literary Fiction Award and the 2018 New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship in fiction.
The 90–minute session will include a 30–minute lesson on the difference between fiction and “literary fiction,” and specific time for personal literary exploration! The first half of the class will be an exploration and explanation of the literary genre using discussion of prominent authors and works. The second half of the class will take theory to application as you move through a variety of exercises to teach literary fiction techniques leading up to your own miniature story.
Do you have your pen ready? Great—let’s go! Register for the First Draft Book Club here.
Almost a year ago I was sitting in a staff meeting for The Spellbinding Shelf and mentioned that I had never read Harry Potter. *gasp* It gets worse—not only had I never read any of the books, but I had never seen any of the movies, paid no attention to any of the references, or experienced any of the fan culture. *double gasp* I’m not joking: the only thing I knew about the series was that it was about wizards. My fellow writers were astonished—a book lover and blogger who has never read one of the most iconic literary series of all time?!
It wasn’t necessarily my fault—my younger self enjoyed dystopian-themed novels and by the time Harry Potter was “a thing” I felt the time had passed for me to jump on that train. However, this staff meeting was the catalyst that pushed me to finally commit to reading the series. I jumped in headfirst and took one of the most risky literary gambles any reader will understand: buying the box set. Of a previously unread series. When I later described this new journey, my fellow bloggers were excited as well as interested: I was basically a case study of how readers still respond to the books without the pressure of pop culture and a now multi-billion dollar industry.
After seven months of reading I am here to give my reflection and opinion on the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” It is worth noting that while the series is surrounded in controversy due to J.K. Rowlings’ problematic comments in recent years, this reflection does not condone her actions in any way. Rather, I endeavor to share my experience as a reader with the story, for which I can say it is amazing.
Words cannot express my deep attachment, love, and appreciation for this series. I loved everything from the character development to the intricate spells. The experience was so immersive that from the first page I wished I lived in the world presented by the series and was thankful for the chance to imagine I was in such a world. There is too much to behold to accurately capture the seven book series that is Harry Potter, so I’ve decided to describe some of my favorite moments, thoughts, and reactions—including some choice texts I sent to my friend that I feel best captures my emotions during and after each book. So without further ado: The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. A fantastic beginning to fuel the long and turbulent journey of Harry Potter. I felt all the emotions a reader and fan of the series should feel: absolute contempt for the Dursleys, the excitement and nervousness of Harry on his first day, and the promise of a journey filled with mischief and wonder. TheSorcerer’s Stone really helped introduce Harry’s thoughts and emotions which aids in the reader’s emotional attachment to the characters and their development. It is also worth noting that I shipped Ron and Hermione from the very beginning.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I liked TheChamber of Secrets because it had all the promise of what being a second year student feels like in any situation. Harry was more confident in his abilities and his joy in being a wizard emanated from the pages as he, as well as the reader, began to connect and discover more of his past. Additionally, what I love about the series as a whole is that while the books are individually read with a typical literary arc, the series does as well. This fluidity aids in the literary experience and creates a unique and immersive atmosphere any reader will love.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Now, this book was insane in all the best ways. I could not believe it when Cedric died, and one thing I determined (and had reaffirmed throughout the rest of the series) was that authors are cruel, sadistic people who want their readers to suffer. After reading this book I texted my friend, “…it’s just playing with my emotions on a whole new level.” This comment adequately describes how much this book (and series) roped me in and how ignorant I was to the pain that would come.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On almost every page where Umbridge made an appearance, I wrote some form of grievance because I could not stand her character—it got to the point that I was going to throw the book at the wall. I really liked the Order of the Phoenix because of the leadership Harry, Ron, and Hermione assumed as well as the number of questions it began to ask and answer. Whereas TheGoblet of Fire was one of the last books where Harry experienced a “childhood,” TheOrder of the Phoenix began introducing the intricacies of the magical war in which Harry would take part. I was also so incredibly proud of Fred and George (two of my favorite Weasleys) for their amazing mischief and success—I love them so much. However, amidst this triumph, TheOrder of the Phoenix was the first book in the series that made me cry because of Sirius’ death. When that happened I had two chapters left and messaged my friend the following:
“THEY KILLED SIRIUS/NO/NO/NO/NO/THAT’S NOT FAIR/AGHAGGAHGGAA ITS NOT FAIR/UGHHHH WHY DO THEY TRY TO MAKE ME SUFFER”
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Honestly, this book wasn’t my favorite out of the series but I can’t deny that it was incredibly needed. That might have been partly because “The Big Bang Theory” spoiled Dumbledore’s death or because I personally trusted Snape while Harry was still very much suspicious of his character. However, in the end I found myself doubting my own beliefs of Dumbledore’s trust in Snape and I became ever more worried about the fate of the wizarding world and Harry when the locket was found to be a fake Horcrux. I could once again feel Harry’s grief—as well as that of the others—and I knew in my heart that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would not be the same. On another note, I was extremely heartbroken when Harry broke up with Ginny but very happy when Ron and Hermione finally showed some flirtatious interaction. It became increasingly difficult to stay away from Harry Potter fan content so I went on a hiatus from most social media and television to avoid spoilers. Afterwards I noted:
“I’m a little worried about Harry too. He seems like he lost something inside him like happiness or I guess that childlike enjoyment and curiosity and it makes me hurt for him although considering he has to kill Voldemort I get why he’s anxious…”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Nothing impacted me more in this series than the final chapters: when Harry walked solemnly into the forest during battle, I bawled. In those last chapters I had trouble reading the page (partly due to tears); the amount of emotion within the scene and the impact of being on Harry’s journey to get to this point hit me in full force. In the end, I was right to have faith in Snape, Ron and Hermione did end up together (yay!), and I was very pleased to see Harry and Ginny together. So in the end, at 10:48 pm on August 12, I texted my friend:
And those emotions continue today. I am so incredibly grateful for this journey and even more grateful that I could experience it (mostly) without spoilers and properly digest every theme and moment. While I didn’t get to grow up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione I will undoubtedly continue to experience their journey as I reread their stories and feel the impact that Hogwarts has left on my heart. Sometimes, ironically, words cannot express the feeling a book gives you—any reader will understand this impact and I am so lucky to have experienced this feeling. I know (as I have felt the last month) that I will continue to fangirl, obsess, and mourn the finishing of Harry Potter for a long time to come.
Publisher: Wednesday Books Genre: Young Adult, Coming of Age Pages: 448 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 stars
If you’re looking for an extraordinarily unique, dark twist on a classic story, look no further than Christine Riccio’s Better Together. Jamie and Siri are sisters separated at a young age and completely devoid of contact for over a decade due to their parents’ nasty divorce.
In a twist of luck (or fate) the two sisters are reunited at the same “rediscover yourself” retreat and hatch a devious plan: the two will switch places and confront their respective parents.
However, not everything goes as planned, and it’s going to take a lot more than switching places to understand each other, find themselves, and ultimately face the complexities of family.
It has been almost a year since my very first post with The Spellbinding Shelf where I discussed one of my favorite young adult novels, Again but Better by Christine Riccio. Now, coming full circle, I decided to review her newly released second novel, Better Together. While very witty, I have to admit that initially I was not completely sold on the plot—mostly because it wasn’t my usual type of young adult novel. The whimsical magic reminiscent of The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday are classically engaging, but I was not as enthused with those themes. Perhaps due to my hesitancy, I ended up being disengaged, and the combination of short and rather uneventful chapters left me searching for more.
Despite some of these shortcomings, I was pleasantly surprised with Riccio’s capability to take a traditionally lighthearted storyline and investigate the twisted, dark, and traumatizing difficulties of divorce, dysfunctional families, and the impact of parents’ choices on their children. Indeed, there were moments in the book where, while I was craving more action, I couldn’t ignore the insight and attention to how both Jamie and Siri processed their emotional baggage. Riccio does an amazing job detailing the struggles of both characters who have completely different personalities and means of handling their past to move towards their future. There were multiple times in which I had to underline prominent messages or found myself laughing at the page as Riccio nicely combined comedy, romance, and sardonic tones with the seriousness of her overall topic.
Most importantly, Better Together was primarily written during the pandemic—a heaviness that is translated in its pages as the reader slowly feels the suffocation and eventual release of tension most everyone has felt over the past year. In this manner, I appreciated Better Together not only because of its mix of tragedy and comedy, but also its overall feeling of angst and the eventual, much needed, feeling of relief.
Disney has had no trouble remaking and reimagining some of the most beloved fairy tales. Disney continues to inspire and promote the now often thought of as “original” Disney magic—from the live action retelling of the Jungle Book to the newly released villain origin story of Cruella. However, many of the most well-known princesses and plots that are famously attributed to Disney actually get their original magic from books. Here is a list of some of the most well known and oldest Disney stories originally inspired from novels.
Tarzan. This adventure classic is probably one of the first Disney movies many people see, however it was originally a book published in 1914 by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes consists of the same beloved plot: a young boy is raised by apes within an African jungle but when White explorers arrive within the area, the adult Tarzan adopts their ways to gain the love of Jane Porter. Ring any bells? However similarly Disney adapted the story, the original text highlights the differences, conflict, and struggle between what is considered the “wild” and the “civilized.” While the Disney version definitely provided some heartwarming magic and toe-tapping music to the story, the book provides a little more introspection.
The Jungle Book. The well-known author and Nobel Prize winner, Rudyard Kipling, is the original writer of the now Disney classic The Jungle Book. Originally published in 1894 the story follows the unlikely friendships between a young boy and various animals within the jungle. Disney adopted this classic into an animated film in 1967 and eventually created a live action remake in 2016. The Jungle Book is undoubtedly another example of Disney’s capability to not only popularize 100+ year old stories, but to bring them to life in a new way. I wonder what Kipling would have thought of his characters as Disney merchandise?
101 Dalmatians. The Hundred and One Dalmatiansis actually a children’s novel written by Dodie Smith and originally published in 1956. The plot between the two works is similar, with Disney adapting original characters such as Pongo and Missis as well as the now infamous Cruella de Vil. The book is only 32 pages long, which is considerably shorter than the two plus hours of watch time for each 101 Dalmatians-themed movie. Nevertheless, we have Disney to thank for not only bringing life to these characters but expanding on and developing the heart behind Smith’s work
Peter Pan. The story and character of Peter Pan is as deep in history as the character and story originally created by J.M. Barrie in 1906. The story of Peter Pan began with the character who initially appeared in Barrie’s 1906 Novel The Little White Bird. This appearance was transferred into the 1906 lesser-known story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Peter’s story wasn’t fully developed until Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter and Wendy. The character is famous as a symbol of youth, and many of the characters and themes from this story are now the hallmark of Disney’s brand—from Tinker Bell’s prominent presence in marketing to the popular idea of “being a kid at heart” that builds the Disney aesthetic. Peter Pan is one of the most iconic characters in popular culture and in Disney, all thanks to the imagination of J.M. Barrie.
Pinocchio. Pinocchio is one of Disney’s earliest movies and stories. The animated film Pinocchio dates back to 1940, but the plot and character were originally created by Italian author Carlo Collodi in 1883. The original Italian story, however, is much darker than the beloved Disney adaption. Pinocchio, rather than becoming woodworker Geppetto’s friend and adoptive son, begins abusing him and eventually runs away as his feet are carved by the old man. Geppetto is eventually arrested for trying to recapture Pinocchio, after which Pinocchio returns to Geppetto’s house where he kills Jiminy Cricket. Additionally, Pinocchio is almost hanged by the Fox and Cat who want to steal Pinocchio’s gold, but he is saved by a Fairy at the last moment. However, Pinocchio doesn’t learn his lesson and after losing his gold to the Fox and Cat, he lives with the Fairy and her son where his mischievous lessons and dire consequences continue up until he turns into a real boy. The much longer and darker original story is meant to serve as a lesson for children and emphasize good behavior—a similar idea perhaps, although less lighthearted, than the Disney adaptation.